Monday, April 07, 2014

1929: When free-range kids were really free range

In 1929, when my Grandpa Bob was 10 years old, his parents sent him to California to spend the summer with his grandparents and his aunt and uncle. And by send him to California, I mean they put gave him a roll of cash and put him on a train.

My mother rediscovered one of the letters he sent to his parents upon his arrival in Los Angeles. He used a typewriter and covered two full pages describing the four days and three nights he spent heading west. There was a lot of eating consomme and sliced tomatoes in the dining car, sleeping in a berth and getting dirty on the observation deck, but there was a little drama too. My grandfather played cards with a girl ("you needed worry she wasn't good looking"), repeatedly forced another kid out of his seat by yanking on his feet, and interacted with a drunkard ("I forgot to tell you that when I was coming back from the diner that the drunk man that I told you about in my cards grabbed my arms and said where have you been"), and befriended an old lady ("remember that last time we went we saw a boy talking to another lady and you said that I would never talk to any-body like that buy you got fooled because I did.")

As my mother noted as she sent along scans of Bob's letters, "His parents were not exactly helicopter parents."

It's amazing to think about how much freedom and responsibility used to be granted to children and how much less freedom each successive generation of parents grants their own children. I consider myself a free-range parent, but I don't think Zoe would be ready to travel for three days on her own in a year or so. And even if she was ready, I'd surely be arrested and charged with child endangerment for trusting her with the trip.

The culture around children and freedom as changed so much that I worry less about the safety of leaving my kids unsupervised for short periods or letting them roam the neighborhood than I do about what other people might think. I just read a blog post about a woman unwilling to let her 12 year old son go to the ice cream parlor with his friends. There's another 4th grader on our block who isn't allowed to walk the 2 1/2 blocks to school without an adult. There are so many parents out there allowing so little freedom that I worry that our culture is raising a generation of future basement dwellers unable and unwilling to leave the house unattended.

Zoe asked me this weekend if she'd "get a whole bunch more freedom in 6th grade." I responded that I like to increase her independence slowly but surely and all the time. I explained that I'm always giving her a little bit more rope, and that as long as she behaves responsibly and shows good judgement, I'll keep letting out more and more rope. Next up: taking her 6 year old sister to the ice cream parlor.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Our piano comes home

UntitledI grew up with a piano in the house. I took lessons on our pianos, and while I was no musical prodigy, I'm glad I learned to read music. I want the same (and preferably more) for my children.

Ada started taking piano lessons at her Montessori school about two years ago. I told myself that if she stuck with it, we'd eventually replace her cheap keyboard (the kind that plugs into a computer and runs off GarageBand) and get a piano. But there was no place for a piano in our old house.

So as we were designing our new place, I took the average measurements for an upright piano and made sure our first floor layout would have a place for one. That forethought paid off last week when two piano movers hoisted a new-to-us 1940's art deco style Charles Frederick Stein piano through the front door. It fit perfectly in the spot I'd selected on blueprints last summer.

I'd been collecting information on the best ways to acquire a quality used piano for a few months. The Montessori school got theirs from Keys 4/4 Kids, a charity that sets a lot of used pianos. Plenty of other people had bought theirs off Craig's List or MomMail, a classifieds-like listserv that is fiercely local and not anonymous (and therefore infinitely less sketchy). Because I'd chosen a prominent place for our piano, looks mattered. And when I saw a photo of the piano we eventually bought, it was love at first sight. But it wasn't free and I knew we'd also be paying to move it and tune it.

We visited it and talked with the owner, a piano teacher who played the instrument through high school. I consulted with my daughter's piano teacher and scoured the internet for information on the maker. I also paid a piano tuner $95 to come inspect it for me. With everyone in agreement that the piano looked like a very good buy, we plunked down the cash and bought it. $900 seems like a lot of money, but it's also what we're paying to rent Zoe's euphonium for the year. And we don't even get to own that!

Anyway, watching and listening to Ada practice piano on a real piano has been a real pleasure. She's pleased as can be and has been very reliably washing her hands before she sits down at its ivory keys.


Friday, January 24, 2014

The time I test-drove a mouthguard

Every Thursday night for the past 3 or 4 years (time flies), I've laced up my roller skates for a Derby Lite workout. I wear a helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads, knee pads and a mouth guard because it's the rules and also I don't want to break anything.

Mouth guards are tricky. I have a pretty pronounced gag reflex, and most mouth guards are too bulky. As soon as I bite down, I start gagging and have to spit them out. I've had good luck with ProTech's Dent mouthguard, as they are slim and provide a very custom fit. They're also expensive, so I've been using the same one for a few years. I clean it every couple of weeks, but ew.

