40 BAGS IN 40 DAYS

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During my college years, 20s, and early 30s, I gave up chocolate, candy, coffee, soda, or the like in observance of Lent. Recently, however, I have gravitated away from “giving up” in favor of “adding in”. I have also looked for opportunities to broaden my and my family’s horizons, simplify our lives, and/or improve the lives of those in our community. Along these lines, a few years ago I decided to take on the “40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge”.

The challenge was originally created to coincide with Lent – however there is no reason it must – and involves cleaning out the clutter that keeps us from being able to truly enjoy and appreciate our lives. The focus is on letting go of stuff, but also on making small sacrifices. According to the Simply Catholic blog, “it should hurt – not a lot, but a bit. There should be some small sense of having to sacrifice or maybe some small bit of contrition at how much we hold onto things” (when we could redirect that time and energy elsewhere). An added benefit to the Challenge is that at the end of the 40 days you should have 40 or so bags of clothing, toys, books, and household items to donate to a family in need or a local nonprofit organization.

If you visit the Mama Bear Dares blog regularly, you may recall a post I wrote a few months back about making New Month’s Resolutions rather than New Year’s Resolutions. I made this shift back in September, and since then have tackled quite a few different kinds of resolutions, from setting a reasonable bedtime for myself and reading aloud to my children every night to drinking more water and writing daily in my gratitude journal.

In January I resolved to clean out all of the closets in my house, and in February I added cleaning out all of my cupboards. As I tackled these projects, I flashed back to the 40 Bags Challenge. I recalled how empowered and refreshed I felt when I completed it the first time, and an online search for why I felt this way led me to an article on the website Bustle. In a way that helped me better understand the benefits of decluttering, this short but informative piece summarized the results of a number of scientific studies and advice from professionals in related fields:

  • Better concentration. A study by Princeton University neuroscientists found that whether we realize it or not, clutter forces our brains to multitask. “Physical clutter…competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress."
  • Increased creativity. This one seems up for debate as some creative types swear by a messy desk or workspace, but the same idea as above applies: for most people, “dividing attention between multiple stimuli…often results in increased stress and decreased creativity and productivity”.
  • Better sleep. A sleep study out of St. Lawrence University found a connection between messy bedrooms and sleeping problems; cluttered bedrooms can contribute to sleeping problems like “trouble falling asleep at night and experiencing rest disturbances”.
  • Improved mood. Researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families found that “clutter has a profound effect on mood and self-esteem, especially for women”. They discovered a direct relationship between the density of household objects and the stress hormone cortisol: higher density of objects translates to higher levels of stress.
  • Ability to let go of the past. I found this benefit particularly interesting. Feng Shui experts explain that determining an item’s status as clutter has to do with how it feels – or makes you feel – rather than how it looks. “…Get rid of anything that drags you down” to avoid unpleasant memories or becoming dragged down by emotional baggage.
  • Clearer focus. This one is most relevant to me personally. “We hang onto far more objects than we need, and, instead of motivating us, they become talismans of guilt and shame.” The article suggests keeping only items that bring inspiration or motivation.

I won’t necessarily complete the 40 Bags in 40 Day Challenge during Lent, but in search of the benefits list above, I will take on the Challenge this spring. If you would like to join me, check out the printables and instructions on White House Black Shutters. Organizing Moms also shared a few great links for those who would like more information about decluttering in general and/or a simpler, smaller-scale version of the 40 Bags Challenge called 40 Items in 40 Days.

Williams Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” What a beautiful sentiment to help us embrace the idea that sometimes, caring for ourselves is about caring for the spaces in which we exist.


Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She contributes a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares Blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.

Mothers, Daughters, Subversive Tea Towels and Being “Seen”

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Last fall, I had made plans to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak in Dubuque, IA. This just happened to coincide with a trip my mom was making to see us in Iowa. At the risk of wondering what she might think, I invited her along. I guess I worried how mom might fare with Nadia – her expansive, sometimes unorthodox, theology, her radical, post-modern imagining of the church, and, you know, her embrace of the F-bomb. But then I thought of other things I’ve asked mom to take me to, and I relaxed.

