Friday, October 30, 2009

Spicy Squash Soup

When the weather turns cold there's nothing better than warm soup and fresh bread for dinner.
photo credit: mia3mom

My girlfriend, Holly, gave me this recipe in 1995 and it's still one of my favorites for fall:

Spicy Squash Soup

  • 1 winter squash (such as butternut)
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 small yellow onions, diced
  • 1 mild chili pepper, cored, seeded & diced (small)
  • 1 quart chicken stock or broth (4 c)
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • a little salt & pepper to taste
  • unsweetened whipped cream for garnish (whip just before using or store in fridge)
  • ½ c toasted squash seeds or pine nuts for garnish (w/ a little salt & cumin, if you like)

Preheat the oven to 375º. Cut the squash in half and scrape out all of the pulp & seeds. (Save the seeds.) Place the squash face down in a baking pan with enough water to cover the bottom of the pan, and bake until soft, about 45 minutes. Peel off & discard the skin. Reserve the pan juices and set the squash aside.

In a large stock pot, melt the butter and sauté the onions and chili pepper over low heat. Add the cooked squash and pan juices to the onions; then add the chicken stock or broth and bring to a simmer. Add cumin to the soup and season with salt and pepper.

Use a food processor or blender to puree the soup. Keep warm. Meanwhile, in a hot, dry saucepan, toast the squash seeds or pine nuts over medium-high heat. (You can also roast the seeds in the oven for about 8-12 mins.)

Pour hot soup into 2 shallow soup bowls. Garnish with a drizzle of lightly whipped cream and some toasted squash seeds or pine nuts.

Bon Apétit!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Book Review: Your Money Or Your Life

I first read this intriguing book years ago and am now the proud owner of a very old copy, and a new (well, new but used) copy, as well. The most recently released edition has the following subtitle:
"9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence."
Tough to resist that one, isn't it?

The book, co-written by Vicki Robin and the late Joe Dominguez, is a bit quirky. They use lots of terms like "life energy" and "the fulfillment curve." But if you can take all of that with a grain of salt and get to the nitty gritty, I recommend the read.

Here's the gist:
Spending more money doesn't necessarily equal more fulfillment. This isn't exactly a newsflash, but you wouldn't know it by the way money flies out of our pocket for that cool new winter coat, now would you? The sooner we determine what does mean more fulfillment for us, the quicker we can maximize our income and stop wasting money on the rest. The trick: what means fulfillment is different for each of us.

More details:
Ms. Robin and Mr. Dominguez promote what they call Financial Intelligence, and their book outlines a 9-step plan to do just what the subtitle claims: change the way you look at and react to money, and change your life in the process. They walk readers through ideas like "We Aren't Making a Living, We're Making a Dying," and they help us calculate our "real hourly wage." As I read through the book the first time, the concepts resonated with me even though my lifestyle is very different from theirs. That's okay. The book isn't about becoming like them; it's about understanding who I am and using my money appropriately for me.

I found some of the information to be quite basic and if you're already living within or below your means you may feel the same way. That said, I still found the book valuable. This book isn't just for the novice. Those of us with good money practices in place can still be challenged by the idea that "money is something we choose to trade our life energy for."

For me, one of the things that really rang true was the idea of the fulfillment curve. For example, I enjoy eating out with my family. But a few years ago we fell into a habit of eating out any old time we felt like it, and, curiously, our enjoyment went down. Eating out wasn't a special event or time for our family anymore--it was just food. We consciously pulled back and began eating out less often and our enjoyment spiked. Huh. Lesson learned.

Fair warning: This program isn't for the faint of heart. There's quite a bit of thinking, and some actual homework. The 9 steps take time and commitment. But if you're ready to think about what money really means to you and choose how you spend the rest of your days in relation to it, give this book a look. You can even check it out from your library: it's free!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

When In Rome...

See more Wordless Wednesday here and here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Healthier Halloween: Roasted Pumpkins Seeds

Ugghh. No, this isn't going to be a post about handing out raisins on Halloween.

This post is about what you can add to your own counter-top treats this year that's not quite as punishing as that Snickers bar you've been eyeing.

Step one: Carve your pumpkins.

Step two: Keep the seeds.

When I was a kid we always rinsed the seeds, sprayed them with Pam, and doused them with salt. This is a tasty option, let me tell you, although the sodium intake makes "healthy" a bit questionable. Still, it's healthier than a Snickers, right?

