Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Harvest of Friends

This weekend, we harvested a large bowl of produce from the garden. Something about a week of rain must have signaled to our plants that it was fruiting time. We picked over a hundred cherry tomatoes, seventeen shiny ripe red peppers, and several perfectly-sized cucumbers.

I brought the produce inside and prepared some of it to have with supper on Saturday night. But there was so much of it, I wondered what on earth I would do with it all.

It was then that I decided we should do some Saturday afternoon visiting.

I decorated some small paper bags with a simple note and some ribbon and put a few peppers and about twenty tomatoes into each. The note said, "We just thought we'd share with you. -Your neighbors, the Kelly Family."

Then I called the children.

I told them about the packages I had made and asked them if they'd like to help me share them. Each child chose a neighbor, and we made our deliveries. It was fun to spend a few minutes talking with each friend we saw. One neighbor was happy because his tomato plants had succumbed to blight a few weeks earlier. Another neighbor was thrilled because there had been no peppers or tomatoes at the farmer's market that morning. And another came out to the porch to talk gardening with us while the children took turns jumping off her porch steps.

It was good visiting time.

And when we returned home, there was just enough produce left for our own family. On Sunday, I processed the tomatoes and diced the peppers to make a large pot of chili -- the perfect meal for a chilly Fall night.

Then yesterday, our sharing Saturday was returned in spades. The friend whose tomato plants had withered dropped by, bringing treats for the children. When I got the mail, another friend had fashioned a home-made card decorated with pepper and tomato shapes and a lovely note. Later in the day, the telephone rang. "Do you eat fish?" came the voice of our neighbor across the street. Just back from a fishing trip, he had cleaned and filleted enough bluegill for his family and ours to have a fish fry.

At the end of the day, I though just how lucky we are to live among such good people. All it took was a little effort, a small act of sharing, to renew our connections. That's when I realized that our garden had grown not just vegetables, but friends.

Friday, September 25, 2009

BlogCatalog Blog Spotlight:

We are THAT Family ... you know the ones

As some of you may (or may not) know, I have been an active member over at BlogCatalog since I started blogging. It has been a great place to learn about the art and craft of blogging, to have technical questions answered with precision, and to enjoy a diverse and colorful group of bloggers from every blog genre and practically every country, too.

Recently, I was asked to help BC add an additional Member Benefit -- weekly Blog Spotlight pieces on great blogs and bloggers in the Family and Home & Garden sections of the directory.

So, today, I'm proud to announce my first Spotlight piece and to introduce you to Kristen Welch, author of We are THAT Family... you know the ones. If you enjoy clever writing, you are sure to enjoy Kristen's humorous take on her family's (mis)adventures. She also has very thoughtful pieces on blogging and online community. So, her blog is absolutely worth a visit.

If you haven't joined BlogCatalog yet, I wholeheartedly recommend it. It has a great (and growing) group of Family and Parenting bloggers who are truly worth knowing.

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Unanswerable Questions

Does anyone know why laundry and dirty dishes seem to self-generate? Do they breed in the dark? Is there something I should be feeding them or should I walk them every day to keep them trim, wet-nosed and shiny-coated?

And why must my daughter have an urgent need for a bathroom when we're halfway home from school -- every day? Could it be something about passing the bus station? or the Library? Is the Post Office a bladder activator?

Is there a reason my husband invariably chooses as his snack something I've prepared for supper? Does he have supper-preparation mind-reading capabilities I know nothing about? Isn't there some kind of E.S.P. disclosure clause in the marriage contract?

And why do I seem completely incapable of saying 'No' when someone from school approaches me with a project? Why am I not earning a paycheck from there?? I spend more time there than anywhere else I can think of. Even Walmart.

Does everyone think their own kids are the cutest in the world? Even when they're barfing or annoying each other or jockeying to be first in line for something? Even when they say things like "he got a bigger scoop of ice cream than I did! No fair!" Because I think that is just *precious.* Okay, not really.

Did I mention the laundry is piling up? And is there a reason why I repeat myself all the time? Could it have something to do with having to ask my kids to put on their shoes 5 times before school?? Did I mention the laundry is piling up?


I guess there are some answers no Mom is meant to discover. Even me. Or maybe especially me.

But if you have a compelling answer to any of these ridiculous questions, I'd love to hear from you. Truly.

In the meantime... did I mention the laundry is piling -- I did?


- Midwest Mom

Monday, September 21, 2009

Salad Days

I'm always a bit torn during late summer. My mind knows that my plants are done growing, and that they are spending their last bits of strength to produce fruit, filled with seeds that are their next generation. I've nurtured them for months, so as I garden, the prevailing feeling is bittersweet.

My family, however, has no sympathy for my garden's last days. All they care about is our table full of freshly-picked vegetables. My daughter greedily gobbles a handful of tiny yellow cherry tomatoes. My husband will eat as many red peppers as I can pick. My sons barely let me wash the dirt from our garden carrots before crunching them like little vegetable-eating monsters.

