Friday, February 27, 2009

Tag! You're It!

Kids Games to Keep you Fit and More

One of my favorite ways to stay active is to play games with my children. I have three between the ages of 3 and 7, and they are running around constantly. The more they run, the more they seem to want company -- "Mommy, Daddy, come play with me!"

It's music to my ears, really.

For today's Fit Mommy Friday tip, I give you another no-brainer. Try to channel your inner kindergartner and play outdoor games with your children. Here are a few to try.

Tag and Freeze Tag: One of the best ways to get running with your kids is to chase them or be chased. In the game of tag, one player is "it". He chases the other players trying to touch them. As soon as he catches one, the caught person becomes "it." In freeze tag, the tagger touches people to freeze them. Tagged players must stand perfectly still. They can only be unfrozen by another player crawling through their legs or running in a circle around them. The goal is to "freeze" all the players but one. Whoever is the last person left unfrozen becomes "it."

Blast Off: This is a great game to play with a playground ball and lots of room to run. The person with the ball gets ready to throw it while the other players stand in a circle around her. Everybody counts: 5-4-3-2-1, Blast off! She throws the ball as high as she can straight up into the air and calls out a name of one of the players. Everyone but the person whose name was called runs as far away as they can get. The child whose name was called tries to catch the ball. If they do: they automatically win. If not, they get it and call out, "1-2-3 STOP!" Everybody freezes. The person with the ball then has five giant steps toward the closest person. If they can throw the ball and hit that person, they get to be in the middle and the ball gets thrown up in the air again. If they can't, they are out. The last person remaining wins.

Monkey Races: We play this game at the playground. Essentially, it is an obstacle course race on the playground equipment. We call it monkey races because it always starts with a side-by-side race on the monkey bars. What a workout for Mommy! (I don't mind telling you that I usually lose to my 7 year old.) Set up the course, ready, set, go! There's nothing like winning to make any game irresistible.


And now, for a different sort of Tag -- one that doesn't work up quite as much of a sweat!

My bloggy friend Melissa at Green Girl in Wisconsin tagged me the other day to participate in a meme called "Love Me, Love Me Not". I have to list 5 things I love about myself and 5 things that aren't so lovable about me. (Trust me, my husband had a ball "helping" me figure out what to write! Who knew he loved it when I let my hair dry naturally? Who also knew that he notices how grumpy I am before my a.m. coffee infusion?) Then, I have to "tag" 5 bloggers to play the game next.

Because I like to end on a positive note, I'll start with the 5 things I don't love about myself.

1. I am a worrier. I worry about my children and my parents, about their health and their futures. I worry about the country because I want us to finally have our priorities right. (Lately, I worry about that a lot less.) I worry that I'm not doing enough for everyone else. I worry that I will fail. Worrying is something I try to turn into positive action, to use it rather than succumbing to it. But in my heart, I know I will never be entirely free of it.

2. On a lighter note, I am far too ticklish -- physically ticklish. It is a terrible weakness because it means that my children (or my husband) can completely immobilize me at a moments notice. It has all but dashed my dreams of ever becoming a ninja. Ninjas can't be ticklish. But I totally am -- virtually everywhere.

3. I am risk averse. There is always this voice in my head that is telling me all the ways something could hurt before I do it. I often wish I could just turn that voice off instead of always having to overcome it or act in spite of it. My risk-averse nature comes out in my parenting; I know my children will tease me later in life for the number of times the words "be careful" came out of my mouth.

4. In the mornings especially, I am hopelessly grouchy. And when I say grouchy, I mean terse and crabby. My three-year old daughter calls my hairspray "grouch spray". (That disarms me right away, for sure!) Fortunately, my grouchiness is easily overcome by the caring look on her face when she asks if I'm feeling grumpy today -- and coffee... plenty of coffee.

5. I cannot eat anything I want. Trust me. I so totally wish I could, but I have always had to watch my weight and curb my appetites. Life has had a way of throwing that little foible in my face by making me fall in love with the one man who could eat pancakes and bacon for every breakfast, fries at every lunch, and cheesecake for dessert every day and never gain an ounce. He is metabolic perfection. I, sadly, am not.

Okay. Now, for the fun part! What I truly love about myself.

1. My teeth. I have always had straight teeth -- I get them from my mother. I've never had to wear braces, and was cavity-free until I was about 17 years old. Even then, I only had a pit in one tooth. My older sister had to go through a variety of face-altering devices so that she could look more like a human and less like a shark. Growing up, I tried not to gloat over my perfectly straight teeth. But as she moaned in the night from the pain of the medieval torture devices she was forced to wear by sadists we call "orthodontists", I secretly thanked the Lord Above for giving me a mouthful of dental perfection.

2. I have an abiding, honest-to-goodness L. O. V. E. of sports. I love to play them. I love to watch them. I love to talk about them. A side-benefit of loving sports is that my husband's friends have openly labeled me as being pretty darn close to the Ideal Mate. When we were dating, we went to a party for the Michigan-Ohio State game. After a great play, I noted that the guys on SportsCenter had been talking about the player involved. Hubby's friends looked at each other as though their world had been fundamentally altered. "You watch SportsCenter?!??!" they exclaimed with incredulity. Then, to Hubby, "She's a keeper." If my love of sports put me in the "keeper" category and makes me happy, anyway, it should definitely be on this list.

