Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I mentioned it in passing to my aunt--a round, smiling woman for whom I was named 35 years ago.

"I love the way you've kept all your kids' photos. I don't have any pictures from my childhood. My mom got rid of most of them. I guess I go overboard with my own children because of that."

My aunt said nothing. My mother is known for not having always been the most sentimental of people, even when it comes to her own offspring. This is understood. There's no need to discuss it, to run her down over it. It's a simple fact, just as real as the fact that my mother smoked Virginia Slims for thirty-odd years and always (before her vision went dark) preferred to drive silver and red cars. My mother wrote in four pages of my baby book before shoving it into the bottom drawer of her dresser, where she stored the undeveloped rolls of film from my childhood. When my brother came along, she didn't even purchase an album to record the moments.
C'est la vie.

Three months after the comment had leaped from my lips and been forgotten, I found a thick, tape-enclosed envelope in my mailbox. It was nondescript, addressed in the perfect D'Nealian of an older generation. Curious, I carefully snipped the edges open with a pair of sharp scissors.

Onto the table fell photographs. Fifty or more. Each was carefully labeled, some were even dated.

All were of

Mary Grace, red-faced and shocked in the hospital just after birth.

Mary Grace, chubby, blond-headed and blue-eyed, in the crook of her Daddy's arm.

Mary Grace the almost-toddler, splashing in the shallow water of a lake.

Mary Grace, six and gangly, astride her favorite horse.

Mary Grace, hair frizzed into a perm, a 12 year-old's smirk on her lips.

Mr. Blanding's floated nearby, giving me enough space to savor this newfound gift of my past as it unfolded before me.

I laughed and cringed. "Did I ever tell you I took ballet?" I asked.

"Uh, no."

I held up a shot of me, posing as a bumblebee. Mr. Blandings guffawed. "That's a whole new side of you, babe."

Jo poked her head over my shoulder.

"Is that you?" she inquired, spotting a shot of a goofy teenager in glasses sitting on a purple couch.

"That's me," I answered.

"I do look like you. You said I did, but I couldn't really tell."

My heart almost burst. My daughter, looking back across the years and connecting the knobby-kneed girl in the Rainbow Brite t-shirt with the tall, curly-haired momma she has breathed in each day of her life.

My past, delivered to the front door. Now available for sharing. Thank you, Aunt Grace.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

If you have eyes to see

You live your life, day in and day out.

You cook in the same kitchen, hug the same children, pull on the same shoes when you need to run to the car. This is life, and you are living it, in the trenches, present and in the moment. The ceramic insert to your crockpot breaks, and you're shocked to find that replacements aren't available, as that model was discontinued seven years ago. Is it possible that the baby's nails need to be trimmed again? Didn't you just do that? One day you realize that it's time for a new laundry hamper, and wonder exactly when the side to this one split open. As you're pressing your lips to your 9 year-old's forehead, it dawns on you that it's time to trim back that mop of bangs flopping over his eyes. Your shoelace snaps as you pull it taut, and it occurs to you that you've been tying these same shoes onto your feet for the past four years. Has the toddler really outgrown that 2T zip up hoodie? And we don't have one in the next size up? Surely he can make due with the 4T. I'll just roll the sleeves and it will hang a little low.

These things just seem to happen, because time is invisible. Life presses forward, straining against the seams of our reality, urging us a little farther down a road we cannot see. The small stuff--the items enduring heavy use for years on end, the children who are always
growing, growing, the hours that pass by-- those details slip into the periphery of what we know as daily living.

Until, of course, you see your life through the eyes of others.

Suddenly, you sense that perhaps haircuts should come higher on the priority list. Or maybe a fresh coat of paint in the kitchen really would be worth the investment. You could probably afford the $15 for a new jacket for the two year-old; It's not THAT big of a hassle. Perhaps it's even time for grown-up furniture. Shouldn't you really pour more effort into keeping things a little more up to date?

Before long, you are looking at your old couch--which has hosted some of the best moments of your family's homeschooling history on its worn, welcoming lap--and wondering how it looks to eyes that don't see the beauty of a thousand read-alouds, of sick babies comforted, of anxieties soothed, of
"Momma, can I get a cuddle?"

