Thursday, July 31, 2008

Music & wine before rock & rascals

I could probably have used a stiff drink to prepare myself for three days of Lollapalooza with kids, but instead I stopped by the Blackstone Hotel in the South Loop for a Blackstone Winery wine tasting that paired music with vino. It sounds silly, but different kinds of music really did effect the taste of different varietals. Merlot and Iron & Wine--good. Pinot Grigio and Radiohead--bad. The theory goes that "happy" (lighter, fresher, whiter) wines go best with "happy" music and darker music brings out the dark fruit and tannins in rich reds.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Taking pleasure in the small things

Here are a few things that have made me very happy in the past 24 hours:

1. Watching the owners of massive SUVs pump $100 worth of gas into their hulking vehicles
2. Wow Bao for lunch after a quick trip to the gym. Spicy cold peanut noodles and chicken potstickers with mustard-sesame sauce...mmm
3. Seeing Z eat every last morsel of food off of her dinner plate. We didn't wheedle, encourage or threaten. Instead, I was so engrossed in conversation with Josh, that Z may have eaten everything just to get our attention!
4. Taking two happy kids out in the wagon for Hole in the Wall frozen custard
5. Finding that Baby A not only doesn't care that I'm weaning her off her bedtime nurse, but she'd rather play put the top on the bottle anyway.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Block Party

Certainly one of the highlights of Z's year, our annual summer block party was this Saturday. I helped Z decorate her tricycle, which she rode up and down the closed street with her growing posse of 3-year old girls.

If the street looks deserted, that's because all the bounce houses, food tables and scattered folding chairs are behind the camera.
Baby A shocked me with her insatiable appetite for the mini bounce house. I mean really, who puts a 12-month old in a jump house? Well, I did for a minute--for a laugh. And she loved it.

Adopting internationally, Cabbage Patch style

Remember the Cabbage Patch craze? My parents weren't the type to camp out outside Toys R Us, but they did finally furnish me with the must-have doll of 1983. Her name was Johanna and she was from Finland. My dad purchased her while on a work-related trip to Scandinavia.

Johanna's "adoption papers" were in Finnish, but she was otherwise a dead ringer for the Cabbage Patch Kids all my friends had. You couldn't say the same for the handsewn "Cabbage Patch" my Great Aunt Helen gave me. I knew she wasn't quite "right," so I didn't trot her out for my friends to see. But I loved her ugly nylon face and chose her to share my bed.

I haven't chased after any "hot" toys for my kids, but I finally procured a Wii for the adult members of the family!

This reminiscence was brought to you by Parent Bloggers Network and Hasbro, whose Hot Summer Toys Event is donating up to $400,000 in toys and games to needy kids.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Crafting a life-sized self portrait

I had Z lie down on a sheet of paper from her IKEA easel and I traced around her body. We worked together to dress her alter ego. On Z's direction, I filled in the "puffy sleeves dress" and "high heeled shoes." Z did the face, hair, jewelry and rainbow sleeve enhancements.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Recycling old crayons

Inspired by this craft idea from Make and Take, I decided to melt down a bunch of crayon stubs and create chunky little mini muffin-sized crayons with Z.

I removed the paper wrappers from myself, which is more difficult than I expected--perhaps because our old crayons had been stored outside in a hot garage. Then Z and I selected colors to mix together in a mini muffin tin sprayed with nonstick spray.

We baked the crayons at 275 for 7 minutes and let them harden up overnight.


The results are beautiful--some look like visions of outer space and others like lattes and sunsets. I think you could create pretty neat melted wax "paintings" by selecting the right colors and placing the crayon bits just so.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Baaa...I'm sick

Suffering from a massive headache and pretty major body aches, I shuffled home yesterday an hour early and went straight to bed. In spite of the fact that it was 88 degrees outside, I turned off our bedroom A/C and crawled under 2 blankets, shivering.

I stayed in bed until this morning, only getting up to bathe and nurse A. Then it was off to the doctor's office where they oohed and aahed over my inflamed tonsils, throat and lymph nodes.

But since the initial strep test came back negative, I was sent home to battle my fever with alternating doses of Tylenol and Advil. They also gave me a prescription for antibiotics to fill if I'm not feeling better by tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

She's crafty!

