Saturday, September 11, 2010

Questions don't get easier to answer as children get older, the questions just get harder

Lately, I have discovered parenting isn't about how little you know you know, but how much your kids think you know. I'm wondering how long I can keep up the pretense of being the smartest person in their little universes. The older my boys get, the more thought-provoking their questions. Sometimes it takes me awhile to: 1. Puzzle out what they are actually asking and 2. Come up with a good answer!

I've begun to call them my "Mom-Question-Of-The-Day," because I get at least one, sometimes more, every day.

Often, they are simple procedural questions of "what" "when" or "where". I like those. I'm usually good at answering them. They are the easiest, and usually, quickest questions to answer. Sometimes, though, I unwittingly give an explanation that leaves them more worried than before they asked the question. For instance, when my oldest son asked me to sew up a tear in his big bear, I got out my needle, thread and scissors and started threading the needle. He eyed the scissors and very politely, in a voice full of concern asked, "So I see you have a pair of scissors, Mom. What are you going to do with that?" I don't think my explanation of what I was about to do shored up his confidence in my "surgical" skills. His look of concern intensified and he cautioned me sternly to "Please be careful and not slip." His nerves didn't settle until the bear was out of surgery and he could inspect my work.

Other questions leave me marveling at the active imaginations and thought processes of my children. They are trying very hard to figure out their world, and it is such a joy to be a part of their solutions. This category usually involves the "how's" and "why's" of things. My 4- and 7-year-old sons are pros at asking these. I can tell my 2-year-old is taking mental notes as he listens to the dialogue with rapt attention.

These questions run along the lines of:
1. "Mom, how and why does it rain when the sun is still shining?" ~ from my oldest and middle children
2. "So Mom, Dad didn't go on any trails today, so why is some of the trail mix gone?" ~ from my 7-year-old
3. "Mom, how do you make mud?" ~ from my 4-year-old. I thought to myself, "Finally! One I can answer easily!"

It was followed up a few hours later by:
4. "Mom, how do babies grow in mommies' tummies?" ~ from my 4-year-old, followed by,
5. "Mom, what would happen to me if I wasn't born?" ~ from my 7-year-old

I am beginning to wonder why they never ask their father some of these questions. For instance, I'm sure my husband would have been able to handle the recipe for mud. And he could have explained to our oldest why he ate the trail mix, even though he didn't go on any trails that day. But, alas, they always begin with "Mom, ...." I'm going to have to start studying. Too bad there isn't a parent handbook with the answers to the mysteries of the universe in it!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Summer flew by in the blink of an eye

Where has the summer gone? I haven't been able to keep up with anything, including my blog.

The big highlight of the season for my husband and me was a two-week whirlwind trip through Switzerland and France. It was our first trip to Europe and the longest we have ever been away from our kids, so we were a little nervous. It didn't help that the day before we left, our partially finished basement was completely destroyed by a freak flash flood in our neighborhood. We do not live in a flood plain and generally don't have water problems with normal rain. Five inches of water in one hour is not normal rain. The city sewer and storm systems couldn't handle it. Neither could a lot of foundations in the neighborhood. We were one of the lucky ones. We had six inches of sewage/storm water standing in our basement. We lost all of our finished flooring and part of the walls. The cleaning bill was horrendous. But we didn't lose any foundation walls, like a house two doors down did. And we didn't lose our water heater, furnace, central air, washer and dryer or any major pieces of furniture, like so many others did. Those were the silver linings to an otherwise very very cloudy day.

The day after disaster hit, my husband and I traveled with another couple to Europe, leaving my wonderful parents-in-law with our kids and our wreck of a house. (They stayed for a few days to let the cleaning service in and out.) We spent several days with our European friends, peppered with our own explorations in-between. We saw the Swiss Alps, climbed down a mountain in Luzern; sat on the rocky shores of Lake Geneva; rode a chocolate train to tour a cheese factory, a chocolate factory and the ancient city and castle of Gruyere (where the cheese is from); visited the WWII memorials in Normandy; marveled at the preserved architecture in the medieval town of Bayeux; walked the streets and museums of Paris, celebrated Bastille Day with thousands of Parisians; explored the ancient Roman town of Arles and its coliseum; browsed the giant outdoor markets in L'Isle sur la Sorgue and took a cable car up a mountain to an old military fort in Grenoble. It was a very busy trip!

The boys had just as much fun as we did this summer. While we were on our trip, they got to spend a week with each set of grandparents. They ate potato chips, Ding Dongs, and parade candy to their hearts' content; picked blueberries; watched a parade; explored the zoo; saw cousins; dissolved into giggles when Grandma sat her cat on a whoopi cushion; and had lots of fun water and craft times.

