Thursday, July 28, 2011

Next Giveaway Sneak Peek

The diaper ... not the baby! 

A new review will be posted soon for this gorgeous show-stopper of a diaper (I'll explain what I mean by that in the review!), along with a fun giveaway that will leave a happy reader beholding one of these minky little wonders on their own sweet one's bum.

Until then, remember to enter my open giveaway here. There's still plenty of time to spread the news!

Friday, July 22, 2011


After posting my thoughts on high school the other day, I got loads of email. The number one topic was how I'd probably regret not towing the party line when Jo started applying for colleges, and hopefully I'd learn my lesson in time to get Atticus' high school house in order.

I appreciate all of the feedback, and tried to respond to each person individually. If somehow I missed you, drop me another line and I'll get back to you, o.k.? 

The second burning question that folks had for me regarding that post was:

So, what WILL Jo be using for 9th grade?

The answer to that one's straight forward enough for a Friday morning blog post: her primary curriculum will be Sonlight's Core 200, History of God's Kingdom.

After weighing a couple of options, the curricula selection team (ie, Mr. Blandings, myself, and Jo) settled on Core 200. Why? First and foremost, it addresses the top priority in our choosing to home educate our children: God. Second of all, it uses tons of thought-provoking books to dig deeper into faith matters. And third, the literature selections struck a nice chord between "academic overload" and "pleasure reading."

Also, there was the small matter of a newly revamped IG that has a companion Student Guide. On our quest to lead our children to take charge of their education (we're praying that our children lead satisfying lives of autodidacticism well beyond their years of "formal" education), we've always felt that allowing them to have a voice in their curricular choices and eventually giving them some control in their schedule, etc., would work to that end. A Student Guide that puts assignments, notes, and timeframes in her hands is just what we were looking for. Mr. Blandings and I retain the accountability factor, but some freedom can be issued. Perfect!

There are other components for grade 9 for Jo. But this is the part you all really wanted to know, right? :-)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review & Giveaway: Best Bottoms diapers

I love gussets.

Who knew that such a small stretch of fabric could be so, well ... useful?

Gussets are like the fire insurance of cloth diapers. They stand by silently--overlooked--until called in to save the day. 

Because when you need gussets, you need gussets.

And Best Bottoms? Well, they have gussets. Strong, solid, non-marking gussets.

I love Best Bottoms diapers for many reasons, but it's the gussets that have stolen my heart. Why?

Blueberries. Seven has developed a fondness for blueberries as of late. The girl can't get enough of them. She shoves them into her mouth by the handful. A passing sibling notices her empty tray, the distracted Momma tying a toddler's shoe, the cup of washed berries on the table waiting at the ready. The sibling drops another dozen on the baby's tray and earns a gummy, blue-rimmed grin. Seven devours the new load of berries, then conjures up her sad, pouty look for the next passerby. 

Wash, rinse, repeat ... blueberry style!

All of those berries have to go somewhere. And we all know where that somewhere is.

There aren't many dipes on the market that can stand up to the blueberry test. Disposables leak the resulting mess almost instantaneously, as evidenced by the car seat stain that haunted us from Jo's infancy all the way through Logan's. Cloth holds the stuff far better, but it has its limits: namely, any droopy leg areas. Enter the fabulous gusset.

Best Bottoms have held up to Seven's blueberry fascination. They aren't even stained, even after a couple of months of solid use. That's a great diaper, in my opinion.

Best Bottoms are a one-size diapering system. The wipeable covers feature a double layer of PUL, making them the thickest and most substantial in my stash. They're available in snaps as well as velcro. I tried a snap version, and found them to be good quality snaps that didn't feel like they'd have any issues. The covers wash quick and easily, and hang dry in a matter of a couple of hours. And yes, they're plenty cute. The ice cream themed colors make me smile, and I haven't even dipped into the adorable giraffes and cow prints, yet. 

The inserts are available in microfiber as well as organic hemp/cotton. Interestingly, though Seven has developed a bit of a rash reaction to another brand's microfiber inserts, the soft, slightly fuzzy outer of Best Bottom's microfiber hasn't bothered her at all. And even though she has her heavy wetter days, the doubler is overkill for regular daytime use--but does make for a great naptime dipe.

