Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I awoke after a restless night to find an email from Mr. Blandings waiting for me. I didn't have to open it to taste the disappointment. In the subject line, he had written one word:


Bee's visa was denied. As I write this, Mr. Blandings and Jo are gathering their belongings, wadding dirty shirts and pants into bags, and preparing their hearts for one of the hardest journeys they will ever make.

They're coming home, without Bee.

The house is dark and quiet on my end. The boys have yet to stir, and I've spent the hour since I got the news paging restlessly through my Bible, begging the Lord to speak to me. Finally, as I rolled my head back onto my pillow, my eyes settled on the small plaque that hangs near my bed.

Be still, and know that I am GOD, Ps. 46:10

So I am working on being still, and on remembering that while David only needed one of the five stones he had gathered to defeat his giant, the walls of Jericho didn't come down until that final trumpet blast. Could the Lord have done it sooner? Couldn't He have toppled that wall without the silly-seeming parade? Of course He could. But He chose not to.

My heart is breaking for all of us, but mainly it is for Bee. Mr. Blandings will come home a beaten man who will struggle to understand why, who will ask the Lord if he did something wrong, if there was something he missed. Jo will return to me wiser and more compassionate than before, with a heart that now grasps fully what it is to wait upon the Lord, even when your heart's desire dangles before you. I will be here for both of them. So will a houseful of joyous boys, who will only be able to feel so much loss, having not laughed with Bee, or held her hand, or discovered how much she likes to bake. In our home, there are toddler hugs, and games to be played, and always someone who swoops behind you at just the right moment to kiss your forehead and tell you what a blessing you are.

Mr. Blandings and Jo will be beaten, but not broken.

But Bee...

Our poor Bee. She will continue to long for the thing that she has tasted. She will continue to grow in a loving atmosphere that is not quite home, cared for perfectly, but never quite a daughter. When she goes to bed at night, she will wonder. Are they still coming for me? Will this ever happen? Did I do something wrong? Am I not worthy of a family, Lord?

My biggest prayer this sad, dreary morning is that Bee, too, will be still. That God will wrap His arms around her and comfort her. That He will be the rock she clings to as she is rocked, yet again, by disappointment. The Lord sets the lonely in families. I know this much is true; I have seen it with my eyes and experienced it in my own home. God has a family for you, Bee. And He will bring you to it. Be still, and wait on Him.

And we will do the same.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


EL-ROI (Genesis 16:1)--meaning "The Strong One Who Sees"
I love the names of God. In fact, I feel a little cheated sometimes as I read through my NIV or NASB versions of the Bible and come across yet another "the LORD" when the context of the reference is clearly alluding to one of the amazing attributes revealed in the small, humble package of a name. It's easy to forget, in a world where titles mean so little, the majesty and power that are summed up in the way God refers to himself--and is referred to by His first followers. He is The One Who Goes Before Us. Our Banner. Our Provider. And, oh, yes ... The Strong One Who Sees.

These past few days, as Mr. Blandings, Jo, and Bee have been enjoying one another in Kathmandu, we have also been engaged in a full-scale prayer effort asking God for nothing short of a miracle: We want Bee's visa, stamped, approved and in hand, in time for her to step onto the plane and come home with her father and sister.

This has been a tall order in the eyes of man. First of all, Mr. Blandings and Jo were unexpectedly detained for a full day on one of their layovers, costing them an entire day's worth of time in Nepal. Then, the disgruntled politics that upend life there from time to time intervened--a strike was planned, and closure of government offices was imminent. And then there was a clerk who was unmoved by the impassioned pleas of a 13 year-old girl wanting to be seen at the embassy in time to leave with her new family. An interview was scheduled, yes ... for the day after her father and sister left the country.

Right now, I could amaze you by saying that God moved the mountains. I could bring a smile to the face of every believer who reads this by telling you that our God came through. He conquered the roadblocks and He moved hearts. All of this would be true.

Or I could sum it up like this:

We are under the wing of The Strong One Who Sees.

Before Mr. Blandings and Jo set foot in the Seattle airport ... The One Who Goes Before Us. Before the strike was planned ... Our Banner. Before the clerk ignored Bee ... Our Provider.

El-Roi has miraculously smashed every obstacle of the princes and principalities. Only one remains as I write this: Bee's interview that will either grant or deny her visa application. It is scheduled to take place at approximately 6:15 p.m. PST today, February 23, 2010. Approximately 12 hours after the interview begins, the journey back to Seattle will begin. The only question is how many Blandings family members will board the plane. Two? Or three?

I ask for your prayers. This entire journey has already displayed the immense power and glory of God. He has done so much, and given so many people who have heard this story the chance to raise their hands to heaven and praise Him. The desire of our heart is that Thursday night, Bee will sleep for the first time in the love and safety of the home the Lord has prepared for her here, with a family celebrating her arrival. We long for this. We ask you to join us in petitioning God that this be made a reality.

Because yes, He is The Strong One Who Sees. But He is also our loving Abba, who delights in our joy and cherishes us as beloved children. And we know that what we ask, He hears.

Thank you, friends. I hope to post tomorrow with news of victory.

Monday, February 22, 2010

TOS Review: Math Mammoth

A few months ago, if you had asked Atticus what his strengths were in terms of academics, he would not have listed math. Number one would have been science. Actually, numbers one through four would have been science, just broken down into subsets. ("I'm good at robotics. And physics. And botany. Oh, and anything to do with the solar system.") But he wouldn't have listed math, despite the fact that he had a very, very strong start in the subject area way back in preschool and all the way up until the end of first grade.

