December 15, 2016

Children and gift giving: How many presents are too many?

A friend of mine commented today on Facebook, posing the question: “How many gifts do you buy your children?
It occurred to me in reflecting on that simple question, though, that when I first had my son (the first grandchild and only grandchild on one side), gift giving was very different than it is now, seven years later.
In my attempt to stay organized and to keep from being drowned by and ever mounting pile of infant and toddler gifts, the Christmas my son turned 10 months, I requested that family members buy only a single toy and either consider clothing or a contribution to some type of savings plan — be it bonds or college-fund contributions. This lasted all of two months, though, since when his birthday rolled around, he received enough gifts for 14 one-year olds!
The second Christmas (and birthday), I tried to re-emphasize that one toy was sufficient. I also reminded everyone that my son was more interested in the empty boxes and wrapping than many of their gifts. That seemed to help. Some. Except for my brother-in-law who considered “one box” with many toys a single item since "they were so small."
By his third Christmas (and my daughter’s first), our families discarded any suggestions to cut back on toys about as quickly as a Bugatti Veyron. Both children received piles and piles of toys. Then within the next two months, received two more rather substantial piles. (Their birthdays are in January and February) We might as well have lived in Toys R Us!
Young children are often more interested in
the wrapping than the gifts and don't know
what they received or didn't receive, so
how many "toys" do your children receive?
Now almost seven years later, when asked the question of “How many gifts do you buy your children?” I found myself unable to answer. Luckily for me though, the requests to Santa this year from my children were rather manageable. Typicalyl each child gets a small box that includes several new outfits and jammies, one “large gift” (this year both kids are getting two-wheeled razor scooters) and several other smaller gifts.
In general, I can’t say that I have specific gift-giving philosophies, except that any money they receive has gone into their respective college funds. Friends and family often find it humorous when my children cheerily shout “college money!” when they open a card that includes cash or a check, so I suppose I have done something right!
What gift-giving philosophies do you have? Do you spend a certain amount or buy a certain amount of gifts? I read with interest this one writer's gift-giving philosophy to children and realized that subconsciously I follow many of the ideals that were jotted down. Do you have similar hidden ideals?
What happens when your children receive too many gifts? For the first three or four years, I actually hid 50 percent of what my children received to allow them to open the boxes at a later date. The excitement was still there, and they had a “new toy” to occupy their attentions.
What about gifting your children cash or bonds for their future? Does your family consider being fiscally responsible with their gift giving, or do they consider early estate-planning as “gift giving”?


November 23, 2016

Help Grieving Children Through the Holidays

The holidays can be a painful time, for adults and although no one wants to admit it, even children can have a painful experience during this time of year. Possibly they have lost a grandparent or even a beloved family pet. Courtesy of Ele's Place, a healing center for grieving children, here are some ways to help grieving children through the holidays:
  • Share photos and holiday memories of the person who died - Children want to know they're not alone in grief. 
  • Make an ornament, or prepare a favorite photo to hang on the tree that reminds the child of the person who died. 
  • Decorate a candle and light it at meal time in memory of the loved one. 
  • Help the child make a donation to a charity in memory of the person who died.
  • Help the child decorate a wreath with pictures and items that were loved by the person who died and place the wreath at the grave. 
  • Listen to the loved one’s favorite holiday music. 
  • Help the child with a blessing at meal time that mentions the person who died. 
  • Encourage the child to draw pictures and create gifts inspired by their memories of the loved one to give to other family members.

“It is important to help children acknowledge the loss of a loved one during the holidays,” said Wendy Brightman, Managing Director of Ele’s Place in Ann Arbor. “Children often need ‘permission’ to talk about the person who died. Let them know you would rather keep the memory of your loved one alive than pretend nothing has changed.”
Ele’s Place provides creative, age-appropriate support groups year-round for children and teens, 3-18 years old, throughout the Ann Arbor area. All services are provided at no cost to families. For more information, visit the Ele's Place website or call (734) 929-6640.

republished from my article on annarbor.com in 2009

November 15, 2016

Safe Food Prep When Kids Cook

This article is reprinted from an article I wrote for the parenting group on AnnArbor.com in 2010.

