Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Imagination and a Good Read

What is the sound of a writer on vacation? One part sigh, one part stretch, twenty-seven parts hilarious laughter (that's the kids... at least partly).

As a little gift, here are some of my favorite parenting, gardening, and humor articles. I published them back when my blog had zero readership. So, if you come by while I'm away from the computer, enjoy them.

Then, imagine me sitting in my lawn chair with my feet in the inflatable kiddie pool as I don my shades and sip a Frozen Strawberry Margarita with my Mom friends while our kids go crazy in the backyard.

Or, alternately, you can imagine me setting out in the family truckster with Hubby and the kids to explore the wilds of the East -- the Shenandoah Mountains, the Maryland Shore, the City of Brotherly Love, the Farms of Connecticut, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the Rocky Shores of Maine, only to return exhausted and sunburnt, but with renewed closeness that comes from spending 601 hours in the car together with nothing but country stations on the radio (Okay... that's only in Indiana).

Or, you could imagine me helping my sons fulfill a summer adventure wish with a day at a waterpark where they have the courage to go on the biggest, fastest, most watery of the waterslides! (And I hope your imagination photoshops my face onto the body of Cindy Crawford... for the sake of -ahem- accuracy.)

However you imagine me, though, please imagine me with a smile on my face.

There's nothing better than being a Mom, spending summer vacation with your family.

But if you get lonely for something fun to read, please consider one of these:

Gardening
Plants that Attract Butterflies
Going Green: Early July Vegetables

Tips & Tricks
Laundry Tip: Keeping White Clothes White
The Art of the Long Car Trip
Getting Ready for Kindergarten

Parenting
Separation Anxiety: We all have Clingons from Time to Time
On the Road to Raising Resilient Children
Can't We all Just Get Along? What to do when Children Fight
Chores or No Chores?
Time for Me: The Sisterhood of Moms

Humor/Our Life
I am Carnac, the Magnificent
Ants in My Pants
Giving Primo his Props
The Best Laid Plans of Elastigirl

I should be back in a bit. Until then, I hope all is well for you and yours. If you want to reach me, please email me at midwestmome@yahoo.com . I can't wait to hear from you.

Until next time!

All the best,

Julia (aka, Midwest Mom)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summer Vacation Survival Guide


Like most of the country, we are now on Summer vacation. It's a fun time to be a kid, but it can be a challenging time to be a parent.

Here are some tips to keep the schedule manageable and maximize your summer fun:

Make a Family Calendar: Try writing down weekly activities like dance rehearsal and wrestling practice, but also some of the fun activities you want to do regularly. Do you want to go to the pool a couple of times a week? Put it on the schedule. Write names next to the adults responsible for each activity. That way, Dad or Mom or Uncle Gerald become the go-to person to make the activity happen. Also include contact phone numbers for coaches, camps, or other contact people for each activity. Having all the info in a single place will make things easier when all doesn't go as planned.

Put Down-Time in the Schedule: While you're so busy writing down all the obligations, be sure to set aside time for family day or movie night. On Saturday afternoon, write "Mommy's Nap - Do Not Disturb." Claim your downtime. You deserve it.

Plan an Adventure: We like to have a conversation about adventure plans with our children at the beginning of the summer. We let them make one adventure wish that we work to make come true in the most creative way we can. One year, my 3 year old son's adventure wish was to ride a rocket to the Moon. So, we went to the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium while we were on vacation in New Hampshire. He got to ride a Space Shuttle simulator and touch moon rocks. The day ended with him sporting a planetarium T-shirt that said MOON and carrying a Curious George Rides a Rocket board book. Wish Granted.

Looking for an adventure activity? Try:
  • climbing walls
  • the zoo
  • the beach/tide pools
  • museums
  • botanical gardens (ours has a great butterfly house!)
  • the aquarium
  • petting zoos
  • farms/orchards
  • water parks
  • county/state fairs

Plan Outdoor Fun: I always laugh when I see my children ignoring 25 brightly colored plastic toys so they can play with rocks and sticks and mud. We try to spend outdoor time every day, just for them to have backyard adventures. But we also use hikes, canoe trips, and camping as a way to get away from the busy everyday and have peaceful time as a family. There is something wonderful about getting away from the phone and computer, the playstation and television, even electric light. We find it renews us.

Keep an Activity Bin: This is especially important for rainy days. Our art supplies, play doh, lacing/sewing games, and board games come out on days when going outside is not an option. I know many parents like to just give their children extra screen time on rainy days, but it's nice to have low-tech options that can help keep their minds active.

