Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: GoGreen Diapers

I had fully intended to review these diapers next month, when time was a little less monopolized by the daily comings and goings of life. However, a small seed of revelation has been growing in my brain all week long, and this diaper is actually at the heart of it.

Say what?

Let me backtrack a little. Right now--this week-- a group of mommy bloggers is taking on a very unusual challenge. Responding to news reports revealing how low income families are spending their last dollars on diapers, choosing to "recycle" disposables, and/or leaving said disposables on baby's tender bottoms far longer than ever intended, this group has committed to cding their babies in the cheapest way possible for an entire week. They're blogging about their experiences, showing the world how easy/hard it is to diaper using cheap flats with covers, washing by hand or with a homemade camp washer, and hang drying. Every night. For a week.

It's called the Flats and Handwashing Challenge, and while I'm not taking part, it has certainly challenged me.

Why? Because as I've shared many times, diapering Jo nearly 14 years ago was a massive strain on our budget. We relied on diapers purchased by family members quite often, because our own budget just didn't cover that "essential." We were barely buying food--diapers were a luxury!

At the time, I actually considered cloth. I stumbled upon a package of flats at my local Wal-Mart for less than $7 for a whole dozen. A 3-pack of the thin plastic pants I remembered my mom using on my brother was less than $4. I stood in the aisle and contemplated. I had no washing machine. No dryer. No idea what I was getting myself into.

And no support. My husband gave me a dubious grimace when he saw me holding the alternative diapering items. 

"You can't get those clean enough to be safe," he said with a shudder. 

At the time, everyone I knew believed that cloth diapering was something that only the poor, uneducated folks who couldn't see how much better living was possible through diaper chemistry even attempted. It was something like breastfeeding--which I was already doing. To jump off the cloth diaper bridge would surely cement my reputation as a granola nut of an entirely different kind. 

An unsterile kind, most likely.

So I put the cheap flats and pants back, and kept visiting my mom and grandparents, and asking my in-laws to bring diapers whenever they came for a visit. 

I wish at that time that I had read some of the real-life ups and downs being posted by participants in the Flats Challenge. It would have made a difference. It really would have.

But all of this seems to have nothing at all to do with the title of this post. And yet, it does, I promise. 

Years later, money wasn't nearly so much of an issue. We weren't scrounging to keep the power on, but believe it or not, the cost of diapers came up when we discussed the idea of adding to our family. We had a washer, had a dryer, and were now aware that the idea of "sterilizing" a diaper for re-use within one's own family is more than a little overboard. 

On a fling, I sat down at the computer and googled "cloth diapers." The top results were all major names that any cloth diapering momma today would be instantly familiar with. I read with amazement all of the positive feedback people were listing--how they claimed these diapers resulted in fewer rashes, leaked less, and were better for the environment than disposables. I was ready to jump off the bridge without a bungee cord, right up until the moment when I saw the price tag.

Cloth diapering can be expensive. And that expense can push it out of the reach of well-meaning Mommas with modest incomes. Trust me. I know. The $20+ that many of the most popular brands charge per diaper is more than many families can swing, especially when you take into account that a newborn baby will easily need a stash of more than a dozen diapers even if you plan on laundering every night.

But guys, it doesn't have to be that way. And you don't have to commit to learning a myriad different folds or swaddling your baby's bum in multiple layers of gauzy cotton to make it work, either.

Enter GoGreen Diapers

GoGreen's diapers are one size pockets, the type favored by many cding parents. The suedecloth pocket sits on top of a microfiber insert, and the exterior is lined with a waterproof layer of PUL. It's a one-shot deal--basically as easy as a disposable. No folding. No separate cover. No changing out inserts. Just take off the dirty diaper, snap on a new one, and go. And by the way, the exteriors are way cuter than anything you'll find packaged in bundles of 36 waiting in the aisles of your local grocery store. 

The above print is about the girliest thing you could ask for. Bunz 'N Roses. Tell me you didn't get a grin looking at all that pinkness!

GoGreen offers two types of diapers (both pockets). The original is a sturdy, basic pocket with an opening on one end and overlapping snap tabs for a perfect fit even on skinny babies. My sample was a Champ 2.0, a slightly snazzier version with dual pocket openings so that the soiled insert comes out on its own in the wash. It also sports double leg gussets to hold in messes even better, as well as a PUL-lined pocket cover in the back that handily keeps sticky stuff down below the waistline, if you know what I mean. There's even a snap to hold the insert in on top of the suedecloth, if you wish, basically turning it into an AI2 with just the purchase of additional inserts.

The Champ fit Seven like, well, like a champ. No red marks around those chunky thighs, no leaking, nothing but visions of pink cuteness. And yes, she put this one through the paces. I decided to take a day out and about and got caught up in the activities while testing the GoGreen. Four hours into our excursion, I checked Seven. While the insert was sopping wet, her skin wasn't even clammy. That's a pretty good indicator that this is a great diaper, in my book!

