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Monday, December 6, 2010

TOS Review: Corps of Re-Discovery

I’ve shared my recent need for fun, accessible crafts that don’t require much prep work on my behalf. Frankly, without those kits and other doo-dads on hand, we’d be having a pretty dry spell in terms of what Logan likes to call “makin’ stuff.” For his sake, especially, I like to pepper in a reasonable amount of DO when it comes to our learning. Like many children, he’s a hands-on, tactile learner who digests information best when, well ... makin’ stuff.

I’ve uncovered a few gems in my search for companies that provide homeschoolers with high quality, pre-made craft kits that have equal parts fun and education in the equation. One that flew under the radar for me until I received their product for review, however, was The Corps of Re-Discovery. Now that I’m aware of their company and what they offer, they’ve earned a spot in my bookmarks for future purchases.

Started by a homeschooling family who wanted to engage both hands and minds, this company focuses on the time period that their name brings to mind--early America. Most exciting to me is the fact that their online store is stocked with lots of boy-friendly crafts that really get their feet wet with the hows and whys of frontiersmen. A flint and steel set.  Make-your-own coonskin cap. Leather vests. Powder horns. Tell me a little man who wouldn’t love to fashion some of those things along with his readings on Daniel Boone!

My product sample was of the tamer, more domestic type: a quilting kit. Since Jo’s been bit hard by the quilting bug as of late, I passed it on to her and waited to see what she came up with. She demurred when I asked to take photos, saying that it isn’t photo-ready yet (she’s a perfectionist when it comes to her handmade items), but here’s her almost-expert opinion:

She was pleased with the variety of fabric squares, the quality of the fabric itself, and the number of pre-cut squares provided. Since she didn’t have to do any cutting, she was able to skip right to the fun part: arranging and rearranging all those squares!

The batting was high quality and, again, pre-cut to the proper size. Nice touch.

The provided instructions would make it easy for anyone--even a quilting newbie--to fashion a lovely little quilt.

The kit is currently on sale for $11.99. I’d highly recommend it to accompany your early American studies. And check out their website. The variety of kits available will most likely surprise you. This family has worked hard to expand beyond the basics and into the unique!
Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.

TOS Review: Master Ruler

Some products are just so darn brilliant that you know they were divinely inspired.

Master Ruler is, on the surface, a complicated thing. It’s a ruler, see. But it has all of these transparent films attached via a hinge at the top. As a parent, you look at it a little cock-eyed for a minute, trying to figure out exactly how you use it. But put it in the hands of a child, and then you’ll see how simple--and beautiful--this priceless little tool actually is.

“Cool!” was 8 year-old Logan’s immediate reaction. Apparently, he had wanted to have a visual representation of an eighth of an inch for quite a while, unbeknownst to me. “I couldn’t figure it out because of all of the lines on the other ruler,” he told me.

Master Ruler made it easy, however. Simply locate the tabbed film labeled “1/8” and uncover it. Voila’! Now all you can see are inches cleanly divided into eighths.

Tell me that’s not a little slice of heaven. No more counting those tiny little notches. No more trying to point to that teeny line. No, that one. No. The one under my fingernail. YES! That one!

Master Ruler was designed by a teacher for classroom use, so it’s a durable, substantial product that can handle years of use and abuse from your kiddos. The starter set ($41.25) comes with a Standard Master Ruler, a Metric Master Ruler, a Teacher’s Model Master Ruler and the Master Ruler Workbook, which is reproducible. Items also sell individually; the Standard Master Ruler retails for just $9.95. I’d pay double that, personally. Through the company Master Innovations, the designer has also taken the overlay concept into clocks, fractions, and angles.

Brilliant, huh? 



Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.

Monday, November 29, 2010

TOS Review: A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers

Our study of music has always been a bit scattershot around here. If there’s one area where my approach can be unflinchingly deemed “eclectic,” this is it. At one point, we fell headlong into traditional American folk songs. Later, there was the month-long dive into all things Tchaikovsky. We’ve used a cd story series to learn more about classical composers, and followed the rabbit trails of musical instruments into the modern day age of how electric guitars work. At the heart of all of this is our constant listen, listen, listen approach. There’s something being played every day--be it Scripture set to music, a concerto, or our local samba station.

All of this has been fun, but without much rhyme or reason. And most days I feel really good about that. After all, each of my kids--from teens to tots-- loves to listen to music. Jo is trying her hand at playing classical guitar, with good results thus far. Logan can name an astonishing array of classical pieces from snatches of music caught in line at the grocery store. Atticus likes the way music and words fit together. And both Oli and Mani will dance their little socks off to whatever happens to come out of our speakers.

I’ve dabbled with the idea of making a more deliberate effort towards music history, especially as Jo gets older and shows an interest in that area. But nothing seemed to stand out, especially when held up to my family’s needs. Anything I used needed to be useful for teaching a variety of ages, have a hands-on component, allow me the flexibility of selecting entire works (not focusing in two-minute samples of longer pieces), and have a storytelling element to it. It didn’t feel like a tall order, but until recently, nothing fit the bill.

Finally, I found A Young Scholar’s Guide to Composers from Bright Ideas Press. It’s all that I wanted, and more ... and for only $29.95! An entire year’s study? For less than $30? That’s a winner in my book!

A Young Scholar’s Guide to Composers is just that: a biographical journey through 26 well-known composers throughout musical history. Starting from the basic premise that music is from the Lord, each composer studied is studied in context of his time and faith. Musical eras are explained with the kind of depth that may intrigue older kids while flying right over the head of the youngers (this is what happened at my house), but the story sketches of individual composers are approachable and humanizing. Little details-- like nicknames, personal habits, etc.--bring these larger-than-life musical giants down to earth.

A huge index of listening suggestions and resource links make this guide customizable for both the musical novice and the maestro. It also allows busy moms just hoping to check off a box to pick one piece and focus on that, while giving the homeschooler hoping to get more the chance to pull in other books and pieces and truly create a mini-unit study out of each composer.

The hands-on element comes alive via an interesting note card concept. I opted to take a slightly different tack with these cards (I’ll admit it: if it doesn’t go in my kids’ binders, it’s likely to get lost) by making them a sort of notebook page. I also photocopied the included timeline, making one for each child and placing it in his or her binder alongside the maps that link the composers to their homes. A Young Scholar’s Guide to Composers gives a sample three-day-a-week lesson plan in the introduction, and I was able to easily use that approach with my adapted materials. On the first day, we read the biography and filled in the notecard, which asks students to listen for names of pieces, recall birthdates, etc. Then we follow this up with listening to a specific piece. On the second day, we listen again, this time coloring the line showing the composer’s life in relation to others we’ve studied on the timeline and finding his home country on our maps. The third day is simply listening and talking about the pieces we’ve heard. All of this takes as little as twenty minutes, or as long as an hour ... depending on how interested the kids are!

We have not only enjoyed this study, but found it enriching our homeschool in all the ways I had hoped that a true music history education would. Studying the music of a period leads to so much more. Social, cultural, religious, and political more of the times come alive when placed alongside the works of the creative minds of the day. Bright Ideas Press has done an excellent job in crafting a book that opens this door to homeschoolers painlessly!



Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stretch marks

It was a small, innocuous jar of salve that I'd probably reached past a hundred times. A gift from a well-meaning friend, it had never been opened, sitting instead amid the various lotions and creams that line my bathroom shelf. I had all but forgotten that it was there, but apparently, it had caught my daughter's eye.

