Sunday, May 30, 2010

Channeling patience

Don't you just love it when you're reading something that just speaks to what your current situation entails? That was me yesterday.

“I have a mental image of a patient mother. She never has to beat back frustration. In my image, that mother doesn’t have to choose patience; she exudes it naturally from every tight, well-toned pore. Since I often have to fight for my patience, I’ve sometimes felt inadequate as a mother. But like the airbrushed thighs of models in Glamour magazine, I’ve come to realize that the smiling image of motherly serenity is unrealistic. Maybe even the most patient of mothers churns inside sometimes.” --A Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family

Thanks, Mary Ostyn, for summing up the main thing I need to keep first and foremost in my mind as I beat myself up for not being the Momma I want to be every minute of the day.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Here, perhaps, is the strangest part of the entire foster-adoption process:

As we come near the end of what has thus-far been a 27 month road, I have been asked to place a price tag on the needs of my son.

Not the day-to-day stuff. When the name "Blandings" officially appears on Oliver's birth certificate, our family will assume all spiritual, physical, emotional, legal, and financial responsibilities for raising him. New clothes, a bike at Christmas time, that kind of thing ... that's all ours.

But the state acknowledges that a large number of the children adopted through their system present unique and challenging situations to the families that they join. Taking that into account, they offer a small support package to assist folks as they endeavor to give the best to these beautiful little people whose lives have been marked with loss and tragedy and hurt and transition.

In Oliver's case, the "extenuating needs," when written out on paper, read like a daunting list of diagnoses that leave my mouth dry. Dear Lord, part of me says, Is there really so much to tackle?

In my darkest moments, when the enemy whispers in my ear, I acknowledge that an uphill battle is ahead of us in pouring into Oliver. Then, of course, I hear that sinister voice remind me that these things, this laundry list of deficiencies and missed milestones? This is just the known. What stretches beyond that, he is happy to purr, is a vast void that could bring more acronyms and hard work to the table.

When that voice starts to take over, I pull up a message I received some time ago from a dear e-maginary friend who is also parenting an adopted, special-needs kiddo. In it, she invoked the Biblical phrase, "restoring what the locusts have eaten." Her staunch commitment to God's promise of provision and His faithfulness in healing His children takes me back to the good place. The place where I can take my eyes off of what the world sees and look again at the beauty and simplicity that is Oli. I can, in other words, see him as God intended--my son, nothing more.

Still, the question of money must be addressed. For me, this is a sticky wicket. How to put a price tag on meeting a little boy's needs? How to discern between what is our responsibility and what can fall to the state? How to ask someone to step in and provide for the child of your heart? Where does one even begin?

In Oli's case, we have decided to ask for funding for the "above and beyond" services that otherwise we could not provide. Even with our own private insurance and supplemental, DSHS coverage continuing, there are so, so many things we would like to access but cannot. A Christian Neurodevelopmentalist whose fees are decidedly out of pocket. A parent/child group for hard-of-hearing kids that costs a small fortune and is located too far from us to justify without help. A special, pricey, controlled diet that might just help heal Oli's tortured little gut. Specialized swim instruction for children with cognitive issues.

I struggle with the asking. I've never been one to take more than my share, to ask for special treatment, or to expect a handout. And truly, in my heart, I believe that even without those things, Oliver is in the care of the Great Physician, whose services have already been bought at a precious price. Not only that, but the loving Father has placed this special little boy in the arms of a forever family who has blundered and loved their way through meeting his needs and watering him with the kind of atmosphere that only a mommy, daddy, and adoring siblings can give.

So what, then, is money?

It is, I suppose, a necessary evil. For some, it is a barometer of something unseen. For others, it is a way to assuage fears. For more, it is protection against a painful future.

For me, it is an irony.

See ... our family would have gladly paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to make legal what was already written in out hearts. We look at the fees and whatnot of adoption and we shrug, thinking, "What a small thing-- this financial cost--when such a large thing is to be gained." We hear of people paying $20,000 to bring home a child and we rejoice that God has met a need. We pray for the adoption funds of friends and wait, expectantly, as God tugs on hearts and makes clear the way for yet another child to join his or her family.

