Monday, December 26, 2011

Right now

Somewhere between the stockings,

singing Christmas carols,

the Christmas story from Luke,

the presents,

the phone calls to family and friends far away,

the food,

and the lights,

it hit me.

This is it. Christmas 2011. One shot. No do-overs.

Just like every other day of my life.

Today, my kids are 15, 14, 11, 9, 5, 3, and 1. This time next year-- no matter where I am, no matter what has changed, no matter what the circumstances are-- they will be 16, 15, 12, 10, 6, 4, and 2, God willing. 

One day, one shot. Enjoy it. Occupy it. Be fully there. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I'm a squisher. I don't like to feel hurt, and I don't like to feel vulnerable, and I certainly don't like to deal with the nasties that try to rear their head in my heart from time to time. Given my druthers, I avoid confrontation. I have to work hard at intimacy. Like I said, I squish. Keep it inside. Fight the genie back into the bottle and slap a cork on top before he can escape.

Lately, I'm having to squish harder and harder. It's eating up energy that I don't have to spare and costing me far more emotionally than my stretched Momma self can afford to pay. 

What I've been squishing down is this: twenty years ago, my mother unceremoniously grabbed fistfuls of my belongings (a Smiths shirt, a pair of boots, my pillow, whatever was at hand) and shoved them into two black trash bags she had ripped from a roll under our kitchen sink. Then, screaming and raving like a manic djinn, she stabbed the heel of her hand into my back and forced me out of her house, into the street.

I was 17--a senior in high school.

My sin was not playing along during one of the episodes of mania that kept-- no, keeps-- my mother from living a normal, healthy life and having normal, healthy relationships. See, my mother follows the tides of rise and fall that are usually indicative of mental imbalance. And while she (and most of her family) refuses to acknowledge her inability to function, I can tell you that as one of those who lived with her day in and day out for 17 years that she is not well. No, not well at all.

Today, we have a strained, cautious relationship in which I don't ask pointed questions and refuse to rise to certain bait thrown out from time to time. My role is to listen from my post nearly 3,000 miles away as she catalogs how woefully inept everyone in her life is and how unfair their expectations of her are. Then I swerve the conversation 'round to how my kids are faring, and she gets off the phone. This is the extent of our interaction.

It's not exactly fulfilling, but it isn't damaging, either.

Twenty years ago, however, it was damaging. It was ravaging. It was being awakened at 3 a.m. to be summoned to her bedroom, where she would smoke cigarette after cigarette until the air was hazy and I could barely see her wild eyes as she told me over and over how despicable a man my father was. It was taking my baby brother to see a doctor because my mother's fanatical fear of steroids made her unwilling to treat the poison ivy that had covered the lower half of her son's body. It was calling her boss--again-- to say that she was sick and couldn't come into work for the fifth day in a row, then missing school so that I could keep an eye on her so that she didn't make good on her promise of killing herself.

I wonder from time to time what I looked like, how I appeared, to the people who knew me 20 years ago. I lied to cover up the crazy that went on in my home. I did stupid things to be liked by people and feel like part of the crowd. I clung to friends who weren't good for me. I was irrational and angry and all the things that look like surliness on the outside but are often little more than a crying, scared heart begging for love on the inside.

I had no idea what God had in store for my life the night that I walked in the rain to the nearest gas station dragging my belongings behind me. As I bummed money for a pay phone from a guy pumping fuel, I had no idea that some day I'd meet the Jesus who was keeping me safe that night, or worship the God who softened the heart of a friend's parents to allow me to live with them until I went to college. I had no idea that He'd bring my future husband into my life just 8 months later, or that one day I would be called Momma by children whose backgrounds range from my own genes to horrific abuse to shared abandonment. 

I didn't know any of this. All I knew was that I was homeless, hurt, and without hope.

Today I'm battling through all of this again, wondering why my heart is so raw even when my hands are so full. I have no doubt that God has a lesson for me here, that He's working some miracle in my heart even as I strain to keep my head above the current of old fears that threatens to drown me. In desperation today, I reached out to friends who have been His voice in my ear, reminding me of His love and His ability to hold my hand as I grow. So I'm plunging in, not squishing ... waiting to see what the lesson is.

