Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Home-Made Halloween Costumes for (and with) Kids

Here on the homestead, we've started to put together our Halloween Costumes.

We have one princess, one caveman, and one pirate. The princess has been easy, because we have a dear cousin who has shared some beautiful dress-up dresses with us.

The pirate and the cave-man? They're a different story.

I will be the first to admit that I'm not the most creative or crafty of moms. But I love Halloween, and so do my kids. So this year, I had to pull out the stops and get creative.

Here's how:

First, I had my kids Draw a Picture: They needed to translate their mental image of the costume they wanted into graphic form. I had to be able to see what they wanted.

Then, it was time to Make a List: I asked each of my boys to write out a checklist of items a pirate or a caveman MUST have. As we gathered or made each item, they could check it off the list.

Next, we decided to Gather things On Hand: One son dug an eye patch and pirate coins out of the toy box from a long-forgotten birthday party. The other son turned a brown throw from our living room into a caveman bearskin cape. Outdoors, he found a long stick we could fashion into a caveman spear.

When we didn't have an item, we had to Create it!: I cut craft foam in the shape of a spear tip and attached it to the end of the stick my son found. I cut a circle of felt and wove rawhide through holes at the edge to be my pirate's treasure pouch.

Then we made a pirate sword.

First we traced and cut sword shapes out of cardboard.

Then, we taped two of them together.

We glued tin foil onto the blade and wrapped the handle with red duct tape.

Finally, we put a pirate decal from the scrapbook section of the craft store onto the handle -- and my pirate was ready to rock.

On Halloween night, we'll Let Make-up do its Magic: The final step of any homemade costume is the make-up. Ugly teeth and brown smudges will turn my third grader into an authentic Neanderthal. A well-placed sneer and scar will transform my first grader into a buccaneer. And my little princess will get rosy cheeks and red, red lips. The extra step of fun, minimal make-up completes any costume.

In this process, we have learned to Accept Imperfection. A homemade costume has the potential to be far different than one from the store. But what I love about the process is that it engages my children's imaginations and helps lead them to solve the costume 'problem' on their own.

In the end, if the result is what they imagined then our Halloween has succeeded. Personally, I can't wait to see the faces of our family and friends when they answer the door and hear "Trick or Treat!"

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Love and Marriage

This weekend, we had the honor of attending a very special wedding.

My husband's uncle John (also his godfather) married a dear woman after a whirlwind courtship.

We visited with family and friends all day on Saturday after a beautiful ceremony at St. Patrick's church in Tolono, Illinois. It was a celebration of life and love that was really, truly heartwarming.

Why? John and his bride are both over seventy years old.

Each has been married before, with children and grandchildren aplenty. And each had endured the death of their spouse due to prolonged illness. Despite that tragedy, they did not let sorrow wear them down. Each led an independent, full life pursuing diverse interests, continuing to learn, volunteering time, cultivating friendships, and caring for family.

Then -- after years of living alone -- they managed to meet each other.

And the rest is history.

They joked during the ceremony, in a final blessing before the assembly, that they hoped to live together until "a ripe old age" and to love one another always as much as they did at that very moment.

At the reception, we danced and laughed and told stories. The happy couple celebrated the Sacrament of Marriage more fully than I have ever seen a bride and groom celebrate. I think it is because they understand what their commitment means. And they are making a choice to live every moment and pack life with as many new experiences as possible.

I came away from the day not just happy, but hopeful.

And I have two extraordinary people to thank for it.

So, John and JoAnn, I wish you every blessing and a long and happy life together -- "until a ripe old age." You are a joy and we are so thankful to have you in our lives.

- Midwest Mom

Monday, October 26, 2009

Adventures in Housebreaking

I am a felon at heart. And worse, so is my son.

The other day, I rushed and rushed to get my kids out the door and into the car so that we could head over to the local superstore for beer essentials. I'll admit it. I was in a hurry.