But here we have someone actually wanting to pay us for the privilege of adopting Oliver. In many ways, I am speechless. Money? You are offering me money to give my son our last name? To finally stand with him on the stage at church and dedicate him to the Lord? To say, "his mother," to a doctor, and not have to qualify it with "foster"?

So what is a little boy like Oliver worth to the state? What price are they willing to pay to have him off their rolls? And how, exactly, does one decide?

The answer is, I don't know. All I can say is that to me, to his daddy, to his sisters and brothers, Oliver is truly priceless. His pseudo-Cantonese babble. His gorgeous hair. His long, hard hugs that hang on until you are gasping for air. His obvious protective oversight of Mani. His love for all things "Wiggles." There is no check large enough to equal the amount of love we have for Oli, nor the pain we have felt watching the state grind through the legal process that is finally setting him free.

Maybe I should just fill in the form with that, then--the simple truth? How much compensation is Oliver worth? Nothing and everything. After all, my son is priceless.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Carryin' on an old family tradition

Somewhere around 8 p.m. on Sunday night, in the brief hours where Logan's birthday gives way to Atticus', Mr. Blandings and I looked at one another and admitted something we never, ever thought we'd say:

If we'd known how many children we were going to have way back in the beginning, we sure as heck would have kept the whole birthday thing a whole lot simpler.

You know how sometimes, we decide (consciously or otherwise) that we're going to do things completely different than our parents did? At my house growing up, the first rule about birthdays was that we didn't talk about birthdays. See, I highly suspect that my mother is bi-polar. Why? Take this into consideration: one year, for your birthday, you wake up to her singing in the kitchen, telling you how you changed her life, and asking you what kind of cake you want. The next year, she forgets your birthday entirely, then a week later takes you to K-Mart and tells you that she's got $15 with your name on it. It was enough to make me dread my birthday. And frankly, my dad didn't make it much better. Never much for anniversaries in general, the best I was likely to get from him was a hug and a nod, maybe a ruffled patch of hair from where he told me that I had grown.

True story: when Mr. Blandings and I began dating in college, he asked me when my birthday was. I hesitated, then relented.

"It's in a week," I admitted.

"A week? And you weren't going to tell me?"

He seemed shocked. I was shocked that he was shocked. I mean ... birthdays. Don't they just bring out the pain in everyone?

Turns out, no. His family was the complete opposite. Cake, ice cream, special parties, family events, cards from your great-great-great Aunt Millie you haven't seen in 20 years, people calling at all hours of the day and night to thank you for being part of their lives.

Creepy stuff when you've spent the first 18 years of your life just hoping that someone, somewhere might remember that you were born and say those two magic words: "Happy Birthday."

By the time Mr. Blandings and I welcomed Jo into our family, I had just about recovered from my former birthday phobia. I expected good things on my birthday. Every year, Mr. Blandings called me and blasted "Birthday," by the Beatles in my ear before 8 in the morning. He bought me little goodies. His parents called me up to wish me well. I was over-the-moon thrilled. Birthdays were fun. And, by golly, I was going to make sure that my children never had any reason to doubt that they day of their births was something to celebrate.

But there was one little problem. When Jo's big day rolled around for the first time, we were broke. Flat broke. The kind of broke that leaves $20 in the budget for groceries and diapers. The kind of broke that has your phone shut off on a regular basis, no gas in your car, and leaves precious little left over for anything remotely "happy" or "birthday."

Desperate to not repeat my own childhood, I scrimped and saved and went to extreme lengths to make sure that my baby girl knew that we couldn't quit rejoicing over her birth. I managed to pull together all of $24. It took me six weeks. The day before her birthday, I went to the dollar store and bought two colors of streamers, paper plates with her favorite characters on them, an decorative tablecloth, and a helium balloon. I already had her gift--a video I had gotten for review. Feeling spendy, I threw in another dollar and picked up two Little Critter books from the 50 cent shelf. And there it was. My little girl's party.


