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.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Slightly disturbing photographs

Every day I come home to find undressed adult female dolls in arrayed in strange and somewhat compromising positions on the floor.

Completely unrelated, but also in bad taste, I offer you this horrifying marble slab.
Who would choose this and for what room in their house? It was displayed kitty-corner from the dark greenish granite slab we selected for our new countertop, which could be installed as early as next week!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I don't care if you're cute after midnight

Last night was a giant ball of suck.

I am too wiped out to tell you why neither Josh nor I got more than 4 hours of sleep. But, if you were to guess it had something to do with the pumpkin pictured here waking up wiggly and feverish at 1am and not going back to sleep until 8:45, well, you'd be right.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Trader Joe's wine and cookies

It's no secret that I love Trader Joe's. It's our source for all of our basic staples: milk, eggs, yogurt, chicken, cheese, juice, dried fruit and nuts, salad greens and bananas. Oh yeah, and wine. Drinkable, cheap wine.

But oh, this Chariot red wine is something special. Seriously special. As in, it tastes as good--if not better--than any of the pricey wines I've ever had.

And then there are these "double stuf" Maple Leaf cookies, which are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of Trader Joe's Bedtime tea.

Both are limited edition items, so stock up now.

This post is a labor of love. No freebies or financial consideration involved.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Photography by Z

Stuff to do with small children when the pool's closed and it's too cold and wet to hit the park, part 2: hand your 4 year old your digital camera and let her document a walk through the neighborhood. See all her shots here.
Z's walk through the neighborhood

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I'm bored. Let's sing.

Stuff to do with small children when the pool's closed and it's too cold and wet to hit the park, part 1: Record music videos.

Row, row, row your boat from almaklein on Vimeo.

Giving up on a cat (maybe)

My latest post, about our struggles with Tallulah, is up at the Chicago Moms Blog. Since I wrote it, I had a long conversation with the behavioral therapist at the Anti-Cruelty Society and she brainstormed a few more things we can try (newspaper in her litter box, pheromone spray and a homeopathic anti-anxiety compound, followed by locking her in a small bathroom for a month).

Since the Chicago Moms Blog is being taken down, I've saved my post here as well.


I never in a million years thought I would be writing this. Saying this. Even thinking this. I'm an animal lover. A former foster mom and volunteer at the Anti-Cruelty Society and an adoption coordinator at the Animal Care League.

But here it is: my cat may have to go.

Tallulah is a sweet, personable cat. I fostered her when she was an 8 week old kitten, undernourished and riddled with fleas and worms. We nursed her back to health in the bathroom of our apartment, our first cat growling outside the door.

Needless to say, she never made it to the adoption floor. She formed a congenial relationship with cat #1--more friendly college roomies than BFFs--and seemed to adjust as we moved from a 1-bedroom apartment to a 2-bedroom condo to a 3-bedroom house. She's now 10 years old.
Kids arrived and Tallulah tolerated their clumsy advances more graciously than our other cat. As our firstborn child matured, they formed an enduring bond. So when I hear Z say "Tallulah's my best friend," my heart breaks.

Because as agreeable as this fluffy muted calico can be, she has one habit that makes her existence in our home untenable: She poops outside her box. Daily. Let me tell you, cleaning cat shit up off the floor gets old. Especially after four years.

We've tried everything. Elimination diets featuring super expensive wet food. Elimination diets featuring super expensive dry food. Different kinds of litter. Additional litter boxes. Antibiotics. Enzyme cleaners. Carpet cleaners. We've invested hundreds--probably thousands--of dollars trying to figure out why she's continuing to crap on the floor and cleaning up said floor.

My husband took her to the vet again this week for another round of pricey tests. If once again there's nothing wrong, the next step is exploratory surgery. And there I'm drawing the line. I will not subject my cat (and my bank account) to a surgeon's knife with no guarantee of answers or a cure.

