Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My New Year's Resolutions

I know, I know. It's so cliche. But writing my New Year's resolutions on my blog, for all to see, means one of you can help hold me accountable. So here goes. Laugh away. I'm even starting with exercise.

1. Improve my physical fitness by getting to the gym twice a week. At least once I will either take a class or spend 20 minutes on the treadmill, doing interval training. I had been seriously slacking off this past month and a half, but Josh joined the Y and the fact that he's getting in shape is serious inspiration for me. Roawr.

2. Maximize productivity by closing my Internet browser for at least 2 hours while at work. This is hard because my work requires a lot of online time. But I am also way too easily distracted by blogs, Twitter, personal emails and the news.

3. Be a better wife and mother. To that end, I'll aim to take each member of my family on some kind of solo date/outing each month. (I'm stealing this one from Andrea.)

4. Take advantage of my sister and her family's summer trip to the U.S. to plan one heck of a road trip and family reunion.

5. Survive New Year's Day. I invited a bunch of friends to our house for New Year's brunch not really thinking that most would be in town and accept and, oh yeah, they all have families. Turns out 69 people have RSVPed yes. That's not counting the maybes. Holy shit, I'm going to need to buy a lot of orange juice. And bagels. And toilet paper.

But enough with the panic. What about last year's resolution to spend less money? I said we would put off purchasing a new dining room table and chairs and forgo the mini kitchen remodel I wanted. I also said our plans for a 10th anniversary trip would be scaled back or scuttled altogether. We indeed went without the dining room furniture and anniversary celebration (we had dinner at Publican), but we only waited until November to get our kitchen done, but I don't regret spending our hard-earned cash on new counters, backsplash and sink.

Do you do New Year's resolutions? Care to share?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On waking up in a puddle of piss

After a lovely--if a little whirlwind--trip back East, we arrived home on Sunday afternoon. Oscar, our new kitten, was hungry but happy to see us. I noticed our cat sitter hadn't picked up the cash I'd left on the counter and I panicked momentarily, thinking perhaps she hadn't come at all. But the litter boxes were relatively clean, the mail inside, sidewalk somewhat shoveled and Oscar wasn't starving.

Just then my Blackberry starts buzzing. It's Paula. "Oh good, you're back. I was so worried!" She races to tell me she's lost my house key and couldn't get in to feed Oscar that morning. She'd even had her mom (a well-known Oak Park family practice doctor) call some of our neighbors to see if they had a copy of our key.

I reassure Paula that Oscar's okay, she can come get her payment whenever and not to worry about the key. But that drama was small potatoes compared to what we were in for a few hours later.

Sunday night A wakes up, as she has been since campaigning to go Pull-Up free, at midnight. I take her to the potty, and then back to her crib. She hollers bloody murder, and after about half an hour of it, we bring her to our bed. She demands water, hogs the pillows and covers and kicks me in the face repeatedly. After a few stern warnings, Josh tells her the party's over and deposits her back in her crib. Hysterical crying commences and goes on for two bloody hours. At some point I close our door to minimize the damage to my eardrums and psyche.

Trapping Oscar inside.

Exhausted from the midnight battles, I sleep like the dead and don't hear the cat meowing and scratching at our door. Josh apparently does, but figures Oscar probably just wants to be fed.

Around 5:40, Josh wakes me up. "Um, I think Oscar might have..." I shift and find myself in the middle of a warm wet spot. How can A have wet the bed, I wonder, didn't we put her back in her room? Josh continues, "I think Oscar pooped in our room somewhere."

I dawns on me that the zoo like smell and the warm spot are probably connected and we start stripping our bed. The piss has soaked through our down comforter, sheets and mattress pad, but the mattress is still dry.

The good news is that our "dry clean or professionally launder" comforter comes our spotless and odor-free after a vinegar-enhanced trip through the washer and extended stay in the dryer (with a tennis ball). The bad news is that our room still smells. I sprinkle the carpet with baking powder, light candles and still the odor remains. I'm sniffing the mattress, wondering if somehow the cat piss has infected it when Josh discovers a giant cat turd in my walk-in closet. Gross, but at least he laid waste to my old Crocs instead of my new boots. And once that mess was cleaned up, the bedroom was fresh as a G-d damn daisy.

And we learned our lesson. Never keep a kitten from his litter box. And quit reinforcing A's bad habit of "sleeping in the big bed with Mama." Operation tough love began last night.

He didn't mean to be bad...

Friday, December 25, 2009

10 years later--and the wedding dress fits

While the rest of America was unwrapping Snuggies and drinking hot cocoa, Josh and I drove the girls from Arlington, VA to West Chester, PA, home of my in-laws and resting place of my wedding dress, which I hadn't tried on in 10 1/2 years.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chicago's best photo-op

While I've had brunch (and enjoyed the views) on top of the John Hancock Building a couple of times, until Monday I'd never been to the top of the Sears--nay, the Willis--Tower. Its taller, but due to its South Loop location, less glamorous than its Mag Mile skyscraping cousin.

But thanks to a tweetup organized by Kim Moldofsky, my whole family got to take in Chicago from 103 stories up. We were treated to free entry, oversized cookies, VIP line-jumping and unlimited photo-ops on the Skydeck Ledge, a brilliant example of tourist catnip if there ever was one.

Josh and I weren't scared. Z was a little cautious at first. And A wouldn't put her feet down anywhere near the glass.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Princess and the Frog

I took Z to see a matinee of Disney's first hand-drawn animated feature in a bajillion years and cried through the whole damn movie. Yes, I was PMSing. But my tears weren't entirely fueled by hormones.