See, not wanting to let the day pass without note, I had invited a whole hoard of people to our house. House? It wasn't much of a house, to be honest. As I said, we were poor, and the only rental we could afford was former factory housing in a furniture town. The place reeked of varnish and rocked every time the train rumbled by. There was a hole the size of a grapefruit in the linoleum covering the kitchen floor, which I covered over with a strip of packaging tape to keep the critters out. But hey, it was a roof over our heads, and it was cheap enough that we could get by without me bringing in a paycheck. So it was home. And, most importantly, it was where Jo's first birthday party was held.

Using the remains of my $24 stash, we were able to buy hamburger meat and some hot dogs. My in-laws provided the buns, and my mom made potato salad. All that was left was the cake. But believe it or not, I had no money left over for a store-bought cake featuring Jo's favorite character. In fact, I couldn't afford a cake mix. In desperation, I pulled out my grandmother's ancient recipe and whipped one up from scratch. It was my very first attempt at making a cake that didn't come from a box, and it taught me a lot. First of all, you can actually make cakes in shapes. It doesn't take a professional. Second, you can make one without the help of Betty Crocker. And third, it really isn't all that hard. My last lesson came from a guest, who asked me if I had made the cake myself, and said that she could tell the difference--in a good way. I was flattered, and felt vindicated that I had managed to fete my daughter without sending us that much further into the poor house.

By the next year, things were decidedly less tight, but still financially dicey. Mr. Blandings and I had committed to eliminating the debt we had rung up in that lean season of literally surviving on credit, and every spare penny went to paying off credit cards and loans. So when Jo turned two, I headed back to the dollar store, stocked up on streamers and a balloon, and made ready. There was dancing to "Birthday," a breakfast of whatever junk she wanted, and a homemade cake that I poured my heart into. Usually, some sort of major field trip followed: the zoo, a horse ride, a trip to the lake.

And so it went. Every year. A total production from start to finish: Birthdays with the Blandings.

But fast forward almost 13 years and people, these birthdays are hard to maintain. Why? Because we have so many of them, and in such rapid succession. See, Logan's birthday is May 22. That was Saturday. Then, just two days later, Atticus turned 10. That was Monday. And guess what? Next week, we'll celebrate Mani's. In ten days' time, we have three birthdays.

And it doesn't get any better come fall. Jo and Bee share a birthday in September. You know ... right around the time that Seven is due? Holy birthday madness, Batman!

Oliver is the only one who can be completely celebrated just on his own. His day falls between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but hey, I'll take it!

We figure we've purchased 36 balloons in the past 12.5 years (some years, they get more than one to signify special milestones). I've made birthday brownies at least 28 times, and the rest of the days have been celebrated with either cinnamon rolls, blackberry cobbler, or apple pie--all before 7 a.m. The Beatles have helped us dance in hotel rooms (Jo's 5th), hospital birthing suites (Atticus' 2nd), and via Skype (Oliver's 2nd). We have taped countless yards of streamers to the doorframes of six different bedrooms in shades of green, purple, blue, yellow, and white. I have made cakes in the shape of monster trucks, flowers, rabbits, the Titanic, and the Thinking Chair from Blue's Clues. We've toured Reptile Zoos, aquariums, parks, gone canoeing, flown kites, and eaten sushi.

So yes, if an angel had whispered in my ear all those years ago that I would be running to buy balloons for a week straight in May, and making more desserts than I generally crank out in a month in a matter of days, well ... I probably would have scaled things back a bit. But would I change the sentiment behind it? Not on your life. My kiddos look forward not so much to their gifts, but to their celebration. To the utter, joyful embrace of YOU ARE LOVED. YOU WERE WANTED. YOU ARE A PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER. AND WE WOULDN'T TRADE YOU FOR THE WORLD.

