Monday, July 19, 2010

Working out in Style: Ryka Revive running shoes

Not long ago, Amy Hatch of contacted me to ask whether I would be willing to do a few reviews for a sponsor, The deal was this: they would choose the shoes and I would put them through their paces and write about it. Here’s the latest review in the series, for moms who run or just run around town.

A few weeks ago, my Rika Revive running shoes came in the mail from Planet Shoes. They were hot pink, so naturally I had to try them on right away. Sure, I was only planning to work in the garden with my daughter, not run a marathon. But, hey! New shoes beg to be worn, right?

As we transplanted the first seedling, my daughter asked to water. Before I knew it, she poured an entire bucket of water on my left foot instead of our tomato plants. I looked down and thought what an idiot I was for wearing brand new shoes into my garden! Without much hope, I laid the shoes on my front porch to dry and went in to have supper with my family.

By breakfast the next morning, I was dressed and ready to head out to the YMCA for my workout. My husband had brought the Rykas indoors. I eyed them disappointedly, knowing I couldn’t wear them. But as I reached for the shoes, I realized that they were both completely dry. I couldn’t even tell which shoe had gotten soaked. I wore them to my workout after all.

It was then that I first experienced the wonder of a mesh workout shoe. If the Ryka could take a 2-gallon bucket of water without batting an eye, my lil-ole-workout would be no problem. And you know what? It wasn’t.

Even a light workout in the summer can make me feel hot and uncomfortable, but having cool, dry feet made a huge difference. My feet felt great after working out. I loved the combination of outer sole support (rather than a lot of structure in the arch) and roominess, so my foot has enough space to move comfortably when I run.

Better yet, the Ryka Revive runners are good looking shoes, so I wear them to ball games, shopping, or around the house. They are a great medium activity shoe with a reasonable price – just under $50 -- and that’s why I would recommend them for most Moms. So whether you use them to work up a sweat or just for running around town, the Ryka Revive is worth a try.

Disclosure: I received the Clark’s Wave walking shoe for free from sponsor, as part of a special promotion

Thursday, July 8, 2010

From the Mouths of Babes

Kids can be so brutally honest. Usually, around our place, their honesty leads to pointed comments about Mom's appearance.

Like, "Oh, Mommy. Does that boo-boo on your face hurt?" [Translation: Mom, you have a zit.]

or "Wow, Mommy. You're turning blonde like me!" [Translation: Mom, you're going gray.]

Sometimes, Dad's the victim and the comment is phrased in the form of a question. Such as, while brushing teeth...

"Dad, how can a person's teeth get so yellow?"

But, every once in a while, the honesty dice get rolled in our favor... Sort of.

Such was the case yesterday during lunch, when I was trying to have a conversation with my husband. My daughter had a tiny play cup at the table and wanted milk poured into it instead of in her regular glass...

She said with increasing volume, "Mom-ME! IwantheOTHERglaass! IwanmymilkinthePRETTYone! Mom! Mom! Momm-ME!"

I made a weak comment that I was talking to Dad, and she needed to just drink what she was given. But as the whining libretto continued, I just wanted peace. With an exasperated sigh, I reached over and poured some of the milk from her regular cup into the play cup.

"Thank you, Mommy."

All my mind registered was that our world was now peaceful and we could finish our conversation. Two minutes later, it was done.


Then a tiny voice.

"You know what mom?"

"What, honey."

"I stop whining when you give me what I want."

Not-so-veiled threat from Ms. Four-year-old.

I looked over at my smirking husband, who raised his eyebrows, and realized I'd just been perfectly manipulated by my child.

Well... at least she had the decency to let me know.

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Art of Spoilsport Parenting

We've had a summer of plenty here on the homestead -- abundant rain, abundant sunshine on the garden (abundant weeds...), good friends and food, swimming and camping. It has been a golden summer for my kids.

I feel grateful and blessed... but also a little bit worried.

I worry because I know that every summer won't be like this. Or maybe I let my mind get into fast-forward to a time when the kids will have summer jobs and dates and lives full of adult responsibility. Or, maybe I find it hard to parent about balance when we're having fun all the time.