I cried for patriotism. I've never seen a fundamentally American fairy tale before. The Princess and the Frog manages to capture the food, music, religion and culture of New Orleans without veering too far into caricature.
I cried for civil rights. I'm not the mother of a Black girl, but if I was I'd be so glad there was finally a Disney Princess who looked like my child. It may sound trivial, but this shit matters.
I cried for women's lib. Tiana comes from humble beginnings and marries a prince, but she achieves her dream of owning her own restaurant through combination of luck, moxie and a whole lot of double shifts.
I cried for values. The triumph of good over evil is no stranger to Disney movies, but The Princess and the Frog emphasized so many of the values I hold dear: family bonds, empathy, thrift, hard work, acceptance of people's differences, friendship and the power of music to bring people together.
Finally, I cried for artistry. In a world filled with horrifying bad animation, The Princess and the Frog is beautifully drawn and features a fantastic soundtrack. Keep your eyes peeled for the art-deco style fantasy and spooky, hyper-hypnotic voodoo sequences.

Z's take: It was better than Cinderella. But not better than The Little Mermaid.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cold weather fashion tips from the creator of Yummie Tummie

It's not every day (or ever, really) that I get the chance to hang out with a fashion designer to the stars, but sometimes mommyblogging has its benefits, and last week I had the honor of meeting Heather Thomson, founder of Yummie Tummie. YT, for those uninitiated (aka those who didn't attend BlogHer 09), is a line of shapewear and fashion basics that promise to slim flabby mummy tummies and make you look thinner and more toned without all those pesky sit-ups. And Heather, in addition to being the designer and founder of the company, is a fellow working mom to two children about the same age as mine. When I sat down with her on Friday after our company holiday party, she was looking forward to heading home after a busy week on the road and regretted she would be missing sundown on the first night of Chanukah.

Yummie Tummie got its start shortly after Heather gave birth to her first child. She was looking for something to hold in her post-partum jiggle but was astonished by the ugly, ill-fitting garments in the fusty, old-fashioned shapewear department. She was so disappointed by what she'd bought she ripped them up and patched the stretchy fabric together to sew a tank top for herself. She liked it so much she went to a fabric store and made more tank tops in black, pink, nude and white. Now Yummie Tummie sells dozens of control tops, bottoms, slips, and lingerie. Heather even confessed her body shaping teddie has helped women ashamed of their bellies turn the lights back on in the bedroom.

I actually bought a Yummie Tummie tank early this year, and while it's really well constructed and battles back my muffin top, I wasn't totally sold on it. It crept up when not tucked into my pants or tights and I just wasn't convinced it was sucking in $62.00 worth of flab.

Turns out I was wearing the wrong size. With a quick up and down glance, Heather pronounced me a small and hello, my new small tank feels much, much more snug. It holds onto my hips and really sucks in my gut. I think it even make me stand up taller. I wore it under a belted purple sweater to a couple of holiday parties on Saturday and 5 people told me I looked like I'd lost weight! (I haven't.)

So the Yummie Tummie works, but it's not worth it if you're hiding under jeans, a hoodie and a down parka, right? I needed to pick Heather's brain for stylish, flattering looks for those of us facing a long winter of sub-zero temps. Heather recommended dressing monochromatically and spending money on a couple of coats and a wardrobe of cold weather accessories. She suggested navy or cream hats and gloves for dressier occasions and pairing funky striped gloves with jeans. Matching my mittens to my clothes and boots never even occurred to me before! She also showed me how you can vary your look without buying anything new; grabbing her own gray hat, she demonstrated all the different ways you can style a simple fold-over skullcap. She added that scarves are great accessories that can be worn lots of different ways while also keeping you warm outdoors and in.

Heather also stressed the importance of choosing a warm coat that's not overly bulky and complimented me my fitted black Lands End down coat. She told me I should try belting it and I did so today, giving myself a bit more of a waist with the addition of a wide, elastic and pleather belt I picked up at Forever 21.

You can get more cold-weather fashion tips from Already Pretty, a fashion blogger from Minneapolis. Check out this post on layering without lumps.

Also in this picture, a hat from Etsy, gloves from H&M, a scarf from Loehmann's, jeans from Forever 21 and my new Frye boots

Disclosure: I received a free Yummie Tummie tank top during my interview with Heather

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Magnetic poetry for kids and Frye boots for me

Thanks to the grandparent largess, we haven't bought our kids more than one or two Chanukah presents a piece. But I couldn't resist getting my budding wordsmith her first magnetic poetry kit.

In related news, I got an awesome Chanukah gift from Josh--Frye boots! He knew I'd been lusting after them and surprised me with a pair he's ordered from Amazon. Unfortunately he picked a tall chocolate brown pair with a square toe. I already have tall brown boots I love and I so don't love the square toe. Oh, and they weren't very comfortable either.

I felt guilty for not loving such a thoughtful, generous gift, but I couldn't fathom keeping a pair of pricey, pinchy boots that I wouldn't wear enough to justify the cost. Josh, good sport as always, told me to walk over to Nordstrom at lunch and find a pair I liked better.

I picked out these and--with Josh's blessing--bought them (we're returning the others). I think I must have made my salesman's week. He kept saying "Thank you. Thank you." with such emphasis, passion and relief in his voice that I started thinking his commission on my purchase might have really made a difference in his take home pay that day.

Which got me thinking. Usually I buy shoes online. I try them on at home and send back the ones that don't work. (And why not? Return shipping is typically free.) I wonder if there's a growing segment of frugalistas out there trying on shoes at Nordstrom and walking out of the store empty-handed only to make their purchase online. And I'll admit, if Frye boots were available at a sizable discount online, I might have tried this dirty little trick myself.

Monday, December 14, 2009

You won't be getting a holiday card from me

Unless you are my daughter's teacher, daycare provider or named Marge (there are two of them), don't count on a festive envelope from the House of Klein. In the interest of saving trees, postage and my sanity, I'm cutting out holiday cards this year. Anyone hungry for a photo of my kids or an update on our lives knows exactly where they can find one.

