Friday, January 30, 2009

Facts About the Peanut Butter Recall

I posted today over at my Twitter Moms blog about the Peanut Butter Recall.

It is important information for Moms and families, and the recall covers products that might surprise you. It's not just jars of peanut butter, but snack cakes, crackers, ice cream, diet products, granola bars, and pet food.

It's especially important for moms because half of those who have gotten ill are children! So far over 500 people have been identified as contracting Salmonella poisoning, 22% of them have been hospitalized and 8 have died.

This is serious business, especially if your family is as addicted to peanut butter as we are.

Please check it out for yourself. The article gives links to the comprehensive list of products to avoid -- everything from Wal-Mart bakery cookies to Keebler brand products to diet bars like NutriSystem bars and the Zone. Products from both Wal-Mart and Meijer are included, among other regional grocery stores.

It is worth the time to keep your family safe and healthy.

- Midwest Mom

Fit Mommy Friday

Pint-Size Personal Trainers

Well, it's Fit Mommy Friday again, so I'm handing out another fun tip for Moms who want to be more active and raise a healthy family at the same time.

Today's tip: Get a Pint-Size Personal Trainer

Most moms I know take a look at their kids and wonder, where do they get all that energy? Well, what if we could channel that kid-energy and get a little workout at the same time? Well, you can when you play The Fitness Game.

Here's how you play:

  1. All the players stand in a circle. In our case, there were four of us: myself and my three children.

  2. Take turns being the Trainer. The trainer leads the rest of the group in any type of exercise he or she chooses for a pre-determined amount of time. Our turns were five minutes long. We played long enough for each of us to have one turn (20 minutes total) or two turns (40 minutes total) depending on how much time we had in the schedule.

  3. The trainer is completely in charge, but he has to make sure that the exercise he teaches is fun for everyone. If he wants us to do something we've never done before, he has to teach the skill. (It was so fun seeing my oldest teach my three-year-old to do jumping jacks). The timer doesn't run during teaching -- only when we're exercising.

This week, my Pint-Size Personal Trainers came up with some very inventive stuff when it was their turn to be the leaders. Oddly enough, each session offered a nice balance of cardio and strength training. They even included stretches when they needed a breather toward the end of their turns.

Sit-up peek-a-boo: Players pair up. Each 2 players lay on their backs with their feet touching and their heads in opposite directions. As they do crunches, they say peek-a-boo to their partner and count to three before they lay back down. We did sets of twenty.

Jumping ABCs: My daughter wanted to jump and sing the ABCs, so we each took turns leading the song. Four ABCs worth of jumping is a lot of jumping, let me tell you!

Frog jumps: One of my sons had the idea to do frog jumps. We started in a squatting position with hands on the floor, stood up and jumped as high as we could with our hands in the air. As soon as we landed, back down to the floor went our hands and we were ready to jump again! We did thirty.

Foot fire: My oldest loved the "foot-fire" drills in his soccer camp, where the team ran in place as fast as they possibly could. He chose that drill for all of us when it was his turn to be the trainer. We all ran fast while he counted to fifty -- mighty slow.

It was fun to see what new ideas my Pint-Size Personal Trainers would come up with each time we played The Fitness Game this week. I don't think we did the same exercise twice! Have fun giving it a try with your crew, and here's to more healthy, active families!

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dreams Really do Come True

Can you tell what we've been dreaming of lately? Here's a clue...

Does that give it away? No? Then how about this?

Hmmm? Got it yet?

Well, when we woke up this morning, we had quite a surprise. There were seven inches of the white stuff piled in the front yard, on the street, on our back sledding run, on the cars, even on the bird feeder and garbage can lid. The weatherman told us only to expect an inch.

Aren't surprises wonderful?

So, instead of going to school, we did a little of this...

And we did a little of this...

We even (because some of us are crazy boys) did this!

Yes, those are icicles in his hands... (oh, brother!)

We had tons of fun playing snow tag and making snow angels so deep they almost buried us. Thanks to an industrious neighbor thrilled to use a brand new snow blower, we didn't even have to shovel the walk! (The driveway? That's another story... Hubby might need a hot bath later.)

All in all, there's nothing like a little fun to keep your mind off the heavy stuff. And a little dream come true never hurt anyone.

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's Time To Reach Out

People in the news talk about unemployment numbers as though they were just numbers. They're not. They're people without jobs.

My husband works for an automotive supplier, and last week he came home every day talking about who was heading home for the last time.

I didn't let on, but I dreaded the conversation we would have every evening. Early in the week, he told me a few people were "let go" with a sense of half-relief. "They usually make all the cuts in one day," he said. But the next day there were more cuts and more and more. By the end of the week, we found ourselves talking about financial strategy.

It was and is nerve-wracking.

Today, the President came out and said that the economy may worsen before it gets better. That may be true, but I can feel my hair going grey and those pesky worry lines on my forehead getting deeper. When I opened this morning's news paper, I saw that John Deere announced they're cutting jobs in Iowa. Caterpillar is cutting jobs in Illinois. I won't even talk about Michigan. The evening news held announcements of job cuts at Home Depot, Nextel, Spring, Pfizer. Every state is being hit -- hard.