Food comes to mind when I think about the holidays. Casseroles. Roasts. Ham. Appetizers and finger foods. Cookies and cakes. Now that I have children, my appreciation for family traditions and the food we eat around the holidays has deepened as I try to impart our traditional recipes to my children for their lifetime of memories.
I enjoy cooking and have been teaching my children about the joys of cooking at home. Step by step, I have guided them through many a meal, treat or snack. I suppose that’s why I was impressed with the homework project that was sent home with my son this week. It ties in nicely to the holiday season and helps me to deepen my son’s culinary experiences while teaching him a new lesson.
The directions given to us were that we needed to allow our first grader to write the recipe for his choice of holiday food from a list he created. I think we lucked out, because the two foods on my son’s list that were circled were “pizzas” and “jalow.” Assuming that jalow is JELL-O, we’re in business. Now all I have to do is to allow him to write, in his own words, the step by step process of preparing his dishes.
I have been working in the kitchen with my kids since they were old enough to hold a spoon, even if that meant only smearing peanut butter on bread or frosting cookies. I even signed them up for a cooking class at the community center last year, although I suspect that was due to the fact that the two-hour session allowed me some much needed down-time while they were in class.
What I haven’t harped on them about, though, is thorough surface prep. Yes I’ve talked about washing their hands and cleaning their work area, but I haven’t focused on a thorough cleaning. This might be due to the fact that I am not as likely to actually consume the wonderful gourmet selections they have prepared, but it is still something I need to teach them as much as I have harped on proper hand-washing or tooth-brushing skills!
Did you know that one single bacteria cell can become more than 8 million cells in less than 24 hours and that the number of bacteria it takes to make people sick can range from as few as 10 up to millions. It’ll be easy to teach my children more about this important step, making our holiday eating much safer. It’s really not much more challenging that using hot soapy water followed by disinfectant!
Thankfully adding an additional step to his recipe prep is easier than figuring out what "hadrg" or "bagin" is on my son's list! Thankfully neither of those items was circled, although I suspect that bagin is actually bacon!
Here are some great resources for getting your kids into the kitchen this holiday season:
To get your kids cooking, check out the kids cooking classes available at Sprouting Chefs or even your local recreation center. My children took their Little Crumbs Cooking Class through the Ypsilanti Township Recreation Department.
For great recipes for children, I often turn to the recipes I read about in Family Fun Magazine. Their magazine and online reference offers kid-friendly recipes, easy how-to directions and simple recipes for kids of all ages.
Information on proper cleaning of food prep surfaces is available at Disinfect for Health. Parents can also get a free refrigerator magnet featuring simple directions for disinfecting kitchen surfaces to remind young budding chefs.

Where To Visit With Santa for Free

Local malls always have colorful Santa displays where children can visit and have their photo taken with Santa. What about families that don’t have the means to pay for Santa photos, though? Where can they go? Luckily there are several places available for kids to see Santa and have their pictures taken with him — for free! Here is a line-up of a few great locations in and around Ann Arbor where kids can see Santa.

The Dixboro General Store (5206 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor, 48105) will have Santa available for photos on Sundays. From 11:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., families can visit with and take photos with Santa for free.

On Saturdays now through Dec. 18 from at Kerrytown (407 N. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor), Santa can be seen and heard as he jaunts through the Farmers Market greeting shoppers and children. Photos with Santa in the Kerrytown Markets and Shops are free, with other live performances, to make the season and your day brighter!

Several of my friends really enjoy heading over to the Three Cedars Farm (7897 Six Mile Road, Northville, MI 48167) and have assured me that the holiday display is worth the short drive. The farm celebrates a Country Christmas with Santa and Mrs. Claus with picturesque grounds for photo ops and of course Christmas trees, wreaths and hot cocoa for sale. Santa is available for free photos from 4:00-8:00 p.m. Fridays, 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. and 4:00-8:00 p.m. Saturdays and 1:00-5:00 p.m. Sundays now through Dec. 18.

Finally, for those of you not able to get to visit directly with Santa, your children can have the opportunity to speak with him when he appears on Community Television Network Public Access Channel 17 (on Comcast Cable) on Dec. 8. From 6:00-8:00 p.m., children can share their wishes, ask Santa questions or send good thoughts into the world when Santa appears via telecast on the Santa Satellite Network LIVE from Santa’s home in the North Pole. Boys and girls are invited to call into the CTN studio hotline at 734-794-6155 to talk with Santa.

Do you have a special place where you like to visit Santa? What are the great holiday locations for family photo ops?

November 3, 2016

CHI-CHI's Salsabration Giveaway

Do you need some chips and salsa for your next #Salsabration? Do you like when the Ann Arbor Mom does give-aways? Then today's post should make you very happy.




From now until noon Saturday, comment on the blog post or on the Ann Arbor Mom Facebook Page on your favorite CHI-CHI's Mexican Food. A random winner will be chosen from all entries to receive an assortment of CHI-CHI’s products - chips and salsa of course!  Of course this is in anticipation of Saturday's game (Go Blue), so go out and get some CHI-CHI's today.

Going to the Michigan game Saturday? Be sure to get there early so you can experience a CHI-CHI’s Salsabration, compete with free merchandise, a virtual congo line, and an endless supply of their zesty salsas and chips.


Disclaimer: This is a promoted post. The Ann Arbor Mom will also be receiving chips and salsa for a salsabration!

