Monday, June 30, 2008

Time for Me: the Sisterhood of Moms

I desperately need a haircut. I have for at least three weeks. I have made (and cancelled) at least two appointments already. Because it's summer, I fool myself into thinking the pony tail holder is okay.

But glamorous, it is not.

This is one of the awful truths of my life, and maybe, of any Mom's life... We are constantly making time for everyone else's priorities, but when it comes to taking care of *ourselves*, we are pitiful.

I know a woman who folds everyone else's clothes, but dresses herself out of a basketful of clean laundry.

I know a woman who paints her daughters' toenails on a weekly basis, but when I gave her a gift certificate to go get a pedicure, it took her a whole year to use it.

And then there's me... with my quarterly haircut.

Lately, I've been asked for advice from three new moms I know. All are about 6 months in to first-time mothering. And all are at their wits end. They fret about fussiness and fevers, they wonder if they should worry about their child's weight, teething, which foods are best, how much formula to give. And of course, there are the diapers.

I've told each of them the same things.

1) Every first-time mom worries about exactly the same things you are. When we say, "Relax! Take time for yourself!" Don't believe that we're taking our own advice. Because the only way any of us learned what to worry about and not to worry about was to worry about everything in the beginning. If there is a brand new mom who is not asking the questions you are, guess what? They are not as good a mom as they imagine.

2) With that said, "Relax! Take time for yourself!" Ha.

No, seriously. I think one of the best things I ever found was that if I could take even 15 minutes to do something independent -- that made me feel like the strong woman I was before "the transformation," I felt so much better about life in general. For every person, this is a different thing.

For my own mother, it was a hot bath. I remember once or twice a week, her locking herself in the upstairs bathroom and coming out with a face as red as cooked lobster and smelling like perfume. Afterward, there was nothing that we six (yes, I said six) children could do that could bother her. She was restored.

For me, it is the time I take in my garden. You may wonder how weeding or planting or watering can help me... I'll tell you. It is the silence of it. My children are all of the age where they can play in the yard while I work. But, spending time in the garden a few times each week can bring me back from the edge. I like tending something living, solving solvable problems, and enjoying the benefits of growing something truly beautiful. There are no lasting consequences there, and I like that.

So, when I say "Relax! Take time for yourself!" understand that it may only be 5 or 10 minutes a day at first. People don't understand that a new mom has to remind herself to shower and dress in the morning. Do it, and do it faithfully.

3.) You will make mistakes. Be sure to be as gentle and forgiving with yourself as you plan to be with your child.

Every mom I know has had times when she thought she was the worst mother in the world. I remember, when my oldest was about three months old, I nicked his finger while cutting his nails. I tell you, there is nothing scarier than drawing blood on your own child. I distinctly remember calling my mother in tears, and going over everything that had happened, including my use of every disinfecting agent and ointment in the first aid kit. "Can I use a band aid on his finger? Will he eat it and choke?" I asked, frantic. It was at that moment that I realized I could never be a trauma nurse. I think, in terms of baby-care, it was my all-time low.

The good news is that babies have little or no long-term memory. So, as long as you can keep away from psychologically scarring abuse, you're good. So, abandonment is out --and No, that doesn't include letting him sit in his bouncy seat fussing for a few minutes so you can go into the bathroom by yourself. Come on.

4) Finally, I tell them that the best response to the almost soul-crushing frustration that a new mom feels is...

(drum roll, please...)

A good nap.

When you are well-rested, your perspective will magically return. It has worked for me and for countless thousands of other moms.

Which brings me to this: becoming a first time mom brings you into one of the toughest sisterhoods on the planet. All the logic and reasoning you learned to succeed on your own in the world will be turned on its head when you become a Mom. But the good news is: You are not alone! One of the best things I did as a first-time mom was to find a group of other moms. We met once a week, at each others' houses, under the pretense of a "playgroup". It was more of a "roll on the floor and drool group", but playgroup sounds better. That group helped me so much in ways I cannot even explain, but the greatest way was just getting rid of the isolation I felt.

I live in a new town now, but have found that the Sisterhood of Moms does, indeed, have a local chapter! We find ways to support each other, laugh together, cry together, and share our lives in the best times and the most difficult circumstances.

So, to my new mom friends, Welcome to the Sisterhood.

... will one of you babysit so I can go get my hair cut?


Midwest Mom

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Friday, June 27, 2008

The Making of Mud Puppies

Yesterday, we had friends from Ohio come to spend the day with us. It was hot, so in the afternoon, all the kids donned bathing suits to go out in the sprinkler.

They had a great time running and laughing, pouring buckets of water over their heads and over each other's heads. At one point, the four older ones got together to create a big mud wallow and heave gigantic rocks into it, just to see how big of a mud splash they could make. "Cannonball!" they all yelled together, then sploosh! Mud everywhere.

I let them do it. It's summer, after all, and I've heard mud is good for the complexion. Someday some spa will charge $100 for the same thing.

Once they had exhausted themselves we went indoors. Of course, we tried first to squirt the mud off their ears, foreheads, elbows, backs, and back sides. There was no way we could get it all, but we tried. Inside, bathing suits were put immediately into the laundry.

When our guests' mom came to get them, we laughingly told her about the afternoon's adventure. "Sounds like you had fun!" and then a whisper to me, "...thanks for washing the suits!" I sent them away with a basketful of dinner and hugs.

I'm hoping that a day of crazy fun was just what they needed. They were in town because their grandmother is sick in the hospital. So, when they arrived, they were pensive. There was none of that on their way out the door. Just laughter. I like that.

I think that kind of play is really therapeutic for kids. Sometimes you just have to let your kids go a little insane to keep them sane the rest of the time. And it feels so good to watch them be creative (even with mud!) and play themselves totally exhausted.

That is totally worth a little laundry.

Midwest Mom

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ants in my Pants

My oldest son cracks me up. His favorite toy is named "SuperBug". He loves bugs of all kinds. He sleeps with a bee and a ladybug. When we are outdoors, he studies ants, bees, spiders. Last year, he caught a grasshopper longer than my index finger and a praying mantis or two. He took them to school for show and tell. His entire kindergarten year was spent reading library books about the life cycle of bugs. We read about ants and butterflies, but also about termites and cockroaches. It was disgusting.

I can't stand bugs.

The reason I can't stand bugs is very simple. Of course, there is a story behind it. When I was in kindergarten, we lived in Southern California. Our street was, essentially, built upon a giant ant hill. Every week, a different house on the street was being treated for ants. They would make giant highways of ant bodies that would stretch up to an open second floor window because some child had left the cap off the toothpaste and they could smell the sugar. It was disturbing, but living there, you just put the ants at the back of your mind. I was, after all, in kindergarten.

Well, one day, a group of neighbors were in our back yard playing in the sprinkler. We were all in our bathing suits, and our moms were sipping iced tea in the shade of our back patio. We were having a great time running and being crazy and cooling off. I decided to take a short rest, sitting down on a small wall that separated the patio from the rest of the yard. There was a puddle at the base of the wall. I put my feet in it.

(Right now, something inside of you should be saying, "Uh-Oh...")

