Sunday, March 31, 2013

The best part

The best part of adoption is this--

People with no shared genes,

no common blood line,

no biological link,

no compelling reason at all,

loving one another,

growing up alongside each other,

being a family.

Yeah, that's the best part of adoption.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cake, family culture, & a recipe to boot

A couple of years ago, our family Bible studies slipped from simple, elementary themes and on into deeper theological waters. In other words, they finally gained the traction that one gathers once general knowledge is down pat and real theology comes to the forefront. Another way of putting it would be to say that they got more fun.

And longer. There's always that.

Sitting around the kitchen table, with the hum of the dishwasher as our background music, we have debated elements of the early church, women in ministry roles, and predestination. We do not conduct Bible study as a "Now hear this, children!" affair. Rather, we invite (require?) that everyone bring their thoughts, convictions, and questions to the table. We walk through it together., and we talk until we run out of steam. Not the kind of ruminating one should do without a proper sweet within their reach, in my opinion.

Thus was the Blandings Bible Study Dessert tradition born. When we sit down to chew on the Word, it's with a cup of tea or coffee (your choice) and a little something extra to sustain you through what could be quite a ride.

It's not always a fancy offering. It could be a scoop of ice cream or slices of in-season fruit and a nice cheese. Even these are served with presentation in mind, because the whole point, in my mind's eye, is creating a family culture of gathering, savoring, reveling, and enjoying. This time, I decided, should not be an afterthought, no matter how rough the day has been. It should feel special. It should feel sacred ... because it is.

Perhaps because it is thought of as a privilege-- and something of a story time/tea party/Q&A session-- we don't have rolling eyeballs when Bible Study time rolls around. Quarrelsome littles who have lost the chance to stay up beg to be allowed to linger for our gathering time, rather than being put to bed. In other words, it seems to be working. Our family loves and looks forward to this time together.

And while I can't guarantee that your family will find the same joy in a Bible Study Dessert tradition, I can at leat get you started with a tried and true favorite recipe. This is a classic, adapted to my family's tastes from my Mamaw's recipe. It's requested about once a month here, and is so easy to make that I rarely turn down the asker.

MG's Bible Study Carrot Cake
makes one 9x13 cake

4 eggs
3/4 cup canola oil (or coconut oil, for a very moist cake)
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup white sugar 
1 cup light brown sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract 
2 cups all-purpose flour 
2 teaspoons baking soda 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
2 cups grated carrots
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained 
1 cup chopped pecans 

1/2 cup salted butter, softened 
8 ounces cream cheese, softened 
4 cups powdered sugar 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9x13 inch pan.
  2. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, applesauce, both sugars and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Stir in carrots & pineapple. Fold in pecans. Pour into prepared pan.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan while making frosting.
  4. To Make Frosting: In a medium bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Frost the still-warm (but not hot!) cake. Serve immediately. Store leftovers & fridge & serve cold. (My personal fave!)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spring {still winter}

It's spring (technically) but still feels like winter. Knitting, baby with a cold, preschooler with a fever, the spot in front of the fireplace being claimed as prime real estate by whomever can get there first. Books being read, music being played, chess board in constant use. A very cozy, very home-bound season.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Logan, my artist.

Logan: "I want new watercolors. Not the pastel kind. I want dark watercolors. Ones where you can slightly see through them, but where the color is deep."

Atticus: "You have watercolors. Why don't you save up your money for something you don't have already?" 

Logan: "Because you can never have enough paint, or enough Legos."

Friday, March 15, 2013


Manolin will be five in June. And as you probably already know, five is that magical, mystical age when people around you start expecting you to do something, you know... educational... with a child.

Because the previous five years' worth of coloring and storybooks and birdwatching and manipulating blocks don't count, I guess.

Anyhow, Mani is nearly five. And, right on cue, he is asking the kind of questions I have come to expect of five year-old boys.

What does that sign say?

How do birds fly?