Encourage Pretend Play: Never throw away a big appliance box. Let your children make a sailing ship or a puppet theatre with it instead. It can be fun to give the kids space and supplies to create something of their own. If you support them through the planning stages and help with tools, you'll be surprised what they can come up with.

Keep Reading in the Game Plan: When I was growing up, our family used "Reading Hour" as our daily downtime. We went on a library trip every week or two and kept a ready supply of books available. After lunch, instead of naps, we had quiet reading time for 30-60 minutes. It kept our minds active and our imaginations engaged. Sometimes Mom would ask questions about what we were reading. It was always fun to talk to her about exciting stories.

Don't Leave School too far Behind: For my own children, I have added to the Reading Hour concept. I offer math workbooks and writing paper during down time. Surprisingly, they choose those activities about half the time. I also encourage my older children to keep a Summer Journal to write about their feelings and adventures. They even illustrate the stories in their journals. By the end of the summer, it really is stunning to see how many skills they have retained as a result.

Put your Kids to Work: If your children are too young for a summer job, they can still help around the house. We encourage ours to help with household chores like vacuuming, dusting, setting and clearing the table, cooking, and bathroom cleaning. They know that we are a family, and we are all responsible for keeping our home. So, just like we play as a team, we work as a team.

Maintain Friendships: Plan play dates with friends from school or trade babysitting with other moms. It can be fun to meet at the park or the pool and let your child's little herd of friends go wild while you stand on the sidelines to watch. Keeping in touch with friends can help your child not feel so isolated during the summer months, too. So, when summer ends and school begins again, their relationships are still strong.

Relax and Have Fun: It really is the key to a great summer. Do your best to let go and just enjoy being together. So, let go and laugh a lot. It feels great.

Good luck and have a wonderful summer! Today, we're off for a play day with my children's cousins. The weather will be HOT, so water play is a given. There's nothing quite like spending a hot day with cool fun.

p. s. -- When all else fails, bring out the Popsicles.

- Midwest Mom

Monday, June 15, 2009

Conquering Fear

This was a big weekend for us. Each of the kids made huge progress conquering their fears at the swimming pool.

It all started Friday night. We went for our usual evening swim, only to find out that the pool was sponsoring a Flick & Float -- essentially a drive-in movie right at the pool with night swimming until 11 p.m.

I asked the pool director what movie they were showing. In one word, she became my sons' favorite person.

Transformers.

So, Friday night was spent swimming and cuddling in sweatshirts and beach towels to watch a great film.

But... back to the fear. As we were walking from our seats over to get into the shallow end, my three-year-old daughter was looking at her brother instead of watching her step. She walked right off the edge into the water.

I jumped in after her and pulled her out, but not before she had quite a shock. She cried more out of surprise than actual hurt, and as I comforted her, I stressed again that you have to watch where you're walking when you're near water!

When she calmed down, and the pool director was sitting near us making sure she was okay, I told her, "Congratulations! You just jumped into the pool for the first time!" Through the tears, she gave me a high-five.

What a trooper.

She was a little clingy afterward, but once we were back in the shallow end, she was too busy making friends with other girls to worry about clinging too much to me. I was relieved, but thought the jury's still out on whether or not fear of the water will kick in.

Saturday was a busy day with chores and church. Sunday, we were the host family for coffee and donuts for the parish, so I spent equal time serving people and making sure my children didn't gorge themselves on donuts.

As the weather turned hot, I pulled my husband aside. "Do we have time to go to the pool again this afternoon?" I asked. He smiled. Of course.

So, off we went for another evening swim. I held my breath as my daughter approached the water. Her brothers had struggled for years against water fear, but she was our little mermaid. The boys still only swam with a noodle or lazy river ring, even though they had the mechanics of swimming and floating down pat. I worried we would have the same struggle now with our daughter.

Then she smiled at me and jumped right in.

I was thrilled... And I wasn't the only one who noticed how brave she was. Her six year old brother told me he could jump in, too. (Although he never had before.) A minute later, there he went! So did my oldest. The boys and their sister spent the next hour climbing out and jumping in, with no worry about getting their faces wet or getting water up their noses. They just laughed and had fun.

Then came the real shocker.

My oldest came out of the pool to put his lazy river ring by our seats. "I'm going to swim without it." He said matter-of-factly.

He jumped in.

And he swam!

He didn't need any help or support. (Just an attentive audience and plenty of praise, which I was happy to provide.) I was so proud of him. Better yet, he was so proud of himself. He positively glowed with confidence.

