Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Interview at 5MinutesForMom

Recently I was interviewed by 5MinutesForMom. It was fun to share my thoughts and have them published.

So, if you're interested in my take on motherhood and why I started Midwest Moms, please pay a visit. The site is a great place to find other blogs on parenting from moms across the country.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

- Midwest Mom

Monday, November 24, 2008

How to Avoid Thanksgiving Stress

As a mom, I always view big holidays like Thanksgiving with a mixture of excitement and anxiety.

There are a few kinds of preparation that will save both parents and children a few holiday headaches. Packing extra clothes for your children or allowing them to change into their pajamas for the long ride home are great ideas. Giving your children nutritious snacks before going to the big family meal (with lots of strange foods they've never seen before) can take the stress out of whether they're eating or not. Reminding yourself that Thanksgiving is one day out of 365 can help keep the day in perspective.

Still, there are some parts of Thanksgiving that are bound to cause some stress. Here are a few parenting hints to keep in mind.

Control Your Expectations:

As soon as you arrive at your holiday gathering, there will be a whole host of introductions to be made. Please remember that relatives you know but your children don't feel like strangers to them. A crowd of unfamiliar faces can be very stressful -- especially when an introduction is followed by unreasonable expectations. We've all heard introductions like this one (or been the victim of them):
-Lucy, this is your Great Aunt Doris! The last time she saw
you, you were in diapers!

-Aunt Doris, Lucy was the lead in the school play this year.

-She was a rutabaga.

-Why don't you say your lines for Aunt Doris, dear?

-C'mon! She'd love to hear them!

-Louder, honey, Aunt Doris can't hear very well....

-Oh, well, at the actual play, she didn't forget her lines like that,
Aunt Doris.

-Hmm? Oh! Yes, of course she'll give you a kiss.

-Lucy, kiss Aunt Doris.

-I don't care what she smells like, kiss her! Oh, goodness. Why
on earth are you crying? [Lucy runs away.]

-Sorry, Aunt Doris...

I have found it is best to give children a chance to "make friends" with new relatives in whatever way they are most comfortable. Sometimes that means that it will take time to warm up to someone new.

When you are introducing someone to your child, do so in a way that reveals important information about the new adult -- not potentially embarrassing information about your child. Saying, "Aunt Doris used to fly airplanes!" can intrigue your child and get them to ask questions.

Another way to introduce older relatives is to make the family relationship plain. Tell Lucy that Aunt Doris is Danny's Grandma or Great Grandpa's sister. Then, sit back and let your child find his or her own way to relate to Aunt Doris. It may not happen right away, but over the course of the night, your child might surprise you.

We usually make the introductions easier on our kids in two ways. We arrive early, so they're meeting people one-at-a-time. And we arrange to meet relatives we know well and all walk in together. It can be a lot less intimidating to meet people when you are already surrounded by friends.

Keep the Schedule in Mind:

If yours is a family with a definite routine -- naps at a certain time, dinner at a certain time, etc. -- then family holidays can throw a wrench in the works. When you're planning your day, think about your children's schedule.

If you're nursing a newborn or you have a child who will need a nap, talk to your hosts in advance about setting aside some "quiet space" that won't be violated. When we were first married, we were guests of my husband's parents for more than one holiday. They were always so thoughtful when I asked for a little "retreat space" for the baby and me. Usually, I could go to a quiet guest room when the baby needed to eat or sleep, or when I could tell that the baby was feeling stressed by all the noise. Sometimes a little quiet was what we both needed to refresh.

Now that my children are older, my husband's mother still keeps one room as a quiet room for those times that the kids need a break or a rest. Making space away from the action can be just enough to help your children manage the holiday schedule without a major breakdown.


Keep Private Matters Private:

The biggest source of parent stress at the holidays (besides what your brother's new wife will think when she sees Uncle Martin drunk) is how very public our parenting of our children becomes.

Holiday parenting can sometimes be initially lax (when you ask yourself "why on earth isn't someone stopping this behavior??!??") Then, as you watch cousin Harold try to feed popcorn to the new baby and decide you must be the one to step in and stop it, you are startled by the blur that is cousin Harold's dad moving at superhuman speed to LOUDLY and with a scowl that would frighten the most hardened criminal shout at his son WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?? CAN'T YOU SEE SHE'S JUST A BABY?!??! I DON'T UNDERSTAND HOW YOU COULD BE BEHAVING SO BADLY IN FRONT OF ALL THESE PEOPLE! GET YOUR COAT ON, MISTER, BECAUSE WE'RE GOING TO THE CAR RIGHT NOW!!!