Finally, the Champ is trim enough to fit under even little girl tights without much more than the normal, adorable (in my book) cloth diaper baby butt. 

If you've done any research at all into cloth diapers, you're waiting for the other shoe to drop. Diapers similar to the Champ retail for about $24 each, right? Especially with those cute fuzzy exteriors and those amazing double gussets, you're thinking. Yeah, $24. Out of my league.

What if I told you that it was $14.95? 

And that the original GoGreen is just $9.99?

And they're OS, remember? So I just told you that you can diaper your baby from birth to potty training with cute pockets for under $120, and still have some wiggle room on laundry.

Bottom line on GoGreen--aside from the fact that I wish they had been around in 1997? You don't have to spend a fortune to cloth diaper your baby. While they're still out of reach of the folks that the Flat Challenge are trying to inspire, they're well within the grasp of many potential cders who can't afford to invest $20 or more per diaper, yet don't want to deal with flats, pre-folds, etc. These are great diapers, at a great price. You simply can't ask for more than 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.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fear factor

I'm in the middle of school planning for the year ahead. So many choices, so many options, so many bases to cover in the dwindling years I have left teaching Jo at home. High school--and all that it entails--is  steaming towards us. I think back on the meager beginnings of our little homeschool and wonder where all the years of making saltdough letters and counting forks and spoons out of the dishwasher have gone. In the beginning, there was a long tunnel of time stretching before us. Surely, my little girl was as grown up as she was every going to get.

Not quite.

Jo is knocking at the door of adulthood now, and while she's got several years before that call is answered, we can all feel it coming. She is nervous, excited, overwhelmed and overjoyed, all at the same time. This upcoming year will bring Sonlight's Core 200, pre-algebra, chemistry, and a host of other things that will stretch her mind, put her academic skills to the test, and probably even reduce her to tears on one or more occasions.

And yet, in the midst of my planning, it's not Jo and her high school plans that are leaving me with a dry mouth. I ought to be frightened of teaching high school. I ought to have a healthy acknowledgement of the increased responsibility. I ought to be scrambling to have a plan for records, a stable of mentors, that sort of thing. 

But what I'm really worried about is ...


Preschool, of all things. Preschool, which I could teach with my eyes closed at this point, assuming that I consciously taught preschool at all. Running a finger under letters as you read aloud from a favorite picture book. The right way to hold scissors. How to hop from one foot to another without losing your balance. Sharing. Singing an endless array of Bible songs. Puzzles. Counting games. 

This fall, I'm going to be fully responsible for a kind of preschool I've never really envisioned in our lives: special needs. 

After so many moments of conviction that even I couldn't deny them, it's become clear that our local public school program isn't the place for Oli. He's receiving speech and occupational therapy, yes. But the quality of those programs has diminished as the school district has struggled to reallocate funds in a drastically slashed budget. Preschoolers who with cognitive delays come after high school sports in the minds of many, and thus Oli now sits for group sessions with a therapist who must try to elicit speech sounds from six low-functioning four year-olds at a time. Her chances of succeeding are depressingly low. 

And, we realize, that continuing on the path we've started down with Oli promises basically the same returns. 

It's not just the dubious therapies. There have been other signs, as well. Oli has picked up a few quality habits that, until now, we have been blessed to never welcome inside our front door. To our horror, his ability to parrot behaviors is as keen as ever. While he may not be learning to recognize his name, he now knows what it means to shout "Kill you!" when a tussle over a toy isn't going your way.

Public school--not even public preschool--isn't a good fit for us. 

So we have made the prayerful decision to bring him home. But what does that mean?

This past year, I spent a huge chunk of time (and an equally big chunk of our homeschool budget) on Olischool.  While his classroom teacher was ostensibly in charge of leading him through the motions, here at home we did everything in our power to fill Oli's moments with opportunities for learning. Still, in the back of my mind, I knew that he was getting "real" preschool down at the school. His teacher--a certified, experienced professional--was doing the heavy lifting, I told myself. I was just filling in the gaps.

Go ahead and laugh at me for these thoughts. Go ahead and tell me that an experienced homeschooler ought to know better. I'm a big girl. I can take it. 

The illusion has been shattered. I know that I was meant to be in charge all along. Now it's time to take the bull by the horns and admit to myself that I'm certified by a higher power and called to this job. I can do it. With God's help, I can teach this boy.

This fall will find me swimming in a new pond. Not only will I have a high schooler to guide, but a special needs preschooler, as well. The stakes somehow seem high, but I've been in these situations often enough to know that a few years from now, I'll most likely look back and wonder what I was so anxious about. Hopefully, as I reminisce, Oli will be sitting beside me. Reading a book. And wondering why his Momma is laughing so hard.