As a kid I was excited about The Nightmare Before Christmas, an animated Tim Burton musical about a bunch of ghouls and ghosts who are always prepared for Halloween but then one day become fascinated with Christmas. Mom didn’t get it, but she took me to see it anyway. When I turned seventeen, my sister got me tickets to Tori Amos for my birthday, but then she couldn’t go. Once again, not her thing, but mom took me. And now, here I was embarking on a mini road trip with my mom and a carload of UCC clergywomen, to hear my favorite writer and theologian talk about her journey from recovering addict and stand-up comedian to being called by God to become an ELCA Pastor.

Despite my unnecessary anxieties, mom enjoyed herself; the company, the presentation, the theology. And when it was over, she bought two books and got them signed.

A few weeks passed, and my mom was busy creating things in her sewing room; truly, her sanctuary and prayer chamber. “I’d like to embroider you some towels that say ‘Kendra’s Kitchen,’ or something like that.” It was a kind gesture, but I admitted to mom that that sentiment wasn’t really my thing. “What if they said things like: ‘But First, Coffee’ or ‘I Mom So Hard’? Or ‘Speak Truth to Stupid’?” — a saying we both heard for the first time at Nadia Bolz-Weber’s lecture.

I could almost hear her bewilderment over the phone, but being a mom who loves her unusual daughter, to my sheer delight she fulfilled my request. She sent me four of the plushest towels I’ll ever dry dishes with, embroidered beautifully with those phrases. And yes. Even Nadia Bolz-Weber’s: “Speak Truth to Stupid.”

A few more weeks passed and I learned that Nadia Bolz-Weber would be here, in our own Quad Cities, speaking as a part of Augustana College’s “Symposium Day.” Knowing I already had all her books signed, I knew just what to do. After Nadia’s riveting presentation on our need for a sexual reformation in the church, I hightailed it to the book-signing line, with no book in hand. Instead, I had my “Speak Truth to Stupid” tea towel, trimmed with leopard print and lace, tucked away in a Ziplock bag under my arm.

My body buzzed with adrenaline and espresso as I approached Nadia’s place at the book-signing table where she was sitting with an intense look on her face. I almost got skipped in line because I didn’t have a book, but I pushed myself forward and thrust my parcel at her. I told her the story of how my mom wanted to embroider me towels that said ‘Kendra’s Kitchen,’ but that that wasn’t really my jam. I asked her to inscribe something else on the towels, and that’s when Nadia looked down to see her own words, craftily adorning my kitchen linens.

I stood back and watched as the intense writer and pastor flung her head back and let out the most joyful laugh. (My friend Stephanie captured the above picture.) As I walked away from the table, Nadia waved to me and said, “See ya, Kendra.”

You know, it is a deeply holy experience when you feel like you’ve actually been “seen.” That’s what that day was for me. Not just that a theologian-writer-pastor “saw” me or even that my friends understood this wacky desire to have a towel signed. But truly, it was the trifecta of those two encounters and my mom taking the time to accompany me to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber, one hundred miles from home, and then investing time and energy into making me some deeply meaningful tea towels, one that is now even autographed.

Yes, it is a joy to be known and to be seen. Thanks, mom.


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

The Imperfect Table

Photo and post by Leslie Klipsch

Photo and post by Leslie Klipsch

Ever since I can remember, my mother has thrown a lovely Christmas Eve dinner party. It’s a dressed-up affair that begins right after Christmas Eve Mass with shrimp cocktail, stuffed mushrooms, and oyster stew, and ends—after huge platters of lasagna are served and enjoyed—with dessert (vanilla ice cream for the kids and a Grasshopper for the adults). One particularly merry eve when I was around ten, the dinner plates were cleared and my mom unveiled something new she had spent the afternoon making—a beautiful blueberry cream cheese tart with a crumbly, homemade pecan crust.

