Monday, September 29, 2008

home sweet home

When I first started writing for this blog, I did not think much about being part of the "Midwest". Of course, after I joined, I heard the term used all over the place (and not always in the nicest of places). I started to think more about what it means to live where we do.

Somewhere in the last month or so, I read a book about a woman from an area similar to our own Midwest. In the book she moved to New Orleans area and began to realize how much she missed the things that were "home" to her - grassy fields, woods, cornfields, moving/running water. It occurred to me (hey, I never said I was the brightest person...) that not everyone has immediate access to the things that are so normal to those living in the Midwest. Then, I was given a copy of Midwest Living last week. I smiled as I looked through the magazine and read about things that were already familiar to me.

This past week, the weather has started to make the change into fall/autumn, and I started to think about our trips to the pumpkin patch. I started talking to a friend who lives a little further North, and she said she had never been to a pumpkin patch. Once again, I was surprised that this was not the norm for all families during this time of year. Picking pumpkins & apples, taking hay rides, and even enjoying an occasional corn maze. That is what fall is all about here.

Today we spent the morning hiking (walking the boardwalk trail) at a local preserve. As I walked through the woods with my kids, I realized that I could not be more at home anywhere else. I thought of all of the things that I love about where we live. I love the grass, the woods & the running water of the local creeks and rivers. I love the change of seasons. I love the pumpkin patch and taking hay rides, and I even love the snow when it comes (and it will be here before we know it!!).

I thought about all of the places that I've ever wanted to see, or the places that I have been. I decided that no matter where I ever go in life, the Midwest is where I will always call Home.

Just for fun, you can read 101 reasons why people love the Midwest

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Maybe it's a sign from God

Spending the summer at the lake without wifi when you are a writer, with a blog, and other clients across the nation that contact you via email was challenging; just to put it mildly. So, once we were back home with continuous access to wifi, I found myself getting back into somewhat of a writing routine. But, of course, we had the storm that wiped out power for four days. Deadlines for stories were difficult to meet; some didn't make the cut. Then, yesterday, a neighbor's tree started to spontaneously drop branches onto our driveway. The sun was shining, and not a breeze could be felt. Yet, the tree started to drop the branches -- right down on top of our cable wires, wiping out our cable, wifi and phone service. Again.

The cable company explains the earliest they can make it out to look at the wires is Monday. Last night, another deadline loomed, and I found myself sitting on the sidewalk, in the dark, in front of my neighbor's house using her wifi to meet a deadline. Thank goodness it's still warm outside.

Of course, that night, everyone and their brother went for a walk, and I had lots of explaining to do. What I really wanted to say was, "Please, stop talking to me. I make all kinds of grammatical mistakes as it is! Please let me focus to do this right!" Instead, they asked lots of questions, and we laughed. And my deadline got pushed farther back.

When I don't get my daily dose of writing; I can get a little crazy. This is probably what it's like for people who need their coffee in the morning and they don't get it. I need to write, like coffee drinkers need their coffee.

The writing life is difficult enough; especially when you have one in preschool, and you must get it done in two-hour time blocks three times a week, or when they go to bed at night. Things get especially tough without the tools you need, when you need them. I'm already looking forward to next week, when the cable company puts the wires back into place, and I can start writing on a regular schedule once again. But, you know what? Christmas break is just around the corner; soon the kids will be home to throw everything out of whack again.

As I write this at our local library, my little boy is piling books beside me that he wants to take home. He just spotted a friend, so this gives me just a few more seconds to check e-mail. I hope everyone else is having a normal, relaxing fall.

Monday, September 22, 2008

It's Not So Much The Heat

The thing about living in Minnesota is the weather. It’s very changeable. Pretty much everyone who lives here for any length of time will say “oh I love the change of seasons.”

Except sometimes the seasons change daily. Just a couple of weeks ago it was 63 degrees on a Monday, then 73 degrees on Tuesday. By that Friday the mercury had reached 80 degrees.

It’s hard to know how to dress your kids each day. Let’s face it, the weather forecasters are really just guessing most of the time. It’s a crapshoot whether they’ll be accurate or not. Even if they are accurate, Mother Nature has that way of making it autumn one day and throwing a little more summer in the next. This year my city seems to have missed out on summer. The mercury did not climb to 90 degrees even once.