Well, the "puddle" was a collapsed ant hill. After a few seconds, I felt an itch inside my suit. I scratched, but the itchiness continued. I looked in my suit.

IT WAS FULL OF ANTS!

Screaming, I ran back into the sprinkler. (I had, of course, instinctively ripped off my suit and was bare naked and screaming until the ants were gone.)

Did I mention that all the neighbors were over?

Of course, my mother, laughing so hard that she was crying, rushed over to help. We got the ants off, but the laughter didn't die down until quite a while later. I don't care. I still blame those ants. Forever afterward, my dad and mom would rib me about my lingering bug phobia. On Saturday afternoons, Dad would turn on movies like "THEM". Talk about creepy.

But, fast forward to now. As a result of my son and his this love of all things buggy, I have had to temper my own distaste for the little beasts. We've come to a bit of a truce. In my generosity, I have decided to give the outdoors over to the bugs. (Inside the house is another story.)

I have to, grudgingly, admit that certain bugs DO serve a very useful purpose in my garden. Our wildflower patch and clover patch have been great places to see butterflies grow and honeybees do their work. We don't use bug control chemicals on anything at our place, so we even have predators, like the mantises. They are such fun to watch in action. And this time of year, the lightning bugs are out every evening. My son is very good at catching those, too.

"Hey, mom, do you want to hold it?" he'll ask me.

"That's okay, honey." I say. "You go ahead. I think I'll pass."

I haven't told him the story about the ants yet.

Midwest Mom

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Politics Note: Energy Policy

I have noticed that there has been a good bit of back-and-forth between the McCain and Obama campaigns in the past week over issues surrounding energy policy.

Clearly gas, electricity, and fuel oil prices are something that is effecting all our families. On our sister site devoted to politics, Illini Family Politics [ http://ilfamilypolitics.blogspot.com/ ], I will be running a series of articles dealing with energy.

Each candidate's position on the day's energy issue will be presented in the candidate's own words, from sources that are publicly available. Today's topic is "Alternative Energy".

Your vote is a powerful tool, and it is important (but difficult) for most families to educate themselves on issues. I find that, even reading the newspaper on a daily basis, it is hard for me to understand the candidates positions on all the issues. The goal of the policy series on Illini Family Politics will be to break down the information out there to make it easier to decide which candidate is proposing policies that are good for you and your family.

I hope this will be helpful for you and your family. As always, I am open to your comments.

Happy reading,

Midwest Mom
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Life before Antibiotics

Two of my three children are currently battling strep throat. One is on his second round of antibiotics because the first didn't eliminate the infection... The difference after just one or two doses is remarkable. You would hardly know they were sick. I'm keeping them home and forcing them to rest -- just in case.

I spoke with my sister yesterday. Her daughter, age 10, complained of ear pain, so she took her to the doctor. Diagnosis? "Whoa! That's bad." said the Doc. Antibiotic in hand, she left the pharmacy, and 12 hours later her daughter is just fine. Forget Bayer -- the miracle drug seems to be Amoxycillin, or "Pink Drink" as my kids call it.

When I think about how sick my kids can get -- you know, the kind of sick where they're just willing to lay limp in your arms -- and I think about how difficult it would be to try to make them well without antibiotics, I am confounded. How did our grandmothers do this? No wonder they were totally gray by age 30.

But Antibiotics have a downside, too. For my kids, they probably won't even remember this bout with strep. I remember, "back in the day" when I was a kid, that strep throat was a golden disease... like pinkeye. It was guaranteed days off from school... Ten, to be exact. Pinkeye was a guaranteed three and you had to put nasty goo right on your eyeball. But hey, when you're 8 years old, three is better than nothing. Am I right?

Chicken pox was the same way. Of course, the killjoys in the medical establishment have come up with a vaccine for that one. What's the matter with them? Don't they realize, in this world of no vacation days, chicken pox is a person's last chance to have a good long undisturbed rest? Sure, you're itchy all over -- but that's beside the point.

I guess I can't complain with the medical people, though. They're helping my kids with this crazy strep. And they did invent antibiotics. So they can stay. (I can hear their collective sigh of relief, can't you?)

So, the upside to antibiotics is virtually instant cure to any infection. Downside, you don't feel sick, so you don't get your rest. But, I have often said that the goal of parenting is to raise your children to be healthy, decent adults. And adults right now have to work crazy hours with very little time off. ... So, maybe the antibiotics are just getting them used to life as an American Worker...

Which reminds me -- vacation policy in this country is lousy! But, that's a discussion for another time. ... I'd better get back to my "sick" children. They're bouncing on the living room couches again.

... Darn those antibiotics!

Midwest Mom
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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pregnancy Pact: Are these girls NUTS?!?

I read about a group of girls in Gloucester, Massachusetts, yesterday who apparently have taken leave of their senses. Maybe they thought the movie Juno was a documentary. Maybe they still believe in unicorns. Who knows? But these girls decided that getting pregnant as a teenager was in. It was "the thing to do"... The newspaper said they took "a pregnancy pact". I say they had a very bad case of "the stupids."

To you girls who think teen pregnancy is the way to go, here's what you can count on for the next 9 months - 20 years.
  1. Body Changes: You will grow, jiggle, and ache in places you never knew you had. A pregnant belly can be beautiful, yes -- but afterward, it ain't so pretty. You are probably done with bikinis after this. If you nurse, guess what? The "boost" you get in the bra-line will eventually go away, and those puppies won't salute the sun in the same way ever again.
  2. Your life is no longer your own: When you are pregnant, every choice you make effects the child in your body. Guess what? THAT'S THE EASY PART. After the baby is born, every choice you make effects the child outside your body. Let's see.... you're 17 or 18 now. So, you'll be about 38 years old by the time this child is fully out on their own. (Wow. You're old.) But you'll still be young, right? And you'll finally be free! ...That is, until you realize that the stupids are hereditary, in which case they'll be calling you Grandma at 38.
  3. Your Relationships will change: In the movies, there is a compassionate family that surrounds a pregnant young woman. There is something so pitiful about her that it seems wrong to hold a grudge. But there will be people in your life who will not be able to handle this. Friends without children will go on with their normal lives. Sure, you have had the good sense to get pregnant with 17 buddies... but my guess is you will have a blast experiencing post partum depression together. The sleep deprivation that comes with a new baby will not make you the easiest person to get along with. This won't be an all night slumber party -- motherhood is relentless, and you will be changed by it.
  4. I'm not even going to go into labor. That can be your happy little surprise.
  5. Responsibility Begins Now: You have chosen to embark on the adult portion of your life sooner rather than later. That means you are now the head of a family. You will have to find a way to earn money for it. (I tell ya, blogging doesn't pay the bills, sweetheart.) You will have to worry about earning money for yourself and your child, and you may have to go on assistance to do it. But, check your pride at the door, because a good mother will do whatever is necessary to guarantee a good life for her child. And clothes, food, and all the wonderful things your parents have given you were not free.