When I grew up, in addition to finding out that you could cut fancy designs into your pumpkins, I also discovered that you can fancy up your pumpkin seeds. Lots of recipes call for oil or butter rather than Pam with the salt. But there are even fancier options, for sure. Here are a few:

Hilda's Recipe (crushed red pepper and garlic salt
Gourmet Mix (like the above, plus a bunch more)
Sweet & Spicy (with cinnamon and peanut oil)
Sugar & Spice (more dessert-like)
And for the super-ambitious among you: Caramelized Pumpkin Seeds

Setting aside the time to carve a pumpkin together and clean the seeds makes for a wonderful tradition. Following it with one of these fresh from the oven treats: Fantastic!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pumpkin Carving: Get Your Template Here

Lo those many years ago, before we had children and were still living in the Big City, my husband and I received a gift. It looked like this:

I swear to you that in all of my life up until that moment I'd never heard of any such thing. People didn't just carve faces on their pumpkins? Happy faces? Sad faces? Scary faces? There were designs? This was beyond my frame of reference, friends. I came from simple pumpkin carving folk.

So we tried it, my husband and I. We broke out of our comfort zone, and sharpened our knives, and did us up a fancy jack-o-lantern. And we liked it! Our jack-o-lanterns were so cool! So fun! We reused those templates so many times that it's gross. Totally.

When our kids grow up, they'll probably get married to a lovely woman who wants to carve a simple, smiling jack-o-lantern and they'll be all "What? No scary spider? No bat?" It's a complicated world, isn't it?

As I was looking back through my photos I realized I don't have many photos of our creations. So this year, I will start. But here you can see a couple examples, if you look past those pesky kids in the photos.

(It's hard to see it, but that one on the left is an excellent and scary skull.
The one on the right, well, who knows?)

(Here you can see the cool spider - I like this guy and
I am no fan of spiders, let me tell you.)

If you'd like to create your own fancy jack-o-lanterns this year, you can find these books everywhere now. They probably sell them at your grocery store. Or maybe Target. But if not, or if you prefer to search from the comfort of that chair you're sitting in, here are a few links to try.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Easy Cheesy Mostaccioli

This recipe is a family favorite. It's a favorite for me, because it is so darned easy-- literally all you do is cook some pasta and brown some meat. And a favorite for the kids, because it is so darned cheesy. I love to bring this dish to new moms, sick families, and potlucks!

1 box penne or mostaccioli pasta
1 lb ground beef (if you're ambitious, it's also good with 1/2 lb beef and 1/2 lb mild sausage)
1 jar spaghetti sauce (I use Prego Hearty Mushroom)
1/2 large onion
2-3 cloves garlic
olive oil
1 can cheddar cheese soup
2 cups shredded sharp cheese
dried oregano
dried basil

1. Preheat the oven to 385 or so, if you are planning to bake the dish for immediate consumption.

2. Get the water started for the penne. Don't forget to salt it a tish!

3. Grab a large skillet and put it about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Finely dice onion, and saute. (Cook it until it becomes transparent.) Add 2-3 minced cloves garlic. (You can skip the onions and garlic if you want. But they really add something.)

4. Add raw meat to onions and garlic. Brown meat, adding basil and oregano to your taste.

5. When al dente, drain pasta and add it to a large oven-safe dish. (Something about the size of a La Creuset, if you are so lucky as to have one. I've got an old Corningware dish I'm rocking over here.)

6. On top of the pasta, add the cheese soup straight from the can, the spaghetti sauce straight from the jar, the browned meat, and 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Mix that bad boy all up.

7. Spread the other cup of cheese on top.

8. If you're going to eat it tonight, cook it. This will take about 30-45 minutes, depending on how crispy you like the top. Everything you put in the oven was already cooked, so experiment to see how "done" you want it. If you're not cooking it tonight, wait for it to cool some and cover it appropriately for the fridge/freezer. If you're potlucking it, slap that stuff right into your crock pot-- it will heat up nicely on high after about 1/2 hour or so.

Viola! Easy Cheesy Mostaccioli!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Monkey Book

Hubs and I are readers. (Well... that's not completely honest. Hubs is a reader. I was a reader. I used to finish several books a week-- and in the past year or so I've really struggled to finish much of anything. )


We're readers. We love to read, love to collect books, love to talk about what we've read-- it's been a major part of our relationship since we first began dating. When we wed, books we loved were the centerpieces at our reception tables. Books played heavily in our courtship-- they were the language we used to communicate to one another about who we were-- where we were coming from.

He had me read books, I don't remember which ones, and then we'd talk about why he loved those books and what spoke to him from them.

