Thursday, May 28, 2009

Celebrating One Year of Midwest Moms

These days, it seems like everyone is starting a Mommy blog -- that strange hybrid of family scrapbook, confessional, parenting manual, and late-night comedy routine.

We're a hundred thousand Erma Bombecks.

Who knows why we do it? I can answer only for myself.

I started Midwest Moms one year ago because I was the only one in my family raising children far from home. The transition from single life to married motherhood was one of the toughest life-altering transformations I have ever experienced. Through the highs and lows, after the tremendous the changes I underwent on the outside and the inside, I became stronger and tougher and more loving and patient than I ever thought I could be. Motherhood was like a trial by fire; it transformed me, not because I wanted it to... just because that's what becoming a Mom does to a woman. And once it did, once I was a Mom, I was surprised to find I had gained entry into an amazing sisterhood of strong women who had all undergone the same metamorphosis.

But motherhood is isolating work. It makes a grown woman spend the entire day speaking in two-word sentences, just to be understood. It turns a woman with a master's degree into a trained parrot, teaching her son or daughter to speak by repeating every phrase twice. It forces former professionals to resort to discussing the consistency of their little ones' diapers, the price of bananas, and how to get our whites whiter instead of using our time together to talk about the real challenges of mothering -- balancing love and discipline, raising responsible resilient children, fostering communication in the home, battling our need for appreciation with the reality that true appreciation most often comes only from our sisters in the trenches.

We don't talk about those things in the produce aisle. Or at PTA meetings.

We blog about them instead.

We blog to give a voice to our family journey, to document the challenges and the victories, if for no one but ourselves. In the process, we find friends we never knew we had -- women who live in other places, but who understand the people we are and were and hope to be. For me, blogging is a way to reach through the isolating work I do, to move past the everyday even as I write about it.

In the process of writing Midwest Moms, I have found a voice I didn't know I had, an outlet for my weird sense of humor, a way to convey my experience of the world. I find it hard to believe I've only been at it for a year -- it has become so much a part of who I am.

So, thank you for coming by Midwest Moms and sharing this strangely, surprisingly meaningful journey with me. I never could have imagined the past year of writing would be so, well, important. But it is. It continues to be.

Many thanks for a wonderful year.

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tickled Pink

My daughter is tickled pink. Can't you tell?

You see, we spent the weekend painting our garage. Well, not actually painting it per se. We scraped it and primed it.

Since we decided to change the color of the garage from it's original (stained and peeling) white to a darker, deeper red brown that matches our brickwork, the helpful man in the paint department suggested we tint the primer.

He dutifully plugged our chosen color name into his trusty paint-mixing computer, and out poured perfectly-measured amounts of red, brown, and black. He loaded the can of primer in the shaker. He warned us that the color would not come out as dark as our paint -- so there would be a contrast between coats.

Out of the paint shaker it came; our daughter couldn't have been more pleased.

We started to apply the primer, and just as we finished, the sky opened up. It rained and rained, preventing us from painting the much darker finish coat.

It's raining again today, much to my daughter's pleasure and my husband's chagrin.

Why? This is why.

All I can think of is Pepto Bismol and the fact that our neighbors may disown us.

But at least my daughter is happy. That has to count for something, right?

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mom-Blogging Basics at BlogCatalog

Some of you may know I'm a frequent participant over at BlogCatalog. There is a great (and varied) core group of bloggers there from whom I have learned a lot.

psst... If you're not listed there already, you should be.

At any rate, the bigwigs at BlogCatalog recently asked me to write a piece about Mom-blogging for them. I was honored to do it. It was fun to sit back and reflect about why I write and how and what I've learned from writing Midwest Moms. If you're interested, head on over and let me know what you think. I love thoughtful comments.

Have a great four-day week!

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Here Comes the Sun: Hints for Sun Safety

A light wind swept over the corn, and all nature laughed in the sunshine.
~ Anne Bronte

We are an outdoor family. My husband and I took a stroll through the garden in the early morning light this morning, checking on the plants as mother hens fuss over their chicks.

The boys talked eagerly at breakfast of afternoon plans for a bike ride and water play at our local AMBUCS Sprayground.

Once the boys were off to school, my youngest wanted to ride her own bike up and down the sidewalk, an activity usually reserved for the heat of the day, now enjoyed with ten times the excitement because of her large shadow cast in the slanting rays of the rising sun.