He said to me, "Mom, I know why I couldn't swim before, but now I can.
F - E - A - R
. I don't have it anymore."

"That's right," I said and returned his grin.

Check one fear off the list. My boy is growing up.

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summer Means Letting Go

Ahhh... Today was report card day, and now the school is quiet.

We had a terrific time with teachers and classmates. We brought bubbles to the kindergarten class and pinwheels to the 2nd grade. It was fun to see even the older kids get a kick out of something so simple. We brought cards to teachers and cherry pies as special thank you gifts. (We baked them last night!)

And when all was said and done, we left the school with smiles on our faces. (I think the teachers were smiling too.)

I was talking with another parent on our way out of school. She rolled her eyes when talking about her family's schedule -- they juggle dance lessons and two sports on opposite sides of town during the summer. She seemed stressed about it, but happy that at least her mornings would be free now.

The conversation made me feel so grateful that we've taken a season off from sports. This summer there is no baseball, and after next week there will be no dance class. We're not signing the kids up for sports camps or College for Kids or anything like that.

They just get to be kids. And I just get to be Mom.

-sigh-

It was a relief to drive home and know that the only thing we have to worry about is whether the weather will be nice enough to go to the pool. Summer is freedom from the schedule, so the kids will sleep when they're tired and eat when they're hungry.

They're all sitting behind me right now, working at the art table -- taking time to be quietly creative. Why? It's just what they want to do.



They're letting go of the busy feeling. To me, that's what Summertime is all about.

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tips for Easier Weeding


A friend of mine pointed out yesterday that the downside of living in a place that anything can grow is that anything and everything does grow.

Even (and especially) weeds.

I weed my gardens by hand, without the use of chemicals. It's not as difficult as it may sound. I follow a few basic guidelines to make the job run smoothly. And somehow, I manage to have my flowers and vegetables remain the centerpieces of my garden -- not the weeds.

I have family members and neighbors who have questioned why I bother. I have two main reasons. First, weeds are resource thieves. They eat up the moisture and nutrients in the garden that other plants will absolutely need to grow their best. If allowed to grow, their root systems will entangle other plants' roots. Their leaves can eat up the sunlight and shadow other plants.

My second reason for weeding is aesthetic. I want my gardens to look tidy. For that reason, I will even keep sprawling perennials in check by treating them as weeds when they spread. My mother and mother in law are always aghast when they see me with a handful of rudbeckia or moneywort that I've pulled out of the garden. When I can, I make room for useful plants in another area of the yard. But when it comes to keeping order, I confess to being a bit ruthless.

Experience has taught me (as have plentiful garden mistakes) what makes for effective weeding. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you put order to your plot.

Educate yourself. - Know what kinds of plants you are dealing with before you start pulling willy-nilly. A great resource is Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. I also use the online weed index from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Check with your own state university or university extension to see what resources exist for your own area. If you know what you're dealing with, it can be easier to avoid potential mistakes.

Be selective. - Spend time evaluating whether or not a weed will do damage. Sometimes, native plants can be attractive additions to your garden. In our first home, my husband and I spent hours digging sweet violets out of the yard. We wanted them to have their own area and for the lawn to be just grass. My first garden sage, a neighbor named Janet, asked us what on earth we were doing. "I love having the violets in the grass. They're green, too -- what does it matter if they're not grass? Besides, if you wait until Spring, they'll turn the whole yard lavender. It's beautiful." We listened to her wise advice and have never looked back. Now, our springtime "lawn" is a carpet of purple. We love it.

When in doubt, wait. - If you're not sure what something is, just let it grow a bit. You have until the plant sets seed to pull it. Sometimes, you can discover some real beauties by just letting an interesting-looking plant grow.

Wear gloves. - I am usually an ungloved gardener. I like the feel of soil in my hands. But when I am weeding, particularly if there might be weeds I don't recognize at first, I do wear gloves. All it takes is your first case of poison ivy or your first spider bite to teach that lesson.

Wet the ground. - I spend time weeding immediately after it rains. The moisture softens up the ground and makes many weeds easier to pull, roots and all. If it hasn't rained in a while, I will choose an area to weed and shower it with the hose for a few minutes -- not enough to make mud pies, but just enough to loosen the soil.

Use tools. - My mother used to pull dandelions with a long tool that looked like a giant screwdriver. I opt for a narrow hand trowel. I carry it with me, plunge it into the dirt next to a stubborn weed and pry upward slightly. With the soil loosened, taproots are easy to pull. Once the weed is out, I heel the soil back down smooth. For soil that is already light and loose, try using a hoe. Turn the corner down and scrape, digging the earth a you go. Pick weeds from the surface of the area you've worked, and use the hoe again to level and smooth the soil.