October 12, 2016

Tempering a Tantrum

When I was on maternity leave for my daughter a few years ago, I felt it was also important to bond with my 2-year-old son so that he didn’t feel left out.
So instead of holing up in the house, I decided to take him to story times, art classes, indoor play areas and anywhere else I thought might interest him.
On one memorable occasion, we went to a story time at Barnes and Noble. It was a sunny February day, the story was great, and my son seemed to really dig the energy of the storyteller. Even more interesting to him though, was the Thomas the Train set in the kids’ area. He loved playing with it and probably could have stayed for countless hours.
After a time though, we needed to go. And what started as the perfect day quickly became a major fit-throwing episode.
I initially tried reasoning; I nicely and politely stated more than once that it was time to go, and Mommy would not tolerate his throwing a fit. But desperation set in, and right before that moment of no-return anger, I literally tossed my son under my arm and grabbed the stroller, scooting it down the elevator, across the sales floor and out the front door while he screamed.
This “pick-up-and-go” tactic is a well-known parenting tool: When your child is out of control, react nicely first, and when they don’t listen, remove them from the situation. It shouldn’t be considered giving in, and in fact should teach them that there will be consequences for not listening to a parent. I know it works, but somehow I have been forgetting to use it recently.
A few weeks ago my children acted up in the grocery store. Wait, let me rephrase that: They acted like wild, crazed animals in the grocery store. They were OK until we got into the checkout lane, where they unleashed the crazed-animal scene. I tried my menacing mom growl and stink-eye, however my children continued down their path of insanity until I very loudly snapped.
I am certain the checkout gal, who knows me as a regular, now thinks I am a terrible parent. But I was simply out of patience and worn down, which resulted in my not-so-perfect parenting moment. I wanted out of the store, but I did not remove myself or my children from the situation, even after warning them. What I should have done is left, despite being in the checkout lane.
I’m amazed it took me weeks to realize this, but it seems my children now know they can act up in public because I have been letting them slide. When we’re in public, I don’t want others to judge my parenting. Ironically, when my kids act up and I do nothing, I am the one to look bad because I appear to not be “parenting.”
These are scenarios almost every parent has had to face at one time or another. While lamenting over the grocery store scene, I was reminded of some expert tips to help parents deal with tantrums in public.
Schedule accordingly: If you know your child needs a nap or otherwise becomes cranky at specific times of the day, try scheduling around those times.
Extraction is best: If children misbehave, no matter what is happening or where they are, be willing to remove them from the situation. It shouldn’t matter how costly or fun it is; leaving will help them understand who is the parent and whose word is law. Give a clear warning in a calm yet firm voice and explain exactly what will happen if the behavior continues. Then - and here’s the important part - follow through with your action. It’s tough when a child leaves kicking and screaming, but in the long run it will make life easier.
Set clear rules, and reward the positive: Parents need to define expectations at an understandable level, and repeat these laws faithfully. Parents can also use positive rewards — anything from a favorite activity to a special dessert. Rewards of praise or small treats can also be handed out on the spot for good behavior.
What parenting tools have you used to get your children to behave? Have they worked? How have you changed these tactics as your children age?

First published on annarbor.com in 2010.

September 22, 2016

Free Youth Day Activities Sponsored by Ford Motor Company

On Saturday, September 24, 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. kids ages 5-16 can spend an afternoon of design education and exploration sponsored by Henry Ford Learning Institute. The free event will have kids making human scale weaving, making sun prints, and creating inflatable sculptures.  The event is part of the 2016 Detroit Design Festival program, taking place Sept. 21-25. For more information and to register visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ddf-2016-youth-day-presented-by-ford-motor-company-fund-tickets-27193113334

September 20, 2016

Preventing Illness: Have Fun Learning to Scrub

Republished from my 2009 annarbor.com post

It's two weeks into the school year and already my son has to stay home from school because of illness. I kept hearing about neighbors and friends whose children have became ill this past week, and let's face it, as parents that is the worst part of the school-year. Bringing germs home to spread among the family is no fun. This year it seems to be an even greater fear for families, with the threat of H1N1 lurking everywhere. So what do we do?
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that proper handwashing is the most simple thing a family can do in the prevention of infection and illness. That's great, perfect really. My son has received countless fliers on doing this, and even the health insurance company is spending their money printing helpful hand-washing fliers. As parents though, this really doesn't help me. Yes I can teach my children to sneeze into their sleeve, use a tissue, and wash their hands - But how can I make it FUN for them? Being "fun" is sometimes the greatest motivator for children. So where can I go for help?
This is really a trick question for me, because I have already found an excellent resource in the NSF Scrub Club!
Each year, more than 164 million school days are lost due to illness, which could be greatly reduced with proper handwashing. That’s why Ann Arbor based NSF International created the Scrub Club® - to raise awareness about the benefits of handwashing and ultimately improve the health of children and reduce school sick days.
The program is the first of its kind designed for children 3 to 8 years of age - This fun, interactive and educational website teaches children the proper way to wash their hands. The site consists of Webisodes, interactive games, music, many educational downloadable activities for kids, educational materials for teachers and program information for parents. My son loves the Scrub Club theme song and has even begun singing along!
So be sure to visit the Scrub Club® website with your preschool aged and young children - Everyone will benefit from the fun and informative learning experience through the website interaction. Don't forget to pass along the word to your children's elementary school teachers, as there are some great classroom resources as well including the 6 Steps To Proper handwashing Poster.

