Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008 (and good riddance)

Aside from the election of Chicago's own Barack Obama, 2008 was not such a good year. Corruption, greed and stupidity reigned. We saw the economy slide into the toilet. We threw good money after bad wars and big corporations while the average American lost good money, period. Food and gas prices went up. Home values and paychecks sunk. Sarah Palin showed that political illiteracy and a lack of experience can win you a spot on the Republican ticket and Blago demonstrated that there's no limit to the gall of Illinois Governors, no matter which party affiliation.

Unfortunately, 2009 isn't going to provide us with a fresh start. The economy's going to get worse before it gets better. Economists are predicting 10% unemployment and I heard today that layoffs will hit my agency on January 5th. Assuming I don't get a pink slip, the chances of a raise at my one year review seem slim to none. What's more, the Chicago Tribune filed for bankrupcy and publications in general are cutting back on freelancers, meaning Josh's income will be halved--or worse.

So what does this mean for my New Year's resolutions? Well, they start with "spend" and end with "less money." We're going to put off purchasing a new dining room table and chairs and we won't be getting the mini kitchen remodel I've been planning (granite countertops, tile backsplash, a new sink and faucet). And our plans for a 10th anniversary vacation will be scaled back or scuttled altogether.

It's all a little bit of a bummer, but I'm an optimist. If Josh can't stay busy with reviews, perhaps he'll write an Oscar-winning screenplay. If we can't eat out at fancy restaurants, there's Five Guys and a new local Trader Joe's. And who needs expensive entertainment when you've got small children. This pic's of Baby A after her bath tonight...naked and wearing her big sister's shoes.

A will do anything for Z

I don't know if I've mentioned it before on my blog, but Baby A likes having her diaper changed about as much as Rod Blagojevich likes having his phone calls recorded. She squirms and squeals and I have to resort to pacifiers and a little brute force if I don't want one or both of us to get smeared with poop.

So I was a little surprised to find her lying on her back with her legs in the air, smiling and cooing at her big sister as Z pretended to change her. They did this over and over. For about 5 minutes.
Finally A ripped off her diaper in frustration and insisted we put on a fresh one. For reals.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Z's first Happy Meal

Until today, Z did not know what McDonald's was. No idea.

She does now.

At age 4, I finally bought her her first Happy Meal. White meat chicken nuggets, french fries, an apple juice box (they don't have lactose-free milk) and a Kung-Fu Panda toy for under $4. I'm not proud of it, but I was excited to see her finish a meal for, oh, perhaps the fifth time in her life. She ate all four nuggets, at least half the fries, 2 packets of ketchup and a third of the juice box. Considering Josh wanted to buy her a hot dog, I think she may have come out a teensy bit ahead nutrition-wise. And good Lord, the kid needs calories. She's barely 30 pounds soaking wet and still fits into most of the clothes she wore last winter.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Old Navy and Starbucks made my day

I managed to leave Old Navy today with a giant shopping bag full of clothes (all gifts, BTW) for only $8. Not only was everything on sale or 60% off, I had $30 in ON Bucks Back. I left the store and headed south on State to The Children's Place, where I was going to pick up some cute warm clothes for my niece and still-in-utero nephew to wear when winter comes to Australia. Only I realized at the cash wrap that my wallet was missing. Fortunately my Old Navy cashier had saved it for me and management told me they had it as soon as I called. Nothing was missing and the manager even checked my face against my ID, which I appreciated. Yay Old Navy. Now I have one more reason to love you.

Can you bear another rave for a national chain? Since one of my favorite coworkers gave me a Starbucks card for the holidays, I headed downstairs for a latte treat. My barista gave me a complimentary double shot and told me about how Starbucks has an internal website where employees can pick up shifts in any city in the country. She lives in Oklahoma where apparently all the Starbucks are drive-throughs ("It's like working in a fast food restaurant"), but she was financing her visit home to family by working part-time while on vacation. Interesting, huh?

I heard on NPR earlier this season about how the economic downturn is improving customer service by bringing highly qualified people front-line service jobs, and I'm beginning to think there's some truth to that.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

My strong-willed child

There is no sense trying to win a battle of wills with Z. You will lose. When she went on a bottle strike at 3 months of age, everyone said "She'll eat when she's hungry." No, she went 12 hours without milk before I returned home and gave her the boob. She's gone to bed without dinner more times than I can count because she'd rather eat nothing than chicken with a smidge of sauce. The kid is nothing if not determined.

But once in a while her fierce determination and will to succeed pays off. Like yesterday. I took her to the local ice skating rink and brought her out on the ice. I never took lessons, but I'm a decent skater. That doesn't mean I know how to give lessons. So I just laced up her skates, warned her she was going to fall a lot and grabbed her one of those walker things they keep in the beginners area.

Z just worked at it. Fall after fall, she'd get up smiling and shoo me away. By the end of our hour on the ice, Z could manage to rather ungracefully skate a few yards without support. She cried as we left the rink, but Josh and Z were waiting for us. Still, unless she's a beast tomorrow morning, we're going back in the afternoon.

I don't have more more than a passing interest in astrology, but I wondered while I was writing this if her persistence was related to her sign. Here's what I found:

"A Scorpio never gives up, they are so determined to reach their goal. The key to this success is their flexibility. They are able to re-survey a situation and take a different approach if necessary. This makes them very adaptable and versatile."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We love Playmobil

Z's new Playmobil ice cream parlor's been getting a lot of use since she unwrapped it on the first night of Chanukah. Thanks, Aunt Eleanor!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My beast of a baby (My 1000th post)

Fully 95% of the time, A's a cuddly, kissy sweetheart. But if you disturb her equilibrium in any way, by say, postponing a meal, placing her food directly on her highchair tray instead of on a plate, brushing her teeth with baby toothpaste instead of the grape stuff her big sister gets or trying to wrangle her into clothes, pajamas or a clean diaper, she will unleash the beast within.

She's also been known to lash out at inanimate objects. Throwing food I understand. Babies do that. Drop-kicking sippy cups of overly watered-down juice? It's kind of amusing. But biting your dolly's bed because the rug has stopped its progress across the hardwood floor? And then bursting into tears because biting the hard wood bed frame didn't feel so great? That takes the cake, kiddo.

Have you seen Slumdog Millionaire?


No? Go now. I was so excited to see Slumdog Millionaire was playing at my local theatre that I immediately booked a sitter and took in a matinee on my day off. It was awesome; eye-poppingly beautiful, desperately romantic, tears-running-down-my-cheeks emotional and the music--I must get the soundtrack ASAP.

Wii, it's fun to stay Fit!