Maybe we're a photosynthetic clan. But we do love to be out in the sunshine -- from its rising clear through to sunset.

It's the time of year I have to remind myself about sun safety. That first sunburn of the year can be painful -- best to avoid it altogether with a little prevention.

If you're headed out with your crew, these tips might save you a little hurt later on:

Keep your eye on the clock - The sun is strongest from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Early morning and later afternoon sun are less damaging to the skin.

Stock up on Sunscreen - Did you know that your sunscreen has an expiration date? It is best to purchase sunscreen in small bottles that can be replaced frequently. We choose sunscreens with Sun Protection Factor [SPF] 15 or above. For fair-skinned children or babies, I have gone as high as 50. (To find out your lotion's sunburn protection, do this calculation: Average time to sunburn with no sunscreen X SPF factor = Average time of protection with sunscreen. So, if you usually burn in 10 minutes and use SPF 15, you should be protected for 150 minutes before burning.)

Reapply, reapply, reapply - The SPF calculation works only in the best of circumstances. Several factors can weaken your sun protection. Water, sweat, and rubbing skin on clothing are a few common ones. It's best to reapply sunscreen every hour, just to be sure it's doing its job, especially if you're going to be outside for hours on end.

Watch those tender places - Pay extra attention to protecting areas of the body prone to sunburn. Shoulders, cheeks and noses need extra protection. So do the tops of the ears (for boys with short hair or girls with ponytails) and the tops of the feet (when feet get sunburned -- ouch!)

Let clothes do the trick - Boys and girls can wear rash guards as a part of their swimsuits to protect their bodies from getting too much sun. Putting a hat on babies or older children can help shield their faces without having to douse them in SPF 700. Large t-shirts, hooded towels, or bathing suit cover-ups can be great ways to cover up when taking a break from the swimming pool.

Go easy on the eyes - Sunglasses are a summertime must. Most drug stores and department stores are starting to sell them right now. Be sure to check the tag -- it will tell you the UVA/UVB protection they will give your and your child's eyes.

Now... if I can just remember these tips myself! One of today's errands is to pack my 'beach bag' with all our supplies, so I'm ready to head out on a moment's notice. When the weather is this beautiful, it pays to be prepared. In it, I'll bring our sun care essentials, snacks, water, hand wipes, and a beach towel or two.

You can never be too ready to head out in the sunshine!

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

When Mommy Gets Sick: Guidelines for Self-Care

My family has been battling colds & flu (no swine flu, though - oink) for the last two weeks. I have dutifully played Dr. Mom, waking in the night to administer medicine, driving 40 minutes to our pediatrician's office as many times as is necessary, cooking special foods like homemade chicken soup, and keeping track of who is at which stage of illness at any given time.

But bad news came last night in the form of aches and exhaustion. Mommy has finally succumbed to the germs.

Like all moms, I am tempted to just medicate and plug on. But if the recent flu scare has taught us anything, it is that sick people should slow down instead of pushing it.

Why is that so tough for a mom? Or is it just me?

I remember years ago when I was growing up, my Mother got sick only very rarely. But what a time we had getting her to rest and take care of herself! She would continue cooking and cleaning and shuttling kids here and there, even though she felt awful. She had a home daycare, so she put tremendous pressure on herself -- she never wanted to let down the families who relied on her. Because she was a nurse (I'm told they make the worst patients...) she thought she could manage to care for everyone without spreading germs. She was a hand-washing fiend.

But while she was caring for everyone else, she kept forgetting to care for herself.

Several times, we had to force her to the doctor's office for antibiotics. She always claimed she was "on the mend" or "getting better". It was a load of hooey. She was diagnosed with 'walking pneumonia' more than once and ordered to rest. She agreed only reluctantly and because the doctor ordered her like a drill sergeant orders a new recruit.

I remember saying to myself, as I saw her suffering on the couch, that I would never drive myself to be so sick. And I helped my brothers and sisters and father care for her until she was healthy again.

Fast forward to last Fall. I found I wasn't so different from my mother after all. I got a cold that turned to a cough. I insisted repeatedly that it was improving. It wasn't. An x-ray showed that I had pneumonia. Just like Mom. I had a V-8 moment, a what is wrong with me? revelation.

I needed to take better care of myself.

So, now that I've succumbed to the family flu bug, I'm following a few rules that apply to everyone -- even Mommy.

