Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 -- Resolutions Report Card

Oh my. I know I have that resolutions list from last January hidden around here somewhere...

Ah. Here it is.

Now it's time to see how I did... (oh, boy.)

Resolution #1: Listen to my children more – I try to appreciate how wonderful my children are, but I always feel like I could be doing more to really listen to them and know the marvelous individuals they are becoming. This is an ongoing resolution, but one that I’m looking forward to.

Grade: B
There's always room for improvement on this one, but I think I remembered this resolution at least monthly. Having listening as a goal helped me to be more open and accepting. More joy seeped in when I wasn't paying attention. (A nice side-benefit.)

Resolution #2: Make some Dough -- By the end of the year, I would really like to be able to bake bread consistently and well (with no bread machine.) I know it’s something that takes practice – I just haven’t been willing to endure the failure it will take to finally get it right. This is the year I will do it.

Grade: D+
I didn't make bread more than twice this year... and my in-laws got me a garage sale bread machine to use. Needless to say, I have taken the 'busy housewife' route of using frozen bread dough or take-n-bake bread. So, Julia Child I am not. I accept it and wipe this resolution from my list with a clear conscience.

Resolution #3: Get Moving – Everyone always starts their resolutions with diet and exercise. I am afraid I have been falling down on the job, or more accurately sitting down at the computer screen. The problem is, I really truly enjoy getting daily exercise. It makes me feel better about myself in too many ways to count. I just haven’t been real good at fitting it into my routine. I have to find a way to change that reality.

Grade: B+
This year, I made a point of staying active during the winter, and all summer long we swam at the pool. (Obviously, I felt good enough about my figure to spend that amount of time in a bathing suit, so that in itself is a mark of success -- or loss of shame?) Still, I asked for my gym membership back as a Christmas present, and Santa lovingly obliged. So, we'll kick it up a notch.

Resolution #4: Go West – We have a family goal of getting out West this year. We love camping and the mountains, but we haven’t taken our children very far west of the “Mighty Mississip”. This is the year we will change that.

Grade:C+ [Due to assignment change -- extension given until 2011]
We traveled so much this year, including a 20-day grand tour of the Eastern-Seaboard in late summer and another 10-day trip at Thanksgiving. Needless to say, we get an "A for effort", even if our year was more Amber Waves of Grain than Purple Mountain Majesty. (Plus, there's always next year.)

Resolution #5: Work on my Sisterhood – On Midwest Moms, I have talked about the amazing support network I feel whenever I turn to other Moms for help or advice. “The Sisterhood of Moms” has been such a blessing to me. But one thing I have to work on is regularly including my own sisters in my friend network. We live in different parts of the country, and it can be difficult to keep in touch. This year I don’t want distance to be an excuse.

Grade: A+
I'm happy about renewing my friendship with both of my sisters, including *actually* seeing them and visiting their homes with my family. It may not seem like a big deal to some, but sharing the same space with my sisters for a while sure was an important part of my year.

Overall: B- (On the Michigan scale -- not too shabby.)

And now I can start to think about 2010. (oh, boy.)

- Midwest Mom

Friday, December 18, 2009

'Tis the Season

Today is the last day of school for my children. As of 3 p.m. we will be together for 2 1/2 weeks with no bedtimes or wake-up times (except for Sunday.)

I'm so excited.

But more exciting than the prospect of vacation is the wonderful celebration day the kids' teachers have planned for today. My boys got to wear their pajamas to school for a special storytelling day. They will have cocoa and a snack in their classrooms, too. My daughter will have a visit from the Big Man Himself, who will preside over a preschool gift exchange. The atmosphere among the 4-year-old set this morning was electric.

Personally, I am looking forward to today with a huge sense of gratitude. My children have teachers who give it their all every single day. They are talented and enthusiastic women, and I feel blessed that they are the ones guiding and teaching my crew.

So, while it's the season for celebration and fun, it's also the season for saying 'Thank You'. To Rosi and Pat and Kim and Patti, THANKS. You are wonderful beyond words. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas.

