Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Surviving the Back-To-School Craziness! (Oh, and a contest, too...)

Hello, lovely readers!

If like me you're dreading the insanity of the back-to-school season that is nearly upon us, fear not: I've got (a link to) just what you need! ;)

My e-pal Kelby Carr over at Type-A Mom has a fabulous "Back-to-School Survival Guide" that is written by and for real moms, just like you and me. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm still relatively new to the whole back-to-school gig, since Super Boy just started half-day K4 last year, so this is really my first experience with the full-blown, all-day back-to-school jazz. And, quite frankly, I need all the help I can get!

Anyway, check it out by clicking on the badge on the right. You won't regret it!

Oh, and about that little contest? Well, to give you even MORE reason to go check out Kelby's blog and Back-to-School Survival Guide, she's throwing a "little" contest. To the tune of $140 worth of some super cool back-to-school gear that I KNOW my kid would love to have, and I'm guessing yours might, too.

The Back to School Prize Pack includes: a LeapFrog Tag Reading system (valued at $49.99), a totally cool personalized backpack by Skimbaco (valued up to $44), a super fun personalized lunchbox - the great old-school metal kind that we had as kids - from Tote and Tee (valued at $29.50), and a very fun Back to School Giftventure (valued at $19.99).

Kelby offers a few different ways to get extra entries to the contest, which I think is really quite generous, since this is truly a fabulous giveaway. So don't delay - get on over to Type A Mom, check out the Back-to-School Survival Guide, and enter the great Back-to-School Contest.

You'll have no regrets, my friends - NO regrets!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Morning Train

For the first time ever, my 5 year-old son Super Boy and I took the 8:23am ET train last Wednesday from Ann Arbor (MI) back to our home in Wisconsin. And it was actually pretty cool.

My son, unlike many boys his age, is not overly impressed by trains. I realize that this is vastly unusual in the birth-to-five male demographic since the advent of Thomas the Train, but - hey, it is what it is. That being said, my son was "sort of" impressed that we were actually going to RIDE ON a train, and for around seven solid hours at that.

Unfortunately, his slight excitement waned quickly after being woken at 6:15am so we could eat breakfast, get dressed and make ourselves semi-presentable, and be driven to the train station in time for our train. The poor kid slept in between rude awakenings - in the car, sitting on the uncomfortable chairs inside the train station, while I struggled to carry all 46 pounds of him and wrestle our meager luggage onto the platform and aboard the damn train.

I tried in vain to wake him when the train pulled up to our station, and again when the train finally pulled away from the station to begin our long journey home. He bobble-headed enough to glance around sleepy-eyed, mumble the word "cool" and fall back into a deep and peaceful sleep. Leaving me to sit and stare out the window with my iPod earbuds firmly in place and veg, stewing over the fact that I had planned this trip home by train specifically because I thought he'd enjoy it. Super Boy slept for the first three solid hours we were on our trek home. Naturally.

During those three hours, I enjoyed some peace. Despite the fact that I was freezing (the air conditioning in our train car was surprisingly robust), I really found myself enjoying staring out the window at the passing scenery. And despite the fact that I was exhausted from our five days away from home, I couldn't sleep. Instead, my mind wandered blissfully. I found myself thinking about all sorts of things, both important and mundane. Things like Super Man's job search (it's going really well so far, by the way) and how our finances will hold up if it takes him more than 6 months to find a great new job (it shouldn't take that long, but you never know), my 20-year reunion coming up in four years, how nice it was to spend three straight days with my best friend from high school and her family (including husband and four - YES, FOUR - kids), what I wanted to blog about in the coming weeks, whether I want to try to revamp my novel-in-progress or scrap it and start with a fresh idea. It was nice. It was relaxing.

But then something crept into my stream of consciousness that shattered the peace and relaxation, that bothered me deeply and haunts me still.

We'd been rolling along peacefully, I'd been looking at great little swaths of farmland, quaint little towns full of beautiful (if slightly rundown) old homes and great little shops, and then all of a sudden, around Battle Creek, there I was staring out at the evidence of what must be a fairly large community of people who are essentially living in the crawl-space of a highway overpass, and in the midst of it all, signs of a family with children - young children.