Best Bottom is a trim fit, and fits fairly well even under tight(ish) leggings. There's still plenty of cloth diaper butt to love, but it's not so fat and squishy that some outfits are a no-go. Seven is fairly trim, and has plenty of room to grow outwards in this diaper; It seems to have more range than many one-sie pockets, which leads me to believe that it's wear life will be a little longer.

As I said, no leaks. No issues at all. A cute diaper, a good price. Shells are $16.45 each, and inserts are $3.76 each. Since the insert absorbs well and fills the cover when on, you really can reuse this cover multiple times, cutting down on your overall daily diapering cost.

Now for the fun part. YOU CAN WIN YOUR VERY OWN BEST BOTTOMS DIAPERING SYSTEM! The prize is one cover of your choice, and 3 inserts. If you live in the US or Canada, you can play. All you have to do is:

•Follow my blog, or already be a follower. Leave a comment to let me know. (mandatory entry)
•Follow Best Bottom Diapers @best_bottom on Twitter and Tweet about this giveaway.  Leave the URL where you Tweeted. (+1 entry)
•Like Best Bottom Diapers on Facebook and post about the giveaway on your Facebook page. (+1 entry)

Winner will be chosen August 22. Good luck!

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, July 18, 2011

Thoughts on homeschooling high school

We've reach a milestone in our homeschooling journey: Jo is entering the no-man's land of high school.

I can feel the magnitude of all of this just fine without the constant chorus of people around me. After all, I'm the one who wakes up every morning to the truth that my little girl is just an inch shy of my own 5'9", borrows my shoes, and prays for her future husband every night. Yes, I'm well aware she's growing up. I didn't need you to tell me that. Thanks anyway, though.

But no, people won't stop pointing out the obvious. Far from being overwhelmed at the fact that the years of wearing the knees out in her tights by playing horses for hours on end have come to a close, though, most people are bubbling over with questions and concerns (and concerns masquerading as questions) about how on earth we plan to homeschool through high school.

Clearly, we're not the first to go this way. I know of plenty of people who have lived to tell the tale and frankly, many of their children were high on the list of reasons why we started this whole homeschooling business to start with. They are smart, funny, godly, gracious, responsible, kind people, the lot of them. Fine young adults that I'd be proud to hire, to be served by, to have pleading my case in court, to be encouraged by at church. 

No, we're not pioneers. But we are among the few hearty souls who plan on finishing the race with a homeschool diploma as the reward.

"What are you going to do about chemistry?" 
"How about upper level math?"
"Won't she miss out on prom?"
"Are you going to hire someone to write her transcript?'
"What if she wants to go to public school?"

"Are you sure you know what colleges are looking for?"
"Doesn't that take a lot of time?"

You know the questions. You've heard them before, no matter where you are on your homeschooling journey. Someone has asked you these things with a wrinkle touching their brow, leaning in just slightly. And you've answered the questions to the best of your ability and then moved on, because really ... high school was so far away. Seriously, people, I'm talking about phonics here. And you want me to tell you my plans for physics?!?

Suddenly, though, I am staring down physics--and phonics, with this child at least, hasn't been in the picture in a nearly a decade. We're starting high school, for goodness sake. Where has the time gone?

If I listen too closely to the voices around me, I realize that I'd be mired in more doubt, worry, and anxiety than one homeschooler can stand. There are frighteningly few outsiders lining up to encourage me in my efforts--even fewer than there were when we started this undertaking. Because while it's now fairly common and acceptable to tackle the skills of early elementary and even slightly beyond at home, it's still not terribly mainstream to finish your entire education under the instruction of your parents.

And I know this. I expected the naysayers question our choices anew. I was prepared for being called to defend our choices. These people weren't really in support of homeschooling to start with, after all. They just couldn't find a reason to say it was bad, so they kept their mouths shut.  I get this.