I enjoy getting cards (or any personal snail mail, really), so I know I'll be feeling more guilty with every envelope's arrival. But it won't weaken my resolve. I'm not updating my address book, stressing about finding the perfect picture of our two kids or signing our names until I'm weak in the wrist. I'm not licking envelopes, affixing stamps or inserting year-end letters detailing 12 months of salary freezes, freelance furloughs and our nonetheless fabulous trip to Australia.

New to this blog and want the highlights? Here it is: A got pottytrained and Z learned to read.

Happy Chanukah!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Maybe I have too much on my plate...

Just as I was berating myself for not blogging but not having the energy to blog about everything that's happened in the past week (trip to LA, company holiday party, company after-party, interview with the creator of Yummie Tummie, preschool holiday party, co-worker's holiday party, a fleeting case of pink eye, Chavurah Chanukah party, our new kitty, etc., etc.)... I find myself having a truly blog-worthy moment.

I filled up our electric teakettle with water to make tea... and put it on the gas stove.
This, ladies and gentlemen, this what idiocy (or maybe too much wine and too little sleep) looks like:

Now that I've gotten that out there, here are a couple of photos from the Montessori holiday party. First the kids sang their favorite songs in their individual classrooms. (A wanted to sit with her sister "on stage.")


Then we joined the rest of the school for food, face painting and a silent auction. I won a pizza lunch for Z and 9 friends with "Mr Bruce," the school business manager.
Z with Evan, who she's loved since she was in diapers
Julia, one of Z's best friends, actually spent much of the evening leading A around by the hand.

Stay tuned for highlights from my conversation with Yummie Tummie's Heather Thomson. I asked her how--besides wearing her tank tops--a girl can look thin and shapely in 9 degree weather.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

On the road again...

Hello from not-sunny, kind of cold Los Angeles, where I'm helping conduct some in-home consumer research--in Spanish. Yes, with an interpreter.

I'm staying at the swanky Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood, which helps make up for the fact that my entire days are spent in a car or sitting on someone's uncomfortable kitchen chair.

Have you seen my A Few Things I'd Like to Bring Home from Australia post over at the Chicago Moms Blog?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Meet Oscar

Just a few days before Silver received her grim diagnosis, my friend Kirsten, a soft-hearted pet lover if there ever was one, rescued this kitten from an organic farm. It had been dumped on the property a few days beforehand and had been trying in vain to get into the farmhouse. The farmer didn't think he'd survive the winter as a barn/farm cat, so Kirsten and her equally soft-hearted mom scooped him up and brought him to Oak Park, determined to find the guy a home.

We weren't planning on getting another pet so soon, but the timing seem fortuitous and he's such a sweet, kid-friendly cat.
Yes, A's wearing scrubs. Getting her H1N1 booster reignited interest in her doctor kit.

A few things I'd like to bring home from Australia


I just returned from a two week visit to Australia, where my sister lives with her Australian husband and their family. As far as foreign countries go, it takes a long, long time to get there, but it is pretty familiar territory once you land. A thoroughly modern, cosmopolitan city, Sydney kind of looks like Southern California, complete with tattooed surfers, texting teenagers, Target, McDonald's, Subway and KFC outlets.

But Australia isn't America Down Under, and they've got a few things I'd like to import.

1. Public Health Care

Yeah, this is a big one. No one in Australia goes uninsured. Everyone has access to the state-run Medicare plan. Yes, you might have to wait a few months to get non-emergency work done, but you won't have to mortgage your house or go bankrupt to pay for it. Once your household reaches a certain income level, you can pay a penalty (I believe it is $2000) to stay in the public plan or you can opt to buy private insurance. In my sister's case, private insurance cost about the same as the penalty but got her access to "fancier" care like a post-partum recovery suite at a local hotel where she had catered meals and 24/7 access to a private maternity nurse.

2. Enforcement of Driving Laws

Obviously regulations vary from place to place in the U.S., but at least in Chicago it takes a lot to get yourself pulled over and a whole lot to lose your license. In Australia traffic fines are high, enforcement is constant (traffic cameras and random roadblocks with breathalyzer tests are common) and it isn't uncommon to meet someone who has lose his or her license for 6 months for accumulating too many points. Yeah, there's a little less freedom on the open road, but I didn't see anyone speeding, talking or texting while driving. In general, drivers were courteous and pedestrians respected.

3. More Natural Foods

I couldn't find a single processed food item in Australia with high fructose corn syrup. Not Heinz ketchup, not Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail, not peanut butter, jelly or crackers. The candy Smarties (basically Nestle's answer to M&Ms) was running an outdoor campaign touting "no artificial colors." Even Kraft Singles were a natural shade of white instead of orange. The egg selection at the store was a revelation. Each package described not only whether the eggs were organic or free range, but whether they were raised in a barn or a field. And they were delicious.

4. Dual Flush Toilets

It doesn't take a genius to know that you don't need the same amount of water to wash away number 1 as you do for number 2. In Australia, whether you're at a public restroom or at home, you select your flush. It just makes so much sense. Can someone please explain to me why dual flush toilets haven't taken off in the U.S.?

5. Parents with Prams Parking

I was astonished to find that my sister's local shopping center, an indoor mall with a Target, Big W (Walmart), a bunch of mall-type boutiques and a food court, had an entire section of the parking garage dedicated to "parents with prams" (that's strollers to us Yanks). Those not headed to family parking don't even pass through! Imagine how wonderful it would be to park close to the entrance in a special lot where every other driver is on the lookout for small children on the loose and no one will impatiently tap their steering wheel as they wait for you to fold up your stroller and buckle two wiggly kids into their car seats.