I would do the same. I don't remember most of the books I had Hubs read.

But I remember I asked him to read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.

We'd only been dating about three months or so when I passed it across the table at lunch one day.

"I really loved this book," I told him. "I hope you like it, too."

If you haven't read Ishmael, it is a book about a man who answers an ad placed by a mysterious "teacher." That teacher turns out to be a gorilla named Ishmael who can communicate telepathically with our narrator.

(Yes, it is really important to suspend one's disbelief to appreciate this book. Do you really think there are folks on an island somewhere living the plot of Lost? O.K. then!)

Once Ishmael and the Narrator begin their curious relationship, a fascinating dialogue ensues about the fall of man, the incongruity with which modern society conducts itself, and how humanity can begin to redeem itself.

This book really spoke to me on so many levels. It challenged me to be a better person-- a "Giver" instead of the "Takers" Ishmael describes. It made me think about our society, our culture, our history, and our responsibilities as a civilization.

I couldn't wait to discuss it with him.

And he abhored it.

Hated it.

He called it "The Monkey Book."

He just could not get past the talking gorilla thing.

It wasn't that he disagreed with the ideas being posited. Or that he felt the arguments were poorly thought out. Or even that he thought it was poorly written.

It was the talking gorilla.

I took it extremely personally; I was heartbroken. I felt I had put myself out there, in the form of this text, to show Hubs what I thought about our world, and our place in it. And he had rejected it (me) because he found the delivery (me) to be cumbersome. Uncomfortable. Unbelievable.

Some years have passed, obviously, and we worked through it. Now, we giggle about the "Monkey Book."

I still love the book. And he will probably never love the book. But's that's okay, because even though it's not a book we share a love for, we share a history around it.

And that's one way a dialogue is built around books.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Go, Team!

When Hubs and I were working on our wedding, we saw all kinds of crazy things in wedding magazines. Crazy wedding favors, crazy flower arrangements, crazy dresses.

There's some CRAZY wedding stuff out there.

Somewhere we saw these hats that the bride and groom had custom made for themselves and their wedding party. They said, "Team Smith." (Or whatever their names were.)

As cheesy as we thought the hats were, we loved the Idea. The Idea that our new family would be a team, there to cheer each other on, support one another, take the hits for one another. Team Pair. (Obviously, we use our own last name.) And we have been Team Pair ever since.

When we had kids, we added to the Team. We have Team cheers. We have Team mottoes. We have Team Goals. And we have Team Rules.

We all adhere to the Team Pair Rules, which we came up with together:
  1. Respect each other.
  2. Use kind hands and kind words.
  3. Share.
  4. Do your part.
We are not perfect at using these rules-- even Mom and Dad can sometimes use unkind words in the course of a frustrating day-- but we do as well as we can. We have the rules posted on our refrigerator. We quiz the kids on the rules. When we discipline, we refer to the Team Pair rules. Pretty much everything we want our children to learn comes down to these four rules.

Our team approach has worked out fairly well so far.

Our children identify heavily as the "Pairs." They are proud to come from this family, and proud of our team. They support each other, take the hits for each other, and are learning that sometimes being a part of a team means putting your own wants second to the needs of the team. They understand that no matter what happens out there, in the non-Pair world, here we are a support system that loves them and believes in them.

We are not equals in Team Pair. Mom and Dad are the coaches and captains. Our say trumps all.

But they are integral to Team Pair-- their participation, their involvement, and their feedback makes the Team get better every day.

We are trying to teach our kids, and ourselves, that at the end of the day, your family is supposed to be comprised of those who love you, who believe in you. While we might not always agree with each other, or even understand each other, this space is supposed to be safe, welcoming, and... well, a TEAM.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall ing In Love

When I was a kid, fall was always my favorite time of year. I loved the new schools supplies, the seemingly endless potential of a new school year, and anticipation of the coming holidays. Fall was my season.

When I worked in student activities, fall was always my most dreaded time of year. I worked in higher education, and as such, my fall was full of late night student events, meetings, and work commitments. I finally moved into a less stressful, lower paying job the fall I worked three months in a row without a weekend off. Fall was my burden.

Once I demoted myself, I made a commitment to regain fall as a season. I called 2007 my "FOF"-- fall of freedom. We pumpkin patched, hot-air-ballooned, and fall festival-ed our booties off. But that first FOF was hampered by my health problems, my resulting anxiety, and then by recovery from major surgery. Fall was my trial.