While there was only a lone, middle-aged man sitting there at the time, if I had to guess I'd say that probably a dozen or more people must "living" there. And in one corner I saw a laundry line hung with a few quilts and some clothes ranging from very, very small to adult.

My heart skipped a beat and my stomach clenched as I imagined who those clothes must belong to. A single mom or dad with children? An entire family? How many kids, and how old? How did they come to call that particular piece of the world "home," and for how long will they call it that? Will they eventually make their way out of there and on to a better life with a roof over their heads and food on their table? Or, will this be the place where they'll all eventually perish?

Michigan winters, like Wisconsin's, can be very long and brutally cold. No one could survive that without proper shelter, and certainly not a small child....

It got me thinking about how close so many Americans are to living in those circumstances. How many people live paycheck to paycheck, making barely enough to cover the increasingly high costs of shelter, food, medical care, clothing, transportation, much less any credit card or other loan debt, and all it takes is a lost job to put them on the streets - kids and all.

While Super Man losing his job to "staff cuts" last month was a huge shock to us and certainly resulted in us immediately tightening our belts, we are not on the brink of disaster - at least not right now. We have the resources to make all of our bills and keep food on our table and live our lives more or less as usual for several months. We are fortunate in that way, and I never realized that more than when I was looking at that clothesline full of children's clothing hanging under the overpass.

My heart ached for the children who must be living there, and for the parents who are responsible for them. I prayed a silent prayer that they wouldn't have to be there long, that they would find a way to get back into appropriate shelter and to create a better life for their family. I pray for them still.

When Super Boy woke up at last, I was a little more somber than I'd been earlier. I held him close for awhile while he woke up fully, and I read him books and gave him his lunch that my friend had packed for us when we left her house, and I thought about how lucky we are, how blessed our lives have been.

Super Boy ended up enjoying his train ride very much, although he would've preferred to have a few little kids to play with as the hours wore on. As fun as I am, sometimes "just Mom" just isn't enough, you know. Nonetheless, he enjoyed looking out the window and watching as we pulled into Chicago, and then changed trains and passed back out of Chicago up toward Milwaukee. He counted buildings, churches, farms. And he said he'd like to ride the train again sometime. "But with Daddy and Super Girl next time." Naturally.

I'm glad that we took the morning train home that day. It gave me time to think about many things, and opened my eyes to something that is happening every single day around the country that most of us don't have to think about in the normal course of our lives. It's flat out wrong that we don't think about it more, that we don't do more to try to prevent it happening to ourselves and our families, and that we don't do more to change the system that forces so many into those circumstances. I'm grateful that I saw what I did that day, that my eyes were opened.

If I take that train again, I hope that Super Boy will be awake to experience the train rolling into the station and rolling back out with us aboard it. And even more, I hope that the area under the overpass in Battle Creek will be empty and that the people who lived there are all in a better place than they were last Wednesday.

I hope.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Happy Birthday to Josie the Super Dog

Today is our pooch's 7th birthday! Naturally, I felt compelled to write about it.

Happy Birthday, Josie!

I've written about Josie before. She's quite the character. Cute. Highly intelligent (sometimes). Extremely energetic (most of the time). Very social. Not very well behaved. (Totally our fault. I've been told I "babied" her too much as a puppy. Based on that, you can just imagine what Super Boy is like.)

I hate to admit it, but I've really been dreading my dog's birthday. I know that sounds silly, crazy even. But here's the thing: I realized that with Josie turning seven (which is 49 in dog years), she's most likely got fewer years ahead of her now than she has behind her. And that makes me very sad.

It was different when Josie turned six (42). My husband is 42 and that's really not old. Which isn't to say that seven (or 49) is old, but the reality is that Labs don't usually live much beyond 12 or 13 years, which means Josie will be lucky if she has another five or six years left. And the other reality is that those remaining years are likely to be less active and healthy than the seven years she's already lived.

And although she drives me crazy at least twice each day with her antics, I can't bear the thought of the day when we have to say goodbye to her.

You're probably sitting there thinking, "Why are you thinking about this now when she's only seven?" Well, friends, because that's what I do: I worry. Constantly.