Monday, May 23, 2011


My children seem intent on squeezing my heart until it bursts this week. 

Yesterday, Logan entered his last single digit year. He is now officially nine, and while I haven't been able to call him my baby for quite some time, he is now very, very clearly not my baby. From his lanky, gawky arms to his stinky, man-sized feet, it's abundantly obvious that Logan is crossing over into that awkward stage just before puberty. 

Tomorrow, Atticus will join in and insist on becoming eleven. Still boyish (despite the growing physical signs to the contrary), Atticus is somewhat sheepish about his advancing age. He's a wise old soul--wise enough to know that his years of being a relatively unfettered boy are dwindling. This, of course, makes him all the more precious in this Momma's eyes.

And naturally, there is Mani's birthday next week. He'll be three. Three, I tell you. This morning, he told me all about his upcoming fete: "I haffa birfday cake. I getta digger. I'm a g'wonna thing and thing and danth. And then I'm a g'wonna be free!" 

As if all this weren't enough, this morning, Seven decided to tackle two milestones at once. She has been toying with crawling for the past few days. Yesterday, she made her first tenuous creeps forward. Today her knees managed to communicate with her hands enough to get two creeps at a time. That, to me, constitutes crawling. In a week, she'll be blitzing around the house, opening cabinets, laughing as the boys chase her, evading capture. This was plenty. My heart had its happy/sad moment where I praised God for my healthy, growing, neurotypical little girly and mourned her tiny baby days all at the same time. 

Then she topped it all with this:

Bittersweet, no? As a mother, I'm often reminded of Luke 2:19, in which God relates how Mary "treasured all these things up in her heart." The Greek for "treasured" is συνετήρει, which means to "observe and keep safe." I am treasuring up all of the joy of this week, keeping it safe in my heart. Some day, I'll have time to sit and reflect on it all. But for now, I'm content to live it, letting it wash over me and bless me, moment by moment, milestone by milestone.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Logan!

Tomorrow, my Logan will turn 9. Nine. Seriously ... I am not ready for this. See, even though he is now floating in the middle of a sea of seven, for a long, long while he was the youngest. My baby. The last of the Mohicans, as we affectionately called him.

And now he's turning 9. 

No longer the youngest.

No longer a baby.

No longer anything but a growing boy grabbing life by the horns and riding into the pre-teen years.

Happy birthday, Logan. You are loved!

Friday, May 20, 2011

On brokenness

I realized--with much horror--that I may have committed one of my own cardinal sins with my post yesterday: making light of very real and very desperate depression. If you've read this blog for a while now, you know that I've been in the miry pit more than a few times in my life. I've written about it many times, and if you do a search for the term "depression" on this blog, you'll get several results. 

For whatever reason, there seems to be something of a sadness gene in my DNA, and I'm especially vulnerable to it rearing its ugly head in the months after adding a new little person to my life. I'm not proud of this fact, but I'm not ashamed of it, either. While I didn't understand the reality of this issue in my life when it first appeared, I am much more aware of it now. Depression is not a lack of faith. It is not a failure to pull one's self up by the bootstraps. It is not a lack of appreciating the blessings God has poured into one's life.

It is a beast that springs from many ills. Some are chemical. Some are situational. Others are a complete mystery. But understand this: depression is real. It is painful. And it hurts more than just the person afflicted by the darkness. For this reason, I immediately began taking a prescription medication for post-partum depression when Seven was two weeks old. 

And you know what? The addition of this child was absolutely the smoothest, most joyful, and least blue of any our family has ever seen. I don't think that this is a coincidence.

I didn't post about this because honestly, it didn't occur to me. Why not? Because I skipped over the part where I navel gaze and begin to worry. I breezed past the part where I feel inadequate. In other words, out of sight, out of mind. Why talk about what's not an issue when there are so many other things that are?

I'm writing this post because the last thing I want to be is one more voice in the sea of others telling hurting women to just grin and bear it. Nothing--and I do mean nothing--is more useless when you're depressed than looking into the reflection cast by someone who seems to have it all together and seeing how woefully short your own image seems by comparison. It's worse than the folks who urge you to just take more B12, worse than the women who pat your back and tell you that you'll be fine, just fine, worse even than the friend who loses her patience and tells you how good you've got it and to quit bellyaching. 

If you are hurting, please, please don't fake it. Please talk to someone who loves you and ask for help. Please go to a trusted pastor, doctor, therapist, etc., and let them assist you in reclaiming your joy. Depression robs you--and your family--of far too much for you to simply fake your way through it. God has so much more for you. Receive it--without shame.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fakin' It

Yesterday, I did not want to be the mom. Have you ever had those days? The sun is shining, and you just want to bolt outside, let the laundry go, feel the grass in your toes, have someone else deal with the to do list, be the kid again? That was me. 