Now that I am staying at home with the kids, fall has regained some of its former luster for me. I reveled in buying Noise's school supplies. I gingerly marked every individual crayon, marker, and scissor for my kids. We've trudged through pumpkin patches, apple orchards, and parades all over our county. We've baked and s'mored and walked in the woods as a rainbow of leaves gave up their fight all around us. We've cheered on our football teams, fired up the fire pit, feasted on the first soups of the season. Fall is my home.

I have fallen in love again, with fall.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Greek Salad: or How to Savor the Last Bounty from the Garden

I love this salad. It's full of veggies and I get to use cucumbers and tomatoes from my garden in late summer and early fall. I made this a couple of weeks ago while I was visiting my in-laws. Just looking at the pictures I get hungry for it again (even though my pictures are not that great). Another plus? It's really easy to make.

Ingredients: 2-3 cucumbers, several tomatoes, 1 can of quartered artichoke hearts, 1 can of small pitted black olives, 1 package of fat free feta cheese, 1 tablespoon olive oil
Peel and chop the cucumbers into bite size pieces. If your cucumbers are large and have seeds in them, remove the seeds before chopping. Chop tomatoes into bite size pieces. Add the artichoke hearts and olives.

Toss ingredients together in a large bowl. Add feta and toss again.

Just before serving, drizzle with olive oil and toss again.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

10 Favorite Board Books for Toddlers

  1. Moo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton – This book was my oldest child’s favorite book as a toddler. It was a book she asked me to read to her over and over, and one of only 3 books that she would always sit still for the whole book, usually more than one read in a sitting.

  2. Tickly Under There and Can I Have a Hug by Debi Gliori – These are the two other books that Miss M would sit still for. They are both very, very short at only 4 pages each but the stories lend themselves well to fun actions you can do with your toddler sitting in your lap. These books brought guaranteed giggles every time.

  3. But Not The Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton – This Boynton book was my Godson’s favorite as a toddler. I still remember the day I went to visit (years before I had my own children) and he brought me the book, sat in my lap and told me to read it again and again.

  4. The Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown – I borrowed this one from our local Early Childhood Family Education program when Miss M was a baby. I just loved the story.

  5. Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino and Steven Kellogg – This is another book I first borrowed from the ECFE program. My son liked saying “NO!” every time the llama asked another animal if its mama was a llama.

  6. We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen – My son still loves this one and now he sings or chants the song.

  7. The Foot Book by Dr. Suess – The board book version of this book is shorter than the original version, and just the right length for little kids who are just learning to enjoy reading. I like to read this one in different voices. The kids always love that goofiness.

  8. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson – I was given this book by my boss at my baby shower. The story is a cute one that tells kids that even though Mommy might leave them for a little bit, she will always come back. That’s the kind of message toddlers who are dealing with separation anxiety need to hear!

  9. So Many Bunnies by Rick Walton – This was another baby shower gift from a coworker (did I mention I used to work for the ECFE program? That should probably be noted here since these books I was given were from people who know kids and families well). This book goes from A to Z as a mama bunny with 26 children puts each of her babies to bed in his or her own place that just happens to rhyme with his or her name. Rhyming and alphabet in a fun format!

  10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle – This book combines counting and learning fruit in a fun format. My kids were always interested in the holes in the book.

What are some of your favorite board books for toddlers?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tips for Dealing With Preschoolers and Time

One of the first real battles that I remember as a relatively new parent of two kids was that my first-born started to refuse to go to sleep at night. It was miserable every night when we told her it was time for bed. She was two and strong-willed besides (she still is strong-willed). She could pitch an Oscar-worthy fit in 3.2 seconds. She had a new little brother and was asserting her place in the family. Also? She was two.

Around that same time she would ask me 14, 783 times when we were going to do whatever activity I may have been stupid enough to mention to her more than 30 seconds before the activity would occur.

Frustration caused me to brainstorm and I decided to make Miss M’s first “Event Calendar” to see if it could alleviate some of our problems. I made a calendar block on the computer and printed it on bright paper. Then I wrote any upcoming activities on the calendar. Since she was only 2 and couldn’t read yet, I drew pictures to symbolize each thing. For instance if she had “school” I drew a building with a flag on a flagpole by it. If we were going to a birthday party I drew a cake with candles on it.

The calendar was going to do double duty though. Not only would M be able to look and see that a birthday party was still many sleeps away, but I was going to use the “marking off the days” to my advantage. At that age, M was very interested in stickers. I stocked up on fancy character stickers, flower stickers, etc. and explained to her that IF she went to bed like a big girl (no crying, screaming, hitting, etc.) I would put a sticker on her calendar to mark off that day.