So what happened?

Well, first and foremost, I found a math curriculum that worked very well for Jo and for me. This was exceptionally good news, because up until that point, I had been treading water in the math department. Finding something that worked for both of us was such a godsend that I immediately switched everyone over to the same program. This made sense; It was a solid, proven curriculum, easy for me to teach, and economical to boot, as all I had to replace were the consumable portions each year.

The good news was that Jo started to gain understanding of basic math concepts and, today, is on grade level with her skills.

The bad news is that Atticus slowly lost his passion for math.

I was at a loss as I saw his passion wane. Sure, he was still very capable of calculating things in his head, of figuring out on-the-fly problems that were advanced for his age, and of doing the work I set before him. But his zest for it faded until, at last, it was all but gone.

He could answer any math problem you threw his way. But he certainly didn't have an ounce of fun doing it.

I don't know about you, but I want more for my children. I don't want to settle for things that just work when I can find something that works and ignites a love of learning at the same time. Looking back, I'm sad that I had gotten to that point, as a teacher, where I felt that the safe route was worth the trade-off. I know how it happened--I was intimidated by what I perceived as my failure to teach Jo the basics, so I didn't feel comfortable branching out with Atticus and Logan. I thought I needed the tried and true. So I stuck with it, even knowing the outcome.

But then Logan joined the academic fray, and he would have none of the tried and true. Whereas Atticus, my box-checker, had stoically endured hours of instruction in a curriculum that drove him batty, Logan balked. He simply refused to do the problems as presented. He came up with creative ways to change things, to make it more challenging, and to generally rock the boat. Or he would stump me with number scenarios I couldn't get my head around, asking me to perform functions well beyond the facts drills I was leading him through.

Something had to change. So I went on the hunt for a new math curriculum for Logan. And I found it.

But I missed the boat. I left Atticus right where he was in a program where each book concentrated on the same theme and each day brought him a little closer to misery. Why? Because it worked. And he didn't complain. And, well ... it got the job done.

I had no idea what he was missing out on, and neither did he. And this is where I got to see God's hand in our lives, the way He cares for even the small stuff. Recently, I got an email asking me to choose what to review from Math Mammoth, a company that I've reviewed before and loved. I looked over the extensive offerings and pondered. The catch is: Jo is using a program that I don't want to distract her from. It's working great, and I want to keep her with it throughout high school. Logan is actually doing two math curricula at this time, and doesn't have the need for the excellent focused workbooks that Math Mammoth offers.

Which left Atticus.

So I asked for the grade 4 full curriculum, the light blue series. I downloaded the ebooks (Love this format for math! Print as needed!) and got started.

It was, Atticus says, the very best thing I've ever done for him in terms of math education. Because now, Atticus looks forward to math.

The format of this curriculum is like nothing most of us who learned in a classroom have ever seen. I said in my previous review that it's like Singapore for the rest of us ... and now that one of my kids (Logan) is actually using Singapore, I agree with that statement even more. The difference is that Math Mammoth's worktexts are completely self-contained. The directions are all right there, and while there's an answer key for parents, there's no separate teacher's guide. Using the explanations at the top of each lesson, even this mathphobe mom can present concepts and lead her student through examples.

Math Mammoth contains practice through a variety of problems that require real thinking. Often, the deductions build on top of one another, forcing the student to expand his or her understanding of how numbers and operations work. This is the first curriculum I've ever seen that includes things like Pascal's Triangles, very real algebra puzzles, and incremental multiplication that build cool patterns alongside facts recall.

Atticus likes the amount of practice as well as the different ways that topics are presented. We've been printing out one unit at a time, binding it with staples, and allowing him to work through it at his own pace during math time. He's literally doing about double the amount of actual math seatwork than he was before Math Mammoth, and says that he has learned more in in the short time we've been using it than he did the whole previous part of the school year. As an added bonus: his passion is back. Last week, I found him working with Logan, creating Pascal's Triangles for each other to complete.

This is the old Atticus, the one who found numbers yet another mystery to be solved, another code to be cracked. I'm so glad to have him back!

The Math Mammoth light blue series are all complete, grade-level worktexts available in either print format or via download. I highly recommend the download ($29.70 for the full set, plus $14 for answer key and other support materials) as it is by far the easiest way to manage such a diverse and active curriculum. Being able to access sheets and copy them at will for use now or review later makes this the ultimate format, in my opinion.

While Math Mammoth covers grade-appropriate topics (4th, for example, hits addition, subtraction, place value, multiplication, measuring, division, geometry, fractions, decimals, graphs, and data analysis), the depth into which the series digs makes it slightly advanced when compared to many other curricula I've seen on the market. The mode of thinking required--especially if switching from a traditional approach--will also require a bit of a learning curve. I highly recommend the placement tests for this reason. I, for example, assumed that Atticus would be right in the middle of the 4th grade curriculum; I'm very happy that I took author Maria Miller's advice and started him at the beginning, however, because while he had the facts and skills at his disposal, the new approach has challenged him in fantastic ways.

I was very impressed with the topic-specific books available through Math Mammoth. And now I'm equally impressed with the full curriculum packages. This is simply a wonderful publisher of fine-quality, economical math products that are neither dumbed down nor so academic as to be confusing. Add them to to your list of math curricula to check out. You won't be sorry that you did!

