Monday, December 31, 2007

Ending 2007 on a sweet note

After all the sickness and exhaustion of the past week or so, today offered a welcome respite. Z seems to have completely kicked her stomach bug and regained her appetite (small though it may be). And Baby A has perked up; she's smiling, babbling and much more alert and awake even though she's still got some lingering congestion.

A few other things made the last day of 2007 noteworthy...

As I pulled into our driveway around noon I saw a golden retriever on the loose. I jumped out of the car and approached the dog to see if it had any identifying tags. Since he didn't, I sweet-talked him into our backyard, which is fenced together with our next door neighbors. Their boys played with the friendly dog as we called the Oak Park Police (animal control was off for the holiday). Fortunately they couldn't get the animal control van to start and in the interim I figured out whom the dog might belong to. My hunch was correct and Buddy was reunited with a very relieved neighbor down the block. I only hope they'll put their phone number on his collar ASAP!

Just a few minutes later I heard a knock on our side door. Another neighbor was stopping by to try to lure our contractors to her house and I ended up spending an hour with her walking through her home, which she is hoping to update before she puts it on the market in February. She's lived there for almost 30 years and it was last decorated in the early or mid-eighties, so I advised her to strip off all the wallpaper (it's in every room), pull down the curtains to expose her art glass windows and update her bathroom, which is currently a vision in dark brown tiles (even the ceiling is tiled!). I also got to meet her daughter, a woman my age who lives in Texas.

Continuing a tradition we began last year, we joined our playgroup families for a fabulous early New Year's celebration (I contributed bacon-wrapped dates and spinach-artichoke dip). And just like every year since Z was born, I think I'll be asleep long before the clock strikes midnight.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Product Review: Disney Princess Sing-a-long Book

I'm going to be honest here. When Publications International asked me to take a look at one of their licensed character karaoke books, I had low expectations. As publishers go, they're pretty frickin' lowbrow and really, with 12 pairs of Princess underpants, does my 3-year-old need one more Disney Princesses item?

Need? Obviously not. But she loves her "princesses karaoke book" and has played with it every day for month, which is saying something as far as I'm concerned. It's decidedly not an "educational" item, but because she needs to enter in a 3-digit alphanumeric code to play each song, she's learned to read the codes on each page and type them into the keypad.

The book comes with a cordless microphone (batteries not included). We never bothered putting batteries in since Z is perfectly content with a mute mic. She simply picks up the microphone, holds it to her chin and wags her head in time with the music. And I think I know why: none of the songs are actually from the Disney Princess movies!

It bugs me that a Disney Princess Sing-a-long book wouldn't include the greatest hits of the Disney Princesses. Instead, they're just common domain tunes with new, more Princess-y lyrics printed on the book's pages. For example, "Where is Thumbkin?" is "Where is Flounder?" But since Z isn't reading yet, she has no idea. She just likes hearing the tunes and the follow-up encouragement from one of the princesses. In fact, she's convinced that Cinderella is going to sing a duet with her one of these days.

We're back

I'm still cleaning up after their snot, barf and diarrhea, but we made it home alive. Sick, but alive. I was so exhausted yesterday that I went to bed at 8 o'clock last night. The previous night I hadn't gotten more than 45 minutes of sleep at a time, so I felt positively jet-lagged. This trip may have us rethinking our decision to travel to Australia next winter.

This picture shows Baby A with her Grandma and Great-Grandpa Reuben (on his 96th birthday).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Wish me luck

Tomorrow we head home on a sold-out Southwest flight. Not only did I miss the "A" boarding window, I've got a teething 5-month-old lap baby with a major head cold (fever, weepy eyes, wet cough and nonstop nasal drip) and a 3-year-old who threw up everywhere just after our food arrived at a Lebanese restaurant tonight. We hustled her home wearing nothing but her little sister's onesie unsnapped under my coat.

And yes, since he's all "I told you so" anyway, I'll issue my public mea culpa here. Josh warned me we were in for trouble if we took the girls out to dinner tonight. Z had been pissy and whiny all afternoon and she hadn't had much of an appetite all day, but I thought worst-case scenario would be a whole lot of pouting--not a bucket full of puking. So I packed crayons and stickers instead of a spare outfit.