I think it's a genetic trait, to be perfectly honest. I come from a long line of worriers. Ulcers are common in my family. In fact, I had one brewing by the time I was 9 years old. Nice, huh?

I'm trying to put my feelings about my aging pooch into some perspective. Obviously we knew all along that odds were that we'd outlive her (and by a significant number of years at that), but that all seemed so... nebulous and far away when we were bringing her home as an eight-week-old puppy.

When you think about a span of twelve to fourteen years, it seems so long, like it'll pass slowly and deliberately and noticeably. And it certainly felt like her year of puppyhood passed excruciatingly slowly. At times it felt like the house-training and obedience training would never end! But the years since then have gone by in the blink of an eye. No doubt because we got so busy with our jobs, and then had Super Boy, and had plenty of renovation to do on our house, and a million other little things. But in retrospect it seems like she aged in double-time, and I find myself already longing for a few extra - but good - years with our super dog.

Today as I looked at her puppy pictures and then really looked closely at her, I noticed that her muzzle is starting to look a little gray. I definitely noticed (mostly from her stinky dog breath) that she's due for a teeth cleaning again, and her gums and nose look more like an older dog's. I watched how she moves just a little bit slower when getting up from the floor, and how she pauses and pants a little bit longer in between fetching her soccer ball after I've kicked it the length of our yard.

She doesn't look like a puppy anymore. She doesn't even look like a young dog anymore. She looks like the middle-aged dog she is. And I can feel the ache for her already starting in the pit of my stomach as I begin to imagine her slow decline and, eventually, her departure for The Great Beyond.

For now, though, I'll try to pay a little more attention to her, to give her a little extra love each day, to let her know how much we've loved having her as part of our family - our great protector. I'll take her for extra walks, slip her an extra biscuit here and there, take a few extra pictures of her, to document her life a little better.

Happy 7th Birthday, Josie girl. Sleep well tonight and know that you're loved.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Problem: Skin

I'll admit it: I'm one of those thirtysomething women who for some reason has been cursed with "problem skin." I inherited huge pores from both of my parents (I'm not kidding - you could spot these things from space!), very oily skin from both of my parents, and apparently ACNE from my dad. What fun!

Oh, sure, I had the occasional pimple in middle school, high school and college, but usually they were around my "time of the month," not an everyday occurrence. Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided it would be funny to afflict me with full-blown 24/7 adult acne since the birth of my son, oh, FIVE years ago.

I have tried darn near everything there is to try: Accutane, other Rx antibiotics (both topical and oral), Proactiv, Philosophy's "On a Clear Day" acne line, pretty much all the OTC acne face washes and treatments. None of them worked consistently and on an ongoing basis. Proactiv seemed to work quite well for awhile, but eventually my skin rebelled and it simply wasn't effective anymore.

I'd pretty much given up hope of ever getting rid of it. And then I walked into my local Outpost Natural Food Store, and there on the shelf in the "natural personal care" aisle, I found a simple little bar cleanser by Burt's Bees. Their Garden Tomato Complexion Soap.

I'll admit, I was skeptical. But since I've been paying about $50 every 2 months for the past 8 months for my Philosophy acne kit with only mixed results, and since my incredibly talented and sweet husband Super Man lost his job two weeks ago, I can't really justify spending $50 for something that isn't quite cutting the mustard anymore.

This little Burt's Bees tomato-scented gem cost a mere $7 and some cents. I've been using it for about a week now and I LOVE it. It cleans my skin beautifully without stripping it completely of natural oils, and I've only had two very small blemishes since I started using it. There is no multi-step system either: I just wash my face morning and night. Because it's not over-drying, I don't even need to use moisturizer. I'm seriously impressed!

Who knows if this will be the cure-all I was hoping for. But at least for now it's a great low-cost alternative to the high-cost things I've tried that have failed. I'll try to remember to check back in a few months to report on how it's working at that point, but I'm giving it a big thumbs up for now!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mama Loves Giveaways... and this mama LOVES that!

Alrighty, I just discovered ANOTHER fabulous site called Mom Generations.