There are lots of other things I'd like to bring home from Australia, like warm weather, sandy beaches, roundabouts, flat white coffees and honeycomb as an ingredient in indulgent treats (ice cream, gelato, chocolate bars and butter). I'll pass on the harsh sun, rampant wildfires, poisonous snakes, enormous spiders and roaches and Vegemite.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Why we gave our toddler an iPod

It takes 20 hours to travel from Chicago to Australia. 20 long hours when you're traveling with two small children. That right there is reason enough to buy an iPod Touch.

Now a couple of years ago, iPods were for music. Podcasts and audio books, maybe. But today's iPod Touch (an iPhone without the phone, really) can function as a mini wifi-enabled computer
and entertainment hub. One with impressive battery life that won't take up space in your carry-on.

We loaded up our new 32GB iPod with music for Josh, Hebrew lessons for me, a selection of photos from our iPhone album, audio books for Z (she's partial to Lemony Snicket), a few Disney animated movies and games. We bought a headphone splitter and two sets of headphones so the kids could watch Toy Story at the same time. Unfortunately we only bought one pair of kid-sized headphones, and they were far more comfortable than the adult pair.

Now about those games. On Rookie Moms' recommendation, we downloaded iWrite Words and iChalky. Sound Shaker and Sort Slider were provided free to me by TickleTapApps so that I could review them. We were gone for 2 weeks and spent a whole lot of time in the air or driving somewhere, and both games were compelling enough to stop a crying jag cold. They were also compelling enough to start a few fights over who got to play them. Both girls mastered the noncompetitive, endless games quickly, and Sort Slider, a game that rewards you for matching a shape ended up being too easy even for 2 year old A. I'm honestly surprised it's recommended for kids 3-5. Sound Shaker (recommended for kids 4+) was the bigger hit: even I found its musical balls and hatching baby birds mesmerizing. Both games are available for $1.99 at the iTunes store.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

From two cats to none

Less than a month ago we euthanized Tallulah. She was a healthy cat with an unhealthy litter box problem that just couldn't be resolved.

Today karma scratched back and we had to euthanize Silver. Over the past 3 or 4 weeks Silver lost a lot of weight (down to 6lbs from 11) and started wheezing when she was excited/purring. She lost interest in food and stopped coming upstairs to our bedroom.

When we returned from Australia Josh and I agreed something was definitely very wrong. Josh made an appointment with the vet, and at noon today we got the diagnosis: advanced lung cancer.

A huge tumor was filling up Silver's chest cavity, squeezing out her lungs and heart and making organ failure imminent. She didn't respond to oxygen treatments.

The vet advised Josh against bringing her home. I wanted to be there for Silver's last breaths, but I didn't want her last hours to be in a cage at the vet's office, a place she'd always despised, so I agreed to let Josh escort her to evermore.

I'm so sad. Silver was our first baby. It was 1997 and Josh and I had just moved in together. We drove his white Toyota Corolla from Hyde Park to the Anti-Cruelty Society downtown. She was a 6 month old adolescent in a cage labeled "unwanted." I stroked her pretty tabby coat and, gave said, stupidly, "Isn't she sweet. We could call her Silver." Not a proud moment for an aspiring copywriter, but the name stuck.

For years, we spoiled her with cat treats, catnip and toys. Her favorite was the wire and cardboard cat dancer. She tolerated Z's arrival 5 years ago, but became suspicious of the baby when she went mobile. Since then, she's been a gentle evening caller--spending her days on our bed and her evenings on our laps, appearing as soon as the kids are tucked into bed. Until very recently she slept on Josh and my bed, hopping up as soon as we'd turned in for the night.

Silver, you'll be missed.

Monday, November 30, 2009

How to speak Australian

They drive on the left. You knew that. But did you know your windshield wipers and turn signals are swapped as well?
I've mentioned my beloved flat white (espresso with milk), but did I you know Aussies call bell peppers capsicums and raisins sultanas?
That strollers are prams, cribs are cots, sweaters are jumpers, preschool is kindy, diapers are nappies and pacis are dummies? Also elevators are lifts, drugstores are chemists and friends are mates...

Incidentally, I packed two boxes of regular (yellow box) Cheerios for my sister since the only kind they sell are these presweetened multigrain Os.
I also found it interesting that, while Gerber dominates the American baby food market, Heinz has it cornered in Australia, selling everything from jarred purees to toddler snacks.

Even fast food outlets are a little different. Subway was heavily promoting its new Chicken Tikka sandwich and I'm guessing you'll recognize this fast food restaurant...
Apparently someone had already trademarked Burger King down under.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Jet lag is a bitch

We put the kids to bed pretty much on schedule last night and hoped for the best. I was still wired when I headed to bed around 11pm, so I wasn't altogether shocked to see Z wide awake in her bed 20 minutes after she'd gotten up to pee.

She complained she couldn't sleep, so understanding mom that I am, I let her drag her comforter and pillow to our bedroom floor. And that's when the fun really started. A, who'd been moaning for Mommy off and on for about an hour, escalated her demands to a full-throttle holler. So I brought her to bed.

Fifteen minutes later Z was standing next the bed, tears running down her cheeks. She wanted to snuggle Mommy too. Since A seemed mostly content and our bed really isn't build for 4, I led Z back to her room and promised to lie down with her there.

Minutes later A was crying for Mommy and Z's telling me she "doesn't want A to lose her voice." So the two of us headed back to my room. Two small children in mom and dad's bed in the middle of the night -- two small children whose brains think it is the middle of the day even though it is the middle of the night... it was a party that had Dad running out before midnight and them keeping me up until after 2.

I've got my fingers crossed that an early morning plus melatonin at bedtime will mean a more rested me as I head back to work tomrorow.