What I wasn't prepared for, though, was the lack of support I'd feel from fellow homeschoolers. 

As we round the corner into high school, I've been shocked at the pressure I've felt--some subtle, some overt--to completely throw over our way of thinking about homeschooling and do it the right way.

You know ... the way that gets your kid into college.
There are checklists to follow. Courses that must be taught. Textbooks that look good on transcripts. Reading lists that Admissions Officers drool over. Course titles that dazzle. Hours to be counted. Stellar grades to be maintained. A sequence to follow. Extensive test prep. Volunteer opportunities to round everything out. And a job, of course, that screams, "responsible and ambitious!"

I'm not talking about covering state requirements here, guys. Those minimum standards are what I agree to each year when I send in my Intent to Homeschool Form, and I bow to that authority. Besides being a rather paltry sampling of what you really ought to teach anyhow (in my opinion), I do think that a minimum threshold has to be maintained on some level. If you don't have the time to hit on some math for three out of four years, well ... you probably need to reevaluate. 

No ... I'm talking about the bar set by colleges. 

 The pace of a homeschool high school program, I'm told, is to be set by the Institution that my daughter wants to attend. The next four years should be governed by what the Institution says it's looking for in a student. The Instituion knows what she needs to succeed. The Institution knows what she needs to learn. The Institution knows how she needs to learn it, and when.

Folks, does any of this sound familiar? It strikes me as being pretty close to the initial line we were all fed about government schooling in the first place. The one we rejected when we put our feet to the path of homeschooling.

I've been walking around in a daze for the last month, simply overwhelmed by what appears to be a near-unanimous agreement that homeschooling high school has to be different. That what has been working for our family--for my child--since we began has to change. Read-alouds must be replaced by textbook courses. Interest-led activities must be ditched for those that build her transcript. There's no room for learning chemistry in 9th grade, when my child has suddenly begun to ask for it, because chemistry must be taught in 10th grade, everyone knows, so that you can complete the science cycle as prescribed by ... well, the Institution.

An Institution that doesn't know my child, by the way, and has no interest in helping her spend these years listening to God's call on her life.

I am not against requiring more of a high school student. We've been gradually working toward this since Jo was in late elementary school. Every year, the water in the pot has gotten a little warmer, edging her towards a touch more independence here, a little bit of a challenge there. High school should be harder. The stakes should be a little higher. I agree with this! And I'm not against record keeping. I've been in favor of scrupulous homeschool records ever since I had the misfortune of finding myself being audited by our local school district a few years back. So count me among those who will be carefully taking notes on what is covered when.

Jo in kindergarten
What I am not in favor of is suddenly turning my back on what works--on what God has led us to--so that I can fulfill someone else's idea of what a high school education is.

I stopped dancing to that tune a long time ago when I realized that I had no interest in copying the government school structure at home. Institutional schooling is designed to create a specific product. As a Christian, homeschooling parent, I don't want that product. I didn't want that product back when I considered my sweet 4 year-old sitting in a chair most of the day and learning to read through a forced, manufactured process that didn't take her learning style and needs into account. I don't want it now as I imagine my articulate 9th grader snapping from topic to topic in 50 minute increments as commanded by a bell and a set of external requirements.
Jo in 9th grade

I see no joy in the model that demands that high school at home be dictated by an impersonal to-do list set by a school that may or may not be interested in being tasked with the privilege of educating my child. Most of all, I see no Jesus in it. That, I think is the biggest failing of all. Consider this: if you have spent the past 9(ish) years gently guiding your child through a series of learning experiences designed to help him or her to recognize and eventually respond to their specific role in God's Kingdom (Ephesians 2:10), how can you suddenly cast it aside and allow an outside Institution to captain the boat? 

God set me on this course. I plan on remaining as faithful to His calling as He has been to me throughout the joys and trials of educating my children. Maybe He will lead me to adopt a plan nearly indistinguishable from the one some college of choice recommends. Maybe He will lead me somewhere crazy, like signing Jo up for a horticulture class that eats up all her time and becomes her new path in life--even though what she was really supposed to be learning was algebra. I'm o.k. with either, because one thing that homeschooling has taught me is that I can trust Him wherever He leads. It may not look "normal" ... but it always brings me closer to Him and His will.