Once everyone was buckled in, I reached into my pocket. The tell-tale combination of weight and jingling left me confident we'd be on our way in no time. But instead of keys, I found eighty-five cents and a paper clip.

Rats. Locked out.

No problem, I thought, I'll get the spare.

But whoever had used the spare last (probably yours truly) hadn't put it back.

I unloaded the kids from the car. Fortunately, it was a sunny fall day and they were thrilled to play in the leaves for a while Mom figured things out. I contemplated breaking a window. I contemplated calling my in-laws. Both options (for obvious reasons) were off the table.

I contemplated calling my husband. Too much trouble. He would be home in an hour and I was planning on having my errands done by then.

What remained? I searched my memory banks and flashed back to a time I was in similar situation. I was eight years old.

The year was 1980. I was a flip-haired flare-wearing third grader. Life was good. That is, until my kindergarten-age brother and I arrived home from school one Spring afternoon to find the doors locked and the garage empty. We were perplexed. Where was Mom?

At first, we sat on the front porch steps, waiting. I have no idea what we were waiting for, but whatever it was, it never came. There was no sign of Mom and our street was as deserted as a Utah ghost town.

It occurred to me that, sitting out front like that, we were sitting ducks for a child predator of some sort. After all, Nancy Reagan had told me to be careful of that sort of thing. Someone could see us -- no Mom in sight -- and try to sell us drugs or something.

I suggested we go around to the back patio. Everyone knows drug dealers wouldn't be caught dead on a patio.

We waited, seemingly, forever. In reality, it was probably twenty minutes. Still no sign of Mom, though.

It was then that my eyes spied a way in. The kitchen window had been left open a crack. If I could just get the screen to pop out, we'd be in like Flynn. I pried. I finagled. I coaxed that screen open. My younger brother Drew mopped sweat from my brow. The screen came loose! And my tiny fingers reached through to ease up the latches and remove it from the window. With a hearty shove, the kitchen window opened, and we scrambled up and onto the kitchen floor.

I was flush with success. I thought, breaking into houses is exciting! I could do this for a living!

Nancy Reagan, I was sure, would have been ashamed, but I didn't care.

My brother and I helped ourselves to some snack and started in on our homework. My mom walked in about 10 minutes later. We grilled her about where she'd been and regaled her with the tale of our amazing feat. As she eyed the bent kitchen screen, I was sure I saw pride at our self-sufficiency gleam in her eyes.

I was wrong. It was fury.

As a mom now myself, I recognize that the angry words that flew through our harvest gold-applianced kitchen too fast for the eight year old mind to process were really just the guilt talking. She hadn't been home when her children got in from school, but rather than beat herself up about it, she decided yell up one side of us and down the other. Honestly, I can't remember much of what she said... but it was something like we were supposed to go to the neighbor's and get a spare key and now the screen was ruined and also darnit our house isn't as secure as we thought...

We went to our rooms until supper. We were in that much trouble. But for the first time in my life, I don't remember being hurt that she was upset. Even if I didn't get dessert for a week or was grounded or (God forbid) had to wait until Dad got home... I was on cloud 9. Because I had just successfully perpetrated my first felony.

Fast forward to 2009.

As the kids started a battle-royale with the fallen leaves, I turned to my house -- seemingly impregnable -- and was filled with a sense of challenge. All the tools I would need were in the garage to which, fortunately, I had access.

All I needed was an accomplice who was lithe and agile -- and willing.

My eyes fell on my eight year old third grader.

He'll do, I thought -- perfectly.

- Midwest Mom

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Law of the Pack

My boys and their Dad have their first foray into the world of Scouting tonight. My first-grader, especially, is stoked.

What is he most excited about, you ask? Is it learning to camp or canoe or tie knots? Is it making new friends?


He feels the irresistible pull of this...

"Ooh, Mom... it looks like a police shirt!" he told me last night when I showed him this photo of the Cub Scout Uniform.

