Monday, November 29, 2010

TOS Review: A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stretch marks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jo considered this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Just Another 24 Hours in the Homeschooling Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 8, 2010


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I call youknowwhat on that.

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

Monday, November 1, 2010

It goes so fast

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

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