It worked remarkably well. M would wake up every morning and go to the fridge (where her calendar was hung) to check to see what sticker she got. After a while, I’d let her pick which sticker she’d want to get before bedtime. We’d lay the sticker on the counter and I’d tell her that I’d put it on the calendar if she went to bed without a fuss.

Five years later I’ve slacked on getting a new calendar ready every month, but M especially still asks me when I’m going to get her calendar ready. I think we may be ready to just buy a regular calendar just for her activities now. I started a calendar for K when he started preschool 2 years ago too, though he didn’t take to it as strongly as his big sister did.

Sometimes we just get lucky as parents and find the perfect thing for our particular child. Perhaps you have a child that this will work for as well!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mom to 4

A mom to 4! I'm a mom to 4!!!! Looking back, I always wanted to be a mom to 3, but 4 is meant to be.

I've lived my entire life in the midwest, and was lucky enough to have traveled all over. Growing up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota was incredible, I had the storybook childhood with two loving parents and an older brother. However, I was always in love with a city, a big city. After graduating high school, I moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota. The moment I stepped on the mall [part of campus] I knew I was home. After school, I began my career as a designer in the retail industry.

Fast forward 19 years [time really does fly] and I still call Minneapolis home. It's where I live with my husband of almost 7 years and 2 sets of twins. I have Mr. P and Miss A, 4.5 years old, and Baby E and Baby A, 3 months old. For the last 2 years I have been a work at home mom and owner/designer of Stelie Designs a stationery company. Somedays I want to tear my hair out but when I look into my 4 muchkins eyes, I know I wouldn't have it any other way.

How was I blessed with 2 sets of twins? Invitro. [Technically they are quads born 4 years apart.] Having worked so hard to become a mom and knowing it almost didn't come true, it has made me cherish my parenting role more.

I look forward to sharing more with you. In the meantime, to follow my crazy work and home life visit my blog.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Quick introduction...

My wife and I recently moved to the Minneapolis area from Rochester, MN. I have two beautiful kids, a 12 year-old daughter from my first marriage that lives with us on regular weekends and a 13 month old son. We have been married over four years and I am blessed to have the family I have. I enjoy my time with them immensely.

Little background on me, I am the youngest of eight boys raised on a farm just outside of the Green Bay, WI area (yes I am a Packer fan). My family is huge... In fact I have nephews and nieces older than my wife who have kids older than my kids. I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic grade school, high school and college. I often miss the times on the farm and the lessons learned there, as the events that happened truly shaped who I am today.

I have many interests besides my family, hiking, biking, camping, music, reading, and travel. I am slowly teaching myself how to play the guitar. Don't expect any concerts, or open mike night appearances as I will not be Claptonesque until the year 2045.

I am excited to write for this blog as I value my family and want to gain insight from others on being a good husband, father, and friend. I look forward to sharing my thoughts on fatherhood, family and also lessons I learned from my parents and want to teach my children.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

The bluffs did it for me

The bluffs did it for me. We came from desert and dried up riverbanks to powerful limestone banking the sides of spring fed streams. A classic case of desert versus water. We lapped up the lushness and settled into our new home. We began our family in a home rented over the phone. The promised fenced in yard for our mammoth yellow lab was not here when we arrived. The spacious basement for entertaining looked more like a scene from Friday the 13th. We shrugged and made it work, because the yearlong lease demanded that we do.

That was 2002.

I didn’t realize that this would be the end stop for us. I thought it one more ding on the bus ride of life and we would be transferring to another bus soon enough. Randy, a meteorologist, had visions of a bigger market, but the swishing of the stream waters as he casted his fly rod mesmerized him. I, a high school English teacher by trade and a writer by heart, wished for a place closer to family, but have created a family here.

It is 2009.

We have since moved from the rental with broken promises into a house with about as many problems, but it is ours. We love it and we just keep working on making it better. Making it ours. We have two boys now, Drew (6) and Owen (3), who knock our socks off every day with their giggles, jokes, hugs, and smiles. We still have our mammoth lab, Duncan, but he is slower these days and spends most of his time lying in the fenced in yard smelling the air, than running in it.

We are home, here in the Midwest. We are at peace in our small house, in our small town, in our southeast corner of Minnesota.Looking for inspiration for notsoshinyjules, I asked Randy what his vision was for the future. Where did he see us down the line?

“Here. Our vision is now, Julie. This is our vision, this is our future, and this is our all.”

And it is.