Be persistent. -- The more consistently you weed, the more you will stay ahead of what your garden needs. I take about 10 minutes each day, usually while the children are playing outside, to attack a section of the garden. By the end of the week, I've cleared quite a bit. And by the time I get the last bed weeded, I can start back at the first again.

Honestly, weeding no gardener's favorite chore. But, hopefully, if you keep ahead of things, your work will yield good results.

- Midwest Mom

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lots of Misc

Have you ever read the garage sale section of the newspaper and seen the magic words people imagine will send loads of prospective buyers their way with fists full of cash?

Lots of Misc

It's at the end of every ad, and quite frankly, I find its meaning ambiguous at best. "Lots of Misc" could mean every piece of my grandmother's German china or it could mean seven bottles of my grandmother's Miss Breck hair color from 1968. You never know. Which is why I stay away from garage sales that just give an address and Lots of Misc.

With that said, today's post is a hodge-podge. It is miscellany at its best, so do your best to wade through. Hope you find something you like.

********

Have you ever noticed that in the Midwest, a man is not a man until he owns a riding lawn mower? And once he owns one, which he will call "the tractor" (although it is clearly not a tractor), he will find any opportunity to use it. He will spend hours of his precious Saturday mowing all five acres of his property to a precise 2.5 inches height. Not that he'll use the 5 acres. Not that he'll golf on it or chase his children on it. He just wants to have a ride on "the tractor".

With that said, Midwest men have a virtual age of 7 where tractors are involved.


********

Here's a unfortunate realization I've made during my last seven years here...

In the Midwest, there is nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a preposition. It makes my East Coast daughter-of-an-English-major's blood curdle to hear my Midwest friends and family ask for someone's location.

Where you at?

It has been spoken into Nextels and Blackberries thousands of times in my town alone, just this morning. I am fortunate that my husband is sensitive, in that he understands my revulsion for the phrase and tries not to use it. The rest of the population, however, is oblivious.

Though my skin crawls, my mind feels assaulted, my inner grammarian wants to shout, "Listen to yourselves!!" I suffer in silence.

But the moment it comes out of one of my children's mouths... I swear to you, I will declare war.

********

Now an admission: When my mother and I talk on the telephone, we inevitably compare garden notes. She always seems so impressed with the way my garden is progressing. But, honestly, I can't take credit for it. It's the soil and the weather.

Is it any wonder that Midwest farms are so productive? The soil where I live is as black as coal. I could grow a lollipop tree from a scrap of paper and a grain of sugar.

So, as much as I go on about my garden this and my garden that... I am keenly aware that my garden is as successful as it is only because of where I am, not necessarily what I do. What I do helps, to be sure... but the key to garden success is the same as the key to real estate success -- location, location, location.

********

This weekend I noticed some newcomers to our little plot. I was pulling alfalfa from the garden -- it had grown as tall as I am and was blocking the sunlight from the lance-leafed coreopsis just coming into bloom -- when I noticed a small, grey creature as small as one of my daughter's shoes. Our bunnies have had their babies.

They. Are. Darling.

I love that they have found a home in our wildflower garden (not our vegetable garden, like last year!) There is nothing as cute as watching a bunny chew on something -- even if it is your entire pea crop. Fortunately, thanks to the bunny hutch fencing we chose for our vegetable garden this year, we don't have to go through that again.

Also, my eye caught a flit of yellow as I looked out the window this morning. Our goldfinches are back. This year, I want to get a picture of them. Looks like I'll have to camp out for a while until they get comfortable with me... or until our sunflowers bloom. At current count, there will be 14 of them in the wildflower garden.

It's a good year to be a goldfinch.

********

A bit of news that is pressing on my mind today... I found out this weekend that one of my best friends back East was attacked by a man with a gun in broad daylight. Without going into detail about it, she is bruised but okay -- never underestimate the power of screaming your head off.

But if you're a praying person, please keep her in your prayers. She is feeling a good bit of fear right now.

********

Today, the kids have the day off. They go back to school Tuesday and Wednesday for Field Day and the last day of school. Then, we're off for the summer. Part of me can't wait for the schedule to ease up. But, part of me is ambivalent about the portion of our time that will be spent "adjusting" (i.e. bickering). Summer vacation is fun, but sometimes my children need some time to get used to sharing the same space.