Z and I put together a "Princess Castle" using an box, colored paper, glue, markers and ribbon, and I'm determined to involve her in some more craft projects. But where to look for inspiration? I've found two great resources: Chasing Cheerios and Make and Takes.

The craft store shopping list is in my bag. Hopefully I'll make it there by the weekend!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Again with the Disney Princesses

I swore no daughter of mine would be a pink sparkly shoe-wearing princess wanna-be, but there's no fighting Disney. Check out my surrender to the Disney Princesses today on the Chicago Moms Blog.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My 800th post: Life as a Pitchfork Widow

"Can't you at least pretend you're okay with me leaving you with the girls all day?" asked Josh as he left this morning.

Um, no. The happy housewife mask requires at least 6 hours of sleep to fit correctly. I got about 4 last night thanks to a cranky, clinging baby who refused to sleep and required constant holding between 2:30 and 5:15am. Naturally, her big sister woke up at 5:40.

Baby A continued to be out of sorts most of the day--she didn't want to eat until the afternoon, she was drooling up a storm, and her napping schedule was all thrown off. In spite of the nap shortage (heck, I could have used one too), we managed to have some fun, tricycling up and down the street, making milkshakes and stealing our neighbor's wading pool for a little aggressive splashing (Z) and peeing in the pool (A). We also joined a few friends for a backyard BBQ.

I want to ride my trike from almaklein on Vimeo.

But by the time I got them into the car to drive home, both of the girls were exhausted and hysterical. And, in a parenting low point, I shouted, "Shut up!" to Z as she tearfully complained how it wasn't fair that her car seat was down low and A's was up high and I needed to fix it right now.

Did you follow that? We were parallel parked and Z's side was closer to the curb--thus, it she was sitting somewhat lower. They both cried through their bath (I even skipped the soap and just rinsed off the sweat and visible dirt) and Z wailed as I nursed A because she was "so lonely and scared" right outside A's bedroom door.

At least they were both asleep by 8pm!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Jotting it down

Have you heard of Jott? Read about my adventures with the very handy service over at Chicago Moms Blog.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Lord, the flies!

So I arrive home from a 45 minute car ride through the hood with two very hungry and cranky kids, no husband and no pacifier to find that my home's been infested with flies. Now I'm no princess. I can handle a fly here or an ant there. It's summer and my house isn't airtight.

But I've never encountered anything like this.

Imagine starring in a horror movie like, I don't know, The Fly. Only it's The Flies and you're trying to feed, bathe and put your kids to bed while whacking the evil bastards with all the junk mail, magazines and rolled up newspapers you can find. I killed a lot of flies. Definitely more than 25 and probably closer to 50. My 3 year old killed flies. With her bare hands! ("That's how Daddy does it." Ew.

I talked to my sister on the phone, punctuating our conversation with smacks, whacks and the swishy sweeping up of dead insects. That long distance call cost me $1.50 and 5 more souls.

And yet the job is still not done! I brushed my teeth dodging the five flies that had taken up refuge from my homicidal self, killing one above the tub with one with an Entertainment Weekly. And just think I could be partying at BlogHer right now...

The only good news is that I think I figured out where the flies were coming from and I stopped up the gap between the windows above our window A/C unit. That and Josh is coming home in an hour and has promised me he'll kill any stragglers.

Flickr photo by jpctalbot

What separates my daughters?

Two years and nine months.
8 inches.
And 8 1/2 pounds.

I took them both in for well-child visits this morning. Baby A tips the scales at 21 lbs and is in the 30th percentile for height and the 50th for weight. Z weighs 29 1/2 lbs, but she's climbed into the 10th percentile for both height and weight. She'd been in the 3rd at her appointment last summer.

Both girls are meeting all their developmental milestones and impressed the doctor and her student doc with their charm. A didn't even cry during her blood draw!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Happy 1st Birthday, Baby A

Baby girl, you've come a long way in a year. From 8 pounds to 20. From a tiny bundle to a bundle of boundless energy. No longer do you gaze contentedly upon the world from your perch in a sling. No, you're a crawling, cruising, squealing hunk of kid who wants to do, play with and eat whatever everyone else is doing, having fun with or chowing down on.

