Thursday, April 30, 2009

Putting down roots

"Are you from Chicago?"
I get asked that a lot. If it's just small talk, I usually say that no, I hail from Northern Virginia and leave it at that.

But Arlington isn't really my home. Having spent many of my formative years overseas I don't feel like I have a hometown, a place with roots.

I'm a Foreign Service brat. Like kids in military families, we moved about every 3 years, following my father's assignments from my birth in D.C. to toddlerhood in Bonn, West Germany and preschool in Boston. We moved back to D.C. in time for kindergarten and halfway through fourth grade, we headed back to Germany, this time to Berlin. The summer before 7th grade we moved to Islamabad, Pakistan, where we stayed until the day Gulf War I broke out and dependents and nonessential personnel were evacuated. That was halfway through my freshmen year in high school, a rough time to integrate oneself into American youth culture made rougher by the fact that I was living out of a single suitcase full of woefully out of fashion clothes in cramped temporary housing.

I'm lucky to have lived in foreign countries. To have traveled extensively, exploring Canada, Germany, Switzerland, England, Italy, Poland, Austria, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Albania, Uzbekistan and Belgium before I was 21.

I know my unusual upbringing help shaped me in countless wonderful ways. But it isn't a childhood I want for my own children. For all the cultural and geographical richness, it was emotionally wrenching to be constantly making and losing friends. To be so far from extended family. To lack something so fundamental as roots. It might sound crazy, but I wanted to live in our own house with our own furniture. I dreaded moves because I didn't want to have to give away our pets and pack up or purge my treasures.

I'm consciously putting down roots in Oak Park. Z's lived in our house, on our street, her entire life. It's only been 4 1/2 years, but that's longer than I called any place home growing up.

Flickr photo by Kenzijoy109

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On top of the world in New York, New York

I didn't think I'd be back in NYC so soon, but thanks to a two day brainstorm for work with the lovely folks from Taylor PR, I've gotten to squeeze a little more juice from the Big Apple. Just between 6 and 1 last night, I saw the view from the top of the Empire State Building (we even went above the public viewing deck to the tippy-tip-top) and hang out with the beautiful people on the rooftop deck of the Gansevoort, where there was a party going on in honor of author and Congressional candidate Kevin Powell. You might remember him from the original Real World back in 1992.

But the real highlight of last night was dinner. We showed up what appeared to be a basic, if bustling corner taqueria, but we were ushered down a secret stairway and through the kitchen to an underground restaurant and bar where we had a fabulous dinner of tacquitoes, tostadas, corn on the cob, chorizo empanadas and ceviche.

Incidentally, I am not that enamored of the Gansevoort. For all its sleek European chic and beautiful, Parliament-smoking European clientele, the keycards don't always work and the soft-boiled eggs on my room service tray are unambiguously hard boiled.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Conquering twice the mess with half the paper towels

With two kids under 5 and an accident-prone mother (that's me), we'd be making messes even if I wasn't serving our 21-month-old milk in an open-topped cup and letting my 4 year old help cook. But I hated the expense and waste of throwing away paper towel after landfill-clogging paper towel.

So right around when Baby A started eating solids, I bought a jumbo pack of yellow microfiber cloths from Costco (they're sold in the automotive department). We've never looked back. Dampen one of those babies and you can clean any surface in the house--wood floors, furniture, countertops and tile! Use 'em dry and they grab (and hold onto) dust, dirt and hair. And while in desperation I've used a microfiber cloth on the kids, I try to keep a few cheap washcloths handy for face and hand-wiping duty. When we've dirtied a rag or washcloth, we just toss it into a bucket on our basement staircase to be laundered.

That's my top secret cleaning tip, brought to you by Parent Bloggers Network and Pledge's How I Clean Now.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bring your kids to work day

My kids didn't exactly get a clear picture of what Mommy does all day, but I think it's fair to say they'd love to work at my agency. Bring Your Kids to Work Day featured over 30 scheduled activities, many of which starred the big brands we represent. There was a storytime with Miss Lori from PBS Kids, Hallmark card decorating and a photography session with Mundocom. They kids got Happy Meals from McDonald's and a chance to meet Ronald McDonald and some dude from High School Musical. Older kids were treated to Nintendo video game competitions and hip-hop dance classes.
A came for the morning and left in time for nap, but Z stayed with me all day long, drawing pictures and placing phone calls to my coworker Maggie while I tried to get a bit of real work done.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fair skies and baby love

Two days of temperatures in the 70s have officially ended Oak Park's extended hibernation. Strollers and bikes are everywhere, the playgrounds are packed and barbecue grills have been pulled out of storage for the first hot dogs of the season.

Franny is here with her 11-month-old, and A's been chanting "Di-win," "Di-win" in a very reasonable approximation of his name. These girls are bananas for the baby, following him across the floor, feeding him Cheerios and accosting him with hugs.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Harlequin's heaving bosoms

My one and only encounter with romance novels came in the 9th grade. I was new to my high school--heck, I was new to the U.S. having been living overseas for the past 6 years--and I made a friend.