When you're sick, stay in bed. Clear the schedule. Cancel your meetings. Bundle up and get extra rest.

Ask for and accept help. Rely on a friend to pick your children up at school. Order take-out for dinner or heat up leftovers instead of cooking. Ask your husband to put the children to bed or give them baths. Let your mother know you are ill and ask if she can pick up groceries for you when she goes to the store.

Drink, drink, drink. Dehydration is your enemy when you are under the weather. Flushing your system with fluids (one small glass per hour of clear liquid) can help your body to heal. It can also help keep fever in check. My beverage of choice today is chamomile tea with honey -- great on a tender throat.

Talk to your Doctor. Your doctor and you are on the same team. Sometimes it's good to remember that. You cooperate when it comes to caring for your children; do the same when you need to heal yourself. Keep track of your symptoms and communicate with your physician. Don't wait until until your fever reaches 104 degrees or until you're coughing so hard that you lose bladder control. Don't be stubborn about it -- you're not invincible.

When we take care of ourselves, especially when we're sick, we are modeling self-care for our children, too. It is comforting for kids to know that Mom and Dad are taking care of their health. Whether it's a cold or flu or something more serious, giving yourself the time to rest and recover and the medical attention you need is actually a remarkable gift to your children.

When I allow my children to see that I'm feeling sick, they often respond with care and compassion. My son will get me a blanket, unasked. My daughter will bring me a cuddly toy or a glass of water. They play more quietly, giving me time to heal. (Okay, okay... sometimes they need a little reminding on that one.) And in the end, when I am feeling myself again, they will welcome me back to the land of the living.

Sometimes Moms need a reminder that self-care is important. Paying attention to our own bodies and health is an important part of being the best Mom we can be.

So, I'm off to get a little rest. Hopefully, before long, I'll be feeling much, much better.

- Midwest Mom

Monday, May 18, 2009

Our Midwest Garden: First Fruits

Attention, Parents! Herein lies the secret to your children eating their vegetables...

Have them grow their own.

This weekend marked our first garden harvest. What fun! I don't think I've seen Primo more proud than he was while eating lettuce and radishes grown from seeds he planted himself!

Lettuce is so easy to grow -- you can even sow the seeds in a flower box. Let your child water every day at first, then every other day. And when the seeds have sprouted and you need to thin the plants to let the lettuce grow healthy and large, serve your child a big plate of this:

Trust me, if your little one is anything like my oldest, he or she will eat like never before. When Grandma and Papa came by last night for supper, he even went into the garden to pick them one radish each. (And then stood by watching them eat and waiting for words of approval.)

On the way to school this morning, he said to me. "Thanks for teaching me to be a farmer, Mom. I think it's my talent!"

I thought, Maybe it is... maybe it really is.

- Midwest Mom

Looking for ways to get your child started helping in the garden? Check out Gardening with Kids: An Easy Guide at Midwest Parents. There's no better time than now to get gardening!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Laundry on the Line

Drying clothes on the line is one of my favorite things about a return to warmer weather. There is nothing like the look and feel of clothes and linens that have dried in the sunshine. And the smell -- oh, it's wonderful.

Sure, there are drawbacks -- like having to run out and gather in the clothes in a sudden downpour. (But secretly, I enjoy being out in a summer rain, so even that isn't so bad.)

Another drawback is the time it takes. I have a clothes-tree in an unused corner of the yard. It holds two loads, so that's my maximum number of loads in a given day. (Which means no more marathon laundry sessions? Remind me of the downside of that again??)

The positives are easy to list. Pinning up the clothes gives you time outdoors, it keeps you in tune with the sounds of the birds and the feel of the fresh breeze blowing through the trees. Sunshine is free, unlike the gas and electricity it takes to run my clothes dryer. The time it takes to line-dry my clothes gives me time to reflect and think deep thoughts, to watch the children playing in the yard, to be grateful.

Of course, I imagine there are those who prefer the feel of machine-dried clothes and smell of fabric softener to fresh air. If you're concerned that your jeans or towels might not be as soft if they're dried on the line, try tumbling your clothes for 5-10 minutes before hanging them out. They will dry wrinkle-free and gorgeous. Or, you can give them a short tumble in the dryer after you take them down from the line to help the fibers in your towels, for instance, soften up. Either way, you're saving energy and money.