My dear mother. It was obvious within the first few bites that the crust was severely burnt. The guests were having trouble chewing and swallowing, though everyone—friends and family alike—was too polite to mention it, instead carrying on pleasant conversation while reaching for their water glass.

Our parish priest, still in his collar, was seated at our table and he ventured to use the side of his fork to casually (but determinedly) cut his next polite bite. Before we knew it, a quarter-size piece of burnt pecan crumble crust shot across the table like a bullet and landed on my grandmother’s plate.

All eyes quickly turned to my mother to measure her response. To everyone’s relief, she broke out in raucous laughter and we all followed suit, howling until we had tears in our eyes. The niceties were over; the crust was a flop. But the dinner party? Still fabulous.

Of course, this is not exactly how my mother had hoped her tart would turn out that year. It’s also probably not the one moment out of three decades of beautifully prepared Christmas Eve dinners that she would hope to have been crystallized in my mind forever, but it is. I treasure this memory because it highlights the joy found in imperfection. My mother is a gifted hostess whom I admire immensely. However, on that Christmas Eve in the late eighties, her piecrust was not perfect.

The holidays are so often fraught with anxiety and expectation. We worry about everything from money to menus to being face-to-face with the pain of fractured relationships. We struggle to provide magic for those around us and we stress over creating long-lasting memories with every move we make. If only we would let go of some of those long-held expectations and loosen our grip on the quest for perfection. In doing so, we might welcome a better season, one during which we are free to enjoy the depth of relationships and the promise of joy without the heavy weight of flawlessness.

#momtheology: Grace & Skressin’, A Mom’s Travelogue (Part I)

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My family and I have been away from home for six weeks now. Mostly we’ve been relaxing, traveling, hosting friends and family at our cabin in the North Woods of Wisconsin.

Yesterday, two weeks from returning to Iowa, felt like the perfect vacation day. Not perfect because it was without glitches, but perfect in its wholeness. Perfect because I embraced my inner mom wisdom, prepared the kids’ bag sparingly yet smartly, and most importantly, was able to go with the flow; compromising on lunch plans, nap schedules, and planned activities for the day. It has taken me almost our entire vacation to learn these skills.

In these past many weeks, I’ve messed up, learned some things the hard way, even documented a few folk wisdom gems. What I’ll share with you is that vacationing with small children involves graciousness….and skressin. They are the yin and yang of the traveling mom, for sure.

Perhaps I should define my terms. Grace, as I understand it theologically—and as it goes with library book returns—is that strand of forgiveness that can sometimes be described as undeserved. Can we give that grace to our children? Our spouses? Ourselves? As for ‘skressin’ I guess I could have just called it ‘stress’ but this is kind of my new favorite word. According to Urban Dictionary, Skressin is like stressin, but somehow being chill about it. And how can you even attempt that without grace?

So as a member of the mom crowd, and a fellow traveler on the road of life (as well as summer destinations) here’s what I’ve learned:

a)     When traveling with a recently potty-trained toddler, learn his, ahem, “rhythms.” Seek out the non-scary bathrooms…preferably without Dyson hand dryers, which basically contain the fear factor of all Disney villains combined in one awful sound. Automatic toilets are out, too. At least for us. They add to the “skress.”

b)     Buy a good stain-remover, and don’t give up. It can be tempting to throw away a tee shirt because the spaghetti or jam or both make your child’s clothes look like evidence from a Law and Order rerun, but even stain remover can be a means of grace. Soak the shirt and take a deep breath, mom. It happens to all of us.  

c)     If you are having a moment of doubt, but still wonder, “Is my suitcase overweight?” IT IS. Borrow a duffle and check a second bag. Spend the money you’ve saved, by not checking an overweight bag, on a good massage.