If you're a homeschooling parent entering this new phase along with me, I encourage you to do as I exhorted my dear cousin just this morning: Finish well. Keep the faith. Persevere. We are not running with men (Jeremiah 12:5). We run with horses. We aren't competing for high grades, scholarships, or college acceptance letters. Our prize is far, far more precious than anything the principalities have to offer us. Remember this ... and be encouraged!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July, July

I love the random, rotating photo screen saver on my Mac. I know it's nothing special in the world of computer screen savers, but it never fails to make me smile. (Except for the times it makes me ask who in the world got hold of my camera and took a picture of whateverintheworldthatis.)

Today, I got a treat. A photo from exactly one year ago

followed by one from my last download

The juxtaposition of the two made me grin from ear to ear. After all, they're both pictures of Seven--Seven as an unknown quantity versus Seven as my sweet, pretty in pink baby girl.

A year can bring so, so much. In this case, it's been 12 months of a heart expanding to make room for another person, 12 months of learning how to balance teenage hormones with nighttime nursing, 12 months of remembering how much of a fool Mr. Blandings is over baby girls. 

It's been a good year. A hard year in some respects, but one that I know I'll look back on with fondness. As I've told many people irl: I have sucked the marrow from the bone of Seven's baby days. I have lapped up every sweet moment, drank in all the good, treasured even the bittersweet in my heart. I may look back on this past year of late pregnancy, birth, babyhood and wish to do it all over again, but it will not be because I feel I've missed out. It will only be a longing to relive the beauty that has been the mundane yet vibrant living of these days.

And yes, in case you're wondering, it's long sleeve weather here in Western WA yet again. Mid-July, and I'm in my cozy woolen socks and have a hoodie sweatshirt on over my tee. I'm managing a summer skirt, but just barely. At least that first picture confirms that this is more the norm than the exception. :-)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A hard time

I haven't posted in a bit because, frankly, the activities surrounding Baby K's departure from her home sent me in to a tailspin. Amazing, isn't it, how happenings that aren't even at the heart of your own life can set off a chain of events that chip at the foundation of your sense of happiness.

 After Baby K, there was one more thing. Then another. Then another. The final straw, I think, was when my Mamaw told me that she's ready to "go on" now. No, that's not true. The final straw was when my dad asked me if I'd look up safety ratings for nursing homes that would take my Papaw--who has severe, advanced Alzheimers. Or maybe it was when some arsonist here in town decided to light a home on fire in the middle of the night--a home that contained a young family just sleeping. Sleeping, for pete's sake. They got out o.k., but still ...

It's a tough season for me right now. I'm going to be honest and say that somehow I've managed to convince the world that I'm in my happy place when really I am fighting that swimming upstream feeling. I don't know how else to describe it. It's not depression; I know depression, and this isn't it. I have full-on joy in the many happy moments of my days and weeks. When I am depressed, I can't touch sunshine for all of my trying. No. This isn't depression.

It's loneliness, I think. A kind of loneliness I've never really felt before. I'm surrounded by people--people who I love, people who love me. People who make me happy. 

But somehow, these people are all knee-deep in their own stuff right now, and I just feel, well ... a little lost. The thing is, everyone is talking about something, all the time. Their family. Their baby. Their school schedule. Their planning. Their vacation. Their relationship with their mom/dad/uncle/brother/dog. Their thing

No one is asking about me. Geesh, that sounds selfish. And really, I guess it is. 

All these good things wrapping around me, and I feel afloat because I can't get anyone to really talk to me about me. Wow. That's a nasty little confession.

So here I am, Mary Grace in her own little corner of the world, gazing at beautiful baby Seven, giggling with her Nepali daughter via telephone over the insanity of sacred cows who chase schoolkids through the streets, watching summer splash over her preschoolers with all the sunny joy of a hose at full force, watching God slowly build our missions funds, parenting, laughing, living ...

And being lonely. All at the same time.