3. I love my sense of humor and my willingness to poke fun at myself at least as often as I poke fun at other people. Laughing is good therapy -- so is laughing at yourself. I would not change my sense of humor. It's one of the essential parts of me.

4. I love that I have a green thumb. There is something profound and powerful about being able to help the earth bear fruit. It is a gift I am grateful for because it nourishes me as much as I nourish it.

5. Finally, I love having an open heart. There are few people on this planet that I have no use for or that I believe are beyond hope. It is a wonderful feeling not to judge my fellow human beings, but to simply appreciate them and care for them. I have often said to friends and family members who have been hurt that, for me, one of the surest ways to know God is through the act of loving again. I have always tried to let love guide my decision-making. It hasn't steered me wrong yet.

And now, (drumroll please) for the five fantastic bloggers I hope will carry forward this fun game of Tag...

1. Laurie Rodak at The Playground Observer
2. Susana at Firefly Shop - My Thoughts
3. Suzen at Erasing the Bored
4. Julie at Octamom
5. Abby at My Sweet Babboo

Have a great weekend, everyone!

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama Speaks to My Family

I watched the President's address to Congress last night with interest.

I am the mom of a Midwestern family filled with hard-working people. In our extended family are researchers, engineers, social workers, nurses, fire fighters, small business owners, moms, dads, students and teachers. We have a seriously ill relative who is underinsured. We have another relative who has retired on a state pension, drawn from a pension fund that is in serious trouble. Most of us have mortgages. Many of us are worried about our job security.

What part of last night's speech wouldn't apply to us?

I have written here before about my worry over the state of the economy, and specifically about responding to the economic crisis. I have been frustrated with the misuse of bank bailout funds and the national obsession with quick fixes. So, there was a lot to hold my attention last night.

I hoped to hear about banking and the auto industry in President Obama's speech. I am passionately committed to parental involvement in education, so my ears were open on that issue. I believe in taking personal responsibility for shaping one's future. I believe that hard work can do more for our country than legalistic maneuvering. ... I guess there was a lot I was listening for. I was not disappointed.

After hearing President Obama's speech last night, I will say -- he addressed a number of my concerns. And it was refreshing to be spoken to as citizens by someone who addresses his audience as adults. (And who uses vocabulary above the fourth grade level. I mean, he correctly used the word catalyzed in a sentence.)

Several parts of the President's speech were memorable and important. For example,

On education:
In a global economy, where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity. It is a prerequisite. ...

That is why this budget creates new teachers -- new incentives for teacher performance, pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We'll invest -- we'll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to
charter schools. ...

Dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself; it's quitting on your country. And this country needs and values the talents of every American. ...

In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a parent, for a mother or father who will attend those parent-teacher conferences, or help with homework, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, read to their child. I speak to you not just as a president, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home. That is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. That's an American issue.

On the auto industry:
Speaking of our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not and will not protect them from their own bad practices.

But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it; scores of communities depend on it; and I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

On banking:

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. ...

And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system. ...

It is time to put in place tough, new commonsense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation and punishes shortcuts and abuse. ...

I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can't pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can't get a mortgage.

President Obama stated that the issue of healthcare reform would not wait -- that he would be assembling a panel of legislators, doctors, businesses and workers to discuss their healthcare reform needs and ideas. It is welcome news; I am happy there will be no delay on such an important issue.

As the President finished speaking, I had a renewed sense of confidence in his leadership. It is my hope that the Congress will follow through on his exhortation to get down to business and to do the hard work necessary to move the country forward.

The rest of us are working hard. Now, so should they.

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Easy (Tasty) Mardi Gras Fun

Beads? Check.
Masks? Check.
Floats? Okay. That's a little much.

What about food?

Not all of us have tons of time to make special foods for a day like Mardi Gras. But it can be fun to mark the day with a special dessert. And what could be better than something you can make with your kids?

At our house, we have a simple recipe called Monkey Bread. It is easy to modify for Mardi Gras to make a colorful and festive celebration.

Here's the recipe:

Mardi Gras Monkey Bread

2 packages buttermilk biscuits in a can (10 each)
1/4 cup yellow sugar sprinkles
1/4 cup purple sugar sprinkles
1/4 cup green sugar sprinkles
1 cup chopped pecans, divided
1 tsp cinnamon, divided
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the biscuits in thirds and divide them evenly between three tupperware containers. Pour one color of sugar sprinkles in each container, followed by 1/3 tsp cinnamon and 1/3 cup pecans. Cover and shake until all the biscuit pieces are covered. (Great job for the kids!) Place pieces in buttered & floured bundt pan or angel food cake ring, keeping colors separate (one third of the ring should be yellow, green, purple).

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and stir in brown sugar and remaining cinnamon. Cook until it is bubbly and pour over the biscuits. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the biscuits comes out clean. Turn out onto a platter and put on a little more sprinkles to make it extra colorful.

We like to eat it warm. It's such a treat!

Give it a try, and have a Happy Mardi Gras!

- Midwest Mom

Monday, February 23, 2009

My Birthday Boy turns Six

This weekend, we celebrated my son's 6th birthday.

I remember his birth like it was yesterday. We were so proud.

He started out small ...

... but has grown and grown.