It is simply a small, squat mass covered in outdated black tweed. Far too small for a family of a certain size. Far too old to hold the contours of modern furnishings. Far too drab to make a statement, complement a space, or add a design flourish.

If you're very quiet in these moments, and you don't tune your ear too closely to the outside voices pick-pick-picking at the vulnerable edges of your life, you just might hear this:

Love is rarely shiny or new. It is not often stylish or impressive. It neither draws attention nor seeks to better itself.

Rather, love is like that couch, the one that really ought to be placed on the curb, traded in for a better model, forgotten. Love makes no statement about the people who possess it other than this:
We will make room. Always, one more can be pressed into the wings.

The road less traveled is, for many, marked with certain sacrifices. Deciding to live on one income leaves few couple with the ability to finance grand vacations, full sets of matching furniture, or endless supplies of designer-label clothing. Homeschooling your children leaves little free time to creatively decorate a space, pour yourself into an energizing "me" hobby, or schedule a professional haircut every four to six weeks. And having a large family? Well ... utility-sized vehicles, crowded dining rooms, and lots of hand-me-downs come with the territory.

These are the sacrifices. For many people--especially those who would not journey those paths by choice at any point in their lives-- these sacrifices are the face of a life less everything: less beautiful, less abundant, less full, less fulfilling.

The cost is too high, for many people. They see weekend camping trips as pale excuses for full-scale amusement park fun. They cringe at the thought of cutting their own child's hair. They can't imagine having to forgo some purchases in the name of budgeting. They like the freedom in their finances, their schedules, or their marriage.

For me, the cost of that kind of life is more that I care to pay. Even though it is tempting, when I begin to see my life through the eyes of those who "have more," to begin to feel discontent with my surroundings or my stuff, I am brought back to the image of my hulking sofa, circa 1980. By the world's standards, it is an item that--like full-time mothering--has outlived its usefulness. But it is beautiful. Not for the sake of itself, of course ... but for how it has served. There is no glamour, no fame, and no show in patiently tending to a small flock of souls days after day. There is no honor or glory associated with serving hot meals and putting the laundry on hold long enough to fit in a game of UNO.

But there is love. And love, like time, is one of those invisible treasures that makes life far richer than any couch, shirt, trip, or thing. Love is what makes a family bind together. If, of course, you have eyes to see.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Parents just don't understand

You know parents are the same
No matter time nor place
They don't understand that us kids
Are going to make some mistakes
So to you other kids all across the land
There's no need to argue
Parents just don't understand

The Scene: the kitchen at Casa Blandings

Me (offering Jo a bite of a spectacular rice pudding I'd just whipped up in the crockpot): Here. You have to try this.

Jo: What--what is that?

Me: Pudding. Try it.

Jo: (touches the spoon to her lips, then licks them): Uh, no thanks.

Me: Really try it. Seriously. Go on.

Jo (accepts bite): Oh, Mom! Ugh! Erk! I mean ... there's lumps all in this! I'm going to gag!

Me: What in the world is wrong with you?

Jo: That's nasty. I mean, really, really nasty. Did you even try it?

Me: Of course I did. It's rice pudding. Those aren't lumps. It's rice, you goob.

Jo: Rice? In a pudding? What on earth were you thinking? Seriously, Mom. Rice is not for pudding. Gag. (Turns to leave, spots Logan.) DO NOT TRY THIS SO-CALLED PUDDING. I am telling you right now, she put rice in it. Whatever she was thinking, I'll never know ...

The Scene: the local library

Me: Atticus, did you see these books I put on hold for you? I thought you'd like this one. It's about griffins.

Atticus: I like dragons.

Me: I know you like dragons. I thought you might want to branch out. Give another imaginary creature a try?

Atticus: Mom, griffins are nothing like dragons. It's like ... Star Wars and Star Trek. Nothing alike. And anyhow, I don't think we can assume that dragons are imaginary. I mean, they are mentioned in the book of Revelation. But thanks, anyway.

The scene: the art supply aisle of our local craft store

Logan: I want to try this brand of pastels. That's what I'm using my gift certificate for.

Me: Logan, babe ... you've got loads of pastels. How about trying watercolor pencils? You haven't done those in a while. Or what about those paints over there ...