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.

Easily the funniest thing I've read in a LONG time

I love Danielle at 6yearmed. I hope I never meet her in real life, because it will mean that something awful has happened to one of my children while in a foreign city. But still, I like her. Why? Because despite being an MD, despite having a medical take on just about everything, despite being a professional, she has a sense of humor about who she is and what she does. Case in point is this post. Read it and laugh. Danielle is clearly the kind of doctor who would walk in on my family all crowded into examining room and ask, "Are these all your kids?" But then she'd laugh. I can respect that.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

TOS Review: Family Mint

Financial education is a must for kids. I'm sorry--I know that for most people learning about how to handle money falls well below the three Rs. But it shouldn't. Why? Because stewardship is an important Biblical concept for a reason, folks. And hey, even if it wasn't ... do you really want your kids looking to you with their hands out when they're thirty? Sobering, isn't it?

How you go about teaching your kids to allocate money wisely can be as low-tech as labeling some Mason jars and letting them divvy things up as they will. Or, as it turns out, you can tap into a high-tech, FREE resource called Family Mint.

Family Mint, in essence, replicates the online banking experience. The catch? Mom and Dad are the bankers, setting everything from interest rates, to income. Kids manage their accounts, set goals, and even make virtual withdrawals--all with the bankers o.k.

The layout and ease of use is clean and easy. Even techno-phobe parents who still do pen and paper banking will find the site easy to navigate and use. Kids will have a leg-up on their peers, too, by already utilizing the online concept in financing, something that just isn't going to go away. :-)

The downside? No actual, real money is represented. Why is this a downside? Well, for our family, seeing the money has been an essential teaching tool. The concept of numbers and, therefore, cash amount, is an elusive thing to many children; Holding a wad of ones that they've slaved to save brings home a concrete lesson that can't be beat when you're contemplating whether that chemistry set is really worth it. For this reason and this reason alone, Family Mint wasn't a smashing success here--more of a fun learning tool with real-life application.

However, for most families, I can see this being a hit. And did I mention that it's FREE? Yes--nothing is easier on the pocketbook than financial education that doesn't cost a dime!

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.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Mr. Blandings and Jo heading into the airport for the journey that would lead them to Bee.

I am trying not to be jealous, but still.

On the other side of the globe, my husband has had the honor of introducing his two daughters. In the middle of the Nepali night, just outside the airport at Kathmandu, Bee and Jo met.

Mr. Blandings had dreamed of the day from the moment that he first laid eyes on Bee. Falling in love with an older child is something different than meeting a newborn, you must understand. Rather than slowly peeling back the layers of need and uncovering a personality not yet able to firmly assert itself, you are presented with a person from day one. Bee likes ice cream, the color black, and peanut M&Ms. She has a slow laugh, a shy personality, but a bubbling undercurrent of spunk that Mr. Blandings longs to see set free. Put her in the same room with Jo, he prayed, and let them fall in love with one another.

But again, it is not so easy as all that. Just as Bee is not a malleable tot, Jo is not a blank slate. They each have their own passions and dislikes. They have their own way of communicating, of feeling, and of spending their time. They have histories that do not include one another, and cultures that come nowhere close to mirroring the same values or traditions. One is 13, dark-skinned, and carrying in her heart the rejection of a lifetime as an unwanted castoff. The other is 12, fair, and curious as to what it will mean to share the title "daughter" with someone for the very first time.

The first night, there was barely enough time for introductions before the exhausted travelers escaped to their beds. The next morning, I can only imagine my careful, conscientious Jo treading lightly around her new sister, wondering just who this person was. Mr. Blandings said that they seemed to like one another, even though there was no immediate ease, no instant kinship that bubbled between them.

Then, of course, as these things will happen, opportunity presented itself. After a day spent traversing the consulate, taking in some sights and generally being together, the children at the orphanage all gathered together for a game of UNO. The rules, it seems, are somewhat different in Nepal. Jo didn't mind, because even here in the States, we've encountered other styles of play. In Nepal, it's not the first person to lay down all their cards that wins. Rather, it's the last person to go out ... or at least, that's the way the children convinced them to play. At any rate, a whole passel of children ages 8 and up slowly made their way through the game. Finally, it was down to just two players. The final round, as it were.

Jo versus Bee, of course.

And this is when Mr. Blandings finally saw his daughters. Because even though both girls held Draw 4 cards that could have squashed their competitor ... they chose not to.

The children around them danced and shouted, "It's sister against sister!"

And they were right. In that moment, it was clear. Twenty-four hours before, they had been strangers in an airport, wondering how one felt about the other. But now, neither was willing to stomp on the other's heart--not that delicate place where a seed was blooming. Because in time, most likely, there will be love. First acceptance, then respect, and at long last, love. Not immediately. Not without growing pains. But it will happen. Mr. Blandings is sure of it now.

Sisters. What a beautiful word.

TOS Review: Presidential Penmanship

Surely I've spoken here before about Logan's almost obsessive fascination with the presidents? I had to have let you in on that little tidbit, I know. Because the truth is, it's such a part of who Logan is that to separate him from Woodrow Wilson or James K. Polk would be to only tell half the story of my fine American boy.