During the past year, we have trimmed our household budget down to bare bones, or so I thought before last week. Now, when I think about how we could survive job loss, if that were to happen, I know that we could have to cut much more. All over this country, men and women are having to make choices about whether to buy food or keep warm, whether to get a doctor's care or fix the car, whether to pay their house payment or their credit card bill. There is no doubt about it; we are in a rough place as a country.

The question is, what do we do about it?

During times like these, when I feel my sense of worry deepen, just about the only way I can find comfort is by reaching out. Last week, we went through all our clothing to donate warm snowsuits, jackets, sweaters, and boots to our local family clothing ministry. My boys are participating in a food drive through school to help keep our local food pantry stocked. We have set aside furniture to donate to the YWCA shelter for abused women. I know it's not much, but it is something.

When I think about how bad the economy is and how bad it may become, I think about how our grandparents' generation made it through the depression. I think about how my own parents made it through tough economic times, even with 6 children.

They made it through by counting on each other.

People make the difference in difficult times. Neighbors help to fix a car. Sisters help to share food or babysit. Friends offer a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear. Strangers donate food or clothing or transportation to the doctor.

And so I tell myself, no matter how worried I am about the future, I have a loving family. I have caring neighbors. I have friends at church and school. I have faith.

I take a deep breath and despite my worry I tell myself, We will be okay.

And then I look around to see who I can help. Please, I truly hope you do, too. In our lifetime, there has never been a more important time to pitch in.

Maybe if we all do, these troubled times might become a little bit easier.

- Midwest Mom

Monday, January 26, 2009

Oh, to be more Organized!

This weekend, we moved my office to a different part of the house. It's hard to believe that four years of carefully accumulated paperwork can be boxed up (and totally jumbled) in less than 30 minutes. But it's true. It can. And it was.

So, yesterday began the long process of de-jumble-ification. At this point I have come to one conclusion: "Psychic Filing" does not work.

Psychic filing is when you can look at the mass of piled paperwork that surrounds your desk and say to yourself, "I know exactly where everything is." You get frustrated when someone (usually your spouse) asks to see a bill or receipt or God forbid! the manual for a major appliance. "You can't just ask for that!" you say, then "Give me a minute to get it, for Pete's sake!"

You focus your concentration with the skill of a trained Jedi Knight as you think back to the last time you saw the piece of paper in question.

I had it in my hand when Primo gave me his class photo. That was the day we made paper flowers in playgroup for Mother's day. Which, of course, means I had gone shoe shopping earlier in the day for sandals to go with my green dress. I used the shoebox to hold the seventeen beautiful rocks the boys picked up for me during our walk to the purple dinosaur playground, and the shoebox was... the shoebox was... Blue! Keds! I didn't find sandals, but I picked up my summer pair of Keds!

You walk over to the teetering pile of precariously piled paperwork and pull out a single sheet of paper from beneath a blue Keds box. It is the April water bill your husband just asked for.

He is mystified. And with good reason. He has just experienced the wonder of psychic filing. (And the only time it has ever worked in the history of humanity.)

Of course, any good psychic filing system is helped by bursts of cleaning, shredding, and re-piling, which can only be performed by a trained psychic filer.

It can be completely destroyed, however, by simple things:
  • a child looking for a blank piece of paper to draw on,
  • unexpected "helpful" cleaning by your mother-in-law,
  • wind,
  • or an untrained psychic filer dropping an ill-balanced piece of child's artwork onto the top of the pile causing everything to fall.

Of course, it can also be destroyed by an office move... but that goes without saying.

I wonder, as I spend hours shuffling these papers into that pile and that and that folder, whether my move from psychic filing to something more organized can ever be permanent. I usually "resolve" to get more organized and do, from about Jan 1 until March 12th or so. But this year could be different -- especially since I just moved my office and everything.

Maybe this is a brand new starting point. I hope it is. I guess only time will tell...

"What's that honey? You need the long-distance bill from July?"

Oh, brother.

- Midwest Mom

Friday, January 23, 2009

Midwest Moms on Twitter!

I've just taken the plunge and joined Twitter.

What a fun tool to keep in touch with friends, one sentence at a time. ;)

You can find me by searching my username: MidwestMoms (no surprise!)

After I figure out what the twitter craze is all about, I'll be sure to give it a review.

For now, though, I wonder... Do you Twitter? What do you like or not like about it?

- Midwest Mom

Fit Mommy Friday

One of my New Years goals was to be more active. More specifically, to find ways to work exercise and activity into my routine on a daily basis.

So, to help me along that path, I thought I would start Fit Mommy Fridays, where once a week I give a fitness tip or let you know about an activity we use at our house.

(Of course, that means I have to come up with something different every week... get the picture?)

I crave variety when I exercise, but I also don't have a lot of time. So, this week I figured out a way to turn a household chore into a mini-workout. In my view, if it gets my heart rate up for 15 minutes or more, it's a good thing.