See, I told you the kid was sick

Take a look at Z with the flu at the beginning of our trip ...
And after she'd made a full recovery...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Our neverending Friday

My last flat white of the trip

Friday morning in Sydney we awoke--as usual--around 6am. I fed the kids a light breakfast, showered and finished packing. I hit Big W (the Australian Walmart) for new coloring books and snacks for the plane while Josh kept an eye on the kiddos at the mall playland (big box and grocery stores are frequently located inside malls in Oz) and then we met up with Eleanor, Simon and Sam for breakfast at Bill's, the first place we'd gone to in Australia when we last visited in 2004, and the chef/cafe behind a couple of our favorite cookbooks.
From left: Josh, A, me, Z, Eleanor, Sam and Simon

After sharing plates of scrambled eggs, ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter and corn fritters, we headed over to Centennial Park (the Sydney equivalent of NYC's Central Park) with Eleanor and Sam (Eliza was at daycare) for a final hour under the intense southern hemisphere sun. I hadn't brought a hat or sunscreen, and my skin was starting to turn pink in 15 minutes. The stay-at-home moms were out in force and far more prepared for the heat and UV rays--they'd all set up picnic blankets in the shade and were laying out hats, suncream, umbrellas and water bottles.
Fair Z knows how to avoid a sunburn

At 12:30 we returned to Eleanor's and changed into our air travel clothes. It was 32 degrees celsius as we arrived at the Sydney airport--driven, as it turned out, by the most incompetent cab driver in the world. We should have known something was up when her words, after we'd belted in our kids, were "So you know the way, right?" We--the out-of-towners--had to guide her to the airport as she braked and signaled randomly through intersections, causing the usually polite Australian drivers to lay on their horns. As we approached the airport, she asked, 5 times, which airline we were taking. Each time we said "United" and she replied with "Okay, American."

We boarded our plane at 2:40 and took off, on time, at 3:30pm Sydney time. After 13 hours in the air, we arrived in LA at 9:30am. Nothing like flying over the international date line to get you to move backwards through time. LAX was a nightmare of standing in line after line with cranky kids, but our four hour 12:30 flight to Chicago was a (relative) piece of cake. We got home at 7:30pm, completing the world's longest Friday when we collapsed in our own bed at 10pm.

20+ hours of travel with two kids is really not much worse than 10 hours of travel with young kids, but the lack of sleep and constant catering to their whims is a real brain draining. I woke up this morning to the realization that, after paying our cabbie last night, I left my wallet in the taxi. Which means that, in addition to leaving Z's Leapster 2 (and all of its games) on a Jetstar flight from Byron Bay to Sydney, I lost my drivers license, ATM card, one credit card and $250 in cash coming home.

Oh well, I'm still calling the trip a success. More Australia posts to come. Soon. And more pictures can be seen here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sydney Wildlife World and the best lunch ever

Unlike yesterday, this morning's tourist adventure was successful. Eleanor took advantage of her weekly babysitter to drive us to Darling Harbour, where we took in the snakes, spiders, kangaroos and koalas at a completely not crowded Sydney Wildlife World. We then walked to Chinatown, where we ate an amazing lunch at Mamak. It's the first time I've ever had Malaysian food, and I sure hope it isn't my last. Roti bread, chicken kababs, lamb curry and a plate with coconut rice, peanuts, fried sardines, a boiled egg and hot sauce.

After lunch, A prompted fell asleep in the stroller and we walked to Queen Victoria Center, an upscale shopping spot where Josh and Z had cupcakes. We wandered around the downtown area until A awoke and then we began our adventure in getting home. Turns out not every bus stops at every stop and during the week you have to buy your pass in advance. So we had an unscheduled coffee and runaround break in Hyde Park before getting home to Eleanor's flat around 2:30. 

The afternoon was relaxing. We drove about 5 minutes to a salt water pool cut out of rocks and fed by the ocean where I swam with the girls. Then we had a barbecue in the back yard with Eleanor's downstairs neighbors--her husband's twin sister and her family. Their kids are 5 and 3 and Finnbar, the 5 year old, hit it off beautifully with Z. 

After a dinner of salmon, corn, coleslaw, asparagus and watermelon, Eleanor and I beat a quick retreat to a movie theatre, were we saw The Boys are Back, a quintessentially Aussie film about loss that doubled as a travel film making me long to see the coast of South Australia in person.

Monday, November 23, 2009

3 hours and $200 later, we saw some fish and ate a sandwich

Even with lying about Z's age to save some money, our admissions passes to the insanely crowded Sydney Aquarium cost $90 (we'd added on tickets to Wildlife World, which is next door, but I accidentally handed those tickets to the attendant and now, ripped, they probably won't get us in the door). Parking was another $50 for 2 hours. Hunger induced whining and menstrual cramps were free. 

After about 90 minutes we left the Aquarium and bought a couple of bags of pretzels ($5) and a milk ($1.70) to keep the kids occupied on the drive to Chinatown. Miracle of miracles, Josh found the Malaysian restaurant recommended to him by Simon the night before, but as he turned right to find a parking spot, he inadvertently took us onto the crosstown tunnel. 

By the time we saw daylight again, we were halfway to Maroubra, where Eleanor lives. We weren't sure if she'd restocked the fridge, so we opted to buy sandwiches at a coffee shop on the beach ($34)

First, however, the kids needed a double-dump roadside potty break. Our Potette has been getting a lot of use on this trip.

Top 3 things about Australia I'd like to bring to the US

1. Dual flush toilets. They only use more water when nature requires it. Why is this not the norm everywhere?
2. "Flat white" coffee. Drip coffee is a rarity in Australia. Flat white is an espresso with hot milk--similar to a no-foam latte, but less milky. Incidentally, I haven't seen a Starbucks yet.
3. Roundabouts. They're so much more fun than stop signs.