At our place, the return of line-dried laundry is the return of summer simplicity. We bike to the store instead of driving. We spend our days outdoors. We swim at the pool instead of dragging ourselves out the door to school every day. We grill out and visit with our neighbors on the sidewalk as our children ride their bikes up and down the street. We pull fresh produce from the garden. Lazy, simple summer days.

It all starts with the warmer weather and the clothes line. Now I find I'm checking the calendar and starting the end-of-the-school-year countdown.

Those easy summer days can't come soon enough.

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dilly Dally: Tales of a Lady in Waiting

My three-year-old is testing my patience.


Okay, maybe it's hourly.

She must have been listening back in April when my mother came to visit. During a dinner table discussion of appropriate manners, my mother shared a bit of her family history with my brood. "When I was a child, my mother told us that my Grandmother's Grandmother was a Lady-in-Waiting for Queen Victoria."

I heard the Lady-in-Waiting story often when I was growing up. My daughter did not ask her Nana what exactly a Lady-in-Waiting was. But apparently she liked the sound of it so much that now waiting is all I ever seem to do. After all, there is a family tradition to uphold, right?

Sadly, my patience is not as boundless as it might be.

Here is a partial list of the tasks that cannot possibly be done in less than 30 minutes and without an elaborate cajoling ritual...

  • Choosing clothes/Getting dressed for the day: First we must have a "favorite colors" guessing game or a "guess what shirt I'm thinking of...?" game. Then comes the "I need you/I don't need you" tug-of-war.
  • Putting shoes on: Oh, and they're slip-ons, by the way. God help us when it's time for tie shoes. And we can't forget the issue of matching shoes to one's outfit. (Gah!)
  • Brushing teeth: She must brush, then I must brush. "First, count to 19," she will say before handing the brush to me as I slowly pull out my rapidly greying hair.
  • Getting into the car: Not getting to the car... just into it. She has to do a super-jump and climb into her car seat, smoothing the back of her shirt just so. Otherwise, she will spend the entire ride complaining that it "frickles."
  • Getting out of the car: Frickling is not a problem getting out. We are usually searching for a lost item before getting out -- a marble, barrette, or toy. Today it was a bit of plastic from a juice box straw wrapper. She's meticulous... I'll give her that.
  • Putting on a jacket: Here we fall victim to "I'll do it myself" syndrome. Even the zipper. It takes For-Ev-Er.
  • Choosing a book: I love to read to her, but often 20 minutes of looking will have her settling (finally) on a book with 6 pages.
  • Any meal: She just wants to talk to whomever is at the table. She's a social girl... that is, until dessert is served. Then she's full (except that she has room for dessert.)
  • Bedtime: Tonight I was kissed by no less than three dogs, two bears and a blankie. I then had to fight for a kiss from my daughter playing "you can't find me" under her bedsheet.
Let's face it, by the end of the day, I'm exhausted. My sweet, darling girl has figured out how to monopolize my time and attention as often as she can. I get exasperated with it, quite honestly. I wonder when she will ever just stop playing all the time.

And then I think, What Is Wrong With Me??

She's three. And playing your way through the day is what age three is all about. It's also about asserting your independence (which has issues of its own -- trust me.) But mostly, it's about operating on your own "schedule" and doing things in your own time.

Since the boys are so independent, I guess I had forgotten that.

And then something happened yesterday while I was planting my garden that made my parental hypocrisy meter top out. I was planting a bed of Basil when my daughter came up and asked me to play soccer. "After I'm done with these Basil plants," I told her. She waited. She made conversation. She made up a game to make the waiting go faster, which I played with her as I planted. Finally, she left for a few moments and returned.

"Are you ready to play now, Mommy?"

It hit me that I was "playing" in my garden while she patiently waited for me, doing whatever she could to spend time with me. (And also, I am an idiot for making her wait like that.)

So I stopped planting, and we had one heck of a backyard soccer game. Of course, she had to blow a whistle and say, "Argh, he's in the stretch, there's the pitch!" and pantomime a swing for the fences before every kickoff. (Apparently, she's a pirate baseball-playing soccer player??) We also had to establish before kickoff exactly who would be allowed to score the goal. And afterward, she would shout, "SCORE!" and do that breathy crowd noise thing. And despite my sham sorrow at losing yet another point to the masterful mistress of soccer, I did my best to hide my tears, extend my hand, and say, "good game." And then we'd start all over again.

We played for a long time, but it was fun, so that makes it time well spent. In the end it was my own little Lady-in-Waiting who taught me a lesson about patience and being considerate. And about making time to play.