We are home.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Life always comes full circle

I believe that it is no small accident that my mother had three daughters and no sons. The only son she had was lost in a late term miscarriage at five months. See, it is destiny that our family curse of outspoken, headstrong women would continue. The only way to do that was for my mother to have three daughters. Surely one of us would continue the curse through our own feminine lineage. I am the youngest of that trio of headstrong offspring, and I am the only one of my mother's children to have biological children. Both of my children are daughters. As far as I can tell so far, the curse continues. Outspoken. Headstrong. Women.

Mine was an interesting family to have grown up in. My maternal lineage is entirely German American. From the Midwest. Ohio, probably by way of Pennsylvania. I'm something like five generations down from the original immigrants to the United States. My mother grew up in The Miami Valley, the only daughter of my grandmother. Her mother, my grandmother, is a woman with a flair for the eccentric and the artistic. When she was still a young mother, she agreed to leave Ohio for good when her husband, my grandfather, decided to take a permanent job at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton, Florida. They never left Florida after that move. Their choice to step out of the Midwest and venture out to the south, to the tropics of Florida no less, eventually resulted in my parents meeting at Florida State and my sisters' and my childhood taking place in Fort Lauderdale.

When my sisters and I were kids, my mother spoke of the Midwest as a place with good solid family values, where children were raised correctly and there was no evil like what was around us every day in Florida. My mother is a religious conservative who was trained to be a science and math teacher. But instead of going to work every day, she was a stay at home mother. And boy, did she stay at home and mother. Anyone who knows her can tell you that she is never short on her opinions and commentary on the state of society today. From the smallest decision like how to clean the dishes to global crises like climate change to eternal dilemmas like who will go to heaven and who will go to hell, she knows the right answers, dadgummit. For the most part she was right about the evil being around us. South Florida is nothing like the Midwest. It is everything the cable media shows hype it up to be and nothing less (think Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami and Police Women of Broward County). Yet despite my mother's concerns, it was a great place to grow up. In that place of cultural collision and questionable morality, my sisters and I grew up to be individual bulwarks of our own, each clearly defining herself from the other women in the family.

When the three of us got older and starting thinking about our own adult lives and where we wanted to settle...the Midwest kept popping up. Both of my sisters went to college in Chicagoland. One still lives there. The other married a Hoosier and treks back to Fort Wayne at least twice a year. And me? Ten years ago, completely out of the blue, I decided to move to Michigan. I'd never been to Michigan in my life.

Ann Arbor seemed like a nice enough place to check out. A place I could settle down with my husband and our five-year-old daughter. Sure, he was from Texas and I was from Florida, but the Midwest was a friendly place; anyone could fit in if they tried. Besides, I had roots in the Midwest and my two sisters were in Chicago and Southbend respectively. The Midwest was a place where you could build a family and enjoy each other year round. You could run outside catching fireflies in the summer and snuggle close together watching movies and eating popcorn inside during the winter. There were plenty of places for both my husband and I to pursue our graduate studies. It seemed perfect, idyllic even. And so we made the move, both physically and in faith, to Michigan, hoping that things would turn out the wonderful way we imagined they could. In the long run, they did turn out that way, pretty much. Well, sort of. It worked out that way for me and my daughter. My (first) husband and I split after a year in Michigan. I guess I was too much of an individual for him.

Today I'm remarried and my daughter is a sophomore in high school. My (new) husband and I have been married for a bit more than four years. He's a transplant to the Midwest himself, from Brazil no less. Exactly two months ago today, after four years of trying, we welcomed our second child, another daughter, into our family. Indeed, our little family has settled into the Midwest, we enjoy the seasons together, and our life revolves around the calendar of academia.

As for the tradition/curse of my female ancestry, our family is no exception. My 15 year old daughter is unmistakably her own person. She will jump at the chance to give her own unique version of any situation. She marches to the beat of her own drummer. As her mother, it's kind of nice now that she's a teenager since I don't really have to worry about her doing things just because "everyone else is doing it." But boy, when she was a preschooler? Oh lordy. As for my younger daughter, I see this look in her eyes, this determined look like she's trying to figure out how to stand out and make her mark on the world. At two months old, she can't really make too many waves with her opinions; by the time she's two years old, however...