Her name was A-- and she was a whip-smart Catholic brainiac with an insatiable appetite for mass-produced erotica. I think she read a romance novel a night and she loaned me a couple of dogeared copies.

Wow. I got quite the sexual education from those two books. Silent, hunky cowboys, heaving bosoms, throbbing manhoods.

"You can just skip to the good parts," A-- advised me, and it was easy enough. All the spines were broken so the books fell open to passionate embraces.

Our friendship didn't last long, and I never picked up another pink paperback, but apparently I am one of the only women not buying trashy romance novels. Apparently there are a few things this recession is good for, and one of them is Harlequin romance novels. The company publishes an astonishing 1200 titles a year and has spawned numerous sub-genres. Whether you to imagine pressing up against an aroused firefighter, Christian, vampire or ghost, you can find exactly what you're looking for.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My no good very bad day

My daughter's beloved preschool teacher resigned, the weather is cold and rainy and I can't turn my head to the left. Yeah, it's not exactly been a fun-filled couple of days.

So please excuse me for the neglecting my blog this week. I just need to get to Friday. I've got a free 15 minute massage tomorrow that I hope will work out the kinks in my neck. (If it doesn't, I've got good friends who can spot me a muscle relaxer.) And the weather forecast is calling for 72 degrees and sunny skies on Friday.

Best yet, Franny arrives Friday night with her 11 month old son in tow.

Feeling like a sourpuss too? See if this doesn't make you cry happy tears and this doesn't make milk come out of your nose.

Oh, and my kiddos, they're pretty adorable too.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Voice mail, 12:34am

A message left on my mobile phone last night:

"Hey, this is ... Jerry. I don't really know what to say... I'm in Cocaine Anonymous and I'm just dialing different numbers... Won't ya help a brother out?"

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Flying their 3/4 Jewish flag high

I'm half-Jewish, but I was raised mostly Jewish. We went to synagogue instead of church and wore Star of David necklaces instead of crosses, but my mom (the Jewish one) incorporated some of the more secular Christian traditions into our family observances. We had the occasional Christmas tree, we ate lentil soup flavored with pork sausage at Chanukah and our Passover seder plate usually boasted a hard-boiled egg dyed some lovely pastel shade.

But since I always identified pretty strongly with my Jewish half and ended up marrying a full-blooded member of the tribe, I've been raising Z and A as Jews--fairly secular Reform Jews, but Jews nonetheless. So I was pretty psyched to hear Z Skyping with my Mom (Nanny) this morning.

Nanny: Do you know what holiday is today?
Z: I don't have school today.
Me: Yes, but you never have school on Sunday.
Nanny: What holiday is it today?
Z: It's Passover! It's the Passover holiday. We eat matzo on Passover.
Nanny: Well, yes, it's still Passover, but what holiday has bunnies and chocolate eggs?
Z: Easter! My neighbors have Easter.
Nanny: Do they have an Easter egg hunt?
Z: ?!? [She's utterly bewildered as she's never heard of or participated in an Easter egg hunt]
Nanny: Do they look all over to find hidden eggs?
Z: Um, they gave me some jelly beans, but I didn't like them.

From NPR: They Tried to Kill Us, We Survived, Let's Eat

I sent my plate back (oh, horrors!)

Josh and I went to May Street Market for dinner last night and while my appetizer (tuna and salmon tartare) was delicious, my entree was inedibly salty. I hesitated for a moment, trying to decide what to do, but when our server came back to ask how everything was, I admitted it was too salty to eat.

And what followed was textbook customer service. They didn't make me feel like a squeaky wheel, but apologized that the dish was not to my taste. They asked me if I'd like to have it remade or if I'd rather choose something else. I opted for the turkey burger (with no bun) and they brought it out as quickly as possible, checking in with me a couple more times to make sure I was happy. And the bonus? They didn't charge me for either entree! Go May Street Market!

We finished our meal with coffees and an awesome creme brulee that was make with chevre and served with a ball of blackberry sorbet.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Passover granola? Yes!

I asked my tweeps for non-seder Passover recipes, and Twitter delivered. Here's Marilyn's Pesach Granola, modified to suit my tastes. It's almost as good as my regular granola!

5 cups matzah farfel
3/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup honey
2 tbs. water
1-2 tbs brown sugar (or to taste)
1 cup golden raisins

Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 300.
Put farfel, nuts, coconut and cinnamon into a large bowl and stir. Blend together the oil, honey and water and pour over the mixture. Stir well, coating the mixture. Sprinkle with sugar.
Spread granola in prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 min or until it seems dry. Remove from oven and break it up to loosen it. When cool, add raisins. Store in plastic bag or container.
Makes about 8 cups.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A very brief seder

Even though I'd invested in special kiddie Haggadahs, tonight's seder was an abridged affair. We managed to quickly bless the candles, wine and matzo, dunk our parsley in salt water and make a maror sandwich, but very little of the Passover story sunk in over Z's whining about the meal options ("I don't like matzo! I don't like apples and nuts! I don't want soup!"). And while Z complained about how awful the food looked, A and our friends' kids, 5 and 2, were ready to eat.