We'll call it The Laundry Basket Workout.

Some people do laundry every day. Me, I wait until the hamper we have in every bedroom is overflowing full. That means once or twice a week, it's laundry day.

We also have a two-story house with a full basement. Where do you think our laundry is? The Basement, of course.

So, the workout is this.
  1. Distribute the clothes evenly among several laundry baskets or hampers, making sure none of them are too full to carry. Make sure you have sneakers on and that the steps are totally clear -- no toys or books or shoes!
  2. Carry each hamper all the way to the basement (down 2 flights of stairs) and run all the way back to the top floor -- full speed. Without pausing, get the next hamper and repeat until everything is downstairs. (Make sure not to go so fast that you loose your balance. Safety first.)
  3. Once all the clothes are in the basement, walk slowly up the stairs again with walking lunges. (Step forward on one leg, lift the other behind you, squeezing your glutes. Then step with the rear leg to the next step.) If you want the lunges to do more work, try holding a 3-5 lb. weight in each hand.
  4. Keep the laundry baskets in the basement until everything is clean and/or folded. Repeat the process up the stairs, starting with bringing each basket carefully up the steps and jogging down again and finishing with a set of walking lunges.

Altogether, it took me about 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after the laundry was clean to complete the exercise. It felt good and it was completely free of charge (no gym membership required.) Too bad laundry day only comes a couple of times a week.

(OMG, did I just say that?)

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Itchy and Scratchy?

Solutions for Winter Dry Skin

My family battles dry skin all winter long. So, I thought I'd share some of the ways we keep away the itchies and scratchies.

Cooler, Shorter Baths: When my little ones were infants and toddlers, I loved to give them baths. But all three of them had patches of dry skin and varying degrees of eczema. What worked for us was to bathe them less frequently so that we weren't always washing off their skin's natural oils. We didn't let them turn into Pig Pen baby or anything, but we set a bath schedule of Monday, Wednesday, Saturday. We let them play in the bath once a week instead of every time and kept the water mildly warm -- not hot. Believe it or not, it has helped our children's skin tremendously.

Easy on the Soap: I have come to love lotion-based soaps. Yes, they don't lather the same way, but they do the job just as well. When the kids were babies, we used Aveeno Creamy Baby Wash. It works so well that I give it to my friends who are brand new moms. Another tactic to try is to add a capful of no-tears bath soap to the water as it runs into the tub. If there is a little soap in the water, you won't need to place it directly on your child's skin.

Build good Habits: Now that my boys are in elementary school, they are in charge of their own hand-washing. Their hands can get really dry if they aren't rinsing all the soap off. We've also noticed that they have to dry their hands thoroughly or the crevices between their fingers will get raw and red. So, we reinforce good rinsing and drying habits. We also keep a bottle of lotion at each of our bathroom sinks. (Perhaps you remember that my youngest is a lotion fanatic? Now you know why.) Encouraging your child to get a little lotion every so often -- especially after washing -- can build good self-care habits and help heal their hands.

Don't be Flaky: When dry skin gets itchy and flaky (my daughter's legs get this way from time to time) I leave the soft washcloth out of the bath and use a mesh puff. It's a little scratchy, but it gets the job done (plus, it's girly and purple, so she loves it). I figure, if it's good enough for my knees and elbows, why wouldn't it work for her?

Lovely Lips: When the kids' lips get dry and cracked, we gently brush them with the toothbrush while they're brushing their teeth. It takes the dry part off when their lips are already nice and wet, so there's no cracking. We follow up with lip balm after brushing, and they're good to go.

Put on Moisture that Stays: So many first-time Moms learn about the benefits of Baby Massage after a bath. Not only does it relax your child, it helps keep their skin healthy. Once your children are older, they can learn to put lotion on after their bath all by themselves. We have had great luck with a few products that are gentle enough to soothe and heal their skin.
  • Baby Bee Apricot Baby Oil: I used this gently scented oil on all my babies and love it. It is produced by the Burt's Bees company, and although many of their products are so harsh they would dry out a rhino in a rainstorm, their Baby Bee products are quite good.
  • Aveeno Calming Comfort Baby Lotion: We use this lavender-scented lotion before bedtime. It is my children's favorite scent -- very light. Aveeno products contain colloidal oatmeal, which helps skin to hold moisture.
  • Nivea Extra Enriched Lotion: The big blue bottle of Nivea graces our home in more than one place. We use the formula for Very Rough, Dry Skin because it has small beads that smooth your skin as you rub it in.
  • Norwegian Formula Hand Cream: We put a tiny dab of this on dry patches -- especially eczema -- anytime skin gets red. It does the trick, practically overnight.
Use a Humidifier: We use a humidifier in our bedrooms at night to help ease Wintertime dryness. Keeping houseplants throughout the house (and keeping them watered) also helps balance out the moisture level.

Get Moisture Inside-Out: Getting your children to drink enough water -- without anything mixed in -- can sometimes be a challenge. We work little drinks into our daily routine by drinking water at tooth-brushing time (morning and night) and with afternoon snack. If your child is taking in enough water, it can be easier for his or her own body to keep from drying out.