Perhaps you think that I am painting a dark picture, or that I was not ready for my own children. Well, I will say now what few women will admit -- no one is fully ready. Motherhood is as different from your girlish youth as living on Mars is different from Earth. I waited until I was 28 to have my first child, and even then I don't think I knew what I was getting into. I look at myself now, at how happy I am in this role and how well my children are growing and I feel so grateful. Because entering motherhood was like passing through a wall of fire -- it was truly difficult and changed the core of who I am. I will never be the person I was. I will always be connected to my children -- old, young, sick, well, living, dying, and even after they have passed away. They are a part of me and always will be. Everything I experience is seen through the lens of being their mother.

You will learn this.

Good luck girls,

Midwest Mom

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Best Laid Plans of Elastigirl

I remember the first time I watched the movie The Incredibles. I remember thinking how ironic it was that the mother's superpower was extreme flexibility and super stretchiness. It's not a very glamorous super-power. But then again, how else can a Mom manage all the different directions Life will take the family?

We had one of those weekends that had 8 million diversions from the path we set out to take. We rushed out the door to a baseball game -- five minutes later, lightning flashed and the game was cancelled. We had friends from out of town scheduled to come over for the afternoon and stay for dinner -- we had to cancel when my daughter woke up miserable with a high fever. ... It was one of those weekends.

Fortunately, the thing that usually stretches me to the breaking point wasn't a problem. My husband's ringing work phone only rang once this weekend. And he was able to solve the caller's problem without heading in to work. Hallelujah! Lately, that cell phone has been the enemy of our weekends, dragging him away in the morning, evening, and the middle of the night.

This weekend, thankfully, was different.

It was such a relief, even in the face of constantly changing plans and expectations, to have a husband and a Dad right here with us. He went out on Saturday morning to buy donuts for breakfast, and when he came back, my oldest son was so relieved. "I thought you had to work on a Saturday again," he said. The donuts were a secondary bonus -- what he wanted was his Dad.

Having another parent here to share the load -- even the load of 3 kids inside during a rainstorm and the load of caring for a sick toddler, on top of the normal cooking, cleaning, laundry, you-name-it that I do all the time -- helps me feel like it's actually the weekend. When my husband is on call or traveling, and I am the 'go to girl' for all my children's needs for weeks at a time, I don't get a weekend. I don't get time off at all. And as a result, I find I rely more on routine and rules and you-WILL-do-it-my-way than I ever do normally. I am less tolerant of messes and rude humor. Bedtimes are strictly enforced. We laugh less. Our lives become, in general, a lot less fun.

When I have to parent alone, I am less silly-putty and more like a sun-bleached rubber band that still has a little stretch, but could break any minute. It makes me wonder how single parents can do this at all. I couldn't parent full-time by myself, much less parent well. And single parents have to worry about work and child-care and keep up with what's going on with school and their kids friends... It would be too much for me, I am sure of it. I couldn't do this alone. I'm not SuperWoman.

I guess that's why I identify with Elastigirl. She has superpowers, but she's part of a team that helps her be her best. I need my team, especially Mr. Incredible. With him around this weekend -- even with the changed plans and sickness and constantly changing gears -- I felt stretchy and flexible enough to handle it all.

Midwest Mom

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Going Green: Time off in the Garden

After weeks of rain in the Midwest, we have finally had one whole week of sunshine. It has been in the high 70's each day with a light breeze. Weather like this almost makes you forget that the hot stuff is on the way.

This is the reason I love the month of June.

The kids and I took the morning off to spend time together and play outside. Because it's been dry, we decided to do some watering... the old fashioned way. To water my plants, I usually fill a 5-gallon bucket and put it near the flower garden or the vegetable garden and ask my children to choose one of the 17 plastic watering cans in their toy box. They water the plants, they water each other, they water me. As a matter of fact, I'm sure I've grown as a result. (ha. I'm such a shorty.) We have fun, and they help me to notice all the small changes in our plants since the last time we were out.

Spending that time -- they are much more observant and thorough than I am -- made my wonder whether it was time for a garden update. I checked the blog, and LO! It is.

After a healthy run -- clearly the best spinach year ever on record in this house -- all the spinach has finally bolted. We had one variety that lasted a really long time -- I wish, now, I could remember what it was called. But, it is done and setting seed. I will probably have one more really good harvest -- enough to make a big batch of wilted spinach with slivered garlic a'la The Barefoot Contessa. I could eat the whole bowl of it, it's that good.

The lettuce, though, is going strong. This wet, cool, long-lasting spring has been a salad-lovers dream. In the past, I always planted mesclun, but this year I opted for Green Leaf lettuce. It is so nice to just go out and pick a whole head of it for the evening's salad. You can't get any better than fresh lettuce, and it is so good, it doesn't even need dressing.


In worse news, my sugar snap peas have been totally decimated by the cutest baby bunny I've ever seen. Why does the creature ruining my peas have to be so darned lovable? It makes it impossible to be angry. I even sat with my daughter about 6 feet away from the thing (about the size of one of her shoes) while it ate an entire plant from root to tip. Total pea harvest =5.

We have several vegetables in flower, and as long as our bunny friend doesn't get to those, we should be okay. They are: tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, and green beans. There are seedling basil and cilantro plants in the garden that are looking quite healthy, too. So, the next month should be a fun one for cooking with fresh vegetables and herbs.

Our flower garden has also been fun to watch. Our roses are in full bloom, although we lost one planting near the arbor in our backyard. We replaced it with two clematis vines. So, keep your fingers crossed. Our petunias from last year seeded themselves, so we have a mixture of pink, purple, and white petunias popping up all over the place.



In the wildflower garden, there are day-lilies, tiger lilies, bluebells, and forget-me-nots. It makes for a few pockets of color, but the big bloomers, like the bee balm, purple coneflower, brown-eyed-susans, sunflowers, and cosmos are waiting for warmer weather. They have a good number of buds, though! So, it looks like we're promised a colorful July.

That's all from the garden! I hope you don't mind if I head out again with the kids. You just can't pass up a day like this!

Midwest Mom

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How do you help kids deal with fear?

We are a news-watching and news-reading family. Between the recent earthquakes in China and tornadoes and flooding here in the Midwest, I am finding that the news is creating a whole new category of fear among my children. Of course, we turn off the television if they are showing graphic images of destruction, and we do not parade such stories in front of our little ones. But they are not living in a vacuum. They know these things are happening. And often, they find out details I would not have shared with them.

One such case happened when my 7-year-old was sitting in the seat opposite mine at the breakfast table the other day. He began reading the headlines on the back of my newspaper. He said aloud, "Four children killed as Tornado hits Iowa Boy Scout Camp." I immediately put down the paper to a barrage of questions from my children. At the root of it all was disbelief, "How could this happen?!?"

For that question, I'm afraid I don't have a good enough answer.

Since they inadvertently learned about schools collapsing in China and Boy Scouts being swept away by tornadoes, my children have developed a strong fear of the forces of the earth. When we have severe weather, especially thunderstorms, they call out for us in the night. It is something we haven't dealt with in this way since our oldest was 2 years old. Granted, we've had some real boomers in the past month. But the fear that has emerged in our children is much stronger than we could have anticipated.

Recently, there were strong storms involving hail and torrential rain. They happened during the day, while my husband was at work. As we kept an eye on the weather channel, with the sound turned low, the children worried about Daddy. "We know we have a safe basement to go to, but what about Daddy?" I told them to pray for God to take care of Daddy and assured them that God knows us and cares for us. I was amazed at the fervent prayer that commenced and continued until the storm had eased.