I don't know where this emotional tide is going, but I trust in this: the same God who saw me through the events of that awful night and led me through the weeks and months that followed is still with me, twenty years on.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Review: Lotus Bumz diaper

Normally, to review a diaper, I use it heavily for several weeks, then write down my thoughts and share them. If something changes over time--say the PUL goes kaput or the aplix loses its stick-- I go back and make an addendum to the original review. Experience has taught me that in the first month or so, a diaper will show its true colors as it relates to quality and performance. Rare is the dipe that does the duty for two months and then just completely fails. 

I'll say up front, though, that I put the Lotus Bumz cloth diaper through a far more rigorous routine than is normal for me in review testing. 

I wasn't exactly meticulous when it came to washing the cover and insert separately, for one. (Normally, I don't wash both together.) My washer died during the test period, and I had to make do at a local laundromat. It was just too spendy to sort different loads, so everything got piled in at once into some massive industrial machine. Back home, the inserts went into the dryer but yes, I was careful to hang dry the cover. But because of the laundry situation, the Lotus Bumz wipe (and every other one I owned) sat dirty in the pail far longer than the general recommendation of two days. Vinegar and baking soda were definitely called for when my washer was back in service.

On top of that, Seven is now (ahem) using her diapers far more, shall we say, vigorously. This is a fully active, table-fed 22 pound 15 month-old who also still nurses a couple of times a day. Trust me ... a diaper is put through the paces by this lady. 

And finally, the Lotus Bumz diaper was tested for almost double my normal time. Why? Well, when I mentioned the diaper to several experienced cd'ing mommas, nearly every one of them was somewhat dismissive. Turns out, the patterns and fabrics in the Lotus Bumz line are repeated in other brands. One momma noted that she had searched online and found several of these products, all seemingly from the same pattern, and that she was hesitant to order any of them because of their lower price point and the similarities, which seem to indicate that they're being sewn up in one factory, slapped with an individual seller's label, and sent on their way.

"I think they're all [insert name of popular cd brand here] knock-offs," was her rant, "but without the quality control."

Now, I'm just a reviewer. I can't speak to the where and why of a diaper, or to the motivations of a seller, or anything so deep. I'm asked to report to folks whether or not a diaper does what a diaper was meant to do, and to do my best to make sure that what I write is an accurate representation of our personal experience.

Taking into account the skepticism surrounding the quality of upstart diaper brands, I decided to run Lotus Bumz through the wringer and see how it held up. 

Turned out, it was up to the job.

I was given a one-size pocket diaper with a silky exterior. Prints like this retail for $16.97 on the Lotus Bumz website, with solids a dollar cheaper. The snaps all proved solid, and the interior was buttery soft. Actually, it's a neat fleecy material completely unlike any other diapers I have. I can see this perhaps getting a little pilly after a few dryer runs, so I'd be extra careful to keep this one on the "hang dry only" routine. The neat aspect of this fleece, however, is the way that it lets go of solid. I've literally never swished this diaper. Everything just seems to roll out. Your mileage may vary with newborn poops, but for older kiddos ... how refreshing!

The fit of this diaper was perfect on Seven's long, skinny little frame. 

At 22 pounds, she's still at the second setting. This is a diaper with a nice bit of give in the places where you want to see it, ensuring the long wearing-life that makes OSs such a bargain. Also, it's a fairly trim fit. My sample came with one, OS insert. Just stuffed that way, it was only just enough to keep the butt of Seven's leggings from seeming saggy. The pocket easily accommodates more stuffing, though, so you can adjust absorbency (or just fill those sized-up jeans you bought for your cloth diapered little one!).

Like any snaps, be prepared for a bit of finagling at change time. Seven is no dream to change these days, so I actually "hire" a helper to keep her occupied while I snap her up. Lotus Bumz snaps are slightly counter-intuitive to me in their placement, but I never claimed to be a professor of ergonomics. Mr. Blandings has no problem with them, and will often pick this diaper out of the stack, saying it's an "easy one." Daddy approved! 