I did not want to spoon-feed Oli to keep him from thrusting food onto his face, hair, clothes with his hands.
I did not want to tell Jo that yes, she had to do math.
I did not want to call the insurance company and do battle with the claims department.
I did not want to make the grocery list.
I did not want to tell Logan and Atticus to stop hitting one another with light sabers.
I did not want to ask someone to sweep the floor under the table before Seven decided to dine on the crumbs.

But I did it. I did it all.

No, my heart wasn't exactly in the "meek and quiet spirit." I wasn't serving with joy. I was just serving. I smiled, I spoke kindly, I did the good momma thing. But it was fake.

I started to feel kind of guilty about it about halfway through the day. Mani had just announced--the second that I was finally able to sit down and take a bite of my lunch--that he had to go potty. And he needed help. Because this was, as he is wont to blare in his loudest preschooler voice: "Pooping tiiiiiiiiime!"

I stopped myself from sighing, plastered a great big old smile on my face, put my lovely glass of lemonade down, and stood up. 

"Let's go, big boy!" I told him, and he gleefully clambered from his booster seat.

He cheerfully pottied at snail's speed, while begging me to read book after book. He cheerfully flushed, after giving me his 10-minute version of where the poop goes. He cheerfully washed his hands in slow motion taking care to scrub each finger for the entire length of the ABC song. Then, he cheerfully climbed back into his chair and ate his lunch in about 15 seconds, leaving me to gulp my food down and race back into action. I purposed to smile the entire time. And I pulled it off, believe it or not.

Just before dinner, a funny thing happened. I realized that my smile wasn't nearly so forced any more. I wasn't gritting my teeth as I attempted to break the world's record for number of consecutive readings of "Goodnight Moon." I listened to Jo complain about the instructions in her vocabulary book and actually felt a shred of sympathy. My older boys decided to re-enact a Three Stooges skit for me and I actually laughed.

My dad always said that when you were in a rotten mood, no one needed to pay the price for your misery. He'd sing the chorus to the Simon and Garfunkel song, wink one of his amazing blue eyes at you, and walk away. I had no idea that he wasn't just mocking me at the time.

Sometimes, faking it works. Play your cards right, and it might even get you barefoot in the backyard after all.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Jo was 10 when Mr. Blandings introduced her to the formal mission trip. Together, they trooped off to Tijuana, Mexico. It was just a week, if I'm remembering correctly. They worked in a slum populated with hundreds of beautiful people and some less than savory ones, too. At night, they slept in a tent encircled with barbed wire and fencing to keep the bad guys at bay. By day, Jo learned to string electrical wiring, became intimately acquainted with a handful of aggressive ticks, and ate some of the best tacos she's ever encountered. Mr. Blandings, for his part, learned that taking a kid along on a mission trip means that you're one part missionary, one part dad ... and that's sometimes easier said than done.

It was quite a learning experience for everyone, including me. After sending my baby girl off to serve in a somewhat rugged area, though, I knew this: I want all of my kids to have that experience. And I want them to have it while they're still fairly young.

There's no better way to truly impact a child's worldview than giving them the chance to wrap their brains around some seminal truths. Even kids who, like mine, have been without the luxury of their own Wii, handheld games, cable t.v., designer clothes, etc., have plenty to consider themselves blessed with. I know that this isn't a revelation to you, but many children in many parts of the world struggle to merely eat, stay safe, and get educated. The thought of clean clothes, clear water, and creature comforts would strike them as absurd riches. 

While I know I'm blessed that my children aren't being raised that way, I do want them to realize that what they have is a gift. Even more, I want them to see their own laps as overflowing ... and learn to pass it on. 

Jo was never what I'd call a perversely jaded child. But, nonetheless, she came back from Tijuana changed. Why? The family whose home my daughter helped to build had a small baby. The baby had a hacking cough, a fire-red diaper rash, and no clothes (thanks to "neighbors" who had stolen the family's belongings the night Mr. Blandings and Jo arrived). But day after day, the baby's mother raved about how blessed her baby was since she would soon have an actual, solid roof over her head. 

That kind of joy changes a person, no matter what stage of life you're in. When you're a child, though, it alters the way you see everything: your home, your family, your friends, your community, and your faith.

Jo has now been on two trips. Her dad loves traveling with her because she's fun, she's spontaneous, she's gracious, and she can roll with whatever happens--and on the kinds of trips Mr. Blandings likes to take, a lot can happen. There are many "not sure what this is" meals served on dirt floors. Lots of sleeping wherever the opportunity presents itself. Plenty of dirty clothes worn day after day. Plenty of squatty potties.

Jo has always been the kind of kid who can take it, love it, and come back for more. 