I can't pinpoint exactly when this love affair began, but I can tell you for certain that the fire was fueled in the 2007-2008 school year, when we studied American History with Sonlight. Being the supplementing kind of Momma that I am, I gathered together a whole pool of picture books, movies, and other resources designed to make the Core more inclusive to my tagalongs. Turns out, I needn't have worried. Logan was perhaps the most enthused, the most interested, and the most able to retain even the most minuscule facts that we uncovered that year. And he loved it.

Sometime around the middle of the year, however, I noticed something slightly disturbing. A large, laminated wheel that I had purchased was missing. The wheel had been on the pricey side, and it listed every U.S. president to have served, the years e served, his length of time in office, his VP, his party, and a few personal facts. I searched high and low in our schoolroom and yet could not locate it. Being the kind of scatterbrain who loses things with fair frequency, only to have them turn up the next day, I moved on.

And the wheel did turn up. In Logan's bed--right alongside his teddy bear, his blanket, a flashlight, and his AWANA book. Turns out he had been pouring over it every day at rest time, memorizing things that my brain has no room for.

I realized that he was in deep. At the time, I had no idea how far it would go. Today, Logan's most keen desire is to tour the White House. Well, that and to sleep on the couch in the Oval Office. I think he'd take either, no matter who was in office at the time.

The nice thing about Loan's particular interest is that it makes school on the large quite easy. As a mom, if I can link something to the presidents (or even just ONE president), I've got an active audience. Which is probably why I find the concept of Presidential Penmanship so fascinating.

Zeezok Publishing is an established house that specializes in the homeschool market. Their products are high quality, well-produced, and targeted. With the Presidential Penmanship series, they've opened the door to a whole array of options for homeschooling parents. This program could easily be incorporated into a unit study on American history, a study on a particular president, as a stand-alone program, or as a complement to break up the monotony of simple letter practice.

The cd I received for review is a complete curriculum for first grade through senior high. Retailing for $39.99, that's an incredible value, especially when you take into account that you can use this with as many children as you'd like by simply printing the appropriate pages as needed.

I received the italics option, which is not my favorite form of handwriting simply because I find its cursive form somewhat awkward in form. Several other options are available, however, from Zaner-Bloser to Handwriting Without Tears. If you're interested in the program, they most likely have a style that will suit your needs.

The contents of the pages are simple yet effective: a selected quote capitalizes on a lesson, and the child simple uses this as copywork. The quotes are enlightening as well as entertaining. For example, Calvin Coolidge's lesson 4 quote in the 6th grade book is: "Collecting more taxes than absolutely necessary is legalized robbery." Later, Ronald Reagan proclaims, "When you can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat."

Logan has truly enjoyed simply reading the quotes as well as copying them. I don't think this program requires a fascination with the presidents to be a hit, though. It's a simple, focused handwriting program that doesn't require excessive practice, and keeps things light. Any child--regardless of their interests-can appreciate that.

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, February 17, 2010

TOS Review: The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling

Even though I've been at this whole homeschooling thing for nigh on a decade, I still read nuts ad bolts primers. Do you do this? Is it just me?

Call me strange, but I like to keep my hand in the game. Yes, I definitely make the time to dig deeper and read more in-depth and even subject-specific books. But I like to also know what's new out there in the basics boot camp. Because I don't know about you, but not a week passes by when someone doesn't ask me about homeschooling ... and I like to steer them towards good resources.

In that vein, Apologia has revised and update Debra Bell's The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling. This $20 book is an in-a-nutshell look at getting started, planning, keeping going, and finishing well. There really is a good bit of content aimed well beyond the beginning homeschooler--which may just make this book slightly overwhelming for a mom just wanting to know what she should do with her 5 year-old. But more likely, this is a reference book that you'll come back to time and again as you struggle to incorporate yet another toddler into your school time, ponder the logistics of putting together a high school transcript, or even consider curriculum choices.

Don't get me wrong: there's plenty here for the newbies. Tips on identifying your child's learning style, managing the day-to-day of homeschooling, and even specific read-aloud suggestions are all included. Along the way, there's refreshing, encouraging advice that takes you by the hand and assures you that no, you are not screwing them up ... no matter what the clerk at the grocery store thinks.

This book is going on my go-to shelf, where I keep those things that encourage and remind me most of exactly why I'm doing what I do. It'll probably end up being loaned out, too, because it really is a great quick start guide for the uninitiated. I just hope that it doesn't stray too far ... because I really do want it back!

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, February 14, 2010

TOS Review: Young Minds Math and Numbers

Truth? I loathe the idea of television for very young kids. I wasn't always like this; Jo watched more than her fair share of kiddie pap as I struggled to learn how to balance household chores and keeping a toddler safe. Right up until Logan was about two, I still shoveled out an embarrassing number of videos each week. Why? "I just need half an hour to make dinner." "I need twenty minutes for Jo's school work." "I just had a baby, I can't do it all." "It's the only way to ease him out of a bad mood/nap/you name it."

So my little ones watched videos. Probably about one a day, if I'm to be honest. I felt vaguely guilty about all of it, but I justified it by reminding myself that it was commercial-free, carefully-selected, and of an educational value. After all, if you learn the word "jump" in Spanish, it's a good thing, right?

Fast forward five years, and my current littles have near to zero screen time. Why? Because frankly, I just don't need it anymore. I've finally learned to cook in a way that the babies can be present and involved, employ my older kids when need be, have enough distractions on hand to keep little hands busy, and otherwise train certain little people to occupy themselves for the short stints that I am really, truly unavailable.