"What is this, mom?" she asked, reaching for the jar and turning it so that I could see the label. It took me a moment to register the brand, and by then, Jo was reading the claims listed on the back. She wrinkled her nose dubiously.

"It says it can greatly reduce unsightly stretch marks. It says that some women even return to their pre-pregnancy selves."

I could see the wheels of her mind processing this information. True--in the ten weeks since Seven's birth, I've returned to my pre-pregnancy size. I'm back in my trusty jeans. I no longer have the gloriously outsized belly that housed my growing baby, or the puffy feet that kept me from wearing my favorite flip-flops all summer. I'm "me" again, at least to look at.

But Jo is old enough to realize that while I am back to being the "me" that she has known all of her life, there was a "me" beforehand. A "me" that had never been called Momma. A "me" whose stomach was flat and unscathed. A "me" who no cream can restore.

"That was a gift," I offered. She twisted the lid off, hoping to catch a sniff of the bottled optimism contained in the jar. A plastic seal prevented her from doing more than tapping her fingernail on an opaque pink film. 

"Why do people buy this stuff?" she asked. 

How to explain to a 13 year-old what drives women to purchase creams and potions designed to erase the cares and creases of life? How to help her understand the feeling of letting one season of life slip away even as another begins? How to distill 35 years of learning into one, simple primer on modern femininity?

Seeing my thoughtfulness, she asked her question a different way. A way that was far easier to answer:

"Why does it call stretch marks 'unsightly'?"

It was an honest question. In our family, scars, birthmarks and the like are signs of individuality and self. Mr. Blandings was born with a cleft lip and palate whose scars have defined his face for a lifetime. Jo has a small, moon-shaped notch just below her left eyebrow. Seven entered the world with a lovely strawberry birthmark coloring her left eyelid. None of these are things we seek to cover, to scour away, or to deny. They are part of who we are. In our family, we celebrate these things. Even more so the nicks and dings of life: the jagged, ripply line that runs the length of Logan's foot to remind him of a run-in with a massive splinter of wood, the white whorl of skin in the corner of Mani's mouth where his feeding tube was held in place as an infant. These are battle scars. Signs of bravery. The indelible markings of a life lived.

Perhaps, to some, they are unsightly. To those with eyes to see, they are simply stories writ large in our very flesh. No, not the inked versions that man has devised for himself; no one in our family has chosen to tattoo themselves. We haven't needed to--plenty of details of our inner selves appear on the fabric of our skin.

And so it is with the stretch marks I carry from my four successful pregnancies. After birthing the ten+ pounds that was Jo, my abdomen was streaked with red threads. I was marked forever. Two more babies in less than four years resulted in more, deeper skids that faded to silver over time. Seven added only two or three marks of her own to the tapestry--crimson lines amid the shiny, mature ones. Then, of course, there are the invisible stretch marks--the ones I earned during my elephant-like paper pregnancies with Oli and Mani.

"Some people don't like them," I shrugged. "They'd rather not have the reminder right there all the time. They view them as an imperfection."

Jo considered this.

"But ... it's part of being able to give birth, right? Don't most people get them?"

"It's part of the package for most people, yes."

"Then why wouldn't you just accept it? Why would you want to erase it? It's kind of an honor, right?"

I told her that while I see it that way, not everyone does. Some people, I have learned, don't want motherhood to change them. They want their bodies, their lives, their relationships, their everything to remain static. They resist the change of the status quo, clinging instead to the idea that they can be mothers--that they can experience the most life-changing event they will ever walk through--but be unmarked.

I know some of these women personally. They are the mothers who don't just refuse to accept a new wardrobe of exclusively sweats and ponytails (which I don't recommend), but would rather turn down a sticky hug in favor of chic, dry clean only fabrics on a daily basis. The gals who fret over every pound gained during pregnancy, who mourn their lost waistline, who aren't satisfied until they are sure they can go out in public and not be mistaken for a mom. They are the women who choose daycare at 6 weeks not to keep their family afloat financially, but to preserve their weekly budget for manicures, lattes, and shoes. The ones who can't give up the things they've "always" done in favor of the new things they might be blessed to experience.

It's a hard transition, motherhood. The sacrifices, the inconveniences, the living for someone else. This is sticky, hard, sometimes ugly stuff. And it will change you. If you let it, that is.

Motherhood--if you let it in you--will mark you in ways no cream or magic potion can touch. It will expand--and crush-- your heart far past the boundaries of what you thought possible. It will lead you to willingly let go of many things you once held sacred. It will leave you drained one day, and full to bursting the next. It will redefine you. It will make you redefine yourself.

Stretch marks are just the physical manifestation of the metamorphosis that is motherhood. Some people fight to hide them, just as they rail against true motherhood itself. Some find stretch marks ugly or even unsightly, even as they miss the simple blessing of denying oneself. But I think they are beautiful. After all, what other tangible sign do we have of this life-altering transformation? 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Just Another 24 Hours in the Homeschooling Life




Do you ever wonder about this thing called homeschooling? It's no static, easily defined state, you know. There are as many variables as there are families engaged in the pursuit, and sometimes--usually right about the time I contemplate what form of insanity I must suffer from to even entertain the notion that I could pull off educating my own kids-- sometimes I want to peek in the windows of the homeschool classrooms across the world and just watch.


Which is why I came up with the idea for Just Another 24 Hours in the Homeschooling Life. (It's all about me, you know.)


Here's the idea. Pick a day over the next two weeks (Nov. 22-Dec. 3).  Any day. It doesn't have to be your best homeschooling day, or your most typical homeschooling day, or even a day when you crack a book. Just pick a day and write about it. That's all.


Record a 24 hour period in your home. Nuts, bolts, warts, sunshine ... I want to see or hear all of it. Be as honest as you can. If you ditched a whole day of pre-planned learning to make leaf rubbings with your children, blog about it. If your five year-old's nonprofit group hosted its annual fundraiser for the homeless, let's hear about it. And if you just managed to get through the day alive ... tell me about that, too.


Pick a day and blog about it. Snag the badge at the top of this post and use it, if you'd like. Then come back here and leave a comment linking to you post. Check back often and see what other people have written.


It could make you feel better about your own homeschool. It could make you cry in frustration. And that's all o.k. Because really, there is no right or wrong way to do this job. There's just the unique way that each family approaches the task. 


So spread the word ... and then share. It's only 24 little hours, after all. :-)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Nominated

Turns out, the Homeschool Blog Awards snuck up on me this year. What with the adoptions, and Bee's visa drama, and Seven, and (finally!) finishing Apologia's Swimming Creatures ... I guess I'm out of the loop!


I'm honored to have Books and Bairns nominated for Best Homeschool Mom Blog. To be included in that list of nominees is humbling. As a matter of fact, I think I follow most of them! :-) 


If you'd like to vote, click here
Join Me at The Homeschool Post!

Doctored

There was a time, not so very long ago, when I was the docile, trusting patient that (most) doctors seem to love.

I need an antibiotic? Sure. What I eat doesn't really matter? O.k. It's normal to have that many illnesses in a year? Alrighty, if you say so.



Even after I became a parent, I still stayed fairly close to the party line. Jo was dutifully weighed, measured, vaccinated, and examined per the schedule recommended circa the late 90s. I truly never thought a thing of it. I can remember, in fact, being excited to reach those milestone appointments, to check the boxes, and to show off just how big and brilliant my offspring was.