I wonder what my daughter's Grandmother's Grandmother's Grandmother would think of that.

- Midwest Mom

It's Planting Time

There are so many markers of the right time to plant in the Midwest. Some people mark the calendar to plant on Mother's Day or Memorial Day. Others measure the soil temperature to know when the optimal time will be.

I like to pay attention to my flowering plants. Because they respond to the moisture level, sunlight, and air temperature, I find them to be excellent indicators of the right time to plant.

This is where the garden is right now:

The peas, spinach, carrots, lettuce, and radishes I planted from seed in April are proceeding nicely. The peas are about 18 inches tall, and the lettuce is about a week away from harvest. The radishes are small, but we're checking weekly to prepare for harvesting them.

Blooming perennials abound in shades of purple. Until this week, I hadn't realized how many there were. In full bloom now are allium, meadow sage, dame's rocket, bluebells, Virginia bluebells, pansies, and violets. We also have plentiful blossoms on our red columbine and strawberry plants.

Ready, but not quite blooming are garden sage and clematis. I imagine they'll start within the week.

The weather has been dry for a few days, but we're expecting rain tomorrow. So, today is the day for planting my most tender (and prized) vegetables -- my tomatoes. I started them in seedling trays in early April, and they have several sets of leaves. I'll also plant my zinnia seedlings, basil, and pepper plants. Once they're in the ground, they are sure to take off.

I can't wait to get out in the sunshine and get digging. If I'm in the mood, I just might have the kids help me, too. Which reminds me -- today I've written a feature for Midwest Parents, Gardening with Kids: An Easy Guide. If you're getting ready to plant and want to find ways to involve your kids in the family garden, head on over for some great tips! (And please comment! I'm sure it will warm the hearts of the Midwest Parents crew to hear from you!)

Until tomorrow, hope you enjoy your garden. I know I will!

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Deep Well of Motherhood

What is the source of a Mother's courage? Of her strength? They come from somewhere deep inside all of us. They come from the care and support we give to each other. They exist without intention or recognition; we do what we do simply because we are Mothers.

When a new Mother is expecting, she waits and dreams about the future. She wonders and worries if her baby will be healthy and whether she will be any good at the monumental task of mothering. Facing feelings of fear and choosing to educate oneself in response are acts of courage, the first signs of what is to come. We watch every bite of food and drink that passes our lips, forgoing medicine because of its effect on the baby, shifting our focus from our self as one person to two as we metamorphose into Mothers. We are tested to relinquish control and to trust in new ways as our bodies grow and change.

Once our children are born, we grow with them, teaching and tending. Their victories make our hearts leap and their challenges gnaw at the pit of our stomachs. We carefully foster our child's sense of self, allowing her to experience the world in its variety. We learn to step aside, to allow our child to bask in success without having to share the spotlight. We learn to let go, to let our child fail or succeed all by himself, so that he can own his achievement. We pick up our little girl and dust her off and set her on her way again, knowing that in doing so we empower her to do the same for herself down the road. We listen, we advise, we enrich. It is the mission of Motherhood, our calling, our vocation.

At the beginning of the journey, the first test of our Mother's courage, we face the unknowns of labor and care for our newborn child. Sometimes, we face much more. My husband's cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer while her youngest son was in the womb. She delayed treatment until she could be assured her baby would be safe from its effects. Her son never knew his mother without cancer, and although her battle ended when he was only five years old, she would not have changed her decision to bring her vibrant, healthy boy into this world whole. That is bravery, sacrifice, strength.

Many Mothers dream of adopting and patiently wait, enduring the scrutiny of strangers and repeated disappointments so they can give a child a loving home. They nurture their adopted children in a way the circumstance of birth would have made otherwise impossible. Often, they rescue and give children who have been abused, mistreated, or neglected the gifts of acceptance and love. Adoptive mothers are courageous volunteers, displaying a brand of dedication all their own.

The courage of a mother can reveal itself in the face of loss, when we lose a child whom we have not even been blessed to know. Mothers don't like to talk about the pain of miscarriage, but it remains even years later. I can testify to the truth of that. But we do not let it beat us; we face that pain and move forward. After my own miscarriage, my spirit was crushed under the weight of a sadness so profound it is difficult to describe. In time, I became pregnant again and gave birth to my second son. I was so grateful for another chance, another child to love. He was my miracle. Only later did my husband admit that he considered the way I carried him and loved him and was renewed by him an act of courage. I never thought of it that way. I was just his Mother.