Mom Generations was formerly known as Pinks & Blues but recently changed their name. To celebrate the launch of the "new" site, they're offering a HUGE giveaway.

There's too much good stuff in the giveaway for me to go into excruciating detail about here, so just click on the link, check it out, enter the awesome giveaway, and (hopefully) WIN!

Wait, did I say WIN? Hahaha, um, no - see, I'm going to win! But you can still enter anyway. Just for fun. :)

(Note: I NEVER win contests - ever - so you're probably safe. Really.)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Aaaaggghh - I Broke My Toe!

Staggeringly stupid thing to do, I know. And totally could've been prevented if I hadn't been screwing around.

Super Boy and I were upstairs goofing around and playing tag, and as I sprinted down my hardwood floor hallway and went to turn into his bedroom, just my pinkie toe smacked the edge of his bedroom door, on the side where it's hinged to the doorframe (and, thus, highly immobile). White-hot pain shot up my foot and into my leg, and I was barely able to limp to his bed before I collapsed, grasping at my poor foot and barely able to breathe.

Super Man helped me limp downstairs, got me an ice pack and set me up on the couch, where I spent an hour and a half. The pain subsided as my toe became numb, and by the time I got up and started getting dinner ready, it wasn't feeling nearly as bad as it had been.

I was up and moving on it while I prepared dinner, did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen after dinner, and then took a shower. By the time I was done, it was throbbing painfully and I ended up back on the couch with the ice pack.

What a stupid, stupid thing to do. And the worst part is that there's nothing anyone can do about it!

I called my friend Jenn, a RN, and she said that with toes (and especially the little toes), there's not much that can be done. They can't put a cast on it, so what they typically do is tell you to tape the injured toe to the toe next to it for stability and alignment, ice it, and take Tylenol/ibuprofen.

The only upside is that it's summer (and I'm not working), so at least I don't have to wear confining shoes! I can get away with wearing my usual Crocs or flip-flops. I just hope it heals relatively quickly. I certainly don't want to be hobbling for the precious few weeks of summer that we have left in our neck of the woods!

Lesson learned: Mom needs to stop screwing around!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Looking to Spruce Up Your Blog?

If so, you've simply GOTTA check out Aqua Poppy Designs.

Chelsea, the genius behind Aqua Poppy Designs, is the extremely gifted and talented designer of my new background here at Average Everyday Super Woman. I swear, this is PERFECT for me - the colors, the design, everything. I am LOV-ing it!

And what's even better is that Chelsea is offering a whole bunch of backgrounds for free! Yes - you read that right: FREE.

So if you've been thinking that maybe your blog needs a little pick-me-up, go check out her blog and follow her super easy instructions for changing your background. If you don't see what suits you among the free options, you can also have her custom design something just for you.

Oh, and the icing on the cake is that she's running a special giveaway RIGHT NOW for "Super Poppy" blog design. Which means that Chelsea will give FIVE lucky winners "a header, coordinating sides and a signature button." Just be sure to enter today because the giveaway ends on Friday, July 11.

I mean seriously, folks. How much easier can it get?

Rock on, Chelsea - you are the bomb!

Fabulous Giveaway at Save Your Money Mama!!

Alright, readers... Here's your chance to win an incredibly cool product by visiting an incredibly cool blog that I just discovered this evening!

The blog is Save Your Money Mama!! and it's right here on our very own Blogspot. (How cool is THAT?!) And the giveaway is a gorgeous Serena & Lily Market Sling for carrying baby in comfort and style.

To enter, you simply need to leave a comment on the giveaway stating the size and color of sling you'd prefer if you're chosen as the winner.

NOTE: The giveaway is NOT on my blog but at Save Your Money Mama!!, so please don't leave your comments here! (Unless, of course, you just want to say "Hey, thanks for turning me on to Save Your Money Mama!!" That would be cool, too.)

And while you're over at Save Your Money Mama, check out the other fab giveaways. That blog ROCKS!

(A HUGE thanks to the blogger at Mommy Instincts for turning me on to Prizey, which is how I discovered Save Your Money Mama!)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Knit Picking

Dear God, I suck at knitting!