Between the traveling, we kept busy with standard hot-weather fare, like swimming lessons for my two oldest sons. Seeing family, going to story times and play dates, visiting the local parks and catching up on doctor's appointments for our family of five rounded out the few weeks we had off from school and day care.

At my 7-year-old's annual physical, it was determined he needed glasses. Convincing him they were necessary left me with frazzled nerves and him on the verge of a temper tantrum. My husband and I pulled out the oldest trick in the book to head the public meltdown off at the pass: bribery. We promised him he could get a new Star Wars toy if he'd behave when it came time to pick out his glasses. The only string we attached was he had to use his piggy bank money to buy the toy. We should have added one other string: in order to keep the toy he had to actually wear the glasses! He did a great job deciding which pair of glasses to get and enjoyed getting to pick out and pay for his toy. Then we got home. He refused to wear them. I hadn't anticipated that little bump in the road, so I implemented a new glasses policy: According to the doctor, he was near-sighted, so he'd have to wear the glasses while he was at school and for sports. He could go without them when he had free time at home. On the first day of school, I slipped his glasses on him before he went out the door. I didn't get one peep of complaint from him. He kept them on until he walked out of school at the end of the day. He's been operating within the boundaries of the new policy ever since.

Whew! What a summer. I'm wondering how the coming year will go. On tap: fixing our "broken" basement, getting the house ready to sell (as the boys grow, the rooms seem to be shrinking), starting day care again, sending my oldest off to second grade and my 4-year-old to preschool, and preparing for my 7-year-old's back surgery next summer. I have a feeling this school year will go by just as fast as summer did.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Family tradition becomes treasured gift as time flies by

Growing up, attending air shows across the country with my dad was a family tradition. One of our favorites was also one of the closest to our home: the Quad Cities Air Show in Moline, Ill. As we've grown up and away from home, it's been harder to keep the tradition alive. This year we missed the show, but last year two of my siblings and I surprised Dad by going with him on Father's Day weekend. It was such a fun day and, I think, the best gift we could have given him if his hugs and smiles were anything to go by.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Magic Muck: a solid or liquid, depending on how you hold it

I have one book in my house I consider the go-to end-all of crafts and fun scientific experiments for kids. It's called "The Super Enormous Gigantic Collection of Kid Concoctions 2," written by John E. Thomas and Danita Thomas. I got the book as a thank-you gift for donating to Iowa Public Television a few years ago. 

The book's experiments and crafts mostly are done with common items found around the house and cost only a few dollars, or less, each. I've used the book so often, and my kids have enjoyed the ideas so much, I decided to buy a Kid Concoctions book as an end-of-the-year-thanks-for-being-a-great-teacher gift for my son's first-grade teacher. I hope she gets as much school-room use out of it as I've gotten from it here at home.

The following recipe for "Magic Muck" comes from the book I have. Magic Muck is a liquid until you gather some in your hand and squeeze. Then it turns solid. Open your hand back up, and it converts to a liquid to slide through your fingers. The boys were absolutely fascinated. My husband, who is a chemist, was too. He wanted to take a container of it to show his co-workers. The messy factor was a big bonus for the boys, but extremely easy to clean up for me. The substance basically dissolves upon contact with more water.

Magic Muck:
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup water
5-7 drops washable food coloring (optional, the muck is just white if you don't color it) 

Mix water and food coloring together in a small bowl. Slowly add cornstarch to water and food coloring mixture. Do not stir. Let stand for 2-3 minutes. Pick up a handful of Magic Muck and squeeze it until it forms a hard ball. Open your hand and the Magic Muck will turn from a solid ball back into a liquid.

Tips: Experiment by adding different proportions of water and cornstarch. Or add a little glitter to make it sparkle.

A limited line of Kid Concoctions products, such as the kid-friendly paint brushes, can be found at Michael's Arts and Crafts at the moment. Danita Thomas told me this line has discontinued production, but her and her husband are set to launch a new line of Kid Concoctions products in early 2011 through Alex Toys. Favorite products, like their washable food coloring, will be re-launched and new products will be introduced, along with a new and updated book. The Kid Concoctions Web site currently has a 10-year anniversary book for sale that combines four of the Thomas' previous books, including the recipes I have in mine. After the new product line and book are launched, the Web site will expand the shopping offerings on its store link or will directly link to the Alex product page. For more information about the company and products, visit the Kid Concoctions Web site at

****Magic Muck recipe reprinted with express permission from John E. and Danita Thomas, founders of Kid Concoctions and authors of "The Super Enormous Gigantic Collection of Kid Concoctions 2."

Monday, May 24, 2010

A bright idea: a solar-powered nightlight

I was in a crafty mood today, but I didn't have any idea what to do. It was a babysitting day, so whatever I decided had to be something 2- and 4-year-olds could handle. I went to one of my favorite crafty blogs,, to see if the author had posted anything new I could use. Sure enough, she had: solar-powered nightlights. Stick them in a window during day-light hours to charge; put them in your child's bedroom at night for a soft, soothing light.