Before you were born I worried that as our second born, you'd get second-class treatment. But while you've always had to share your parents and your toys, you've got the gift of an attentive big sister whose mere presence thrills you from your beautifully curling hair to the tips of your fat little toes.

Big changes are in store for you this month, Baby A. We'll be weaning you from formula and breastmilk to whole fat moo juice and replacing your beloved bottle with sippy cups. I think you'll love facing forward in your car seat--even if that means an end to "mixed-up paci," the little game of pass the pacifier that you and Z play in the back seat.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Daddy does bedtime

Josh is infinitely "better" at putting Z to bed. When I do the nighttime ritual, Z stalls, calls and generally fights sleep for an hour. So tonight I left the house to check out the new Marion Street Cheese Market and Josh put our daughter to bed. After a few stories, he told her he was going to head downstairs and empty the dishwasher. She wasn't to call down to him; he would come upstairs and check on her in 10 minutes.

When he came back up he said, "You didn't call me. But you're awake."
"I was busy thinking."
"What were you thinking about?"
"What about Mommy?"
"I was thinking about calling for Mommy."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Are you game for the Go Game?

I joined 800 of my agency colleagues for an urban scavenger hunt/creative challenge made possible by the folks from The Go Game. It was really fun--for the first two hours, anyway. Then the hot, humid temperatures made the constant running up and down Michigan Avenue in a black tee shirt and jeans really uncomfortable. I don't know if it was the sun exposure, a touch of dehydration or the spinning challenge that did me in, but I've had a headache since 2pm. And I don't typically get headaches.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Look what's hatching

Have you seen the latest outdoor advertising for McDonald's? I was in no way involved, but I'm proud to say I work for the agency responsible for this brilliance.

I won't blubber about BlogHer

Not only are a few of my fellow mommybloggers are headed cross-country from D.C. to San Francisco for BlogHer, I'm getting daily--nay, hourly--reminders of all of the cool parties and great swag I'll be missing out on this weekend. But don't cry for me... Instead of filling my suitcase with freebies, getting a makeover at Saks and partying at Guy Kawasaki's house, I'll be checking out the Pitchfork Festival, attending my neighbor's 40th birthday party (complete with live music) and having a retro cookout with our Chavurah.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Here's our almost 1-year-old enjoying the sugar-frosted American tradition whereby we usher our children forth into a diabetic future.

Minutes before the party started, I was describing the Costco cake I'd purchased for the event to my mom.
"It's vanilla with chocolate mousse filling. It says "Happy 1st Birthday A and it's decorated with a rainbow."
"A rainbow? Aren't those reserved for gay people? I see rainbow flags all over, and they're always for gay pride."
"We'll it's not like they've laid claim to all rainbows," I responded. "Besides, who says this isn't a gay-friendly birthday party?"
For the record, all the kids were begging to have a slice with rainbow on it.

Also, I'd sent Z down the street to play with her new friend Brianna for an hour before the festivities began. She came back decked out for the party.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

"The bottom"

My daughter saw this Pixar short before Ratatouille exactly one year ago, and she's still talking about it. She calls it "The bottom" (watch and you'll find out why) and she's completely fixated on it. She's thinks "the bottom" is going to get her. And she was so worried she'd be forced to see "the bottom" again that she became hysterical during the opening credits of Kung-Fu Panda and Josh had to take her home.

Playgroup goddesses

I felt like a lady of leisure as I spent the morning at a spa with my girlfriends. Five of us met for a mani-pedi party complete with free snacks and mimosas. It was so fun! Of my group of friends, I'm the only one who hasn't started getting my hair done at Bertuca. And I can see why: not only do they give cute cuts, they pamper you (chocolate pedicures and chocolate martinis, anyone?) without it feeling the least bit posh or pretentious.

Meanwhile, Josh entertained about half of the dads and a bunch of kids at our place. I came home to toys strewn about and an empty pizza box, but 3 hours of luxury more than pays for 10 minutes of picking up.

I feel like the luckiest mom in the world.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Nine years, y'all

Thanks for 9 years of mostly-blissful weddedness, Josh! After a few forgettable anniversaries (last year I hot, bloated and days away from delivering Baby A), we're celebrating in style tonight with a dinner at the much hyped Schwa. We're also getting ourselves a Wii! I was finally able to location one in stock at yesterday. (And thank you George Bush for the sorry-I'm-a-sucky-President check that's helping make both of these indulgences possible.)