He is so smart, funny, kind and generous. He is a loyal friend. He amazes us on a daily basis with what he says and does.

This weekend, I stopped to appreciate the fantastic person he is becoming. He is a reader, a joker, a thinker, a builder.

Something about his birthday helped me to see my son in a fresh light.
And I like what I see.

- Midwest Mom

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fit Mommy Friday: Find time for a Walk

Walking is some of the easiest, cheapest exercise a Mommy can do. Walking whenever you can is a great way to get fit and stay fit. It is fun exercise that is easy to tailor to your schedule.

To get yourself walking:

Find businesses within walking distance for some of your regular chores. Visits to the bank, small grocery trips, or shopping at the card shop or drug store can be done by foot. Try making your next visit to the doctor's office, post office, or church and opportunity for a stroll.

Modify your children's activity schedule to accommodate walking. We walk to dance class in good weather. We also walk the kids to soccer practice when we can.

Walk to school with your child. Later in the day, walk to school and pick them up.

Take an evening walk with your spouse and children, or by yourself. We visit a local playground together or go to the baseball field to play or watch evening games.

In bad weather, join the mall patrol. I did this when my daughter was small enough for the baby carrier. All the grandmas and grandpas would ooh and aah over her. They loved seeing her grow. Now that she's bigger, she will come with me and we walk together!

On regular errands, park far from the building and double your walking distance.

Walk to work. If you must drive, try parking a few blocks from your building. Walking a few blocks each day will add up over time.

When you have an appointment on a different floor (we do this at the doctor's), take the stairs.

When you go to the mall, park at the door farthest from the store where you're planning to shop. Walk to and from your car either inside (in bad weather) or outside the building. Most malls have a nice sidewalk that runs all the way around the building.

Plan to arrive 10 minutes early to appointments, especially if they are in a neighborhood that's good to walk in. Use that ten minutes for a stroll in the sunshine.

Walk to the playground. When you arrive, walk a lap around the perimeter of the park before playing. When it's time to leave, do it again before you go.

If your spouse is home to watch the children or if they're old enough to be home by themselves,wake up early for a morning walk with other moms on your street. We have a 'dawn patrol' that goes out for 20-25 minutes every weekday.

Think about the fact that there was actually a time before cars when people walked everywhere. Walking is great for the environment and your health. It's an easy green choice to make.

You can start small, but start today. It's easy to find time for a walk!

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rainy Day Activity:

Homemade Play Dough

Rainy days have an interesting rhythm to them -- slow and quiet and thoughtful. A rainy day is a welcome change from the frenetic pace we usually keep. As the drops drum gently on our windowpanes, we watch the birds hopping around the bird feeder, trying to stay dry. Rainy days, like today, are days for board games and reading books, for puzzles and building blocks. They are days we just feel grateful our home is warm and dry -- our little haven.

I like to set aside a few special activities for days like this. Homemade Play Dough is one we love. We got the recipe a few years ago from our favorite Kindergarten teacher.

I help the children to make it, allowing them to measure the ingredients and carefully stir the pot on the stove. Once the mixture needs to be kneaded, many hands make light work.

Here is what you'll need:

2 cups flour
1 cup salt
2 tsp Cream of Tartar
2 cups water
2 Tbs oil
3 tsp food coloring -- blue, red, green, or yellow

And here's what you do:

Mix together the first three ingredients in a medium-size saucepan. Add wet ingredients (water, oil, and coloring) and mix together. Stir and stir over low heat on the stove -- don't stop! The mixture should thicken until it becomes like mashed potatoes. When it does, turn off the heat and dump the mixture out on a floured board to knead it.

I knead the first few turns, until the mixture cools a bit and becomes easier to handle. I fold the dough toward myself and press the heel of my hand into it. Then, I turn it a quarter-turn. Again, I fold the top down toward me and press. Then, I let the kids try their hands at it.

When the dough is the right consistency, they can play with it right away or you can store it in an airtight container. As long as it is put away after playing, it stays pliable for a nice long time.

Maybe even until the next rainy day.

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Misadventures of Wondermom:

True Story #527

In this episode, we join our heroine at the local playground where she and her rag-tag band of mini-heroes -- Primo, Brain (aka Captain Kindergarten), and Princess Peanut -- are training in an attempt to further hone their superpowers. Little do they realize that a routine training session can lead to some of the greatest challenges they have yet to face.


Climbing deftly to the top of a rotationally molded, ultraviolet light stabilized polyethylene plastic behemoth from the deep, Brain calls out to one and all "Look at MEEEeeeeeeee!"

But he realizes his fateful error too late! Increased visual attention has thwarted Brain's grip of ultimate firmness. (Either that, or it was his slippery supermittens...) At any rate, his cry for attention echoes endlessly as he plummets into the mulchy abyss.

Instantly, his faithful companion Primo is at his side to assess the extent of the damage.

As Brain writhes silently amid the wood chips, Primo asks a series of probing questions.

"Did you hurt your head?"

Brain shakes his head, no.

"Did you hurt your back?" no.

"Did you hurt your arm? your legs? your nose? your funny bone?" no, no, no, and no.

"Did you hurt your..." Primo looks shiftily from side to side and envokes his power of stealth-speech, "tenders?"

Wondermom's superhearing powers up.