Apparently, this idea isn't new. Simplemessyfun's author found the idea on a different blog, and that blog's author had found it on yet another Web site. But the idea was new to me and looked like it had a lot of potential.

So I loaded up all four boys and the double stroller and went to the local home improvement store in search of supplies. 

Supply list:
1. solar-powered garden lights
2. glass jars with a wide mouth (this idea might work with hand-punched soup cans too ...)
3. frost spray paint or translucent items to put in jar (glass beads/rocks, marbles, etc.)
4. some sort of adhesive - silicone caulk, hot glue, sticky tack, tacky strips (found them near the hot glue supplies), or glue dots

The main supplies: The jar, garden light and glass "rocks." I apologize for the blurry images - I grabbed my old point-and-shoot because it was handy and fast ...

The garden light is by the brand, "Yards and Beyond."

The solar-powered garden lights and frost spray paint can be found at Lowe's Home Improvement store. The lights are sold individually for $5 each. The tops of the lights pop right off the garden stakes, which makes assembling the nightlights a snap. A can of spray paint runs about $5, but if doing this with young children, I'd skip the paint.

 The tops of the solar lights.

I looked for the jars at Wal-Mart, but didn't find any. Hobby Lobby, however, came through with flying colors. The jars were 50 percent off this week. Since they started at $1.99, I got them for just $1 each. I also found a new product there I've never tried. It was a roll of clear adhesive strips advertised as an alternative to hot glue. 

Zips Clear Adhesive Lines - a hot glue alternative

Since I was doing this project with young children, I picked up a roll to see if it would do the job. I ended up having to apply it around the rim of the jars myself because, boy, was it sticky. It did the job, though, was a lot less messy than hot glue, and resulted in a strong enough bond that the kids couldn't pry the "lid" off.

At Hobby Lobby, I also found the clear glass "rocks" normally used in fish tanks to fill the jars. I thought this was something a little more kid-friendly than using frosted spray paint.

The boys really enjoyed filling their jars with the glass rocks and thought the end result was just "way cool," according to my 4-year-old. 

1. Paint outside of jar with "frosted glass" spray paint or fill with translucent material
2. Apply clear adhesive to rim of jar
3. Attach solar light
4. Set nightlight in window to charge and it will be ready to use by the evening!

Total cost: Approximately $8 for each light. Could be more or less depending on materials used.

The end result. Note: the solar light replaces the jar lid.


*** One word of caution: If you decide to fill the glass jars with something, instead of spray painting them, be sure to put them out of reach of very young children. If shaken too hard, the glass jar will break.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A fun-filled day with the family costs very little and has big returns

Since leaving my job three years ago, I've spent a lot of time exploring the Cedar Valley with my boys. Living on one income means my husband and I have had to be creative in finding budget-friendly things to do for a family of five. The Cedar Valley hasn't disappointed.

Yesterday, we spent the entire day enjoying the town, for less than $20.

In the morning, my husband took the boys out and about so I could get caught up on housework. No fun for me, but the father-son time was much needed by the boys. They explored a farmer's market, took a short car ride to buy manly red meat for supper at the Gilbertville Meat Locker, and went to the local home improvement store. My husband wasn't there to look at tools with the boys - he was there to teach them how to use them. 

Lowe's offers a free Build & Grow program for kids that involves building simple wooden toys with the help of a parent or caregiver. Saturday's project was a mini catapult that launched ping-pong balls. The boys came home bouncing from the excitement of their morning and showing off their newly constructed toys. My husband only had one small complaint - his thumbs were a little sore from holding the nails for novice hammer-wielders. Next weekend, the project is a car. I'm hoping my husband's hands are sufficiently recovered for round two.

After lunch and naps, we decided to explore the University of Northern Iowa's prairie preserve. The preserve is part of the Tallgrass Prairie Center and is located on 65 acres surrounding the Center for Energy & Environmental Education (CEEE) on campus. The Center was established in 1999 to "develop research, techniques, education and Source Identified seed for restoration and preservation of prairie vegetation in rights-of-way and other lands" according to its Web site. A few years ago, the center decided to give the public free access to the preserve. Our oldest boy led the way as we explored the winding trails and followed the paths along the creek. We had to spend some time watching the water from the bridge before we found our way back to the van. 

Exploring the prairie preserve. 
The prairie grasses were only 
ankle-high at this point, but the 
trails were still visible.

Helping nature out 
by spreading dandelion 

Following the paths 
to the creek.


The boys enjoyed watching the water flow under the bridge.

Happy, but tired, explorers.


