Monday, August 31, 2009

Worms in the Fridge

Have you ever noticed that some of the realities of marriage and motherhood aren't exactly what you would've expected??

I think I may have bemoaned the worms in the fridge before... it's one of those little things that are a part of being married to my fisherman husband that I have to put up with. Honestly, though, the positives of my marriage (especially when he comes home with fresh fish for our supper) far outweigh the revulsion I feel at the wriggling contents of that little green styrofoam container I force myself to ignore whenever I'm hunting up supper ingredients. So, I overlook it (but not really).

But, there are other things about motherhood that really aren't my cup of tea. One is the ever-growing list of 'rules' I have to follow now that my boys are growing older. I can't kiss them or tell them 'I love you' in public because it makes them feel uncomfortable. (Fortunately for me, affection is okay at home.) I try to accommodate their quirky disdain for motherly PDA, but honestly... I hate it. And every so often, I slip up. Last year, on the last day of school, I unthinkingly kissed my oldest son on the top of his head as I left the classroom and said, "see you later on, honey." His ears blazed bright red and I knew I'd embarrassed him. Oh, well. (What can I say? I love the kid.)

Now, I'm in the strange situation of having to back off from sports, something I've always shared with my oldest, because as he grows older (and lets face it, as his skills improve) he's outgrowing his mother's ability. It's hard for me, because I want him to outgrow me -- especially in his areas of talent.

But, I'm just no good at being a sideline parent.

So, today, he's asking me to come outside to play soccer with him. Like a good mom, I'll strap on the sneakers and head out. It's fun to get out there and play a little, something I'm still allowed to do when no one is watching. But it will make it tough tomorrow, when he goes to practice and I'll be expected to fade into the background.

I'm already missing the days when he'd turn to me for approval when he made a great play. But, now it's all about Dad and coach. It makes a mom feel a little lonely.

I don't mean to wallow or anything. I mean, I'm happy that the boys are independent and strong. After all, that's what I'm raising them to be. But, just like no one can tell you how much your love for your newborn infant will overwhelm you, nothing prepares you for the times in your child's life when you will be made to feel extraneous.


I guess life is change. And my oldest, especially, is growing up.

So this Midwest Mom had better just take a deep breath and get used to it...

... just like the worms in the fridge.

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Our Family's Back to School

Midwest Moms and family have gone back to school!

For the boys, that means new teachers, old friends, library books, uniforms, and homework.

For my daughter, it means a giant leap into a world she's only ever seen from the outside.

Diving into preschool has been a great adventure for her, and she's enjoying it so much that she complains on non-school mornings that she wants to go. Her favorite things about preschool? Friends, of course. And singing. I have heard her version of "Going on a Bear Hunt" about 734 times now. She also loves learning numbers, colors, letters and shapes. I love watching her grow in this amazing new way.

There is some breaking news, though. Now Mom may be going back to school, too.

Last year, my family had a huge decision to make about whether to keep our oldest son at his current school or to send him to a special program for children identified as 'gifted.'

We investigated the new program and asked a lot of questions. We talked to our son's teacher and the principal of his school. In the end, we made the decision that best suited the needs of our family, and my son's needs as a whole person.

We kept him in his same school, but expressed an interest in providing some supplemental programs to keep the 'gifted' part of his brain engaged and challenged. As his mother and an active volunteer at school, I offered to shoulder as much of that responsibility as I could.

So, I started investigating Odyssey of the Mind. It's a creative problem solving club for students in grades 3 through college. In it, members work on long-term challenges in which they have to create a performance, build a structure, or design a vehicle. In the spring, they bring their projects to a State competition, where they can meet students from other schools and test their creations before a panel of judges. The students also work on spontaneous problem solving, in which they are given extra points for cleverness or good humor.

It's a great program. I thought, "I'd love to have this at our school."

So, guess what? Yesterday, I presented a proposal to our elementary school staff to make it happen.

I was surprised at how nervous I was to be talking to a group of teachers like that. It was like I was automatically transported back in time to 7 years old, getting up in front of the class for my first book report ever -- nerve-wracking! That is, until my son's first grade teacher gave me an almost imperceptible nod and wink... For some reason, that shot me back into reality and I was fine. -- Thanks, Mrs. H!

At the end of my presentation, I gave the teachers a chance to play one of the spontaneous problem solving games the kids use in the program. It was good to see them having fun with the problem and each other. Maybe it made my idea seem more real. All I know was that I left the room to smiles and chatter, and it felt good.

This morning, when I dropped off my boys at school, teachers talked to me who haven't said a word to me before. That felt good, too... like making new friends. It made me feel hopeful.

So, I guess Back to School has been fun for more than just the children in our family. So far, it's been a growing experience for all of us -- even Mom.

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More to do with Tomatoes

Every year, I give a good bit of produce away to neighbors and friends, and always lots to family. They each have their favorites, whether it's cherry tomatoes, peppers, herbs or cucumbers. But this year, I gave away about twenty-five baby tomato plants to my husband's family. So, what I'm finding is that they're not as eager to receive my generous tomato deliveries as they've been in the past.

One of my commenters last week had a terrific idea about what to do with extra tomatoes. She suggested calling a local food pantry or soup kitchen to offer produce to them. What a terrific idea! As a matter of fact, that is a perfect option for any "bonanza" produce that happens to be coming out of your garden right now.

You can also try calling your child's school. Our school won a health grant last year to provide fresh fruits and vegetables as classroom snacks. So, each child walked in on the first day of school and found a shiny red apple on his or her desk. Offering excess tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, or carrots to your child's teacher as part of a healthy eating lesson is a great idea.