d)     Let go – at least temporarily - of your former self who used to bike ten miles at elevation, hike to tree line, kayak first thing in the morning. This you will return, but while your children are small, enjoy what they are able to do. Do the things that you used to roll your eyes at as a single person on vacation. Trust me. Just give into it.

e)     Lastly, as you lean into being gentle with yourself, at the risk of sometimes appearing creepy, commend other traveling parents on their small victories. You’ll see them sometimes, refereeing toddler fights over French fries, exhibiting saint-like patience in public restrooms, hauling tantrum-entranced youngsters out of national parks and museums. Applaud their efforts, however unnoticeable they may seem. Acknowledge these feats because you know what it feels like to have your own wisdom and graciousness recognized.


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

Meeting Mama Bear: Liz Josie

Liz Josie is a busy, stay-at-home mom of four young kids. She’s a native of Utah, teaches piano lessons, and tries to put one foot in front of the other while managing her family. Liz recently discovered the full power of her Mama Bear.

Liz saw a local doctor give a troubling talk about the Syrian refugees crisis. He spoke about the millions of Syrian refugees who have had to flee their country with nothing. What struck Liz was how the people he spoke of her so much like herself and the people she knew: they worked, they had homes, they had prized possessions, and they didn’t ask to have to flee everything they had known. Liz left the community forum feeling overwhelmed and was unsure how she could make an impact. She was physically ill and prayed for an inspiration to propel her forward.

Liz’s former neighbor, the head of her area's Kids Against Hunger Chapter, was mentioned in the presentation for a meal packaging event that had recently sent meals to Iraq. When the two connected shortly after the presentation, Liz felt the nudge of her activated Mama Bear. She decided to take a leap of faith and put together a start-to-finish packaging event to help the refugees who weighed so heavily on her mind.

Through some connections on Facebook, Liz reached out to Helping Hands of Relief and Development (HHRD) who helped her locate a refugee camp in Lebanon that desperately needed the meals Liz knew she could deliver. HHRD let Liz know that all aid is required to be shipped in a 40-foot crate. This crate would need to be filled entirely with meals—enough to feed the entire camp for a month.

At that point, all numbers became staggering. A 40-foot crate holds 1,188 boxes. Each box holds 36 bags. Therefore, 42,768 bags would be sent. Each bag contains six meals. So while Liz was staring down potentially providing 256,608 meals to people in desperate need, she was unsure of how to make this event come together. She realized she needed to raise $70,000 to fund the project AND then find 800+ volunteers to package the food thing. Mama Bear stirred.

Liz could have stopped as she became overwhelmed by the numbers of such a giant project, but she didn’t. The more Liz thought about it, the more at peace she felt and the more compelled she was to continue. She knew these meals would help very real and very hurting people. Her mantra was simple: “FORGET YOURSELF AND GET TO WORK.” The families in these refugee camps deserve the help, the food, and the support.

In reaching out to local friends, Liz found immediate support. Even with the daunting task of fundraising, people were eager to help. A committee was formed—all moms in varying stages of parenting with kids of all ages. Each woman brought unique talents and gifts and, amazingly, everything started to come together. When a need arose, someone stepped up and the need was filled.

Liz now knows that one person can do more than they ever dream possible … but not everything. It truly takes a team to step up and accomplish big things to make a difference in the world. As Liz and her team worked, the project miraculously fell into place. Local businesses stepped in with donations for the primary fundraiser, the local museum allowed the use of their space, and the local doctor that sent Liz on this initial journey agreed to speak again.

At the end of the fundraising event, Liz, who is not prone to tears, cried freely when it was announced the group’s $70,000 goal was met. What started as a sick feeling and the question “What can I actually do to help?” led to a group of women celebrating what can happen when everyone comes together for good. While Liz’s thoughts have shifted to the packaging event to make this dream come full circle, her heart is at peace knowing that it will all come together.  Thanks to this tribe of Mama Bears, 256,608 meals will be on their way to hungry sisters and brothers in Lebanon.