If I had money all those years ago, I never would have gone to such lengths and gotten so creative in crafting the traditions that we now all take for granted. I would have done what I wanted to do: bought a picture-perfect decorated cake, decked the house in an elaborate theme, purchased something that ended up on a shelf as a momento. What we have instead, I think is far more rich. And far more personal.

Even if it is a wild and crazy ride for a few weeks every year. :-)

Monday, May 24, 2010

TOS Review: Andrea Carter and the Trouble with Treasure

Fiction for young girls can be notoriously bad. No just, "Wow, that's poorly written," kind of bad ... sadly, too often what fills the shelves of most booksellers borders on (or overtly crosses over into) the realm of, "I can't let my daughter read that!"

Is fiction for boys that much better? No, not really. But for some reason, when it comes to girls it's all about boyfriends, and dumb parents, and teasing mean girls. Yuck.

Guess what? There are options! You will have to look long, and you will have to look hard, but yes, they are out there. I know, because I have navigated the waters and come out on the other side. And trust me, it's so worth it. Well-written, interesting, maybe even edifying fiction can be found. I promise.

And hey--I'll even give you a heads up. :-) Check out Susan K. Marlow's Andrea Carter series. Published by Kregel Publications, this is a fun, adventurous series focusing on a spunky girl with a zest for life, an indomitable spirit, and a thirst for the right things in life. This series would make a fun read-aloud for younger girls (in the 7 and up range) or a great summer fun series for slightly older girls.


I'm giving away one free copy of Andrea Carter and the Trouble with Treasure! Simply leave a comment listing your own favorite girlhood series and what you enjoyed so much about it to be entered into a drawing for this free book! Winner will be drawn on June 5.

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, May 23, 2010

TOS Review: Lobster Network

It's an online community. It's a library. It's a way of keeping track of what you've loaned and what you've borrowed, with no hurt feelings. It's free. It's LobsterNetwork.

I really can't describe it more than that. You have to go and check it out. But let me tell you this: if you're a homeschooler with a whole lending library's worth of curriculum floating around town, you really should check into this.

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, May 19, 2010

TOS Review: Standard Deviants/History of the U.S. AP Prep

Quick--what's the cheapest route to college credits for your homeschooled child? Give up? AP credits. By taking a test, your child can actually earn credits towards a college degree before even stepping foot onto a campus or logging on to an online class.

It's true. Trust me. I took AP classes in preparation for my first year of college and was amazed to be able to glide past an entire semester's worth of work. Soooo worth it!

But, you say, MG--you were a traditionally-educated, classroom schooled kid. And those tests are notoriously geared towards such types. How can I help my homeschooler do their best on such a skewed exam?

Don't worry. I've got the answer to that one, too. :-)

But first, I offer this disclaimer: your child probably knows a heck of a lot more than you think they do. Honestly, I am shocked on a nearly daily basis with how much my children have picked up--and retained--simply by living a normal life that involves contact with thinking people willing to have deep conversations on topics that don't routinely appear on standardized tests. I'm not saying that every single homeschooler out there will have the same mileage, but I'm betting it's not an uncommon thing.

But now back to the box you can check--because I know that as you're prepping your child for child, you're worried about those boxes. Trust me, this one is easy to check. Simply check out the very reasonably priced (on sale for $11.98!) AP prep videos available from the Cerebellum Corporation--the folks who brought you Standard Deviants.

I was given a copy of the AP History video for review, and was dazzled by the quick pace, the catchy presentation of material, and the overall look of the videos. My three older kids all enjoyed the 2-disc set, and watched them much as they would any other video. It didn't "feel like a test," according to Jo. She actually had no idea that it was supposed to be priming her for an eventual quiz up until they started talking strategies and other details. I count this as a good thing. After all, who wants to sit in on a boring, bone-dry lecture?

The information presented was simple and straight-forward, with just enough detail to cement what you needed to know without belaboring the point. Since my copy was U.S. History, I feel like we may have had a bit of a leg-up on a lot of what was already in there; my children have been bathed in the topic nearly since birth, so it all comes second nature to them. The only other set that would have been a better fit would have been the Civics option ... but it's a good thing they didn't send us Chemistry!