It was a hot walk, so we went to our favorite ice cream shop, Four Queens Dairy in Cedar Falls, to cool down with some shakes, which we ate while sitting next to the rushing waters of the Cedar River. Of course, the ice cream gave the boys their second wind, so next it was off to follow the path along the river and hike across the big bridge. On the other side, William found a mountainous pile of limestone rocks he thought looked like a good place to play. My husband and I caught our breath while the boys discovered the joys of rock climbing. After several trips from the bottom to the top and back again, it was time to go. Red-faced and weary, they were exhausted.

It was a fun day filled with new discoveries and learning opportunities.

For a map of UNI's campus:
More information about the Tallgrass Prairie Center:
Lowe's Build & Grow projects (check your local store for program schedule):

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My 2-year-old, the artist

My 2-year-old son is intent on exploring his artistic talents. 

A few weeks ago, he found a marker and tried his hand as a graffiti artist by tagging his bedroom walls, dresser, piggy bank, window, bed, bedding and teddy bears. He became a tattoo artist when he used the same marker to turn himself into a smurf after he was done with his room.

Tonight, he explored the art of stained glass. He had a brief introduction to this with the blue marker episode. Instead of creating translucent blue window panes, though, he tried a new medium: Vicks Vapo Rub. By the time we caught on to what he was doing, the bottom half of a window in his brother's room sported opaque, wavy glass. Very sticky, greasy, opaque, wavy glass. The very creative whorls and swirls he had drawn diffused the light into a soft glow. It was beautiful, and stinky.

The smell gave him away. When the central air fan kicked on, it picked up the scent and wafted it through every vent in the house. When the living room started smelling like Vicks Vapo Rub, we went looking for the culprit. We were not surprised to find our troublesome 2-year-old, completely absorbed in his gooey endeavor. The stench was so bad, it knocked us back on our heels, made our noses burn and our eyes tear up. Our toddler, of course, wasn't bothered in the least.

After several hand washings and a bath, he still went to bed with menthol-fresh skin tonight.

Friday, May 14, 2010

When learning takes a backseat to having fun

My oldest son came home from school today and exclaimed, "Mom! We didn't do any learning today!"

Since my son is at school for eight hours a day, and I couldn't fathom how he could have missed learning something new in all those hours, I was a bit confused. "You didn't learn anything today?" I asked.

"No! Instead, we watched a movie, had two recesses, had gym class, had extra gym class and had popcorn and M&Ms!" he said, as he ticked off the list on his fingers.

I knew that night was the annual Parent Teacher Organization Ice Cream Social fundraiser at the school, so I figured the administration must have decided to make the whole day into a party for the students. Being the responsible parent I try to be, I made a point to emphasize how important it was to always try to learn something new every day, and wasn't he a little sad he didn't learn anything that day?

His response, "No! It was fun!"

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What starts out frozen, but is better hot?

I called my husband at work the other day to get his opinion. I was out of ideas for supper and I was behind on my menu-planning. I had also had a rough day, and I was exhausted. Cooking was beyond my abilities at that point, so I called to see if he had any bright ideas or food cravings. He didn't.

My middle son was standing by my elbow as I asked my husband, "So, how about frozen pizza, then?" Before my husband could respond, my 4-year-old piped up, "NO, MOM! I want hot pizza! I don't like frozen pizza."

I never did get an answer out of my husband. He was too busy laughing on the other end of the line.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Shopping with toddlers the fastest cure for any shop-o-holic

I was reminded today again of why I never, ever, try to go shopping with my kids.

Summer is right around the corner and I'm working on changing out my three sons' wardrobes. It's an easy job for my two youngest: pull out the plastic tote marked with the right size of clothes inside, pull the summer clothes out, put the winter clothes in, store the tote again. 

It's a much longer and more difficult task for my oldest. He doesn't have any hand-me-downs sitting in a tote in a closet. I can do one or more of the following options when trying to clothe my ever-growing oldest son: cross my fingers and hope he gets showered with seasonal clothes for his birthday every spring (the same holds true for Christmas), spend my spring and summer hunting down garage sales or hitting up second-hand stores and sorting through piles of clothes only to come away with a few good pieces in the right size, or go shopping and buy brand-new. Whatever he starts out with, it needs to be in new condition so it makes it through him, my second son and hopefully my youngest. 

Since he didn't get any clothes for his birthday this year, and I don't have endless time to hunt for garage sales or through the racks at second-hand stores for the like-new items, that left me with the "shopping and buying brand-new" option.

My mistake: trying to do it with my two youngest along. 

I spent three hours "shopping" this morning. "Shopping" is a figure of speech. I spent two and a half hours trying to keep two squirming boys in a cart or stroller, dolling out snacks so they would sit still, helping both take drinks from their water bottles every five minutes (at which time I repeatedly kicked myself for forgetting their kid-friendly cups), trying to make each of them keep their hands to themselves and making two sprints to the restrooms (yeah - all those drinks had to go somewhere). The missing half-hour? Twenty-five minutes of it was spent at the kiddie play-land in the mall, letting them run off their pent-up energy. The last 5 minutes was how much time it took me to grab three pairs of pajamas, five pairs of shorts, five shirts and two bags of socks off the shelves in one store and make a dash for the cash register.