Free your Laundry: Finally, one of the things my pediatrician had me pay attention to early on was the type of laundry soap and fabric softener I used on my family's clothes. I tried several types and paid attention to their effect on my children's itchy skin. Right now, we use a fragrance-free soap (All Free & Clear) and very little softener (1/3 of a dryer sheet for a whole load). It seems to get out the stains (um... I have 2 boys, remember?) without making the rest of us itchy.

Well, that's what works for us. (I know it's not the most exciting post, but sometimes Moms have to be practical... Am I right?)

Hope these tips work for you and your itchy scratchy family.

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Springtime at Midwest Moms

As you can tell from Midwest Moms' new design, we are ready for Spring to arrive. It may be bitter outside, but here it's always sunny and warm. I like it that way.

Thanks go out to Kim Maki at Retro:Kimmer for her help with the new design. Kim is a web developer and promoter, and I think she's done a wonderful job helping me to remake Midwest Moms. She is a smart lady and was a huge help. (And she made all those fabulous buttons for my favorite blogs!)

As for me, I just smile every time I look at the new design, because it gets me thinking and dreaming about gardening again.

Sure, it's 5 degrees outside.... I know. But before you know it, the weather will start warming up. And the fun part of being a gardener is that I get to start way before the ground is actually ready to plant.

For the next couple of weeks, I'll peruse seed catalogs with increasing frequency. As the weather warms (I'm thinking February thaw might be just about right) I'll get the urge to set up my own indoor seedling wonderland. It happens every year. Just wait.

Until that time comes, though, I can log in to my sunny, terrific blog every day and write about what matters to me.

I hope you like the new design. Give a shout in the comments to let me know what you think! (Or you can email Kim by clicking on the Mackeyplanet logo at the bottom of my page. Didn't she do a great job?)

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Today is a Brand New Day

At my sons' school, every child begins his or her day by saying,

Today is a Brand New Day.

It is the first line of the school pledge. Every student says those words aloud to start their day off with a good attitude, healthy self-control, and a positive outlook on what the day will hold. The teachers and students use the pledge to put yesterday's troubles in the background and to focus on the work (and fun) of the present and the future.

Today, as a country, we get to do the same thing.

During the campaign, Barack Obama said often

This is Our Moment
This is Our Time
It's time to Turn the Page

This is the day he was talking about.

Personally, I can't wait to see what possibilities lay ahead for us as a nation. I can't wait to see what citizens can come together to accomplish. I firmly believe that any change we hope to see in the United States must come from within; any action that takes us down the road of progress must originate with the person we see in the mirror in the morning. If the crowds in our Nation's Capitol are any indication, I am not the only one who feels that way.

So today I will listen to our new President with a hopeful heart and a positive attitude. And I will firmly commit to do what I can to make our country and my own community a better, warmer, kinder, more just place.

I hope Moms everywhere are tuned in to the possibility of this moment, of the children we are bringing up to believe in the ideal that is America. And even though we know in our hearts that ideals can never fully exist in reality, I hope we can all find small ways to inch reality a little closer to the 'perfect union' to which we aspire.

Yesterday is in the past.
Tomorrow is over the horizon.
But Today is a Brand New Day.

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, January 15, 2009

How to Help a Child with Croup

My daughter came down with croup last week. It has to be one of the most frightening of the early childhood viruses.

Croup usually hits in the middle of the night, as the infected child (in our case, my three year old daughter) wakes up unable to breathe. At about three in the morning, I heard her emit short, barking coughs that told me her airway was very tight. She started to panic and cry. Unfortunately, crying makes breathing tougher -- quickly.

My husband and I were up in a flash, taking steps we know help to ease a croup attack. They worked well, and we let our daughter sleep the rest of the night in our bed just to make sure she was breathing alright. The initial "attack" phase of the infection lasted two nights for her. On the third night, we let her sleep in her own bed again but woke up periodically to check on her. She slept soundly, and even though she wouldn't heal completely for several days, we knew the worst was over.

Croup usually hits children under age 5 during the cold months of the year. The first phase of the virus is the respiratory attack phase I just described. In the daytime, a croupy child may cough and have a medium to high fever. For my children, the highest the fever has reached has been 103, although that has been quite rare.

Here is what we do when one of our kids comes down with croup:
  1. Don't panic. Stay Calm -- I first encountered croup when my oldest was eighteen months old. We had just moved to the Midwest, and he awoke wheezing and frightened. Honestly, I was just as afraid as he was, but there was something instinctive that told me to rock him and soothe him the best that I could. When my three-year-old woke up with croup last week, I was able to talk her through it as we treated her. I told her that crying would make it harder for her to breathe. After a minute or two of repeating that and telling her that I would take care of her, she started to understand. As she calmed, her airway seemed less restricted. Being calm (both parent and child) and acting quickly are key to effective treatment.