Mothers often have to hear life's most difficult truths from the mouth of a doctor. Our child may have Downs Syndrome or Autism; she has suffered a stroke; he has a seizure disorder. A doctor informs us that our daughter or son will not walk or talk or eat or learn the same way as other children. And though the truth of that shatters a part of every mother's dreams for her child, we gather ourselves up and move forward. We patiently teach, we become unpaid speech therapists and pediatric nurses. My sister spent seven years of her son's life sleeping on a chair in his hospital room and could put in an IV when no nurse on the floor could. Mothers can be the best, most courageous advocates and the foremost experts on their child's condition. Mothers of the sick are, to my mind, some of the most self-sacrificing courageous creatures ever created on this Earth. Yet, if you admire their endurance and strength, often they will shrug it off as nothing special. It is special.

Mothers give and derive strength from our networks of support. We help guide each other, we listen to each other, we appreciate each other. What is it about Mothers that makes it possible -- despite the chaotic nature of our own lives -- when another mom is in trouble, to respond without question? When my young nephew passed away, my girlfriends set aside their own schedules to cook for my husband and the boys, to babysit when needed, so I could fly across the country with my infant daughter for his funeral. Those girls, my fellow moms, were a part and source of my strength. They eased my burden and made it possible for me to comfort my sister, a mom facing what no mother should ever have to.

But even when the situation is not difficult, but everyday, Mothers are courageous. Single mothers bravely balance work and their child's care, never letting hard work or a hard life make them hard individuals. We need to recognize the difficulty of what single moms do, with little or no backup. It is, in my mind, superhuman.

Elderly mothers, our grandmothers, can face pain, illness, and loneliness while their children live their busy lives. We should honor them and support them. We should visit them and send them cards that say, THANK YOU for being the amazing woman you are. My own grandmother has a brilliant sense of humor and a full, throaty laugh. She is an artist and taught me how to cook. She is a vibrant woman who has lived a full, courageous life, surviving the Depression and war, loss of siblings, children, husband. She deserves honor and love and care.

And my own mother, who has so often faced trouble with a quiet, prayerful faith that leaves me in awe of her stillness, has a reserve that I will never possess -- a grace that should be cherished. Her three daughters are all mothers now, and she helps us and listens to us and guides us to make our best decisions. She takes care of her health meticulously, which takes some measure of inner strength. For a year, she has endured Graves Disease without allowing it to shatter her sense of purpose or self. She is my unwavering friend. She does not just have strength, she embodies it.

There is no Mom I know, no family I know, who has had an entirely easy life. That's not what life or Motherhood is or is meant to be. Instead, Motherhood contains unspeakable joys and the deepest sorrows. It tests the core of who we are. It defines us in many ways. It changes us.

When I am honest about my own mothering, I must admit that I fail as often as I succeed. I am not as patient as I should be. I am temperamental. Sometimes the effort to deal with a situation creatively proves too much for me. But no Mother is the perfect Mother. I believe learning from my failures is a part of the journey. Facing my weaknesses and trying to do better next time is a part of the process. Continually learning what I can to be a better parent, accepting that I sometimes need help, taking time to reset and recharge, all help me to be a better Mother -- not perfect, but better.

Sometimes, I have to dig down for the strength to begin again.

Fortunately for me, the well of Motherhood is deep. From it, I can draw strength and endurance and courage. From the example of the women around me, the other mothers who are a part of my life, I can find renewal.

Maybe that's why I am taking the time to appreciate the power and wonder and courage of Mothers and of Motherhood itself today. With Mother's Day on the horizon, it seems like the perfect time.

To my fellow Moms, I wish you warmth and joy and continued strength in the coming year. Thank you for all you do, and Happy Mother's Day.

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mother's Day Gift Idea: How to Make Garden Stepping Stones

Home-made stepping stones make the perfect Mother's Day gift. They are easy to personalize, fun to put together, and when done right they will last a good long time.

The first time I made stepping stones was about eight years ago. My mother placed a request with all her children's families. She wanted a stepping stone in her garden from each of her grandchildren for Mother's Day. At the time, my oldest child was still an infant. So my husband and I sat down to plan his stone for him.