Whew. What a nightmare. Please be sure that isn't you. I'll do the same.

I know it can be tempting to just let the kids be kids when there is a large group, but my husband and I always are sure to keep a close eye on how ours are behaving throughout the holiday visit. If I find that one of my children is having trouble keeping his hands to himself or following the other basic rules of happy play, I pull him or her aside into a separate room (usually pointing to the offending child and saying, "come with me, please") and I parent them firmly, but privately. That way, I can get my point across without distraction or drama and my child feels respected, not embarrassed, and has a chance to 'reboot'. When we're both ready -- sometimes I wait even 10 minutes if necessary -- then we can rejoin the group.


Don't forget to Laugh:

This was a lesson taught to me by my sister-in-law. She is a terrific laugher -- even in the face of the worst circumstances.

Imagine, your family is seated at your Grandmother's formal dining room table with place settings of her finest china and silver and guests dressed in their Thanksgiving best. You look over to make conversation with your sister's new fiance and are distracted by the fact that he seems to be looking past you. As you slowly turn your head, you take in the aghast expressions of your Grandmother, your parents, Uncle Bernard, Aunt Ruthie, and every other family member present at the Thanksgiving feast.

"What ever could they be looking at?" you wonder to yourself. Then "oh, no!" flashes through your mind.

Your head snaps to your two-year-old smearing mashed potatoes and gravy all over his face and hair. In the ten seconds you looked away to make conversation, he has managed to fling cranberry sauce across the room and onto Cousin Larry's toupee. He is now filling his nose with sweet baby peas and blowing them as far as he can. (Your brother is laughing. For a fraction of a second, you aim your darkest thoughts at his future progeny.)

What do you do?

You politely say, "excuse me" and remove your child from the room. Your loving husband offers to help. "Save a plate for me. Okay?" you ask, and he agrees. You spend the next twenty minutes bathing your little rascal.

Don't forget to laugh.

That's the worst-case scenario. Even if it happens -- which it won't -- it is nothing you can't handle. Just, as you deal with even the worst of circumstances, don't forget to laugh.

Today's tragic behavior will be a hilarious family story... someday. But only if you can bring yourself to deal with it gracefully. So, deal with it... and laugh, even if you have to laugh so hard, you cry.


And finally,

Be Thankful.

If you remember how lucky you are to have a loving family, the craziness doesn't seem to matter so much. If you remember to be grateful for a roof over your head and healthy children and warmth and laughter, then the bumps in the road can seem smaller. Take the time to appreciate the people around you and let them know how much you care about them. Do that, and the Thanksgiving stress will seem to melt away.

(Oh... and a little drink won't hurt, either...)

- Midwest Mom

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Time to Give Thanks

My mother always said, "Don't put off 'til tomorrow what you can do today."

It was never more true than it is right now.

Since this is Thanksgiving week, I thought I would start off by giving thanks for the fantastic friends I have made during my time at Midwest Moms. Some of these 'thank-yous' are quite belated. But belated thanks can still be heartfelt.

Tricia at Papercages gave me a lovely award in -gasp- October, and I still have not acknowledged it.

Shame on me.

Papercages is a witty blog written by a wonderful woman who, while plagued by fits of firework paranoia and bouts of falling down, manages to keep her readers entertained and laughing about even the tough side of living. It is a great read.

So, thank you, thank you, thank you to Tricia for thinking of me and recognizing my writing on your blog. I truly appreciate it and apologize for the delay.


In keeping with my title, I would like to acknowledge other fantastic bloggers who have given awards to Midwest Moms.

Many thanks go out to Elaine Fontana at My Life as a Stay-At-Home-Mother. She does a wonderful job blogging about issues and events that are important to her and her family. I am very grateful for her friendship and readership. She writes from Iowa, our neighbor to the west and fellow corn-growing state. So, you understand, I feel a certain kinship with Elaine. We midwesterners have to stick together! Especially when we're moms!

Thanks also to Court at Kaiya's Laughter Heals for the Proximidad Award. It is good to have close friendships with other parents who are doing their best to raise their children. It is also a tremendous blessing to share the joy of our kids and their silly stories, too. Thank you for recognizing that closeness. And best of luck with your blog!

And heartfelt good wishes and gratitude also go out to Me-Me King at The Screaming Me-Me.