Atticus, however, is not that kid.

There's always been something a bit more fragile about my oldest son. He's not the kind to wear his underwear two days in a row, or to skip showering, or to eat anything that may have sat on the counter a touch too long. Atticus carries hand sanitizer in the same pocket he stows his Swiss Army knife in, because he likes to make sure the blade gets a good going over. You know ... just in case. Atticus will gladly pass on a camping trip that might get too hot, or too cold, or be located somewhere that might be rainy for the bulk of the trip. He knows that it's safer to fly than drive, that handling a nightcrawler may possibly give you a rare parasite, and that sunscreen can--and should--be reapplied with fair regularity.

As a matter of fact, pretty much being in our family stretches the bits out of Atticus. I'm fairly certain that God gave him to us simply to keep him from becoming the kind of man who moves to New York city and lives, works, shops, etc., in the same building for his entire life. Unless, of course, being in our family makes him more that way. I can hear it now:

"Honey, your parents called. They want us to come to that family gathering."

((deep sigh)) "Well, alright. I'll feel guilty if I don't. But we're bringing out own food. And for goodness sake bulk up on EmergenC before we get there. You know how someone there is always biting their nails or picking their nose or something disgusting."

Mr. Blandings started trying to come up with a plan for Atticus well before his 10th birthday last spring. He toyed with staying in the US and accompanying some friends on an annual outreach to some migrant workers here. Then he tossed around a Canadian project someone we know works with that does a theater project with kids. There was even a comfy gig in South Africa entertained. But nothing came to fruition. A whole year passed, and still, he wasn't sure what to do.

Finally, after much prayer and pondering, Mr. Blandings just flat out asked Atticus where he wanted to go. To our surprise, he said Nepal.

Yes, Nepal is still where our family plans to land. But understand this: when we actually take up residence, we'll sort things out to be as comfortable as possible for our crew. We'll have beds, mosquito nets, food prepared in a fairly familiar fashion, and western toilets. We will, in other words, be hanging on to some of our American notions. And we'll be doing it after a year transitioning in Chiang Mai.

But a mission trip to Nepal ... living with Nepalis ... eating with Nepalis ... well, it's going to stretch Atticus. He might see a spider--a big one. He won't recognize the food. He's going to ride without a seatbelt and maybe even on a motorbike--without a helmet.

You see why God's plan of allowing us that year in Thailand is such a brilliant idea? Acclimation.

But this, well ...

Concerned, Mr. Blandings and I pulled Atticus aside after he announced his destination. We gently, lovingly, pointed out to him all of the potential pitfalls I've already mentioned here. In truth, we steered him to something a little easier. He was having none of it. 

In desperation, I told him my biggest fear. "Son, I want you to be comfortable."

He looked at me like I had disappointed him--and that's a very sad look to receive from one's own child. 

"Mom," he told me, "It's not about being comfortable, right? It's about being available for Jesus. I can do that.  I know I can."

So late this summer, Atticus will head to Nepal with his dad. I have no idea where they'll be staying, what they'll be eating, how they'll be getting around, or what God has in store for them. But I do know this. That boy is going to come away from this trip eyes opened wide for the spreading of the Gospel. After all, he seems to have a pretty good head start. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

TOS Review: IEW

The problem with being a writer and teaching writing is, well ... you're a little too close to your subject matter. I've heard this same thing form countless other homeschooling parents in regards to their own personal proclivities: "I can't for the life of me find a decent science curriculum. None of them cover what I what to teach." "I'm an artist who rarely draws with my own kids. I just can't seem to get them to see things the way I do." "As a math person, I know what I want in a math program, but no one has it!"

It makes sense, really. When you have the level of intimacy that comes with practicing a discipline daily, you have certain priorities and expectations when it comes to passing on your hard-won knowledge. A casual introduction--what might be "good enough" for the vast majority of folks--just doesn't cut it. You need meat, you need depth, and you need quality. And yes, you know the real deal when you see it.

All of this hints at why I was less thrilled than anxious when given a beautiful, expansive collection of materials from the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) to review. I had given their products a quick once over at my state convention, and thought about sitting in on a session the author presented a few years back. IEW had, it seemed, become one of those homeschool "it" curriculums. The one everyone who's anyone uses. The one people mention in passing and the whole circle of moms nods knowingly, "Ah, yes. IEW. Unit three. Been there." I knew plenty of people who sang the praises of IEW, and more than a few who enthusiastically assured me that even as a writer, I would love their stuff.

But what if I didn't?  What if IEW was like The Bridges of Madison County? You remember The Bridges of Madison County, right? Runaway success. Highly acclaimed. Made Oprah--and the whole nation--swoon. Well ... the whole nation minus me. I finally gave in and read the thing and, truth be told, was bored out of my mind. I nearly gave up a third of the way in, but I persevered. Surely, I thought, surely, there's a reason why this thing is such a hit.