She continues to push Princess Peanut on the swing and notes to herself that four viewings of Kung Fu Panda seem to have brought some new terminology into the mini-heroes' vocabulary.

After what seems (to his brother) like an eternity, Brain musters the strength to speak.

"Not my tenders." he states in clinical gasps, "the place right next to them." A pause. "I think it's called your groan."

Brain surreptitiously indicates the place to his trusted friend.

[Pretending not to pay attention, Wondermom invokes her power of giggle suppression.]

Primo places a sympathetic hand on Brain's shoulder. His tone is instructive. "That's not your groan. It's your crutches."

[Wondermom boosts giggle suppression to maximum.]

Brain responds, "Yeah? Well, I think I just broke my crutches."

With naked shock and deep concern, Primo sets his supervoice on full power, "Mom! BRAIN JUST BROKE HIS CRUTCHES! HELP!"

"Oh, no!" thinks Wondermom, "full failure of giggle suppression systems!"

The laughs are coming! She is powerless to stop them!


Can Wondermom regain her composure?

Will flashbacks reduce her to teary-eyed laughter?

Find out next time on --

Misadventures of Wondermom!

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Ever-Growing American Workweek

Out of the kindness of his heart, Hubby is filling-in on third shift this week so that a colleague can receive training that's only offered during the day.

After a fantastically wonderful Valentine's weekend with the perfect balance of family time and alone time, it was tough to send him off to work last night at 10 p.m. Needless to say, I am a tired shell of my usual self -- on a day the children have off from school!

If I were a good mother, I would have "presidential" things planned. We would be coloring free activity pages about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. We would have left at dawn to reach the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield for a day of presidentially-focused fun. We would be feasting on cherries from morning till night.

We aren't.

We breakfasted in hushed tones and the children are playing in their basement playroom to keep from waking Daddy. In a half hour, we'll probably walk a mile or so to the local AMBUCS playground so that they can be loud and crazy. So they can be kids.

The one thing this turn at third shift is helping me to realize is that there are way too many people working in the middle of the night in this country.

I mean, really. Why? Are they doing something so very essential that no one could live without it being done in the middle of the night?!?? I think about the businesses here in town that are open all night (and the people working in them) and I cannot fathom why it is necessary.

The American workweek has been expanded beyond the point of reason. Not only do many wage earners work Saturdays and Sundays, others have to carry around the infernal Blackberry -- essentially tethering themselves to the MotherShip of Work even in their off-hours.

What would change if we were to reinstate some limits on the American Workweek?

- More Americans would get a good night's sleep. There would be less road rage as a result and probably less abuse of all kinds. There would be more smiling for no reason. Overall, a positive change.

- The only people not getting more sleep would be emergency workers, the people who make donuts, and one drug store in each town (parent's have to be able to pick up their late-night baby Tylenol ration somehow!) Another exception would be cat burglars and arsonists, but police- and firemen would remain on night duty, too (with plenty of donuts). So, problem solved.

- Families could get used to being around each other again. When I think about how many people in this country are doing what we're doing this week, kissing goodbye at 10pm, it makes me sad. How much stronger could marriages be if Moms and Dads actually slept the same hours? How much happier would kids be if everyone had the energy to play when they do?

- Think about the energy saved if businesses were not running their lights and machinery and heat and air conditioning all night long. Lots.

- There would be a dramatic increase in the quality of youth sports, because the majority of the population would have Saturday off. The exceptions to the Saturday off rule would have to be donut shops (again), restaurants, bowling alleys, grocery stores, museums, and roller rinks.

-We could reserve Sunday as a day for picnics and long walks. Only balloon stands, zoos, ice cream shops, parks, (and of course churches) need to remain open. If there's ice cream, we don't need donuts.

- Truckers who prefer to drive at night wouldn't have to worry about snoozing third-shifters making their way home. On the other hand, more people would be available to go to bars or stay late at Aunt Mildred's for the semi-annual Euchre tournament... So that one's a wash.

- An entire industry could be spawned making signs that say CLOSED. How's that for economic stimulus?

Of course, you know this list is tongue-in-cheek... sort of. Part of me does wonder how efficient we can possibly be as a country when we're working ourselves into the ground all day and all night.

Maybe I just think that the only 24-7 jobs should be the ones that people would do even without being paid -- just because they're called to do them.

Motherhood and Fatherhood qualify.

Keeping the McDonald's drive-thru open does not.

Fighting fires or manning the emergency room qualifies.

Wal-mart photo developing does not.

Now, you weigh in.

Think about it... what value do you put on work in your life? Is it appropriate?

What would you be willing to sacrifice in one area to gain in another?

Do you have a compelling reason why Larry's Kountry Bread Shoppe needs to be open 24 hours? (After all, they don't even make donuts...)

Are there other businesses that are essential to your late-night well-being?

I can't wait to hear your thoughts.

- Midwest Mom

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fit Mommy Friday: Perspective

Having perspective means that you know when to focus on good health and when to just sit back and have a little fun. If you build good habits and follow them on a regular basis, there is no reason that you need to deprive yourself of the good things in life.

You know where this is going...

Happy Valentines Day.

Go eat some chocolate. (It's an anti-oxidant!) Fit Mommy Friday will be back next week.

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bargain Valentine Dos and Don'ts

Let's face it; most of us aren't spending a lot these days. That can be a problem when it comes to "conscious splurge" holidays like Valentine's Day.