Maybe I'm just a spoilsport parent. Debbie Downer. Whatever.

That must be why I purposely plan dinner without dessert and have to explain my reasons to my sons. Last night I found myself saying, "Sure we could have dessert... but it's healthier to set aside a couple of nights a week as dessert nights, so it's something special."

My nine-year-old and seven-year-old scoffed. They have monster metabolisms right now and scarf down food left and right to keep their engines running. "When I'm the parent, we're going to have dessert every day," they said.

Maybe so.

Maybe my spoilsport balance-parenting is the reason why now, in the height of summer, I chose to read the kids Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter -- a story of Laura's family's struggle to survive seven months of blizzard on the plains of South Dakota. I even invoked the book during last night's dessert discussion.

The reality is this:

There's a part of this Mom that wants to enjoy the present so much, and that's why I work to make summer a fun time for my children. But there is also a part that wants to teach them to appreciate their blessings and be grateful for what they have. It's hard to teach that second part when we're eating cupcakes and going to the swimming pool every day.

So, I'm teaching balance by holding back a little. We have chore days and camp instead of going to Disney. We place limits on screen time and play board games or go for bike rides instead. We occasionally go without dessert. (God forbid!)

Does that make me a spoilsport parent? Maybe. But maybe sometime soon, my kids will look back on this summer and not remember the holding-back. I hope they'll remember the good times we've had and be thankful.

That's what spoilsport parenting is all about, right? ... throwing a wrench in the works and expecting the kids to be grateful for it, or at least understand...

Then again, maybe I just need to relax a little and make a pan of brownies today.

I'll flip a coin. Heads - my house smells like chocolate for the afternoon, Tails - we go without.

(Now, where did I put that two-headed coin?)

- Midwest Mom

Friday, July 2, 2010

Summer at Sleeping Bear

If you’re looking for a great family Midwest vacation spot , then you have to discover Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Sleeping Bear Dunes is a complex of camping, hiking, and historical sites in and around Empire and Glen Arbor, Michigan. If you are raising a crew of budding outdoorsmen, like I am, then this is the place for you.

Where to Stay

We camped our hearts out at the Platte River Campground, and couldn’t have been happier – despite a few instances of unpredictable weather. Our walk-in tenting site was wooded and quiet, but had easy access to bathrooms and showers and was less than a mile hike away from the sugar sand beach of Lake Michigan. The campground is run by the national park service and has sites for tents, campers, or groups. Rangers were on hand at the campground were happy to answer questions and our fellow campers, including several families with small children, were friendly and fun. Every night, there was ranger-led educational program at 8:00 p.m. about area wildlife, history, or the night sky over the Lake. Many campsites at the Platte River Campground are reservable online, but there are also sites saved for walk-in campers. And I don’t mind telling you, at $15 per day, our stay at Platte River Campground was well within our budget.

For a more rustic camping experience, the D. H. Day campground near Glen Arbor is another way to enjoy the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Sites there are walk-in only, and offer vault toilets and easy access to the beach.

In nearby Frankfort/Elberta to the South and Glen Arbor to the North, there are a variety of Bed and Breakfasts, rental cottages, and small inns to suit your family. We have sent my husband’s parents for a weekend at La Rue House in Elberta, and they loved it. Next time, though, we’ll probably try the Thyme Inn in Glen Arbor. It’s a gardener’s dream adjacent to Glen Arbor shops and farmer’s market.

Swimming & Boating

We are a family of swimmers, and we swam our hearts out every day on our Sleeping Bear vacation. The dunes are made of soft sugar-sand, and the National Park campgrounds offer stretches of undeveloped beach for miles along the lakeshore. Often, we were one of only two or three families swimming in the calm, clear waters, shallow enough for me to give my 9 and 7 year-old complete freedom while my 4 year-old built sand castles to her heart’s content.