There wasn't, far as I could tell.

IEW is, I'm happy to report, a different story altogether. 

After months and months of using and abusing this curriculum, I can say with my whole heart that IEW is the real deal. And get this: you definitely don't need to be a writer to teach using this curriculum ... but if you are, you won't be disappointed, either.

I was given an almost intimidating set-up to review: the Teaching Writing/Student Writing Intensive Combo Pack Level B, along with a portable wall.  When I pulled the materials from the box, as a matter of fact, "intimidated" was my very first reaction. There were so many dvds, a couple of big notebooks, a manilla envelope full of what looked like worksheets, and what on earth was that file folder thingy?

The first week of trying to make sense of the program was, frankly, just as overwhelming. There was just too much to wade through. Finally, I gave up on shuffling papers and attempting to make heads or tales of them. I popped in one of the Teaching Writing dvds and sighed deeply, hoping that this was what pulled the whole thing together. It did. 

These dvds are the backbone of the entire IEW approach. If you felt fairly confident in learning something on your own and creating your own program from scratch based off of that teaching, then you could honestly watch this series, take copious notes, refer back as a refresher from time to time and yes, be a great writing coach. Andrew Pudewa, director of IEW and homeschooling dad of seven, has a talent for passing on information in a tangible, easily digestible manner. By the way, he's pretty funny, too. His approach to writing is simple: learn some tools. Vary your sentences. Build a library of winning words to pull from. And write, write, write.

The simplicity of those concepts belie the creativity and playfulness of the IEW program, however. This is not a dry, learn-and-regurgitate curriculum. Nor is it a writing-for-the-sake-of-writing program. The skills learned in the context of these lessons are applicable across the board, grow with your student, and will be as valuable for the future auto mechanic as they will be for an aspiring novelist.

After figuring out where Mr. Pudewa was headed via the Teaching Writing dvds, the rest of this program fell into place for easy use in our homeschool. I was able to teach Jo, Atticus, and Logan (8th, 5th, and 3rd grades) using the same program. From the very first lessons, I began to notice a change in the writing coming out of my kids. The texture of their sentences changed. The edges smoothed out. They just sounded more polished somehow, as if all those things I had tried to let them figure out on their own had suddenly found their way onto the table. Which, of course, they had: through IEW we had begun to actively pursue what had previously been a hit-or-miss subject in our home. There's a big difference between telling a child, "All of your sentences sound the same. How can we fix that?" and showing a child bit by bit how to make this kind of sentence, then this one, and another, then one more.

As a writer, I appreciate that this program circles through fiction and non-fiction units. The skills are so often transferable, but very few curricula seem to acknowledge this. Also, flipping between the genres keeps things lively for the children. Please note that we did a good bit more skipping than your average user in an attempt to cover enough material to get a good feel for the program. These are weighty units, and easily lend themselves to deep, deep delving. The fact that we were able to try out so many units is not indicative of how the average user would navigate this program. When they say you can cycle through it again and again, with the same children even ... it's dead on. This one program is literally all you need to teach writing from elementary through high school. If you do, you'll hit essays, fiction, writing from pictures, critique, and so much more.

The portable wall (that odd file folder) is a nifty bonus, too. Crammed with rules, hints, verbs, and anything else you might need, this folder is a boon to homschoolers who generally don't go around posting big colorful "Friendly Adjectives!" posters in their dining rooms. Do yourself a favor and pick one or two up. You'll use them.

IEW's programs are designed so that you, as the teacher, can control the writing prompts. That allows you to tie the program in to the rest of your curriculum if you wish. You can also use the many, many examples given within the program itself to streamline the program if you wish. I think that newbies might be less likely to branch out, but trust me, it's surprisingly easy to do with Mr. Pudewa holding your hand. 

I found this curriculum to require a fair amount of preparation on my behalf. It is not open and go, nor is it something you can pop in on once a month or so and expect to see any results. I also don't think this level (B) is suited to self-directed learning. Having an involved writing coach always makes a huge difference in the quality of a student's writing, and no matter how engaging the IEW videos are, they're no substitute for that kind of interaction.

One final note on this program: cost. The main thing that held me back from really looking beyond the surface of IEW prior to my review was the hefty price tag. Truly, it is not for the faint of heart to hit "submit" on a $200+ order for a single subject. Depending on what bits and pieces you decide would work best for your family, this could be your biggest curriculum purchase for a given year. That's a difficult call to make--and a hard thing to convince your budget of. However, I urge you to consider this a one-time investment that will serve all of your children for all of their homeschooling years. For example, if I purchased the $239 set that I reviewed just for Jo, and used it for the remaining 4 years of her homeschooling (plus the year we just completed for review), then I would have spent $47.80 per year on writing instruction. Looking at the long-term plan puts IEW in perspective--the proper perspective. Folks, this is a long-term curriculum. It's an investment. And I'm surprised to say that I'm impressed.