I think what may be happening is that my children, especially the older ones, are beginning to understand what we adults know, but keep buried deep -- that in the eyes of the world, we are really quite small. We may be masters of our own universe, but that only applies to those few things we can control.

"I cannot control the weather." I often say, when called upon to make it less hot or less rainy or warmer or to make it snow.

In the aftermath of a disaster, I repeat the words of Mr. Rogers. "Look for the helpers." I firmly believe that God always sends helpers, and that we must be ready and paying attention, so that when it is our turn to be the helpers, we are ready.

A relinquishing of control, a turning to a power larger than ourselves, and a dedication to find and to be the hands of help when people are in need do not begin to explain why tragic things happen. But they are a start, and I hope they will be enough to see my children through.

For right now, though, I will just try to be ready when the sky looks stormy and they call out for me in the night.

Midwest Mom

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To share your family's stories on dealing with fear, click on "comments" below this article. I would love to hear from you.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How to Beat High Gas Prices: We Did It!

I was so proud of my kids yesterday. Over the past two weeks, we've been working hard to get past illness and bad weather. We've been taking longer and longer rides on our bikes...

Well, yesterday, we finally did it.

We went grocery shopping by bicycle. And it worked great!

Our grocery store is 1.5 miles away, and even though we live in the Midwest, there are some hills along our route. Part of the trip involves a busy road with a bike lane, too. So, I wasn't entirely convinced that we'd be able to make it. But I put my 7-year-old in the lead and everyone wore their helmets, and the ride went perfectly.

When we got to the store, it was great to see how proud the kids were to tell everyone we'd come on our bikes. They must have told twelve different people who work for the store! The ladies at the bakery department were so delighted, they passed out chocolate chip cookies all around. (Talk about positive reinforcement!)

One thing I wasn't personally prepared for was the way I would have to control what I bought. Not because of the cost -- I'm used to that by now. But because I had to be sure not to buy things that weigh too much. I needed milk and Pull-ups and bread, but I couldn't buy a ton of canned goods or a 12-pound turkey on a trip like this. (Fortunately, hot dogs weigh a lot less.) And that added weight in our bike trailer sure made the ride home more of a workout for me. Did I mention there were hills?

The best part of using our bicycles to run errands -- aside from the fact that I'm not using my car and paying through the nose for gasoline -- was just the sheer fun of it. Our little group met other cyclists, adults out for some exercise or kids on their way to the pool. It was a great time. We will definitely do it again.

And the way my children ate when they got home -- we'll have to go again soon!

Midwest Mom
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Monday, June 16, 2008

Better than Botox

What a fantastic Fathers Day we had yesterday. There was beautiful weather, good food, and an evening spent with family. It was such a blessing.

We are probably rare among American families, because my husband's parents and his two brothers and two sisters and their families all live in the same town. Our children know and are friends with all their cousins on their father's side -- 10 children in all. When we get the group together, they play like a fun little Irish tribe. It was great to see all the dads mixed in there, playing tag and hide-and-seek, one uncle reading my little girl a story when she needed a rest, Papa giving her a good hiding place under some pillows once darkness forced the game indoors. Recently, when we visited my family "out East", my husband told me, "You come from good stock." I could say the same about him. A loving family is something that should never be taken for granted.

When we came home, it was late, and my children were exhausted. So, it was time for glasses of warm honey milk all around and bed. For the first time this summer, no one argued with bedtime. And this morning, I think they're sleeping later than they have all summer.

That brings up an essential truth about the difference between being young and old. Older people look at vacation as a time they can finally rest. We hope, on a Saturday morning, to be able to sleep an hour later. We take Sunday as a day with no laundry (Whoopee! I'm keeping the Sabbath!) We hope for permission to be lazy at the pool or camping or at the beach when we're vacationing away from home.

Kids are exactly the opposite. For them, vacation is a time for adventure! They can't possibly sleep late or go to bed early -- they might miss something! Summer vacation is a time for county fairs and barbecues, late night fireworks and early morning fishing trips. Every night of summer vacation, no matter how tired they are, my crew fights bedtime. "Let's read a chapter of the Hardy Boys!" "Can't we just watch a movie tonight?" Even my youngest, age two, would love story after story more than ever giving in to the need for sleep.

And in the morning, I now know that the birds wake up at approximately 4:20 a.m.. We keep the windows open most nights, and once those birds wake up, my second son staggers out of his room, zombie-like. It never fails. We tell him to go back to bed until the digital clock has a number starting with 7. He'll probably only make it until 6:30. Then he'll play dirty and wake up the other kids.

As soon as I see my son in the morning, I know in my heart that our day will have to begin sooner, rather than later. That fact is admitted to myself only begrudgingly. (I guess I know which side of the old/young divide I'm on! Ha.)

I guess that's the miracle of Summer. When the kids get ready for an adventure, they can't wait to sweep us along in it. Each time our day begins, I can't wait see where these crazy little people will be off to. They wake up something much younger in me, and, honestly, much more fun...

Wait a minute! ... I think I hear a zombie in the hallway!


Midwest Mom
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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Where would we be without DAD?

In our household, my husband has things pretty nice. At least, when I'm not really thinking about it, that's how it seems. You know, day to day. He has his laundry done and good food. He has children who think the sun rises and sets over him and a wife who misses him when he's away. Sounds like a pretty good life, don't you think?

But there are parts of his life that are, maybe, not so great. When you're a Dad, you find that there is a whole list of things that have, suddenly, become your job. Consider these.

1.) Home repair -- In our house, Dad has replaced carpeting, plumbing, plaster, moved walls, wired switches, repaired roofing, built 2 bathrooms, remodeled a kitchen, and just this week, dug a pit for a sump pump in the basement... waist deep... after breaking through the concrete slab with a sledge hammer. (Whew! I'm exhausted just thinking about it!)

2.) Dead Critter Removal -- The stinkiest, most disgusting job in any household comes when some unsuspecting creature kicks the bucket in an unexpected place. It could be the attic. It could be the yard. It could be inside the wall. When it happens, who do you call? Not Ghostbusters -- you call Dad.

3.) Dealing with an overtired Me -- I don't know about you, but when I get too tired (think about the first three months after having any of our children), I could cry at burnt toast. I could lose my temper at a broken shoelace. (And trust me, I do.) I have the tremendous blessing of a husband who will calmly make space for me to get some rest when I need it. And what a relief that is -- for all of us.

4.) Supporting our family -- He doesn't get summer vacation any more. He works every weekday and a couple weekends each month. When there are problems other people can't fix, they call him in the middle of the night. I give him his props for bringing home the bacon. He does honest, hard work every single day -- even when he doesn't feel like it. He is dedicated and consistent and that should never be taken for granted.

5.) Professional wrestling -- Can you imagine, after a day where you had a 5 a.m. meeting and worked your tail off until 6 p.m., coming home only to be pounced upon relentlessly by three wiggly, giggling children? Dad does that in our house. He plays tag and tickles and wrestles and wrestles and wrestles, even when I know he just wants to nap. ... And he does it with a smile.