These are reasonably pried, and well worth the investment if you're thinking of tackling the AP exams. Definitely a resource to consider!

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, May 18, 2010

How to salvage a day gone horribly awry

So you woke up too late to see your husband off to work with a decent breakfast at all of 6:05 a.m.

Bible time? Not happening.

Your barely verbal 3.5 year-old can't seem to remember that hitting is not o.k.

And your almost 10 year-old has, for some unknown reason, become Mr. On the Verge of Tears.

And the phone keeps ringing.

And the dishes still haven't made it from the sink to the dishwasher.

And, my goodness, will the 23 month-old quit tangling himself in your skirt?
Did you seriously just hear yourself say that the preschooler could watercolor?
Ignore the phone. Ignore it.

I think your 8 year-old just said that he can't find his math book.
The oldest wants to know if that's an interjection when it's used that way. Think fast!
And oh, golly ... it's only 10 a.m.

Time to reconsider the concept of "plan" and go with the much more likely concept of "survival." Let's all study Roman architecture by means of sugar cookies. How's that sound, guys?

And that, my friends, is how you salvage a day, tastefully.

Friday, May 14, 2010

TOS Review: Ideal Curriculum

Preschoolers. What on earth to do with them while you go about the business of multiplying fractions and conjugating verbs?

Schools of thought vary. Some people enroll their youngers in a local preschool program, betting that the time away from home and hours spent painting somewhere else will be a greater blessing to everyone involved than the tension that ensues when the under-5 set demands to be the center of attention. Others set aside special school-time activities and games just for instruction hours. Still others try to juggle fitting the littles in with the olders lessons.

And others just throw themselves in headfirst and attempt preschool on top of whatever they're already teaching.

For those folks (and I admit, I'm not among them right now), some prepared lesson plans can be an absolute lifesaver. When Logan was a tot, I managed to squish him in alongside my slightly-older kiddos but boy, it was a good deal of work on my behalf. Having a pre-made back-up plan would have saved the day.

And that's what Ideal Curriculum strives to do. Using a very preschool approach, based on games and songs, Ideal Curriculum has designed nine monthly kits that function as units to build emerging skills in the very young. The themes are totally tot-friendly (transportation, weather, etc.) and filled with the kind of basic information that lays the groundwork for later learning. There are library books to discover, hands-on activities to share, and basic math skills to prepare.

I really liked the unit I was given as a sample. Honestly, it was far too involved for Oli, but I could easily see it working with your average 3 to 5 year-old. A younger sibling, too, might enjoy listening in. For $30 per month (download version of the unit), I think the curriculum is within reach of most folks interested in pursuing an actual preschool experience for their littles.

However, I will say one thing that I found to be a slight turnoff with this program: the overall philosophy represented here is summed up in this statement from their website:

Our mission is to help every child be successful at learning. 95% of all children will not pick up academic skills on their own. They need instruction and guidance.

And you know what? I just don't buy that anymore. Did I believe it when I was ushering Jo into early learning? Absolutely. But since then, I've discovered that an hour spent reading through picture books is every bit as valuable as time spent introducing phonics sounds. I've also learned that counting silverware to set the dinner table and talking about whether glasses are full, half-full, etc., is an excellent introduction to math. That's instruction and guidance right there--no financial commitment necessary!

So yes, if you're looking to purchase a preschool curriculum, I think that this one has the potential to enhance your homeschool experience without taxing your limited time. But you know ... you could also just read to your kids. That'll work, too.

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.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

HOMEschooling, HOMEmaking: lunches

I hate it when one of my systems breaks down--mostly, I admit, because I don't like expending the energy to rethink a process that should/ought/used to run like a well-oiled machine. But from time to time, our family seems to outgrow or no longer need The Way Things Are.

You can deny it for only so long. And then, tail between your legs, you have to reinvent the wheel.