Anyway, I was thrilled to try a new flavored sports mouth guard called the MoGo M1 Flavored Mouthguard. I picked Fruit Punch and fit it to my mouth following the directions in the package (soften in hot water, bite down and suck, harden in cold water) and wore it to practice last night.

Four pros:
The flavor was great. The flavored part of the mouth guard is located next to one's saliva glands, and my mouth kind of tasted like I had just sipped watered down Kool-Aid. I felt like my mouth was wetter that usual and I thus I didn't feel quite as thirsty (although I still drank a bottle and half of water).

It's a tough, well-built mouth guard that made me feel very protected from collisions and falls.

It comes with a helmet strap that let me spit it out without dropping it on the nasty practice floor.

It's a bargain at only $11.99. My regular mouth guard cost well over $20.

One big con:
While I didn't gag constantly, the mouth guard was too bulky for comfort. I couldn't close my lips or talk--something that's crucial when you're working a team drill or scrimmaging.

Unfortunately, not being able to communicate with the mouth guard in place means that it won't work when I need it most. It's a deal killer, which makes be sad because I really, really liked having a flavored mouth guard to suck on.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

New house tour--the first floor!

Now that we've been in our house for a few weeks and I've got art on the walls and window treatments on order, I thought I'd share a few photos. Obviously, a wide angle lens, a fancy camera and a bright, sunny day would make these much better pictures, but you'll get the idea.

This is the living room, with a view to the 5 windows overlooking the street. All of the furniture came from our old house, with the exception of the new coffee table, which I purchased on clearance from West Elm. The table is too busy for our old area rug, so it's now in the guest room and I'm anxiously waiting for this rug to go on sale. The modular shelves had been arranged differently at our old place--now they are in two spots, under the windows and agains the wall. In a week, the windows will have plantation-style shutters covering the bottom half and we'll stop living on display to the neighborhood.
This is the view of our living room into the dining room from the foyer. I've always wanted built-in bookcases, and the idea of having them extend over the pass-through into another room is something I stole from Houzz. Don't the floors look nice? I just about went nuts trying to pick just the right stain and ended up going with Special Walnut.
Dining room
The dining room has our existing table and buffet. I added 4 Nate Berkus window panels from Target and the chandelier, which is hard to make out in this picture, is this lovely number--again from West Elm.

Dining room 2

Another view of the dining room, this one from the hallway. Walk down that hallway and look right and you'll see our breakfast nook.

Breakfast nook 1

The table is from IKEA, the benches lift piano-bench style for lots of storage, and the chairs I purchased from Overstock.

Kitchen view of peninsula

The light fixtures are from Pottery Barn (with the two orangey ones on clearance). We purchased our appliances from Abt: an LG French door refrigerator (with ice maker! and water dispenser!) and gas range and a Bosch dishwasher which is so quiet I can't even tell when it is running!

Microwave on peninsula
On the inside of the peninsula is our microwave, a KitchenAid with a trim kit that gives it a built-in look. The big drawer under the microwave is our new catch-all bin for student directories, park district brochures, Scotch tape and other important bits of clutter. Also, see that vertical cabinet to the left of the stove? We have two of them, one for cookie sheets and muffin pans and one for cutting boards.
Here's another view of the kitchen. To the left of the fridge is a large pantry cabinet. The three drawers to the left of the pantry are huge. One holds all our storage containers and another lunchbox paraphernalia.

Light over sink
I'm so happy in our new house that I feel incredibly blessed every single day. Although we did have our first home-owner's emergency. The drain outside the basement exit is clogged and with all the snow melting water came under the door today and soaked the carpeting in the back of the basement. Josh rented a wet vac and sucked out a lot of liquid and our builder is sending a plumber tomorrow to clear out the drain.

Not pictured in this first floor tour is the mudroom, the small foyer and the powder room. There's also an area near between the breakfast nook and the mudroom that doesn't quite have a purpose. For now it's home to a large bookshelf and the girls' musical instruments.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Our first house party, 10 days after moving in

Last year we didn't throw our annual New Year's Day Open House because we were in Australia. This year I refused to commit to the party because all I could focus on moving. But once we were in and unpacking, I decided there was no better way to celebrate the new year and our new home than by reviving an old tradition.

Read the whole story on the Chicago Parent Blog.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Moving is exhilarating. And exhausting.

I just read a line in the Chicago Tribune about all of the things people would rather do than go through the mortgage approval process again. Public speaking. Gaining 10 pounds. Spending 24 hours with someone we really dislike. Even getting a root canal.