Once upon a time, I pined for a Wii Fit. I subscribed to Amazon alerts and bought one as soon as it became available. But the economy was tanking and Josh chastised me for wasting money on such a frivolous item when we'd just agreed we weren't going to buy anything nonessential. So I sold it to a friend on Facebook and consoled myself with my free review copy of Boogie SuperStar.

I guess Josh realized I was going to find time to play with the Wii if it meant staying up an hour later at night, because he secretly subscribed to Amazon's Wii Fit alert and surprised me with one for Chanukah!!!

Words can not explain how fun it is to play. It keeps track of my weight and BMI and encourages me to build a well-rounded workout with aerobics, yoga, strength training and balance games (which are the really fun part!). It keeps track of my accomplishments, encouraging me to improve my performance and, more importantly, beat Josh's high scores.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Freezing our tires off

-5 degrees. That's how cold it was yesterday when we got a flat tire right outside the Nature Museum. When USAA Roadside Assistance finally arrived (2 1/2 hours after we called), the dude had to cut our Honda wheel cover off the spare with a knife--it was literally frozen to the tire.

And the spare was low on air.

But we didn't just freeze our tushes off. We watched Z cut a rug to Cut Copy and then we worked out with the Wii Fit Josh got me for Chanukah. More on that later...

Z cuts a rug to Cut Copy from almaklein on Vimeo.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I've bid farewell to Christmakkuh

AlmaI'm the product of intermarriage. My Jewish mother and Methodist father met in high school in the middle of America, went to college together, married and got their PhDs. Mom was raised in the Reform tradition and Dad didn't care much for church, so it was agreed any kids would be raised Jewish.

But raising your kids Jewish as an interfaith Foreign Service family is a touch more difficult than signing up with the closest synagogue and sending your kids to Jewish summer camp. You see, I attended Hebrew school after Friday night services, which were held in a chapel on the Army base in Berlin. Our cantor took advantage of his day job at the commissary to provide for the weekly challah and ice cream oneg.

But as friendly as our miniature congregation was, I didn't know any Jewish kids my own age and I was surrounded, not just by the commercial Christmas of mall Santas and colored lights, but by the trappings of German Weihnachten,complete with crosses, creches, caroling and endless Christmas markets. I don't know if it was by my father's request or an obligation my mother felt because they did so much entertaining, but we started "doing Christmas." We ate the chocolates from the Advent calendars given to my parents as gifts, decorated a tree and my sister and I set our shoes outside our bedroom doors so our parents could fill them with treats.

I liked the pomp and circumstance and I loved the candy, but I remember feeling a little confused; why were we celebrating Christmas if we didn't believe in Christ? Like most Jews, I'd always felt other around Christmas. Now I felt like an outsider and an imposter. I had enough Midnight Mass-attending friends to know our half-hearted, secular shows of Christmas cheer weren't authentic. We mouthed "Jesus" when singing Christmas songs. We didn't wear matching velvet dresses and pose for family photos before the fireplace. We didn't have stockings embroidered with our names. Or ornaments memorializing Baby's First Christmas. We didn't have a train encircling our tree. A wreath on the door. Special seasonal plates. We were "doing Christmas," but we were doing it all wrong!

And as if being Jewish-but-with-Christmas in Germany wasn't awkward enough, imagine moving to Pakistan just as you're supposed to start preparing for your Bat Mitzvah! While living in Islamabad, we kept our Star of David necklaces tucked under our shirts and continued putting our Hanukkah presents under a Christmas tree. We even hung our socks up on the mantle for Mom to fill with tangerines, chocolate and tiny bottles of 4711. (We filled our parents' socks with hand-drawn coupons good for a backrub or "1 clean of my room, no whining.")

I didn't get the chance to reconnect with my religion until we moved back to the U.S. I was 15 when I decided I was going to be a Jew and I threw myself into Confirmation class, continuing my religious education in Post-Con study groups with the rabbi and volunteering as a camp counselor at an observant Jewish summer camp. I told my Mom I'd rather we didn't buy a Christmas tree and I guess she and Dad agreed, because we never trimmed one again. We spent Christmas Eve with my Dad's relatives and went to the movies or ice skating on Christmas. Even my Christian grandmother picked up on my new passion for Judiasm; she stopped sending me Christmas presents wrapped in Santa paper and supplemented my Chanukah presents with Rosh Hashanah and Passover cards!

Since I married a full-blooded Jew whose Christmas celebrations consisted of Chinese food and movie-going, there was no question ours would be a tree and stocking-free home each December. My 4-year-old daughter gets an earful about Santa from her preschool friends, but she understands that different families have different religions and different traditions and hers is Jewish.

Plenty of intermarried families "do it all," celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah each year, and that's fine. I grew up happy and well adjusted with a menorah next to the Christmas tree. But it bothered me because these aren't really secular holidays. A fundamental part of being Jewish is not believing the birth of Baby Jesus marks the arrival of the Messiah. So don't be surprised if your kids decide to fully identify with one religion or the other. Or if they walk away from a religious identity altogether. Because you really can't be both without cheapening each side.

This brought a tear to my eye

With the news full of Ponzi schemes, job layoffs and cholera, it's nice to read something inspirational in the NY Times.

A Houston Surgeon's Home, an Ode to His Wife and God

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Toy review: Parents Architecture ABC Blocks

It's rare that I get to review a toy for Baby A instead of my much more swag-spoiled 4 year old, but Team Mom hooked me up with these new soft building blocks from Parents, maker/licenser of some of my favorite early childhood toys.

We've gotten nearly 4 years' worth of play from our "Baby iPod" and Parents cell phone.

Will the ABC blocks enjoy such longevity? Well, blocks are a playroom staple for a reason. Each block features a letter from the alphabet and a relief image of an animal starting with that letter. Baby A couldn't care less, at least at this point. What she does care about, aside from knocking down block towers, is their soft, mouthable texture. Typically soft plastic toys send me into a panic, but since these are phalate-free, she can chew on them to her heart's content.

Back to the block towers. It's important to mention that these blocks stack up easily, so it's not too frustrating for a 16-month-old architect to build a tower. In fact, I'd rank their ease of stackability far above traditional wooden blocks, but not quite up there with the very clingy SoftBlocks from MoMA.

Here's an important note: When you're finished building and destroying your masterpieces, do not ask your child to return the Parents ABC blocks into the zipper bag in which they came. Fitting them in requires at least a semester of geometry, so dump them into a toy box tray and save yourself the headache. And if you don't have the IKEA TROFAST toy storage system, get it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Toy review: I Can Do That!