Performance wise, I can honestly say that this diaper performed almost exactly the way the brand my friend claimed it knocked off does on a day to day basis. The only leaks we encountered were when the diaper was single-stuffed and time (and rice milk consumption) had gotten away from me. Even then, the leakage was of the garden variety dampness around the back of the legs--just enough to make tights or leggings slightly wet. When supplemented with an additional soaker, Lotus Bumz OS happily held through nap time.  (I didn't try this diaper for an overnight, because I simply don't like pockets for that duty.)

From my hardcore trial period, I can say that the Lotus Bumz OS isn't of shoddy quality. Far from it. Even when not treated with kid gloves and treated like, well-- a diaper--it held up. The cost is right in the mid-range of many brands, and the patterns and prints are adorable. This isn't a compromise product. You know-- "Well, I can't afford that, so I'll buy this." It's a great diaper. Buy with confidence!

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, December 15, 2011

Classic BOOKS and BAIRNS

originally published Friday, November 13, 2009

(Written when Bee was 13, Jo was 12, Atticus was 9 and a half, Logan was 7 and a half, Oli was about to turn 3, Mani was 18 months, and Seven wasn't even on the radar.)

On grace

Do you ever notice that the one person who seems to zero in on all of your faults, the one person who gleefully calls you on the mat, the one person who nags you when you stumble is ...


Yeah, it's like that for me, too. I am my own harshest critic. I am the one who points out my shortcomings, who sighs dejectedly when goals are not met, who brings out the wet noodle when things go undone. I am the one who sees that the floor has not been vacuumed. I am the one who tells guests at the front door to please excuse the fact that I have a living room overrun with small plastic whatnots. I am the one who sees the science book lying there, untouched, and chastise myself for failing to make time. Again.

I strive to be the perfect wife, mother, and homeschooler. Of course, I can't be any of those things perfectly. I'm lucky to even be a good wife to my deserving husband, a passable mother to my fabulous kids, and the kind of teacher that I want to be. I constantly walk around with the knowledge that life is a delicate balance. Ample portions must be placed neatly on each platter. This one is for my husband: I'll give him time, encouragement, love, support, respect, and a house that he will be proud to come home to at night. This one is for my children: I'll give them love, cuddles, discipline, gentle words, security, joy, and fun. This one is for my role as a homeschooler: here I place my self-discipline, my creativity, my intellect, the flames of curiosity, and all the patience I can muster.

All it takes it one slight nudge in any direction for everything to swing out of balance. Too much in the way of fun for the kids, and the self-discipline needed to accomplish those school goals can fly out the window. Too much time invested in helping my husband with the practical stuff, and I might just have to shuffle my kids off in front of the television for a half hour. And wait just one doggone minute here! Where's my plate?!?!

It's a balance. It's hard work. And it's heart work.

I really need to give myself more leeway and grace. I need to make sure I'm in line with God's will, and trust that the rest will follow. I need to tune into Him, and trust that He will provide the details as I move to be the woman He wants me to be.

If only I could quiet that nagging voice. "You're doing it wrong. So-and-so is so much better at that than you are. Are you sure you're cut out for this?"

And here's where I'm going to cut to the chase and throw open the doors to my heart:

Sometimes, the voice I hear isn't my own. Sometimes that voice belongs to my fellow homeschooling moms.

At some point, somewhere along the journey, many of us begin to feel like we've figured it out. We hit our stride (even if it's just for a season), and things are working well. Our husbands are madly in love with us and delight in our every word. Our children are impeccably behaved, cute as buttons, and geniuses to boot. Homeschooling is a joy, and we can't wait to begin each day's adventure in education.

And we start to think that we have discovered the secret. You know--The Way To Do It.

So, of course, we tell others.