I hope it all fits him and doesn't clash too badly.  

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

As the wind blows, so do my children grow

Last night, my youngest son was having a difficult time settling down for bed. The wind outside was fierce, whipping the tree limbs so they knocked against each other and rattling the window panes. To help him calm down, I sat on the bed and rocked him. He curled up in my lap and asked me to sing him a lullaby. Every time I came to the end of the song, he asked me to repeat it, over and over and over again.

After about 30 minutes, my poor voice was going hoarse and my back ached from rocking a 2-year-old without any support from an actual chair. I really didn't want to put him down though. He's growing up so fast and so rarely wants to be rocked and sung to anymore. His soft little face was pressed into my neck and his still-chubby arms were locked around my shoulders.

But it was bed time and my arms were giving out and my back was starting to seriously protest. As I gave him his final hugs and kisses and rocked him one last time, he had one more request for me, "Mommy, you turn the wind off?" 

Oh, if only I had the power to make the wind quiet when it was time for my children to sleep, and to keep my children from growing up so fast every day they are awake. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The signs of aging from a child's perspective

My husband's parents came for a visit this weekend. At the dinner table with them, my 4-year-old son piped up, "Grandpa, are you going to die soon?" While Grandpa sat in stunned silence, I answered the question for him, "No, of course not! Why do you think that?" Connor's answer: "Because he has white hair."

Monday, April 26, 2010

A blue smurf and seven dwarfs

It's a Monday morning, and I'm recovering from one of the busiest weekends I've had in recent memory. In the last three days, I've thrown a birthday party for my oldest son involving seven other rambunctious boys, helped with a very successful garage sale two hours south and attended a birthday party 20 minutes north. 

It all started last Friday. It was my oldest son's 7th birthday, and he wanted to have a "friend" party this year, instead of our traditional family dinner. Since he had been inviting his friends since before Christmas, I thought we would try to oblige him.

My husband came home from work at noon on Friday to help prepare for the party. Due to rain, we had to turn our basement into a mini-carnival before 5 p.m. We put our two younger sons down for naps and got started. Two hours later our youngest son started crying. I sent my husband up to check on him.

The next thing I heard was, "Eli! You are in SO much trouble!!!" I called up asking if there was a problem. My husband's reply, "Oh, there's a problem all right. Come see what YOUR son did!"

I bounded up the stairs and joined my husband in the doorway to our son's room, frozen in stupefied shock. Our 2-year-old son was blue, from his face, mouth and teeth to the very bottoms of his feet. He wasn't the only thing. His brown dresser had blue drawer fronts, his once white piggy bank had blue tattoos, and the bed rails and foot-board no longer matched the brown head-board. The light blue walls were sporting dark blue squiggles, the windows sparkled with blue "stained glass," the white window sill had a decidedly blue tint and the yellow curtains had blue stripes. His once blue and white bedding was now more blue than white, and his brown teddy bears had blue feet.

He had found a marker I didn't know was in his room. It was not a kid-friendly washable one. 

To complete his artistic installation, he covered the floor under his bed and dresser in colorful chocolate rocks that had been in his Easter bag on top of his dresser.

We didn't know whether to laugh, cry or shout at him. We started out shouting and ended up laughing about it, two days later: after we gave him a bath that turned the tub and water blue and I had scrubbed every hard surface in his room. The bedding was washed yesterday, but the curtains are still in place with their blue stripes. I'm not sure when I'll have time to tackle them. Until then, they serve as a reminder that no matter how busy my husband and I are, we should always remember to take the time to check up on our children, even during nap time.

After that afternoon adventure, the party eventually pulled itself together, and my husband and I barely survived an energetic group of 7-year-old boys tearing up our house. After an hour and a half of chaos, we sent all the boys out in the drizzle to run off their sugar-highs by playing soccer with my husband. They went home damp and a little muddy, but wearing tired smiles on their faces. 

Like I said, it's Monday morning, and I'm still recovering. And the bottoms of my son's feet are still blue.

Monday, March 15, 2010

When grace loses face

Sometimes I have a hard time dealing with frustration gracefully. Frustration has become a pretty constant factor in my life with three rambunctious boys who operate at a different speed than my own. I'm still learning how to get a better handle on handling disappointment. Today, for instance, was one of those days that my frustration cup overfloweth.