For those local to the Quad Cities (Iowa/Illinois), visit www.qcrefugeeproject.com for more information on how to volunteer for the packaging event to be held June 3, 2017. Email refugeeprojectqc@gmail.com with any questions.

Mama Bear contributor Abbie Keibler is a full-time working mama to three girls born within three years. She married her preschool sweetheart and settled within five miles of both sets of their parents after years spent college-ing in other states. Abbie loves being immersed in nature, her family's tradition of pizza and a movie on Friday nights, and putting words together to make them dance off the page.

Mama Bear Self Care: Bake for the Health of It

Photos and baking wizardry by Erin Ferris.

Photos and baking wizardry by Erin Ferris.

I learned my way around the kitchen under my mother’s wing. Wearing an apron that hung nearly to my ankles and standing precariously on a wooden stool, I inched closer and closer until I all but crowded her out of the head chef’s place at the counter. As we created salads, soups, and casseroles, she taught me the formal techniques I would one day use to feed my family as well how to express my creativity in the kitchen and the art of preparing and presenting food with love.

Fifteen years later and as a newly-relocated (read: friendless) newlywed whose other half worked 14 hours a day, I decided to build on what my mother taught me and improve my baking skills. I told myself I took on the project for the sake of our future children, who would of course someday need me to contribute to their schools’ bake sales … honestly, I really just wanted an excuse to lick the bowl and indulge in a few sweet treats myself.

As I whipped up banana bread, brownies, lemon bars, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, I realized that each recipe – even halved – produced more than my little family could consume. Rather than dump the extras into the trash, I started sending them to work with my husband or taking them to my office. My husband’s graduate students sent thank-you emails for the homemade cookies. My coworkers’ faces lit up when they found trays of cupcakes on the break room counter. And with that, a cycle began: I baked, my baked goods made other people happy, I felt happy, and I baked again.

I didn’t always love the process, or the cleanup, or the frustration that crept in when I attempted to tweak recipes with disastrous results, but I kept baking because it made me feel good about myself.

The cycle continues today, another 15 years later. Despite my family doubling in size and my time commitments doubling in number, I still bake for my husband, kids, friends, and friends’ kids. For sporting events. For school functions. For Fridays. At times my inability to turn down a request for baked goods – no matter how full my schedule – baffles me.

And then last month I came across this article. As the choir sang “Alleluia,” the heavens parted and a beam of light illuminated my stove like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Suddenly it all became clear.

Should your busy schedule keep you from reading the article in its entirety, here’s a summary: making other people happy makes us happy, and when we care for others, we care for ourselves.

  • Baking provides a creative outlet. Research has found an inverse relationship between creative expression and stress, meaning the more we express ourselves creatively, the lower our stress levels.
  • Baking provides a way to communicate feelings and emotions. When we struggle to express how we feel, food can help us share our message. Explains Julie Ohana, a licensed medical social worker and culinary art therapist, “In many cultures, and in many countries, food…is an expression of love, and it’s actually beautiful because it’s something we can all relate to.”
  • Baking promotes mindfulness, which has been connected to increased happiness and decreased stress. Because baking requires physical and mental focus and attention to detail, it requires us to be present in the moment. Ohana also explains that baking promotes balancing the moment against the bigger picture, something that can be difficult to master.
  • Baking with the intent to gift the finished product is altruistic. Donna Pincus, an Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, describes the cycle I mentioned above in more detail: “Baking for others can increase a feeling of wellbeing, contribute to stress relief and make you feel like you’ve done something good for the world, which perhaps increases your meaning in life and connection with other people.”

Of course these benefits to baking apply only if you feel comfortable in the kitchen. If baking causes you stress, steer clear…but then find your gift and put it to use in the same way many of us use baking. A friend of mine is an incredible knitter and she loves to make scarves and hats and mittens for friends. Another friend creates beautiful leather bookmarks and pops them into books when she lends her favorites. These Mama Bears enjoy their personal creative outlets and appreciate the feelings of accomplishment and happiness that come from caring for others.