And here's what I return to the US without missing...
1. High prices. My sister can easily spend $300 a week on groceries for her small family and I found myself forking over $8.70 Australian (about $7.90) for 80 baby wipes. Everything here is expensive. Except, perhaps, wine.
2. Tattoos on everyone. Especially tattoos of angel wings on women's backs. It was more uncommon to find someone at the beach without a tattoo than inked.
3. Can't think of a third thing right now. I guess its Australia 3, US 2.

And while it is neither here nor there, I think it is interesting that no one asks us for ID when flying domestically in Australia. We also didn't have to remove our shoes or get rid of our liquids when going through security.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Australia: Day 5

In case you think I've dropped off the face of the earth, I haven't. I've just been completely unplugged from phones and the Internet for the past 3 days. And aside from a little anxiety at first, I'm not really minding it.

I'm typing this from Byron Bay, at the very easternmost point in Australia. We're sharing a beach house with my sister, her family, and her mother-in-law. We're swimming in the ocean, building sand castles, napping in the breezes and eating really, really well. (My sister married into a family of foodies.)

Z's shaken her sickness. It appears that despite her double vaccinations against the flu and H1N1, she caught one of the two viruses (the latter, most likely).

I think I'll try handgliding before the week is out and we return to Sydney. Then get ready for a more in-depth update and PHOTOS.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Australia: Day 2

Day two began for me around 4am. Apparently the jetlag you get from traveling halfway around the world is about the same as that you get from flying from Chicago to LA.

The girls awoke around 5:30 and I promptly dosed Z with some ibuprofen as she had become feverish the evening before. We waited until it was after 6am to head upstairs to Eleanor's flat for breakfast and all eight of us drove to Bondi Beach to see the Sydney Sculpture By the Sea. Z, who was feeling really under the weather, hung out in a stroller and snapped a few pictures with her new camera before falling asleep. After checking out the art and hitting a playground, we drove to Eleanor and Simon's old neighborhood for the Glebe Street Festival. 

The street fest wasn't all that different from a Chicago summer street fest, but their most common festival foods aren't corn dogs, brats and elephant ears--they're Turkish flatbreads stuffed with spinach, feta and spiced ground lamb. Z wouldn't eat--not even pasta with olive oil and parmesan--so we considered taking her to a medical clinic. The threat of a doctor seemed to snap her out of her feverish stupor, and she was playful for the rest of the day--even with a post-medicine temperature about 100 degrees.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

How I almost missed my flight to Australia...

I pride myself in being an excellent juggler. I can't literally keep three balls in the air, but I somehow manage working full time, being an involved mother to two little girls, serving as co-president of our Montessori school and studying for my Bat Mitvzah.

So it was inevitable that something would fall through the cracks.

My sister, who lives in Australia, called me at work on Wednesday afternoon.

"Are you all packed and ready to go? Do you leave tonight or tomorrow?" she asked.
"Oh, we don't take off until Friday night," I responded.
"Um, it takes two days to get here and I'm picking you up at the airport on Saturday. Are you sure you leave on Friday? Check your itinerary."

I checked.

Gulp. I leave Thursday. In just over 24 hours! My stomach dropped and I start furiously sending emails--while still talking to my sister, who lives in Australia. Tell husband. Tell the housesitter. Find alternate transportation to the airport. Cancel daughter's haircut. Finish up at work a day ahead of schedule. My multitasking skills shot into overdrive as I tried to figure out how I, planner extraordinaire, could screw up the day of our flight--for a trip I've been planning for 6 months.

Thanks to my sister's phone call, we got out right on time. I can't bear to think about what would have happened if we'd shown up at the airport on Friday.

Originally posted to Chicago Moms Blog

Friday, November 13, 2009

Australia: Day 1

It turns out you can fly for 20 hours with a broken in-flight entertainment system and two small children and still step off the plane with your sanity intact. Z was a champ, sleeping a fair amount on the San Francisco to Sydney leg. A was not an ideal traveling companion, but since I'd pretty much resigned myself to being her entertainer/waitress/disciplinarian, I was neither surprised not particularly disappointed that I only read about 25 pages of my book.

What I was not entirely prepared for was the double-meltdown of extraordinary proportions that had me barely saving bystanders from A's kicking feet in the passport control line. A German couple in front of me looked at me with pity and kindness and urged me to jump to the front of the line. I thanked her and said that if the people in front of me offered, we'd do it. The guy in front of me didn't even turn around. Apparently getting to his luggage 3 minutes ahead of me was worth the hearing loss. 

By the time we'd claimed our luggage and stepped into the customs line, A was calm. Z's bowels, not so much. The customs director took pity on us after I declared our "Cheerios, granola bars, a brownie and a kid who needs a toilet now" and waved us through without an inspection.

Miracle of miracles our jet-lag hasn't been too bad yet. We arrived around 8:30am and A took her regular nap from 1 to 3 (after a trip to the beach and an overpriced fish and chips). If we can make it to 8pm, we'll all turn in together in Eleanor and Simon's spare room. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

Thank you. Thank you to the servicemen and women who sacrifice so much for so little. And thank you to the families who stay behind, raising children, running households and going to sleep in an empty bed.

Hand-Picked Pumpkin is having a sample sale

A fellow preschool mom, Allison Case, picks up Z every Thursday afternoon and drives her home, saving Josh the insanity of waking A up from her nap, dragging her to the potty and buckling her cranky butt into her car seat for a 15 minute round trip.

I owe Allison, big time.