Logan: Mom, I use every single one of my pastels because they're all different. See, this one has greens with more brown in them. I know you can't see it because you're not really good with colors, but trust me, I need these.

Me: What do you mean I'm not good with colors?

Logan: Mom, you're the writer and I'm the artist. Trust me, o.k.?

Heaven help me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Mr. Blandings and I have struggled with how much to share about Oliver's needs when it comes to folks outside of our immediate family. So many things, to us, are simply a part of his story--something for him to share, when and if he chooses. And yet, we're finding, people truly need some basic information in order to help him be safe and/or to lessen their frustrations with him in certain settings.

It's hard to leave Oli with others right now. So many people look at him and say, "He's three. With a three year-old, you ..." Physically, Oli was born three years ago. This is true. Mentally and developmentally, Oli is still a very young two year-old. On some days, he is closer to 18 months in terms of what he can process. At home, this makes for accommodations that otherwise probably wouldn't be needed with a child of his age. For example, when my first three were in that four and under window, I could easily sidle off the the potty relatively alone for two minutes. I'd leave the door open, but I wouldn't expect any drama.

With Oli in the house, there are zero unsupervised moments. None. If I go to the bathroom, I must either take him with me or call for Jo to monitor him. This is a fact of life for us.

But for others, it's just not second-nature. And it shouldn't be. Unless you've had the job of keeping tabs on a developmentally-impaired preschooler, you really have no idea what it's like. I get that. Goodness knows, this is all new to me, as well. But still ... leaving him with anyone, anyone right now gives me chills. No one knows what he's capable of. Sometimes, not even me. Remember the toilet incident?

Our only "safe spots" right now are preschool (5:3 adult/child ratio), our babysitter (and we put him to bed first), and Sunday School (hyper-vigilant, closed environment). This doesn't mean that I don't trust other people, and it says nothing about the level of competence of my friends. What it does mean is that small, super childproofed spaces are best for Oli. And pretty much those three places can handle that kind of confinement right now.

Preschool has gone off without a hitch, thankfully. And our babysitter is an angel. Once Oli's in bed and asleep, she dutifully carries the baby monitor on her hip the entire time she's here. She even goes up to check every hour on the hour and make sure that he's still in bed. Granted, we've only left her with him a handful of times since he became a little more of a handful, but still--I'm confident that the combo of our house and her vigilance (combined with Jo's Mother Hen behaviors) will keep things under control.

Which leaves Sunday School.

Sunday School has been a mixed back for Oli. He loves the social interaction. He clamors to get into the room each Sunday, and looks forward to swooping trains across the track and listening to stories. We asked that he be able to stay in the two year-old room, and our Children's Director obliged. Even she admitted that moving him up was a recipe for disaster, despite her general, "Well, he seems fine to me," and "He just needs a little more time," attitude about him.

But lately, stories have been trickling back my way. Some of the classroom volunteers barely notice he's there, because when employed with a toy, Oliver has the habit of becoming invisible. Other volunteers have told me that Oliver wouldn't participate in any way, choosing instead to play the whole hour. Another said that he pestered the workers for hugs the whole time, which wasn't feasible in a room with 16 kids.

All in all, I'd started to wonder if it was time for a sit-down conference with the children's ministry staff. Time to disclose the full story (not the bits I've felt comfortable) and help them develop a game plan for keeping everyone happy and safe. I admit that I've been loathe to do this partly because I've only been able to pull myself out of what felt like full-time children's employment within the last 18 months. Going back in, laying out needs ... well, let's just say that I can see a whole lot of people saying, "Great! So you'll take his class every week?"

Which is, frankly, the last thing I want or need.

Today, as I was scanning my facebook page, a sweet woman who is a regular in Oli's class posted about how funny it was when my son dumped a pitcher of water on her 15 year-old daughter's lap. I sighed. This same lady--who is clearly enamored with Oliver--has commented before about him dumping his own water, or spilling on the floor, etc. He does it about every week that she's in there, and honestly, not a lot of people are smiling about it. (Other than the poster, who seems to get a kick out of it.) I prayed, and I knew what I had to do: this dear lady needed to be in the loop.