Incidentally, the last anniversary I remember clearly is our 4th, which we spent on our hands and knees, pulling up filthy carpeting in 90-degree heat in the house we'd just purchased. Our home has come a long way in the last 5 years. And so have we.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wednesday night is pizza night

We learned about Whole Foods' $7.99 Wednesday night pizza special months ago, and we've done a pretty good job of picking up their delicious 16" pies to share with our next-door neighbors ever since. Tonight we're expanding the party to three houses and enjoying our slices in the backyard.
5 adults
6 kids under 9
3 large pizzas
1 salad
1 six-pack of Corona with limes
...and a carton of cookie dough ice cream

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

More than you ever wanted to know about early learning

Some parents want to give their kids every edge. They'll buy flashcards for their babies, consult with preschool admissions advisers and send their elementary school kids to storefront tutoring centers.

I'd like to think I'm not one of those mothers.

Sure, I'm paying a pretty penny to send Z to a Montessori school instead of a traditional play-based preschool or one of those we-don't-care-about-reading-we'd-rather-hug-cloth-dolls Waldorf academies. But that's because I think Montessori curriculum is a perfect match for her inquisitive, self-directed personality.

But I don't think her school is 100% responsible for what she learns. I want to provide enriching opportunities at home, and I'm always on the lookout for suggestions for books to check out from the library, ideas for art activities and tools for fostering an interest in math and science (not my strong suits, honestly). And I recently learned you can find all this (and a whole lot more) at a site called The Savvy Source for Parents, a resource-filled website for the parents of preschoolers (thanks for the hookup, Parent Bloggers).

Check out the quiz on the right-side of my blog. Seriously, try it and come right back. I completed all of the questions (yes, there are a lot) and got a breathtakingly in-depth look at my preschooler's knowledge and skills across a variety of subjects. For example, Z can't yet "observe and talk about art." When I clicked through to SavvyPicks for toys, books and activities that might strengthen this skill I saw two books we already owned and I made a mental note to share Harold and the Purple Crayon and Dancing with Degas with my daughter again soon.

You can find suggestions for activities, crafts and toys that help enrich each skill area (and again, there are a lot). It is a little overwhelming, honestly. But motivated moms can print the free activities and create and share wishlists with grandparents for puzzles, block sets and much, much more. Even if you don't take all of the quizzes, you can browse activities by category or by your child's age. Here are the ideas for 3-4 year olds.

The SavvySource quiz is being sponsored by Leapfrog, which sent me their brand new Tag reading system to review. Now as a general rule, Josh and I don't buy electronic educational games. I figure if I managed to escape childhood and become a professional writer without a Speak N Spell, my children can survive as well. So color us shocked when, just hours after we powered up the "pen," both of us were determined to buying more books for the system. It's that good.

So what is this miracle toy? The Tag reader is a pen-shaped electronic device that "reads" books from the collection, which includes many classic titles as well as crappy-looking licensed character books. Our reader came with Ozzie and Mack, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and a Kung-Fu Panda book. In order to get the books to "read," we had to first download software to our Mac and connect the reader to the computer with the included USB cord. You transfer stories from your computer/online library to the reader much like you'd add songs to your iPod. It holds five books at a time. And, like an iPod, you can attach a pair of headphones to the reader and keep your kid quietly occupied in the car or at the doctor's office

Z immediately figured out how to get the pen to read the stories to her. Imagine--a tool that responds to her commands to "read to me!" without an "after I unload the dishwasher, honey." She really got a kick out of the word games embedded on pages throughout the book and doggedly worked to master levels 1, 2 and 3 (pretty good considering the toy is rated for 4-8 year olds)! And come August I'll be able to monitor and track her progress via the Leapfrog Learning Path.