When I was growing up, my Dad called board games "bored" games, flatly refusing to play and leaving it to my Mom to shuffle our Rack-o and CandyLand cards and play Monopoly banker.

Had it been in existence 25 years ago, Dad definitely wouldn't have played along with Cat in the Hat - I Can Do That! since physical silliness ranked far below even losing tedious games to his young children, but Josh and I are actually enjoying this game (although not nearly as much as Z, who loves it).

Quick overview. I Can Do That! comes with three decks of cards, a selection of props from The Cat in the Hat and a mini limbo setup called the "trick-a-ma-stick." Choose a card from each deck and put them together for a physical challenge along the line of "Step over the trick-a-ma-stick with the boat inside your clothes!"


Think you can do it? Say "I can do that!" and go for it. If you're in possession of an eager 4-year-old, you may find she's willing to take on challenges you'd rather skip. Like shimmying under the trick-a-ma-stick in dry clean-only pants, for example.

Game play is a totally manageable 10 minutes or so and, while the instructions encourage you to count up the stars on the task cards you've used to determine a winner at the game's end, we prefer to keep things noncompetitive.

I received a free copy of Cat in the Hat - I Can Do That!, but marked down from $19.99 to only $7.99 at Amazon, it's the perfect last-minute holiday gift or addition to your birthday party gift closet.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ho-ho-Chanukah

This image is from President Bush's Chanukah party invitation. Yes, it features a Christmas tree. Shave the date indeed, folks.

It may come as a surprise, but December may just be my favorite time to be Jewish. Moms across America as freaking out about Christmas card photos, Santa's wrapping paper, hiding presents, putting up a tree, stringing lights and setting the table with special snowman tableware. Meanwhile, I spend $10 on a new box of candles and a couple of bags of Chanukah gelt. I'm not even making latkes this year; rumor has it Trader Joe's frozen potato pancakes are even better than homemade.

As a Jew, I can partake in the parts of the Christmas season I like (exchanging cards and homemade gifts, going to holiday parties, drinking eggnog, and stuffing my face with peppermint ice cream and 10 kinds of cookies) without the stress and craziness of "doing Christmas," which, if my friends and co-workers are to be believed, requires the production of an elaborate home-cooked meal, doing the rounds with relatives and convincing your skeptical kids that a fat man in a red suit and some flying reindeer are going to visit your chimney-less house to eat cookies and give you fabulous presents.

Seriously, if the holidays have got you feeling merry bad in a stressed out, overwhelmed kind of way, free help is available from familyaware.org. Thank you Parent Bloggers Network for spreading the word about this nonprofit.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Apparently I now have two girly-girls

16-month-old A saw me rooting through her bin of 18-24 month old clothes (which, incidentally, is almost empty as she fits into nearly everything) and her eyes came to rest on a brown floral corduroy dress her grandparents purchased for her a few months ago.

She smiled and grabbed at the dress. "Mine!"

"You want to wear this dress?" I asked. She nodded emphatically and raised her arms. A assist me in the dressing process? You could have knocked me over with a feather. This is a kid who screams when I dare put clothes on her. But I put the dress on and she was super pleased with herself. She patted it, twirled around and generally looked adorable in it all Saturday.

And again on Sunday. I'd put her in pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt Sunday morning, but she saw her sister's version of the dress hanging on a hook (the grandparents had purchased them as a matching set), and she freaked out, tugging on it and shouting "Mine! Mine!"

So her brown dress came out again for a second wearing on Sunday, this time in tandem with her big sister. Hopefully she'll let me launder it before she insists on donning it again.

What is it with little girls and dresses anyway?

Friday, December 12, 2008

From jealousy to fantasy in 8 seconds

Once in a while I stumble upon a parenting trick that actually works.

Like tonight. I'm putting Z to bed and she's all "How come Sophie has a bigger bed than me? How come Sophie has two drawers of fancy things and a mirror in her room and I don't?"

Ah, childhood envy, I remember it well. When I was in first grade, my next-door neighbor had a Strawberry Shortcake bedroom complete with wallpaper, shag rug, bedspread and a canopy bed. Kim's Barbie Dream House and hot tub were just gravy.

So I improvised a little. "Well, honey, all families are different and their family has a different house with different stuff in it than ours. But wouldn't it be cool if you had a bedroom with 100 different drawers full of fancy stuff and mirrors on every wall and a big bed and a princess rug and a real live princess who lived in your room with you every single day?!"

Z's eyes widened and she took over the fantasy. "Yeah, when I grow up I'm going to have a giant bed and glittery walls and sparkling lights and I'm going to go to the toy store and bring home every single toy and the floor is going to be made out of candy!"

"That's right dear, good night," I said, leaving the room.

Ten minutes later, Z comes out of her room. "Mommy, I just need to tell you one more thing about my house."

"What?"

"Every single clothing is going to be a dress. A fancy princess dress."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My very own granola recipe

After 6+ batches, I've got this granola-making venture down to a science. Obviously I don't have enough bags to give to everyone, so please accept this awesome recipe as my holiday gift to you. By the way, I would totally include this in my TasteBook, which I hope to win from the Rookie Moms' Tastebook giveaway.

Ingredients
1/3 cup honey*
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup water
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup wheat germ (optional)
1/2 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup golden raisins

Directions
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Wisk together first three ingredients in a small bowl. Combine oats, almonds and coconut in a large bowl and toss with the liquid until evenly moistened. Spread mixture on a rimmed cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 45 minute, stirring once or twice to evenly brown. Remove from oven and stir in the cherries and raisins. Cool completely on the cookie sheet before storing in airtight container or bags.

* When I was low on honey, I substituted brown sugar and used a bit more water--worked just fine.

My daughter scoops the WSJ's Chuck E Cheese story

Just a few weeks ago, we passed a Chuck E. Cheese's on the way to Monkey Island. Z, who has never stepped foot in one, described the place this way to her 3-year-old friend, who was also in the backseat:

"Chuck E Cheese's is a very fun place. You have to be, like, bigger than 3 to go there. Like 4, 5 or 6. But mostly 7 or 8 or even 9. They have games and yummy food and you can jump around and dance like crazy. But it's a little bit scary for little kids."

Yeah, really scary.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Baby, she's rich girl

We've been offering (bribing) Z 3 pennies a night to go to bed without calling us back for no good reason and she's got over 50¢ in her jam jar. I explained to her that when she has 75¢ or so, we can take her money to the store and she can pick out the candy bar of her choice.

"Really? Like the kind in the orange wrapper? With the peanut butter and chocolate?"
"Yes, you can pick a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup."
"And the brown kind that tells you it's Hershey's?"
"Yes, another good choice."
"Mommy? I think I want to spend my money to buy Daddy a very special bag of coffee, because he loves coffee!"
"Well...that's very sweet, honey, but for 75¢ you can maybe buy Daddy a cup of coffee."