This is me right now with lunch planning. For years (years, people) we have eaten mostly leftovers for lunch. By making a larger meal the night before, I could sock away enough to feed Mr. Blandings, myself, and all of the children the next day with most offerings. True, there have always been some things that we tend to turn our noses up at when reheated. (Tuna casserole on day two is somehow toxic, isn't it?) For those days, we'd fall back on a handful of staples. We've never been really big into sandwiches ( I save those as a to-go item for appointment days), but anything else was fair game. Usually, it was Jo cobbling together something that sounded appetizing to her. It was a once-every-other week deal. Barely a blip on the radar.

But for months now, lunch has been, well ... off. There simply haven't been that many leftovers. Many times, Mr. Blandings has been left scrambling for something in the a.m. hours--the platter of bounty from the night before had been virtually licked clean, as it were. No lunch goodies. Every man for himself!

At first I thought it was a phase, and didn't adjust my dinner proportions. Finally, I admitted that this was a new norm, and upped my kitchen output. Guess what? Still no love. Turns out that a pregnant Momma, a Daddy who has increased his weekly workouts to include some weight lifting, a pre-teen girl, two boys on the cusp of hitting their Big Boy Growth Spurts, and two growing toddlers eat a lot of food. And I do mean a lot of food.

I can barely make adequate dinners right now. Pretty much everything ends up supplemented with a nice loaf of bread and a massive bowl of greens tossed into a salad. Even then, the kids seem to loom at me over the table, wondering if there's anything more to eat. More often than not, there's a run on fruit for dessert that rivals the bare shelves one sees when someone tells folks in Georgia that it might snow.

This is life in a big family. Get used to it, right?

Having acknowledged that leftovers are--for now at least--a thing of the past, I had to sit down and pump up our lunch menu. Turns out our general options were only 6 rotating items. Not bad when you need them two or three times a month ... but paltry when 30 or 31 long days stretch endlessly before you. I scoured recipe sites, asked around, and came up with some options that are working for us, for now. My criteria was: minimal prep (because we are usually coming straight off of some seatwork and into lunch with a bunch of very hungry peeps), as few processed ingredients as possible (personal preference), and kid-friendly. If an item has a dairy component, it had to have a corresponding non-dairy option that didn't require additional work so as to accommodate my dairy-free kiddos. And, oh yes--the more work that my kids can do in putting it together, the better. They love kitchen time, and I am trying to hand over the reins whenever I can to help them along in that life skill area.

One other thing: you'll notice that there are only a couple of options where meat figures prominently. Again, that's a personal preference, and it limits our menu somewhat.

Having done all the legwork, I thought I'd offer up a list of the options that have worked for us in the last few weeks. When needed, I've included a description, link, or very brief directions. And please, feel free to leave more ideas in the comments, or post them on your own blog and link back. I'd love any help other moms can offer in this area!

  1. Bagel/English muffin mini-pizzas (we simply leave the cheese off for the non-dairy folks)
  2. Cheese Quesadillas (non-dairy kids get peanut butter and honey spread on a tortilla)
  3. Noodles & Peas (Cooked elbow macaroni mixed with frozen peas or mixed veggies, topped with grated parmesan for those who like it)
  4. Cold Plate (sliced fruit, raw veggies, cheese, crackers, & tuna for nibbling)
  5. Omelettes
  6. Burritos (we always have a pot of beans (black or pinto) in the fridge, so this one is a given for us)
  7. Peanut/soy butter and bananas rolled up in tortillas (yes, I make tortillas in bulk. can you tell?)
  8. California Veggie Wrap (a huge, huge hit with my kids)
  9. Black bean dip with veggies
  10. Faux Welsh Rarebit (Wheat bread spread lightly with 1/8 tsp of brown sugar, topped with a slice of cheddar and melted. True confession: I find this nasty, but two of my kids love it and will eat it from sun up to sundown. So I'm including it here in case anyone else has raised food degenerates such as this.)
  11. Pasta Salads (I have about three versions, all of which are cold, and all of which I can make a huge batch of and have on hand for a couple of days)
  12. Apples spread with peanut/soy butter
  13. Microwaved baked potatoes with toppings
  14. Waffle sandwiches (spread them with nut butters, jam, you name it)
  15. Deviled eggs
  16. Chicken salad (can be served as sandwiches, or not)
  17. Potato Skillet (chunks of cooked potato sauteed in a little oil and herbs of your choice, a handful of crushed, cooked turkey bacon thrown in, then topped with some grated cheddar)
  18. Seven Layer Dip with chips (you know, the kind with ground turkey/beef, salsa, sour cream, refried beans, etc.)