So, honey, for the home repair and critter control, for supporting us and supporting me, and for making the children's lives full of happy times with their Dad, thanks. Actually, maybe thanks are not enough. Perhaps I'll say thanks and bake you a pie. :)

With all my love,

Midwest Mom

How Important are You?

FYI, in case you haven't heard it already...

NBC/Wall Street Journal conducted a poll June 6-9 and released their results last night. Here's the quote from First Read (see link on the right side of the page).

Obama has a seven-point edge (46-39) among all white women. How important is that lead? NBC/WSJ co-pollster Neil Newhouse (R) explains that Republican candidates always expect to win white men by a substantial margin, but it’s white women that usually decide the race. “If a Republican wins among white women, we usually win that election,” he says, noting that George Bush carried that group in 2000 and 2004.

What was interesting to me was that the poll reported McCain ahead among suburban women. I guess that means affluent women outside Indianapolis, Chicago, St. Louis... etc. I think many of that group were supporters of Hillary Clinton. So, we'll have to see how this plays out.

But if you were in any doubt, Moms, about how important you are and whether your opinions will be sought down the road, doubt no more!

I would urge you to go to the candidate's websites:
http://barackobama.com
http://johnmccain.com
and, to be fair
http://bobbarr2008.com (he's the libertarian)

Use their comments/suggestions section to pose your questions about the issues that are important to your family. Please take the time to educate yourself on the candidate's positions on health, education, taxes, and security. It is so important.

Please comment -- if you'd like, I can compile information on all the candidates that would be useful for you. Just let me know by clicking "comments".

Thanks,

Midwest Mom

Going back on my word... Politics again

I know I stated yesterday that I wasn't going to list politics articles on this blog as much...

But John McCain's statement about when the troops will come home being "not too important" (the casualty number being more important, of course) was too much for me. What concerns me is his idea that it is totally appropriate to keep troops in Iraq as long as they have been in post-war Germany (6o years and counting) or South Korea (50+)...

To read more on this topic, have a look at "Not Too Important" on
http://ilfamilypolitics.blogspot.com

Please comment. Hearing other people's point of view is really helpful for me in formulating my own opinions. As we go down the road toward the November election, the conversation, especially among other people with families, will help make for a clearer choice.

Thanks,

Midwest Mom

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Trials of a Strawberry Picker

This morning was beautiful weather for picking strawberries. Humidity is low, there is a small breeze, and word on the street is that this is the best strawberry season this area has had in years!

I decided to take the kids to our local berry farm. We donned our sunglasses and sunscreen and headed out.

There was a (poor) woman picking across from us. Here's a snippet of what she heard...

Child 1: Mom, is this a good one?

Child 2: Hey! I'm carrying the basket!

Child 1: Mom, is this one ripe enough?

Child 3: sluurrrp. mmmm. juicy.

Child 2: I'm picking more berries than you are! Nyah nyah!

Child 1: ew! There's an ant in the strawberry basket! (Tries to step on ant.)

Child 2: I'm the fastest picker in this whole field!

Child 3: lick. slurrp. chew.

Child 1: It's hot out here.

Child 2: My strawberries are bigger than your strawberries!

Child 3: CHOMP

Child 1: I'm thirsty.

Child 2: Cmon! You're picking too slow!

Child 1: I'm still thirsty!

Child 3: veesh shtrwberries ahr sho yummy. slurp.

Child 2: I think my strawberry basket has the most!

Child 1: I'm SO thirsty! Do you hear me? I'M THIRSTY! I. AM. THIRSTEEEEEEE!

I looked across the strawberry row at the woman who so cheerfully commented about how having the children here would "make the picking go so much faster."

"There's the alarm!" I joked. And we made our way out of the row.

At the counter where we weighed the strawberries, the conversation went more like this:

Clerk To Child 3: Wow! I don't think I've ever seen such a pink face!

Child 3: I like purple. I like pink.

Child 2: See? This is my basket. It has the most! I bet it will cost 25 bucks for all these berries!

Child 3: (with a pitiful look) I could use a glass of nice, cold milk.

And once we were home, they had been transformed back to their normal summer selves. The only sound to be heard?

Child 1, 2, 3: Slurrrp. Smack. Mmmm. Yum. Slurp. Juicy! These are sosooo good!

Thanks, Mom.

Midwest Mom

Where to find Midwest Moms Politics

In an effort to provide more space for political discussion, I will now be posting politics commentary and articles on
Illini Family Politics
http://ilfamilypolitics.blogspot.com/

If you're looking for a place to read and comment, please click the link and join in the discussion.

Be sure to bookmark it and visit often. Content will be updated on a regular basis.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Memory to Share

Mr. Rogers once said, "I find out more and more every day how important it is for people to share their memories."


I have always liked Mr. Rogers. When he was alive, he found simple ways to talk about feelings and events that were, in reality, not simple at all. As he appeared from our television (when the rabbit ears were positioned correctly) he seemed very wise, for someone in a cardigan.

Mr. Rogers was from my mother's hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania. His calming, genteel drawl is actually the local accent there, which may be a key to the reason I liked him. It may also be why, even as an adult, I find Latrobe a comfortable place to be.

On a recent trip "out East", my family made a stop in that wonderful little town to visit with my mother's oldest living relative. She is a widowed Great Aunt, just a few years shy of 100. She is a joy. She is also one of the sharpest people you'll find.

It was wonderful to see my three children interacting with her in completely different ways. The youngest, my 2-year-old daughter, immediately reached up to feel her hair and touched her face to see how soft it was. My Aunt was elated at her tenderness.

Later in the visit, my 5-year-old came up for a nice close look. He said over his shoulder to me (as if my Aunt weren't there), "Mommy, why does she look so... old?"

To her credit, my Aunt laughed. "Children are so honest, aren't they?" she said, in her Mr. Rogers voice. I put my son on the spot by asking how old he thought she really was. He demurred.

"I couldn't say." A pause. "Oh, maybe about 79."

My Aunt was supremely complimented. "He says I look 79!" she repeated several times during the rest of our visit. "But I get that a lot." she beamed.

My oldest boy, just finishing first grade, had a different take on visiting someone so close to a century old. He wanted to know about her history. And as every boy knows, history begins with your first car.

My Aunt told us about her Nash, purchased in Europe after the end of World War II. "Jimmy [her husband] told me I could have any car I wanted. They had Mercedes and BMWs, even back then. But I was such an American girl. I had to have an American car. So, there I was, driving through Europe in that Nash. Everywhere we went, people knew us by that car."

As children do, they soon decided it was time to explore. So, my husband took them for a walk to get a cookie from the nurses and to meet the other residents. I was glad to be left alone with my Aunt for a bit.

When I was a baby, she and our family lived closer. My Great Uncle Jimmy had passed away, and my Aunt enjoyed visiting with us, holding me, teaching me things. She called me 'precious'. Now that we were alone, she addressed me with that old name.

"Oh, Precious. Doesn't it just amaze you how fast the time goes? I remember holding you when you were the same age your daughter is now." She put her hands on her temples and her eyes were wet. "Life is just so wonderful, isn't it?"