But not at Starbucks. Or McDonald's. Or anywhere but from the Bagel Boys at Temple, really.

Recession radio commercials

You know you're in a recession when the top 40 radio commercials aren't for nightclubs, plastic surgery, cars and vacations. Instead, I heard the following during my workout at the gym.

[Transcribed from memory]

Ladies, free yourselves financially...stop depending on a man to pay the bills. Make more cash than you've ever imagined as a dancer. Just call 1-800-XXX-XXXX to find out more. Absolutely no nudity required.

Buy a brand new three bedroom home for less than you're paying in rent. You can purchase a home in foreclosure for as little as $XX,000 -- that's just $100 a month!

Did you know you can sell popular electronics on the Internet from the comfort of your own home? You can make money selling DVD players, iPod accessories and flat-panel TVs without investing in any inventory. Find your financial freedom by selling on the Internet! To learn more, call...

Monday, December 08, 2008

Yes, my 1 year old eats peanut butter sandwiches

About once a month I shock a friend or acquaintance by admitting to her I started giving both my kids peanut butter (aka my favorite food) at 12 months. Now it seems my lazy parenting may turn out to be smart mothering. According to this NY Times article, emerging evidence seems to show that delayed exposure increases the risk of allergies.

What I don't get is why this is surprising. Doctors have known for some time that farm kids and children who are born into a household with 2+ cats have lower rates of allergies because their immune systems were challenged from a young age. Are food allergies so different that the same theory wouldn't apply?

A very scary story for parents

Read former Oak Parker Jeff Vrabel's goosebumpy tale, The Adventure of the Wandering Pajama-Clad Toddler.

Do I overshare with my daughter?

How much is too much to share with your children? Leave me a comment over at the Chicago Moms Blog.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Winter has arrived

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It's freezing in Chicago this week. Below freezing, really. When I snapped these pictures this morning, it was 9 degrees outside.

Dressing kids for cold weather isn't much fun, but I've had 3 winters of practice. Z's wearing thigh-high legwarmers under her jeans and A's dressed in cozy Children's Place hand-me-downs from head to toe: cuddly fleece pants, a long-sleeve shirt and a sweater under her coat. She kept the hat on until we got into the car, a record.

Oh, and they're both wearing boots. A's enchanted with hers, a pair of knock-off Uggs that I bought for Z at Target a couple of years ago.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I am a Boogie Superstar

My name is Alma, and I am a Boogie Superstar.

My Facebook friends know this already, but after weeks of subscribing to text alerts from Amazon, I finally scored a Wii Fit.And before it even arrived on my doorstep, I'd decided to sell it.

Why? Because a girl with the Boogie SuperStar hookup doesn't need Wii Fit to work up a sweat!

As my 4 year old says, watching me work it to "Hot 'N' Cold" and "He Said She Said," "when you're dancing on the Wii it's good to be on fire."

I don't pretend to be a video game expert. We've only had the Wii for a few months and we own a mere handful of games. But while Wii Sports and Wii Play bore me to tears and Super Mario Galaxy taxes both my abilities and my attention span, Boogie SuperStar lets me bust a move and sing along to over 35 Top 40 songs, including pop, dance and urban hits that are so recent they're still on the radio.

The game comes with a microphone, and you can sing along karaoke-style or dance holding the Wiimote. Your skills are critiqued by a snide panel inspired by reality television judges. It is easier to master than DDR, so I quickly caught on and started amassing tokens which I've been using to unlock more songs and update my wardrobe. I'm sure Boogie SuperStar would be an absolute blast to play with girlfriends or older, Wii-savvy kids, but I've managed to log hours of play all by myself.

But usually not alone. Z sometimes dances or sings along and Josh sits in the background, checking his email and snickering as I butcher the lyrics to less familiar songs.

I don't know if Boogie SuperStar is going to have much of a shelf life once the songs included on it disappear from Hot 100 since it seems you can't download new tunes to it via an Internet connection. But until I'm tired of "El-El-Ella-vator," my living room rug remains a dance floor.

This review of Boogie SuperStar with Microphone was made possible by Parent Bloggers Network, who will be posting a review roundup shortly.

A fancy-pants dinner date (for less)

I put myself in a cholesterol-laden food coma last night, but it was a heavenly, chocolate and homemade marshmallow food coma. You see, Josh and I traded sitting with our neighbors (free babysitting!) and headed to the award-winning restaurant HotChocolate where we skipped beverages and appetizers, in order to best gorge ourselves on entrees and dessert.

HotChocolate isn't cheap; my burger, which, incidentally was made from hand-ground locally raised beef, artisanal cheddar and bacon on a brioche roll and was the best burger of my whole life, cost $13 and Josh's wild-mushroom lasagne was $16. But we had a free $25 gift certificate from Restaurant.com that I'd earned for filling out a survey or something, which lowered our $64 check (we got a $12 box of cookies to go) to just under $40 (plus a $12 tip).

I'd heard good things about Restaurant.com from WantNot and Shoplifting With Permission, but now I'm a believer. Go today and enter the promo code JOY and you can save 50%, meaning a $25 gift certificate to one of your favorite local restaurants is just $5. That's a good deal, but once it in a while it gets even better and they offer a code for 80% off!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Craft fair cage match?

This weekend handmade-happy shoppers like me can drag ourselves away from Etsy and hit two separate alterna-craft fairs, each featuring over 150 vendors. What distinguishes an alterna-craft fair from the typical Holiday craft market, you ask? Think ironic tees, knockoff ugly dolls and crocheted cloche hats instead of Christmas sweaters, snowman figurines and crocheted tissue box covers. The tattoos to Grandmas factor leans heavily toward the former.

The Renegade Craft Fair is December 6 and 7th from 11-7 at the Pulaski Park fieldhouse in Wicker Park.

DEPART-ment is sponsored by Etsy and located at 2000 W Fulton (near the United Center). Shop Friday night from 7-11 as well as Saturday and Sunday from 11-5.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Yes, I'm also a laundress

Here's a tip: fitted sheets and teeny, tiny baby socks should not be washed in the same load of laundry.

Just sayin'.

Shit on the stepstool

While climbing the staircase for her bath, Baby A grabbed her tush and said "Ow." I asked her if she needed to go poop. She shook her head no.

I said, "Do you want to sit on the potty?" knowing full well she's only 16 months old and there's a snowflake's chance in hell she'd produce.