I think my mom and her boyfriend will be pretty happy to see us and go. We've stunk their car up with the smell of french fries, used up all their Kleenex and put their new washer-dryer through its paces with 5 loads of laundry in as many days.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday travel

We arrived in Arlington, Virginia around noon on Christmas after what just might have been the easiest flight we've ever taken with Z. And this trip involved two kids. Two sick kids, at that.

First of all, a comment on Southwest's new boarding policy: I've read a lot of complaints about how folks miss Southwest's old "parents of young children board first" policy. Now families with A passes board with the A group and parents holding B or C group passes board after group A but before group B. Having printed out our boarding passes about 20 hours before take-off, we were at the tail end of group A, positions 52, 53 and 54 to be exact. And Southwest's new boarding policy is very exact. They lined up group A by position number (with the aid of some marked posts) and everyone boarded in the order they'd printed out their boarding passes. It seems a little anal-retentive, but I don't miss the old Southwest pre-board hustle and jostle for position. I sat with Z and Baby A (we were able to squeeze on her car seat even though the flight was nearly sold out) and Josh positioned himself across the aisle from us. While the baby was napping and Z was watching a video I even read 30 or 40 pages worth of a book!

Since arriving in Arlington, we've seen friends, family (including Josh's 96-year-old grandfather) and sorta-friends/family. What am I supposed to call my mom's boyfriend's grown children anyway? I've pigged out on Thankgiving-type food from my Mom's kitchen, which has enough food in the pantry to see a family of five through a nuclear winter and more open condiments in the fridge than your average Fuddrucker's. And tonight we picked up enormous burgers and fries from Five Guys.

I mentioned that the girls are sick. Z's getting over a run-of-the-mill cold, but it's hit Baby A with a vengeance. She's got watery, gummy eyes and terrible nasal congestion. Watching her try to nurse I think she'd have better luck holding her nose and drinking from a fire hose. I have to give the kid credit, though. In spite of her condition, she's been napping well and smiling at all of her admirers.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The no-nap kid crashes

After three straight days of skipping her nap, Z finally reached the end of her rope. We were wrapping up at two hour visit to the Shedd Aquarium this morning when the whining began. She spent the walk to the parking lot grumping, "No snow. No snow. I'm cold. No snow. I don't like snow. Harumph!"

The ride home wasn't much different, punctuated as it was with "My hat/carseat/traffic/Daddy/breathing is bothering me!"

I took her straight up to her room and she asked to have a story read to her in bed. Then she rolled over and closed her bloodshot eyes, looking completely strung-out and exhausted.

In other news...Baby A's first tooth broke through!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My cleaning lady loves my children

Really. I think she spent her entire Christmas bonus on gifts for my girls.

Isabel isn't the world's best cleaning lady, but I can't imagine ever replacing her. She showers Baby A and Z with hugs and kisses when she comes to clean (every other week) and just today she stopped by bearing gifts for all of us, including an over-the-top present for Z, the VTech Learning Laptop. I'm embarrassed by her generosity, but I don't know what do about it about aside from saying a heartfelt thank you since it's obvious she gets great pleasure from seeing them and spoiling them. (Last year she bought Z a princess doll.)

This year Isabel brought along her young son and I was able to reciprocate somewhat by giving him this SpongeBob Squarepants MP3 Player and Book from the same publishing company that makes the Disney Princesses Sing-a-long book (to be reviewed shortly).

Now if only there was a way to say to her that cleaning fingerprints off my windows and vacuuming under the furniture would make me far happier than a box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Is it really so hard to say "I'm sorry?"

Why can't my daughter just say "I'm sorry?" I don't demand apologies from her when she's spilled milk or accidentally jostled her baby sister, but if she says something hurtful or uses what we call "rude language" (shockingly blue words like "stupid" and "stinky"), I'll tell Z that those those words hurt people's feelings and she needs to say "I'm sorry."