Um... I thought, Police shirt?? Seriously?!??

Then I showed my son the Cub Scout promise. He recited faithfully:

I, (say your name), promise
To do my DUTY to GOD
And my Country
To HELP other people, and
To OBEY the LAW of the Pack

Oh, how he relished those last words... You know, the part about THE PACK.

It makes me think he's going to come home howling tonight.

[This is the part of the post wherein Julia pauses to thank the Lord in heaven that the boys' DAD is doing scouts with them, not her... Because -- well -- giggling during pack meetings would be frowned upon, I'm sure. ]

I showed him the Cub Scout Motto immediately after the promise. With the same irrepressible joy, he practically shouted Do Your Best!

I thought, well... that doesn't sound so bad.

(I'm still 50-50 on it... so we'll see how it goes. At the very least, a photo of him in that uniform will be SO worth it.)

- Midwest Mom

Friday, October 16, 2009

Making Time for Friendships

I decided to pull myself out of my mothering funk and encourage my boys to invite friends over on Wednesday and Thursday this week.

It was a rousing success.

My oldest invited a friend over on Wednesday, and the kids had a blast showing him around our place. I kept my daughter occupied by mixing up a batch of brownies in the kitchen while the boys went crazy in our basement playroom. After lunch, we all went outside in the yucky weather for a big game of soccer. Then, we appreciated the added bonus that he lives in our neighborhood by walking him home.

Yesterday, my younger son had his turn. He is new to the world of making friends from school, and it has been a journey finding the right sort of kids for him to befriend. He had a terrific time. They played non-stop with the Playmobil castle downstairs and spent their outdoor time riding bikes through puddles and playing a raucously muddy game of tag.

I was fun for me to see the boys with their friends. We spend so much time at school and evening activities that I rarely get the chance to see what a few friends will do with a quiet environment.

On Wednesday, my younger son was so willing to follow along with the bigger boys and do his best to play what they wanted to play, I emerged from the experience with a greater appreciation of his generous nature and easygoing manner.

On Thursday, though, while my second son played with his friend, my oldest was irritable. He chafed under the expectation that he had to let his brother lead. It left him out of sorts. I guess I hadn't realized before how much a part of my oldest's identity is tied up with being in charge. So I pulled him aside, much as I had done with my youngest the day before, and let him help me with a kitchen project -- cherry pie. I let him do all the gathering of ingredients, measuring and mixing. We spent some time with the math involved in cooking. He was in his glory (and the pie turned out great!)

Both days were a learning experience.

In the end, I found that fostering friendships was worth the time and trouble for my boys. We all gained from it (especially after eating brownies and pie!) Even though our weather remains dreary, new friends provided what we had been missing -- the excitement of something new.

Both boys said they had a wonderful time and they'd like to come over again. One even called after our visit to see if my boys would join his Boy Scout troop. So, our new friend adventures will continue.

I'm glad.

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Message to My Love

I dedicate this post to Green Girl in Wisconsin, whose humor and poetry have inspired me today. And to Joe, of course, who leaves a little something waiting for me every morning.

Ode to Joe

Lost in your darkness
And that of the world outside
I pry lids apart to gaze at your beauty
And awake, dream of richness.

My other half has made you
Pure on the edge of night
No trace of dreaded decaf in sight.

I drink you in
Your taste is silk
with a touch of milk.

Imbibing I sit
Before the glowing.
Offspring linger on the horizon,

They stir
Not as horrible
As imagined

So I too stir
And sip
And adore you.

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Waiting game...

I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.
~Albert Einstein

My kids are on fall vacation...

We've had virtually non-stop rain for the past two weeks...

Which means...

I'm in competition for control of every moment of my day.

Any time I even contemplate sitting down for a moment of peace and reflection, a four-year old needs to go to the bathroom or is desperate for a wardrobe change... or a 6 year old wants me to see his cool spaceship or prepare a snack... or an 8 year old wants to bake something together or fix something frivolous vital that's just broken... Then, there's the inevitable bickering that results from the same people sharing the same space for tens of gray-weather days.