She nodded, smiled and finished climbing up the steps. I undressed her in the bathroom and fished the potty insert out of the linen closet where it's been gathering dust for a year. She sat for a second and shook her head, saying "No!"

I helped A climb down from the toilet and Z stripped and climbed on. Then, as I was adjusting the temperature of the bath water, a butt-naked A climbed up the step stool to the sink and grabbed her toothbrush.

Then she proceeded to squirt shit all over the bottom step.

I've done enough damage to you, dear readers, without telling you about how I managed to clean up said shit with my preschooler on the toilet hollering "Daddy, A pooped on the step stool," my toddler perched precariously above the poo and clothes strewn all over our tiny bathroom floor. Suffice it to say my hands received a scrubbing worthy of a surgeon before I bathed the kids.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Tutu!"

A only speaks a couple of dozen words, but one we hear all day long is "tutu." She wants to wear it all the time.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Proximidade Award


I'm thankful for all my blog readers, but I was especially touched to be honored by one of them this week. Shari from Two Times the Fun (can you tell she's the mother of twins?) awarded me this badge.
This blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY - nearness in space, time and relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind of bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.
Perhaps something got lost in the translation? Anyway, I'm not going to nominate eight, but here are three of my favorite undiscovered bloggers.
Little Bigfoot, my sister, who is now expecting her second little bigfoot
Minding Mizz, my best friend from high school, who's now minding two boys
Su La Li, Chicago Moms Blog contributor and mother of two girls

Thursday, November 27, 2008

On the Thankgiving menu

Turkey with molasses butter from Real Simple
Smashed potatoes from Cooks Illustrated
My own fruited bread stuffing
Butternut squash souffle from Family Fun
Cranberry-apricot sauce
Julie's green salad
Challah
Pear cherry pie from Martha Stewart

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Men of Movember


I work with many of these guys, all of whom are growing moustaches this November to raise prostate cancer awareness and funds. Buy their calendar; it's for a good cause!

menofmovember.com

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My vagina smells like Teen Spirit

1After 20 months of period-free living (pregnancy and breastfeeding can do that to a girl), I welcomed home Aunt Flo. But Aunt Flo was a changed woman. No longer the unobtrusive house guest content to drop in for a couple of days, she was a bitchy, demanding visitor who required I stock my cabinets full of feminine hygiene products and my kitchen with copious quantities of chocolate.

You see, I got fitted for an IUD, and the hormone-free Paragardhas a well-earned reputation for causing heavy periods. So heavy, in fact, that I had to purchase my very first box of super tampons. But even the green wrappers weren't cutting it, so I stood in the sanitary aisle at Walgreen's, wondering if I dare try super plus.

I flashed back to middle school, remembering how horrifyingly giant my Mom's square-topped cardboard applicator Super Tampax looked to my 13-year-old virgin self. But I'm not that girl anymore. Hell, I pushed an 8 lb baby out of my hoo-ha. Certainly I can manage the orange wrapped super plus.

Only I grabbed the wrong box by mistake. I took home an 18 count box offreshly scented Super Plus Tampax, and didn't notice my error until bedtime. "Honey," I said as I crawled into bed, "if you catch a whiff of cheap perfume under the covers, it's coming from my vagina." Indeed, I could detect a faint scent, reminiscent, perhaps of Teen Spirit deodorant. Or toilet bowl cleaner.

Now I don't believe in artificially fragrancing my lady parts. I don't do it on the days when they might see some action, and I definitely don't see the point when Aunt Flo's spending the night.

Monday, November 24, 2008

We're not always this uncivilized


Spaghetti slob from almaklein on Vimeo.
Yes, she started dinner in a bib, I swear.

These are a few of her favorite things...

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.
A show. With singing. High school teenagers.
Tickets and darkness. A curtains and stage.
These are the things that my 4 year old craves.

With nothing much shaking Sunday afternoon, Julie and I took our older kiddos to a local high school production of The Sound of Music. We left at intermission (not that the girls were any the wiser) as 1 1/2 hours of singing Nazis in a warm auditorium had left them nearly comatose.

In all fairness, though, before she started nodding off in my lap, Z was transfixed. "Are they all high schoolers?" she kept whispering to me, wide-eyed with wonder at all teenagers are capable of. "Yes," I answered, "except for the four littlest Van Trapps and the head Nun." Who , incidentally looked an awful lot like a real Mother Superior. Trinity is a Catholic high school, but she could have been the lunch lady for all I know. In any case, she possessed perhaps the worst singing voice I've ever heard.

Friday, November 21, 2008

My daughter, the very busy creative director

Josh dropped Z off at my office yesterday afternoon around 3pm, which meant she got to experience ad agency cube life lite for 2 hours.

First, she stopped by people's cubicles to say hi. In Holly's office she was given an old Blackberry and invited in to color on jumbo Post-It boards with permanent markers! Tara regaled her with medical stories and Maggie and Rachel offered her Andrea's workspace, complete with computer and telephone. Mags also taught her how to call people's extensions, unleashing a new beast, the telephone dialing 4-year-old.

Wondering why my daughter had no interest in hanging with Mommy, I went looking for her.

"Hi, Mommy! Mommy, pretend you're the girl and I'm the Mommy and you're visiting me at work."
"Hi, Mommy."
"Say, 'What are you doing, Mommy?'"
"What are you doing, Mommy?"
"I'm very busy on my Blackberry and my computer and my phone. Wait! My phone is ringing! Hello? What are you doing?" She puts down the phone. "Oh, wait! I need to order a pizza!"
A moment later...
"Okay, say 'Will you play with me, Mommy?'"
"Will you play with me, Mommy?"
"No, I can't play with you because I'm working. Now, pretend we're home. Say 'Mommy, I don't want you to go to work today."
"Mommy, don't go to work today. Stay home with me."
"No, I have to go to work so I can pay bills. Telephone bills. I have to pay bills on my computer at work. Now, little girl, if you go to school and have lunch and take a nap, your dad will pick you up and stop at home for 10 minutes and then he'll take you to my work. Okay?"
"Okay."
"Now you can leave. I'm going to stay here with Maggie and Rachel. Hey, what's inside this Hello Kitty cup?"

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A very sobering birth story

Unfortunately the author of this post didn't have the birth she'd always wanted. But she has her life; and she's thankful for that.

One point that frequently gets missed in the hoopla over home birth is that hospitals, as flawed as they may be, are equipped to save lives.

I wish more hospitals and OBGyns supported natural childbirth. I was lucky to have my VBAC in an alternative birthing center within a hospital, but I recently found out that the midwife practice I used has lost their coverage for VBACs. I guess I pushed out A just in time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Finally, some good parenting advice

Was I unreasonable to expect cheerfulness, cooperation and about two dozen fewer tears from Z this morning as I attempted to get her dressed, groomed, shod and next door to drop her little sister off at day care?