I am not supermom. I am just a mom who came to the conclusion that if I am deeply uncomfortable with something, I should quit making excuses for it--and acted on this conviction. I don't feel that everyone who routinely allows their toddlers and preschoolers to watch television is a blight on society. I do, however, feel like a lot of people get stuck in the rut that I was so firmly entrenched in. After all, it's just so easy. Put on a movie, and the kids miraculously go away for twenty minutes, half an hour, or more. When I confronted that truth in myself, I didn't like what it said about me as a mother. So I chose to make a painful change and learn to parent without the benefit of the electronic babysitter I'd so joyfully employed.

Aside from a rare, rare "treat," Oli and Mani are simply clueless when it comes to movies. Oh, yes, they still ask for them. They are well aware that the big black box sits vacant in the garage, ready to blast them with colorful edu-tainment. When they catch sight of it, they moon, "moooooo-ie!" But, like chocolate, they just don't get it that often--even though we have a whole bag of Mr. Blandings' M&Ms in the cabinet at all times.

I have not yet seen a downside to this, except for the fact that some doctors seems mystified by it all.

"Can he identify his favorite cartoon character?"
"He doesn't have one."
"He doesn't know any?"
"Well, no. But that's only because he doesn't get to watch them."
"Oh. O.k. Huh."

As I said, there are occasional treats. Moments when I decide that yes, this warrants a little passive and pacifying entertainment. For those moments, I do have on hand a select library of stuff that I actually want my little boys to be able to watch. Funny ... most of what once qualified as heavy rotation favorites are now long gone. In their place are just a handful of titles designed to fill a need while also being completely in line with our values.

So what has stayed? The good stuff. Things worthy of the precious minds of my babies. Things like Young Minds Math and Numbers from

I received a review copy of this dvd, and was very impressed. First, eliminate all thoughts of blink-inducing high-speed images from your mind. This is a gently paced video, beautiful shot and majestically presented. There are no cheesy cartoon character. No objectionable content. The sound effects (cows mooing, fighter jets speeding past) are authentic and not shocking. The images are artistic and truly worth looking at--not the usual Ball On A White Background that one expects in vids for tots. On top of all of this, there is a delicate soundtrack of classical music that doesn't overpower the senses. Add it all up, and this is a counting video that you won't mind seating your little ones in front of.

Yes, this video series is a bit more pricey than your average studio-produced song and dance extravaganza for the diaper set. At $19.99, it's an investment. But honestly, the quality is evident. You are getting what you've paid for.

Young Minds Math and Numbers is the kind of "mooooo-ie" I can endorse ... even for my toddlers.

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, February 10, 2010

Jo, the barbarian

"It took me a little while, but suddenly I saw it clearly. I was experiencing a barbarian invasion. Mariah's heart was beating to the rhythm of the heart of God. And her dreams were way too raw for me. I didn't see it initially, but I was trying to civilize her instead of unleashing the untamed faith within her. After all, I'm her dad. It's okay if I live a life of irrational faith and breathtaking adventure. I want something different for her. I want her to have security and safety--you know, a predictable, boring, mundane life where I never have to worry about her again. In that moment I realized Mariah would have none of that. For her there is only one path. Even at twelve she has already committed to it. Be still my heart, but my daughter has chosen the barbarian way out of civilization." Erwin Raphael McManus, The Barbarian Way

In just a handful of days, my Jo is heading on her biggest-yet God-led adventure: Nepal. Yes, yes ... she's already logged a few mission-miles under her belt. But this trip, this one ...

Jo will be thousands of miles away from me. For the first time ever.

And yes, Mr. Blandings will be at her side the whole time. And yes, we have friends who will surround her, and guide her, and remind her that while some things are acceptable in the U.S., while in Hindu-oriented countries, nice girls just don't.

She is excited. I imagine that the flush of her cheeks is close to what we'll see on the cusp of other important events. Going off to college. Trying on her wedding dress. Sharing the news of a baby on the way. That kind of rosy-cheeked joy brings me the sweetest pain in my heart when I see it.

This is what it means to give your children wings, and hand them back to God.

Because while she's gone, things will happen. Little things, but things I will not see. Jo will be overwhelmed by the chatter of a language that her ears can't interpret. She will delight in new sights and sounds. She will sleep lightly, unable to release the tensions of the day in a sleeping bag on a foreign floor. She will eat foods that she likes and foods that she wishes she could politely pass on, but will not for propriety's sake.

I will not be there.

I will be here, minding boys large (ish) and small. I will wash clothes and mend socks and cook meals. I will write, and read, and knit. I will live the life that I call my own.

The most awfully beautiful part of homeschooling is that I miss nothing. Day in and day out, I miss nothing. Perhaps that makes it all the more bittersweet to send a beloved child off on an adventure of their own? I don't know. But for me, the closeness begets a sense of comfort and joy that I hold on to, knowing that it's season is all too soon coming to an end.

I have made no mention of any of this to Jo. I think that sometimes the worst sin we can commit as mothers is to clip the wings of joy as they sprout in our children by saddling them with a bit of our own longing. Instead of holding her closer and whispering, "Come back to me safely. Don't be gone long," I smile at her as we stand side by side at the kitchen sink and say, "What an amazing adventure God has planned for you! I can feel it!" Instead of biting my lip and telling her how very empty my days will feel without her smile in the sea of faces around me, I kiss her forehead and let her know how delighted her father is to have her as a traveling companion.