I probably would have stayed that path were it not for two major chinks that became apparent in the armor of modern medicine. First, we had the sticky wicket of Jo's chronic ear infections. Second--and most importantly--we experienced the horror seeing Logan become a statistic when he reacted to a DTaP vaccine at 2 months of age.


In both cases, the medical community came up woefully short. 

Jo was given round after round of increasingly strong antibiotics before we were finally told that we should relent and have tubes put in her ears. Something in all of this didn't quite ring true, and Mr. Blandings and I held firm. It didn't quite seem coincidental that she had been weaned just two months prior to the onset of her first infection. And, we reasoned, winter was soon to give way to spring. Perhaps the warmer temperatures, increased activities, change to a veggie-centered diet, etc., would do her some good? Score one for Parental Intuition. Jo was cured of her 9 month long ear infection as soon as the warm, dry temps took hold.


Then there were Logan's seizures. No doctor could tell us for certain that it was the DTaP that our infant had reacted to; when you inject a baby who weighs less than 15 pounds with six different substances during one visit, it's really a game of hit or miss when it comes to figuring out what went wrong. Instead, we were given odds--odds as to what it was that had caused the issue, odds as to whether or not the seizing would stop, odds as to whether or not permanent damage was being done to his brain or neurological system, odds as to which course of treatment might help and which might hurt. Again, Mr. Blandings and I found ourselves being pitted against the community of people who claimed to know what was best for our child. Again we took the road less traveled. And, again, we were right.


After my eyes were fully opened, I set about educating myself. I've come out on the other side a wiser and, I think, more enlightened consumer of medical goods and services. I am not anti-modern medicine. Neither am I anti-alternative medicine. I am simply aware that everyone is trying to sell something ... and it's up to me as the consumer to decide what I need/want, and what I don't.


To that end, Mr. Blandings and I have decided to take our own approach to vaccinating Seven. Again, I am not against the concept of prophylactic health care. Members of my family travel to areas of the world where polio, Hepatitis B, and other scourges routinely afflict the population. Before exposing my child to a part of the world where it's likely that they may come into contact with such pestilence, I'd prefer that they be covered with whatever protection can be mustered, be it in the form of a vaccine or a pill. However, I just don't see chicken pox as something to fear. And pardon me for thinking this one through, but I really don't see the use in slamming my baby's immune system with challenges when her life is measured in weeks.


I knew that this would be a fairly unpopular tack to take. While I adore our pediatrician, I'm fully aware that she is employed by a huge medical conglomerate whose bread and butter is vested in towing the party line. Prior to Seven's birth, I outlined what Mr. Blandings and I have come to call our Delayed and Selective Vaccination Plan. Our pediatrician gave us the standard and expected warnings. "You really want that MMR as soon as possible, because if she catches it and is around pregnant women ..." "That first Hep B at birth is for the baby's safety ..." etc., etc. And then she left us alone.


Which was all well and good. Until Friday, that is.


On Friday, I called to make Seven's two month check up. Now, the only reason I was really interested at all in taking her in was to see how much she weighs. I don't own a scale. I guess I could get one, but frankly, it's just never something I think of picking up. Anyhow, I know that my baby girl is healthy and growing as she should. I'm just curious as to how much growing she's actually doing. So I figured I'd take her in and see what the scale said, and find out how she ranked in terms of her older biological siblings at this age.


For some reason, my call had to be shuttled to the doctor's medical assistant, an eager, chatty woman who tends to grate on me a bit.


"Mary Grace, I've got a note here that says I need to talk to you about Seven's shots."


Fine, I figured. The pediatrician made a note that I wouldn't be okaying any at this visit. No biggie.


"The clinic is changing the policy regarding kids and vaccinations. Unless they're up to date according to the schedule, we won't be seeing them as patients."


Honestly, I was wondering when it would come to this. With health care reform looming, and insurance companies pulling ever more weight, and the drug companies lobbying, and the doctors freaking everyone out ... I was finally being told that I could take the product wholesale, or find another provider altogether.


Thankfully, I've put in the hours researching and informing myself. This is no fly-by-night, knee-jerk reaction on my behalf. I've thought, I've prayed, and I'm comfortable with where I stand. I can't be bullied or frightened into relenting just to comply with a new policy. Once again, I'm being told that someone else knows what's best for my child. The school system, the government, the doctors. 


I call youknowwhat on that.


I'm the Momma. I'm the one God trusted this child to. And I'm the one not buying what the powers that be are selling.

Monday, November 1, 2010

It goes so fast


Seven at seven weeks
Wasn't I just finding out I was pregnant?
Wasn't it yesterday that I felt those first flutters?
Didn't I just hold her in my arms for the very first time?


It goes so fast. And me? I'm just enjoying the ride.

Friday, October 29, 2010

BOOKS and BAIRNS: TOS Review: Buckets-O-Fun

BOOKS and BAIRNS: TOS Review: Buckets-O-Fun

TOS Review: Buckets-O-Fun

When I realized last spring that we'd be welcoming a new little person just as the new school year really got going, I knew some accommodations to my plans would be in order. The words for our year are streamlined, efficient, and easy. In other words, I cut out anything likely to cause me more stress than I need on a daily basis. Is it just me, or are most of those things the very elements that kids consider the most fun? You know what I'm talking about. Art projects that require glue, Sharpie pens, and glitter. Edible math manipulatives. And don't forget those science experiments that require trips to out-of-the-way specialty shops so that you can blow something up. ((sigh))

Not wanting to have this labeled The Year We Had No Fun At All, I threw in a handful of craft kits, committed to setting aside time for really fun activities, scheduled some actual art lessons, and prayed that God would provide the rest.

So far, it's working.

Our crafts and experiments have been a hit, even if they haven't been the brainchild of yours truly. Frankly, I am not regretting a single penny that I spent on the DIY mosaic coaster kit that accompanied our study of the Byzantine Empire. And I think that letting someone else worry over finding the right sized paper for drawing up our own coat of arms was simply brilliant.
Sometimes, honestly, the time and trouble saved is worth the effort.

Case in point: Buckets-O-Fun.

Many, many time over our homeschooling years I've concocted slimy, sticky, stretchy goo for my kids to play with. We've talked about some basic chemistry, made a few observations, and then made an absolute mess. It's good stuff, that. 

But really, I don't have the time right now to dig around for a recipe, pull together the ingredients, and research the scientific principles I'd like to get across. Ready made is my friend. And that's the genius of Buckets-O-Fun and their line of YUCK. It's ready to rock. Simply breeze through a quick overview of some easy-to-digest science facts, add water...


... and play...


...and play...


... and play.






All science should produce this kind of reaction, don't you think?


Buckets-O-Fun YUCK comes in an amazing array of yucky textures and consistencies, from Snowy (our favorite) to Saucy. It retails starting at $16 for a pound of the stuff, which will go very far indeed. If my little crew is any indicator, once your troops get done grossing themselves out with the goop, they'll suddenly want to know more about polymers than you can even begin to tell them, so plan ahead and have some library titles handy before you try this at home.

So there you have it/ Science that satisfies the kiddos, requires minimal prep from mom, and ignites curiosity. All while staying sane. Streamlined, efficient, and easy. That's my mantra!


Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review: bumGenius 4.0 (snaps)

Yes, she slept through the diaper change!