So, how to dress the kids? Layers I guess.

The mornings have been hovering around 50 degrees, so it’s too cool to send them without jackets, and by the time school lets out, they’re feeling warm in jeans. No matter which way I try to err, it’s almost always the wrong choice.

Not that I mind the return to warm weather. I actually prefer the heat over freezing my butt off, but the yo-yoing temperatures tend to mess with a person.

Maybe we all need to carry a change of clothes with us so we can switch to match the weather.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Food on Our Plate

Food has been in the news a lot lately. Do we eat too much, are we eating the right things, are we poisoning our kids with an abundance of sugar and unpronounceable ingredients? All of these topics, and more, are making headlines. For myriad reasons, too many to name, Americans are obsessed with weight. Very few people I know have a simple relationship with food, and mine is as complicated as theirs. Is this what we want for our kids?

On my own blog, I’ve written more than once about Michael Pollen’s book, In Defense of Food, which encourages us, no--pleads with us, to consider the source of what we eat. Mr. Pollen argues for local foods, simple ingredient lists, and no pre-packaged “non-foods.” It’s as compelling of a non-fiction book as I’ve read, if only for its implications for our kids.

In this week’s NY Times, Tara Parker-Pope also argues for healthier food choices in her article “6 Food Mistakes Parents Make.” In my twelve years of reading about parenting, I’ve seen countless articles that begin with an intriguing title, then go on to tell me what I already know. Happily, Ms. Parker-Pope’s article doesn’t fall into that category. I began by skimming her ideas, then slowed down to read more. Although some of her advice was familiar, she included a new study from Penn State that I found very interesting. About the study, she said:

“Children were seated at tables and given unlimited access to plates of apple or peach cookie bars — two foods the youngsters had rated as “just O.K.” in earlier taste tests. With another group, some bars were served on plates, while some were placed in a clear cookie jar in the middle of the table. The children were told that after 10 minutes, they could snack on cookies from the jar.

The researchers found that restricting the cookies had a profound effect: consumption more than tripled compared with when the cookies were served on plates.”

Consumption tripled?! That’s a big difference, my friends. Ms. Parker-Pope’s suggestion is that we should stop buying the snacks or desserts that we consider off-limits. If it’s a “special occasion” treat, then we should only buy it for special occasions. Fabulous concept, for both our kids and ourselves, don’t you think? Ms. Parker-Pope goes on to suggest that we buy healthier foods and let our kids snack whenever they’re hungry.

So what do you think moms? Is this the key to helping our kids have a healthier relationship with food than we do? I think it’s a great start. What about you?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I do not know about you, but my family LOVES the wealth of apples in our area in the fall. We've tried each kind of apple, we've picked apples at the fruit farm, and we've cooked with apples. I thought I'd share of few apple recipes because fall is arriving here in Ohio(YAY) and I am more than ready to make some apple crisp or an apple pie, both of which we chose to eat warm with Vanilla Bean ice cream. Oh my, I am making myself hungry...

Easy apple crisp

4 to 6 medium cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, cut in small pieces
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 egg

Mix apples, 1 cup of sugar and cinnamon; place in a greased 8-inch baking dish. Dot with the 1 tablespoon of butter. Combine topping ingredients; stir until blended then pour over apples. Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes.


Old Fashioned Apple Pie Recipe


2 9-inch pie crusts (one for the top crust, one for the bottom crust)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash of salt
2 tablespoons butter
6 cups thinly sliced and cored apple


1. Preheat oven to 425F.

2. Mix sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, and salt. Stir in the apples.

3. Place into pie crust, dot with butter. Cover with top crust, and slit evenly to let steam escape. Seal the top crust to the bottom by pinching the edges together.