The "Lemons into Lemonade" Award makes me laugh. I think you have my sense of humor pegged. Thank you very much for the acknowledgment. (And be sure to duck those bullets in the Arizona desert, won't you?)


I am very grateful for all my readers. There are times I can't believe what an amazing group of smart, thoughtful people Midwest Moms has brought into my world. I am honored to be among such wonderful writers and faithful readers. Thank you.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Great Toy #3: Christmas Shopping Guide

The children in our family love to pretend. Truly, they spend about 85% of their playtime pretending they are someone else. So, whether they like to play superheroes, or become a cowboy, a princess or a gourmet chef, toys that help kids with pretend play are a great choice at Christmas.

Some of our best pretend toys are wearable. We have received many costumes from older cousins. My daughter got a box full of princess dresses from her cousin in Maryland earlier this year -- what a thrill! My boys have inherited superhero costumes complete with stuffed abs and biceps. If you don't have older cousins, garage sales are a great place to find costumes, especially now that Halloween is past.

A few years ago, Santa brought my five year old (then three) a whole box full of hats. He was so excited to become a race car driver, a cowboy, a viking, a pirate, or a fire fighter just by changing his hat! If you think Santa might want to do the same for your preschooler, I would recommend buying new rather than used. One website with a great assortment of hats and costumes for kids is Daddy's Toy Shop. Mastermind Toys also has a good selection.

Of course, there is more to pretend than just the clothes. My daughter loves the play kitchen she got last Christmas. I paid half price when Target was clearing the shelves to get ready for after-Thanksgiving shoppers. Now is the time to look for big items if your local stores haven't already stocked the shelves with Christmas toys. Many of the big-ticket toys may be on clearance.

We also enjoy classics like the Fisher-Price Cash Register and the Fischer-Price medical kit. The pieces of these toys are easy for young hands to hold and are the perfect tools for children to set up their own store or hospital. Because these classics are indestructible, they are easy to find at garage sales or on ebay.

Last year, my children got the Medical kit for Christmas. It comes off the shelf any time any of us are sick. I think they like giving pretend shots the best. At the time of this writing, I've been vaccinated about 6 thousand times.

To me, the best thing about pretend toys is that they give parents a chance to experience the way their child views the world. It is easy to have fun with your kids when they are pretending to be just like Daddy or their favorite superhero (or both... SuperDad!)

Admit it. Don't you like pretending sometimes, too?

-Midwest (Super)Mom

Saturday, November 15, 2008

One Way Ticket to Frugal

What do you call that place where mothers tell their children that the brown spots on fruit are just "the sweeter parts"? Where otherwise reasonable people actually spend time washing out Ziploc bags and hanging them to dry so they can be re-used? Or the land where fathers rush to save a paper plate from going into the garbage can because "it only had toast on it!"

That odd place is the little-known American town of Frugal. And my family is living there right now. It's one of those places where many come to visit, but few stay on. If you're wondering how to get here, it's about halfway between You-Get-What-You-Pay-For and Good-Enough-For-Government-Work. If you start seeing signs for Savvy and Thrifty, you're getting close. But if you get to Miser, you've gone too far.

The residents of Frugal are an odd sort. They started out normal, but trying times and anxiety about the future have caused a strange transformation. The longer one lives here, the more likely his or her personality is to morph into a strange mish-mash of all our grandparents' depression-era habits. We call it frugality.