  2. Use the Cold Weather -- When my oldest had his first attack of croup, I moved to soothe him, went into the bathroom and turned on the shower as hot as it would go. We sat in the steamy bathroom rocking for about 10 minutes, but he still couldn't breathe. Even though it was about 3 degrees outside, I bundled him up for a trip to the emergency room. By the time we got there, his attack was almost over. I remember talking to the emergency room personnel and being afraid that they wouldn't believe me. "But I swear, he couldn't breathe 10 minutes ago!" I said, defensively. They looked at each other knowingly and said, "Croup." What the nurse and doctor explained is that the cool winter air is one of the best treatments for croup. As the child breathes it in, it calms their bronchial passages and helps to end the attack. Now, when one of our children comes down with it, one parent immediately puts a winter hat and mittens on the child and wraps her in our warmest blankets while the other parent gets hurriedly dressed, takes the child, and goes outside. I rocked our daughter on the porch swing in the moonlight, talked to her and sung to her (as my teeth chattered). Cold air and TLC worked like a charm. If after 15 minutes, though, the cold air doesn't work, or if your child loses consciousness, get him or her emergency medical attention immediately.

  3. Follow up with a humidifier -- The combination of cold to open the lungs and moist warmth to soothe them has worked well for our children when they have croup. We use a steam humidifier (not a vaporizer) to keep the bedroom air the right temperature and moisture level for a croupy child to breathe easy. Even after the 'attack phase' is done, we keep the humidifier in the child's bedroom to help keep nasal passages clear and ease coughing. We are sure to empty the humidifier in the morning and set it open to dry and to fill it with clean water again at bedtime to keep bacteria from breeding. DO NOT use a mentholated rub on your child to treat croup.

  4. Encourage rest -- During the day, when the feeling of achiness and fever makes a child slow down, it can be useful to find sit-down activities that encourage the sick child to rest and heal. Movies, books, coloring, or play-doh are great, gentle activities for kids with little energy. In our house, we make a "sickie bed" by putting a crib-size mattress pad and sheets on our loveseat so there is a ready place for an ill child to lay down at a moment's notice. Mine have been known to spend most of the day resting in the sickie bed when they have that run-down feeling. Naps are a must in our house, too, when we're treating croup. (Naptime is a great time for me to get some shuteye, too. Treating a croup attack in the middle of the night is no picnic.)

  5. Treat the Fever -- I am a firm believer that it is good to allow a child's body to fight a fever naturally whenever possible. That means pushing fluids to keep your sick child hydrated and monitoring the strength of the fever. When fevers spike at night-time or when I want to ease my child's aches and pains so that they can nap, I do give an age-appropriate dose of Ibuprophen.

  6. Adjust the Child's Diet -- We avoid dairy products for at least a week when we're treating croup. They tend to thicken mucus secretions in the respiratory tract. Clear juices, water, and citrus fruits, along with warm foods like broth, soup, or chamomile tea with honey are comforting to a croupy child.

  7. Involve your Doctor -- Croup is a virus, so your doctor will not treat it with antibiotics. Still, it is a good idea to keep your healthcare provider informed about what is going on with your child. Write down and review your child's symptoms with your doctor's office to be sure it is croup. Your healthcare providers may be able to give you additional strategies and tell you what warning signs to look for that indicate a doctor's visit is in order. Your doctor may prescribe liquid albuterol or a nebulizer treatment to help ease your child's breathing. Be sure to ask questions about side effects and dosage for any treatment your doctor recommends.

For parents with sick children, I have often thought that knowledge is power. I hope this article will help you to find the best way to heal your child.

-Midwest Mom


Some great websites with information on treating croup are:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Snow War Games

Hooray! We finally have our first real snow. The weather that has turned Minnesota into the icebox of the universe has the happy side-effect of bringing the cold far enough south to make our usual icy slush into fluffy, white, wonderful snow.

You know what that means -- it's playtime!

Now, I know that a large portion of the country has been under snow for some time now. So, I thought it would be helpful to share a few of our favorite things to do in the snow. Maybe it'll give you some ideas of something a little different to do with your crew.

  • First, the usual -- sledding. We have a small hill in our back yard, but when you are a flatlander (like most of us in the Midwest) you will find that there are certain places where most of the kids congregate when the ground gets white. Here, it's Harrison Park Golf Course. The entire population under age 16 (toting parents when appropriate) shows up to Harrison Park for the sledding. There is no doubt that we will be there later today. The grade is about 60 degrees in places, with sled runs that would rival Tuckerman's Ravine, were they but a little longer. (Well, at least that's how it seems to my five-year-old.) We use Harrison Park as a sledding hill only, but there are aspiring snowboarders here in town who, despite the fact that the hill isn't even big enough for a J-bar, magically transform into Shaun White whenever the snow is deeper than three inches.