No matter how wrong the herd was about The Bridges of Madison County, they got this one right.

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.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Friday, May 13, 2011

The hindsight post

I am not an expert on adoption. I am not an expert on foster care. The only thing I can even remotely claim to be an expert on is being me and, frankly, sometimes I don't even do that too well.

But I am an adoptive mom. And I am a licensed foster care provider. I guess that gives me some standing as maybe knowing something about the whole process. Well, our whole process., whatever that's worth.

People ask me quite regularly for advice on adoption and/or foster care. I completely understand, because I was the same way for months before we submitted our very first agency application. I voraciously gleaned details of what to expect and what kind of paperwork chase we were in for. Most importantly, I longed to see pictures and hear tales of those fateful first meetings. Nothing filled my heart like a video of stills set to rising music, a toddler placed in a teary-eyed Mommas arms, a proud Daddy cradling his new child with that vaguely uncertain but bursting-with-love look in his eyes. Posts elaborating flight plans, chronicling social worker visits, or outlining the time frame for bringing a new child home were my manna in those early days. Simply put, I lived vicariously, knowing, just knowing, that one day, that would be me.

And it was. All of a sudden, there was Oli. Within months, we were welcoming Mani. The hits on my sitemeter confirmed what I already knew about us hopeful adoptive folks: we hunger for glimpses of what our hearts desire, and drink in each placement, referral, and finalization with gusto knowing that there, with the grace of God, we go also.

Nowadays, I am the giver of information more often than the seeker, even though not even a year sits between the issuing of my boys' new birth certificates. I get emails on a fairly regular basis from people just starting out on their journey. They want tips on agencies. They want my thoughts on the process. They want fundraising ideas. 

But most of all, they want to know this:

If you knew then what you know now, would you still do it?

The answer is yes. With my whole heart. Yes. I can no more imagine waking up in the morning and having Oli and/or Mani erased from my life and my heart than I can imagine growing wings and flying. Yes. These are my boys. My sons. The ones that God intended for my family from the beginning of time. It was worth it. All of it. Completely, utterly worth it.

Folks who are smart ask deeper questions, things that are both uncomfortable and yet, on a heart level, more telling. The other day, I received this one:

You have said that Oliver has some pretty intense special needs. Can I ask if you ever regret adopting him? Be honest.

Be honest? Sure.

Have you ever heard that saying, "Love the sinner, hate the sin"? I admit that I never really got it. Yeah, yeah ... you can separate a person from their actions, but then what? What's left? The whole idea seemed somehow trite and, well, religious to me. Not Christ-like, but religious--simply a little saying thrown out to excuse that bitter taste in one's mouth.

Then we met Oli.

The very first moment I laid eyes on the little boy who was meant to be mine, I felt a knee in the gut. Why? Because it was obvious--so terribly, glaringly obvious--that he had been alcohol-exposed. Behind his beautiful blue eyes and written all over his sweet, pale face were the landmarks of FASD. I knew it. Mr. Blandings knew it. Our social worker, who had held our hands through the "shalts" and "shalt nots" of our placement preferences, knew it. 

As we walked away from our initial meeting, the feel of Oli's little body still fresh in my arms and the reluctant, heart-broken smile of his aunt still frozen in my mind, our social worker asked, point-blank, "So ... he has FASD. Are you guys still interested?"

We said yes, of course. Even though we knew what we were signing on for. Even though we had read enough to be not just scared, but terrified. Even though we had checked all of the red boxes that declared us unwilling to say yes to a child exposed to alcohol. We said yes. 

From that day forward, I have learned what it means to "love the sinner, hate the sin." I adore Oli. Love him in ways that only a vulnerable, innocent little one can bring out in a Momma, to be honest. He has my heart in ways that the others don't need to. He is fragile. He is sweet. He loves to be loved.

But the FASD? The FASD I hate. I hate that someone weighed her own fleeting pleasure against my son's future mental health on a scale and decided to pick up a drink. I hate that my boy chews board books, can't keep his siblings' names straight, is unable to have playdates in the homes of others without major stress on everyone's part. I hate that I watch Mani and Seven like a hawk, fearing that FASD will overrule the bits of reason that shine through and cause someone real harm. 

I love Oliver. I hate FASD.

So do I regret adopting him? No. No, I don't. Because while Oli has FASD, he is not FASD. They are separate, and emotionally, I keep them that way. It's a struggle. And I know that it always will be. But I cannot for a moment think that God didn't bring Oli to us. So no, I don't regret adopting him. I celebrate it with all of my heart.