It's spring break. Winter's icy chill is finally thawing around here. The snow is gone, but the early hours are still cold enough to see your breath. My three sons wanted to take a walk this morning. It took 20 minutes to get socks, shoes and winter gear on. It took another five minutes to get my oldest into his protective bike armor and fish the push cart out of the depths of the garage for my 4-year-old. By the time I had my toddler in the stroller and the other two ready to shove off, everyone was tired of waiting on everyone else. Cabin fever had us all jittery. With high spirits and too much energy, we started off. 

One minute later and five steps past the neighbor's house two things happened simultaneously: The pedal on my son's bike broke, and my middle son ran his cart into the back of my foot. As his cart lurched to a halt, he went skidding across the pavement on his knees. All pandemonium broke loose. My oldest wanted me to fix the broken pedal while my 4-year-old woke the neighborhood up with his screams. 

At this point I could have told my biker child to wait while I comforted my middle son with hugs and kisses until the tears stopped. Then I could have gone back to the garage and spent 10 minutes hunting through the mess to find the right tool to fix the bike before attempting the walk again.

I didn't do that. Instead, I ordered everyone to turn around and go home, in a not-so-nice voice.

My oldest wheeled his bike back to the garage while I tried to turn the stroller around and gather up my screaming 4-year-old and the offending cart. On our 1-minute-and-five-step-walk back, I was wishing I could duplicate myself. Sometimes the parent-to-child ratio feels overwhelmingly unbalanced in our family. That's when my grace loses face, and I start muttering to myself. It's on those days that I wish parents got do-overs.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Third time's a potty-training charm

Just thinking about potty training makes me shudder. I just finished training my 4-year-old. Is he truly potty trained if he still has the occasional accident? Granted, the doctor says the accidents aren't his fault. His colon doesn't work properly. It's all about getting, and keeping, him regular in order to have properly functioning potty breaks. If his digestive system gets the least bit out of whack, we have come to expect a mess. It was a 2-year process just to get him this far.

The problems in training my middle son have delayed the onset of potty training my youngest, who is now 2. Today I finally decided we would begin the tedious process. He's all about becoming a "big boy" like his older brothers. Since he isn't quite big enough to use the grown-up toilet yet, we picked out a green frog potty together at the store. He sat on it for the first time tonight, right before his bath. Only a few minutes later he was chirping, "I go potty! Look!" He promptly stood up, bent at the waist and flashed his bare tush at me. With his clean bum a contradiction to his proclamation, I took a peek into the potty bowl. Lo and behold - there was pee in the potty! My smart little boy is getting off to a great start! I only hope it takes a lot less than 2 years to get my final child potty trained.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Craft time

It's been craft time at our house for the last few days. Usually I have the motivation to do, on average, one craft a week with my boys. Creative activities take time to organize, make a lot of mess and generally cause a lot of chaos in the creation process. Many days I'm not up to it. 

A new Web site I found,, has ramped up my motivation to one project a day for the last four days. The site takes the hassle out of organizing craft time for me. It is written by Amy Friedel, another stay-at-home mom who has children of similar ages to my own. She has an early education degree, several years of teaching under her belt and an extensive knowledge of other online sites and blogs that adds to her inspiration. She has a keen eye for a good deal - anything that needs to be bought is usually inexpensive and easy to find in stores, and a lot of her ideas just require items that can be found around the house. All-in-all, a winning combination for me.

This week, we turned old crayons into new, studied the alphabet and used our new crayons with alphabet coloring pages, and practiced some motor skills making fluffy little bunnies. The kids have been having a great time.

First we had to peel the crayons.

Then we broke them in bits, separated the colors and put them in metal cans. We melted them in the oven at 250 F for 15-20 minutes.

We poured one color at a time into the molds. We let each layer set up a bit before adding the next. I only pulled one can out of the oven at a time, so every color stayed fluid until ready to use.

After letting them cool and harden at room temperature, this was the result. 

Little Bunny Foo Foo:
I printed the bunny pattern I got off the link from

The boys practiced their motor skills by trying to cut out the bunny. I had to help a little to make sure all bunny appendages stayed in tact!

They colored the bunnies using their new crayons, then used glue to affix the cotton balls.

End result: Little Bunny Foo Foo (upside-down)!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

If Earth went up and Heaven came down

Sometimes I wonder how much of what I teach my children is actually sinking in. My two oldest sons have a fascination with Heaven, God and Santa Claus. I've had many conversations with them explaining the difference between God and Santa Claus and where Heaven is. 

I'm not quite ready to disillusion them with the truth about Santa Claus. As far as they know, Santa Claus is at the North Pole. Thanks to "The Polar Express," they know the North Pole is at the top of Earth. They think they can take a train to get there. 

Seeing a physical representation of Santa at the mall has given them a tangible reference for the commercialized symbol of Christmas. Their little minds are searching for the same kind of reference for God.

