I made a new friend the other day, and she’s new to the area, too. She’s a stay-at-home mom to a darling, energetic 1-year-old, and I strongly urged her to think about joining a community, church or social group aimed at women, to help her build some ties in her new home.
Tracy Richter is the head of one such group – the Mother’s Group at the Congregational United Church of Christ in Campton Hills. It’s open to all women, whether you belong to the church or not, and sponsors events both just for moms and also for the whole family. “Our main goal is to have fun and remember that motherhood is a part of who we are, but not all that we are,” Richter says.
Richter, 34, lives in Campton Hills with her husband Steve and their two sons who are 5 ½, and 23 months. You might recognize her name from her recipe contributions to the new “Weeknight Dinners” series – more from her will be published soon.
In the meantime, read on to find out why we think Tracy Richter is a “Go West Mom You Should Know.”
Q. Can you tell me more about your mom’s group at CUCC, and why you think it’s important for women to have some way to regularly socialize and get to know other moms?
A. Our mom's group has really helped me personally in just dealing with the changes that come with being a mother. Our kids are amazing, but the challenges of motherhood can sometimes be tricky and it’s easy to get lost in their activities and schedules and forget to take time for ourselves. "Me" time is something that many women won't allow themselves to have but it is so critical to the happiness of the family. Imagine if your kids never had a chance to have fun, they'd be miserable and make everyone else miserable around them. Our monthly meeting helps us to get out there and have some fun. At our last meeting in November, we country line danced, and it was a great stress reliever.
Q. You have an interesting part-time job right now. Can you tell me a bit about your career path?
A. I've had two main (full-time) jobs. One was for a telecommunications company in the office and my last full-time job was working for a computer security company working various roles. The highlights of my last full-time job were working with the sales team and traveling to meet with clients across the U.S. After our 2nd child, we decided that it was more important for me to have adequate time with both our children, and I eventually stopped working for that company. Currently, I work at night for a company that transcribes footage for television documentaries. It sounds a little dry, but it is really the most interesting job I could have ever hoped for. The hours are great and the interviews are a lot of fun. I've transcribed movie stars, criminals, sports legends, and just everyday people with amazing stories.
Q. Obviously from the recipes you've submitted to GWYM, you are a good cook and really try to get home-cooked dinners on the table most nights. Is there any advice you have for women who struggle with making dinners? A specific cookbook or website you turn to? Did you grow up cooking, or was it a skill you learned once you became a mom?
A. I have loved to cook since I was little. In fact my first memory of cooking was eggs and oranges for our parents one Saturday morning, which was interesting as we were not allowed to turn on the stove or use a knife. My dad is an amazing cook. He always had this knack for putting things together and was very good at getting us to try new foods. We would eat scallops, quiche and tofu sandwiches on a regular basis (still favorites). When we were older my brother and I would experiment with new recipes, and we are now both really good cooks. After Steve and I were married, I went to culinary school. Several months into it we found out we were pregnant with our first child and I had to put school on hold. I still try and hone my skills as much as possible, and I hope to return in a few years to complete my degree.
Cooking can be intimidating especially when everyone on TV makes it look so easy -- then you try it at home and you are lost or there are alarms going off. I've been there, just ask my husband about the swordfish or the paella I tried to make when we were dating (luckily everyone survived). I even managed to get the fire department to our apartment one Thanksgiving. I've learned to keep it simple to keep my family happy. I don't spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals that will be eaten in 10 minutes, then have to clean up after. That's stressful!
I've also learned to really read a recipe before I use it. If I don't like the ingredients I doubt I'll like them mixed together. “The Joy of Cooking” and “America's Test Kitchen” have great old-fashioned recipes that for the most part, don't require strange ingredients. The “Taste of Home” magazine is also a great resource for new recipes that are sent in by readers and tested before they make it into the magazine. I believe the printed recipes that you get in magazines tend to be a better resource than the ones that only appear online.
Q. Turning to the subject of family life, your younger son had milk allergies. Does he still struggle with allergies? If so, how has that changed your family's life?
