Wednesday, December 31, 2008
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.
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
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
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
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
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
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.
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.
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
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'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.
A Houston Surgeon's Home, an Ode to His Wife and God
Thursday, December 18, 2008
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
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
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
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
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."
"Every single clothing is going to be a dress. A fancy princess dress."
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
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
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.
"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
"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.
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Monday, December 08, 2008
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?
Friday, December 05, 2008
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
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.
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
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
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.