  • For the preschool set, the most basic activity is making snow angels. My crew are as experienced in the art of the snow angel as any trio on the planet. They routinely walk up the block, blessing each household with an angel or two until all are covered. We have occasionally tried to vary the position of the arms and legs, making snow runners, snow horses, snow kokopelli, and many many snow blobs. Maybe they're snow amoeba. At any rate, the basic idea is to lay on one's back in fresh snow, with arms and legs straight out, keep your body still and move your arms up and down and your legs open and closed until you have made an angel-shape in the snow. For the amoeba, the instructions are similar, although less, shall we say, rigid. The trick for both is to get to the standing position without ruining the angel you just made. Here, your options are threefold: super-ninja flip-kick to a standing position, levitate, or have a friend give you a hand. (We use option #3.)

  • Of course, there is the snow-ball fight, which my boys have elevated to a fine art form. They put as much planning into an (inevitably failing) snowball attack on my husband as the US armed forces put into the landing at Normandy. As though they had read Sun Tsu's Art of War from cover to cover, my boys amass a stunning array of snow-ammunition to be thrown from no less than seven vantage points throughout the yard. They create a secret hide-out (every year, no less) underneath the snow-laden branches of our evergreens (forgetting, apparently, that their Dad just has to walk close to the branches and shake them to A. completely bury the boys in snow and B. completely destroy the hide-out.) Well, I'm sure they'll fake him out this year.

  • We also play a variety of outdoor games modified for the snow. That includes snow hide-and-seek, snowball tag, ring around the rosie (made fun by falling in the snow), and snow duck duck goose. We also love snow football! It is especially good when the entire family gets together and you get to see Uncle Matt (6 foot 4) completely bury his older brothers in a snowbank. Can you say 'revenge'?

  • Which brings me to the next fun idea... victimizing your family members when they least expect it. This is what all outdoor snow play eventually degenerates into in a family where there is more than one child. At some point, the kid who got stuck on the slower sled or had to ride with his sister or kept falling down during snow duck duck goose is going to yearn for revenge. He'll stuff snow down the neck of someone's coat or accidentally-on-purpose give his sister a 'flat tire' making her boot come off (wet socks, yuck). She will tackle her little brother as he puts the finishing touches on the meticulously-crafted snowbear he was making, knocking the head of said bear clean off while shoving her brother's face in the snow. He will dump an entire shovel full of snow onto his mother's head as she's walking up the sidewalk with the mail in her hand (having noticed both that she's not shoveling snow or wearing a hat today).

  • And then, all pandemonium will break loose. No matter how old the group of playmates in question (even when they are -ahem- older than thirty), everyone will behave with the maturity level of someone approximately one-third their actual age. A three year old will lay down in the snow and cry because he can't get up again in this puffy snowsuit. A nine year old will start calling people doody-head and start flinging snow with wild abandon. A thirty-six year old will discover that neat snow hide-out you can make under the evergreen bushes. His wife, however, will remember the shake-the-branches trick and run for her life. This can/should continue until approximately 51% of the participants are in tears.

  • Then, it's back indoors for dry clothes and hot, dark chocolate cocoa with marshmallows and/or a dash of cayenne pepper (at least that's how *we* like it.)

I hope this list gives you and your family a place to begin when you're getting ready for some winter fun of your own. As for a place to end, that I can't promise you.

I only know how it works at our house.

- Midwest Mom

Monday, January 12, 2009

Be Careful What You Leave Behind

You know, graffiti is a wonderful thing. Anytime I see interesting graffiti, I try to push back any sense of annoyance at the defacement of property and just appreciate the art of it.

The thinker in me believes that what a person chooses to write for all to see says something about him or her. Maybe Midwest Moms is my own, carefully crafted form of graffiti.

Years ago, I lived in Washington, D.C. I was a carless college student. My job was far from campus, so I had to take the metro and a couple of buses to get there. Any bus or traincar I rode in always had graffiti from someone called "Cool Disco Dan."

Cool Disco Dan's mark could be seen anywhere the public transit system went. It was scrawled in the traincars or spray painted on the concrete barriers outside the train windows. It was on one or more of the seats of any bus I ever rode in the District. I always wondered about Cool Disco Dan -- who he was and why the heck he was riding the bus all the time? What was his day job? All I knew was that he was cool and he really dug disco. Maybe that's all I needed to know.

I like to think that graffiti says something about the person who writes it. My parents tell a story about when my oldest sister was in kindergarten. They noticed one day that she was in the bathroom for a long time. They checked on her a few times and she said she was fine -- she just needed more time to 'finish up'. When she finally emerged, apparently, she was grinning from ear to ear. My mother thought nothing of it.

Later that day, my mother went into the bathroom to clean and what did she find? My sister's name scratched deep into the toilet seat. From the way it was facing, it had to have been written by the, shall we say, toilet sitter. My sister may have blamed it on her younger siblings at first. But she was cornered into admitting the truth by the fact that, well, they couldn't write yet. And it was her name.

Which brings me to something else I've noticed about graffiti: often, it is truth-telling, even when you don't want it to be.

If you're wondering why I'm exploring this idea right now, I'll tell you. We've been renovating our children's bedroom this month. This weekend was spent cleaning up the mess from some of the renovation, including cleaning my boys cherry bunk beds. The beds were made by my husband's grandfather and first slept in by his dad. My husband and his brother slept in them as children, and now our boys do. As a way to honor the wonderful heritage of this particular piece of furniture, I thought I would give them a good washing.