So I am delighted--ecstatic even--to help spread the word about her sample sale, which is happened tomorrow at her design studio in South Oak Park. Allison created a line of baby and children's clothes called Hand Picked Pumpkin, and while her beautiful, soft knit wares are typically out of my price range, she's discounting sample items 60%. Get a head start on your holiday shopping, feel good about supporting a local business, and a little vicarious thrill from knowing your kids are wearing the same thing as those hip celebrity offspring.
Sample Sale Details
Thursday, November 12th
9am-noon and 5pm-8pm
Sizes 3-6M up to 4T
Cash only
Email me or for the address.
Photo courtesy of Hand Picked Pumpkin

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

News flash: A wore a coat!

Putting socks and shoes on A is a challenge, but one we've largely licked by insisting she can't go outside barefoot. Getting the girl to wear a coat...that has proved a little more difficult. But the weather won't be warm enough to let her go without for long, so I was so thankful when our friend Linda loaned us a couple of cute coats her daughter had outgrown.

This morning I asked A to pick one of her "new" coats to wear for the walk to daycare. She selected a purple Hanna Andersson jacket and happily flipped it over her head (Z demonstrated the preschooler trick). She even let me zip it up! Then A marched the two doors down the block proudly singing "my NEW purple coat is a PRESENT from Belly!"

Monday, November 09, 2009

This Is Me Journal: a perfect first diary

One of the gifts I bought for Z for her 5th birthday was a This Is Me journal, a first diary/slambook that uses a lot of questions and prompts to encourage early reader/writers to express themselves. As any reader of this blog (or real-life friend) knows, Z's a very advanced reader. She has a lot fewer opportunities for creative writing and expression, so I thought this would be the perfect first diary.

I'm love reading Z's thoughts, learning that she'd like to grow up to be an "art teacher" because "it is fun" and live in "a hose" because "it is nicer." Her Halloween entry said she was "a vampir" and her favorite candy is "Hrshes."

Here's her first story.

You can save $5 on a This Is Me journal order with the code "november."

A practically perfect morning at the Morton Arboretum

Although A cried halfway through the trip out west because she "don' wanna take a car--take a stroller," once she dried her tears and popped in her paci, we had a wonderful morning outdoors in the 70 degree (!) weather. We met up with two families we've become friends with through Z's preschool and ended up bumping another preschool family and some old neighbors. It seemed half of Oak Park was out at the Arboretum. The kids played together beautifully, climbing through the treehouses and munching their way through each other snacks.

We finished our morning with lunch at Katy's Dumpling House, and as we drove home, windows down and A drifting off to sleep, I felt so, so lucky. Fresh air and time spent with good friends--it was exactly what I needed.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A report from the "almost sleepover"

Although it was neither relaxing nor a moment too short, I'm going to count Z's 5th birthday party a success. 10 little girls, aged 4 1/2 to almost 6 joined our girls for Freddy's Pizza, cupcakes from Soirees and Sweets (a local business that delivers gourmet cupcakes to your door for about $20 a dozen), a Princess movie sing-a-long and crafts. Pajamas were worn, sleeping bags unrolled and piled on top of each other and each kid got to decorate a pillowcase with fabric markers and a foam door hanger with her name and sparkly stickers.

A couple of the girls stood out as obvious trouble-makers--trying to exclude others and sneak off to unsupervised areas of the house, but the vast majority of the attendees were sweet as can be. Z's lucky to go to school with such a great group of girls. (And I'm lucky to count their parents among my friends!)

Incidentally, it is entirely possible that little A had more fun than anyone at the party--Z included. She was in her element, showing off her thrice handed-down Princess jammies, crawling inside the big girls' sleeping bags with them and moving from one lap to the next.

Lessons learned for next time:
1) Things move fast. The kids had changed into their jammies, decorated a pillowcase and eaten their pizza slices in the first 30 minutes. I still had 2 hours to fill!
2) I had too many kids and not enough experience as a preschool teacher to organize games. Once one or two alpha girls dropped out, it devolved into chaos. The DVD player transformed maniacs into merely excited kids.
3) It's far better to have too many craft supplies and cupcakes than not enough. Some kids will want to make more or won't be satisfied with their first effort.
4) Choices are not a good thing. Everyone got the same kind of plain cheese pizza, the same flavored water and the same colored pillowcase. The variety of cake plates and cake frosting caused unnecessary shouting.

Happy Birthday Song from almaklein on Vimeo.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Rest in Peace, Tallulah

After four and a half years of litter box accidents, hundreds of dollars worth of vet visits, medicine, prescription cat food and behavior modification, we've officially given up on Tallulah.

There aren't really any adoptive families out there for 10 year old cats who poop on the floor, so on the advice of our veterinarian and our local no-kill animal shelter, we had her put down today.

I feel horribly guilty. My cats were my first "kids," and now I've had one killed for misbehaving. But cats aren't kids. The ethics are different.

I'm sad now. Josh is probably even sadder. But we gave Tallulah a good life. And that's what I'll choose to remember.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Happy 5th birthday to you

Dear Z,
I can't believe I'm the mother of a five year old. Five!

It's clear you are not a baby anymore. You're not a toddler. You're barely a preschooler, flourishing as you are in the kindergarten program at Montessori school. You're a kid. A little person. Heck, you'll probably remember being five.

Since turning four, you've learned so much and made me so proud. Since learning to read, you've progressed rapidly to level 3 on those Early Reader books. You love all aspects of school: math, science, geography, culture and art. You're still into fairy tales and princesses, but you're also asking questions (and occasionally jumping to conclusions) about Judaism, history and the natural world. You've learned to swim (although you're still doggie-paddling at this point) and you continue to shine in gymnastics class.
The year ahead is packed with the promise of more firsts. A trip to Australia. Public school. The school bus. Riding a bike without training wheels. Even the possibility of flying unaccompanied to visit grandparents (although I'm not sure I'm ready for that).