September 15, 2016

Does The Cupcake Ban Help?

First published on annarbor.com in 2010

To fight childhood obsesity should
cupcakes and other treats be banned
from birthday celebrations at school?
As a parent who makes homemade cakes and cupcakes from scratch for every birthday celebration at school and at home, I was disappointed to hear that some Michigan schools are banning cupcakes to fight childhood obesity. Don't get me wrong, I do believe that a generation of children is going to have problems due to their weight, and that ultimately society has to pay for it. However I don't think that the occasional cupcake is causing this problem. Ultimately it is kids having bad eating habits, overall, and not enough exercise.
As a child I played outside from dawn until dusk, only coming in when my parents insisted. The current generations are not getting outside to play, have less gym time in school and sit in front of the television, computer monitor or with a handheld gaming system for hours on end. So why are schools banning cupcakes instead of other solutions? Are there better solutions to help children eat better? Does your child attend a school where birthday treats have been banned?
My opinion is that children only get to be kids for a short window of time. Since the focus on birthdays lessens as the years pass, why not let them have their cake and eat it while they are young and solve the issue with more time outdoors, exercising and parents teaching their children to make be

September 5, 2016

Pittsfield Township Annual Harvest Fest

On Sunday September 18, 2:00-5:00 p.m., Ann Arbor area families can enjoy the Pittsfield Township Annual Harvest Festival at the  Sutherland-Wilson Farm Museum (797 Textile Rd., Ann Arbor). Hear the sounds of the Saline Fiddlers, enjoy hay rides, games, a petting farm, and hands on demonstrations. Hand-made items will also be for sale.

Tour historic building and see photo displays as well. A bake sale and pumpkin picking can also be enjoyed. There will be everything we love about the fall!

COST:
Adult Wristbands (ages 16+) $5.00
Child Wristbands (ages 3 – 15) $3.00
Free admission Children 2 and under

Schedule of Events:
2:00 p.m. Welcome Message & Event Kick off
2:15 p.m. Saline Fiddlers
2:15 - 5:00 p.m. House Tours
3:30 p.m. Prizes in the Straw (under 4)
3:40 p.m. Prizes in the Straw (ages 5+)

Free Parking & Shuttle available at Harvest Elementary (1155 Campus Pkwy). For more information visit the Harvest Festival website or the Harvest Festival Event on Facebook!




September 1, 2016

Cider Mills, Apple Orchards and Pumpkin Patches in Washtenaw County

The unseasonably cool weather this week has got me thinking...

Next week school is back in session, football season is just around the corner, the days are getting shorter and the nights have begun to cool ever so slightly. These subtle changes indicate that it's time for cider, donuts, and visiting area apple orchards! Fall is one of my favorite times of the year, and visiting the many great apple orchards and cider mills is the highlight of the season. In the interest of shopping locally however, I have compiled a list of cider mills, pumpkin patches and apple orchards in Washtenaw County that I have visited and like to visit. Be sure to add additional locations in the comments below!

Belleville


DeBuck's Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch (50240 Martz Rd., Belleville, MI 48111): Enjoy the kids are as well as go carts, hay slide, a pumpkin patch, and corn maze highlighting Frozen.
(734) 260-0334

2 The Pumpkin Factory (48651 Harris Rd., Belleville MI 48111)  
Haunted hayride, a country store, pumpkins a playground for the kids, farm animals, children's maze, straw jump, the free little haunted house, pony rides on weekends and a corn maze. (734)461-2763    

Dexter

3 Berry Hill Farm (12835 N. Territorial Rd., Dexter MI 48130): Buy pumpkins or patch-pick in the field. Also find honey from hives on the farm. Typically open August through October. Parking and fall scenery are free. From the owner of Berry Hill Farm (Dexter).
734-475-1516

The Blast Corn Maze (6175 Daly Rd., Dexter MI 48130): Kids pumpkin patch field, corn maze, hay bale maze, wagon rides, snacks and refreshment stand. Restrooms, a picnic area, and farm animals are also available. Open September through October. Cost: $5+ Kids under 4 free. Hayrides are $3/ride.
734-845-7127

5 Dexter Cider Mill (3685 Central St., Dexter MI 48130): The Dexter Cider Mill is the oldest operating cider mill in Michigan. Families can find natural cider, fresh apples, doughnuts, caramel apples and bakery goods in addition to seasonally available locally grown vegetables and apple products. Families can also enjoy slushies, and popcorn. Open mid-August. Cost: Admission and parking are free.
734-426-8531