To understand what frugality is all about, you need to understand the types of people who take up residence here.
  • First off, there's the Splitter. Splitters often declare that they are dieting or otherwise "cutting back." But really they just have a terrible habit of only ever being willing to take half of something. They'll split a doughnut or a pizza, even a beer or a smoke. Splitters make a big deal about refusing what is offered to them and then relent with little coaxing. "Okay. I'll split it with you," the Splitter will say, as though you would welcome the idea of them biting off half of your cookie or slurping from your coffee mug.
  • A cousin of the Splitter is the Halver. They're a bit different. The Halver believes that half of any good thing is just as good as the original. They make a practice of using half of the recommended amount of laundry detergent, for example. They dilute even non-condensed soup. They only fill their gas tank halfway on a regular basis. "No really. It's just as good! Really!" is their motto.
  • Also in that family are Dutchmen. These are people who pretend to be generous, asking you out to lunch as a treat when you've just been complaining about your lack of ready capital. You think, how kind. That is, until the bill comes. The words "Let's go Dutch" are uttered before the glossy black folder containing your lunch tab even hits the table. A true Dutchman will magically pull out exact change for his half of the bill -- to the penny -- while you are forced to put your half on your already-maxed-out credit card. That's when you notice that he only had half a sandwich and a glass of water, while you ordered a steak.
  • Then there's the Martyr. The Martyr makes it her practice to always give away the last of something. And then, just as the grateful recipient is relishing the last morsel, the Martyr will sigh. "I'm glad you're enjoying it."
  • A pair of brothers, the Saver and the Scavenger are next. They are the ones who cut the mold off of a piece of cheese in the fridge because "cheese is really just mold anyway." These two also have no qualms about consuming something after it has hit the floor. They often invoke the "five-second rule" even if the dropped item was something sticky dropped on the floor at the barbershop. "Blow the hairs off of it! You'll be fine!" they say encouragingly. The Saver is the one who will drive that 1989 Toyota Corolla until it falls into a pile of rust dust with four tires around it. The Scavenger is the one who will crawl the junk yard for spare parts to keep it running as long as possible. Both use duct tape to make stuff last longer -- so much, in fact, that all their stuff is silver.
  • As I do my errands here in town, I often come upon the Clucker. The Clucker stands in front of the dairy case loudly bemoaning the astronomical price of milk. She loves to use the phrase "these days" in conversation. As in, "I don't know what they're thinking these days! People can't pay $4.00 for a gallon of milk these days! What are they thinking, charging an arm and a leg for yogurt! These days, people just won't pay that!" The Clucker usually says these things quite loudly as people smile uncomfortably and reach around her for the expensive products she is complaining about.
  • Finally, there is the Scrimper. The Scrimper walks around the house all day shutting lights off to save electricity -- even when there are people who need the lights to see what they're doing. They also make it a practice to turn down the thermostat to near-freezing while they mutter, "if you're cold, why don't you just put on a sweater!" I hear our local Scrimper may be moving to Miser soon. I just heard her telling her son to do jumping jacks because his problem wasn't the cold... it was his circulation. That's what I heard, anyway.
All in all, Frugal isn't such a bad place to be. I have noticed, though, that it's getting a little crowded. Of course, just about everything is cheaper here and with that duct tape, stuff tends to last a long time. There was never so much interest when the economy was good...

Ah, well... these things go in cycles, don't they?

I've got to get back to my lunch. I've got one apple left -- you want to split it?

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Going Green: Getting the Garden Ready for Winter

Autumn is a second spring,
when every leaf is in flower.

- Albert Camus

I have been out today enjoying the last of our Autumn color. The moderate temperatures and gentle rainfall have given us the gift of fantastic foliage this year. It has been a rare thing, reminding me of my young autumns in New Hampshire, where my heart would nearly burst as my eyes drank in the vibrant colors. Falling leaves made life there seem like slow motion until the first snow at Veterans day. Then nature would finally allow life to catch up. In the bi-color dank of winter, my eyes would long for October's yellow-ochre and November's fiery orange. My memory of that time and those colors stays with me here in the heartland. This was the first year that nearly approached that breathless beauty. I hate to see it fade.

But the skies have been grey lately, and fall's crisp blue has been replaced by drizzle. The yellows and reds are changing to gold and brown. My mind and heart are reminding me to get out into the garden. There is work to be done, and it won't do itself.

I will admit, I have spent the past month and a half just taking produce from the garden without doing a whole lot of chores. We grew squash and pumpkins -- well, you could hardly call them pumpkins, more like munchkins. We grew those little pumpkin-shaped gourds small enough to fit in my three-year-old daughter's hands. They make great decorations and were so easy. I let the children plant them from seed, water them when they remembered to, and harvest them. It was quite a success.

We've had a few frosty mornings, so the last of the tomatoes have come in. I spent the morning pulling up the plants and raking leaves into the perennial beds to protect the gems I want to survive the cold. Now is the time of year when all gardeners put our plants to bed for the Winter. We tuck them in tenderly and hope they survive until Spring. I always use leaves as the "blanket of choice" for my garden. To me, there is no reason to pay for mulch from a garden center when nature gives an abundant supply of the best mulch there is.

It always makes me laugh to see the lengths people go to to get rid of their leaves, too. In my mind, the only way to collect leaves is with a rake and a tarp, to be dumped on the compost or swept into a flower bed. Of course, that should happen only after you've given the children 57 rides around the yard on the leaf-covered tarp and let them bury you until you emerge as the leaf monster. It isn't autumn if you don't do those things.