That's what I have so far. Your turn. :-)

I'm still digging around, hoping to come up with more variety. I'm very excited by the whole Bento-at-home idea because A) I love the portion control B) I think my kids would enjoy making them up from items that I keep on hand in the fridge C) Getting a Bento box is one of my favorite forms of take-out and D) It fits my philosophy of fresh food amazingly well. But so far, I haven't taken the plunge. I'll get back to you on how that one goes ...

(More on Bento)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

TOS Review: Beeyoutiful

Sometimes I am asked to review things that don't excite me very much. I shrug my shoulders and say, "Sure, " wondering all the while what value this product or book or whathaveyou can possibly have for the varied and eclectic readership that makes up my blog audience. I will admit up front that this was one of those reviews that I took on with very little enthusiasm. A line of health products aimed at the crunchy, DIY set? O.k. Whatever.

When it comes to holistic or naturopathic remedies, you see, I'm a dabbler. There are some that I swear by (Garlic drops for ear infection? You'd better believe it.) and others that I am far from convinced of (Silver nitrate for anything? No way.). I go to teas and elderberry syrups before cough meds, but am more than happy to nip strep infections in the bud with prescription antibiotics. In other words, my skepticism is high on both ends: the mainstream medical establishment and the alternative scene get equal scrutiny from me. After all ... both are trying to sell me something.

I live in western Washington, so I get more than my fair share of recommendations for home treatments. What sweet tea is to the South, alternative therapies are to Seattle. Hang around a group of mothers long enough, and you will run the gamut on recommendations for junior's tummy troubles. Chiropractic is a given. Then there's the ever-expanding allergy repertoire. Warm olive oil rubs. Gripe water. Nux vomica. And that's just to get you started.

So you can see why the idea of reviewing a line of home remedies felt like, well ... work. And not necessarily the good kind.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the company, Beeyoutiful, contacted me and asked me to choose what I'd like to review. My options were a berry-flavored immune booster, a probiotic designed to restore intestinal health, a progesterone cream, some essential oils, toners & lotions, and a bar of milk and honey facial soap.

I chose the soap ($10 for 4.25 oz. bar) with a huge sigh of relief. I like handmade soaps. I enjoy handmade soaps. And by golly, I could probably find good things to say about it. I waited for my bar to arrive. When it came, it was all I had hoped for. It smelled lightly of oranges. It had a pleasant, but not intense, lather. It rinsed clean and smooth. It enhanced my nightly bath ritual. I was elated.

But only so much. Because right at that same time, Logan started exhibiting a familiar symptom: intense, shooting stomach pain that comes and goes.

Last summer, the boy was all but plagued by this problem. He would be fine. Literally, fine. Walking, running, playing. Suddenly, he would come streaking towards me, doubled in pain. Within a few moments, he was nearly in tears, curled on the couch and crying. Eventually, he'd shoot into the bathroom and try to go. About 50% of the time, that seemed to solve the problem. The other 50%, the pain just suddenly left, with no rhyme or reason.

Knowing that he is sensitive to dairy products, I cut that from his diet. No improvement. I tinkered with a handful of other foods, to no avail. I pumped him full of acidophilus, hoping that would get things back in order. Nada. Finally, I carted him to the pediatrician. Her take? Probably constipated. Give him a laxative and see if that helps.

Just as suddenly as the symptom had come, however, it left. And by the end of the fall, we had all but forgotten Logan's tummy troubles.