Apparently, yes. According to this Slate article, our expectations of our children's psychological abilities, even more than of their physical abilities, are typically much too high. Meaning Z became emotionally unhinged because she couldn't cope with having to share a toy with her sister and deal with pants that were too loose and practically falling down and share my lap with her sister and comply with my instructions to put on her damn coat already and stop standing in the doorway letting all the cold air blow in!

Must Watch: Campbell's vs. Progresso

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A girl and her automobile


Speaking of cars, no one is buying any. Do you think the government should bail out American car companies? Naturally my agency is pushing employees to support a bailout since GM is a major client.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Motrin debacle makes the NY Times

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but there's a very special circle in Hell for those who scorn the heaviest users of social networking: connected moms.

NY Times: Moms and Motrin

Baby A is 16 months old today

My not so little girl is off the bottle and off the boob (although not by choice) and sleeping better than ever. Last night (and I sure hope I'm not jinxing this by blogging), she slept from 6:50 p.m. to 6:20 a.m!

She's adding new words to her vocabulary every day and it's clear she understands most of what we're saying. She's also started mimicking her sister and other bigger kids. On Saturday she watched Z play hide and go seek with a couple of friends and she lined up against the wall and put her hands over her eyes as they counted to 20.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Motrin pisses of a whole mess of moms

Myself included.

Aside from wondering what bullshit agency put together an ad this moronic (hello, there are working moms in the ad world; you could hire one), I don't have anything to add to this momversation that hasn't been tweeted or blogged ad nauseum. I didn't check Twitter once this weekend, so I'm a little late to the game.

So read this from Her Bad Mother, this from Mom-101 (also an ad creative) and this from Ms. Adventures in Babywearing herself.

By the way, Motrin, I'd need a whole lot more headache pills if I didn't keep wearing Baby A. Half the time she on my hip or in the Ergo, it's because she'd started throwing an ear-piercing "up" tantrum at my feet!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A very granola holiday

This won't be the first holiday where friends and family will receive handmade gifts. In high school I was really into ceramics and everyone got a hand-thrown bowl or mug. In my twenties I knit, so elementary-level hats and scarves made their way into holiday care packages.

I've experimented with layered cookie mix jars, iPhoto mini albums, boxes of cookies (driedels and menorahs sprinkled with blue sugar) and years and years worth of homemade rubber stamp holiday cards.

But my list is getting longer, my budget's getting smaller and I need a gift that Z can help me make.

So my goal this year is to gift granola. I'm experimenting with recipes (a little Epicurious and a little Mom) and a test batch is baking in the oven as I write this. It smells heavenly.

Share your homemade holiday gifts at this Klutz-sponsored blog blast from Parent Bloggers Network).

Friday, November 14, 2008

On the train with a drunkard

If only the 25 cent fare increase announced today would help remove crazy people with open, giant cans of beer from the CTA. I would mind so much, but he's been mumbling obscenities for the past 20 minutes.

In case you can't tell, I have a Blackberry now.

This post breaks my heart

Jill from the NJ Moms Blog posted today about how her experience being sexually abused as a child has shaped her parenting choices. She admits she's overprotective, but goes on to say she'd never let her daughter go to a friend's house if only the child's dad is home. Too bad if the kid's got a stay-at-home dad or a single father, she just won't do it.

Jill's story is devastating--she was molested by her (now late) stepbrother and received no support from her family when she finally came forward--but I believe she's sending the wrong message to her daughter. She's telling her no men can be trusted. All men are suspect. And she's making it hard for guys like Josh, who are the primary caregivers and playdate supervisors for little girls of their own.

Perhaps its my belief in the fundamental goodness of people, but I'd rather teach my girls to trust their instincts (while keeping the parts of their bodies covered by a swimsuit private) than fear the worst in every boy or man.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The View

News flash: women like to talk. A lot. I don't know that the daytime women's gabfest has shown much more depth this year than it has in previous, but the women of The View did earn some grudging respect for asking the Presidential candidates hard questions during the election. And daily clips of Elisabeth Hasselbeck losing her shit and/or getting yelled at by the rest of the crew meant that Americans beyond the SAHM target got to be on a first-name basis with Whoopi, Babwa, Joy and Sherri.

And when there's fame, comedy is sure to follow. I saw The Spew, an improv send-up of The View with a group of friends Sunday night at ComedySportz. It's funny--well worth the $10 ticket charge and its been extended for two more weeks.

And there's also this from Target: Women.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Yes, I'm finally weaning my baby

I never thought I'd end up nursing A until she was pushing 16 months of age, but time flies with number two and Josh and I were just too damned lazy to make the effort (at 5:30am, mind you) to wean her. But with some encouragement from my sister, we're finally doing it. For the past two mornings, Josh has picked our little early riser out of her crib and marched her straight downstairs for breakfast! Hopefully she'll forget about my boobs sooner rather than later and I can stop worrying about her angrily sticking her hands down my shirt in public.

But it's not just us parents who are hitting the milestones. A's had a virtual word explosion in the last week. After months of Mama, cat, dog, mine, bye, night-night, agua and not much else, A's been surprising us with all kinds of pronouncements. Among her new words are mine, bird, house, car, vroom-vroom, bag, brush, juice, woof-woof, baby, banana and snack. And she's named her beloved pacifier "nah."

Monday, November 10, 2008

BlogHer 2009

See that little badge to the right? Apparently my hometown's not just the place to be on Election Night; it's home to BlogHer 2009! As you might remember, I took 10 day old Baby A to BlogHer 2007 and had to miss 2008 because it was the same weekend as the Pitchfork Music Festival.

I think this is worth staying downtown for. Who wants to share a room at the Sheraton?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

My kind of birthday party

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Our afternoon birthday party at the River Forest Community Center went off without a hitch. Of the 21 kids invited, 20 RSVPed and 19 showed up (one was sick). Tina, our party coordinator, showed her teacher credentials; she was amazing. I didn't have to think up games, convince kids to participate or worry about some kid unspooling all the toilet paper into my toilet.

In addition to climbing around the playland, where the birthday party ostensibly was, the kids enjoyed about half an hour of classic childhood games and parachute play in the large gym.

And, of course, there was cake.

Happy 4th Birthday from almaklein on Vimeo.

In case you were wondering, the party favors were a huge hit.