But, back to the garden... today I used my head a bit. Autumn is the perfect time to think about what worked in your garden and what didn't. I tried some new placements for tomato plants, beans, and melons. They didn't pan out so well. Lesson learned. I also had terrific success with my roses and clematis (on a beautiful arbor that my husband built for me.) Now is the time to guarantee those successes for next year.

To winterize my roses, I started by building wire cages around them. I used chicken wire or old fencing wire, staked well away from the plant itself. I kept the wire 6-8 inches from the base of the rosebush. I then placed about 5 inches of peat moss at the base of each plant, making sure that it covered the place where the lowest branches emerge.

Then I used nature's autumn gift, those beautiful leaves, to loosely insulate around the plants. Giving your roses a gentle covering of leaves will help prevent die-back during the cold of winter. It will also help keep them from drying out as the wind gets more bitter and dry.

When the weather gets warm enough in the Spring, it will be easy to take down the fencing and gently remove the leaves before they start to break down too much. At that point, you can prune off any dead portions and shape the rosebush. The acid of the peat moss will feed your roses through the winter and early Spring. It can be worked into the soil when temperatures get warmer.

Remember, as the autumn gets colder and loses its color, that the work you put in now to cover your perennials and to cover beds that hold your Spring bulbs will be worth it. As you remove the mulched leaves at Winter's end, you will see tender shoots already sprouting beneath their leaf blanket.

Until then, tuck your gardens in tight and remember the beauty of the Fall. I hope you have enjoyed this garden season just as much as I have.

Spring is not as far-off as you imagine.

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lovely, Lovely Lotion...

My daughter has a new habit. She is addicted to lotion.

I'll explain.

The other day, my daughter found a little bottle of Bath & Body Works peach scented lotion on my nightstand. She asked what it was and I told her.

"May I have some?" she asked sweetly. I thought, "what will it hurt?" and agreed.

She smelled her hands and made a face. I told her she could wash it off with water if she didn't like it. She happily complied.

Ten minutes later, in she walks with a bottle of Nivea from the bathroom. (In case you're wondering, we are a dry-skin family.) We went through the same routine.

Then my daughter went from room to room, bringing her little bathroom stool around the house to make her taller so that she could check dressers, countertops and cupboards. I would hear a little squeal when she found a new bottle of lotion somewhere, and she would bring it in to where I sat reading. At the end of the expedition we had 9 bottles of lotion in all different sizes and shapes. Some had pump tops, some had screw caps, some had flip tops. She even found the little tube of lotion I keep in my purse and brought it in.

"Mommy, let's have a lotion party."

Laughing, and although there was a note of caution in the back of my consciousness, I agreed. I'll be darned if she didn't try every single one until she found the smell she was looking for. By the end of it all, her hands were as soft as a newborn baby's.

Giggling, I told my husband all about it when he got home. He said, "does she come up with these things herself, or are you teaching her to be a girly-girl?" I assured him that she is naturally a girly-girl... there is no "teaching" required. He gave a half-hearted frown. Our daughter entered the room and immediately had him smell her hands. He gave just the right amount of attention to let us both know that he thought it was cute.

And it was cute, until...

A few days later, my daughter and I went shopping for a friend's birthday. I looked in several shops for jewelry or clothes, finding nothing that sparked my interest. Finally, I spied Bath & Body Works. We went in.

My daughter's eyes nearly bugged out of her head at all the bottles of lotion everywhere.

"I love this place!" she exclaimed in her three-year-old squeal.

The salespeople descended like flies. Out came every tester of every kind of lotion I have ever seen. My daughter pushed up her sleeves to make more room for more samples to be rubbed on her skin. (She was quite upset when she realized how difficult it is to smell lotion you've just put on your elbow.) By the time we left, she smelled like a raindrop peach raspberry pomegranate fuchsia sweet pea coconut.

But, man, was she happy.

When we arrived at my friend's house for her birthday, my daughter proudly announced that we'd brought a gift from "the stinky soap store" (what Daddy calls it). With a confused smile, my friend said, "Thanks... I think." My daughter proudly told the story of trying 8 different lotions and lip gloss, too. She had the impression that it made her very grown-up, indeed.