A. Our youngest was an amazing baby and is still an incredibly happy and flirtatious little boy. At about three months he started becoming fussy and would have trouble sleeping. One afternoon I found blood in his diaper and rushed him to the doctor. They diagnosed him with a dairy intolerance, and that changed all of our lives. Dairy is hidden in so many things and even the slightest amount would cause a reaction. Meals were modified, and I was nursing, so dairy was completely out for me. You have no idea how much I craved a good slice of pizza! Luckily we have an amazing family and group of friends that helped us to adjust and took the extra steps to offer dairy-free options at group meals and parties. When he turned 1 year old, finding a quality non-dairy formula took weeks. At about 18 months he could handle cooked dairy products, but he still cannot have raw dairy products. We are still struggling to find a non-formula alternative to milk that he enjoys.
Q. You homeschooled your oldest son for a year. What were the pros and cons of that experience?
A. We take our childrens' educations very seriously. When our oldest turned 3, we started a home-schooling program to test the waters and see what would be the best environment for him to learn in. He loved the structured time, and I really enjoyed watching his mind work.
There were days that it was tough as I was also pregnant at the time and he was well, 3 years old and not always in the mood. We took a lot of field trips and found ways to learn in a non-structured environment. (Trips to the zoo were a huge hit). By the time he went to pre-school at four he was ahead of the curve and still is. He is now in public school for half-day kindergarten and doing well. Our focus now is to work with his kindergarten teacher and the curriculum and go beyond it as his abilities will allow. Currently we spend at least an hour a day working together on math, reading, comprehension, science, art. I know not everyone has this kind of time, but even time in the car can be spent learning. Just a few minutes a day can make such a difference.
Q. Can you tell me a bit about your sons and their personalities?
A. Absolutely! I could take days bragging about our boys.
Our oldest is very smart, extremely friendly, and outgoing. Ever since he was little he has had the ability to walk up to another kid and say "let's play" and they just start playing together. He has a great imagination and can recall stories and events in great detail. Give him a chance and he will tell you so many things! He also loves to work with numbers and enjoys reading.
Our youngest is very smart and affectionate. He was standing up at seven months and walking by nine. Two days ago I woke up to him standing next to my bed. He had learned how to get out of his crib in the dark and open his door in what seemed like seconds! He is really into football. At 19 months he was calling out "ready, set, hike" and would try and get on the field to practice with his older brother. Every Sunday he yells at the television "Go Bears!" and "Touchdown!" and the boys will run plays around the house.
I love watching our boys play together and building that really special bond. Sometimes I have to force them to start but after a few minutes it is almost impossible to get them to stop! I truly hope that they stay close and are there for each other as they grow up.
Q. Can you describe your parenting style?
A. I think my husband and I are really good at balancing each other out when it comes to raising the kids. My husband is basically a big kid himself. He has this way of playing on their level and just letting go that I struggle with. They can play with Legos or action figures or cars for hours. I'm more of the arts and crafty type person in the relationship. We paint, play with Play-doh, bake, make Christmas ornaments, and that's how we have fun.
We try to let them be kids. Our kids are very energetic. If they can't burn it off they will drive everyone crazy and enter that stage that can make a parent lose it. We don't let them jump on the furniture, hurt each other, or tear the house apart but running around the house is pretty much a daily event. We try and go outside when the weather is nice to get some fresh air.
Time outs are the main form of discipline. They will get a counted warning (depending on the issue) then it is off to their rooms for a time out. I don't time the time-outs as sometimes it only takes a few moments to realize what is happening and we can talk about it or it may take a while for everyone to cool down. With the oldest he usually just needs a few minutes to get himself together and apologize. With the youngest it is about establishing the boundaries and as he is entering his "twos" testing is a daily occurrence. We have our moments where we've just lost all patience and voices will get a lot louder, but it is rare. It’s no fun or helpful to be the angry parent and being that far out of control can make it hard on everyone.
Q. Do you have any holiday traditions that your family treasures or particularly looks forward to?
A. My husband and I never really had any special plans with the holidays before the kids. Now we have a few special traditions. The first Saturday in December we have breakfast with Santa. This event is planned through CASA of Kane County, which is an amazing organization. The first Sunday in December we have an Advent Fair at our church, which is a lot of fun for all of us and really helps to set the mood for the rest of the month. The last tradition is our tree, which we try to get up the same weekend. This year we all put up the decorations and had a great time.
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