I give the kids their choice of limited screen time each day, but this much rain has been a real challenge. On the rare occasions when the weather has been nice, I've run the kids outdoors as fast as I possibly can -- just to get them (and me!) moving.

To be honest, I've missed my writing a great deal. When I do have a silent moment, my ears are ringing from the noise.

I've never been one to wish my children back to school or anything, so I'm going to whisper this really quietly...

I want my solitude back.

Even just a little bit would be nice. A few hours a day to think and to write and to be master of my own destiny.

I want to be able to make decisions without being questioned about why I'm doing what I'm doing. I want a solid hour when no one is peppering me with questions about the nature of the universe and, alternately, what we are having for supper in five hours. I want to pretend there is a hierarchy of necessary information, where all questions do not demand an immediate explanation.

I am tired of complaining. Complaints are the frustrated spirit's attempt at reflection. But it takes time to break through the negativity and the cooped-up feeling.

Time is what I do not have.

So, I'll tread water and wait. And I'll grab a few moments, like this one, to put my thoughts into words...

And I'll ask -- how do you claim time when life is too busy? When you're waiting for the schedule to clear?

- Midwest Mom


And if, like me, you're in desperate need of rainy day activities, here's a fun resource: Spaghetti Box Kids. Keep it in your pantry -- you never know when you may need it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Celebrating New Friends and Old

I have two new spotlight pieces on BlogCatalog to tell you about. One I wrote last week, called the Autumn Mosaic. It is a celebration the season and my discovery of several new bloggers who are writing about Fall in their hometowns. It was such fun to write about my favorite aspects of Autumn -- I hope you'll enjoy it, too.

The other I just posted today, about a great blog I've known for a while -- Little Four Eyes. AnnZ created Little Four Eyes after her daughter (at age one) needed glasses. She has done what so many of us really hope to achieve with our blog -- that is, create a community of involved parents. She regularly invites families to write about their own experiences with their child's diagnosis and glasses and hosts kids activities and photo gallery to boot. So, if you get a chance (and want to learn something about positive blogging and creating an interactive community) head on over. AnnZ's door is always open.

And to my regular readers, if you don't already have your blog listed on BlogCatalog, you're missing out on the chance to meet and learn from some terrific, well-established bloggers. Joining is free and provides a boost in getting your articles indexed and searchable. (Besides, I can't feature you if you're not a member... so get on over there!)

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Girl Power

My 4-year-old daughter is starting to discover her -- er -- feminine powers.

The other day, as my husband and I got breakfast ready for the family, she strolled into the kitchen in her new 'rock star' pajamas.

"Mom, Wonder Woman has super-panties," she declared. "I like them."

Her dad had his back to us. I heard a snort and saw his shoulders start to shake as he fought to compose himself.

Playing along, I replied, "Well, honey, she walks around in her super-panties because she wants to embarrass the bad guys. As soon as they see her, they drop the loot to cover their eyes."

At that point, Dad regained control -- at least long enough to give us both a lesson in superhero powers. "Actually," directing a pointed look at me, "Wonder Woman has a magic lasso and bracelets that make bullets bounce off and an invisible plane." Then, with a smirk, "maybe her super-panties are powerful enough to make her plane disappear."

My daughter's look was deadpan.

"No, Dad."

There was a meaningful pause.

"She does that with her super-breasts."

- Midwest Mom

Monday, October 5, 2009

Signs of Fall

We had our first autumn hike yesterday. It was a relief to get outdoors under blue skies, especially since we've been virtually home-bound for a week. My oldest and youngest have been ill, so we stayed in out of the cold as much as possible to let them recover.