And then there is me. I am overcome by the heaping bowls of colorful salad -- by the herbs, pungent and plentiful. I put out of my mind thoughts of my withering plants, their leaves turning to yellow and brown from the chill of autumn. My eyes drink in the green and red and orange of fresh produce. I think of the purple eggplants still to come, and the pumpkins and squash almost ready to come out of our neighbor's garden.

Hard to admit, but my mouth starts to water. And just as an apt garden eulogy comes to mind, I hear my own voice utter, as if from a distance, "Please...

"...pass the dressing."

- Midwest Mom

Friday, September 18, 2009

Birthday Girl turns 4

My only daughter turns 4 today, and I awoke with the thought that four years ago my alarm clock was replaced by a nice, strong contraction. The thought made me realize just how far we've come since then.

When I look at my daughter now, I see a child brimming with personality and confidence. She amazes me every day.

She has a remarkable sense of humor, sometimes deadpan but mostly just silly. Last night at dinner, she entertained us by making fake bird calls to imitate the sounds we heard through our open kitchen window. The bird calls themselves were not nearly as hilarious as the fact that she was cracking her self up by making them.

On Tuesday, she learned to read her first word. It was 'No' by the way. Now every car ride is punctuated by her exclamations of "I just saw 'No' again!" (Maybe I need to teach her word #2.)

She is a beautiful child and a considerate friend. I love watching her play with other children (when she doesn't realize I'm looking.) She has an amazing imagination. Yesterday, while my oldest was at soccer practice, I watched her and my first grader invent a pantomime bakery. She stirred, cooked, and cut the bread. He loaded the pantomime truck and made deliveries. They played like there was no one else in the whole world but them... and their bakery.

I want to remember my daughter as she is right now, this very moment. This is a great age for her, as she works so hard to do everything 'all by herself.' But that tiny hand that slips into mine when we're in a crowd and that little voice that sang 'Happy Birthday Dear Mommy' right after I sang her awake this morning show me she still needs her Mommy. We are such dear friends in this time and place.

I just want to savor it and thank God in Heaven for giving me the gift of this beautiful girl for my very own.

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, September 17, 2009

If I had more time...

Beware the barrenness of a busy life. ~Socrates

Goodness! Our lives are so busy lately!

Between school and sports and taking care of the family, I don't feel like I have a moment to spare. Even after a big meeting or presentation or the completion of a big event, I don't have that sense of relief I'm used to. You know, the 'whew! Glad that's done!' sense of satisfaction that comes with a side order of 'now I can sit back and relax awhile.'

So, I've been thinking about what I would do with a little relaxation time.... if I had any. This is what I've come up with:

1. Exercise - I miss the days when I used to make time for exercise a few days a week. It was wonderful to have a little time that was my own -- time for self-care. When I was exercising, I felt healthier, stronger, sexier. I miss it.

2. Cultivate friendships - Mothers of toddlers are so good at fostering friendships, eager to cling to any passerby for a snatch of adult conversation. Now that my kids are in school, I find that my old girlfriends (and even family members) have scattered because of our very busy schedules. So, I'm wishing I had the time to tend my friendships better, to feel closer to the people I care about.

3. Read - At one time in my life, I was a voracious reader. I can still get caught up in a book, when I make time for it. Recently, in an effort to renew my library reading list, I started a discussion on BlogCatalog about Favorite Classic Novels. The lists that other bloggers contributed helped me to remember the wonderful wealth of literature I haven't been making the time to experience. If I had time, I would definitely use it to read.

4. Get Outdoors - It is sad to say that I have not camped once this year. And I miss it terribly. Now that fall is upon us, I know I only have a limited time to get outside and enjoy hiking and camping before a) I am in danger of being shot by a deer hunter, or b) I freeze my bejeebers off. So if and when I have make time, I'm definitely going to spend it outdoors.

5. Go to a High School Football Game - You might know that I am a crazy sports nut. But I have yet to go to a High School Football Game in my current town. How is that possible? - I ask myself. I have no idea. We are family friends with the coach's family. And I love football. I just need to make the time to get out there and go to a game. It's something I would love to share with my sons.

6. Rest - There is nothing so wonderful as an occasional rest. Being free from the demands of a busy life helps me to think deeper thoughts and to appreciate my family and the world around me. I smile more naturally and laugh more heartily. I find adventures. I wonder about things. A rested me is a healthier me and a happier me. So, soon I will make time again for rest.

In a week, my children will be home from school for their 3-week Fall break. It's amazing to think that I'm looking forward to that time as a release from feeling busy. But maybe it's not the number of things I'm doing, but the rigid time pressure of it all that has me bothered. I am looking forward to the lack of alarm clocks and the ability to play outside after dinner. I can't wait to acquiesce when my children ask for one more story at bedtime. We will eat when we are hungry and sleep when we are tired.