The bigger they get, the smaller our house seems.

********

That's it for now. Hope there was something in there of interest.

If not, I'm sure I could dig up a couple of half-filled Avon perfume bottles, a pair of used Odor-eaters, or a paperweight shaped like a human heart.

I'll give you the lot of them... Got a nickel?

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

No Battery Required: Toys for Summer Fun

Today is the start of summer vacation for children in our neck of the woods. (My own children, on balanced calendar, have a week still to go. They're doing their best to keep a stiff upper lip about it.)

I thought a fun way to start the summer off -- before everyone resorts to their PlayStations and Wii consoles -- would be to give a list of our favorite summer toys. These ones are super-fun and don't require batteries!


Jump Ropes and Hula Hoops - great exercise!

Sports Balls
- soccer, basketball, football are classic favorites

Baseball/T-ball Mitt, balls & tee
- The backyard is a great place to teach the game.

Frisbees
- A nice big field can make a game of Frisbee more athletic. Give yourself room to run.

Bubbles
-- Giant bubble makers or bubble machines are really fun!

Magnifying glass and Bug catching container
- for your little scientist

Big Wheels
- There's nothing like that cool Big Wheel sound. We have our own neighborhood Big Wheel motorcycle gang -- the Ankle-biters.

Bikes
- I remember whole summers where I only got off my bike to eat and sleep. We take family bike rides in the evening. They're a great way to cool off.

Roller Skates/Blades
- Fisher-Price makes a great beginner skate that fits over a child's shoe.

Super-soaker
- The key to a good water-fight is the element of surprise (and plenty of ammunition.)

Skateboard
- Have plenty of band-aids on hand... and a helmet & pads don't hurt either.

Scooter
- This is like skateboard, Jr. Still very fun.

Sidewalk chalk
- Sometimes some quiet fun is in store. So keep a ready supply.

Beach Ball
- A gentle alternative to hard core sports for little ones. There's something about how big it is that is extra fun.

Sprinkler
- Splashy fun to cool you down (and water the lawn in the meantime...)

Inflatable Pool
- Great for younger kids (and older ones when no one is looking.)

Baby carriage/Playhouse
- Pretending to be a grown-up is so much more fun than actually being one.

Gardening tools & a place to dig
- for the kid that likes to get dirty (what kid doesn't?)

Tonka Dump Truck or Loader
- Rocks or a loose pile of dirt make these ten times more fun.

Shovels, Pails, and Sand toys
- Oh... and some sand would be good.

Pinwheels & Kites
- For those windy days. My kids put pinwheels on the front of their bikes, too.

Tennis Racket & balls
- Summer is a great time to teach tennis. It gives Mom a workout as much as the kids.

Golf Clubs
- You're never too young to learn, and trips with Dad to the driving range can be special time.

Many of these toys -- especially the sporting equipment -- may require that Mom or Dad do a little bit of teaching. But that's part of the fun.

So, get out there and have a great time. And if you have a favorite I've left off the list, add it in the comments! (And keep this list tacked to the fridge for when summer boredom strikes.)

Enjoy your summer break!

- Midwest Mom

Monday, June 1, 2009

Right Here in River City

Trouble with a capital "T"
And that rhymes with "P" and that stands for pool!

~ "Ya Got Trouble" from The Music Man


Yesterday, we had our first visit to the community pool. The pool actually opened on Saturday, but as luck would have it the weather was cool and overcast. My husband got called in to work to boot.

So, Sunday it was. We packed up the beach bag and a cooler of snacks, noodles, goggles, and lazy river rings, and headed out the door for an afternoon of swimming.

It was fantastic.

The boys jumped right in and started swimming. It's the doggy paddle, but it worked for them. I think their goggles made them feel a lot more confident about whether they would survive getting water in their eyes. Plus, this year, they are taller than last, so they could explore the pool more confidently without feeling like they would get in over their heads.

There was one problem I hadn't anticipated, though. My Little Mermaid, who has always been the most comfortable of my three, started acting afraid of the water! I thought, "unbelievable! Just when the boys are finally finding their feet... this happens!"

I took her out a few times, usually against her will at first, and got her to kick and float on her back. We decided to buy a membership at the pool this year (they just opened a new Sprayground adjacent to it!) So, we'll be swimming our hearts out several times a week.

Hopefully, it will just take a little time, patience, and persistence to bring back the Little Mermaid's fins.


... if I don't turn into Ursula the Sea Witch first.






(Wish me luck. )

- Midwest Mom
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