On Monday, I will drive my traveler to the airport, drop them at the curb, and drive away. I will catch sight of Mr. Blandings in my rear view mirror, and as always, my heart will swell with pride and love and longing even as a prayer escapes my soul. To have him far from me is a thing that the Lord has asked of me as his wife, and while it pulls at the edges of my most vulnerable places every time I see him off on another calling, I have learned that God is trustworthy and true. My husband comes back to me when his work is done--no matter how dangerous a place he ventures in Christ's name.

But this time, I will see Jo's tall, thin form beside him. She'll have her oversized pack on her back, her beloved stuffed dog under her arm and her iPod headphones strung around her neck. Her posture will be bursting with the tightness and expectation of one about to embark on something beautiful.

I will cry.

Because this is what I have longed for. This is what I have begged of the Lord since, literally, the day I took Him into my heart and asked Him to rule my life. Make these children yours. Call them. Give them no fear. Use them.

Lives worth living, Lord. That's all I ask.

Jo is answering the call. She is only 12, but she is on fire. She sees no reason that her age should stop her from being a tool in the hands of Yahweh. If she has anything to say about it, it won't. Jo has no use for neat, sweet girls who sit under their mother's skirts and wait for Prince Charming. Jo wants to tell people about Jesus. As she reminds me almost daily, the people we walk past in the library may just be going to hell. It's worth the awkwardness or the discomfort or the danger to introduce people to God.

And I--her mother, the one who held her as her first breath filled the lungs the Lord created in her--will rejoice in that passion, no matter how much I want to hide her away under my skirts and keep her to myself. Because God is going to use this girl. She will make people stop, think, and ponder anew who this man Jesus is. She's already doing it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

TOS: All About Spelling Beehive Reader

In my opinion, the hardest part of teaching a child to read is finding decent reading material.

No, really. That's it: the hardest part. It's not selecting a curriculum, explaining blends, or motivating a reluctant reader. Uh-uh. It's finding something decent for the child to test their budding skills on.

There are options. Hoo, boy ... are their options. Sadly, they range from the inane to the insane. If I had a dime for every time Jo looked at me, cocked her head and asked why on earth she should care that "Pat can tap a hat" ... I'd be a rich momma. And that's no joke.

My solution to avoiding the entire bland genre of See Dog Run has thus far been to spend a couple of afternoons whipping up a handful of handmade, customized readers. Right about the time each of my children has sat on the cusp of literacy, I have pulled together what professional educators would call, "high-interest, phonetically controlled primers." I target the child's specific bent. (Jo's revolved around pets, Atticus' around a superhero named Rad Chad, and Lo
gan's around Star Wars ... which probably means that I owe George Lucas lots of money.) I kept it simple. I used some free clip art from the internet. Then I printed up a couple of copies, stapled them into booklets and sat down to read them with my offspring. When they finished a book, they got to color the illustrations.

It worked well. But you won't be surprised by this next statement: It was a reasonable bit of work.

What I wanted was a high-quality, classic set of readers that neither confounded my children's ability to reason nor insulted their intelligence. I also preferred that the vocabulary not be so limited as to impede actual comprehension. I found a handful of things that fit the bill over the years, but not enough to form a library.

But, thankfully, I can now look forward to teaching Oli and Manolin with a whole new set of readers: AAS's Beehive Readers. I received a copy of Beehive Reader 1 for review and was instantly struck by how lovely this book is. This is the kind of tome that presents reading as a lovely, cherished thing. The hardcover is a nice touch, and the illustrations are simply enchanting. To tell you just how compelling the actual packaging of the book is, know this: I left the book on the kitchen counter while I made dinner. In that 45 minutes, Jo, Atticus, Logan, and Mr. Blandings all walked by. Each one of them stopped to pick up the book, asked what it was, and thumbed
through it. Jo smiled at several of the animal illustrations and declared them, "adorable." Logan sat down with the book and read from it until dinner was ready, despite being able to polish off Boxcar Children books quite well at this point.

The stories themselves are far more interesting than your garden variety primers. There is no drivel-y patting of hats. Instead, children are lured in to the very first story with a soft-focus pencil illustration of a sweet girl named Jill holding a wet frog. Later on, there are camping adventures, grumpy ducks, castles, and puppies falling out of teacups.

This is the kind of silly yet drawing literature that children need to spark a love of reading; Not the dry, foolish absurdities one finds in 95% of what is marketed as first reading material.

As an added bonus, if you're already using the All About Spelling Program, this reader will correspond perfectly with the lessons being taught in level 1. Please don't think that it's only for users of AAS programs, however--even if you're not using AAS, I recommend this primer. This book is available from the AAS website for $19.95, and while I don't think it will completely replace the need for some of Oliver's very own Oli Readers, I am certainly glad to have it in our library for new readers to enjoy!

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, February 8, 2010

ZPG, indeed

Our large, white 12-passenger van pulled into a parking spot at our local mall. This is your average, upper end, wear-nice-clothes-or-you'll-look-like-a-redneck mall. The kind of place where teen girls charge outfits that cost more than my monthly food budget in a single spending spree.