All I could think of was how grateful I am for this woman and for the opportunity to share my family with her and hear her stories and share our time together. I feel pride in knowing that I have a connection with such a remarkable woman as my Aunt.

Of course, I will always wish that I lived closer or stayed longer. But to me, it is so important to maintain the connection between generations. And someday, my children will remember my "79" year-old Aunt with soft hair and skin and a beige Nash.

But, even if they don't remember, I will. It is a memory I will love to share.

Midwest Mom

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Here comes Obama

I had my suspicions over the last 4 weeks about what, exactly, the Obama campaign was up to while they allowed Hillary Clinton to go out in her blaze of glory. In case you were hiding under a rock, the Obama campaign gave Sen. Clinton a free ride in the last several primaries once the May 6 contests allowed the superdelegate drip-drip to become a steadier flow to Obama's side.

The news reported Obama giving speeches in November's "battleground" states and making appearances in Washington... but occasionally, the candidate was reported to be "at home in Chicago." At first, I was frustrated by his lack of presence in West Virginia, Kentucky, Puerto Rico. My favorite cable news talking heads, especially Mr. "Regular Guy" Chris Matthews, were equally puzzled. In the last few weeks, I heard Mr. Matthews wonder aloud, "Why doesn't he just go out and talk to these people?" Meaning, of course, the 'regular' people who were turning out in droves for Sen. Clinton.

The answer? Apparently, Obama had bigger fish to fry. The same way he took a vacation over Easter for a little rest and then came back with a strong series of policy proposals and the now famous Philadelphia Race Speech, Obama has made use of his campaign 'downtime' in an incredibly smart way. He lost the end-of-primary battle to prepare for the General Election policy war.

Today's economy speech and the promise of more program specifics in the very near future show that Obama is like that kid in high school who read Shakespeare over Christmas break because he knew it would come in handy later in the year. John McCain has been spending the last several weeks trying to convince his party to unite behind him (oh, and if you could please write a check, that would be great, too...) So, he's stuck pulling an all-nighter the night before his term paper is due -- desperately trying to understand the economy so he can say something meaningful about it. And here strolls in Mr. Obama from Illinois with a clear plan of where to take this country's economy. Very smooth.

Could it be that all along Obama has been paying attention to those of us who make the country run? (I mean, the ones who really make it run -- people who fight fires and teach children and fix your car so you can get back on the road... nurses and factory workers and secretaries... oh, yes, and moms, too.) We're paying attention to the economy like we never have before. I can't get out of the gas station without paying less than $50. I can't get out of the grocery line without paying less than $200. Is the economy my #1 issue? You bet.

Prices and Jobs are the pivot-points of the American family. Our home money situation is the single factor that tells us if we're moving up or down. Chuck Todd on MSNBC asks which candidate the American public trusts more on the economy... I feel like I'll choose the candidate who can tell me the last time they bought their own gallon of milk. Oh, and by the way... which cost more, your last gallon of gas or that trip to the dairy case?

I want the next President to be that kid who did his homework over vacation, when no one else was paying attention. And I bet Barack Obama realizes that the surest way to win over the trust and faith and votes of the American People is to speak to us with specifics. Sound policy will win over supporters of any other candidate on the ballot.

I look forward to hearing more from this candidate.

*More politics articles and discussion can be found on Illini Family Politics
http://ilfamilypolitics.blogspot.com/

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Going Green: Update

There is a little bit of garden news to report. But first, I have to file an update on my promise to run errands by bicycle instead of using my car. I have to say, it ain't easy!

Last week, my son finished school on Wednesday. So, from then until Saturday, my car sat still. We took bike rides with the kids, practicing all the roads we'll need to go grocery shopping on two wheels instead of four. They did great. Even my 5 year old -- fully under his own power -- went on one bike ride that was over 3 miles! His training wheels were burning up the road.

Our only problem came when -- and if you live in Illinois, you know what is coming -- we got such torrential rain that I could have rowed to the grocery store. So, as I joked with my neighbor about ark-building, I did use my car (1.2 miles each way) to buy food.

Oh, the shame of it all.

Ha. I'm in control of many things, but the weather's not one of them. I'm sure that, moving forward, we'll be able to do a lot more under our own power. Being more conscious of gasoline usage has made me realize two things. One, that I really did use my car an awful lot, just for the convenience of it. And two, that (in good weather) I really can get along without it pretty well. So, it's parked for now. We'll see how long I can go this week.

As for the garden, I have one variety of spinach that has bolted, one that's holding off. So, I may try freezing some spinach if we can't eat it all fresh. The lettuce is still beautiful, too. But, my children saw a game of tag between a bunny and a chipmunk yesterday right in the middle of the garden where my peas and beans are. It was hilarious to watch, but in the process, four pea vines got cut. Darn bunnies.

I have renewed understanding for Mr. MacGregor.

Friday, June 6, 2008

I'm Looking Over a 4-Leaf Clover

I have a very good friend named Mary who has a knack for finding 4-leaf clovers. I guess she's lucky. Maybe she just knows where to look. Maybe she's a secretly a leprechaun. She always talks about having "Irish Fey". I haven't been able to nail down exactly what that means. Maybe it's leprechaun for something...

No, but clover. This is about clover. I have another friend who lives "out East" and has two daughters. Speaking to them recently, I made a reference to clover and was met with silence. Her four-year-old had no idea what it was or where it grew, and yet her mom is an avid gardener. Is that possible? I guess, in this world of 4-step lawn chemical treatment systems and broad-leaf weed killer, it is possible that a neighborhood could exist somewhere (apparently in Pennsylvania) without clover. It makes me sad just to think of it.

Here in Illinois and everywhere else I have visited or lived across the country (23 States and Washington, D.C.) I have always seen clover. I remember as a child in the Northern Virginia suburbs that every yard had it. We used to run around the neighborhood barefoot (much to my mother's chagrin), so we experienced the cool softness of our clover patch on many summer afternoons. It was the perfect antidote for a barefoot hop across the steamy blacktop of the driveway. We also learned that, while clover has a soft feel underfoot, the bees in the clover patch definitely do not.

This week, our back yard clover came into bloom, and while the kids were playing outside yesterday -- shoes off, of course -- I could smell the blossoms. Honeybees were there, too, working in the sunshine. And as I watched my children pick the flowers and watch the bees, it was a nice feeling to know that my kids were having an experience that I had at their age. Even though in life I'm probably much more like the bees, constantly moving, working hard to make something sweet and wonderful for my family, yesterday I had the joy just to watch my children and smell the clover in bloom. The feeling was as simple as it was good.

So, let the clover grow. Take your shoes off and enjoy it. Put the weed and feed away for another season. There is nothing better, really --even finding a 4-leaf clover.

... now if I can only find Mary's Lucky Charms....

Midwest Mom

Risk vs. Reward in Danville Politics

Recently, in the Danville Commercial-News letters to the editor there was an exchange between a supporter of Lori DeYoung for State Representative and our current State Representative, Bill Black. At issue was speculation over why Black had decided to campaign for re-election to his seat and whether he would remain in office long enough to complete his term.