You're a model big sister, advocating for A and leading her around the house in elaborate games of pretend. Although you're not a holding hands, huggy kind of kid, you still have an enormous number of friends. Limiting your birthday party invite list was a touchy affair since you wanted to invite all your school friends, neighborhood friends and the kids from your old playgroup. We ended up limiting you to 10 female school friends--all of whom RSVPed yes and are coming to the almost sleepover on Saturday.

But life with you isn't all sunshine and roses. Your smarts, coupled with two parents who never shy away from a debate, mean you try to negotiate for everything (I think I wrote this last year, too). You're moody, and you have a whiny cranky voice that can peel wallpaper off a wall. You've also become more of a picky eater than before--something I honestly didn't think was possible. The whiny, cranky negotiator in you becomes particularly intolerable at bedtime. It's virtually impossible for me to put you to bed without a fight, but you behave much better for Daddy, since he has a zero-tolerance policy for nonsense. Good thing the both of you are enjoying the Lemony Snicket series so much!
More birthday letters

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Tee-hee...mama's got treats in store

Tomorrow is Z's birthday, so tonight I wrapped and hid presents around the house and wrote clues for her to follow. I also made Smitten Kitchen's Brown Butter Crispy Treats. Because I love Rice Crispy Treats, brown butter and salt.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Not our regular babysitter

Last night our children were watched for a little over an hour by
a) A 13 year old girl
b) A world-famous fashion blogger

If you guessed a, you'd be correct. Ditto for those of you who chose b.

You see, my Hebrew cantillation class conflicted with a concert Josh was assigned to review, and after striking out three times on babysitters, I emailed my Hebrew teacher and study partner to tell them things were looking bleak with regard to my ability to attend.

My Hebrew teacher--who, by the way, is a Norwegian immigrant and Jew by choice who speaks a dozen languages--volunteered her daughter Tavi.

Tavi, unlike most middle school students, authors a well-regarded style blog and gets flown all over the world for fashion shows, photoshoots and interviews. Here she is in September at Fashion Week. Next month she goes to Toyko.

Kind of makes the $7 I gave her for playing puzzles and putting Z to bed seem like small potatoes.

Monday, November 02, 2009

One Halloween, multiple costume changes

Josh inherited a bag of costumes from a fellow parent at A's Temple Tots class on Friday, which meant Z just had to wear something new for Halloween on Saturday. Did I cry when she decided she didn't want to be a glitter-shedding Disney® Cinderella® yet again? Hell, no!
Here she is for trick or treating, round one. She was so cute and fuzzy in that monkey costume, I kind of wanted to eat her right up!
A promptly stripped off the pirate costume and pulled on the Tinkerbell dress from last week (which, if you recall, replaced the bumble bee costume we'd originally agreed on). Here she is freezing her tushie off with her BFF Stella.
Z unzipped her furry, warm monkey costume because she was self-conscious about the big belly (really? does this need to start now?) and put on the 2T pirate costume previously modeled by her little sister.
Two pirates together. Arrrr!

After an hour of trick or treating through the neighborhood, we had the kids come in for mac and cheese and candy snarfing. They each ate a few pieces, put aside a couple more, and sacrificed the rest to the "Halloween Fairy," who rewarded them with toys from Melissa & Doug. A got a toy birthday cake set and Z a world map puzzle.

I saw these movies and so should you

Since last week, I've seen three movies. This is big news for a mother of two small children who works full time and has taken on co-presidency of her daughter's preschool (which is pretty much a second job, albeit unpaid).

This Is It reminded me that Michael Jackson shouldn't not be remembered as a child-molesting victim of awful plastic surgery, but as a musician, a dancer and an artist. I left the movie teary and inspired.

Paranormal Activity gave me some serious willies. I could have used a little less shaky cam (especially after stuffing myself on tamales, beans and queso fundido at Adriana's daycare Halloween party), but it gave me a good scare. I've found that the less gore there is, more better the thrill I get from a horror movie. And this flick is gore-free. Ack!

The third movie was Food, Inc., which I saw on DVD last night. It reaffirmed my commitment to stay the hell away from fast food and continue buying organic eggs and meat. Makes me extra glad I threw an extra package of local ground beef into my basket at the final farmers market on Saturday.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Kitchen mini-remodel: we're over halfway there!

The granite and deep stainless steel undermount sink are by Granite Design. Andy from the Good Handyman is coordinating the work.
Up next: bone white subway tile backsplash, new cabinet pulls, enhanced under cabinet lighting over the sink and some touch-up painting.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Halloween--er--Harvest Party

After spending weeks announcing to anyone who asked that she was going to be a bumble bee, A pulled an 11th hour costume switch and dug out this Tinkerbell getup from the dress-up box.
Still, as soon as we got to Z's school, A shouted "I'm a scary bumble bee!"
Tink got her face painted and then spilled water down her dress, rendering it too uncomfortable for her to bear. For the last 45 minutes of the event, my youngest was clad in flowery underpants, Crocs with socks and a Dora t-shirt from a friend's box of spare clothes.
Z wore her Cinderella costume, as planned. As did her friend with the same name. Two Zs, two Cinderellas. (Actually, there were at least 3 Disney Cinderellas wandering through the gym.)
And here's Evan, Z's friend since her pre-walking days at daycare, as sweet and photogenic as ever. That kid kisses more babies than your average local politician.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

H1N1: The kids got their swine flu shots

Every day I log onto Facebook and see more of my friends (or their kids) have come down with swine flu. But early this week I saw the Oak Park Village (I'm a fan) was taking calls for an H1N1 vaccination clinic for high-risk residents. I called right away and got the girls two of the first 15 slots.

Speaking of vaccinations, this month's Wired cover story has a pretty good cover story called An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endanger Us All.