My strange Thanksgiving in South Bend

I've only spent one Thanksgiving in my life without my parents or my (now) husband, Josh. However, in November of 1997 Josh was on tour with Aden and my parents were living in Uzbekistan. A college friend of mine--let's call her Andrea (that's not her name, but I honestly can't remember what it was; we were not all that close)--invited me to accompany her home for Thanksgiving in South Bend.

South Bend's about a two hour drive from Chicago, and I headed east with my friend and my foil-wrapped cranberry-orange bread on a blustery cold Thursday morning. She drove a rusty old 1985 Toyota van and her kitten came with us, curled up on my lap or on the dashboard. Her van made the most distinctive sound as we rode as she had pebbly snow tires on them, something that was apparently illegal in Chicago but that she got away with because her car was registered in Indiana.

Her parents--or was it her dad and her stepmom?--lived in a nice enough suburban house, but what I remember most about the trip was that the turkey was smoked in the backyard, her mom required us to be totally silent as she worked on a massage therapy client in the living room and we followed up our Thanksgiving dinner with a late night visit to a local nightclub. A local gay nightclub. In South Bend. It was not a particularly happening scene.

I think we rounded out the weekend with some Black Friday shopping at the local mall, but I don't remember too much except for feeling uncomfortable and out of place imposing as I was on such an intimate family Thankgiving with a classmate I liked but honestly didn't know terribly well.

Although this post isn't exactly about my Thanksgiving cooking adventures, it was inspired by the Parent Bloggers Network Butterball Blog Blast.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

And I'm getting sick. I actually had to leave the movie early because the shaky cam was about to make me throw up.

Does this happen to anyone else?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

More on election night

I expanded upon my election night blog post for the Chicago Moms Blog, and my contribution is being cross-posted to sister sites in cities across the country.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Happy 4th Birthday, Z


What do I say about you on your 4th birthday, Z? Now that you've graduated out of infancy, babyhood and toddlerhood and are a full-fledge preschooler--hell, a kid, recounting your milestones isn't as simple as noting your pincher grasp, your first steps, your budding vocabulary. You're so much more complex now. So much more a person. And so much more civilized than you were just six months ago. Potty training is a distant memory. I don't have even have to worry about nighttime accidents any more. You still like to eat pancakes with your hands, but you're tidy at mealtimes. No drips on your clothes, no crumbs on the floor, no spilled milk across the table. You've started saying "please" and "thank you." Sometimes you'll even say you're sorry!

And you're smart, that much is clear. Your teachers, your gymnastics coach, your friends' parents, even total strangers remark on what a bright little girl you are. You speak clearly, effortlessly, and you have a very extensive vocabulary. You reason well; your reading comprehension and memory is astonishing and you can write and spell a dozens of names and words. You've also got decent math skills; using your fingers, you can add and subtract figures under 10.

You are social. You have a tight little circle of girlfriends at school and you're also close friends with neighbors and long-time playmates. You make friends easily, playing with new kids after only a few minutes of quietly sizing them up.

You love to draw, sing and play pretend, and you have an active imagination. You're titillated by "bad stuff" and insist I make up an "Eleanor and Abigail story" every night before bed (think Goofus and Gallant for girls).

You're a born negotiator. According to you, everything is up for negotiation: bathtime, bedtime, the number of books read at bedtime, dinner entrees, the number of bites you'll take before dessert becomes a possibility, etc. etc. It is not your father and my favorite characteristic, but I admire your reasoned arguments and recognize the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

If I had to make a prediction on what the next 365 days will bring, I'd guess you will learn to read, you'll endure some playground cruelty (even 4 year old girls can be catty) and your relationship with your sister will blossom.
IMG_4108
This is you, today.

I was there

AlmaI had planned to throw a pizza party on Election Night, but on Monday two of my coworkers volunteered their plus-one passes to the rally in Grant Park. I spent my lunch hour finding a babysitter, retracting my party invitations and logging onto CNN and Huffington Post for the latest news.

I voted early Tuesday morning and spent the day at work giddy with excitement and the caffeine from my free cup of Starbucks coffee. My downtown office closed early so I was able to spend time with my kids before begging our neighbor's teenager to come over soon so we could make it to the rally. We'd planned on meeting my friends at 8:00 since the gates were scheduled to open at 8:30, but the rally organizers started letting supporters in a little after six.

Josh and I jogged to the El and made it downtown around 7:30. Finding Casey, who is 6 feet tall, is usually a cinch, but we struggled, text-messaging and calling, through the tightly packed throngs before finally meeting up near the front of the line.

Security wasn't as tight as we'd heard it might be. Although we were asked to have them out and ready, IDs weren't given more than a cursory glance as we moved from one gate to the next.

AlmaaAt 8:30 we were in Grant Park. The mood was celebratory as we'd just heard Pennsylvania had gone blue. When the news from Ohio came in, spirits lifted even higher. Strangers were updating each other with news feeds from their iPhones and admiring each others' Obama apparel. The jumbotron was tuned to CNN and as the crowd watched, cheering as projections came in for Obama and jeering states that went for McCain.

At 10 o'clock Chicago time the polling places in California, Oregon and Washington closed and Barack Obama was declared our next president. The crowd went wild, hugging, kissing, clapping and crying before quieting down to listen to John McCain's concession speech.

I haven't recited the Pledge of Allegiance since the fourth grade, but at 10:30 PM I was saying those familiar, sober words alongside 200,000 others on a crisp, beautiful evening in my favorite city. There were tears in my eyes, but they were tears of joy.

I've never felt so proud to be an American.

Alma_3_3Since we'd promised our babysitter we'd be home before midnight, Josh and I left Grant Park midway through Obama's speech. We could still hear his inspiring worlds as we walked toward Michigan Avenue, passing the opportunistic vendors of bootleg "Obama, Commander in Chief" and "Yes He Did" t-shirts, buttons and posters.

As we headed for the El, I felt like I was leaving the frustration and turmoil of the Bush years behind and entering a new era.

I felt hope.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

No voting hiccups here

I woke up at 6:15 this morning, before either of my children had greeted the dawn. By 7am, Josh and I were both showered and downstairs eating breakfast with the girls. I biked over to my local polling place at 7:30. No line, no waiting. I Baracked the Vote and cycled home (slowly, my back tire is almost flat) before 8am, leaving me just enough time to pack a lunch and train it to work, getting in before 9.

If only every morning could run so smoothly...

Monday, November 03, 2008

One more day

I feel like a kid on the day before my birthday, I'm that keyed up about tomorrow's election! I'm going to vote first thing in the morning, and I'm not sure I'll be able to sleep a wink tonight.