"I can't say it," she pouts.

"Yes you can."

"You do it, Mommy."

"I'm not the one who used rude language!"

Tears ensue. She's obviously remorseful, but she's can't get her mouth around those two magic words, words so critical for survival in polite society. I'm glad she's not a pathological kid who for whom "I'm sorry" is an empty statement, but I sure wish she could express her apologies.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Product review: HP Photosmart Compact Photo Printer

Once upon a time we took pictures with our cameras. We looked through the viewfinder, located our loved ones and snapped a photo. We didn't know what the picture looked like until we'd finished a whole roll of film (35mm or disc--remember those?), packaged it up in a York mailer and waited for the pictures to arrive in the mail ("Didja get doubles?").

How things have changed. My 3-year-old daughter knows to look on the back of a camera to see a photo immediately after it's snapped, and she loves watching our desktop computer's photo slideshow screen saver. She's familiar with Apple's iPhoto books since I've ordered half a dozen since her birth, but actual photo prints? Not so much.

I'm typically too busy to stop at Wolf Camera or Walgreens to print out photos and it isn't worth the ink to print pictures out on our regular print only to screw them up while trying to trim them into standard print sizes.

Which means too many adorable pictures are hidden away on our hard drive, safe from toddler fingerprints but too rarely enjoyed. But hey, at least they make it to the computer. I've got friends with hundreds of shots still stored on their camera's SD card! So while I'm a pretty savvy amateur digital photographer and a flickr photo-sharing fiend, too often I've neglected to make prints to glue into baby books and share with older, less digitally-inclined relatives.

Enter the HP Photosmart A636 Compact Photo Printer. You don't need it, but let me tell you why you want it (and will get more use out of it than you might think).
  • It's idiot-proof. Plug it in. Slide ink cartridge into place. Then insert your camera's memory card and you're in business. The large color touch-screen is as intuitive as any photo kiosk's. I haven't cracked open the manual yet.
  • The prints are surprisingly good. While probably not heirloom quality, they stand up to drugstore photos and are only a hair worse than Wolf camera's pricey prints. You can print onto standard 4x6 or 5x7 photo paper (both widely available), so you won't need to mess around with scissors or an X-acto blade.
  • Instant gratification, baby. My sister was in town, and while our cameras' USB cables weren't compatible, I could print my favorite photos right off of her camera's memory card with the HP. When I returned to work I wanted some snapshots of the kiddies for my office. Three minutes later, they were ready to hang in my cubicle.
The printer comes with stylus and a very basic suite of photo editing tools. The cropping and red-eye reduction were easy to use and worked well, but beyond that I'd rather edit my photos with iPhoto and print from my computer. HP's also included some really basic scrapbook-inspired functions. I liked the frames since they let me group two or three related shots on one print, but the caption fonts and clip art are cheesy with a capital C.

HP also sent me a couple of their photo books, which consist of a hard cover album and photo paper. You can create an album directly from the printer by selecting all the photos you'd like to include and an appropriate theme, but the software is far too limiting for even the modestly creative type. You can't even change the order of the photos within the book! And unlike all the other photo books available out there, this one only has images on the right hand side.

So the HP photo books are a bust, but I still like the HP Photosmart compact photo printer a lot. It's tiny (about the size of loaf of bread); it's easy to use. The prints look great and the ink lasts a relatively long time (you can further stretch your dollars by getting the cartridge refilled). My only complaint is that it doesn't come with a USB cable. After a nudge from Parent Bloggers Network, HP mailed me one and I was able to print directly from my iMac with no trouble, but I think it should be included in the box. That said, while USB cord-less I came up with an easy work-around. I saved photos I'd edited with iPhoto to a memory stick and printed directly from it.

Amazon sells the HP Photosmart A636 Compact Photo Printer for around $150 with free shipping. Save 20% on HP photo books at the HP store with coupon code AC8595.
Read more parent-tested reviews here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Just feeding our babies...

I'm a lucky, lucky girl

Until about a week ago, I could honestly tell you that I'm never won anything from a sweepstakes, contest or giveaway.