Though I didn’t realize it until last month, for 30+ years I have measured, mixed, and decorated as a way to work out my creative energy, let others know how I feel, and spend time alone with my thoughts. Now that I know the benefits, I anticipate another 30+ years of the same.

Perhaps we should talk about exercise next month…


Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She contributes a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares Blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.

Mother’s Day Gifts: Eight Ideas for the Mama Bear in Your Life

Mama Bear. She’s strong, she’s sensitive, she’s socially minded. If you’re lucky enough to have a Mama Bear in your life, we know you’ll want to honor her on Mother’s Day. Check out these thoughtful, big-hearted gifts sure to make even the fiercest Mama Bear swoon.

1. Beaded Earrings from Tanzania

Because of the sponsorship of mom-artist, Mama-Bear, and #girlboss Jen VanOort of Onion Grove Mercantile, 100% of the purchase of a pair of red beaded earrings ($30) made by Maasai women in Tanzania will go to women’s empowerment programming in poor, rural areas of Tanzania. Empower Tanzania works to prepare women for success in sub-Saharan Africa through education and specialized training in healthcare, agriculture, and small business. Learn more about their work at www.empowertz.org and purchase a set of earrings HERE.

2. Uprising Apparel

A “Be the Light” tank ($28) is a double win. Uprising Apparel is a Mama Bear company in that they offer stylish, inspiring apparel that shares a message of hope while helping to raise vulnerable children out of poverty. The purchase of this tank will help bring light and hope to vulnerable children in Uganda through educational initiatives and will provoke goodness in anyone who reads the message.

3. FashionABLE Bag

We love this leather bag ($148) handcrafted in Ethiopia almost as much as we love the philosophy behind the company who produces it. FashionABLE believes in creating jobs for those lacking opportunity and that those jobs should be held by women. This Mama Bear mission is one we want to support: to end generational poverty, we must empower people to provide for themselves.

4. Minivan Makeover

American moms with children of a certain age tend to spend an astonishing amount of time in their minivans. Concentrate your efforts on pampering her where she’s at! In other words, clean that baby until it sparkles. If you’re detail-oriented and not afraid of elbow-grease, you can perform the task yourself ($0). If you supervise and demand a certain level of excellence, the kids can do it ($0). Otherwise, the local full-service car wash will get the job done ($49-$249). (If you choose to hire someone, find a black, female, or immigrant-owned business to support for bonus Mama Bear points.)

5. Mama Bear’s Manifesto

Mama Bear’s Manifesto: A Moms’ Group Guide to Changing the World ($14) is a book that honors moms and asks women of all ages to poke at the power they hold within. It’s a celebration of women, of friendship, and of the incredible power of motherhood. This book will inspire and reassure moms of all ages and is perfect for Mother’s Day. Ten percent of all sales is donated to The Adventure Project. Available at Target, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other major bookstores.

6. LSTN Earbuds

If she loves listening to podcasts, she’ll probably love listening to her favorite shows (ahem, Mama Bear Dares!) on these zebra wood earbuds ($49). Not only are they gorgeous and do they produce great sound, but every LSTN purchase helps give hearing aids to someone in need. (Also, we’re drooling over LSTN’s wireless, over-ear Troubadors ($179). They’re a bit pricier but MUCH harder to lose!)

7. Spa Treatment

Encourage her self-care routine by giving the Mama Bear in your life a gift certificate for a spa service (massage, facial, mani/pedi; $30 and up) ... and then make sure she makes time to use it. And remember, Mama Bears love lifting their sisters up—enhance the meaning of this gift by spending your dollars at a local, female-owned business. Pair the gift with vegan, non-GMO bath bombs for complete thoughtfulness.