Mr. Blandings and I--not fans of McCommerce in general, and true loathers of the faux "you can have it all!" fantasy shoveled in these kinds of arenas--had put off making some post-Christmas returns until the 11th hour. Armed with a fistful of gift receipts sweetly sent our way by Madame Blandings, we were ready to do battle with the Powers That Be at some of the trendier chain stores. We would no longer glower guiltily at the $95 GAP sweater lying on the floor in our closet. No--we would send it back to the pit of h@ll from which it came.

But first we had to squeeze into a parking spot. And unload the kids. Put Manolin in the ergo. Harness Oli into the stroller. Make sure everyone had their coat, their water bottle, their marching orders. Double check the snack supplies and ...

Yes, we can go in now.

Three steps from the end of our vehicle, the older kids started snickering.

Directly across from our van was a small, derelict Geo, circa 1989. It had once been metallic blue-green, but was now a mostly forgotten shade of tired dirt brown and road film grey. The tires were bald. The back taillight was missing on the driver's side, and had been artfully replaced with a series of red bumper stickers. The area around the sagging tailpipe was sooty with discharge.

What caught our attention, however, was a prominently displayed sticker on the bumper:


Just to the right of that was another sticker:


"People?" Jo asked innocently. "They mean people?"

We enjoyed a brisk walk to the shops while explaining the premise of zpg to our children. They were, to put it mildly, amused.

Some of the questions were pedestrian, child-like insights:

"How is telling someone else how many kids to have o.k. in a free country?"

"That's like China."

"How rude!"

Others were a bit more thoughtful--the questions that start a true intellectual dialogue:

"But what happens if everyone starts doing that and all of the older people keep getting older, and there are fewer young people to support them?"

"Does that work with our kind of government?"

"What if you end up with more males than females, or more females than males?"

"If our country decided to do that, and no other country did, wouldn't we eventually be so weak that we'd be kind of picked off?"

"Why are they concerned about people not having enough food when we're standing on acres and acres of what used to be farmland that's now a bunch of coffee shops and Apple stores?"

I love raising intelligent, free-thinking children. I love the fact that we have largely crossed over the border from parroting back what mom and dad say to reasoning through arguments and positions to form their own positions. And I love the fact that no topic is too big, too small, or too obtuse to catch their fancy. A bumper sticker can ignite a debate; What an amazing gift to see your children grab hold of knowledge in that way!

In the end, we all decided that, if nothing else, it was ironic that our emissions-spewing 206 E350 van was parked alongside an emissions-spewing 1989 Geo. And that we were probably that particular person's worst nightmare. Who knows... maybe we even passed by the Geo owner, and gave him his own reproductive nightmare for the day.

Prayer for the day

In your ocean, I'm ankle deep
I feel the waves crashin' on my feet
It's like I know where I need to be
But I can't figure out, yeah I can't figure out

Just how much air I will need to breathe
When your tide rushes over me
There's only one way to figure out
Will ya let me drown, will ya let me drown

Hey now, this is my desire
Consume me like a fire, 'cause I just want something beautiful
To touch me, I know that I'm in reach
'Cause I am down on my knees, I'm waiting for something beautiful
Oh, something beautiful

And the water is risin' quick
And for years I was scared of it
We can't be sure when it will subside
So I won't leave your side, no I can't leave your side

Hey now, this is my desire
Consume me like a fire, 'cause I just want something beautiful
To touch me, I know that I'm in reach
'Cause I am down on my knees, I'm waiting for something beautiful
Oh, something beautiful

In a daydream, I couldn't live like this
I wouldn't stop until I found something beautiful
When I wake up, I know I will have
No, I still won't have what I need

Hey now, this is my desire
Consume me like a fire, 'cause I just want something beautiful
To touch me, I know that I'm in reach
'Cause I am down on my knees, I'm waiting for something beautiful
Oh, something beautiful

Sunday, February 7, 2010

TOS Review: Kinderbach

Last year, our family had the chance to review Kinderbach, an online music curriculum aimed at preschool and early elementary students, as a part of the TOS Homeschool Crew. As a repeat vendor, we got to try it out again.

Once again, I turned to Logan to hit the keyboard. He's my closest child to the stated target audience (ages 2-7), but again, I have to say that I think they overestimate the interest level for this program. While I can completely see Oli being entertained by the jangly clowns and happy little characters, funny exercises and silly tunes in a year or so, it was sheer torture for Logan.

This is a lovely, colorful, engaging preschool program, however. Don't let my reluctance to endorse their recommended age range turn you off. Through a slow, gentle process (albeit replete with a whole lot of preschool-friendly shazam!) a whole lot of music theory is covered. Bonus: it requires no car travel, and your own purchase outside of the program itself is a keyboard. Print-outs are easy to access, the program is simply laid out for parents, and you can use it with multiple children at a time.

The entire program retails for $95.88, but can be purchased monthly for $19.99 if you wish. A free 2 week trial is also available. A dvd version of the one-year program (with corresponding activity books) is now available for$222.88, and would make people with slower internet connection speeds much happier in the long run.

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.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Any questions?

I'm a bit of a political junkie. A degree in Political Science will do that to you, even if you somehow manage to finagle a concentration in the Reconstruction Era South into an actual sheepskin.

At any rate, I love politics. I love the give and take. I love the discourse. I love the crafting of ideas, the intellectual back and forth, the challenge of bringing polar opposites into agreement.