My husband's job was to figure out the best concrete mix to use to survive frozen Northeast Winters. My job was to design the stone. I am a stained-glass artist and my workshop was filled with scraps and shards of colored glass. So, I made a mosaic ocean scene with seaweed and cute fish. My mother loved it.

Then, two years ago, we did a similar project for my Mother-in-law, who had recently built a shade garden. She has 10 grandchildren, so we gathered more kid-friendly supplies, had the Dads mix some cement, and spent Mother's Day at Grandma's house making stepping stones for her. She loved them, and the children love walking through her garden and seeing their creations.

For this project, you'll need the following items:

~ Portland Cement
~ Coarse Sand
~ Water

~ Transparent, light plastic planter drip trays (to use as molds.) You can find them at your local garden center in a variety of sizes. I like to use the largest size, 14 inches in diameter.

~ Colored glass beads or gems
~ Seashells
~ Polished rocks
~ Colored glass pieces (for mosaic designs)


1. First, Mix your Cement. (Here are some basic mixing instructions and the proportions of cement to sand to water.) Because the stepping stones should have a smooth appearance, we have avoided using gravel aggregate. Instead, we increase the proportion of sand in the mix to make the stepping stones resist cracking. Some hardware stores sell cement mix with embedded fibers in the mix. This can be a great option for those wanting to purchase a ready-made mix. [Note: Cement can burn skin with prolonged contact. Be sure to wear work gloves and appropriate clothing. This is no time to make a fashion statement.]

2. Next, arrange the circular mold on a level surface situated where you want the stepping stone to dry. The area you choose should be part-shaded and free from any sort of falling leaves or other tree debris. (So, not under the Maple tree!) Pour the cement into the mold, filling it right up to the top.

3. Gather your decorations and arrange them in a pretty design. You can make hand-prints or scratch a child's name into the stone, too. As the cement rests, water will rise to the surface. Gently press the decorations farther into the cement at this point, making sure that outer edges (especially anything sharp) is buried in the stone. If you're using beads, this extra pressure will bury them deeply enough to keep them from popping out as the stone wears.

4. Leave the stone undisturbed to dry for the length of time listed on the cement packaging. If you're planning to ship the stones to Mom, keep them in their tray-molds (like those pictured). If you're going to place them in your own garden, just gently flip the dried stone over and cut away the mold with a utility knife.

These are fun to make and are guaranteed to please the gardener in your family. They don't cost a lot to make, but trust me, Mom will think of you every time she looks at your stepping stone. Because it is a gift that lasts, garden stones will help Mom feel the love of her family every time she steps into the garden.

In my mind, that's a very good thing.

- Midwest Mom

Monday, May 4, 2009

My Simple Hopes for Mother's Day

I don't consider myself to be a high-maintenance woman.

And yet...

When it comes to holidays like Mother's day, my uber-intelligent husband is usually stumped.

On the off-chance that he is a regular reader of Midwest Moms, I'm going to make things easy for him this year by listing my simple hopes for the day. And I'll bet dollars to doughnuts the price tag at the end will be within reach.

On Mother's Day, I want...

  • My husband to be the one who gets up and showers early so that he can help the children get dressed for church. I also want the luxury of an extra five minutes of silence in the shower, and of choosing only my own church clothes, not everyone else's.

  • To get family obligations (i.e. any visit or gift-giving or phone calls to my Mom or his Mom) done before noon. Afternoon and evening belong to me. I am hereby claiming them.

  • Home-made drawings from my children. Honestly, they are the best gifts the kids can give me, and I will never tire of getting them. Hallmark and American Greetings have absolutely nothing that will out-do my kids. (And I save every drawing, so you know I must love them!)

  • Time outdoors. If it's good weather, I want to be outside. So, if you're planning, plan to be out. (Hint: pack a bag with essentials, like sunscreen and drinks... It's what I would do.)

  • A clean kitchen at the end of the day (that I didn't clean!) I don't care if we eat every meal and snack out for the entire day or if we just use paper plates and napkins all day. I just don't want to wash a single dish on Mother's day -- or have a pile of them waiting for the day after.

  • A letter from the man I love. It doesn't have to be the great American novel, but it does have to help me feel appreciated for all the things I love to do for our family.

That's it. Pretty simple. I don't require diamonds or roses or a trip to Europe (although, if you're planning that, super!) I just want an easy day with my family with a few of the usual burdens lifted from my shoulders.

Now, isn't that easy?

- Midwest Mom