What's inside the tires on a dump truck?

Why do flowers die in the winter?

Does God take naps?

Like Logan (and Oli) before him, Mani is showing no signs of being interested in reading for its own sake, or in taking pleasure in the arbitrary adding of numbers on a worksheet. What does rock his world is figuring out which canister on the counter holds flour and which one holds sugar by running his finger over the inset letters and asking me the sounds each one makes, or folding just the right number of cloth napkins for each family member at dinner time. He's also especially tickled by movement--any kind of movement. Be a bear, be a bee, be a man climbing a mountain ... be anything, as long as it involves motion.

Since this is not my first trip around the sun with a 5 year-old boy, I'm comfortable watching what I consider the perfectly normal development of a busy, bright, loving little man on the verge of a huge burst in knowing. I'm also cherishing these days with an especially soft glow knowing that Oli has yet to find this particular place and may not, ever. In special needs parenting, there is always, always that keen sense of sadness even as there is joy when you watch one of your neurotypical children progressing along just as they should.

So forgive me if my idea of education at five looks less like phonics and arithmetic and more like nature walks and finger knitting. I've been here, and done that. And the one thing I learned --maybe not the first time, but definitely by the third go-- is this: five slips into six, eight, twelve before you know it. The books will be read. The chemical equations will be learned. But the days of kneading dough because you were inspired by a story, or of drawing rainbows on the driveway because you saw one and just had to know which colors went where ... those things will fade away just as quickly as they have come. You are, after all, only five once.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Meanwhile ...

Seven has outgrown her 4T clothes.

The Pup is getting bigger.

Guess who is obsessed with finger knitting?

Babies are lovely distractions for big brothers.

The iPad is getting a workout thanks to the yucky weather.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

ManCub (or, On How To Homeschool Your Not-So-Little Boy)

Atticus, 12.5

Last spring, someone took my charming, compliant Atticus and  replaced him with a slightly less appealing version-- a version that bristled at instruction, gritted his teeth at simple tasks, and was otherwise not terribly fun to homeschool.

The change was physical, as well. Gone were the soft, rounded cheeks and my ability to lean down and kiss his forehead. In the course of a few short months, the child who came into this world at 8 lbs., 10 oz., had inched above my own 5'9" and was sporting the beginning wisps of (gasp!) facial hair.

I was dumbfounded--and, if I'm truly honest, a little scared. Atticus has always been my most cerebral child, and the one who most mirrors my own tendency to withdraw. How on earth to keep a strong connection with my son, help him navigate the waters of puberty, and still educate him without losing my cool?

We struggled for much of the summer. Many days felt like a wash, with me frustrated at Atticus' lack of willingness to go the extra mile and his clearly growing inability to hold whatever was eating at him in check. I dreaded the start of the new school year, and wondered how things would play out with a new baby on the horizon and my attention pulled in so many different directions.

It didn't dawn on me all at once, but as I began pondering his educational goals for this season, I realized that much of what was getting under Atticus' skin was simply this: he had outgrown my style of mothering him. Somewhere along the line, he had outpaced me. I was offering him the same level of guidance and oversight he had always had ... and he just didn't need it anymore. 

Armed with this realization, I started consciously weighing our interactions, both negative and positive. Sure enough, my theory held up. If I offered my usual dose of "hey, let me give you some tips here" mothering, I would be rewarded with slightly raised shoulders and a boy who took little delight in the task. But if I handed Atticus a job and essentially walked away, I almost always saw straighter back and saw him hunker down happily to the challenge.

Words can't quite sum up how difficult this has been for me. Atticus has always seemed slightly less hardy than some of my other children, and my desire to be his umbrella from failure is huge. And while I have known from the time he was toddling that I cannot and should not fill that role forever, it still caught me off guard to have this growing time come so early on. He is only twelve years old. And yet ...

He is capable. And moreover, he desires to stretch his wings.