I'm nowhere near a cloth diaper expert. But I am a cloth diaper addict, which means that I'm always willing to pass along my thoughts about the dipes I've tried. Granted, I haven't tried that many--at least not when compared to some of the mommas whose blogs I frequent. But I've sampled a few, and shared about them before. Since Seven has been donning cloth, I've gotten to try a couple of new brands and types of diapers. I thought I'd share my thoughts on them. For posterity's sake, of course.
This is an unsolicited review. I did not receive this product in exchange for my sharing about it. This is a review of an item I personally purchased, so take it for what it is.


The very first pocket diaper I tried was the bumGenius 3.0. And it was fabulous. I loved the ease of use, the relative trimness, the fact that Mr. Blandings had no qualms about strapping them to little bottoms (pre-folds made him skittish), and (of course) their cute factor. What I didn't love was the fact that the aplix tabs rendered them useless a year into my first batch of covers--or the fact that the replacement covers I was sent only lasted half as long before they, too fell victim to curling.

The tabs were my only complaint, however. Everything else about the diaper was as close to perfect as you can reasonably expect. They only leaked on the rarest of occasions. They cleaned up beautifully after even the yuckiest of poops. They were easy to care for. They were, in short, my dream diaper. But again with the tabs ... argh!!!

I knew that if bumGenius ever came out with a diaper with snaps, I'd be first in line to try it out. So it was that shortly before Seven was born, I heard that my dream had come true. bumGenius had introduced 4.0s. And, wonder of wonders, snap closures were an option.

I bought one. Just one. Why? Well, I was afraid that I'd be disappointed, to be honest. I loved the 3.0s so much, and felt so betrayed by the fraying, curling tabs, that I was truly nervous that something might be awry with the 4.0s. 

So I bought one. And I tried it. 

And now I plan on buying a few more.

Why? Because yes, the 4.0 is the 3.0 ... improved. The snaps are exactly what this diaper needed to make it pretty much the perfect pocket diaper. It has the back flap that covers the elastic on the back and hides where the insert goes. It comes with two inserts--a smaller newborn one that works as a doubler later, and the thicker, adjustable one for bigger babies. It's a one-sized diaper, so it can be used from (imo) 11 lbs. and up (although bumGenius says the baby can weigh less, my experience was that Seven was swimming in it until she hit 11 lbs.). And yes, it cleans up like a dream.
This is the diaper I reach for for nighttime use. It holds an amazing amount without leaking, and still keeps Seven's bum feeling dry when I take it off. I simply love it.

I only have two complaints regarding this diaper, and one may not even be complaint-worthy; time will tell. The first issue is that the color I ordered ("bubble") is really not a color at all. It's pretty much white, only with a slightly grey hue to it. That was disappointing. I've since heard that the darker colors are the way to go in this line. When I buy more, I plan on steering clear of the lighter hues and hitting just the more vibrant ones. The second issue is the strength of the snaps. Comparing the snaps on the 4.0 with the other snap diapers I have, I'm wondering if these will hold up as well as other brands. They seem slightly flimsier when compared to other snaps. Shades of aplix gone bad? I'm not sure ... yet.

Still, as I said, this is a go-to, workhorse of a diaper. Seven is currently wearing the 4.0 on the smallest rise setting with the full-sized insert set to small. I foresee a lot of use on this one ... and a few more 4.0s in our repertoire!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Held, four years later

Today--October 15th--is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

In the past, I have sat alone and pondered the emptiness and loss with aching arms and a grieving soul. With shaky hands, I scrolled the archives of my blog until I found this post, which I read solemnly, quietly, waiting for more tears to come.

This year, there were tears, too-- but they were the tears of someone who has been given eyes to see. As I thought about the years of fruitlessness, I pressed my newborn daughter to my breast and breathed in the scent of her sweet baby head. Not my will, God ... but yours.


Nothing can take back the pain I have felt. No one--not even my beautiful little Seven-- can replace the little ones I never got to hold. But it's true: time, growth, and new blessings can ease some of the hurt.


I still remember. I still mourn. But I do so with new hope. I am, after all, still being held.







Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Be still my heart

Manolin stole my heart from the moment I first laid eyes on him. Keeping in mind that our first "meeting" was in the form of my being handed a studio portrait of him as a three month-old dressed in a little brown monkey costume, I think you can tell the power this little man has over me.

Those big brown eyes ...




 The thumb-sucking ...


The passionate attachment to his ratty ni-ni blanket ...



The all-encompassing joy that lights up his entire face ...



 The pseudo-shy, flirty little boy love that he uses to charm the dickens out of everyone who crosses his path ...


Manolin is nothing short of the epitome of toddlerhood. Unbridled energy, unfettered courage, curiosity in spades, and an appetite for everything the world has to offer. 


People always tell adoptive parents how "lucky" our kids are that they found homes. Take another look at these pictures of Mani ... and tell me--who's the lucky one?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Classic Books and Bairns

Since I'm not posting quite regularly (it's a lot harder to type one-handed than I remember!), I thought I'd link to this classic MG rant. It's an oldie, yes ... but it still makes me laugh to remember the night in question!

All I want for Christmas is my dignity, circa 2007.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hello, my name is Mary Grace ...

... and I'm addicted to cloth diapers.


Who knew that something so simple would create such an obsession? Who knew that something designed to catch youknowwhat could be so much fun?


Having a new baby--a baby girl, might I add--in the house has made this obsession all the more virulent. Turns out that no, I am not above forking out money for pink diaper covers that would be rendered completely useless on a male child. Gender neutral? Yes, please. But can you throw something pink or frilly in there, too?



Friday, October 1, 2010

Known

My birthday gift, three weeks early: the fabulous, fancy, SLR camera I have been coveting for a year. I hold its heavy, boxy black body in my hand, caress the lens, fiddle with one of the countless switches and doodads that adorn its solid sides.

Seven is sleeping on my bed, her pink mouth drawn into a perfect bow, her little brow knit into a serious arch above her flitting baby eyes.


I tell Mr. Blandings thank you with my eyes and my words. I hug him as tightly as I can and kiss him with one of those just-for-married-folks kisses. It is a good feeling, this being loved beyond measure.


"I know it cost a fortune!" I say to him, pulling back and admiring, yet again, the camera of my dreams--the one I will take countless photos of my growing children with. The one I will lug on camping trips, to the zoo, on playdates, to swim lessons. The one that will capture and preserve the salad days of my life.


"You've waited a long time," he says, stroking my cheek.


"A year isn't that long," I smile, thinking of all of the "things" we have decided to wait on or let go. A year, really, is nothing. A camera ... even less.


"Not for the camera," he says then, and glances over his shoulder to where our baby is curled on her side, sleeping blissfully in her pink onesie, wrapped in her striped pink blanket.


A long time. Yes. Four years. Forty-eight months, many miscarriages, weeks upon weeks of ache. Many days, as I journeyed through infertility and loss, I felt alone. I felt abandoned, broken, and forgotten. No one, I was sure, could understand. No one saw the hurt. 


I was wrong.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Newborn pics

When Jo was born, we were desperately poor. Twenty dollars a week for groceries poor. You have no business having a baby poor. Clearly, we made it. But no, there was no room in the budget for anything extra. Heck, there was no room in the budget for half of the essentials.