8. Sustainable Shades

If she has a kid or two, she’s probably responsible enough to hold on to a pair of quality, sustainable shades, right? Invest in a pair of Woodwear eco-friendly, sustainable sunglasses and the Mama Bear in your life will feel fancy and in good conscience all summer long. Woodwear Sunglasses are handmade out of sustainable bamboo in the U.S.A. Favorites: Breck Woods ($90) and classic tortoise Malibus ($60).

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

"Just as it’s essential to acknowledge what’s broken and do what we can to help relieve suffering, even if it’s a world away, it’s also important to pay attention to the beauty present as well. As I’ve traveled through East Africa for both work and pleasure, I’ve grown to admire much about the way women cultivate community and raise their sons and daughters. In fact, I believe a Midwestern mama can learn a lot about motherhood in the cradle of humanity."

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Confessions of a Thirty-Five-Year-Old Mallrat

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In 1995, there was a movie. Granted, it wasn’t a great movie, but at least it was crass and juvenile. I’m talking about Mallrats. Food court debates, break ups and of course, Jay and Silent Bob doing their thing – whatever that is.

I’m not saying this movie sums up my life or anything, but lately I do spend an inordinate amount of time at the mall. I guess you could say: I’m a thirty-five-year-old mallrat.

I blame my children. And the Midwest.

I had my first child at the tail end of a polar vortex which struck Iowa in the first part of 2014. Being hospitalized, becoming a new mother, these things already cam make you feel stir crazy. But when you can’t even go outside because, with wind chill, it’s twenty degrees below zero? You figure out some way to get out of the house.

For me, I took my tiny baby to the mall.

I prided myself on a practice I call “Exploiting the Mall.” I discovered the free coffee sample, which varies daily, at the kitchen store, I located bathroom stalls big enough to contain a mom, a baby, and a stroller, I scouted out quiet places to feed my son and I often left my shopping experience having spent ten dollars or less.

As he’s gotten older, I’ve passed on “Exploiting the Mall” to my son. We visit Build-a-Bear, which may as well be a bear museum, because we never buy anything. We ‘ride’ the trains -feeding no quarters to the mechanical amusements that go nowhere. And after these rounds, we often feast on a low-budget, shared kid’s meal of nuggets, fries, and diet lemonade in the food court.

Now I am the mother of two small children and the mall remains our routine companion. In fact, my son even recognizes it from the road. When he sees the Northwest Bank building looming at the top of Brady and Kimberly he asks, “Mom, is that the mall?” He overlooks Toys-R-Us completely, perhaps because we never go there. But he knows the mall.

I’m not entirely proud of this recognition. Perhaps at some point I will be held responsible for my son’s consumeristic leanings; his own mallrat tendencies.

This pangs me a bit. But it’s not just about shopping.

I regularly have conversations with store owners, managers and baristas.  Yes, I’ve spent enough time at the mall that I’ve made friends. I know that Jim, owner of Cotopaxi, famous for Bob Marley posters and ten cent incense sticks, lives out of state but runs his franchise from a far. I’ve met the Pastor’s son who runs the Christian coffee shop that keeps me coming back with potent espresso and ten percent off coupons. (I even got a tour of their worship space and recording studio once.) I also enjoy running into my friends from church who are mall-walkers, frequenting North Park as much as I do.

Being a mallrat is about loitering and infrequently buying things, but I’d argue it’s also about finding community. Sometimes I go to the mall to shop. But sometimes I go just so I can be around people, nodding at the other moms navigating stores with bulky diaper bags and cumbersome strollers. And in the meantime, I’ve met a few people and now we are in each other’s narratives. Funny how that happens.

When my husband and I lived in college towns like Lawrence, Kansas and Fort Collins, Colorado, my mercantile wanderings took me to Mass Street and Old Town; hip districts containing shops, breweries, and bordered by bodies of water. I’m older now, I have children, and I live in Davenport, Iowa. I suppose we could go downtown to wander along the Mississippi River. I could do that, and infrequently, I do. But more likely than not, when I need to get out of the house, go for a little walk, buy some stickers, and eat a salty snack — I go to the mall


*Special thanks to Joyce Paustian who took this picture at North Park Mall and Woody Perkins who made it so closely resemble the movie poster for Mallrats.