They understand God is in Heaven. Trying to explain where Heaven is and how to get there, is a lot more difficult. My best answer to date is that Heaven is above the stars in the sky, and people go there when they die. We've had brief, lighthearted discussions about how people get to Heaven and what they'll see when they get there. I'm trying to instill in them the idea that death isn't something to fear. It's just the journey that has to be made to get to the wonderful place where God resides. They seem to be satisfied with that. 

Recently, God came up in conversation with my middle son. This time, however, the context took me by surprise. My 4-year-old asked me if he could die that day. Trying to hide my surprise at such an odd question, I told him no, he has a lot of living to do yet. Then I asked him why did he want to die? He replied, "I want to give God a hug. I so love Him, Mom." 

After I reassured him that God loves him too, my little boy asked me if Santa was at home at the top of Earth right now, and if Earth went up and Heaven came down, would God and Santa meet? If that happened, could we meet God at the North Pole with Santa? He was trying his best to find another way to give God a hug.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sweet compromise for Valentine's Day

I'm trying hard not to be a killjoy, but I can't help getting a little uptight when a sugar-filled holiday comes around. At Halloween, my boys get three buckets of candy just from trick-or-treating in our small neighborhood. They usually get to eat it at the rate of one piece a day, if that. It lasts them at least six months. 

I'm a little paranoid when it comes to healthy teeth and good eating habits. I inherited good genes when it comes to strong teeth. My husband, unfortunately, did not. Both of our families have histories of high cholesterol and heart disease. Since I do most of the cooking in my family, it falls to me to feed everyone healthy fare. Every sugar-laced holiday is in direct opposition to my goal. 

This Valentine's Day, to salve my mommy-guilt about feeding my kids junk, I'm giving them a new toothbrush to go with the candy. That's a good compromise, right?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cabin fever makes it hard to enjoy winter wonderland

Winter's mighty strength is nowhere near waning in my neck of the woods. According to this morning's forecast, more snow and colder temperatures are right around the corner. Cabin fever has officially settled in.

Yesterday I was so stir crazy, I bundled up my three young children and decided to do errands, despite the fact that my oldest didn't have school because of snow. Said snow had drifted the driveway shut, so while the boys waited in the van, I dug it out. After stowing the dratted shovel back in the garage, I gripped the steering wheel, gave myself a pep talk and attempted to back out. It took three tries. My shoveling skills leave a lot to be desired. Once safely out of the driveway, I was immediately faced with the next challenge: our street. Driving down it must be what it feels like to go off-roading in Alaska. While I gritted my teeth and tried to avoid the cars parked on the street, my boys squealed in delight over every bump and skid. My oldest actually asked me to go faster. 

My poor boys braved the bitter cold like it was one big adventure, while I muttered to myself about moving to a warmer climate. I'm hoping their enthusiasm gets them through the rest of the winter, because mine withered with the first cold-snap. Maybe a cup of hot chocolate would restore a little of my wonder at living in this winter-land ...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A must-have housecleaning tool

Anything that keeps me motivated and on task when it comes to keeping my house clean is a good thing. With three boys of my own, one husband and two day-care boys underfoot, my house can go from clean to dirty in five minutes flat. Which is why, when a friend told me about, I had to check it out.

My friend told me that for $8, I could download a year-long home-maintenance and cleaning chart that would help me get the house clean without feeling overwhelmed about it. I didn't really think that was possible. Just looking at the rooms in my house overwhelms me. She swore it was a miracle chart and that her house has never been so clean.

So I went to the Web site, looked it over and decided I would try it. It was definitely cheaper than hiring a maid, which I wish I had on a daily basis.

I paid my $8 and downloaded the weekly chart. It downloaded as a PDF file to my computer. The file contains 52 pages (one page per week), plus two blank menu-planning pages at the end. I can open the PDF document and print just the week I need. On the left side of each page is a list of simple chores I'm supposed to do daily. On the right side, it has each day of the week. Under each day, there is a small list of individualized chores to do for that day. Between the two lists, I'm hoping my house starts to sparkle in the next week.

This morning, I made three beds, cleaned the bathroom and kitchen sinks, cleaned the kitchen counters and table, dusted the living and dining rooms, and shook out the bathroom and kitchen rugs. All within 30 minutes. Tasks remaining on my list for today include cleaning the middle shelf in the refrigerator, sweeping and mopping the kitchen floor and wiping down the stove. The last task for today is scrapbooking or hobby time. I can't wait to get to that part.

So far, I'm liking the chart. I'm a list person by nature, but I'm not always the most organized. Sometimes it takes three drafts just to figure out a workable list for the day. I like to write my own lists of things to do and cross things off as I get them done. Sometimes I'll do a task, then add it to my list, just so I can cross it off. My lists serve as a visual reminder that I do more than wipe snotty noses, change dirty diapers and cater snacks and drinks to four hungry boys all day. This Motivated Moms chart seems like it will simplify and organize every chore and home-maintenance task for me, keeping me stress-free and the house ship-shape.