6 Lesser Farms and Orchard (12651 Island Lake Rd., Dexter MI 48130): Offering families plums, apples, cider, homemade jams and jellies, beeswax candles, honey, soaps and pumpkins. Open year round, cider and apples are available in the fall. Free parking.
734 426-0606


Manchester

7 Alber Orchard & Cider Mill plus corn maze (13011 Bethel Church Rd., Manchester MI 48158): Families enjoy a family owned orchard that has been in business since 1890. View an old fashioned cider press, pick pumpkins, enjoy the fresh cider, wander the corn maze or take a hay ride. Open Labor day through November 7. School tours are $5.00 per child or parent, corn maze admission $5+. Many free events at the orchard throughout the season.
734-428-9310

Milan

Wasem Fruit Farm (6580 Judd Rd., Milan MI 48160): Families will find apple cider, donuts, pumpkins, squash, plums and seasonal fruits and veggies with u-pick raspberries. Open September through early November. Call for specifics. Parking is free. No u-pick apples for 2012.
734-482-2342

9 Talladay Farms (6270 Judd Rd., Milan MI 48160): Find several corn mazes, a straw bale maze for kids and bonfire firepits. Located 1/4 mile from Wasem's Apple Orchard. Open September 16. Cost $1+.
734-439-2313

Northville

10 Obstbaum Orchards and Cider Mill (9252 Currie Rd., Northville MI 48167): Take the family for u-Pick apples and pumpkins. Open September through late October. Free parking.
248-349-5569

11 Three Cedars Farm (7897 6 Mile Rd., Northville MI 48167): Find a u-pick pumpkin patch, a variety of gathered pumpkins, a corn maze, tractor-pulled hay rides, produce, a gift shop, snacks and a refreshment stand with nearby picnic area and farm animals. Free parking.
248-437-8200

Plymouth

12 Donahee Farms (6055 Tower Rd., Plymouth MI 48170): Three generations of farmers offering families u-pick pumpkins and a straw maze. Open seasonally. Free parking.
734-459-0655

13 Plymouth Orchards & Cider Mill (10685 Warren Rd., Plymouth MI 48170): Pick a pumpkin or purchase and already picked one or take a leisurely wagon ride through the orchard - Lots to taste, see and do. Enjoy fresh donuts and apple cider while visiting the farm animals. Open August 27 to November 6. Free parking, wagon rides are $2+, children 3 and under are free.
734-455-2290

Saline

14 Lutz Orchard (11030 Macon Rd., Saline MI 48176): Families will enjoy fresh picked apples, produce, and pumpkins. Children will enjoy seeing the animals on a real working farm. Closed on Thursdays. Open seasonally September through October. Free parking.
734-429-5145

15 Coleman's Corn Maze (12758 Jordan Rd., Saline, MI 48176): Fun for the entire family including a petting zoo, kids maze, pumpkin patch, a hay pile and barrel train.
734-429-1212    


Ypsilanti

16 Wiard's Orchards and County Fair (5565 Merritt Rd., Ypsilanti MI 48197)
Enjoy a fall festival with apples, pumpkins, hay rides, inflatable bounce houses, putt putt, a petting farm and the perfect backdrop for fall family photos.
734-482-7744

As the weather turns, like the leaves gently blowing outside the window, be sure to step out and visit one of these great local cider mills for their fall attractions and events, family fun and perfect apples, cider and donuts! Many will have weekend events and entertainment suitable for the whole family or for a visit from your child's classroom.



Sources: www.AnnArborMom.blogspot.com, individual company websites and www.pickyourown.org, www.Arborwiki.com

August 22, 2016

Wee, It's Time for the Dawn Farm Jamboree

Kids will find lots to do at the Dawn Farm
Jamboree. From bounce houses to climbing
walls, music and more. AND it's all free!
I drove by the sign yesterday so I know that "it's time for the Dawn Farm Jamboree" wee... A few years ago we attended this fun, local event. The kids loved it, and more importantly it is FREE!

On September 11 from 1:00-6:00 p.m., stop by the Dawn Farm (6633 Stoney Creek Rd., Ypsilanti) for a free event for the whole family. Find live music, hayrides, a petting zoo (OK you can pet all the animals on the farm), pony rides,kids activities, a rock wall, a silent auction and so much more.

Of course if you wanted to donate any money towards the organization, I am CERTAIN that they wouldn't turn it away as their mission is to provide individuals with alcohol and other drug addictions recovering success!


August 21, 2016

Blaze Pizza Opens in Ann Arbor

Tonight, the family was invited to a sneak peek of the new Blaze Pizza  (3500 Washtenaw Ave.) opening in Ann Arbor tomorrow. My son is fairly picky, so I never know what he will eat. He loved it though and even left a video testimonial on the Ann Arbor Mom Facebook page!

Checking out pizza at Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza Ann Arbor.
We found the make your own option to be the best option. It allowed each of us to customize our pizzas. The pizzas all finished cooking within 2-3 minutes of one another too.