I removed remnants of fossilized bubble gum and old adhesive from countless stickers. I washed and washed, and when the washing was done, I rubbed down the wood with linseed oil. The beds were beautiful.

As I started to move them back into their place, I thought, "Why just wash the beds? I should clean up the slats, too. After all, whoever is in the bottom bunk has to look at them all the time."

It was then that I found it -- a treasure-trove of graffiti from my husband's boyhood. Apparently, he had been the bottom bunk kid for a while and enjoyed writing from time to time.

He had drawn in pencil and crayon, and much of it was undecipherable. But one particularly prominent item stood out.

It explains a lot -- especially about my boys and what they get from their father.

In dark crayon in large capital letters was a word my husband, apparently, valued so highly that he wanted to look at it before bed every single night. As his lasting gift to future generations of our family that might sleep in the bed where he once slept as a boy, he wrote the word...


Yes, we had a hearty laugh at it and I couldn't bring myself to wash it off. Certain things should be kept sacred, especially those things 'passed on' from father to son.

Don't you agree?

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Raise the Curtain on Drama

They say as a toddler I was fairly dramatic.

They say their nickname for me was Sarah Bernhardt.

They say they used that nickname often.
I should feel complimented, really. She's quite beautiful.

"They" are my parents.

I wonder what they would say about my daughter and her recent discovery of the gamut and depth of human emotion.

My daughter, as you may know, is three. Much of the time, she is a dear, delightful child. But during the past month, a new part of her brain seems to have awoken. It is the part that helps her to feel all emotions -- from joy to the deepest sorrow -- with frightening strength.

I'm afraid she doesn't know what to do with those feelings yet. To be honest, neither do I.

I have been amazed to see the transformation of my mild little girl into a wailing banshee of fury in a matter of seconds. Her godfather, upon witnessing one of her rare outbursts (I think sparked by the denial of candy before supper) looked bemused as she arched her back and opened her mouth to eight times its usual size for an ear-splitting NOOOOOooooo! "Well, I'm happy to know that nobody can push my god-daughter around! That girl's got some power!" he accurately observed.

Because her transformation happened so publicly (at our family Christmas celebration), I had to remove her from the watchful eyes of the relatives and give her a time-out in a separate room. I let her spend time alone until she was calm enough to rejoin the group. What worked? Whispering in her ear that every person in the house could hear her yelling, and that they all knew the noise was coming from her. She looked at me with surprise. "They do?" Fairly soon afterward, we rejoined the family.

Looking back, I'd say I was lucky.

To be honest, seeing her careen out of control frightens me a little bit. I have always known that parenting girls would be somehow different. It made me nervous (still does) because I want to do it well. I want to help her control her reaction to the strength of her feelings without teaching her that feelings themselves are bad. When I look back at my own upbringing and the way I was taught to hold feelings inside and when I think about how much I kept hidden from my parents, especially as a young woman, I am hopeful that I can find another way. Maybe there is a way to parent my children through emotional times and lead them to understanding. Maybe not. Maybe that's just supposed to come later. At this point, I'm not sure.

This morning, on the way home from dropping her brothers off at school, my daughter had another angry outburst. She wanted to go into the building to visit with "her friends" (the teachers and secretaries and her brothers' classmates). But we had other errands to run, so I kept her in the car and said goodbye to the boys and drove away. I was treated to about 8 minutes of abuse that seemed more like 40.

At first, my reaction was strong, telling her that children who behave that way have no business going into a school and that yelling at me was not appropriate. But the more she flew off the handle, the more detached I became. I realized she wasn't yelling at me. She was trying to remake reality and was frustrated that things weren't turning out as she had expected. I turned on the radio and let her process that we were driving home instead of back to the school.

"We ARE going in to school! I AM NOT GOING HOME!" she stated loudly and with power.

I let her wind down as we drove. I could tell she was starting to accept that I was not giving in. Early in the drive (when I was still in 'reactive mode') I told her that she was going to have to accept that there were some things she couldn't control. No one enjoys hearing that, no matter how true it is. I know I sure don't.

About three-fourths of the way home, she started saying, "Mommy?" But she was still so wound up, I didn't respond. I needed to feel like I was cool enough to not react harshly. I waited until we were all the way home, until she was played out completely, to respond. And even then, I waited until I had turned off the car, had a moment of quiet, and got out to unbuckle her. When we were face-to-face, she asked, "Mommy? Is today my playgroup day?" I was able to speak to her and calmly say yes.

Then came her request for a hug. It is something she does at the end of almost every outburst and sometimes right in the middle of one.

When she is still angry or crying, though, I don't hug her. I wait until she has regained control. Sometimes I feel conflicted about that, especially if she is both crying and begging for a hug. But I don't want her to start relying on me to get her emotions under control -- I want her to learn to do it herself. Then we can re-establish our bond. It may be over-analyzing, but I think sometimes she is starting to realize that she is having far different feelings than I am, that we won't agree all the time, and that we are, in fact, different people. Maybe that's scary, especially since she has been my little princess and constant companion since she was tiny.