In this context, parenting is a trip for me, both because of my own personality and because of the demeanor of the children I am raising. (Or should it be "the children I am rearing"? I'm sure my mother knows which verb is correct. I'm sure my oldest sister does too.) There is a lot of wrangling with my emotions, with what is right and wrong or if a circumstance even has a right and wrong, and with what the point of it all really is. If I may be frank for a moment though, it's been a pretty wonderful adventure so far, warts and all. Carry on, then.

~~~ If you want to know more about me than what I've given you here, you can check out my personal blog, Comparative Childhood. It's all about me, as a parent and as a person. Parenting causes me to reflect on my own childhood. And becoming a parent to two children with 15 years in between causes me to reflect on how their childhoods compare and contrast. Thus, Comparative Childhood, get it? ~~~

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What About You?

Beautiful and vibrant red, orange and yellow leaves; long walks through the cool woods; colorful mums and hot apple cider; wreaths and fall-scented candles and big orange pumpkins; apple crisp and apple pie; brisk nights and warm fires: these are but a few of the reasons fall remains my favorite season year after year. I appreciate the beauty of freshly-fallen glaringly white snow, I long for the renewal of spring and I celebrate the “woo-hoo, it’s finally here” of summer, but fall is first on my list.

What else can I tell you about me?

Here are some tidbits that are true, at this hour, on this day of this week, month, and year. As for who I am tomorrow, well, who can know? We’ll have to wait & see, won’t we? But for now, you can be sure that I:

…am a mother of three boys, and, as such, haven’t stopped moving for the past 13 years.

…have been married to my generous and merciful husband for almost 18 years. Because, you know, I was, like, 10 when we got married, right?

…cherish my friends and enjoy the camaraderie we share, particularly over a good glass of red wine or a thick, dark beer.

…still get out once a week to play in a basketball league.

…never met a beach or a palm tree I didn’t like.

…feel stunned by how quickly life has moved from a houseful full of toddlers to no toddlers at all.

…like to win. Just about anything, always. Wanna play?

…don’t like chores, but have finally perfected a chore-chart system for my kids, which I'm certain they will dismiss as soon as they walk onto a college campus.

…love to listen to my husband play the piano.

…am not giving up Diet Pepsi anytime soon.

…am not a morning person, and that’s putting it mildly. So don’t call before 8:00. You've been warned.

…didn’t like any vegetables other than corn or plain lettuce until after college.

…like snap peas, asparagus, raw spinach, and artichokes.

…am likely to be a few minutes late for our meeting.

…don’t like it if you’re a few minutes late for our meeting.

…try to be fair, but (see above) am not always just.

…used to think the dentist was fine, but now I never want to go again.

…wear glasses because after my third son was born I was just too tired to put those contacts back in.

…volunteer at my sons’ schools. All 3 of them (sons, and schools).

…love to take pictures but don’t aspire to be a photographer. I just want to capture my kids, and our family, at all of their ages and stages.

…miss my dog, Tucker, terribly. He gave us 13 ½ great years, and he was in a class by himself. We all miss him.

…like to be with friends and like to be alone with my thoughts. I find value in both.

…love to read, love to write, and love to gather with other writers to challenge each other to dig deeper, to go further, to discover more of ourselves, and to use it in our work.

…like words.

…will not give up my iPhone. Nope, sorry, it’s mine.

…love to travel and get my family out and about in the big wide world as often as I’m able.

…want to know more about you. Will you share something? How about 2-3 things that make you unique? Post them in the comments and link to your blog if you have one, so I can check it out.

Happy fall!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Kansas. It's Really Not As Bad As You've Heard.

Hi there! I'm Dawn, and I'm from Kansas. Well... that's not quite right. I've grew up in St. Louis-- went to school in Missouri, then Oregon, then met a boy that I felt the need to stalk into submission and somehow that devolved into living in...


But it's not as bad as you've heard. My town is actually quite hilly in parts. I've lived here nearly ten years, and I've yet to be swept away by a tornado. Our school district has one of the largest proportion of teachers with Master's degrees in the nation. And we have a nationally ranked NCAA basketball team.

But it's still in Kansas.

In a lot of ways, I am outside the norm here. I'm pretty liberal... Kansas is not. I'm pretty feminist... Kansas is not. I'm all about supporting equality. Yup, you guessed it-- Kansas is often not. Kansas is a bevy of contradictions-- one of the first states to give women the right to vote, and also the home of Fred Phelps, the jerk who picketed Matthew Shepherd's funeral. The forty-hour work week movement began here... but we still don't have a state minimum wage.

I don't believe in judging a person based on their best or worst act-- so I try to extend that philosophy to my state.

For all the cringe-worthy attention my fair state brings to itself, I love living here. I love my life in Kansas, the people I walk down the street with each day, and the life my husband and myself have built for ourselves here.