All I know is that she made it far easier for Santa to fill her stocking than anyone ever imagined. (If you need to reach us anytime after Christmas, don't be surprised if we don't answer the phone. It will probably be slipping out of our heavily-lotioned hands.)

- Midwest Mom

Monday, November 10, 2008

Teaching Children to Take Action

No one knows how children will turn out; a great tree often springs from a tender plant.
-- Norwegian proverb

My husband and I are politically aware adults -- we read the news and talk about justice issues in the world on a daily basis. We are keenly aware that our actions can have a positive effect on our community, if we choose to make activism a priority. We can have a broader effect, if we choose, by sharing our ideas or contributing to causes.

I have always talked to my children, most often in terms of our faith but also, recently, in terms of our duty as American citizens, about why my husband and I believe what we do.

Alleviating poverty is one of the first priorities on our "activist list". For us, it is important to feed hungry people and provide clothing to those who do not have it, not because we are wealthy, but because we can.

As a Christian Parent, I understand that teaching my children about the world -- about justice and injustice and about the highs and lows of life -- is a key aspect of of parenting, if I want my children to become mature, understanding adults. How do I do it? I get them involved.

When my oldest was 3 years old, he worked with me at a local food pantry once a week. He couldn't do much, just put cans or fruit into grocery bags. But he helped me work at the desk and talk to the clients who came in for food. He played and laughed with them.

When I drop clothing off at our local ministry for families in need, my children accompany me. We talk about why we give and who will be wearing their jackets and dresses and shoes. At the end of last year, I was told by my friend at the ministry that they served 637 children in our area last year. That's a lot of children who need help. I share that information with my kids so that they know there are children who are cold tonight, but they also know that there is something we can do to help make them warmer.

My children's preschool has a mitten tree every winter. I would always let my children choose colors for scarves and hats that I would knit for the tree. The act of making something carefully, of taking the time to create something warm and beautiful was not lost on my children. They have each commented on the labor and time; they have been sources of conversation about gratitude and "why" that have, I hope, led each of us to greater understanding.

Every parent has a way of looking at the world and seeing the ways it could be made better. I am keenly aware that there is more I can do. I am committed to challenging myself to make more of a difference if I can. Perhaps now is the time to reach farther than our local community.

As a part of Bloggers Unite!, I am dedicating a portion of this post to Refugee awareness. There is a crisis in our world right now. In Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Darfur, and anywhere there is conflict, there are good people who must flee to keep their families safe. For some, including children, citizenship rights can be taken away, resulting in "statelessness" where they do not have a homeland to return to. Others can be repatriated, but need help with food, clothing, and housing.

As parents, we may not be able to save the world, but we can educate ourselves on the real struggles of millions across the world. As difficult as it may be, we can talk to our children about the reality of the refugee crisis, not in horrifying detail, but in truth. We can talk about what we learn. We can listen. We can act.

Teaching children to take action means that we must be willing to confront difficult realities as parents. No one is going to solve all the injustice in the world at once. And parents and families often feel that our plates are full. But, we can choose to focus on small ways to affect larger problems. When we do that, we give our children another tool in their toolbox, another type of perspective, an opportunity for compassion.

Our children will need those tools, perspective and compassion. As they grow into adults, they can be caretakers for their world, just as we are of ours. When parents teach action, even in a small way, we have the chance for our lessons to be far-reaching. So, whether we work as helpers in our towns, our churches, and our neighborhoods or whether we reach beyond the local to take on something much larger, the activism we teach can have much broader effects than we even realize -- like ripples in a pond.

I would encourage you to start with your own children by even choosing one issue to take on as a family. Will it be helping a neighbor, building a home for someone who has nowhere to live, feeding the hungry? You choose. But be sure to make the choice -- and start teaching.


How can we act right now to help refugees? One way is to support organizations like Refugees United. It is an organization that provides a forum -- a way for refugees to communicate and find their relatives. It is free and confidential and focused on giving refugees and their family the means to take action themselves. It can help parents find their children or wives find their husbands. Refugees United is one example of what can happen when caring people unite to solve large problems. Overcoming the communication obstacle in refugee communities brings families one step closer to becoming whole.

-Midwest Mom

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Great Toy #2: Christmas Shopping Guide

The second toy idea that we just love is games. By that I do not mean video games. I mean good old-fashioned no batteries required (okay, maybe one) turn off the television and spend time together games.