Using carefully chosen words, I pieced together an email to her:

Hey, Hailey! I'm starting to realize that I need to let everyone in on the "Oli loop" a little bit more ... especially if he's dumping water on people's laps!

Oliver has FAS, which means that he was alcohol-exposed in utero. His birthmom refuses to admit that she used alcohol during pregnancy, so we've had a hard time getting help. BUT--he's finally being fully evaluated. One of the key markers of FAS (and one of the hardest to work with as his mom!) is that he doesn't learn form past experiences. Consequences are completely lost on him; everything is novel and new and exciting ... every single time.

I am really not sure what I need to pass on to the folks in his SS room. We're trying hard not to label him, but frankly ... I think he may need a label so that people can help him. He's already three, but he'll be staying in the 2s room until (Children's Director) kicks him out. He just can't function with the bigger kids.

Thank you so much for your patience with him. You truly sound like you enjoy him, and you have no idea what that means to me. Oli is one of those little boys who rarely catches a break in life, and for some reason, a whole lot of people see him as more trouble than he's worth. (Just being honest.) He's an amazingly sweet, loving little boy with a big heart. Thanks for seeing that. It does my heart good. :-)

Mary Grace

I sent the email off with yet another prayer. Please, Lord, let this be fruitful.

Here's what I got back:

Oh my goodness, MG! That brought tears to my eyes. I find GREAT joy in Oli's presence. I have always known, without being told, that Oli was special. Not just because of the subtle hints in his reaction time & interactions with the other kids, but because of his sweet, sweet nature. He does everything with simplicity and innocence & then gives that little smile that communicates, "isn't that neat? I love it when that happens!", no matter if it's dumping water, watching the puzzle pieces all fall out of their respective places when he turns the puzzle upside down, or just seeing the wheels turn on the truck another kid is playing with. I'm sorry that he isn't appreciated by everyone. I think we all could take a page from Oliver's book! He is truly one of my faves and I am happy that he will stay with the two's. I would miss him! My girls love him, too. The 12 yr old plays with his hair cuz it's so straight & silky & he just looks @ her & smiles, never irritated. The fact that he spilled the water in Lizzie's lap was funny cuz she had a funky attitude that morning (a common occurance @ 15, it seems), and once he dumped his water, & she started laughing about it, the storm cloud over her head seemed to disappear. It will never cease to amaze me when parents don't treasure the little ones God entrusts us with, so the fact that Oli's birth mother can't admit she did something unhealthy to him in-utero makes my heart hurt. My husband's sister did the same thing & then said she thought she drank contaminated water for the month she went to stay with her father while she was pregnant and that's why her baby came out with so many health issues & continual challenges. Her son, Joey, clearly has FAS as well as other disabilities. Thankfully, the nurse that cared for Joey in the hospital every time he got sick from Cassie taking his feeding tube out when she went out in public, adopted him and he leads a very normal, balanced life in spite of his physical challenges. I grew up in a very unstable home and no one ever stepped in to rescue me, so kids that are "underdogs" always come first in my book and I can "sniff them out" a mile away! Don't ever feel like you have to apologize to me for Oli's reactions to life. He's perfect to me, and even more so now that I know a little more of his story. I'm just glad he was blessed with such loving parents to be that safe place for him to land when life, and people, don't give him a fair shake! I am wondering if maybe it would be a help to you (to get a break) if I just said I'd take the 2s room at that time every week? That way I could be Oli's "special teacher." I'd love to do it, and you wouldn't worry so much. Let me know. Hailey

Are you wondering at what point the tears started flowing? Yeah .. it was somewhere between the word "innocent" and the part where she mentioned his beautiful, silky hair.

My baby boy ... appreciated.

Who knew how much it would mean to me?

I forwarded the email to my husband. Tonight, we plan to sit down and talk over the offer (which I'm pretty sure we'll accept). And then, we'll say a special prayer of gratitude. Because in the midst of all of this "new to us" and "what do we do?" God is certainly, clearly, and without fear walking ahead of us. Making straight the path. Lighting the way. Moving hearts. Bringing community to our doorstep.

It doesn't look like anything we expected. The preschool, this lady (who I really don't know well at all) ... it's all so new.