LeapFrog's Tag Reader retails for $49.99 and comes with one book. Additional books cost $13.99.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

This tale has a new ending

As I was putting her to bed, I told Z the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. I've been getting a little irritated by her constant whining about minor irritations, so I was hoping that this tale might convince her to save her complaints for the big stuff.
"But the little boy didn't die."
"Yes he did. The wolf ate up the sheep and the boy because nobody came to rescue them."
"We-ell, he didn't die. He was in the wolf's tummy but he wasn't dead. The wolf went potty and the boy went in the potty and he wasn't dead! And his clothes fell off and his underpants fell off in the potty and...[whispered] everyone could see his privates... Tell that part, okay Mommy?"
"Wolves don't go potty, Z. They poop in the woods."
"Well, tell my ending anyway."

Saturday, July 05, 2008

And the Mommyblogger-PR stars aligned...

I'm no alpha mommyblogger, yet my email inbox gets clogged with PR pitches on a daily basis. Most go straight to the trash, but a few weeks ago the stars aligned. Z'd been battling me over clothes because everything was so un-com-fort-a-ble. She only wanted to wear "soft pants" and the handful of t-shirts with collars that didn't itch, sport uncomfortable tags or bother her for some other, indecipherable reason. She yanked at her underwear, tugged at waistbands, rolled her eyes and whined the nothing fits me the right way.

Right about the time that I'd given in and agreed to let her wear the same two pairs of ugly pants all summer, Hanes came a-calling. Susannah send us a care package with a darling graphic spaghetti strap shirt (see photo), a lime-green skort, a package of kiddie camisoles and some underwear. Z was thrilled--not only to received stuff in the mail--but to wear something new that fit her soft clothes/no tags criteria. She quit wearing pajamas and started pairing a camisole with underpants. Underpants that don't even have Princesses on them (although they sell those too). The yellow cami top with the sparkly turtle on it is her new favorite shirt. She'd wear it every day if I let her.

Honestly, I didn't really think Hanes did much beyond underwear and men's athletic t-shirts. But it turns out they've got a pretty great selection of inexpensive cotton clothing that's perfect for kids' playwear. And since Susannah asked me to mention it, when you buy specially-marked packages of Hanes, you'll have a chance to Vacation in Comfort at Walt Disney World. And Princess panties or no, Z would pee hers with excitement if we won. Which we won't.

Talk of the Nation

"Mommy, when is Barack Obama going to come over to our house?"
"Well, sweetie, he's not. He's a very busy man."
"Hey, when are we going to have cake and candles?"
"We're not, Z. We're going to have ice cream sandwiches for dessert."
"But it's a birthday and we need to have birthday cake!"
"It's not a birthday."
"Yes it is. It's America's birthday!"


Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 4th of July

232 years of history...We plan to celebrate much like we do every year: a parade, cookouts with too many hot dogs and an evening filled with fireworks (for the half of the family, anyway).

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Hurray for kid-free time

As if getting a babysitter last night so that we could see WALL-E wasn't good enough, I had the day off today (yes, my new job rocks!), but since the girls' childcare arrangements were already paid for, Josh and I dropped them off at their respective places and enjoyed over 5 hours of kid-free fun!

First I figured out how to convert my new bike trailer into a stroller without pinching tiny hands or enduring any whining. Then I dropped my bicycle off at Dan's Bike Shop for its bi-yearly tune-up and Josh and I headed to Oakbrook Center, where he got fitted for a new suit. He's a little tired of the very traditional suit he bought for our wedding 9 years ago and he looked very sexy in the slim-fitting Hugo Boss number the dapper Nordstrom salesman found for him. It retails for nearly $900 (gulp!), but their Anniversary sale is only 3 weeks away and that brings the price down to a more reasonable $530. Reasonable if you figure it works out to about $53 a year for 10 years of wear. I'm a H&M-lovin' cheapskate, but I wouldn't blink at dropping 50 bucks on clothes every month, much less once a year. And yeah, we hit my favorite Swedish cheap chic outlet too.

Trying on clothes made us hungry, so we asked our brand-new GPS unit (thanks, Mom) to direct us to Katy's Dumpling House, a fabulous Chinese noodle shop that's hidden away in an unassuming strip mall near Downers Grove. We shared some tasty potsticker-like dumplings and an enormous bowl of richly flavored beef noodle soup.

And, since there weren't any nap-needing monsters in the backseat, we decided to explore the area a little. We picked up a few things we needed at the DG Trader Joe's, checked out the downtown area and stopped for very disappointing blizzards at DQ before heading back to Oak Park in time for at 2:30 camp pickup.