Aside from the food, what did we think? We think it's going to be a big hit in Ann Arbor. The location is ideal for a quick meal too. We arrived shortly before the skies opened up and rain fell sideways, so my kids were both thrilled to see the restaurant alter its layout, closing the exterior door and opening the inside one! It converted the space to a much larger one. The place was packed too, which I assume will be the typical lunch rush scenario. It was a bit noisy, but that was likely due to the excitement of those of us dining as well as the staff. They shouted cheers several times while we were there too.

The staff was exceptionally friendly as well. It was clear several were learning their jobs, but despite the rush, everyone smiled. It was a great test run for their grand opening tomorrow and free pizza day Tuesday.

Today we each made our own pizzas, my husband and I shared a salad and my daughter even tried a s'mores pie. The kids would not try the lemonade or agua fresca beverages, but I very much enjoyed those! They were refreshing and tasty.


So how do you get your Free Blaze Pizza? Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza, is inviting local diners to try one of their custom-built pizzas for free on Tuesday, August 23 from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm. The promotion will benefit Food Gatherers, too, because if Blaze Pizza can give away 1,000 free pizzas on Tuesday, they’ll donate $5,000 to Food Gatherers! So be sure to stop in an enjoy Pizza Day, all you have to do is show up, eat some delicious pizzas and give back to a great cause.

Convertible doors on the new Blaze allow
the doors to open and close for open air seating.
The cool atmosphere was a lot of fun for the whole family. 

Choosing their own toppings on Blaze Pizza was a big hit!
 My favorite part was choosing which toppings I would like on my pizza. I'll admit though, it's a bit overwhelming. I suppose that is a good reason to come back. There were 6 or 7 types of sauce, MANY types of cheese (mmm, cheese), many meats and tons of veggies. The Blaze Pizza menu is pretty spectacular for sure. They even offer gluten free, vegetarian and high-rise dough options! We enjoyed the simple crust. It was thin, crispy and so perfectly cooked.


The wood fired grill was entertaining to watch for a few minutes too.
The kids thought it was pretty cool.

Mmmmm, Blaze pizza was a hit!
 My son is already making plans on when to go back, he even asked about bringing a friend. For just $7.95 per pizza that is very manageable, and honesty my kids probably could have split a pizza. They did enjoy bringing the pizza boxes home though and I would not have crushed their spirits tonight by denying them their own pizza! Look at those happy smiles.

Thank you Blaze Pizza for inviting us to the Sneak Peek tonight!
Stop by the new Blaze Pizza in Ann Arbor (3500 Washtenaw Ave.)  or, if you are running short on time, you can even place your pizza order online!