But it's got all the fingerprints of God. And it's blessing us. So on we walk. One step at a time.


Just saw this on Anita's blog and had to share, because A) the two little ones in the beginning are so clearly channeling Oliver and Manolin's relationship right now (Oli on the left and Mani on the right) and B) I think that the idea behind this film has the potential to open so many eyes to the world in a whole new way.


Monday, January 11, 2010

TOS Review: Eclectic Education Series

I define myself as an eclectic homeschooler. I draw from different approaches. I handpick resources according to needs, not party lines. And while I've got a very defined educational philosophy in place in our homeschool, I'm not afraid to try something new to see if it enriches the learning environment I try so hard to nurture.

That's not what this product is about, so just get it out of your head. :-)

The Eclectic Education Series has next to nothing to do with homeschool methodology. In fact, I'm actually hard-pressed to define specifically where it would fit on the unschool to school-at-home continuum that makes up the landscape of modern home education. Perhaps part of the problem is that this product has nothing to do with modern education.

Dating from the mid-1860s (just as the Civil War was winding down), this all-encompassing series of textbooks was once the single most popular curricula in the United States. Classrooms (and small schoolhouses) all over the nation used the series; EES is as close to a national curriculum as our country has ever come. Entire generations (through 1915) were educated with some of the series' components. Ray's Arithmetic, McGuffey's Readers, and Harvey's English Grammar were so widely known that allusions to them made their way into popular culture.

The standards upheld in these textbooks were demanding, exacting, and thorough. Designed for a time when a handful of years in a formal education setting was all one could reasonably expect to be given, these titles had as their goal as full an education in as short a window as possible. No fluff. No nonsense. No busywork. Just direct explanations, practice until mastery, and move on.

The winds of educational progress soon blew in favor of a different style of teaching, and the Eclectic Education Series was abandoned. Some in the homeschool community look back on the time when EES was still in use and picture this as the golden age of public schools--a time when education included God, was patriotic, and didn't compromise on demanding quality. This mindset has triggered a renaissance for the series. Once again, children are sitting down to a lesson from Schuler's Principles of Logic ... and learning, just as their great-great grandparents did.

I received a complete series as ebook downloads (available on cd for $159 with free shipping) from Much of the charm of the series is, I think, lost in this format--the weathered texts, the linen-bound covers, the quirky type-setting. In terms of use, however, you just can't beat the electronic versions. While I still sink in my heart when I ponder e-products, I have to admit, they're growing on me. Being able to print out just what I need, or multiple copies of a single page, or re-use a product with a younger child ... well, that's priceless.

An added benefit when using EES in this format is that by printing out the sections, you turn what is designed as a textbook into a worksheet of sorts. For example, math sections where problems are presented and it is assumed that a child will copy it onto a separate sheet of paper (or a slate, if you're getting into the spirit!) can be solved right on the print-out. I don't know about your kids, but mine certainly appreciate that feature.

There's so much here that really, I can't do it justice. Here's just a taste of the overall flavor of EES, as observed by my family:

It's not easy. Seriously, it's no wonder that earlier generations were able to function well with as little as four or five years of formal schooling, as opposed to our average of thirteen. The very basic, primer-level arithmetic presented here is enough to give my mathematically advanced second grader a run for his money. Complex, real-life application is the norm. What we know today as "story problems" are the watered-down version of what these books expect from students. Forget the number of books Amy sold at the book sale. Try calculating the rate a cistern empties through two possible sets of pipes over the course of four days, then get back to me.

It will make you think. While we may look back nostalgically to "simpler times," let me just assure you that life as a student in the elementary grades with EES certainly was anything but simple. How about these exercises from Harvey's First Lessons in English, designed to be done on a single day:

1. The teacher should read ballads, and require them to be changed into prose from memory. 2. The pupils should be permitted to read ballads, and then to change them into prose without quoting the language of the author. 3. Write a composition about keeping bad company, as suggested by the stanzas below ... .

One day. One subject. On the fly. First or second grade. Sobering, eh?

Children who learned with EES didn't just squeak through. They had to think, and think hard.