We pass on tips on homemaking, housekeeping, being the perfect wife, child training, selecting curriculum, selecting a church, you name it. We rattle off reading lists, mention specific scriptures, talk about speakers we've heard. But instead of simply offering granule of life experience, we add a small caveat to our gleanings. It's usually completely unspoken, but it's there. It's judgement.

If you don't wear dresses all the time, you're not conservative enough.
If you don't have a dozen kids, you're not a good enough mother.

If you don't joyfully submit to your husband 100%, you're not a good enough wife. If you don't wake up at 4 a.m. for a 2 hour prayer-time, you're not a good enough Christian.
If you don't do school for six hours a day, you're not a good enough homeschooler.
"Did you see how her son acted at co-op? Awful. You know, I'm so glad that we have a first-time obedience policy. My kids never act that way, because they know we mean business."

"I heard they're having marital problems. If she would just stop trying to run the family, they'd be fine."

"I doubt they even actually homeschool at all. They seem to be involved in every activity coming and going.

For some reason, homeschooling and legalism seem to walk hand in hand quite often. And the truth is, legalism is appealing. It seems to offer the one charted course that leads to the safe, soft-focus destination called Perfection. There are rules and order in legalism. There are Scriptures with very definitive takes on very specific things. There are clear-cut right ways and clear-cut wrong ways. Go this way and it will all turn out. Veer off course and-- you're told--you'll hit the rocks. And really, who doesn't want a guide book that promises to make everything in your life turn out just so?

I have struggled with legalism. I have looked at my own life, with it's bruised apple spots, and thought that maybe the answer could be found in a certain attitude toward my husband, or a particular form of femininity. I have watched as my children have grown, and I have feared life's ups and downs for them, wondering if perhaps erecting certain fences in our family might spare them from future pain.

For a season, those things seem to bear fruit. And then, invariably, I hear that still, small voice asking me the question that never fails to bring my carefully constructed perfection crumbling down:
What about grace?

What about grace, indeed? Pursuing righteousness and holiness is a noble and good task. Bathing your family in the goodness of God, instructing your children in His words, being in the world but not of it ... these are all things that the Lord commands us to do.

But He also asks one other thing of us as we walk the path that leads, ultimately, to His mansion for us:
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. --1 Thessalonians 5:11

My fellow homeschoolers, we all fight the feelings of defeat and insufficiency that lead us to look at our days and wonder why God chose us. Please, instead of adding to that chorus of pain with more baggage and assumptions, can't we instead give a good report of one another? Can't we look at the harried mom of two kids who is trying to make it work and pat her on the back without pointing out that we have six kids and are getting by just fine? Can't we quit turning up our noses at the wife whose husband has no interest in being a leader of anything, let alone their home? Can't we drop the co-op dress codes that make it seem as if Jesus wouldn't be caught dead in a room devoid of denim jumpers?

Can't we extend grace?

Because frankly, we need it. We need it from ourselves, we need it from our friends and, most of all, we need it from God. The thing is--the Lord offers it new every morning. It's the rest of us who haven't gotten the memo.

I'm working on grace right now--for myself and for those around me. I'm praying that God gives me His eyes, and His love. And maybe, maybe ... just a little bit of His grace and mercy to pass around.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pretties, please

I tell you, having a baby girl around again has done something to my brain. I'm not sure I'll ever fully recover--especially since Mr. Blandings is as deeply in love with the cuteness as I am. Having a partner in crime somehow makes the whole pink indulgence seem less, well ... indulgent.

I love cute stuff. I love girly stuff. I love the fact that Seven has the cutest, perkiest little Cindy Lou Who pigtails I've ever seen. I'm hopeless, I tell you.

And my friend Lorri is aiding my addiction.

Cute, girly ... hair stuff. ((sigh))

Enter her giveaway, then pop on over to her site and check out the darling little pretties she and her daughter have collaborated on. (Don't you just love that it's a Mom and Daughter team?)

Just don't blame me if you win and end up fawning over cute all the time, too.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fully five

... and just discovered the sheer joy of superheroes.

He's kind of a superhero to us, anyhow, so the cape is just an added touch.