"Romance on a Budget" might not be in your comfort zone. Heck, you may never have even put those words together in the same sentence. (For instance, most husbands might avoid the first word in favor of the second... and most paperback novels feature a man who thinks only of sweeping a girl off her feet, never worrying about the bill.)

Life just isn't fair. But I digress... Instead of grumbling, it seems like a good time for

Bargain Valentine Dos and Don'ts!

To save money and have a romantic Valentine's Day,

DO spend time cooking some heart-and-soul-warming comfort food together instead of going out to an expensive restaurant.

DON'T order in two dozen buffalo wings because what could be hotter than hot sauce on your partner's face? (The breath is an added bonus.)

DO go to an auction together to buy your spouse something beautiful without breaking the bank.

DON'T bemoan the prices at the jewelry store and use them as an excuse to get her nothing at all.

DO take a long, quiet walk together at a local park, followed by warm cocoa at the coffee shop just like you did when you were dating.

DON'T suggest a walk, but bring along the kids and make the playground your destination. (Trust me, ask Grandma to watch the kids for an hour. She will say yes.)

DO bring your wife an inexpensive bottle of wine and a single red rose.

DON'T buy flowers because you feel you have to, spend too much, and then "confess" the price to your wife as you apologize for the fact that the flowers are wilting on the first day.

DO write a note telling your spouse how much you appreciate what they do for you each and every day. Let your partner know one thing that happened in the past year that proves you are perfectly matched.

DON'T write your message in one of those cards with a bikini girl inside or a picture of a chimp. No matter what you write or how cheap the card was, the romance value is zero.

DO assemble photos of your spouse from high school or college, from when you were dating and first married, from when you first had children, from that last romantic vacation, from today, and let your spouse know that he or she has only grown more and more beautiful as time has gone by.

DON'T look at a beautiful woman or handsome man that walks by and say, "I remember when you looked that good." It's not the same thing. Trust me.

DO turn out the lights, light the fireplace and candles, and talk about the day you first met. Laugh together and remember why you are together.

DON'T turn out the lights, roll over, and start to snore.

I hope you and your special someone have a wonderfully romantic Valentine's day.

And if it doesn't turn out like a paperback novel, at least have a good laugh about it -- it's a great coping mechanism. Right?

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Easy Valentine Fun: Tissue Paper Flowers

My children and I sat down today to make some special surprises for our relatives who live far away.

We made tons and tons of tissue paper flowers.

Tomorrow I will box them up and send them off to brighten the Valentines Day of our Grandparents and Godparents, Great Uncles and Aunts and even one Great Grandparent! They were so easy to make and such fun that I thought I would share.

You will need:


Tissue Paper in many colors (I save mine from gift bags!)

Pipe cleaners at least 12 inches long

Heart-shaped paper doilies


1. Cut the tissue paper into rectangles about 6 in. wide by 8 inches long.

2. Carefully stack the sheets on top of one another so that the edges line up.

3. Starting from the short side, fold the stack like an accordion or fan.

4. Twist a pipe cleaner around the middle of the flower 1 1/2 times, or until it holds securely.

5. Starting with the top sheet of tissue, gently pull it up and toward the center of the flower, separating it from the rest of the stack. Repeat with the other layers, being careful not to tear the paper.

6. Write your valentine greeting on the center of a paper doily. Cut a slit in the top and bottom of the heart and thread the flower stem through.

I took a picture of my crew with their garden of paper flowers and used it to create homemade Valentine cards to send with the flowers.

I can't wait to hear how our loved ones like them. We are so blessed to have many generations of our family still living. I want them to know that they are a treasured part of our family.

It's wonderful that a holiday like Valentines Day gives us the chance to do just that.

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fun Feature on TwitterMoms!

I was so surprised yesterday to get a message from Lea Curtes-Swenson, one of the featured bloggers at TwitterMoms -- the Influential Moms Network. She wanted to put Midwest Moms in the spotlight and write a profile of me as Twitter Mom of the Week.

The Twitter Mom Of The Week interview went a little something like this:

TMOTW: So, Julia, tell me a little about yourself so I can write this piece...

Julia: Well, I was born on a cloudy afternoon in 1971 in Northern Virginia. There was a gentle breeze blowing in from the Southeast and the scent of camellias filled the air....

[an hour later...]

TMOTW: -sigh- Yes, yes... how interesting. [rolls eyes] I'm amazed that you learned to walk at such a young age... You spoke 3 languages by age 5? Really??!?? [looks at watch and wonders how much of this she can actually use.]

Julia: Well, I don't like to brag... but... blah blah first place jump roper blah blah first to earn a crochet-a-potholder brownie badge blah blah blah...

TMOTW: [jolts awake] Have you done anything more... recent? What about your blog?

Julia: Oh, sure... I've written about Ants in my Pants and Lotion... You know -- important stuff all Moms need to know. I teach people how to make Mud Puppies or find buried treasure in their yard. blah blah very useful blah blah

[sounds of roosters crowing]

TMOTW: -yawn- Well, I guess that covers it. By the way... how long has it been since someone's asked you to talk about yourself?

Julia: Oh... about a hundred years. Why do you ask?

TMOTW: [snort-giggle] No reason.