I went through that amazing, God-sent pregnancy regretting so many things that I would have loved to experience. I listened to people talk about their little babymoon getaways, and plan out their elaborate nurseries, and pick up sweet little outfits, and my heart ached. I felt like somehow, I was missing out. Then Jo was born, and I realized that I could have been in a mud hut with nothing but a straw mat to sleep on and my husband by my side, my baby in my arms ... and I would have still been blissfully happy.


The only thing I walked away feeling like I would have liked to have done differently was the photographs of that time. Thirteen years ago, most of the public was still shooting film. It was the age of the awful point-and-shoot. Stand four feet from your subject, hope the focus is right, and hit the button. Sometimes you got the shot. Sometimes you didn't. You had no idea until the photos came back from the drug store--or, if you were poor like me, you had no idea until the relatives sent you their cast-offs ... and those slightly out of focus or badly lit images are what your memories are made of to this day.

This was a special tragedy to me because in college, photography was one of my favorite hobbies. I lugged my cheap, clunky Pentax with me everywhere. I spent hours in cramped darkrooms. I even entertained going to photography school for a while, but followed the advice of a dear friend who said, "Becoming a photographer was the best way to kill my love of taking good pictures."


Being dirt poor, however, meant no money to buy decent film. No access to processing chemicals. Nothing. Because folks, photography is a pricey hobby.


Things were better--both financially and photographically--with Atticus and Logan. I could buy our own film for our little point and shoot, and sometimes, I even got it processed. We got our very first digital camera when Logan was seven months old, and from there, things were, well--a lot clearer. From the moment we were placed with Oli and Mani, we've had decent shots. Eight years of digital. Woo-hoo!


But still, the newborn days were gone. And you know, I've been saddened by that on many an occasion. Mr. Blandings doesn't understand this pang, but maybe some other mothers will. The window of time when your babies are sweet, sleeping little peanuts is so short. You can never get it back. But, if you're blessed, you can at least look back on proof that the time existed. 

This time, I told myself that I would have the proof.


I started shopping for a photographer mid-way through my pregnancy with Seven. There are so many styles, so many approaches, so much to choose from. I decided that I wanted shots of just my baby, despite the obvious beauty of the lovely Momma and Baby themes, or even the Family and Baby approach. Along the way, I fell in love with Renee Bergeron's work. And, generously, she worked with me to preserve my memories of this beautiful, fleeting time with Seven.


Renee has posted a sampling of some of the shots on her photo blog, and I'm delighted to share them with you. I'm also happy to pass on a hearty endorsement of her as a photographer. Not only is her work incredible, but she's just a neat person all around--someone you want to sip coffee with and get to know better. If you're in the market for a professional photographer, drop her a line.


Trust me, you'll be glad you did. Memories are precious. But the photos to back up those once-in-a-lifetime mental images are just as priceless.



Friday, September 24, 2010

13


On Sunday, Jo will cross the line that separates girls from young ladies. She will, officially, be 13.



I keep shaking my head in wonder, awed at the fact that the little girl who once refused to wear anything but Snow White costume to the grocery store is suddenly borrowing my t-shirts, loaning me hair bands, and asking if she can make brownies for dessert since she has nothing else to do.

There's a certain sense of the surreal, too, with a newborn baby girl in the house just as Jo teeters on the  edge of growing up. Seven is a very real reminder of all that we've already walked through with Jo, from the late night feedings to the obsession with horses, from the trimming of tiny fingernails to the countless rounds of "Chutes and Ladders." 

Jo and Atticus at Fair


I can't believe it's all in the past, that that part of parenting my very first little girl has already slipped by me. And how is it that the knowledge that I was there for all of it somehow make it seem all the more bittersweet? I listened as she learned to read. I taught her to knit. I held her hand at the orthodontist's office. I have been a constant in her life. And yet, the balance of time she has left when she will define herself as someone's daughter first and foremost is shifting. Our relationship is changing. 


She doesn't need me any less. I have to keep reminding myself of this as I see her balance so much more than I ever expected at this age. The peculiar thing about many homeschooled children is that they mature in terms of responsibility so much faster that their traditionally schooled peers, even as they lag behind in some of the more worldly aspects of life. Jo is clueless about most popular music and flavor-of-the-moment icons of her generation. It would never occur to her to ask for a cell phone or to "hang out" at a mall. But she runs a small, profitable rabbitry with a clear head and sets personal goals better than most adults I know. She is trustworthy, honest to a fault, and kind. These, I think, are the worthier things for a teen to pursue.


But yes, she needs me. My job is nowhere near done. Now is the time for coaching, encouraging, mentoring, refining. This is the season where I get to engage on a whole new level with the young lady my daughter is becoming. My Jo is turning 13. What a wonderful gift to celebrate!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Birth


I've had three beautiful, peaceful labors. Labors that left me glowing and feeling strong and empowered, even as I held my newborn for the very first time. Labors with little more than a shadowy memory of pain lingering in the background as I contemplate the hours spent bringing my babies into the world.


My labor with Seven was not one of those. Instead, it was the kind of labor that truly let me know why we use the word "labor" to start with. Birthing a baby is hard work, it turns out.


Seven was born just three hours and ten minutes after my ob/gyn broke my water to begin my official induction. It was a terribly long three hours and ten minutes. A terribly painful three hours and ten minutes. Three hours and ten minutes in which I finally folded and declared that while I'd been able to have three unmedicated deliveries in the past, I was no longer on board with the whole "natural childbirth" idea and would really, really like to meet the anesthesiologist. Alas, that was the time at which Seven chose to make her entrance. So ... make that four unmedicated deliveries--one under protest.

And yes, I'd do it again.


The moment of Seven's birth is blurry around the edges. Unlike my previous deliveries, where I was focused and alert and feeling every twinge of every moment, Seven arrived in the rush of an urge I couldn't control had I wanted to. No one was quite prepared; the doctor was out of the room, Mr. Blandings was at my ear, encouraging me that I was almost through, I was stretched out on the bed, praying that it would all be over. Then, suddenly, one gigantic red wave that I simply had to ride, and--

The nurse caught her as she rotated out of my body and onto the bed. Someone yelled, "Time? Time?" Through my absolute relief I realized Mr. Blandings was back by my ear, this time laughing and crying and telling me that we had a daughter.

She was gloriously pink and fuzzy haired and wide-eyed, looking for all the world as if she had somehow witnessed the entire breadth of human history before being born as an infant. She has been a quiet baby, a sleepy little thing content to nap and, on occasion, observe the goings on with interest. Nursing has been a challenge, and I've been grateful countless times that she's not my first and therefore I'm nowhere near as green and likely to give up. We've only heard her cry a handful of times, and each time it has been shocking to hear how small and dispassionate her wails are, as if she is only counting down the days until she can make requests in a more civilized manner. 

Every day, I have looked at my daughter and been amazed. Seven months ago, I was unable to comprehend what God's plan was in allowing this pregnancy. I was frightened, anxious, and unable to rejoice in large part due to my lack of faith. I remember seeing that tiny, flickering heartbeat for the first time, and daring--just barely--to hope. I remember feeling the first feeble movements and wondering if I'd ever meet this little one.

And now, here she is. Healthy. Whole. Here. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pictures of Seven!!!

The pictures of Seven you've been waiting for!









(Pictures posted by Benny - Mary Grace will post more later, of course!)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Seven...