We had matzo ball soup (and ran out of the matzo balls long before the broth was gone), two kinds of charoset (I highly recommend Epicurious' Sephardic charoset--it really looks like mortar and it tastes divine), Mark Bittman's Braised Lamb with Horseradish and Parsley and steamed broccoli (I think A ended up eating 8 or 9 "trees"). We ended the meal with a chaotic hunt for the Afikomen, a toddler dance party and this absolutely addictive Matzo Toffee, which is the very first Kosher for Passover dessert I'd consider eating any time of year.

Later this week I want to try Sara's Apple Kugel and a K for P granola recipe a Twitter follower emailed me.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

My daughter, reader and world traveler

I've got a couple of reasons to be very proud of Z. If you read my husband's blog, you probably know what a champ she was during their five nights in Leeds, England. They traveled stroller-less, and Z walked all day without complaint. She also adjusted well to the time change, new sleeping arrangements and plenty of sightseeing just Dad and her Aunt Bethany.

Shortly after her return, met another milestone on the road to big-kidhood. She started reading! I knew she could sight read a few words and sound out all the letters from her phonics work at Montessori school, but on Saturday afternoon she picked up a dusty old copy of Hop, Skip Jumparoo Zoo from the basement shelf and proceeded to read me all 30 pages! She only needed help with a handful of words. It was obvious she was as proud of herself as I was of her. The lightbulb had been turned on and she realized I can really do this. Since then she's also read Biscuit and the Baby and a couple of other books. Since she's only 4 years old and a November birthday, she's going to be quite the accomplished reader before she enters kindergarten in the the fall of 2011. Until then, her Montessori school will let her progress as rapidly as she wishes.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

I hosted a clothing swap!

Until Saturday night, I'd neither attended nor hosted a clothing swap. But after all the fun that was had, I can't imagine this kind of party not taking off--particularly in these economic hard times (two of my guests were laid off and looking for jobs).

After all, when was the last time you got to hang out with 15 fabulous women, drink wine, nibble on appetizers and exchange your ill-fitting clothes for a whole new wardrobe for free?

I'd set the start time for 7:30, but I wasn't expecting so many very prompt guests. My house was half-full by 7:45 and nearly everyone arrived by 8. While I was helping hang clothes and rotate appetizers into the oven (Trader Joe's Brie and Raspberry in Phyllo--love!), Josh put the girls to bed and fled to a Morrissey concert. As soon as the back door latched, women were dropping trou all over my first floor, trying on clothes and soliciting opinions. There was a lot of really good stuff, so in order keep it from becoming a total free-for-all, I announced rounds. As in "Round 1, pick the first item you really want and set it aside. When everyone's got something, we'll move onto round 2." After six go-rounds, the most sought-after stuff had been picked up and everyone was happy with their finds, so I declared open season on the racks.

I made out like a bandit, scoring a pair of dark denim designer jeans, black buckle flats, a silk floral J. Crew dress, a red and black corduroy strapless dress (worn once to a wedding), a couple of tweedy miniskirts and both shorts and capris from Banana Republic. Oh, and a red silk Chinese jacket and 3 or 4 blouses that had been left on the hangers at the very end. But it wasn't all about the get; it also was nice to see some of my favorite old clothes--items that no longer fit right but I couldn't bear to toss in the Goodwill pile--go to appreciative friends (who looked great in them).

The mix of attendees worked out really well, with overlapping circles of neighbors, preschool parents and ad agency people. I only wish that I got to talk to more people for longer, but I kept getting caught up in hostess duties: trashing abandoned cups, heating food and opening wine. And trying on clothes--that, too.

If you're inspired to host a clothing swap, make sure you've got clothing racks (I borrowed two), lots of hangers (not everyone brought them), empty tables (for folded items) and a couple of full-length mirrors (I borrowed those too). I cleared off the top of a cabinet for jewelry, placed handbags on a radiator and arranged shoes on the floor beneath the racks for my insta-boutique.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Always the baby, never an only (until now)

IMG_4755My 20 month old daughter A has always lived in the shadow of her 4-year-old sister, Z. But with Z accompanying her father on a week-long trip to England, I'm getting to know my second-born a little better. It's different, relating to her one-on-one. Of course, we've always had an hour alone together, here or there. She gets up earlier than her sister and she hangs out with me and her dad when big sis is out at a playdate or birthday party, but she's never experienced a whole day as an only child.

Now she's enjoying whole days without fighting to eat exactly what her sister's eating (preferably from the same plate). Without fighting over toys, over the front of the bath, over Mom. She's obviously reveling in my full, undivided attention--as well as that of her grandparents, who've been visiting for the weekend.

I'm waiting for A to demonstrate a longing for her missing big sister, but so far she's been content to play with their shared toys, read their shared books and jump on the couch alone. And as much as my heart aches for Z, I'm going to cherish these short days of getting to know my second toddler like I got to know my first.

It's almost bikini season

A new euphemism is born.

When sisters reunite

Aside from a brief moment this morning when A curled up on Z's lap and let her big sister feed her a sippy cup full of milk, it's gone from this to just like this at the Klein house.