Seriously, though. The Twitter Mom of the Week Profile was a real honor. In the few months since TwitterMoms began it has grown to over 8,000 members. After the welcome I have received, it's no wonder.

If you don't know much about TwitterMoms, here's the 411.

TwitterMoms -- the Influential Moms Network is an active social networking site that provides blog hosting and photo sharing for its members. It features a variety of Discussion groups that cater to diverse interests -- from Healthy Moms to Moms of Multiples to Work-At-Home-Moms [WAHM] and Stay-At-Home-Moms [SAHM]. Some groups are great for parenting tips -- like one I'm in called Raising a Reader. Others are just for fun, like the fan groups -- Grey's Anatomy Moms, Twilight Moms, even Martha Stewart Moms. TwitterMoms was founded in September 2008 by Megan Calhoun, the original influental mom. It is a supportive community of intelligent women that I feel proud to be a part of.

So, head on over. They're always looking for more smart and talented women (which, of course, if you're reading Midwest Moms, you must be!) Becoming a Member is easy, and it's a great way to meet other fantastic women in the Sisterhood of Moms.

- Midwest Mom

Monday, February 9, 2009

Garden Wake-up Call

Today is the fourth day in a row with highs above freezing. The weather report claims we may get to 60 degrees before nightfall.

Hmmmm.... feels like Spring, doesn't it?

Well, my plants will sure think so.

The snow is all but gone, and there is mud everywhere. We took full advantage yesterday evening, wearing our boots for a puddle-splashing walk around town.

It is February Thaw, when the earth telegraphs a message to every plant in my garden that it's time to wake up! ... but the Winter is far from over.

The snowdrops and crocuses will foolishly start poking their heads out of the ground. If the thaw lasts more than a week, they may be joined by the tips of my tulip bulbs. Grape Hyacinth mounds from last year are already up and greening, even though we won't see blooms on them for another two or three months.

As a gardener, I have to force myself NOT to get out my rake and peek at my carefully tucked-in beds of bulbs. It is so tempting to get outside and get muddy cleaning up all the winter debris from the last few months.

But I know better. Regardless of the gentle blush of green the grass holds, the shrubs are still sleeping. The robins haven't arrived. I know it's best to wait and keep all the beds well-mulched.

It is so hard to be patient.

I have been taking daily tours of the garden. The only signs of life come from the indestructibles. The ground-covers -- creeping charlie and goldilocks. Some of my strawberries are peeking out, too. But my large perennials, my sage and azalea and lavender and clematis are all bare. They are survivors, waiting until the warmth feels real and lasting.

All that's left for an impatient gardener to do is to peek at seed catalogs instead of the garden. I use a few companies that cater to areas with cold-winter climates. My favorite is Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine.

When I think about what I want to plant, it helps to make a diagram of my garden space and to think about what worked or didn't work last year. Since times are tougher these days, I think I will devote more garden space to vegetables and less to ornamental plants. So I'll make a list of what I want or need to move and diagram how much space I have in sunny, part-sunny, and shady locations.

As I look at seeds, I will think about what will mature early, mid-season, and late. I'll do my best to arrange my plantings one after the other, to make the most of my garden space and provide the most produce for my family. I'll look at the calendar and plan our when to move the compost pile and when to till the garden. This year, we may make a few raised beds. I'll set a date to build them well before planting time.

To me, planning the garden is the best way to spend these few warm days in February. As the children play in the muddy sunshine, I can dream.

In a week or two, it will be cold again, and our bodies may forget this warmth ever came. But I'll be watching the mailbox more than the weather-channel. And when my seeds arrive, we'll have our own miniature garden growing under the lights downstairs.

Call me crazy, but I can't wait.

- Midwest Mom

Friday, February 6, 2009

Fit Mommy Friday: Posture Check

You cradle your newborn baby.

You haul groceries and a loaded diaper bag to the car.

You pick up your four-year-old when she falls down, kissing her boo-boo as you carry her into the house.

You bend forward to load the dryer or to wash dishes.

You spend time every day typing at your computer (okay, maybe that's just me.)

Now that you're a Mommy, have you noticed that your posture has changed?

Because so many of our Mommy-jobs involve stooping, reaching forward, and holding children and things in front of us, stooped shoulders are a hallmark of motherhood.

Don't believe me? Look at the Moms in front of you next time you are in line somewhere, next time you're in church or at a movie or a sporting event. You'll see what I mean.

Poor posture can lead to achiness and injury, but it is relatively easy to correct. Here's how to begin.

First, Check your posture:

Stand with your back and the back of your head against a wall. Does it take effort to press your shoulders to the wall? Or are they naturally touching the wall, too?

Now, lift your arms beside you, even with your shoulders, palms facing outward. Does that make a difference in the way your back feels?

Next, Straighten up:

Next time you're in line waiting for something, pay attention to your posture. Stand straight, as though there were an imaginary string at the top of your head pulling upward. Or, imagine that there is a book balancing on your head.

Roll your shoulders forward, upward, and then back. Let them rest in the "back" position and let your arms rest comfortably down. You should feel like a coat on a coat-hanger.

When sitting, try to sit toward the front of your chair with your back straight. It will help you to engage the muscles in your abdomen and upper back. If you cross your legs, cross them at the ankles instead of the knees.