If you want to preserve some of your tomatoes for use during the winter months, though, freezing is an easy option. It's what I do, and it's not difficult. I prefer to freeze them whole, so that I can decide how to use them later on.

To freeze whole tomatoes, start by washing them. Boil a large pot of water and drop 8-10 tomatoes (I use Roma tomatoes) into the boiling water for 2 minutes. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and lay them on paper towels to cool. Once they are cool enough to handle, use a paring knife to gently remove the skin. Store in an airtight container or freezer bag and place in the freezer. They will keep for up to 1 year.

I use mine in soups and stews, and for large, bubbling pots of chili in the wintertime. As promised, here are a few more recipes -- this time, they're recipes you can use for your frozen produce. Enjoy them!

Julia's Chicken Cacciatore

Joe's Gold Medal Chili
NanaJane's Minestrone Soup

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What to do with All Those Tomatoes

The warm weather is here and that means two things: swimming season and tomatoes.

We've got the swimming under control this year. But every year, I scramble to figure out what to do with the tomatoes that fill and re-fill every container imaginable every time I make my way into the garden.

I have some tried and true recipes I make for my family. I make salads and sauces that warm my tomato-loving heart. But there's no way I can cook at the rate my tomato plants produce fruit. This year, in my wisdom, I planted about a dozen each of cherry and Roma tomatoes. And they're going like gangbusters.

If you're in my boat, here are a few of my favorite recipes. They may help you tread water a bit until you're happily overwhelmed by the harvest.

Julia's Greek Tomato Salad
Erin's Mediterranean Pasta Salad
Fresh Tomato Salsa
Broiled Tomatoes with Herbs
Cucumber-Dill Salad
Joe's Black Bean Salad
Summer Squash Salad

I hope you'll give one or more of these a try. You'll find there are plenty of ways to enjoy your tomatoes without getting bored.

Later in the week, I'll write a little about cooking with them, with recipes for soups and stews, and preserving what you're pulling from the garden now so you can enjoy your harvest during the winter months.

Until then, Midwest Moms is headed back to the garden. I think I spy about fifty-seven more tomatoes coming ripe since this morning!

- Midwest Mom

Monday, August 10, 2009


Oh, what a morning.

Somehow, I managed to upset all three of my children at one time or another this morning before school.

What is it about the transition from the easy summer mornings of pajama playtime and breakfast by 9:00 a.m. to the hustle of the 6:30 alarm, uniforms, bookbags, packed lunches, and tardy slips that turns me from the fairy-godmother-mom to wicked-stepmother-mom?

On school days, my children call my hairspray "grouch spray". It was true this morning. They all agreed I was a grouch, first class.

Thank goodness for their Dad, though. At breakfast, he made sure to give each child a hug and kiss and tell them how nice they looked. He brought a smile to their faces.

I wondered whether he was playing good cop-bad cop. Or good-parent bad-parent. I was conscious of the fact that I could have crabbed at him, too, for showing me up. In the end, though, I didn't mind. At least one of us had his priorities right this morning.

I spent a little quiet time on the way to school, thinking gloomily about missing them while they were gone. And I regretted being grouchy as a means to get them out the door on time.

I did my best to make it up to my boys by leaving them with an extra hug and kiss. They left the car with smiles on their faces, but it didn't help the feeling I have that I wasn't fair to them this morning.

I guess that's the reality of motherhood. Sometimes things don't go according to plan. Sometimes, I'm not the ideal parent I hope to be. I make mistakes; I'm impatient or crabby or hot-headed. And afterward, I feel guilty.

So, this afternoon, when the boys come home, I'll take the time to apologize. And I'll try to make the evening as positive and nurturing as I can.

At the end of the day, I hope that's the part they'll remember.

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Glad to be Back

What an ideal summer it's been.

I've traveled alone and with family. To family. From Family. Between families. You get the picture.

We swam in rivers and the Atlantic, and we kayaked for the first time. The boys are fully swimming on their own now, and Primo passed his deep-end-of-the-pool swim test two weeks ago.

As promised, we feasted on shellfish on the Maryland Shore and braved the crowds to see Fourth of July fireworks in Washington, DC. We watched the sunset and moonrise from a rooftop in Philly, and shared cotton candy as a gesture of peace after bashing each other to bits on bumper cars in Maine. I loved every minute.

Best of all, though, I loved clearing the schedule to enjoy my children -- playing with them, listening to them, learning from them. They have such unique perspectives on the world around them. If I weren't paying attention, I'd have missed them.

During this summer of travel, I've learned a few things, too.

I've learned that,
  • You shouldn't serve refried beans the night before you fly to Cleveland... Turbulence.
  • One of the most supportive and meaningful statements you can hear from a brother is, "Hey! I just subscribed to your blog on my Kindle!"
  • The world is changing faster than I thought. After listening to a relative describe a botched home improvement job, I heard my mother reply, "You know, whenever I don't know how to do something, I just google it."
  • Saying goodbye is never easy.
  • When swimming in Maine, no matter the season, just run for the water and jump all the way in. If you take the time to process just how cold that water actually is, you'll never do it.
  • In a pinch, a Dad really can make a fantastic Mom.
  • I will miss my Grandmother's laugh most of all.
  • I need to get over my youngest child starting preschool. She's ready for it, and she's in good hands. [repeats to self over and over again]
  • Airport food can be shockingly awful.
  • You can wait for 2 weeks for a handful of tomatoes to ripen, but leave the house for 2 days and you'll come home to a wheelbarrow full of them.
  • Primo has inherited a green thumb... maybe even two of them.
  • Nothing feels better than coming home.

It's good to be back. I can't wait to share another year of our life.

- Midwest Mom