Another question:

Do you ever wish that you could go back and have your family the way it used to be again?

The day before we picked Oli up for good, I sat at my desk for my mid-afternoon writing time. The house was silent. Jo was in her bedroom, sleeping off her post-tonsillectomy pain meds. Atticus and Logan were also in their room, quietly reading or playing with Lincoln Logs or whatever they did to keep themselves occupied. I looked at the clock as I hit send on this post, and I nearly burst into tears. Two hours. I had been sitting, sipping tea, enjoying my warm fuzzy slippers, warm in my little happy place for two hours. Oh, how I loved that time. Loved it. Craved it. Needed it. It was my daily respite from the busy-ness of life.

And I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was giving it up. I was going back to the land of nap times and cranky toddlers and "he's getting into my stuff!" Could I really do this? Did I really want to do this?

There was also the realization that we were permanently, for better or for worse, shifting the sibling dynamic in our home. And asking Logan not to be the baby anymore. And ...

The list went on and on. I was nearly crippled with doubt for the better part of an afternoon. Happily, just before dinner time, I pulled myself together and revisited my prayer journal. I poured over my petitions for the past few years and remembered what it was that had called me--us--to adoption in the first place. And I found peace.

Since then, I can honestly say that I have never longed for "the good old days." Part of that, I guess, is the realization that regardless of the number of people in our family, or who those people are, we can never go back to those days. Even without Oli and Mani, Jo, Atticus, and Logan would not be themselves at 5, 7, and 9 today. They would be themselves at 13, almost 11 and almost 9. Different without the influences and experience of the past few years but no, not who they once were, regardless.

So what about you? Are you an adoptive parent who fields curious questions? Are you a hopeful adoptive parent who wants to know what it might feel like on the other side? Feel free to share in the comment section of via email.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Stuck in the middle with you

I remember the phenomenon from the days before my own family could justifiably be called "large." A couple we knew had seven children at the time. And try though I might, I couldn't keep them all straight. I could name the oldest three, and I knew the youngest two ... but those two in the middle, well ... they kind of eluded me.

I figured it was just me. Or maybe it was just them. After all, my mom is the youngest of seven and it's not like I couldn't keep track of all of my aunts and uncles. Surely it was just something specific to me, or to this family. I mean really ... their kids were like little cookie cutter cuties, each one with the same little nose, the same shade of hair, the same beautiful eyes. And honestly, they had a lot of girls. Who could blame me?

After a while, I figured out who was who. I even started to be incredulous at my own inability to decipher who was who back when I didn't know them so well. The differences were obvious, after all.  And seven, well ... seven isn't so many kiddos once you cross the invisible line between three and more than three.

Within the past year or so, however, I've noticed that the odd "floater" syndrome has been applied to my own family. And yeah, I admit it: I don't get it. To me, each little person is, well ... a little person. Not interchangeable. Highly individual. As unique as a fingerprint. How could you possibly mix them up? Or, worse yet, forget one?

And then it occurred to me. As we stood in the church lobby on Easter Sunday, all swarmed together and talking with folks as they exited the service, it came to me: it's those darn middle kiddos that get lost in the shuffle.

Somehow, the older ones make their mark. They are generally well-spoken, represent themselves well, and able to be of assistance to those around them. The younger ones get by on cute. Who doesn't remember the name or personality of the little moppet who grins at them behind their momma's shoulder all the time? But the middle ones, well ... they're just floaters. Neither older, nor younger. Not teen, not tot. Just ... middle siblings in the large family sea. 

It didn't take much to confirm my hunch. Simply listening closely to people's questions and comments was enough to seal the deal and cue me in to who was who in our family based on the observations of others:

The absent one

The responsible one

The smart one

Blandings Boy

The special one

The silly one

The littlest one

Logan, currently located smack dab between two sets of three siblings in either direction, is our Invisible Man. Somehow he's the most likely to be overlooked. If you are a close personal friend of our family (and hence, actually know the kids by name and not just order of acquisition) you'll probably find this fairly shocking. There's very little about Logan that says, "Forget me." He's the one most likely to make a splash, least likely to ease into wallflower mode, and yeah,  "inconspicuous" is not his middle name. He's our artist. Our cheerleader. Our Over the Top Man of the Moment.

And yet ... he's just "one of those Blandings boys." Not because anyone is being mean. Not because he's disliked. But just because, well ... there are a lot of us. And it's easy to remember the names of the ones you'd like to ask to babysit someday, or the ones who do cute things. But it's kind of hard to remember the slightly show-offy pre-teen who can't sit still.

The only hope for Logan is this: for his older siblings to become too mature to be interesting, and for the younger siblings to grow into a less-adorable adolescence.

Or to blow something up. 

There's always notoriety, after all.

Until then, he's just the middle Blandings. I guess there are worse things.