And here's the best part: I will be in Grant Park watching America's first Black president deliver his (knock on wood) acceptance speech. Three of the women I work with managed to score tickets, and each ticket is for two. I don't know yet if we'll get a babysitter and Josh will come downtown with me (he should, given his dedication to the cause), but I will be joining my friends and about 1 million other celebrants tomorrow night on the lakefront. Woo-hoo!

I wouldn't be Marketing Mommy if I didn't pause to tell you about the promotions companies are offering on Election Day. You can show your "I voted" sticker to the baristas at Starbucks and get a free tall coffee. Krispy Kreme is offering free doughnuts and Ben & Jerry's will be giving out free ice cream cones after 5pm. My jewelry-loving Oak Park peeps can head over to Team Blonde's new location in Forest Park for 10% their purchase.

The day we took a dollhouse to Hephzibah House

When Rookie Mom Whitney wrote to me asking if I'd like to accept two Mrs. Goodbee Caring Corners Dollhouses--one for my daughter and one for us to give to charity--I immediately accepted. I'd already decided to get Z a dollhouse for her fourth birthday, so the timing couldn't have been more perfect.

The dollhouses arrived in October and Z was thrilled. Caring Corners is a three-story plastic dollhouse with plastic dolls and furniture, but it isn't hideously tacky. And while it does "talk" and make noises, the battery-powered interactivity cheerfully encourages good manners and good habits: "If you're looking for something to eat, fruits and vegetables make a tasty treat!" chimes Mrs. Goodbee when you open the fridge.

The dollhouse folds closed for storage and opens wide to reveal 11 rooms, far more than most dollhouses I've seen. There are five to six rooms on each side, making it easy for two kids to play at once without bashing elbows and fighting over of the furniture.

And speaking of furniture, while it includes basic furnishings built into the home, you'll probably want to invest $20-$40 in additional playsets--for the furniture and the people. The dollhouse alone only comes with a girl, a baby, a dog and a chair.

But enough with the product review, on to the dollhouse giveaway. I wanted Z's first experience with charity to meaningful and memorable for her, something far more personal than the Salvation Army truck. So I called Oak Park's own Hephzibah Children's Association and made arrangements to give the dollhouse to a six year old girl who lives in their group home for neglected and abused children.

On Sunday morning Z and I drove over to Hephzibah House and met M in the front room. Z showed M all of the cool things the dollhouse can do, flushing the toilet and turning on the radio while I learned more about the organization's 120 year history from their volunteer coordinator, Maureen McGoorty.

When it was clear the girls had hit it off, we took a tour of the home, seeing their playroom, library, kitchen, dining room and living quarters. M even showed Z her very own room before we headed outside. Z marveled that their backyard was "just like a park," furnished as it was with a playground, a treehouse and a gazebo. It's an amazing place, full of caring staff and kids (the average age was 8) who seemed well-adjusted and happy. Maureen told me that, while they have to find foster care placement or another environment for their children when they turn 12, they remain involved in their lives and over 90 percent finish high school--far better than the DCFS average. I wish they could care for every ward of the state, but they have room for only 27 children at a time.

I'm grateful to Whitney and to Learning Curve, the maker of the dollhouses for inspiring me to help Z learn to be grateful for all she has and about the importance of giving back. I plan to make giving a gift to a child at Hephzibah House an annual birthday tradition.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

I'm not doing goodie bags

2There, I've said it. My children are young enough that I still love birthday parties, but I really dislike the party favor bags given away at the party's end. As much as I appreciate the effort and the generosity, my kids don't need another cellophane bag full of crap from Oriental Trading or the dollar store. Sure, my daughter is initially thrilled to get something on her way out, but frankly she doesn't need to be eating candy after downing all that cake and juice and the novelty items lose their novelty by the time we make it home.

As disposable as goodie bag junk is, I'm loathe to throw away the foam visors, unsharpened pencils, cheap sunglasses and battery-less mini flashlights. So they sit, gathering dust atop my refrigerator. A more "together" mom might bundle party favors into zip-top bags and bring them along to restaurant meals, but it's all I can do to remember the diaper bag, my phone and the house keys.

Anyway, my daughter's fourth birthday is rapidly approaching and we're throwing her a party at the local community center. I didn't stress about the guest list, the Costco cake or the invitations, but figuring out what to do about the damn party favors was keeping me up at night! I didn't want go mean mommy and cheap out completely, but I wanted to do something green. Something that didn't involve buying ugly plastic crap that was made in China (laced with lead?), shipped around the world and would only be played with for moments before becoming more landfill. Had money been no object, I would have purchased a Sigg water bottle for every attendee. But since we've got 20 RSVPs, I would have spent more on the bottles than I did on the room rental!

Finally, a solution came to me: gift certificates. I bought 20 certificates good for a free kid's ice cream cone at my favorite ice cream parlor, the very place that hosted my baby shower exactly four years ago. Each certificate cost $1.85, but I got 1 free for every 9 purchased.

I'm pretty pleased: I managed to find a party favor that's green, affordable and supports a local business. Yes, it's not all that healthy, but what do you want, a coupon good for a bag of carrots?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Wherein Z hogs the spotlight

Here's a clip of A playing peek a boo by pulling Z's hat over her face. But it's hard to pay attention since Z keeps darting into view, filling the air with a bunch of nonsense. And she's typically pretty articulate...

Ah, sisterhood.

Untitled from almaklein on Vimeo.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I feel like a kid again

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After sneaking out of work an hour early, I joined a few neighborhood families for a round of trick or treating. Our block has three amazing houses. The token Republicans (who, incidentally, don't have a McCain sign up this year) give out full-sized candy bars. The local Democratic organizers were giving out candy to the kids and margaritas and Obama lawn signs to the grown-ups. And another family brings a carnival atmosphere to their front porch with a rented treat machine every year. On previous Halloweens it's been a cotton candy machine; this year it was popcorn. Which, incidentally, was the only treat A indulged in. (Yes, I know popcorn isn't recommended for one year olds.)

We headed west two blocks to Kenilworth, which was hopping with costumed kids and a house completely tricked out as a hillbilly haunted house, complete with a slack-jawed brothers (one of whom was wielding a chain saw) and their wife/cousin, who was sporting a homemade Palin for President button.

Speaking of politics, we saw a man dressed as Michelle Obama, my friend Nancy's daughter dressed as Sarah Palin and local mom dressed as the crazy McCain lady from SNL.
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After trick or treating, playing with her friends, passing out candy and spreading her Halloween haul out on the living room carpet to admire, it was time to wash the chocolate off her face and the glitter out of her hair (thanks, Sharon!) and get ready for bed.

As soon as I'd tucked her in, I headed to Toys R Us to pick up a USA puzzle--a gift from the Halloween Fairy in exchange for the bulk of Z's candy.
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