My six-year-old has been healthy as a horse, though. Spending time with him alone has been wonderful. During this first week of vacation, my husband and I took time to appreciate him in a special way. Since he's our middle child, he doesn't often get the chance to really just have Mom and Dad to himself. But two sickie siblings on the couch made it easy to grab some time alone with just him.

So, over the course of the past few days, little by little, he has learned to ride his two-wheeler all by himself!

We are so proud of him, but not more proud than he is of himself!

After a week in bed, his siblings were finally able to get out a bit last night. So, we went to our favorite county park for a late-afternoon hike.

It was still a little early for much orange and red -- except to show us the plants we need to avoid!

But there was plenty of golden light filtering through the trees.

We hiked the river bluff trail, and the views were wonderful.

Fortunately for my daughter, fall asters, goldenrod, and queen Anne's lace were still in supply. The perfect combination for flower-picking.

It was the kind of early fall day I will always want to remember.

- Midwest Mom

Friday, October 2, 2009

BloggersUnite to CureJM

Kevin of Always Home and Uncool has asked me to post this as part of his effort to raise awareness of juvenile myositis, a rare autoimmune disease his daughter was diagnosed with on this day seven years ago. The day also happens to be his wife's birthday.

Our pediatrician admitted it early on.

The rash on our 2-year-old daughter's cheeks, joints and legs was something he'd never seen before.

The next doctor wouldn't admit to not knowing.

He rattled off the names of several skins conditions -- none of them seemingly worth his time or bedside manner -- then quickly prescribed antibiotics and showed us the door.

The third doctor admitted she didn't know much.

The biopsy of the chunk of skin she had removed from our daughter's knee showed signs of an "allergic reaction" even though we had ruled out every allergy source -- obvious and otherwise -- that we could.

The fourth doctor had barely closed the door behind her when, looking at the limp blonde cherub in my lap, she admitted she had seen this before. At least one too many times before.

She brought in a gaggle of med students. She pointed out each of the physical symptoms in our daughter:

The rash across her face and temples resembling the silhouette of a butterfly.

The purple-brown spots and smears, called heliotrope, on her eyelids.

The reddish alligator-like skin, known as Gottron papules, covering the knuckles of her hands.

The onset of crippling muscle weakness in her legs and upper body.

She then had an assistant bring in a handful of pages photocopied from an old medical textbook. She handed them to my wife, whose birthday it happened to be that day.

This was her gift -- a diagnosis for her little girl.

That was seven years ago -- Oct. 2, 2002 -- the day our daughter was found to have juvenile dermatomyositis, one of a family of rare autoimmune diseases that can have debilitating and even fatal consequences when not treated quickly and effectively.

Our daughter's first year with the disease consisted of surgical procedures, intravenous infusions, staph infections, pulmonary treatments and worry. Her muscles were too weak for her to walk or swallow solid food for several months. When not in the hospital, she sat on our living room couch, propped up by pillows so she wouldn't tip over, as medicine or nourishment dripped from a bag into her body.

Our daughter, Thing 1, Megan, now age 9, remembers little of that today when she dances or sings or plays soccer. All that remain with her are scars, six to be exact, and the array of pills she takes twice a day to help keep the disease at bay.

What would have happened if it took us more than two months and four doctors before we lucked into someone who could piece all the symptoms together? I don't know.

I do know that the fourth doctor, the one who brought in others to see our daughter's condition so they could easily recognize it if they ever had the misfortune to be presented with it again, was a step toward making sure other parents also never have to find out.

That, too, is my purpose today.

It is also my birthday gift to my wife, My Love, Rhonda, for all you have done these past seven years to make others aware of juvenile myositis diseases and help find a cure for them once and for all.

To read more about children and families affected by juvenile myositis diseases, visit Cure JM Foundation at

To make a tax-deductible donation toward JM research, go to or

Many thanks to the 98 bloggers joining in Kevin's effort and to the bloggers of BloggersUnite! to CureJM
who are also blogging today to raise awareness of JM and work toward a cure.