I’m also thankful for my friends and family featured: Joe (my son), Louise (my mother in law), Bob (friend, church member, and faithful mall-walker), Andi (my daughter), John (my husband), Woody, Sarah and Matthew (friends and remarkably adventuresome collaborators).

Oh, and Danielle Parker, Owner and Stylist at Studio 714 salon who asked, “So you want me to style your hair for a blog?” But then did it anyway.


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

Mama Bear Moment: When Your CHild is Diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes

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Kate is a full-time working mom to two young boys, is active in her church, and recently moved her family to a new home. She is dedicated and gives everything her all, so when her family was dealt a new challenge, she embraced it and handled it with grace. That's why we're sharing her Mama Bear story here.

Kate’s oldest son, Kallan, was only 4 years old when he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D). To say the diagnosis made Kate and her husband feel helpless is an understatement. They were unaware of how diabetes would change their lives, control their conversations, and cause endless worry.

To many of us, treatment for diabetes may be filed in our minds simply as “don’t eat too much sugar.” Sadly, that is not the case. For the uninformed mama, Kate provides this “non-medically approved” simplification:

When you eat anything with carbohydrates in it, sugar (or glucose) is created in your blood. Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin, which helps your body turn the glucose into energy.  In T1D, the pancreas does not function, which means no insulin is made. Any time a T1D eats, they must be given insulin through either an injection (yes, a shot) or through a device called an insulin pump. 
The insulin must be carefully calculated by taking into account current blood glucose level, the time of day, and the amount of carbohydrates being consumed. Too little insulin causes your blood sugar level to stay too high and too much insulin means your blood glucose level could drop to dangerously low level – both of which cause scary side effects or even death. Just when you’ve mastered all of that, you then discover that other factors can affect your blood glucose levels such as exercise, excitement, growth spurts, illness and the type of carbohydrates you eat. 

Kate doesn’t judge other parents who aren’t as diabetes aware, as she was recently in their shoes. She recognizes the learning curve inherent when you don’t live diabetes daily like she and her family have been forced to. Kate and her husband endured a “diabetes bootcamp” after Kallan’s diagnosis and left with medical supplies, instructions, and a pediatric endocrinologist on speed dial.

What neither Kate nor her husband anticipated was how this diagnosis would make them better parents, how it would encourage more involvement in Kallan’s schooling, and how it would continually show them how fortunate they were to have wonderful family and friends.

Following the bootcamp, they arrived home to balloons, presents, and a decorated room for Kallan. Because he would be getting 4-5 finger pricks and 4 shots per day, boxes upon boxes of Band-Aids started arriving at their home addressed to Kallan – many from all over the country. This provided their first glimpse at the support that would be a part of their journey.

Kate reminds other Mama Bears that face any type of medical or unexpected challenge to look for the positives amidst the tears, frustrations, and sleepless nights. The positives could come in the form of seeing your friends and family join together to support you and your little one, seeing your now 5-year-old explain his medical care to the very impressed school nurse, or even just laughing at medical memes that you wouldn’t have even understood just a short time ago. 

Kate has learned an endless amount in the year and a half since she’s added “diabetes mom” to her resume. She now understands that it truly does take a village to parent a child with T1D and she is finding it’s worth the extra effort.

(For more information about T1D, visit the JDRF wesite HERE.)


Mama Bear contributor Abbie Keibler is a full-time working mama to three girls born within three years. She married her preschool sweetheart and settled within five miles of both sets of their parents after years spent college-ing in other states. Abbie loves being immersed in nature, her family's tradition of pizza and a movie on Friday nights, and putting words together to make them dance off the page.