There's just nothing objectionable here. Reading these books makes you wonder why there's such a push today to sanitize everything to the standards demanded by the PC police. While I didn't read every book cover to cover, I actually did a search of each book to see if any outdated, negative terms cropped up. No hits. So, while the rest of the United States rushes to replace every potentially offensive word with a kinder, gentler version ... there's EES. Which yes, requires reading skills that far outpace what's taught in our schools today, but is still superior to most of what's marketed as "culturally sensitive" today.

There's enough here to cover everything under the sun, and then some. If there's a subject you're teaching, considering teaching, or wondering if you ought to teach, there's an EES textbook for it. Astronomy. Book keeping. False syntax. Physics. It's entirely possible, if this method tickles your fancy, to spend less than what many people put out for curriculum for a single year to educate all of your children K-12.

I highly enjoyed sampling this series. Mr. Blandings and I were pleasantly surprised at how well our children did when presented with the far more complex order of thinking required in some of these books, and it's certainly challenged me to stay away from the twaddle creep that invariably noses its way into our homeschool. Children are, quite often, far more capable of rising to challenges than we give them credit for. EES assumes that greatness is lurking in your child. That's something worth checking into, no matter what the date on the original copyright.

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.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

TOS Review: AVKO

Let me say upfront: no one wants to need the information that I'm about to give you. But the truth is, plenty among us do need it. And even more among us really ought to consider it ... because honestly, as full-time educators to our children, it's our duty to be able to aid and assist them when they show signs of struggling.

AVKO is a non-profit organization that has as its focus the education of children who have been diagnosed with, or show signs of, dyslexia. How to read, write, spell, and type are chief among the concerns addressed here, and the founder, Mr. McCabe, does a great job of soothing parents fears while making success attainable to kids who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

Using a multisensory approach that is applicable to almost any learner, tasks are broken down into easy-to-digest segments that allow for mastery before moving on. If the company sounds familiar, that's because its Sequential Spelling is a favorite among homeschoolers, and is a featured part of the Sonlight Curriculum offerings.

By purchasing a subscription to the website (I received mine free for review), you will have access to techniques, ideas and resources that will enhance your homeschool. Books are available for purchase, articles are there to guide the way, and freebies sweeten the deal that much more. Membership is available for $25 for year, a small price to pay in the journey of helping a struggling learner tap into his or her strengths.

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, January 6, 2010

TOS Review: Jean Welles Worship Guitar

It takes everything in me not to laugh out loud when people ask me if I'm afraid that homeschooling my children will limit their options.

Limit them? Hardly.

Sure, sure--if I depended completely on the talents and resources God has placed within our immediate family, I'd be limiting our course of instruction. There'd be tons of creative writing, some essay writing, then some writing in the 5W, inverted-pyramid style of newspapers. When we were done with that, we'd dabble in some history and some science. All before coming back for some great writing instruction, of course!

People who think that homeschoolers are confined simply to the set of skills that the parents possess are missing the beauty of an amazing array of curricula, online classes, community resources, tutors, mentors, instructional CD-Roms, apprenticeships, lessons, clubs, and--one of my favorites--DVD instruction. Homeschooling, as it turns out, is only limited by the creativity of the parent-facilitators responsible for identifying resources for their children.

Case in point: Two of my children--Jo and Logan--have asked to learn to play the guitar. The problem? I used to be able to methodically strum my way through a slow-motion version of the Monkees "Daydream Believer" a lifetime ago. And Mr. Blandings? Well, he's not much better ... only his songs of choice were "Stairway to Heaven" and a couple of early Beatles tunes.

Clearly, we're not imparting any great guitar knowledge on the next generation.

Thankfully, Jean Welles is.

The highly ironic thing about my reviewing this particular item is that I had actually ordered it prior to being asked to do the review. I had done my homework, compared programs, and settled on Jean Welles Worship Guitar DVD classes. I hit submit on the order, pleased to have found such an economical answer to a need. Then I found out I was on TOS's review list for the exact same product I had poured over for hours. As a matter of fact, my review copy arrived two days before the one I paid for. Go figure. With this as the background, I can actually say with full authority that I think this is the best product out there for teaching children the bare basics of playing guitar. :-)

Many, many people warned us against starting Jo (12) on guitar; They recommended several years of piano first. The same people also predicted dire results musically for Logan (7). I can happily say that so far, they've been wrong. While it's true that we had to buy a 3/4 size guitar for Logan to play, Jo has been able to handle her full-sized classical quite well. Not only that, they seem to be able to withstand the physical rigors of strings and whatnot without any trouble at all.