We have all the classics -- Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, Sorry, Connect Four. We have raucous games like Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots and Whack-A-Mole, too. We play card games like old maid and go fish and king's corner. And we play strategy games like Mastermind, Mancala, and Stratego. Our kids are still young, so Monopoly, Careers, and Life are still up on the shelf.

Two old favorites that we *hope* Santa will be bringing in his sleigh are Perfection and MouseTrap. (Santa's Illinois elf just has to find them at the store. Keep your fingers crossed.)

It is always a challenge, though, to find games that all three of my children can play together, especially because they are aged 3, 5, and 7. Last year, we were given a game gift that did the trick. Our whole family can play it and have fun in the process. It is Cranium Hullabaloo.

Hullabaloo is a direction-following game with fun music and a healthy dose of silliness. To me, it's a little like Simon Says meets Twister. We have a great time with it, whether just two of us are playing or all five.

In January of this year, Cranium, a Seattle-based company, was purchased by Hasbro, Inc. By March, Hasbro moved finance and logistics jobs to it's Rhode Island corporate headquarters. But Hasbro makes a point of emphasizing it's corporate citizenship efforts. I usually only recommend products from corporations I can really back. For me, the jury is still out on Hasbro's purchase of Cranium.

I will say, though, that the Hullabaloo product is exceptional. It encourages movement and teaches listening and following directions. Moreover, it is fun. Sometimes gut-busting fun -- especially when you see your kids "do a funky dance" at the end of the game.

Hullabaloo has received several awards, from Parenting Magazine Toy of the Year to the 2002 National Parenting Center Seal of Approval. For more information, be sure to visit the Cranium website.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President Barack Obama's

Victory Speech

Our country has a new President, and I couldn't be happier. Watching President-Elect Barack Obama and his family last night made me so proud of my country. I was even more proud to know that more voters than ever turned out to make our voices heard.

In his speech, President Obama emphasized that he will be president for all Americans. I hope we can all come together and begin to do the work of our country as strong citizens united.

I just came home from dropping my children off at school, and there was a sense of excitement there and a buzz about our new President that was great to see. And it brings tears to my eyes to know that there is a whole group of mothers and grandmothers, who themselves never fully knew this day would come, and who now can tell their children and their grandchildren that it is possible to achieve the highest office in the land.

I am so very proud of our country today.

Here's the video of last night's speech (in case you fell asleep before all the results came in or were tending a sick child or doing all the other things moms do...)

Thank you all for being a part of this important election.

- Midwest Mom

Monday, November 3, 2008

Why All Moms Should Vote

On Illini Family Politics, I wrote an article, "Why We Parents Must Vote," that states part of my case for voting this year. I have a special message for moms, though. Your voice, in particular, needs to be heard in this election.

As a mother, I am convinced that this presidential election is a pivotal event for our nation. For me, it represents the opportunity to bring our priorities as moms to the forefront of the national agenda. Education, health care, and an end to the war in Iraq are important to me. I am also firmly committed to social justice and alleviating poverty. The economy, energy policy, protecting the environment are vital to our future -- to my children's future. These are my priorities. I understand they are not shared by all. Still, they are the issues that are important to me and important to my family.

I send a message about my priorities by voting.

I have voted in every election since I turned 18. I even bring my children to the polls. They have never been unwelcome (in fact, they are usually doted upon by the wonderful volunteers at our local polling station.) My children enjoy the outing, and learn something in the process. Even if we have to wait in line, there is always a sense that they are being involved in important work -- the work of our country.

If you feel uncomfortable bringing your children to the polls, you can vote while they are in school. If you have preschoolers, you can arrange to meet other moms you trust at the polls and rotate who goes in to vote and who keeps the children playing outside. Polling places are often schools or community centers with places for children to play. But if the weather is bad, bring them in with you. Having children is an important part of who a mom is; there is no reason that they would not be welcome, provided they respect what is going on inside. So, talk to them and take this rare opportunity to teach them something they can learn best from you.

If your child is sick, there has never been a better reason to get an impromptu babysitter. Do not be afraid to ask. I have watched neighbors' children so that they could vote. Call grandma to come over for a half hour to give you the opportunity to go to the polls. Trust me, she will say "yes."

When moms vote, we tell our government how we want it to run for the next four years. In addition to the presidential race, there are local races that will have a direct effect on our lives in our states, cities, and towns. Moms voices need to be heard nationally and locally. Don't just be a bystander.

So, please vote. Your views are so important. Take a break from work, or the kids, or the grandkids, make an appointment to make your voice heard.