I learned how to do it (although I use the term "learned" loosely) about two years ago, and still it eludes me.

Oh, I can do your basic knitting and your basic purling.... I can increase and decrease... I can cast on and cast off. What I cannot seem to do is anything more complex than that. No fancy stitches, no pretty patterns, and certainly no cable knitting (for those of you non-knitters reading this, that little technique requires more than two needles. [WHAT?!? I only have two hands!!] All I can say to that is - ACK!).

See, I'm essentially the queen of the basic scarf. I've made... maybe a dozen scarves in the past two years? I've also knitted very basic baby blankets (as in just knitting and purling row after row after row...), and a few basic hats (ribbed, which is just knitting a few stitches and then purling a few stitches - repeat). Nothing to shake a stick at, certainly, but also not anything terribly crafty or interesting. And, quite frankly, not flawless either. I don't make many mistakes, but when I do, I tear the whole piece back and start over. Unfortunately, I can't seem to get my edges to look very neat and clean even if the rest of the piece looks halfway decent.

So, anyway, I was at a new neighborhood knitting group tonight, expecting to be one of a few other relative beginners, only to find myself surrounded by knitting pros, not the least of which is my friend Stef. Seriously. I should just give up my "Super Woman" title and give it to her now, because she is the master of all things crafty - knitting, stained and normal glass making, beading and jewelry making, woodworking. It's sick. SICK, I tell you.

Anyhoo, one of the other ladies was asking me questions throughout the evening trying to assess my skill level. I think I finally had her convinced by the end of the evening that the bottom line is that I really don't know what I'm doing when it comes to knitting, so improvising is entirely out of the question, and even following a pattern is pretty dicey for me because I don't know half the stitches in a pattern half the time! Nonetheless, she had faith in me and my ability to learn.

She handed me a pattern for an absolutely lovely scarf and said she thought I'd be able to make it. I eagerly took it from her outstretched hand and glanced it over. Looked simple enough to start with: cast on 171 stitches, knitting and purling, blah, blah, blah.

But then - oh - nope, sorry: It's done on circular needles (I'm really not a fan) AND it has a thing in it called "slip stitches."

Wha...? Oh, you don't know that that is either? Good - now I don't feel so bad!

With a look of extreme shame, I shrugged my shoulders and handed the lovely scarf pattern back to her explaining that I was all good up until the mention of circular needles and the weird thing called "slip stitches." She laughed and said that she might have to show me how they work next time. Amen, sister!

By the end of the evening, our leader suggested that we all try to make the same project at some point, and the thing she thinks we should all make is a felted tote bag. Like the GORGEOUS one that my friend Stef (aka: the new - and much improved - Super Woman) brought to the meeting, which she assured us was "super easy." (Sure, for a Craft Goddess, maybe!) We'll see about that.

Frankly, I have my doubts...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Java Junkie-in-Training

My lovely little Super Boy never ceases to amaze me. Just the other day, when we were gearing up to head out of town to visit my dad and stepmom, I said to Super Boy that I wanted to stop by Starbucks on our way out of town to grab a coffee for the road. Since he usually likes to grab an organic chocolate milk for himself at Starbucks, I asked if he wanted anything.

As his little five-year-old self hopped out of my minivan while holding my hand in his chunky little starfish of a hand, he looked up at me with a very serious look of contemplation and said, "Hmm... No - I don't really feel like having a milk box today."

"Oh, okay," I replied, a little surprised.

"Actually," he said (this is his new favorite word, by the way), "I think I'll just have a small [mumble-mumble]."

I hadn't heard what he said he wanted a small of, so I cocked my head to the side and said, "What, buddy? I didn't quite catch that."

He looked at me with supreme patience, as though I were the five-year-old, and said emphatically, "I SAID I'll just have a small coffee, Mom!"

I couldn't help it. I burst out laughing. He looked - and sounded - SO much like his father in that moment that it was just too funny!

Needless to say, I did NOT allow my son to order up a small coffee for himself (he settled for the chocolate milk box after all). And my husband - the epitome of the term "JAVA JUNKIE" - got a HUGE kick out of our little boy and his quest for coffee.

They grow up so fast, don't they?