Now, off to clean that middle shelf in the fridge ...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How did I get here? Part 3

When reality hit at the beginning of my second year at home, we wondered how we could maintain our lifestyle. Cutting our expenses and simplifying our life didn't seem to be enough. There were too many unexpected financial burdens popping up. I put our worry on my prayer list. Then my husband and I considered another source of income. Should he get a second part-time job? Should I re-enter the work force?

Before we could solve the problem, my prayer request was answered. Enter: a long-lost friend from my distant past. She had discovered through a mutual friend that we were both now living in the same town. We grew up together in a town two hours away. My friend contacted me and wondered if I was interested in doing in-home day care. She and her husband weren't happy with the facility their children went to and were researching other options. She had heard through this mutual friend that I was now at home with my kids.

It was a solution that came out of the blue. I never considered myself to be babysitting material. As a young teenager, I spent one summer watching two little girls. When the parents asked me to do it again the next summer, I referred them to a friend. I had discovered I didn't have the good nature required to be a babysitter. As a youth, I found other means of income: from field labor to the food service industry to janitorial work. I preferred scraping gum off desks and cleaning toilets rather than watching other people's children. I never went back to babysitting again.

After a lot of debate, my husband and I decided it was worth a try. It would solve our income shortage and allow me to remain at home. My friend and I decided on a one-year trial.

That brings me to today. I'm in my second year of babysitting. I'm still not convinced I have the temperament for it, but I'm giving it my best shot. I've started this blog as a therapeutic coping mechanism. I've always kept a journal or diary in my private life, and in my former professional life I was a newspaper copy editor and columnist. I've decided to keep writing to save my sanity.

A day in the life of a babysitter

In one morning, one child got his foot stuck in the doorway of a Little People house, one Star Wars storm trooper went for an accidental swim in the toilet and several little faces were screwed up in anguish about having to eat some glazed cooked carrots for lunch. Who knew carrots with brown sugar and butter would be such torture to eat? The best part of the day: Four little boys snoring during their naps!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"I love you, Mom"

One of the great moments of parenthood is when a child says I love you, without saying the words. Tonight I played a fun round of Super Mario Wii with my 6-year-old. Afterward he climbed into bed and told me, "Mom, if you were my age, I'd be your best bud!"

Monday, January 4, 2010

How did I get here? Part 2

A third child meant some hard decisions had to be made. Could my husband and I afford day care for three kids? No. Did my husband or I want to give up one of our jobs? No, but one of us would probably have to. Could we afford to? We had absolutely no idea. It took the entire nine months of my pregnancy to figure out what we were going to do.

We spent hours at the computer trying to rearrange our budget. We spent more hours comparing each of our company's health insurance plans. We had to read deep in the fine print to see if a change in coverage would affect our oldest son's care for his gestational scoliosis. Since his birth, we have made bi-annual trips to see a specialized surgeon at a hospital two hours away. At that point, my job was providing our coverage. If I walked away from my job, we had to know we could still get the same care at a price we could afford.

After hours, days and months of number crunching, we decided I would quit my job a few days before the baby was due. My husband's insurance was comparable, his salary was higher and his earning potential was greater. All of our planning and rearranging came down to a leap of faith. On paper, our plan looked feasible. Realty is sometimes different. We gave ourselves a year to financially and emotionally adjust to the change.

That first year was tough. We tightened our money belts, and I made a bumpy emotional adjustment from having a professional life to having none. What we gave up was worth the return, though. The investment we were making in our family outweighed the financial risks we were taking.

Reality didn't set in until the second year.

How did I get here?

I am a babysitter. I didn't use to be. In my former life, I was on my way up in the world. I spent four years in college earning a degree in journalism and media. I worked on the college's newspaper as a reporter and editor for two years. Then I spent a year on the production crew of a local television station. After graduating, I moved to a job as a copy editor at the local newspaper. Fast-forward a few years to when the newspaper's editor asked me to write a blog for the paper's Web site. He wanted me to begin a parenting blog, which was a new idea for our newspaper and it's parent company. I was the mother of two little boys. My editor figured I had a lot to say about being a parent. He was right.

By the end of my first year as a blogger, the blog had morphed into a weekly newspaper column, become a podcast that could be downloaded from iTunes and won a national award from our newspaper's parent company. It was the first blog to be syndicated by our parent company. Nine other newspapers were either posting it to their Web sites or running it in print. It also had received mention on a few Web sites, the local television station I had previously worked at and a local radio station. Parents seemed to connect with what I had to say.

Then I got pregnant a third time. It was the beginning of the end of my life in the fast lane. I was soon to be moving at a crawl's pace.