We have three kids-- Son Noise, 5 yrs, daughter Funk, 3 yrs, and son Squeak, 7 months. I worked full time until my son Squeak was born, and it became financially impossible to continue. I've been adjusting to the life of a SAHM for six months now, and it's been a heckuva ride. I don't believe it's the only way-- I'm not even sure I'd have chosen it if day care had not cost more than my salary-- but I am grateful for the opportunity just the same.

I write (albeit currently infrequently) at Growing A Pair.

I was a cheerleader in high school.

I have really bad eyesight.

I recycle.

We can figure the rest out as we go along.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sometimes the life you get is better than the life you imagined

I was born into a military family. At the time, my father was stationed in California. He was a sailor who was away from home for months at a time on ships. We moved from California to Washington State to Governor's Island, NY before settling back in Minnesota, where my parents had both been born and raised.

Minnesota has been my home for most of my life. Most of my family, even extended family is here. Family is what keeps us here.

After high school, I spent 2 years at a local community college before transferring to what is now called Minnesota State University at Mankato. The college campus is where the Minnesota Vikings hold their training camp in the summer. I graduated with a BS in Mass Communications (public relations emphasis) and a minor in Speech Communications.

As a kid I always figured I'd be a famous movie star or singer, except you probably need to not be shy to be successful at something like that. So that didn't work out.

As a young adult I changed my vision to being a television or newspaper reporter (and a great one of course). I limited myself with options for jobs following graduation because I wanted to return home to be near my family. Communications jobs are hard to come by in a smaller city. Rochester is the kind of place that many people start in a job and stay there for the remainder of their working lives. It's tough to break in when you're just starting out.

So I found a job as a communications coordinator for a medical association. It was a job I loved, but the office politics were toxic. I left that job when the stress got to be too much and worked for less money and fewer benefits but also had few, if any, things to stress me out.

Then I got pregnant, had a baby and left the workplace.

I started blogging after following a link someone left on a BabyCenter thread. I had never read a blog before. I couldn't tell you the blog, and I wouldn't want to because I found the writing atrocious. I immediately and vainly thought that I could do it better. Cool Zebras was born.

Cool Zebras has given me, and at some extent, my extended family many joys. I've become closer to many of my relatives because they read many of my more personal thoughts that we never would have discussed in person. We’re reserved Minnesotans after all. Talk about feelings? In person? You can betcha we’ll be making excuses to leave the room.

By the time I started Cool Zebras I had two kids, Miss M and the K-Man. Miss M was born in July 2002, and the K-Man in July 2004. I wish I had a blog about them from the beginning. I love to read my own archives. Have I mentioned I’m a little vain about my writing? But the truth is I like to read about how my kids were when they were younger. They’re still young, but I like to read about the younger days and compare notes to today.

After 2 years of disappointment, in September 2007, I was elated to discover my third child was on the way. Ms. D has completed our family in so many ways.

In January 2008, I launched Midwest Parents on a whim. Things were smooth sailing for a while though we were pretty much unnoticed. Earlier this year it became clear that things weren't working the best. I decided to disband the blog.

In February 2008, I also started my etsy shop, Sentimental Journey. This shop is mostly a hobby for me, but I can admit that I get a little thrill every time I sell something I've made.

These days you can find me shuttling Miss M and K-Man back and forth to and from school and chasing Ms. D around the house picking up all the things she dumps out with such glee. She’s also a climber so I spend a lot of time getting her down from her various attempts at mountain climbing. After school, I check homework, make supper, and perhaps take the kids to swimming lessons or choir practice. The days, as it is with most parents, are hectic.

So in the evenings, I write. I write to remember these days with my kids, with my family, because these days are fleeting and I want to savor them all.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Welcome Back!

Midwest Parents feels like an old friend to me already. We’ve had our ups and downs but we’re sticking together. You know how you have some of those friends that you rarely see but can fall into the old rhythm in minutes? That’s what MP feels like to me.

We have some old friends writing for us and we have some new friends writing for us. We’ll be posting FIVE days a week. We’ll have some regular posts, familiar things like Wordless Wednesday and Foodie Friday recipes, but we’ll also roll out some new weekly features on books and tips for keeping your family happy and healthy in these busy times. Mondays will be left to the imagination of our talented contributors.

Speaking of contributors…we’ll all be posting a little about ourselves in the next few days. Come back and get to know us a little before we get set in our scheduled ways here.

We hope you’ll find our thoughts and ideas useful and that you’ll come back and visit us. I think we’ll fall back into our comfortable friendship in no time.