... is here!!!
... came into the world at 6:21 this evening (pacific time).
... is 21 1/4 inches long.
... weighs 9 pounds 5 ounces.
... has already stolen the hearts of the entire Blandings family, even before meeting most of them.
... is a GIRL!!!
... is reported to look just like her big sister Jo did when she was born.
... 's Mommy is doing great - and is head over heels in love with her newest little gift from God.
... is very, very loved.
... is very, very blessed.
(Update brought to you by Mary Grace's friend Benny. Mary Grace will fill you in on the rest of the details herself when she gets a chance)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thoughts before Seven arrives


•The neatest thing about pregnancy? You are never alone. Always, inside, you are carrying another person. It's a beautiful reminder to me as a Christian that I always bear someone else inside me ... and as obvious as it is to parade around town with a swollen belly, it should be even more obvious to everyone who sees me that I am honored to be a child of God.

•I had no idea, when I had three little ones four and under, how much easier it would someday be to actually have a whole houseful with a couple of older ones in the mix. Those eager helpers are a blessing I can't be grateful enough for.

•You are, truly, never ready to have a baby. I believed this 13 years ago as I counted down the days until Jo's birth. I believe it even more now.

•How is it possible that I am actually realizing that I will miss my aching back and that slipping feeling in my hips? Oh, perspective changes so much in one's life. I am so thankful for the chance to do all this again--and to relish it, rather than wish it away.

•Seven will not want for love. I can't count how many times each day one of the older children--or a friend, or even just someone on the periphery of our lives-- bubbles over with joy when talking about how excited they are to meet this little one. God surely knew what He was doing with timing for this blessing!

•Every pregnancy only happens once. With Jo, we were so poor that many of the little things I dreamed of doing were out of reach. With Atticus and Logan, I was too caught up in the cycle of pregnant-baby-nursing-pregnant-wean toddler-give birth-nursing-repeat to invest in these treasured moments. This time, I'm doing my best to prudently give in to my whims. Money is always an object, but by golly ... I will have lifelong momentos and memories of this pregnancy, and of Seven as a newborn. It's worth it.

•I am not in charge. Not of my body, this baby, or anything else, really. God is. And that's far more comforting than anything else I can say right now.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Yes, I'm *really* pregnant

Someone complained that I haven't posted a single belly pic throughout my entire pregnancy. So sorry. I really didn't think anyone was that interested in seeing me in all my glory. Anyhow, here it is. Me, last week, as I hit the 37 week mark. Hope this satisfies any curiosity. :-)


Friday, September 3, 2010

Got boys?

Logan, playing the part of "all boy" to the hilt.

I am always amazed by the way people perceive boys. Even a single, adorable little moppet of a boy sitting in the front of his Momma's shopping cart is likely to illicit a "Whoa! I bet he's a little troublemaker!" from a stranger. Making your way down an aisle with four of the little creatures, for some reason, makes people go bug-eyed.

"Heaven help you, honey," a well-meaning lady told me recently as I selected the perfect pineapple. "Tell me that one's not a boy, too." She motioned sympathetically toward my belly, as if it might contain yet another horrendous, messy, wild boy child.

In front of my four sons, mind you.

((sigh))

I have personally always been delighted by raising boys. Yes, yes, they contain little mysteries all their own. Why, for example, must they fixate on certain kinds of humor around the dinner table? Why, oh why, do they eventually want to learn to potty standing up? And why, most of all, do they ponder the most intimate gender questions aloud? In public? With the most volume they can muster? (Yes, there are stories behind this.)

None of these little idiosyncrasies give me pause in the thought of being the mother of yet another little man, however. No matter what bystanders think as they see us unload from our big white van ("Girl, boy, boy, boy, boy ... poor thing!") neither Mr. Blandings nor I has any aversion to Seven being a boy. Or a girl. Whatever he or she happens to be, we're simply delighted to see what God has in store for us.

That being said, I'm delighted to announce that whatever gender this baby is, the truth will be revealed September 11th at the latest. My doctor has given us an induction date based on the hefty size we're assuming Seven to be. If I go into labor spontaneously between now and then, so be it. If not, we'll meet our little one on 9/11/10.

Boy or girl. The wait is almost over. :-)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Investing in daughters

Jo, decorating a cake.

Jo is, quite literally, growing up before my very eyes. Not a day passes that I'm not reminded of how quickly she is leaving behind "the things of childhood" and moving into the days of young womanhood. Part of me is terrified of all this change. I have loved and adored having a little girl to walk alongside me these past few years, and the thought of leaving that behind brings my Momma heart not a small portion of grief.

But then again, the greater part of me is delighted. As the trapping of girlhood slip away--as the dolls have a chance to grow dusty on their shelves, as the toy horses come out for a frolic less and less-- the woman that I'm going to know for the rest of my life emerges, bit by bit. I have the chance to fall in love with my girl all over again.

Truly, motherhood is an amazing thing.

Sensing that this was a year that would bring many changes to all of our lives, Mr. Blandings and I sat down early this summer with a list of priorities--things we absolutely didn't want to let escape us in the hustle and bustle of life. Top among my things to purpose towards was investing in Jo's blossoming womanhood. Mr. Blandings was in full support of this, even though he had very little to contribute in the way of practical ideas. (What with not having the vaguest clue as to what it feels like to be a teenage girl and all ...) I did some research, wrote down some ideas, talked to my daughter, and came up with a plan.

Jo's main goal--aside from just having girls-only access time to me--was to learn more about cooking. She's a crack baker at this point, and adores any and all time that she gets to spend in the kitchen tinkering. She'd keen on expanding her repertoire beyond the basics, but in her own social way, would prefer to do it with a guide. I'm a much more solitary cook myself, so it takes me outside of my comfort zone to share my space and skills with someone else--something I've had to shove aside as I've committed to this journey together. If my daughter wants to learn to cook with me at her side, then you can bet I will be there, discomfort or no.

My main intent on spending time together was to purposefully impart some of the insight I've learned on the road to becoming the kind of woman I think God wants me to be. Much of this is simply taking the time to share Scripture, mentor, and ask deeper questions that will help me to stay in tune with my daughter's heart as she grows. But the ultimate goal is to help her to keep listening to God's will for her life. I know all too well that as the label "teen" is added to a child's age, society's voices can grow far louder than God's. I want to help keep the volume adjusted to the proper level, if you know what I mean.

Using these two desires as a starting point, I ended up buying Doorposts' Polished Cornerstones curriculum as a guide for what I hope will be memorable, productive, fun time together as Mother and Daughter.

It's based on Scriptural definitions of womanhood, but is also open-ended enough to be used even by those of us who don't always fit under the umbrella most often opened for our KJ-only sisters. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this character-building, life-shaping curriculum really does function as a "pick and choose" buffet for crafting meaningful times around many different learning styles and personality types. And all the while, the focus is on sharing and simply being together. How refreshing!

So far, we're off to a good start. Since the book isn't necessarily meant to be used in chronological order, I skipped ahead to the chapter on cooking as that was what Jo had expressed as her biggest interest. It took me just a few hours to go through the section, select some scripture to study together (the book offers several options for each chapter's theme, then allows the parent to choose what fits their daughter the best), and zero in on a handful of activities to pursue based on that lesson. I decided to give this chapter five weeks, with two days of study being pursued each week. I can honestly say that thus far, Jo has lit up each time she realized that it's Tuesday or Thursday--"PC day!"