Sleeping Bear Dunes lies at the heart of Michigan’s Lakes region, where retreating glaciers have left a complex of gorgeous clear water lakes. Every lake community has a public beach, so there is plenty to go around. We also enjoyed Platte River Point Park, where the Platte River empties into Lake Michigan. It was fun watch people tubing, kayaking and canoeing while we let the river current carry us out to a sandbar that separates the warmer river water from the cooler water of the lake.

Our last night of the trip, we watched the sun set from Empire Park in Empire, MI. The kids went crazy on the beach playground while my husband and I grilled out. There were several families with open fires on the beach as we watched the beautiful sunset over the Lake in the West – a perfect ending for a perfect vacation.

Hiking and Biking

Our trip had a few drizzly days, but it was never difficult to find something to do. We loved the quiet of the Empire Bluffs Trail and took in the vistas on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which included a view of the lake from 450 ft atop the Sleeping Bear ridge dune. Adventurous climbers can visit the Dune Climb. But families with younger children might be happier hiking Sleeping Bear Point to the north.

Because of the fragile nature of the dunes themselves, vehicles are not allowed on the dunes. But we saw many road bikers along the Betsie Valley Trail and M-22. The rolling landscape -- a blend of forest, lakes, and fields -- would be a dream... and a challenge.

Plenty to Learn

Sleeping Bear Dunes was a rock-hunter’s paradise. My children found treasure upon treasure on the beach, including fossils, rose quartz, and petosky stones. Park Rangers are a ready source of information on the rocks of the area to help you identify the nature of your find.

We had the good fortune to visit the U.S. Coast Guard Outdoor Maritime Museum, just as they were beginning a Breech Bouy rescue presentation. Ranger Rebekah invited children in the audience to participate in the rescue. My oldest got to aim and fire a cannon, my youngest was the bullet that carried a rescue rope to Captain Bob, and my 7 year-old got to join a crew of surfmen hauling out and in the rope that carried the buoy. They had a great time, learned a lot, and received certificates at the end of the program. (Ranger Rebekah also earned herself a hug from my bullet-daughter.)

Wildlife enthusiasts, like our crew, will be amazed to see black squirrels and nesting Piping Plovers. Thirteen-lined ground squirrels were a treat to see with their babies as well as bugs, butterflies and birds we don’t have at home in Central Illinois.

Good Eats

Northwestern Michigan is known for its fresh fruit, and where better to get it than the Glen Arbor Farmer’s Market? We enjoyed a couple of quarts of fresh strawberries during our visit in late June. July is the month for cherries, though, and August is peach month. You don’t get better than fresh from the orchard, so if you’re visiting, be sure to taste and enjoy!

On our Tuesday visit to the Glen Arbor Farmer’s Market, we stopped at Cherry Republic to share a Double Monster Sundae (Yes, we’re decadent parents… but hey! This is vacation, right?) We got 6 scoops of ice cream, 2 toppings, and three cookies called “Boomers”. Literally, they were each as big as my daughter’s face. What a lunch. Too bad we had no room for pie or cherry wine. With its gorgeous garden and comfy layout, Cherry Republic is a place that’s definitely worth a family visit.

We also felt right at home at the Hungry Tummy in Beulah, where the popcorn was fresh, our waitress was super-friendly, and they had Pabst on Tap for the hubs. It may be that hiking makes a body hungry, but my kids thought the macaroni and cheese and grilled cheese with bacon were divine. If we go back, it’ll be for the pizza. :D

So much to Enjoy...

There was so much to do on our trip, we didn’t nearly get to all of it. We loved golfing at Crystal Falls golf in Benzonia and playing at the playgrounds at Empire Beach and Glen Arbor Township Park. Downtown Glen Arbor was filled with the work of local artists and artisans that any shopper worth her salt will love.

We had such fun, it was hard to find a low point to our trip. If there was one, it was the day we had to pack up and come back home. As we drove south and left the cooling lakeshore breezes, we made ourselves feel better by re-living our adventures and planning when we would return. We’ve found a gem in Sleeping Bear Dunes, that’s for sure. It’s a place our family will go back to again and again.

- Midwest Mom