It was painful, but there was so much work to be done to move into our new (forever) home, that it was just one of many headaches I'm glad to be done with. I'm glad to be done fixing up our old house. I'm glad we don't have to stage it twice daily for looky-loos who would then leave comments like "cute house, but we don't like the street because there's no parking in front." I'm glad to be done negotiating home prices, inspection items and credits.

UntitledI'm glad to be done packing and purging, and I'm thrilled I don't need to wrap anything in paper or bubble wrap for a really long time. I'm glad that the money I'm spending from here on out will be on stuff I can see and enjoy versus services like movers and lawyers. I'm so sick of the chores associated with moving that I've been unable to sit down and relax in my new house because I'm so anxious to get unpacked and make it look like the home I've spent the last 6 months dreaming of.

The good news is that I'm really pleased with our new house. I should be, as I picked every detail, but you never know if the door pull or light fixture or crown moulding you picked out will look as good in real life as you imagined it from a picture online or in a catalogue.

UntitledSpeaking of online inspiration, I definitely couldn't have made the design decisions I did without Houzz. Creating boards of key rooms helped me identify the styles I liked best and articulate those choices to my builder. Some of my favorite features I can directly relate to inspiration I found on Houzz, like the built-in bookcase around the casement leading from the living room to the dining room, my white kitchen with black countertops and our built-in breakfast nook benches (which still need this table from IKEA).

Next on the agenda is setting up the basement family room, adding window treatments and hanging pictures and guitars on the wall. It's fun to look at all of our art and decide fresh what to put together and where versus having to find a home for a piece among everything else. I'll share more pictures soon!

Monday, December 02, 2013

Rediscovering the 1893 World's Fair at the Field Museum

Devil in the White City? I devoured Erik Lawson's true tale of a serial killer amidst the backdrop of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair shortly after it came out, in 2002. At that point I'd lived in Chicago for almost 8 years, half of which I'd spent at the University of Chicago.
Have you read

Lawson's book put the midway in Midway Plaisance, a wide strip of park and roadways that separated the main campus from a few of its northernmost buildings--including those where I took fine art classes and another where I made $8 an hour filing papers for a graduate department.

The 1893 Chicago World's Fair was a spectacle quite unlike anything we can imagine seeing today. Bigger than SXSW, the Chicago Auto Show and CES rolled into one, the World's Fair attracted an astonishing 27 million admissions, including 700,000 on a single day. Two hundred buildings were erected for the fair and an enormous Ferris wheel could be seen from miles around. It was a good 100 feet taller than the one at Navy Pier today! But more important than its sheer size was the diversity of the exhibits. There were taxidermied animals from around the world, just-discovered fossils, new inventions, advances in industry--and most shocking to those of us today--entire villages reconstructed and populated with native peoples from around the globe.

What I didn't know until recently is that the Field Museum was founded to commemorate the Fair and that museum's original collections consisted of items originally displayed there. Many of those curiosities are now out of the vaults and on exhibit. I took Zoe with me to check it out and test drive the museum's new app.

Being able to see items that once enthralled the masses at the Fair is a real treat. Zoe and I particularly liked the stuffed sea lion and model giant squid (look up; it's hanging from the ceiling), the Peruvian mummy (you can look inside it via interactive CT scan) and the photos of the "primitive" villages brought to the fair for Westerners to gawk at. Impressively, an Inuit group tired of being on display in their fur coats in the Chicago heat and walked off exhibit only to set up their own, more profitable independent showcase right outside the Fair grounds.

Screenshot of the app
We also test-drove the brand new Field Museum app, which you can download and connect to using the free wifi within the museum. Zoe, fan of all electronics, commandeered my phone and used the app as kind of scavenger hunt list.

"Look Mom, here's the Accounting Ledger! What's an Accounting Ledger?"

As wonderful as the World's Fair special exhibit is, it ended far too soon. So we exited through the gift shop and decided to look explore the rest of the museum. Periodically we'd see an exhibit with a QR code and we'd use the built-in scanner within the app. No dice. Even though the QR codes were green and looked for all intents like they'd work with the app, we kept getting error messages. Finally I scanned the QR codes with a generic scanner. That worked better, launching a cluttered but information-packed mobile website with additional content and videos. Still, it was surprising that the two functions couldn't be better linked.

Oils and preserved specimens, in their original vials

Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World's Fair is on display now at the Field Museum and will remain open through September 7, 2014. It is a ticketed exhibit, with a cost over and above regular admission. I recommend going right when the museum opens, at 9am, and parking nearby in the Soldier Field parking lot. Public transit is also an option as buses serve the museum campus. Use Google Maps for exact transit instructions.

I was selected for this opportunity by Clever Girls Collective, however all content and opinions expressed here are my own.