From the extensive list of options, I selected those activities that seemed to be most likely to help Jo with specific skills or to delight her with a chance to show off her abilities. So far, she's gained a greater understanding of the cook's role in making sure everyone stays healthy by balancing food choices in menus, learned basic cooking terms (grill, baste, saute, fold, etc.), started her own recipe binder (just like Mom's!), and begun collecting recipes that she'd like to try her hand at. All the while, we've made time to cook together. It's been a total blessing ... to both of us.

The time I've invested in spending time with Jo will always be dear to me. Watching her joy as she assembled her own recipe binder was probably one of the highlights of my month. Seriously--to see the care she took in making labels for her dividers, thinking through how she'd like to categorize, watching as she decided what her first recipe to go in to the first page protector would be ... I was proud. I was humbled. And I was struck by what a fine young woman I had on my hands already.

I have no interest in producing a mini-me clone when it comes to raising any of my children, let alone my daughter. I am overjoyed that God created within each of them their own personalities, their own proclivities, and their own desire to walk with Him in their own way. But to be able to pause and pour into a growing, developing heart is a blessing that pays out to us as mothers a hundred fold. My Jo will not be "Mary Grace all over again." That's not the point. But hopefully she will emerge from this season stronger, more prepared, and well-loved, knowing that her father and I felt that her teen years were an important time. Not for the reasons that the world so often trumpets. But for the reasons that God outlines--that she should grow in knowledge and wisdom, so as to be an arrow for the Lord.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A really good reason

Jo at the Fit & Show table at Fair.

I have a really good reason for not posting for an entire week. A really good reason.

No, not that good of a reason. Seven is still securely, happily baking away inside, despite our best efforts to convince him or her that it really, truly is o.k. to come out and play. We had an ultrasound to check for size a week ago, and Seven measured in the neighborhood of 8 pounds. While I've birthed two pounds heavier than that, I'd rather stick in the "normalish" range with this little one, and am praying that showtime is in the next few days rather than the next few weeks. But hey, if I don't meet Seven until the end of September and he or she turns out to be a 12 pound roly poly, I'll happily take that, too. Just with a couple of ibuprofen to take the edge off, thankyouverymuch. ;-)

The reason I haven't posted is Fair. Yes, it's Fair time again here in Western WA. Jo is delighted to be showing off a couple of her rabbits, cleaning barns, and answering the public's questions about all things bunny. Her competitions have all gone quite well, and while it's definitely a huge disruption to our normal schedule of things (how DO people get everyone out of the house by 7 a.m. every morning?!?!) it's worth the effort.

The Blandings will return to their regularly scheduled postings this week.

Unless, of course, Seven decides to make his or her debut.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On waiting

Atticus, waiting for the fish to bite recently.


I am--finally--good at waiting. I know that some people aren't, but me? I'm no longer bothered by it. While the common view of waiting is something skin to "wasting time in between engagements," for me, waiting has become something else entirely. Waiting is a pause. Waiting is refreshment. Waiting is wading through the contents of my mind and heart and revisiting all the places I have been and hope to go. Waiting, it turns out, is good.

One thing that people ask me on a daily basis at this point is whether or not I am getting anxious to meet Seven. The truth? I'm not. Now don't take that to mean that I'm not looking forward to the day when I hold this little man or lady in my arms. It's not that at all. What it is, rather, is a contentment with the place where I find myself. Right now, today, as I sit here, I am--gloriously-- 35 weeks pregnant. That's 8.75 months into a pregnancy I never thought I'd experience. And while I am growing less comfortable as I try to find the perfect sleeping position at night, I am nowhere near feeling an urgency to leave this blessed time of being used to grow a baby behind me.

Here's the thing about waiting: it's as productive as you allow it to be. I have learned this the hard way, and I think that the weight of this lesson is what finally brought me to a place where I could sit and listen and watch grass grow without feeling the terrible guilt and frustration that inactivity often brings in its sidecars.

For years and years of my life, I hated waiting. While I was never one of the "gotta have it right now" crowd, I definitely leaned towards wanting my fulfillment on my time schedule. I remember when Jo was 14 months old and stuck in the middle of what seemed like an endless cycle of ear infections. During that season, it seemed like an interminable amount of life was wasted as I diligently administered almond oil, lavender oil, chamomile oil drops. When those failed to produce the desired result, I moved to antibiotics, analgesics, tympanograms. Anything that promised a cure was worth pursuing. Time was, after all, of the essence.

I waited and I waited for something to resolve. I hated every moment of it. It seemed like I did nothing but fret and rock my baby girl for years. In the end, that period of time was--ready for this? Six months. Yes, that's all. Six months. Clearly, it was not a purgatory without conclusion. But what it was, in truth, was wasted waiting.

Why? Because during that time, when I could have been wrapped up in making the most of the time with my only child, I couldn't take my eyes off of the end goal long enough to see the moment. While no parent wants their child to be in pain, let's be honest ... there are perks to having a little one who just wants to curl up in your lap and be loved on--especially when that child is your only one! But I was too determined to rush to the healing part to actually find some piece of joy in the moment I was given. I was thinking of the birthday parties we missed, the play dates we didn't make it to, the leaf-collecting walks that didn't happen. Because of that, I couldn't see the long hours spent reading, the shadow puppet sillies, the naps my baby girl took on my chest because she just needed me there.

I wasted my waiting. And therefore, I missed a gift.

I did this again after my devastating miscarriage in January of 2006. Unable to breathe, allow God to be God, and wait on His timing, I fixated on becoming pregnant again. The sad result? Reading my own blog posts from that season feels like peeking into someone else's life. Yes, my children grew. My husband loved me. Holidays happened. But again, the goal was the goal. Everything else was shunted aside in favor of getting to my end destination.

Do you know what ultimately brought me to the place where I could wait, and hope, and pray, and still get up in the morning ready to engage in the tasks that seemed fleeting and insignificant, but were destined to water my soul? Foster care and adoption.

Something about having no control, having no sense of permanence, being unable to wrestle situations to my desired outcome ... all of that taught me that waiting is life. Yes, you can rush forward to meet your dreams head-on. But you can also feel peace in the days that are marked with the mundane. You can find joy in the quiet. You can thrive in the desert where action and movement seem completely out of reach.

And in those places, truly, you can find the most blessing.

I do not worship pregnancy. I am not a woman who is not satisfied unless she has a baby growing under her shirt or a nursling riding on her back. I do not feel empty or unattractive or without purpose unless I can define myself by my role as a carrier of life. I do not give birth and immediately dream of doing it again and again.

But I am enjoying this pregnancy. I am waiting well, and feeling that the wait, really, is more a part of the process than most of us ever notice. I can feel discomfort and be amazed at the design of my body as it accommodates this feat that I see only God Himself could have dreamed up. I can be brought to tears by a hug from Jo as she rushes behind me at the washing machine and bursts, "I can't believe we're going to have a baby!" I can ride the waves of hormones and marvel at their purpose. I can catch the wonder in Atticus' eyes as he places his hand on my abdomen and waits for another round of hiccups from Seven. I can see my body becoming a foreign entity and almost stand back, taking in this event in slow motion that only God could have timed. I can delight in Mani repeating, "Baby. Baby. Be jennnnn-tullll!" as he points to my stomach, wide-eyed and clueless.

So, no, I am not ticking seconds off of the clock in anticipation of meeting Seven. I have made that mistake too many times before. Instead, I choose to be immersed here, now, in this moment. I choose to receive the blessing fully, to drink of this cup, to allow God to wash His goodness over me in His timing. I will wait--joyfully--and enjoy this brief moment.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Flipping the switch

All of this prayer and time and effort to keep Seven safely inside, growing, maturing, getting ready for birth ...