August 16, 2016

Save Additional Heartache, Be Prepared for a Health Emergency Ahead of Time

Last Saturday I made the call that will forever change my life. While on the way to Mackinaw to drop my son off for a week of scouts, I called my mom so my son could say goodbye.
"Good morning mom, how are you?" She has terminal cancer, multiple myeloma, so this is a common way for me to start a call. Her answer was also pretty common when she said, "I'm OK" using a downward inflection to indicate that she really wasn't.
"What's wrong mom?"
"Nothing."
"I know there is, what's wrong?" I did not yet know she was having difficulty speaking.
"Well, lijcsaef jnvjan n hjbhjvj nbn v."
I thought, that since I was in northern Michigan, the phone might have been breaking up. So I asked again, "Can you say that again mom?"
"Well, lijcsaef jnvjan n hjbhjvj nbn v."
At this point, my voice started to increase a bit and get edgier. "Mom, something is wrong. Are you OK? I think you might be having a stroke!" Her cancer though does weird things to her body. Sometimes when her electrolytes are off she does this, so I wasn't sure yet. Typically she just sounds a but drunk, and not like she is making up words, but I needed to know more.
"I am fine" She said.
"Mom I don't think you are, can you tell me how you feel?"
"Oh I know. But, Lijcsaef jnvjan n hjbhjvj nbn v."
"Mom, mom you are having a stroke. Lift your arms, are they both lifting equally" My intensity had risen so much that my children were now awake, a bit more aware of what was happening and also concerned. My mom had also begun to increase her intensity. 
As I am beginning to realize what's happening, I cannot remember the other stroke symptoms to ask about (facial droop with a smile) but I KNOW I need to call 9-1-1 only I am in Northern Michigan.
"Mom hang up the phone and unlock your door. I will call you right back. Please answer."
I immediately try my husband who should be home, then call her neighbor. Her neighbor Barb answers and immediately leaves for moms apartment. She is the one to call 9-1-1. Within minutes the ambulance is there and I am talking to the paramedic on the phone. Unfortunately I was likely the last person to speak to my mom (around 10:30 the might before) and they can not guarantee that we have caught her stroke within the first three hours, so there is little they can do except to rush her to the hospital.
The acronym FAST then flies through my head, but I and the paramedics are fairly certain it is a stroke. I am eternally grateful that she answered the phone; I would not have worried about her for a few hours since she often doesn't answer right away. The chemo has been tough on her and she gets tired easily lately. Sometimes too she just doesn't hear the phone.
Since Saturday though, things have been hell. Mom intermittently seems to know, or not know,  me and my brother. We are not yet sure who we will even get back. The stroke, a massive one, affected the left side of her brain, which means she has weakness on the right side of her body and much of her ability to speak is gone. 
Mom is now limited to saying yes, no and um, with other words popping in and out of her brain at random times. A friend of mine who is a speech therapist suggested I ask concrete questions of her though. That way could better gauge her understanding. So this morning when I arrived, I asked her:
"Do you know who I am?" (of course she says "Um, yea.")
"Am I your relative?"
"Um, yea."
"Am I your daughter?"
"Um, yea."
By now she is firmly reminding me of the movie Rain Man. I believe she will soon tell me what time Judge Wapner comes on, but I continue my questioning. I am still not sure she knows what she is saying so I try the technique Julie told me about.
"Is the door to your room open?"
(without looking) "Um yea."
"Do you know where the door is?" Can you point to it?"
"Um yea."
"Is the light in your room on?"
"Um yea."
By this point I am thinking perhaps she does know so I ask a couple trickier questions.
"Is it raining in your room?"
"Um yea."
"Is my shirt pink?"
"Um yea." 
My shirt is navy blue and clearly is is not raining in her room. 
Now I don't know what to believe, but I do know that asking yes and no questions is not likely to get me any closer to the answers I ultimately need. 
Later I show her photos. She seems to perhaps know who the photo is when I show her my brother at age 5. She's not sure about the grandchildren though, and I feel fairly sure she doesn't know me. When I show her photos of my grandma however, her mom, she starts to cry. I know she knows who that is, and I feel a bit better that perhaps my mom is still in there. I cry with her. Both tears of joy, as well as tears of fear, frustration and sadness. This is not how she wanted to live and for the life of me, I can not understand why a terminally ill cancer patient is being killed little by little. Her humanity is being stripped away and everything she never wanted is being forced upon her. 
My brother and I will get through this. With MM we knew she'd die. The horrific transplant she went through failed and she did not go into remission. We knew, that at some point, we'd be calling it quits. I have yet to speak to the oncologist, however the chemo that she is on is one she is repeating. She did not do well on it initially, and she has had several deadly side effects with it in the last couple of months. At this point, I am feeling that with this last scare, he is likely to take her off chemo and the cancer will win. That is for another day though. For now I have to focus on her and making the best possible plans for her future. My brother and I have to be good stewards for her.
So when the rehabilitation physician came in to speak to us, we knew what she'd say. I don't think either of us was ready to hear it though. "Your mom will never live alone or drive again." My stubborn, bullheaded, giving mother always said she did NOT want to live like this, and here it is. 
It took a bit for it to sink in, however today my brother came in determined to turn in her leased vehicle early.He will feel better getting something done before he goes home to South Carolina. The call went as expected. They would not speak to us since neither was on the account. I jokingly said he should let them speak to her. After all she would likely answer like this:
"Hi Mrs. S., is it OK if we speak to your son/daughter?"
"Um yea."
We went back to her apartment to pull out her purse, check-book and other financial information. Luckily I had the will she had done in 2003.She had put my brother and I on her bank account years ago too, so that should help, right? Today though, when we went to the bank, they could not fidn the signature card that I know what done. Which means we don;t have the necessary access to her account. 
I know we will get it, but the additional steps we will need to take will add time, energy and undue stress on both of us before we can get it done. Clearly she is in a semi-vegetative state and cannot care for herself, and within the wishes of the will she indicated her wishes. I just did not need this today. 
So today I wanted to offer this bit of sage advice...
Dear Friends Young and Old,
I wanted to share some thoughts that EACH of us needs to take care of. PLEASE have this information available for someone you love.
1) Gather passwords, user names and pin numbers to important online accounts. Put them on one master list and keep it in a safe place. 
Don't assume your loved one knows or remembers your passwords or user names. Besides, when you change a password 15 days earlier there is NO WAY your loved one will know that. My mom changed several passwords recently when her account was hacked. 15 days ago precisely.
2) If you live alone, or yous spouse has ill health, fill out a bank signature card adding someone to your bank accounts. ALSO don't assume the card is always current. Accounts change. UPDATE, update, update. 
If something happens and your connection can't get access to your accounts (like you thought), it really sucks. I KNOW I went into the bank and signed a card. My brother actually sent one from South Carolina. We don't know why the bank does not have the signature card but it's not there. Now we don't have legal access to her accounts!
3) Send IN any medical power of attorney forms. They are no good sitting in your pile of paperwork at home. 
I found my brothers power of attorney form, witnessed and notarized for him, but not signed by my mom, sitting in a pile. Actually I found 4 copies of the form that the various hospitals sent. I MAY have one that was submitted when she was at Karamanos for her transplant, however EACH time she goes into the hospital or medical facility I will need a copy of that form.
4) Have a will AND power of attorney AND a living will. Just a will alone is not a whole lot of good when you are in a vegetative state. 
My mom created a will using cheap software. Thankfully she had it witnessed and notarized, so that SHOULD make things a bit easier, but the one paragraph dropped into the will about my "brother and I having and getting access" will not stand up unless it was part of a separate document. Now we will need to hire an attorney to get anything done.
5) Have a master document that contains all your bills, account numbers and account information. Then please put it in a safe place. 
I have the credit card info and her cell phone so it's a bit easier to make calls on those, I also have access to her email on her cell phone, which helps. The biggest challenge though is with the OTHER accounts. So now I have to wait for mail and bills, and I will be constantly checking her mailbox at the apartment. No one needs the stress of paying their own bills AND someone else, but the added stress of having to actively track down information is a lot to handle. 
I'm sure there will be more tips that I will remember later, but this is my current list for you... PLEASE don't make it harder for your loved ones than it already is. While my husband and I are not perfect, I do have #1, #4 (which covers #3), and #5 complete. #2 is kind of irrelevant if the other paperwork is filled out and you have a spouse. Please, please, please help those you love and take care of this information for them ahead of time. it will save them a lot of time, energy and heartache in the long run.