3. Cover edge of the crust with a three inch strip of aluminum foil.

4. Bake 40-50 minutes, until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through top.

Apple-Rhubarb Crisp

For the Topping:
1 cup flour
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped toasted almonds or walnuts
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons butter, slightly softened and cut into small pieces

For the Filling:
2 pounds crisp baking apples
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, sugar, nuts, and cinnamon. Work in the butter until the mixture resembles dry oats. The mixture should just hold together and look crumbly.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Cut each quarter into four chunks; you should have about 5 cups. Trim the rhubarb and cut it into 1-inch-long pieces 1/2 inch wide; you should have about 5 cups of rhubarb. In a large bowl, toss the apples and rhubarb with the sugar, flour, and cinnamon until well coated. Transfer the apple and rhubarb mixture to a 2-quarts baking dish and sprinkle the crisp topping over the top. Bake until the topping is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling, 1 hour to 1 hour 15 min. Cool slightly before serving.


I've never tried the rhubarb recipes, but thought it looked so good that I decided to add it on too. If anyone has ever had it, you'll have to let me know what you think of it. I will add it to my "plan on making" list :)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Symbolic Stacks

As the days get cooler and night comes earlier, it is time for that rite of motherhood: the Clothing Swap. Pants the next size up, purchased at clearance prices last Spring, emerge from bins under the beds. Sweaters that were a tad too long last winter are tried on and hung up, ready for the coming crispness of October. Squeaky new, uncomfortable shoes are swapped for summer's stinky sandals.

It is the symbolic passing of time, marked in clothes grown too small, and the emergence of various items I hardly remember stockpiling months ago when prices were low.

Again, I delve into my hidden caches of seasonal stuff. I assess what we have-- what we need-- what we've outgrown.

I mark my children's growth not by marks on a wall, but by bins of outgrown garb labeled and finally relegated to the garage, awaiting the discovery of the gender of baby #3.

Half of these clothes will be gone this time next year-- whichever gender the baby isn't.

For so long, I could not let go of the outgrown onesies, the mittens, the jeans with snapping legs. It was too, too symbolic of me resigning myself to our completion of our family.

Happily, I'm folding the stacks more carefully this season. Because I know that all too soon, this baby I'm growing will need those clothes, eventually. The new baby. The baby we have yet to know. As I fold those shirts carefully away, I smile at the memories of my kids wearing it while doing _________. Playing. Singing. Even having a temper tantrum. I'll smile again the day these clothes emerge again from under a bed, the next size for "new baby" to wear.

I know, it's just stuff.

But the passing of that stuff might as well be the sands through the hourglass. Someday, I will look at these impossibly small garments, and then at my college aged children, and miss it all so much.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Taming the Morning Chaos Monster

I can admit it. I was a little panicked when I thought about M starting back to school. Oh, I’d miss having her around again, but it wasn’t that that had me worried. It was the fact that I’d have to get myself and three kids dressed and fed and out the door by 8:20 in the morning.

I am not a morning person. I prefer to stay up late and sleep in late. My body generally does not want to sleep until late at night, and even then it sometimes balks.

Working with my known weakness as a lousy morning person, I realized I’d need to do as much preparation the night before as possible. Not a new concept, in fact, I had much of this routine established last year, before D was born.

I pour juice in two cups and put them in the refrigerator. I set out the Cheerios. I make M’s sandwich. I set out clothes for the kids. I put my own clothes and a towel in the bathroom.

Even all of this was not enough. I still felt crazed, rushed, except now I felt rushed at night.

So now I do a lot of the same prep work, but I do it once or twice during the week. I bought 2 hanging closet shoe organizers, the kind that have shelves. I pick out M’s and K’s clothes and pajamas for the week on Sundays. Each shelf holds one day’s clothes, complete with socks and underwear.

I bought 3 plastic reusable sandwich boxes (with princesses on them) at the Target dollar spot. I make 3 sandwiches for M’s lunches at once and refrigerate them. One of these weekends I’m going to make a few pb&js and freeze them too. I’ve also bought microwave meals (mac and cheese, pizza rolls) that I can nuke in 2 minutes and put in a Funtainer for her for occasional lunches.

How I’m going to get D fed in the morning when she starts eating cereal I don’t know. She may have to have a late breakfast. Maybe she’ll like brunch instead.

What do you do to tame the chaos in the morning?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Summer is Officially OVER

Well, Happy Labor Day, and what are you doing out here reading blogs anyway?  Shouldn’t you be outside riding bikes or grilling burgers or something?

But since you took the time to stop by, stay for awhile.  Here are a few of my favorite photos from our now-officially-over summer.   Enjoy!