And now, all we can think of is orchestrating his or her exit plan. :-)

At my 34 week appointment yesterday, my OB and I started talking about ways to to help ease this little wonder into the world. Seven is head down, engaged, measuring two weeks ahead, and big. The current guesstimate is 8 lbs., which is on target with my past pregnancies at this stage of development. Since I'm dilating and effacing quite nicely already, it shouldn't be rocket science to get this show under way.

But then again, one never knows. God is in charge. And for all we know, He wants Seven to weigh 14 lbs. and be born in September!

But just in case He doesn't mind giving me a slightly smaller little person to cuddle, we're making preparations for a birth sometime in the next week or two. Seven will be born at a local hospital with just Mr. Blandings and I on hand, taking the lead and probably driving the staff nuts with our lack of concern for their protocol over our wishes. Thus far, I've been blessed with deliveries requiring very little in the way of medical oversight; due to the timing of my births (earlier than average) and the size of our babies, we've felt that to give birth outside of a safety-net environment would be somewhat reckless. After all, I managed a 10 lb., 2 oz. baby with only one tear before ... but what if this time a shoulder was stuck? (shudder) What if the "above average" blood loss I experienced once before was worse? (eek) What if ....?

As always, we're assuming and praying for the best. I've never had an epidural, only had an IV once, and never required more than a little over-the-counter painkiller after the birth. I would love to experience the same beautiful, gentle birthing again, but you know what? If I don't, I won't be crushed. I won't feel cheated, defeated, or slapped. Why? Because to me, just having a healthy baby at the end of the journey is enough. I don't care how Seven gets here. I don't have anything to prove. I don't care what the environment is like, how dim the lights are, or if the right song is playing. If I end up with a c-section, an epidural, pitocin, whatever ... I really don't care. What I want is to meet my baby. Period.

So get ready. Soon enough, God willing, it will be time to meet Seven.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Olischool

Oliver enjoying a good read in the van.

I gave up on real, actual preschool somewhere around the time that I realized that my time was much better spent constructing a family learning environment rather than setting up empty crafts outlining the life cycle of a butterfly or printing out worksheets aimed at letter awareness. This was a revolutionary way of thinking for me. Up until that point, I was pretty sure that "reading readiness" and "math activities" were required of all 3 year-olds, and that by doing anything less than providing these opportunities I was proving myself a bad, bad momma.

Eh, you live and learn, right?

Instead of concocting actual plans for preschool, I have spent that time with my children reading, reading, reading--and focusing on their areas of strengths and weaknesses. So, for example, Logan's "preschool" (if you want to call it that) consisted of reading picture books until I was hoarse, sitting in on whatever reading I was doing for the older kids, working through some speech and PT exercises with me, and painting, drawing, or doing some other artistic activity daily. He also amassed quite a startling collection of workbooks, but trust me, this had less to do with any interest on my behalf in "teaching" him, and much more to do with his desire to "do school." While I worked on math with Jo or lead Atticus through a reading lesson, Logan would happily cut, paste, and stick in his Rod and Staff preschool books, or the massive sticker book that I picked up for him at Costco, which required him to match different halves of animals or give community workers their proper tools.

And that, my friends, was "preschool."

Now that I'm faced with a slightly different challenge, I find myself confronting the idea of "pre" and "school" on a new level. The truth is, Oli needs the skill-enhancing aspects of early childhood education in a way that most neuro- and cognitive-typical children do not. What's a homeschool mom to do?

Long before any diagnoses were forthcoming, I picked up on Oli's differences. His learning style follows no predictable arc I've ever heard of. His abilities are far below what one would expect of a child his chronological age. And yet ... he can learn. He most definitely has the ability to engage with and understand the world around him. Seeing this, I dug in. Step one: find his strengths, and make them stronger. Step two: find his weaknesses, and meet him there.

I started simply enough. Using the Montessori-inspired activities that I've picked up over the years, I led Oli through a series of activities on a regular basis designed to help him gain small motor skills. We worked on simple things, like matching and understanding one to one correlation. We talked about colors. And we read like crazy.

I figured out quite quickly that Oliver learns best when music is either on, or a key component of what he's learning. Easy enough. I set just about every routine to a song. Some were no-brainers (everyone knows the clean up song, right?) and others needed to be invented. But by the time I was finished, we had a song for every task ... and a little boy who was figuring out the structure of the day and the cues that signaled transition.

He graduated from birth to three and was enrolled in the local public school's special needs preschool program, and I took a step back, wondering how to redefine my role now that someone else was also trying to grapple with decoding the mystery that is Oli. I spent a few months "storing things up in my heart" and finally knew what I had to do: actual, real, concentrated learning stuff. With a preschooler.

In other words, preschool. Oli-style.

So this summer, we have kicked off a whole new push to make the most of Oli's cognitive capabilities and help his readiness along. I purchased a handful of tools to make this easier, but am also relying heavily on what I have on hand. For instance, those Montessori activities are in full force. Sandpaper to smooth rough edges on wood blocks. Clothes pins to pinch and adhere to the sides of bowls and strips of cloth. Rice to pour into different containers.

And then there are the purchases. One in particular has already been worth its weight. The BambinoLUK Special is a pricey toy/tool that sees constant use around here. Oliver and Mani both adore it, and settle in almost immediately the second they see it come out. The older kids have been trained in how to use it with them, giving this item a whole new dimension and layer of use. And then there's the actual product. So far, Oliver has worked on matching objects, identifying "same," and starting to see patterns. These are all challenging activities for him; he can last about 7 minutes at this kind of intense concentration, where Manolin can easily pull of 15. But the value for Oli has already been huge! I can see him beginning to sort as he plays (dinosaurs here, trucks here), and I can see him grasping the concept of "goes together." This is a major step.

My second purchase was the 3- to 5- year-old preschool package from My Father's World. This is the first time I've ever spent money on a preschool package. So far, I've been glad that I have. The puzzles and pegs are a perfect fit for Oli's sensory-seeking, hands-on learning style. Manipulating the crepe foam pieces and stacking the pegs have been great exercises in patience as well as critical thinking. We count the pegs, put together the puzzles, talk about the colors, and try to match the open holes with the right shapes. Again, this is not easy work for Oli. If I'm sitting at the table with both Oli and Mani in booster seats on either side of me, the bulk of my time will be spent leading Oli through how to turn the puzzle piece until it fits, while Mani gleefully counts, "One, three, four, go!" and stabs pegs into his number line. But Oli is doing it. He is concentrating, he is trying, he is delighted with himself when he gets it just so.

I am thrilled.

We read lots of books. Jo has taken on a good deal of reading duties, saying that she enjoys it, and that she likes the quiet cuddle time. This has freed me up to do more one-on-one with the older boys, but I try to make sure not to take advantage. Jo's appetite for reading to them, however, has proven a whole lot more adventurous than my own. I admit it; I have finally lost the ability to give a truly rousing read of "Going on a Bear Hunt." Jo's is still fresh, however. She even growls.

We're looking ahead at a busy fall with optimistic eyes. One of my goals is to keep Oli moving forward, to challenge him, to help him grow, and to give him the fuel he needs to make the most of his skills. So far, it's been busy ... but good. Kind of like Oli, actually!