Now, Lengthen and Strengthen:

Stretch your back daily by reaching upward and stretching all the way forward. Return to the top stretch and reach one hand up and over your head. Repeat on the other side.

Focus on the muscles around your upper back and shoulders. Shoulder Presses, Rows and Upright Rows will all help you hold your shoulders back instead of slumped forward.

Finally, exercise your core (abdominals and lower back) with simple daily exercises like push-ups and planks. Keeping your core muscles engaged as you go about your daily life will make good posture second-nature.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Why do we Love Quick Fixes?

The American desire to make everything "Quick and Easy" has been getting under my skin lately. You would think when we're slapped in the face by reality, we would finally get it.

As a people, we are corner-cutters. On a less-charitable day, I might even call us lazy. The fact is that there are large numbers of people in the United States who want to be instantly rich, thin, successful, happy and find the love of their lives -- and put in zero work to do it. The realist in me finds it infuriating.

I'll give you a few recent examples:

  • At Wal-Mart yesterday, I stood behind a woman whose cart was overflowing with Banquet Pot Pies, Stouffer's frozen French Bread Pizza, and Donuts. She picked up and purchased a woman's magazine whose lead story was "Get totally fit in 5 minutes!" ... How ironic.

  • Driving through town two days ago, I saw a man throwing handful after handful of chemical ice-melt on a walkway. The walkway had about 3 inches of light, fresh snow. The man's shovel was leaning against the building behind him.

  • Car dealerships and furniture stores in our area are still running radio ads offering Zero Percent financing for up to 24 months! on new purchases. Yes, even now. These morons haven't learned a thing.

Another example of our Quick Fix mentality is the Economic Stimulus Package. It astounds me that there are still people who think the remedy for a bad economy is tax cuts and more bank bailouts. Even more crazy is the expectation that, if we get the right mix of policy in this bill, no money will be wasted and recovery will be immediate.

What dreamland are people living in?

I know that in our house, we have spent a long time trying to put our financial ducks in a row. Even that multi-year effort does not guarantee us stability in this economy.

Parents know there are no shortcuts in raising our kids. What works is patient dedication and consistency. You can't teach a child to read without taking the time to read together. You can't raise a healthy child if you plop him in front of the TV every afternoon. Laziness doesn't cut it, and short cuts do not work.

Why should we expect positive results if our government is looking for the short cut to a healthy economy?

I know I am just a Mom, not an economist, but I also know that our family couldn't survive with deficits like the federal government currently runs. And if I gave my son money to buy a gallon of milk and he came home with a pocketful of candy, I wouldn't trust him with the same errand in the future. Maybe Treasury Secretary Geitner should keep that in mind when he deals with executives at AIG, Citigroup, and Bank of America.

Several news outlets are offering updates and opinions on the progress of the Stimulus Bill in the Senate. (Bloomberg, Huffington Post, NYTimes)

You can also find a copy of the House version of the stimulus bill here.

If you have some time, please have a look and formulate your own opinions. Then write your Senators and Representative to let them know what you think.

In my opinion, this time there is no quick fix -- no amount of Lotto tickets, diet pills, or Botox are going to make the economy healthy again. The most we can expect is a reasonable compromise and lots and LOTS of hard work.

I think we're up to it, if we're finally willing to give it a try.

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

White Knuckle Driving Tips

We had another pleasant winter surprise last night -- 3 more inches of snow.

On my way to school, I saw a school bus driver have to make the choice between sideswiping a truck sitting at a stop sign and plowing through a snow bank. On our way home, I followed a fish-tailing sedan and a van spinning his wheels to get moving at a stoplight.

So I thought it was time for some tips to keep you and the car-seat brigade nice and safe when the weather calls for slippery roads.

Start with a Clear View -- If you are fortunate enough to have a garage with plenty of room for all your vehicles, I applaud you. Our garage is the staging area for all our home improvement projects. Sadly, that means I'm out there with the snowbrush and scraper in winter weather. It can be so tempting just to do the bare minimum and let the defroster do the rest as we drive, but you never know what is going to be coming at you, from what direction, on a slippery-slidey driving day. Better start out right and clear all the windows and mirrors before you set out. (And make sure your windshield washer fluid is full, so if it gets grimy as you drive, you can clear the view.)

Get Rid of the Lid -- If you leave snow, even light, powdery stuff like we had this morning, on your roof and front hood, it will fly up and stick to your front and rear windows as you drive. (So all that time you spent clearing the windows? Down the tubes.) Even if the snow isn't powdery, but stiff, it can be dangerous to other drivers. A couple of years ago, my brother was driving on the beltway outside of Washington, DC, and a large sheet of icy snow lifted off the top of an SUV, flew across two lanes of traffic and shattered his windshield. Talk about a white-knuckle moment! Fortunately, no one was hurt, but they could have been, and it was all because someone didn't take the time to clear the snow off his or her roof. Use a push-broom if you can't reach it. But do it -- it's important.

Let Your headLight Shine -- When you're clearing your car off, don't forget to take the snow off your headlights and rear lights and drive with them on... even in the daytime. The more visible you are to other drivers, the better. When you stop at the gas station for your next fill-up, try washing them off with the windshield washer squeegee. Getting your lights clean of grime and streusel-topping road snow will make them shine much brighter.