When they reappeared, I was flummoxed. I was also bummed. After all ... I had just passed by an opportunity to try a free product that might have helped. Could that have been God offering me a little help? Hmmmmm ....

Having been pleased with the milk and honey soap that was currently gracing the side of my tub, I decided to give another Beeyoutiful product a whirl. I went online and bought Tummy Tune-Up. After some digging, I found a slightly cheaper price for the product, which retails on the Beeyoutiful site for $18. Then I sat back and waited, watching each cringe of Logan's belly with a guilty frown.

The day that the bottle arrived happened to be one where my boy was laid up on the couch refusing his lunch. This is a big deal for Logan, as he is generally quite the eater. I took the little box straight from the UPS man to the kitchen counter, where I opened it and inspected the contents. Inside, there were 60 coated capsules containing more "good" bacteria than you can shake a stick at. I checked the dosage for Logan and bribed him to choke it down. (They're good-sized capsules!)

And you know what? Within three days, he was fine. And I do mean, fine. All better. No more gripes. No more skipped meals. No more tummy trouble. Just like that.

Tummy Tune-Up works. I'm sold.

So yes, I started out not wanting to do this review. Then I thought I could at least glow about some lovely soap. But I ended up wanting to tell you about something I paid for that worked. Does that somehow make this a more authentic review? I don't know. But it's a first for me. :-)

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, May 3, 2010

Trying again

There's a time to keep things low-key, and a time to storm the gates. When it comes to getting a visa for Bee, our family is involved in a full-court press to get this done. The deadline? May 26. At that time, our friend who runs the orphanage will return to the States on furlough for several months. Bee will, God willing, come with him. She will most likely have to return at the end of the furlough, but we are willing to take even this small season, knowing that it may open doors for a student visa down the road.

We are praying. Oh, man, are we praying! Round one was so disappointing, so shockingly devastating, that I admit, for a while there, we were stunned into inaction. But still, the evidence of all that God did, even as He allowed for "no" to be the answer, was enough to keep us fighting to claim the promise we know He has given us. Bee is our daughter.

In addition to the prayers of the many faithful who want her home--even if only for a few months before she must return to Nepal--we have pulled in a couple of favors that we're hoping will pay off. Because of his line of work, Mr. Blandings has a handful of select political connections. Using these, he was able to procure some support letters imploring the Embassy to approve Bee's visa. We honestly didn't think this would be necessary the first time. We underestimated satan's desire to keep families apart, however. Someone told me long ago that it's in the enemy's best interest to keep children out of Christian families--even children being raised in loving, Christian orphanages. I believe that now more than ever. This isn't a battle against a stodgy branch of the US government. This is a battle against the very spirit of evil.

Right now, Bee's visa application is sitting in her orphanage home. It cannot be taken to the Embassy to be processed. Why? The political situation in Nepal, always fraught with tension, has reached another crisis moment. The Maoists have imposed an "indefinite" strike, forcing all businesses, building, etc., to close. All transportation is being done via foot or bicycle, except during select evening hours chosen in advance by the striking party. No official business is being done, be it government or otherwise. Only schools are currently open, and even that was a compromise reached after a week-long hiatus.

What do the Maoists want? They are asking that the reigning government party step down. They want the new constitution finished. And, oh yes ... they want to run the country. If they don't have their demands met? A "peaceful war" they promise. Doesn't that sound reassuring?

We want Bee here, with us. All of the powers of earth seems to be contriving to keep her in Kathmandu. Please, will you pray along with us that God steps in and provides the miracle of a timely visa? That He brings her to us? That he gives her what she is praying for?

An excerpt from Bee's most recent letter:

Now I am wondering when God will answer my prayers. I am thankful He has given me a loving family. I am missing my family. I wait for Him to do His work. Only He can bring us together! I know He can do it. I read in Bible and see things He has done. This is small thing for God. He will do this thing that we ask. Keep praying!

I thank you again for listening and praying alongside us. God hears us. He will provide!