The back-story to this exchange [view it at the Commercial-News link at right] is the departure from the race of Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhower. Eisenhower's aborted bid for statewide office came after he suggested the closure of one of the city's fire stations as a way to close the city budget gap. A major downtown fire in the midst of already contentious budget hearings proved to be the spark that brought smoldering opposition to the closure to the level of a conflagration. However reasonable his suggestion may have seemed to him at the time, and however many people were involved in finding solutions to the budget crisis, in the eyes of the public, the blame rested with Eisenhower. This time, his understanding of the political climate was more accurate, and he pulled out of the State Representative race.

For a Mayor who has brought so much to the Danville Area in recent years, this was truly a stroke of bad political luck. One wonders what sort of lesson has been learned.

Urban renewal is not an easy path to pursue. In recent years, the City of Danville has stepped up code enforcement and begun a program to raze delapidated structures in the city. Tax Increment Financing zones have been established to give business owners financial incentives to invest in their property. Eisenhower and city officials deserve credit for showing initiative and finding creative ways to keep Danville moving forward.

Finding creative ways to promote growth in tough economic times is not easy. It is not without risk. But there are families throughout the area who are dedicated to remaining here. We like living in a town with teachers who care about our kids, with ample youth sports, DACC college for kids, vibrant churches, beautiful parks, youth theater, a city orchestra, and neighborhoods where people help each other and know each other. You might think that these things have nothing to do with city government. They do.

City leaders have the task of creating a safe place for my family to live and thrive. The policies the Mayor and City Council pursue have a direct effect on my husband's work, my children's school, and the safety of our home. Families depend on the Police and Fire Fighters for our safety, but also those maintaining our roads, bridges, and parks. There is a lot to do to serve this population -- not at the state level, but at the local level. It is just as important, if not more so. And all Danville residents know, there is much more work to be done.

I would hope that Mayor Eisenhower has not been turned off of creative problem solving for our city. Courage is what we need from our public servants. And, perhaps a lack of perspective during a tough budget battle can be forgiven, if the Mayor can remain creative, energetic, and enthusiastic about serving this local community.

As for Representative Black and Ms. DeYoung... let's hope their debate will be more about issues and less about speculation. An honest issues-focused debate will best serve the voters as they make decisions about who to support in the fall.

*Note: This and future politics articles will be available at Illini Family Politics
http://ilfamilypolitics.blogspot.com/

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Going Green, Part 3 - The Lawn

Two years ago, my husband and I completely re-landscaped the front of our house. It was back-breaking work. And, yes, plenty of our neighbors slowed down as they drove by to say, "Hey! what are you doing?!?" When you're up to your elbows in dirt for the fourth afternoon in a row, you get tired of answering that question.

But, being the frugal family we are, we weren't about to spend ten times the money to have a group of 4 or 5 shirtless 19 year olds doing the work for us... (Darn! I think I missed out on something there!)

Well, the point is, we did it ourselves. Yet another way to save dough. And two years later, we have a beautiful garden and lawn. I said two years... T-W-O. We learned some lessons from the work we did. I thought it would be useful to share them. (Did I mention it took 2 years?)

Out with the Old, in with the New ... Lawn

When we got started on our landscape project, we decided it would be best to get rid of everything first. My husband grabbed his 1996 Ford Ranger (basically a wheelbarrow of a pickup truck) and a chain. After about 15 minutes, we realized we'd have to call in his dad's GMC. 15 minutes after that, six evergreen bushes were out and hauled away. A great start. I distinctly remember saying, "No problem! That was quick!" Ha.

Our (my husband's) next task was to break up the old sidewalk and remove it. Yeah. A little more difficult.

I got started removing the lawn. With a spade and a wheelbarrow. Not wanting to waste, I made sure everything was composted. Did I mention I was pregnant at the time? Yeah. No more "that was quick."

So, two and a half weeks later (or two containers of Icy Hot, however you mark time) the lawn was out. We had to re-grade so that water would drain away from the house. More dirt. More back-breaking labor. No, not LABORlabor.... just hard work.

Essentially, you can tell we did nothing the easy way. What I have found since then is that there are actual tools available that would help with this whole process! So, if YOU are planning a tear-out of your lawn and plant a new one, here's what you need to do:

1.) Go to your local tool-rental place and ask for a sod-cutter. It is a machine that will actually cut and roll up your weedy lawn. What took us a couple of weeks will take you a little cash and a couple of hours. Then roto-till. Get the ground nice and broken up.

2.)Add whatever you need to the dirt to make it light and the right pH. You can use peat moss, dry manure, compost, and even some sand if your soil is mostly clay. Till it again.

3.) Get a roller to press the soil nice and even, so you don't have too many dips and bumps. It works best either when the soil is tilled nicely OR after the grass has grown and you have had a really soaking rain. Later, when you're mowing, you will appreciate that you took the time for this step.

4.) Spread a seed-starter fertilizer and the best quality seed you can find. Call your local extension office -- they will know what grows best in your area. Keep it lightly watered (I think evening watering is best) until it sprouts. After that, a soaking watering twice a week will be enough. Try not to walk on it and do not mow it until it is 3 inches tall.

5.) You may be concerned about weeds. I can tell you that your new lawn will have weeds the first season. Once you cultivate the ground, you'll expose weed seed and it will sprout. You might be tempted to seed and then throw straw all over. If you do, annual ryegrass (otherwise known as crabgrass) will grow all over your yard. It is just as easy to use shredded newspaper (or nothing) so you don't have all the weeds instantly in there. Whatever you do, and however many weeds are in there, do not use weed killer until you've been able to grow and mow the new grass 4 times (about a month of mowing). Then it will be safe to use a weed & feed type of fertilizer.

Good luck. I think, start to finish, this job will probably take 4-6 weeks.

Did I mention ours took two years?

Midwest Mom

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Shopping, Shopping, Shopping, and SAVING

Lately, I've been asking myself all the time, "Why are prices for everything going up?" and (usually when I get to the checkout counter) "How am I supposed to afford this?!?"

Whether we work or stay home, Moms have the glorious task of purchasing nearly everything that makes our families run smoothly -- food, clothing, school supplies, sports supplies -- from sneakers to popsicles to band-aids. When we travel, I decide where we should stay, how expensive a restaurant we can afford to eat in, what activities fit into the travel budget. I have shopped for insurance, homes, cars, credit cards with a good interest rate. I shop for and purchase every single gift and card for every occasion on our family calendar. (And you're welcome! He signed the card, but that gift was, in fact, from me.)

It's funny... men always joke about women shopping. But, where would humanity be if we didn't? I firmly believe that, if I didn't shop, my children would be running around nearly naked, my husband would be wearing the last set of undergarments his mother bought him when he was 17, and our household would own 3 jet skis, a pool table, and a small video arcade -- but no eggs.

So, I thought I would write a few of my tips for saving money. Today's topic: Saving Money on Groceries.

There are a few stores in our local area that I love for bargain hunting on groceries. One is Aldi. It is great for canned goods and basics. You can find low price toiletries, paper goods, frozen foods. Since I started shopping there for my basics, I have shaved about $250 per month from my grocery budget. And, I have to say, it's a nice feeling to get a cart full of groceries for less than $100. I am usually surprised when the clerk says my total -- pleasantly surprised. The downside, you need to provide 25 cents for a grocery cart (you get it back at the end of the trip) and your own bags (reduce, reuse, recycle).