Using just the first DVD of Jean Welles' series, both children have had the guitar equivalent experience of using 100EZ lessons to jumpstart a hungry new reader: they dove in with both feet, were given just enough information to get them going, and within days were slowly picking their way through actual songs.

No, they can not read music. No, they are not getting music theory. That's not what they wanted. What they wanted was to be able to pick up a guitar and sing a couple of songs with their friends. This class is allowing them to do that.

In Volume 1 (book and dvd $29.95), Jean covers the parts of a guitar, the proper finger holds and techniques, and cajoles learners straight into the deep water of making music. The instant success is a huge ego-booster for any child, especially one already motivated to play. In the very first lesson, learners begin "He's Got The Whole World in His Hands." That kind of instant gratification keeps kids coming back for more!

Jean Welles offer a whole line of classes for younger children, for the drums, for violin, for adult learners, for streaming, and more. She is soft-spoken, encouraging, and lively in her instruction. Watching the DVD is anything but torture--it's a professional production through and through. You can even access an audio sample on her website here.

My kids are on their way to learning an instrument--and not one they could typically pick up in an elementary or middle school, either. Limited? Are you joking? Our lives are all the richer thanks to the high quality, engaging resources available for homeschools. Try fitting that kind of flexibility into a classroom education.

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, January 5, 2010

Oh, the places you'll go!

The thing about parenting is that there are frightfully few absolutes. What I mean to say is that no sooner has one drawn a proverbial line in the sand starting with the words, "I will never ... " than God picks up the reigns and reminds you that the control you thought you had was only an illusion.

I don't know about you, but I have eaten
my share of "nevers" in the past 13-ish years. From the length of time I breastfed Jo (longer than anticipated), to the fact that Oli is in public preschool (never even on my radar), all the way down to letting kids go to bed without brushing their teeth if it might wake up a sleeping baby (sloth!) ... I've recanted more than a few of those black and white assertions.

And I'm o.k. with that. Because while Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, my circumstances are changing all. the. time.

Toddlers only nap in their own beds, so as to preserve the "this is bedtime" feeling. Well, except when four boys share the same room and three of them need access to said room while said toddler is napping. In which case, a portacrib in the corner of my room will work just fine.

Don't jump down the stairs. Unless it's the last two or three steps, which I'm not going to bother legislating at this point.

Shopping carts are abandoned when little ones have fits, so that I can take the offender to the car and properly deal with the infraction. Except when I really just need four things, and the other four kids are doing great, but Oli just can't handle the lighting in the store so he's flipping out. When that happens, carrying him in the ergo with a coat draped over his head is good enough.

We finish read-alouds. Period. Except when no one is into it, and I pick up the book and feel my stomach lurch and start imagining all the other things I could be doing in that hour. In that case, the book heads back to the library without a thought, whether it teaches my kids to be quitters or not.

No eating in the living room. Unless it's apple slices, and I'm trying to steal fifteen minutes to make dinner. In which case, have at it.

No guns. But swords and lightsabers are perfectly fine.

No writing schoolwork in pen. But since you just got that really cool gel pen in your stocking, I'll give you a pass.

I used to look at families with what I saw as "flimsy" rules and roll my eyes. "You just wait," I'd think quietly, "When they're running all over the place, you'll be sorry you were such a sucker." Now I'm more apt to look at my own surrender and see it as grace. Funny how the shoe fits a little differently on your own foot, huh?

For the record, there are still quite a few Don't Even Question This rules around here. No food in the schoolroom or gameroom. (There were about 5,000 popcorn kernel-sized reasons for that one.) Yes, you have to wear a helmet. If you argue, you lose whatever it is you thought was important enough to argue over. No hitting. Address adults as "Mr." or "Miss."

So the rules are still there, they are just more likely to be met with an equal measure of grace alongside the justice I once was so eager to ensure.

Oh, the places you'll go ... Momma-style.