Oh my, how my luck has changed! I won this adorable ModMum sling from MomViews, a Diapees and Wipees Diaper Wallet from MumsTheWurd and this cool Blik wall decal set (my third!) from GoodyBlog.

So it's official. Mommyblogs are the place to be for free stuff. Get your hands on some goodies here:
No-Guilt Holiday Giveaway

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The bag's the thing

Check out this NY Times article on the rise of the indestructible shopping bag. No, not the canvas or string eco-shopping bag we're encouraged to take to the grocery store...

Apparently there is a parallel trend of mid-to-upscale specialty and department stores competing to offer the most save-and-reuse-worthy shopping bag on the market. Why? Because if you're toting your paperback and yogurt to work in a Sephora or Victoria's Secret bag (guilty!), you're a walking billboard for the store.

Hello snow

We've got about a foot of snow on the ground. Perfect for testing out Z's new snow boots and puffer coat from the Children's Place ($11 and $10, respectively).
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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Baby A's almost 5 months old

Josh took Z to a birthday party this morning, leaving me free to conduct a little baby photoshoot! If the slideshow photos aren't clear enough, click on my flickr badge.
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Friday, December 14, 2007

I saw my colleague kissing Santa Claus

Top three ways Marketing Mommy knows the holidays have arrived at work...

1. Fattening food gifts begin arriving from photographers, sound studios, photo retouchers and other vendors. And 99 percent of the goodies goes to art directors.
2. No one's at work. Even though the whole agency shuts down from December 21-January 2, half of my coworkers will be out next week.
3. The agency's youngest, singlest girls don Santa hats and push a drink cart around the agency. Have a mudslide and benefit the Off the Street Club. How's that for guilt-free indulgence?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Kandoo damage to your plumbing

You know those lovely melon-scented flushable wipes designed for the newly potty-trained? Turns out they're not so flushable after all. At least not if you've got an aging sewer line full of Kadoo wipe-trapping tree roots.

$1000 later our line is as clean and free-flowing as can be (we got to view the proof via a live sewercam). And I have resolved that Kandoo wipes are joining Tampax ("white mice" in plumber parlance) as officially banned from the can.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Aging gracelessly

Not exactly hard news, but the Chicago Tribune has a fantastic slideshow of unflattering celebrity faces. Do these plastic surgeons have any training at all?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Must every sentence begin with "Pretend..."?

"Mommy, pretend you're the big sister and I'm the mommy and I just said 'you're going to be a big sister because there's a new baby at your house.'"

"A new baby sister! I love babies. Can I hug and kiss her, Mommy?"

"No, she's sleeping and you can't wake her up. If you wake her up I'm not going to be happy. Mommy? Pretend you're the big sister and you want to stomp around and wake up the baby."

"I'm stomping around and I wake up the baby. Oops."

"Big sister! You woke up the baby. Now I have to rock her and nurse her. Look! She's all better. But you shouldn't stomp around so time out. Time OUT. TIME OUT!!"

"I don't want a time out. I'm sad. You're a mean mommy."

[Big grin] "No, I'm not. Mommy? Pretend you're the big sister and I'm the baby and you want the baby's crib and Mommy says, 'No, that's the baby's things now.'"

"Huh?"

"No! SAY IT! Pretend you're the big sister and you want to the baby's crib because it used to be your crib and now it's the baby's and Mommy says, 'No that's the baby's crib now.' Now say it!"

Could my daughter have a future as a tyrannical Hollywood writer/producer?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Biting off more than I can chew

Selfmademom calls them the Hellidays, and I think she may be onto something.

I've always felt that one of the perks of being Jewish is getting to opt out of the insanity that is the run-up to Christmas. Sure, I'll send out some holiday cards, buy Chanukah presents for my nearest and dearest (I keep the list very short) and light the old menorah, but I get a giant star-of-David-shaped pass when it comes to hauling and trimming a Christmas tree, installing an electric Santa on my roof or assembling gingerbread houses for all the shut-ins in the neighborhood.