- Midwest Mom

Friday, December 4, 2009

Freezing to Save Money on Groceries

I admit it. I have discovered yet another way My Mother Was Right. And it's all about using my freezer to save money on groceries.

I'll explain.

This Fall my sister in law gave me a chest freezer she wasn't using anymore. She had purchased a new model, and I was only too happy to give the freezer a new home. To be honest, I had already been in the market for a freezer. Because I grow an abundance of fruits and vegetables, which I flash-freeze to preserve, I have needed extra cold storage. So, when my sister in law made the offer, I was thrilled.

But after using the freezer for a while, I have been surprised to find that it helps me to save money on my regular groceries. In fact, our food budget has gone down by around $300 a month.

Because I have a freezer, I can over-purchase freezable items when they're on sale. I bring them home and freeze the excess. In addition to standard frozen food items, I have frozen
  • milk
  • butter
  • bacon
  • beef
  • chicken
  • fish
  • cheese
  • soup
  • cranberries
  • garden vegetables
  • bread
Now that I can freeze the essentials, I've cut down how often I go to the store. In fact, I'm only going to the store at the beginning of the month. I write on my calendar what day I shopped and how much I spent. Then I see how long I can wait before shopping again. Last month, I made it 28 days.

If I'm not in the store, I'm not spending. My snack-avoidance willpower isn't tested on a weekly basis. I can decide what kinds of sweets or snacks to have on hand each month, plan them into our food budget, and stick to the plan. At the end of the month, we even have food left over. So before I shop again, I take inventory and make a list. I read the sale papers and pay a visit to our local butcher. I buy meat on sale and go to the store that has the lowest milk prices. I have been buying more of what we need and making fewer impulse purchases. (That is, if you don't count Christmas decorations...)

The thing is, using a freezer to stock up and save money is nothing new. My mother raised 6 of us, and pulling bread out of the freezer (or meat or pumpkin for pumpkin pie) was part of our routine. She used to go once a month to a grocery store that was an hour away, just because they had lower prices. I would wake up at 6 am on a Saturday to go along. (Now that's bargain-hunting!)

I'm just grateful to have a chance to do a little saving now for my own family. It sure has come in handy these past couple of months. And with Christmas around the corner, it feels good to know we'll have a few extra pennies to rub together.

Now, I'm wondering...
Do You freeze?
Do you have any money-saving freezer tricks to share?

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Best Birthday Yet

Tuesday was my birthday.

This year, for the first time in recorded history, there was no hoopla. There were no packages to open and no cake.

Believe it or not, that was my choice.

Instead of gifts this year, I asked my husband if we could travel to see my parents at Thanksgiving. So, that was my present.

We stayed in New Hampshire for an entire week, taking two days to drive each way. (Hence the reason for my silence here at Midwest Moms.)

And it was wonderful.

The whole family had a fantastic time. We went candlepin bowling and hiking. The weather was unusually warm, so the kids and their cousins spent plenty of time rock climbing and exploring the woods behind my parent's house.

There were chores, too, to be sure. After all, there were sixteen people in my parents home, so someone had to clean the bathroom! But we also stacked wood, baked pies, my husband did some woodworking for my dad, and we helped with heaps and heaps of dishes.

It was a delight to spend the time with my Mom, especially. But we also enjoyed sharing our family with my brother's and sisters' families for an unprecedented second time in one year.

We made our way home on Sunday, pausing only to let the kids play on the expressway when we were caught in a 1-hour traffic jam (I-70 Westbound in Ohio, if you must know... exit 132.) Fortunately, our fellow drivers also unloaded their kids and the weather was brilliant. The couple in the SUV in front of us even had two little dogs that knew dozens of tricks. It was like a pet circus right in the middle of the interstate.

After that hiccup, we made our way home easily, arriving right on time.

So, when my birthday actually came, I was content to ooh and ahh over the home-made cards my children had made and relax with a strawberry margarita at our favorite Mexican restaurant in the evening.

A day without dishes was the icing on the (non-existent) cake. We bought our children some sweets at the restaurant and called it a night.

Still, as I look back, I feel satisfied. The trip made it undoubtedly one of my best birthdays yet.

(Now... to get started on the holidays!)

- Midwest Mom