August 15, 2016

Melting Ice Cream and the Fundamentals of Communication

I often remind myself that my young children are just begging to grasp communication basics; sometimes what I say does not make perfect sense and could possibly be taken out of context. This happens with adult conversations too - even when speaking the same language. I hate to say it, but found myself needing to brush up on these same communication fundamentals recently.
The beauty of being an independent consultant is that I have the freedom to work when I want, where I want - The challenge though is sometimes one and the same. Mostly I complete projects from home, although I do on occasion work on-site for clients; in fact, for the past few weeks, I have been working on-site for a client.
Aside from finding someone to watch my children part-time, I also need someone willing to tote them back and forth to their respective schools. I found yet another challenge of working on-site upon returning to my normal “mommy-bus” schedule, though; because I was not doing drop offs, I missed signing up to bring an item for my daughter’s Valentine’s Day party and found myself stuck with bringing ice cream. 
I know that I could have found something much worse. However, you need to imagine this scenario: tracking though an obstacle course in the blazing desert heat while carrying a pint of ice cream across a tattered rope bridge that spans a harrowing ravine with crazed, hungry crocodiles at the bottom, all the while dodging rapid fire burning arrows that cause rather large chunks of your path to disintegrate (a.k.a. sugar-starved children and nasty winter roadways) - all without allowing the ice cream to melt. 
While this isn’t entirely my scenario, it is a bit difficult to get a frozen item to one school when I have to drop my son at his school first, then high-tail it over to my daughter’s preschool on the other side of town. Any ice cream would be out of the freezer for more than an hour, thus creating a messy creamy soup.
I decided instead to squeeze in a trip to the grocer after dropping my son and before taking my daughter to her school. I had noticed, though, that when signing up the previous day, no one else had volunteered to bring the other half gallon, so before stopping I thought to call the teacher to ask if she needed me to get the other half gallon as well. This is how our conversation went:

“I’m going to stop for the ice cream; do you need me to get the other half gallon as well?”
“No we have lots of leftovers from the morning class and one of the other children signed up to bring the other half gallon.”
Pausing to consider our conversation and possibly a little confused, “So you don’t need ice cream then?”
“No we are good.”
I thought that was great since getting my daughter to the other side of town in time for class is always a time challenge. When we arrived at school and stood with the other parents and children, the teacher popped her head out of the classroom and asked, “Does anyone have items they need to put in the freezer?” 
Of course, not having ice cream I didn’t respond, so she looked at me and asked “Where’s the ice cream?”
I must have looked blank, because she looked at me and verified that I had indeed signed up to bring ice cream. I explained that was the reason for my phone call, and, after our conversation, I understood that I didn’t need to bring any. Turns out she didn’t need me to get more ice cream, and I was thinking that she didn’t need me to get any ice cream.
What I forgot is one of the principals of communication - I should have remembered to ask the clarification question“Just so that I understand, do you want me to bring the half gallon I signed up for?” Which then would have likely been answered with “Yes please bring your half-gallon; we just don’t need an entire gallon of ice cream.” 
If this type of conversation can go awry within the adult world, what is it doing to my children?
So ask yourself this when speaking to your children or anyone else really: Does what I say make sense? Could what I say be taken out of context? What would be the ramifications if I am not clearly understood?
I lucked out this time, as the other mom actually brought both of the half-gallons of ice cream. Next time, though, if I am not clearly understood, I may find myself scrambling instead.