It will be a second summer, but chillier and more colorful.

When Fall vacation comes, I will finally have and make the time to do these things I'm wishing for.

Quite honestly, it can't come soon enough.

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Shifting Gears:

From Discipline to Self-Discipline

I had an interesting conversation with my husband today. He remarked that my parenting is changing in an interesting way. I said I hadn't noticed. In truth, maybe I have.

When I first became a parent, a trusted older friend who had already raised her children gave me a book by T. Berry Brazelton called Touchpoints. I loved the book's approach to varying child temperaments and its description of developmental stages. But what I took special pains to implement was Brazelton's approach to child discipline. The goal of discipline, as I understood his explanation, was to lead a child to self-discipline. That is to say, to give a child tools to operate successfully in the world and to own his or her own decision-making in a conscious way.

When I was growing up (sorry, Mom and Dad) the only goals of discipline that I could discern were maintaining order and showing who was in charge.

I will admit, there was a learning curve for me. As a young mother I lost my cool more than once. There were times that I had to stop myself from reacting to a situation or an undesirable behavior just to show I was still the boss. But, I have learned to be more detached and to understand my children's choices as exactly that -- their choices.

Fast forward to today's conversation. My husband observed that I have been giving my oldest child a "longer leash" when it comes to his temper. He has been easily frustrated lately, and sometimes it seems that his emotions are bubbling just beneath the surface, ready to burst out at a moment's notice.

Experience tells me that heightened emotions are par for the course during the first part of the school year. Schedules are changing and so are relationships. With so much up in the air in my children's lives, it's no wonder that they choose home as their safe place to let their emotions fly.

But in a way, I can see my husband's point. I have been shifting gears on discipline with our oldest. Maybe I'm waiting for him to find his feet on his own. Maybe I'm hoping that the ever-elusive self-discipline will kick in. Maybe I understand that I can't muscle him into a place where he has full emotional control at all times.

I'm not even in that place yet.

I explained as much to my husband. And he gave me a raised-eyebrow look of appreciation. "You may be right," he admitted. "Let's just wait and be supportive."

So now we wait and help and express our confidence in our son. I'm hoping this year will be an important one for him -- a time he'll look back at and recognize that his parents started giving him more responsibility and more credit for making his own choices.

I suppose we'll see if this was the right time to shift gears.

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Can you Teach Grace?

I have been raising children for eight years now. Through every age and phase my children have undergone, I have struggled to teach them grace and politeness. To me, they're not exactly the same thing, and I've found I need to continually adjust my teaching to suit each child's age and temperament.

Grace can mean charm or beauty of form, a pleasing or attractive quality, or good will. It can also indicate moral strength. For me, a person has grace who is capable of being circumspect in a difficult situation and acting in the way that is best for all involved. There is a certain element of elegant benevolence to a graceful person, like Cary Grant in an old movie.

Grace is something I aspire to have, and sometimes succeed, when a quick temper doesn't get in my way. It is a quality my mother has and other, more long-lived, much-loved relatives have possessed. It is also something I would love to foster in my children.

Good manners, on the other hand, is simply appropriate behavior in a variety of situations. It is knowing what is expected in a certain situation and doing it. Teaching good manners can involve teaching good behavior at the table, how to handle introductions in social situations, special words like please and thank you, and how to avoid offending others.

Because manners are concrete behaviors, they are easy to teach and relatively easy to model. (Even though we all slip up once in a while.) But, I find grace to be a much more difficult quality to encourage in my children. Maybe that's because I can model all the graceful behavior I can muster, but ultimately my child is in charge of how he or she reacts to a given situation.

Recently, our family read a truly appealing chapter book called Gone-Away Lake. It's an older book, but we simply loved it. The main characters are children who explore through the woods and meet a pair of very graceful older friends, Pindar and Minnehaha, who live as hermits in a dilapidated resort community. As the children spend their summer listening to the pair's stories from long ago, they begin to adopt some of the graceful mannerisms and behaviors of their elder hosts at Gone-Away Lake.

The book makes me wonder whether the best way for children to learn grace is simply to be around people who possess that quality. I have tried to make time for my own children to spend with the oldest generation of our family, with great grandparents, and great, great uncles and aunts. Last year, we spent time with my Great Aunt Eleanor, who passed away a few weeks ago at age 98. This summer, we made time to spend with my own grandmother, who in turn passed away a couple of weeks after our visit. While I'm glad I could share these much-loved relatives with my children (and share my children with them, too), their passing makes me realize how vital it is to make every moment count as I raise my family, especially when I want my kids to absorb the lessons and experience our oldest generation provides.

Now that they're gone, I wonder what examples of charming, elegant grace remain?

So, here is my question to you readers. How do you teach grace? Do you think it is something that comes from within? Or do you make opportunities for you children to 'absorb' good qualities from the graceful people in your life? Where else might I look for examples to enrich my children's understanding of graceful living?

- Midwest Mom