Better Late than Never -- I cannot stand to be late. It's my personal hang-up. But when it's snowy outside, I know I can't afford to rush. Taking it slow gives my tires enough time to grip the road surface, even when it's slippery. Going too fast can make my car start to fish-tail, even on straight roads. Hurrying a turn in the snow can make your car skid. It's best to just ease into it, even if that means you arrive at your destination a little later than you want to.

Steer into a Skid -- We all heard this one at Driver's ed, but it's true. If your car starts to skid, the best thing to do is to take your foot off the gas and the brake and gently turn the wheel in the direction you are skidding. Steering into a skid will help line up your front and back wheels and get you moving straight again. Whatever you do, DON'T slam on the brakes. That can make you lose control entirely.

Slow Stops and Starts -- If your car is stopped, just use a little touch on the gas to get it moving. Too much gas from a stopped position can make your wheels spin. When we were out the other day, we were behind a city bus at a stoplight. When the light turned green, the driver spun the bus' wheels and actually moved sideways instead of forward. I think the driver of the car next to the bus needed to change her pants afterward. Fortunately, the bus got under control -- by easing off the gas. On the other hand, I was foolish enough one day last week to approach a stop sign just like I do when the roads are dry. A half a second after putting on my brakes, I realized my car wasn't even slowing down -- there was ice! I don't have ABS, so I pumped my brakes to stop and only overshot the stop sign by a few feet. I warmed up the paddles of my handy-dandy glove compartment defibrillator (by Totes), started my heart again, paused to thank The Lord a few times, and continued home more cautiously. Note to self: brake slowly and give yourself twice the stopping distance, just in case.

Keep the road Roomy -- Think about how much you are driving, whether because of your work commute or bringing the kids to school, ballet lessons, shopping, going to your workout or church. Now think about how nervous you may be and/or how many close calls you may have had in slippery weather. Multiply that by the number of drivers you see on the road as you're on your way to your favorite activity. My, that's a lot of "oh, shoot!" moments! So, don't forget to be patient and give other drivers a LOT of room on the road. When you are stopped at a light, make sure there is twice the amount of space between you and the next driver. (You never know when someone will plow into the whole line of you!) And no matter what, never push or tailgate a truck or a bus. Pass them legally if you're in a hurry, but do not fool yourself into thinking you will get where you are going faster by hanging out on their back bumper. It's just dangerous.

Focus (Daniel-san): All the kids are buckled. The windows are clear. The car is warmed up and you're ready to go. Now make sure you have the driving -- only the driving -- on your mind. If you are upset, do not drive. If the kids are being crazy, take the time to calm them and explain that "Mommy needs to concentrate." It's worth it to shut out distractions and keep your whole family safe.

I am always floored when I go into my children's school and see teachers that I know had to drive an hour in the same conditions I struggle to get my crew through for ten minutes. So, today, props go out to KC and Mr. DelVillano for already being at school and ready for anything! You both amaze me!

As for all the other Moms/Dads/taxi-drivers/bus drivers/carpoolers/Grandparents/commuters having to slog through the white stuff this time of year, I wish you Safe Travels. Guard your precious cargo. I will, too.

Spring will be here before we know it, right?

- Midwest Mom

Monday, February 2, 2009

Silence and Cucumbers

We had a crazy weekend. It was fun, but it was crazy.

So, this morning when the alarm clock went off, it was difficult to get us all moving again.

I did it nonetheless.

It was the morning routine of the American mother.

The urging, the cheerleading, the steering, the feeding, the combing, the peace keeping, the shoe-tying, the lunch-packing, the driving, the kiss-goodbye-ing. The return home to dish-washing, laundry, toddler games, and bed-making. Thinking about supper when it's only 10:00 in the morning.

It wears on a person sometimes.

There are times when I feel the heavy weight of responsibility bearing down on me, when the knowledge that my husband and children's health, cleanliness, and emotional well-being are in my hands seems like a burden. There are times when keeping family peace and making sure every other human being within our personal radius is appropriately cared-for feels like work.

These are the times when my energy-gauge reads "Empty".

These are the times when I know it's time to do something different with my day. To change up the routine and let the saddle sores of personal servitude have some time to heal.

It's when I take time for silence.

So, if you happen to come by the house today, you should know that I won't be answering the door. I've turned off the radio. I've turned off the phone.

There are cucumbers on my eyes.

And I'm enjoying a little silence for a change.

It's the one way I know to help let the gratitude back in and feel the joy of mothering again.

Who knew silence and cucumbers were such a wonderful combination?

For me, they're like magic.

- Midwest Mom

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Update: the Monkeys are Happy

I blogged a few weeks ago about redecorating our children's bedroom and the fact that we were going to let them paint it. I got several responses lauding our personal bravery for doing such a thing and many more requests for pictures.

Well, no one can say I ignore my readers, can they?

We had a wonderful time on painting day (rather, painting night).

Some of us painted like real professionals.

While others needed a little sisterly advice.

Some seemed like they were born for this work -- natural artists.

While others had to stretch their skills.

Some even got a mild scolding for being just a touch too messy.
(Couldn't see that one coming, could you?)

But in the end, the room was finished. We moved all the furniture back in, and got everyone settled back in their home again. Even the monkeys.

And when the Monkeys are Happy, we're all happy.

- Midwest Mom