And, although I am no great fan of Walmart, they have something called price-match. That means you can go over the sale ads in your Sunday paper to find the lowest prices on groceries or household goods, make a note of which store has the lowest sale price, and the cashier at Walmart will charge you that price. I heard about this from a dear friend who shops a lot at Walmart. She estimates a savings of about $50 per shopping trip.

A few hints about using price-match:

It is best to make a list of the items you want to buy. Price-match works on store-brand and name-brand items, but it has to be the same item, the same size. For example, this week, Aldi advertised a gallon of 2% milk for $2.49. I had other shopping to do at Walmart, so I was able to buy store-brand 2% milk at the same price.

Occasionally, the cashier will ask you for the advertisement. So, you should also keep a small folder with the ads you want Walmart to match.

Because some extra effort is needed for the cashier to type in the new prices, keep your price-matched items separate from the regularly priced ones. The cashier will appreciate it.

Some final grocery savings notes: it pays to be careful and plan ahead when you're shopping. Do your best to look at your food-buying habits and grocery receipts and be realistic about what is a necessary purchase and what is not. In many ways, home-made items are not only healthier, but more cost-effective.

And, be sure to look at the "Going Green" series on Midwest Moms to see how to use your garden to save money on fresh fruits and vegetables, too.

Good luck with the shopping!

Midwest Mom

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Going Green, Part 2

"Going Green" is a chronicle of my adventures in gardening...

So far, this Spring has been awfully wet. We live in corn country, and farmers are having to re-plant their crops because of all the rain.

Their loss is my gain. My lettuce and spinach continue to do great. The rain is holding the temperature down enough to prevent them from bolting. 'Bolting' is when leafy plants lose their compact shape and start to form a flower spike to set seed. When lettuce and spinach bolt, their leaves can get tougher. Mine are still tender and delicious.

I am worrying a bit about mildew issues and will have to investigate safe fungicides to keep the vines on the melons from withering. If you have suggestions, please write them in the comment section. I'll let you know what I find out in my next "Going Green" column.

We're just starting (even though it is already June!) to feel the heat here in Illinos. When it's not stormy, it's starting to feel steamy. My tomatoes, peppers and green beans will love the heat. This is the time when they will really start shooting up. I can't wait. Maybe that will help the mold issue to resolve? I don't know.

In the flower garden, I can report that I have begun to see HONEYBEES! This year is the second year for our wildflowers out back. (And for those of you who think we must have a huge amount of land, we don't!) Last year, the city brought in earth-movers and replaced sewer line along a defunct alley behind our property. Most of the neighbors re-seeded with grass. We are trying a wildflower garden instead, and loving it! We have lillies of the valley, a redbud, and tiger lillies from before. But we seeded with a Midwest Wildflower mix from American Meadows. [http://www.americanmeadows.com] Now, we have a beautiful border of wallflower, dianthus, bluebells, and dame's rocket. There is plenty of cosmos and sunflowers on the way, along with a few plants I haven't identified yet. It promises to be a colorful summer!

I recently read that the crisis in honeybee populations [called CCD, or Colony Collapse Disorder] is partially because high levels of pollution prevent the bees from "smelling" the fragrance of flowers to pollinate. One sniff of a garden full of wallflower and dame's rocket will let you know that will not be a problem out at our place! We also buck a trend by letting clover grow in our lawn. It is so soft on the feet, and the flowers really help the bees. Healthy bees mean better pollinated vegetables in the new veggie garden!

It's all connected. Here's to going green!

Midwest Mom

Monday, June 2, 2008

Deep Breath -- say AHHHH...

Okay, okay... so maybe after my last post, I am the one who seems like she needs a time-out.

There's nothing like a good dose of reality to bring you back from the brink when you're angry. Two things happened today to make me re-think my words.

One: The Clinton camp began to signal that they will end their campaign on Tuesday. [see the link for MSNBC First Read on the right for the latest] There is even talk that some of the superdelegates will get off the fence. Hallelujah. The rest of us have been expected to knuckle down and vote already -- they should too.

Two: My middle child has been sick with a virus all day. Fever of 103 and associated ejector-stomach. It's a new term I'm coining. Maybe someday it'll make it into the medical literature. There's something about a child in such misery that gives you a chance to remember what is important. I just wanted him to feel better, and tonight it seems he finally does.

And so, regarding Hillary Clinton, I still wonder whether to trust her that she will exit gracefully and do as she has promised: tirelessly support the nominee. But, I also realize that as a Mom, there are times when all the big news in the world seems to fall away. When your child is sick, none of that is important anymore.

Life brings you perspective when you least expect it.

Here's to that,

Midwest Mom

Hillary in a Corner

Does anyone get the feeling that Hillary Clinton and her angry supporters just need a "time out"?

If she were my child, I would have taught her something about grace. I think losing gracefully is the hardest thing to convey to my own children. This is what I tell them in those "teachable moments".

- No one says you have to like to lose. It's not something to enjoy.

- Everyone loses now and then. So, being graceful when you lose is a skill you will need and use.

- The key to being a graceful loser is to acknowledge the loss and to congratulate the winner.


So, did Sen. Clinton not have parents who taught her about grace and sportsmanship? Or has she just "fallen in" with a bad crowd (i.e. Bill and James Carville)? After hearing Harold Ickes at the close of the DNC rules committee meeting Saturday, I came to the understanding that she and her camp do not intend to exit quietly. If they do, you could knock me over with a feather.

One thing is certain: the way Hillary Clinton has run her campaign, with the lies she told about Bosnia in Pennsylvania, the "shame on you" in Ohio, pretending she is a proponent of Native American rights in South Dakota, race-baiting in South Carolina, and gas tax pandering in Indiana, she sends the message that her campaign is mostly about her. When she says, "I'll never stop fighting for you." I hear, "I'll never stop fighting for ME."

Now we have the rules committee showdown where the other candidate and his representatives decided to forgo a 50-50 division of Michigan delegates, even though they had the votes. An equitable solution was forged in which Clinton got the majority of the delegates from that contest. Even though many of her supporters on the committee voted for the compromise, she unleashed an attack dog at the end.

To Senator Clinton, I have this to say. I am a mother raising children, and I hope they never act the way you have in this campaign. I am an independent "swing" voter, and you will never get my vote. I am a woman, and I am sorely disappointed that you are the sole representative of my gender on the national political stage.

Now, stop your kicking and screaming. Tell your friends to go home. Because you are going in the corner, young lady. It's time for a little time-out!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

How to beat high gas prices.

$3.99 a gallon!

I just filled up my car, and it cost upwards of 50 dollars! This is unbelievable.

I know this is a big step, but I think I am going to stop using my car. My kids are off school starting Wednesday, and I am going to see how long I can keep my car just parked and run errands by bicycle.

Did I just say that? I guess I did.

My boys are old enough to ride safely. We take family bike rides. I have a trailer for the littlest one, and the trailer will fit groceries if we need it to...

So, there it is. Please hold me accountable. I'll keep a running tab of how long it takes for me to knuckle under and use my car.

Wish me luck,

Midwest Mom
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