This experience has led me to embrace the following guidelines--and to put them in writing so that when Logan's ire begins to stir at my overbearing Momma-ing, I can recall the formula for our changing Mother/Son dynamic:

1. Let him own it. Atticus has taken on an ever-increasing share in what goes on his proverbial plate and how he goes about getting it done. He asked for a typing program to be added to his school offerings when he realized that his hunt and peck method was holding him back. Had I asked him to take up keyboard instruction, I am pretty sure he would have groaned. Since it was his idea, he has been flying through the course.

2. Let him do it his way. You know why guys don't ask for directions? Because they would rather try to figure it out on their own and be wrong than have you hand it to them on a silver platter and get it right. It's all about the ownership and the act of conquering. The same goes for young men. They would rather try and fall flat than have their Mommas hold their hand for a sure victory.

3. Give him meaningful work. Mr. Blandings has handed over several small household chores (like changing lightbulbs and doing small fix-it jobs) entirely, and has greatly expanded the scope of the projects he asks Atticus to do on his own. Right now, for example, Atticus is building a toddler bed for Seven from instructions on He thinks this is awesome.

4. Expect more. The flip side of greater privilege should always be greater responsibility. Making sure we both understood this parallel helped ease the transition.

5. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Just like their fully grown counterparts, young men need to feel like they are valued and that they measure up. Checking my tone and word choices to make sure that they convey the same amount of respect that I expect in return goes a long way towards furthering our relationship.

6. Trust him. All of that groundwork wasn't in vain. Atticus shows every sign of making good choices, following God's call on his life, and being able to handle life's curveballs. Building him up ("I know you've got this under control.") letting him know I have faith in his abilities makes him grown two inches taller, I swear.

7. Embrace--and don't cushion-- natural consequences. Simple enough, right?

8. Be available. While he no longer needs me for the physical stuff, I definitely find that teens need even more of my time and support than even preschoolers. Making sure he knows that I am interested, invested, and praying for him daily is vital.

Since I started employing these tactics, I've not only seen amazing growth in Atticus, but in myself as well. Is my sweet little guy back? No. He's gone for good. In his place, though, I am now witnessing the unfolding of a kind, responsible young man learning his way in the world. It's a trade I'm happy to make.

Monday, March 4, 2013

He is gone

Dirge Without Music 
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned. 

Papaw passed away quietly, in his sleep, on February 18. 

And yet ... there are still dishes to be washed. Hair to be brushed. Owies to be kissed. Potatoes to be peeled. Diapers to be changed.

How the world has kept turning these last, long days I am unsure. A part of me still thinks it's a mistake--  that at any moment I will awaken. The phone will ring and it will be his voice on the other end of the line. His old voice, restored. Strong. Confident. Slightly mischievous, as if just the mere act of having a conversation holds the promise of an adventure worth having.

But he's gone. I saw him laid out, thin white hair swept to the side in a way he never wore it in life. His glasses, which rode impossibly low on his nose these past few years, were missing. Gone, too, was the ancient, wind-up watch, its face scarred by years of winding fencing, tagging cattle, and baling hay. Instead, he wore his Sunday best-- the pale blue button-up he loathed, the navy pants he couldn't wait to shed the minute he walked in his own front door.

When I found out that I was pregnant-- nearly a year ago now-- I wondered at God's timing. Today, I understand. Reuven, named for my Papaw, has somehow cushioned a blow from which I'm not sure I could have endured without the strange, filling consolation of full arms. No matter how much I want to, I cannot retreat to my room and shut out the world. I cannot isolate myself. I cannot cease to function. 

I am needed. 
I must be present.

And so I walk through my days not only with pain, but with joy. My grandfather is dead. Seven is singing "Over in the Meadow." My grandfather is dead. Logan is baking cookies. My grandfather is dead. Reuven is smiling. My grandfather is dead. Oliver drew a sun. My grandfather is dead. Mani is pretending to be a fireman. My grandfather is dead. And me? I am alive.