Which, of course, is why I loathe a good portion of what goes on in the U.S. political arena. Aside from being self-serving and utterly useless, the theatre of American politics commits the ultimate sin of keeping to the tradition of bandstand monologues--great, puffed personalities, waxing poetic about their ideas, their progress, their way of trumping all the odds and somehow managing to save the day.

Which is very, very boring, not to mention being as intellectually stimulating as a nice warm serving of milktoast.

For a taste of the real thing, I like to peek in on what The Brits have to offer in their rousing, slightly nutty, and always relevant Question Time. It's something akin to discovering organic bananas, folks: once you've tasted the real thing, the bland substitute will never again truly satisfy.

In this vein, Americans from across the political ideological spectrum have banded together to put forth a modest proposal to institute our own version of Question Time here in the Colonies. I invite you to investigate the matter and make up your own mind. Then pop back here and share your thoughts. Who knows ... we might even have our own little Parliamentary exchange right here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

TOS Review: FactsFirst

The fact that I had two math-oriented reviews going at approximately the same time left me in a bit of a bind.

Because of the specific make-up of my family and the leanings of my individual kids, I am very choosy as to who I elect guinea pig for the various review items that come my way. I don't want to introduce bias, frankly, where there ought not be any. For example, very rarely would I call upon Atticus to try out a new science unit with a solar system theme. The fact is that the boy knows more about the inner core of Saturn than your average bear, and would therefore declare any program not written at college-text level absolutely lacking ... whether it was or not. As for Language Arts, I know better than to ask Logan to help. Even if it's below grade-level and ought to be a breeze, he will cringe and crouch with his shoulders to his ears and act as if he has never in his life been asked to identify a verb before.

So I have staked out specific territories for curricula that is best tested with an individual child. Math, (un)fortunately for Atticus, falls in his court.

But as I said, he was already in engaged in a math review. What to do?

Jo was out. Absolutely out. Math is not her thing, and I have chosen to respect that by not adding more to her plate.

Which left Logan, my resident math wizard. The boy who had to be moved from his last math program because he was so eclectically advanced that it was impossible to teach him from the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade levels at the same time. The boy who relishes Pascal's Triangles. Oooooh, boy. This could either be very good, or very bad.

As it was, it was very, very good. Saxon Harcourt's passed Logan's strenuous math tests with flying colors.

Factsfirst is a subscription service. One year's access is available for $49.99. The program, importantly, was not developed to work alongside Saxon math specifically; It complements any curriculum. As a matter of fact, if you're familiar at all with Saxon's line of math texts, you'll be as surprised as I was to see the overall look and feel of this program. When I say, "Saxon" and "facts drill," my mind immediately conjures blank stares and black and white flashcards. Like Logan, I was delighted to find that those notions were way off base.

Silly and approachable, this arcade-style program allows children to interact not only with the numbers themselves, but also with the entire game platform. Games are varied and fun, and students customize avatar versions of themselves to accompany their journey. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts are covered in a spiral, mastery-oriented fashion. When students respond quickly and correctly, they feel immediate satisfaction as the game pops up a simple reward or encouragement.

Using the program, Logan was able to easily cement several division facts that have plagued him for the past few months. First, he had to complete a pre-test of fact subcategories, which he should have by rights found tedious (as he aced most of it), but somehow didn't. His take?

"I loved it! I got to play a computer game during school! It was really, really fun."

Oh, yes. Logan wants me to tell you one more thing about his foray into the math reviewing world:

"My guy had green hair. It was really cool, because you just don't see too many people with green hair like that unless you're in downtown Seattle."

So there you go. Great math drilling. Seattle-approved avatars. What more can anyone ask for?

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, February 1, 2010

TOS Review:

In homeschooling, you have almost limitless options when it comes to drilling math facts. One of the most popular is turning to the computer and allowing for some variation on the general "drill and kill" theme that reigns supreme in the flashcard mindset.

Why, exactly, are computer programs so popular? Because they jazz it up. They offer incentive. They make the dull, dry work of regurgitating information fun.

But for some parents, the glitter and glitz of playing games and earning points takes away from the focus of the work at hand. Now, maybe it's because their children are especially distracted by such things. For some kiddos, a game replete with sound and lights is just plain overwhelming. For other parents, though, they just simply prefer plain vanilla math, thankyouverymuch. No bells and whistles need apply.

And this, I think, is the group that will be most interested in

Designed to keep strictly to the job at hand, doesn't employ much beyond a very basic points-towards-trophy system and an occasional graphics display to steer the mind away from a refresher lesson (which must be read onscreen by the student) and a series of digital worksheets that must be completed by typing in the answers and hitting return. Parents or students select the topics to study, and parents have access to their own account to keep tabs on things. From here, parents can add extra response time per individual problems (the worksheets are timed) as well as change the grade level to access higher or lower levels of skills.

I received access to this subscription service (price details below) for review, and I have to be honest, it did not float the collective Blandings barca. Perhaps we've become too enamored of other, similar programs that leave users feeling as if they've been entertained, not simply edutained. Or perhaps it's a simple case of the shoe not fitting. Whatever the reason, while Atticus (my elected math guinea pig) complied with the work offered, he did it with little joy and even less enthusiasm. In my book, that's not a keeper.

The details:
  • $14.95/month for the first enrolled student (homeschoolers get a reduced rate of $9.95/month for the first 2 months)
  • $5/month for the second student
  • $3.95/month for each additional student

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.