Oh, through all of this, I worry. It is a tough time for me as a Mom because I want to help her, but I understand that she has to discover the answers for herself, even though she is only three. Maybe the best I can do is keep her safe and talk about things once the crying is done.

Wish me luck. I know this is only the beginning of her journey, and I want it to be a good one. At this point, parenting through this is tough.

Maybe now I'm the one who needs a hug.

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Pee Wee Design Squad

Run for the hills! My children (with some help from us) are redecorating their room!

It's a project we've been working on for a few weeks, making our winter vacation less of a vacation for my husband than he probably would have liked. But the drywall work finished on Sunday. Yesterday we adults primed the walls and painted the ceiling. And today it begins.

My children are going to paint their own room.

Yes, they are 3, 5, and 7. And yes, I plan on taking plenty of pictures and having plastic drop cloths on the floor -- and on myself, come to think of it. (Would a rain poncho work, do you think?)

Messiness aside, I'm actually excited about it.

We have involved the children at every stage of this project. My boys put on their work clothes during the drywalling and helped their Dad hold and cut the wallboard to size. They held it steady while he screwed it in place.

My youngest supervised periodically. Her contribution has primarily consisted of cheerleading the project and asking her Daddy, at least daily, when the room would finally be ready. (So helpful, really.)

Then came the difficult part. We had to negotiate paint colors with them. My oldest wanted a black room with glowing planets and stars painted on the ceiling. (Conceptually interesting, but a black room? I said 'no.') My five year old wanted a "rainbow" room where every wall, the ceiling and the closet would all be different colors. (Slightly too Punky Brewster for me. Besides, in one year, when his school supply list contains a box of 24 crayons instead of 8, I had an odd feeling he would want to repaint.) And of course, my girly girl wanted pink and purple stripes at first. When we told her that her brothers wouldn't appreciate that color scheme, she said green and white stripes would be fine with her. How considerate.

We decided a visit to the hardware store paint aisle was in order. "Maybe we could look at wallpaper borders to get ideas," my husband helpfully suggested. We ventured out only to find that our local big-box hardware store is discontinuing all their wallpaper.


"You can go look at the cart at the front of the store," the clerk helpfully suggested. My mind flashed images of what could possibly be on the closeout cart... perhaps desert wallpaper with the sunbleached skulls of dead livestock. Perhaps we could find a suitable wallpaper border -- with my luck it would be black with glowing planets on it -- but surely not in a suitable quantity. I trudged to the front of the store with my overenthusiastic tribe leading the way. The stench of disappointment hung in the air (or maybe that was turpentine?)

My husband and children descended on the clearance rack, hooting wildly. I stood back, listening for the inevitable wailing and gnashing of teeth that comes with dashed expectations.

It didn't come.

Instead, my crew found -gasp- something they all liked -- a wallpaper border with brightly colored tree frogs hidden among the leaves of a rainforest! My oldest was thrilled to find that there were bugs hidden there, too. My five year old excitedly counted the vivid colors. My daughter pointed out that one of the flowers in the picture was bright pink, and one of the frogs had purple legs.

I was flabbergasted... in a good way.

So, coordinating paint and discontinued wallpaper in hand (which, for a dollar a roll, there's no complaining about) we happily left the store.

Which brings us to today. After school, the plan is to don the latest in shabby painting clothes and baseball caps and arm them with green paint and rollers of their own.

Did I mention tonight was also bath night?

- Midwest Mom

Friday, January 2, 2009

Welcome to the Midwest!

If you're new to the Midwest, especially small-town Midwest, here are a few things you should know...
  • You can always tell where you are by reading the name on the nearest water tower.

  • All roads intersect at right angles. As a result, directions are always given in cardinal directions [go north 2.4 miles, turn east…] Funny thing, though, a road named 2800 East is actually a north-south road.

  • A town actually can have more miles of road to maintain than it has residents.

  • Don't trust the Governor as far as you can throw him... especially if he has more hair than your Aunt Matilda's persian cat.

  • The land here is so flat you can actually see the curvature of the earth as you look at the horizon… as long as you can see past the grain elevators.

  • Housing bubble? What housing bubble?

  • Where we live, there are three donut shops but no Starbucks. We manage just fine.

  • Yes you may let your dog ride in the front seat... Heck, you can let him drive if you want.

  • December music programs at school actually can still contain the word “Christmas”.

  • It’s okay to play with your food. Dried corn is a great substitute for sand in the sandbox. (Castles are tough to make with it, though.) And corn mazes are an essential part of fall fun.

  • It can be just as thrilling to see $3.60 corn prices as it can be to see gas prices go down below $2.00 (we heat with corn, by the way… another Midwest reality. It’s nice to know that my energy dollar is going to a local farmer instead of a conglomerate.)

  • Here, sunsets and storms help you understand just how small you really are. And a little perspective can be a good thing.

So, welcome to the Midwest... and welcome to a new year of Midwest Moms.

- Midwest Mom