But still. Having kids does up the ante. Instead of just lighting the candles at home, I felt like I should take the girls to the Chanukah family service at Temple. After Baby A's bedtime. By myself. (Josh been at a concert every night this week.) What was I thinking?

Today we attended the holiday party at Z's Montessori school and our Chavurah's Chanukah party, where I ate way too many latkes. I volunteered to make cookies for both which meant three hours of my day was dedicated to rolling, cutting and glazing six dozen menorah, dreidel, star and hay-shaped sugar cookies. With Z "helping" (read: aggressively dumping blue sugar crystals, breaking the tops off of the dreidels and asking if she could eat more dough).

Tomorrow we've got two kiddie birthday parties, and next weekend there are two more. Is it just me, or are there a lot of December birthdays? (Mom and Beth, if you're reading this, happy birthday to you, too!)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Push presents? Oh, puh-lease!

The most e-mailed story on the NY Times website is A Bundle of Joy Isn't Enough, an article on the growing popularity of so-called push presents, sparkly baubles given by the father to the mother who has just birthed their baby.

Now I love presents as much as the next gal, but I never felt like Josh owed me a gift for delivering either of my babies. Whether I was cut open for a c-section or panting through 25 hours of drug-free VBAC labor, meeting my beautiful girls was reward enough.

Perhaps I would feel differently if Josh had to twist my arm to get me to want to have babies, but like 99 percent of the moms I know, I did the "honey, let's get pregnant" cajoling, and he finally acquiesced.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Let's talk about breasts, baby

It's breastfeeding topic day on the Chicago Moms Blog and all of our sister sites. See what I and all my mommyblogging sisters have to say about the joys and challenges of nursing, pumping, bottle-feeding and breastfeeding well into toddlerhood.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Ghetto mocha


Sometimes, when I'm craving a tasty beverage from Starbucks but I can't justify the $4+ price tag, I mix an envelope of Swiss Miss hot cocoa into a mug of office coffee.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy Chanukah!

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We're marking the first night of Chanukah with 6 inches of snow here in Chicago.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Do you like my new look?

My new blog header's been up for almost a week... do you like it?

It was designed by my friend and former colleague Samantha McDermott, a designer who brings together amazing creativity with unrelenting perfectionism and ambition. She's a force to be reckoned with, for sure.

On sisterhood

I was saddened to read about one woman's inability to trust other women in this article in the NY Times Style magazine. The author was cruelly betrayed by her sorority sisters 20 years ago and to this day she feels the outcast among groups of women, be they other mothers or female colleagues.

In general I haven't shared her experience. I've found support from other mothers (as well as childless women) at the office and I am lucky to be a part of a playgroup full of moms I can call on for anything. I've also found that, for the most part, the women I've connected with through blogging have been welcoming and warm.

Is my perspective so different because I never considered pledging a sorority? Because I was one of the original two members of my playgroup? I think difficulty arises when women join a social group that already has an established culture. Looking back, there are sisterhoods I considered joining but ultimately walked away from. A book club at my synagogue where I was the youngest by 10 years. A Hadassah meeting of young women (this was years ago) where I was the only one who didn't grow up rich on Chicago's North Shore.

It's a shame female friendships are so charged. We can share an intimacy that men wouldn't dream of, but too many of us live in fear that we'll be betrayed by our secrets.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Google for giggles

Here are some of the search terms that have brought people to my blog this weekend:

Grandpa martini's I didn't drink it, I swear. Now learn some grammar.
Mommy changes my cloth diaper photo blog Wow, let me bookmark that one.
Personal lubricant dominick's Yes, they sell it. Or are you looking to buy generic?
Men thongs tulum I'm happy to report I didn't see any men in banana slings when I was in Mexico.
Nutritional infomation hanukkah gelt Something tells me it isn't high in Vitamin C
How much money is milk More than gas, less than wine.
Bah humbug Right back at you, baby.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Hungry for chicken?

This is an actual restaurant on Chicago's West Side. A customer went in as we drove by. Bon appetit!