So I've placed a call to the Anti-Cruelty Society. The surrender department transfered me to a behavioral therapist and I left her a voice mail. I can only hope she'll find a fix to our problem. Because I never imagined I'd been one of them. A person who gives up her pet.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Random (happy) updates

Tonight I'm hosting a Fall Clothing Swap. You may recall I did this for the first time back in the Spring and it was a roaring success. Should be even more fun now that a) I know what I'm doing and b) I'm bringing in a woman to do mani-pedis! Now before you think I've gone all Hollywood starlet on you, I'm not paying for people to get their nails done--but $30 for both when all your shopping and drinking is free is a damned good deal, and my friends seem to recognize that.

Yesterday my agency team (about 60 of us) had an outing/party at the Art Institute's stunning new Modern Wing. I was stuffed from my Bin 36 burger lunch, so I didn't pig out on the cheese and nut platter like I normally would have, but the combination of fine contemporary art and wonderful colleagues made for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and evening. I went home all happy, warm and tingly in spite of the wet, cold weather. Happiness equals a few glasses of wine, hearing that one lovely co-worker is pregnant and another is hoping to be soon, and being paid the world's nicest compliment.

Which, in case you were wondering is "You're beautiful." Followed by 5 minutes of expounding and reiterating the hows and ways of your beauty by a tipsy, good-looking gay man who's also a freaking creative genius.

In other awesome news, we're finally replacing our peeling, dull orange laminate countertops with granite, installing a subway tile backsplash and getting a new kitchen sink and faucet.

And I made it to the gym 5 times in the last 2 weeks. That's about 5 times more than I did the entire previous month. I'm on a roll, people!

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Dad's dead."

"Dad's dead."

The opening line of Jonathan Tropper's new novel, This Is Where I Leave You, brought me back 7 years to May of 2002. It was a Saturday morning and I was at home in our apartment in Lincoln Park when the phone rang. I answered it in Josh's office--a small second bedroom cluttered with a deck and wall-to-wall CD shelves.

My mother was on the other line. She was calling me from a satellite phone from a hilltop in Albania. "Joe--Dad--he's dead. We were hiking...I went ahead...He collapsed...I ran back...Chest compressions..."

My father died of a heart attack. He was 55 years old.

The days that followed were a blur. Since Dad was the U.S. Ambassador to Albania and a popular figure in that small Mediterranean country, my mom needed to focus on honoring his memory there. She asked me to help coordinate a memorial service Stateside. A liaison from the State Department would be calling me to help. "Would it be okay if we had it at Dacor-Bacon House?" Mom asked, her voice strained and the connection crackling, "I can't think of anywhere else. Will it ruin your wedding memories?"

I assured her it wouldn't. Her next request was tougher. "Can you call Grandma Marge and the relatives?" Calling my nearly-deaf grandmother to tell her that her beloved son had died was unbelievably hard, but at that moment I was willing to do anything to shoulder some--any--of my mother's pain.

My sister and her fiance flew in from Australia. Friends and relatives gathered in Washington, D.C. My mother proved, once again, she's no shrinking violet. Where others might have collapsed in a heap of tears and sorrow, she showed fierce determination to get. things. done. She located photographs. She donated my dad's clothes. She made speeches and thanked well-wishers. Hell, she was back in the U.S. in less than a week, where she proceeded to buy a car, find a place to live and figure out what the second half of her life might look like.

Unlike the dysfunctional family in Tropper's book, we didn't sit shiva for Dad. He wasn't Jewish, so Mom went ahead and had his remains cremated. Some of them are still in a box in her living room, but thanks in part to my pestering, the rest of Dad's dust rests behind a bronze plaque at a cemetery not far from Mom's house.

This post was inspired by the Silicon Valley Moms Group book club. We each receive a copy of the book selection and write a related blog post (not a review). I haven't exactly finished This Is Where I Leave You, but I'm halfway through and enjoying it--although it reads like an funny/earnest/uncomfortable indie movie script. Think a masculine Rachel Getting Married.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Flu shots!

Josh and I got our flu shots weeks ago at Dominick's and Walgreens, but you can't get a little kid a flu shot at a pharmacy, so it was off to the doctor's office with the girls this morning for immunization against the regular flu. H1N1 gets all the publicity, what with a 14 year old Chicago area girl dying from the disease this week, but those vaccinations aren't available yet.

Both sisters knew they were going in for shots, but I'm not sure A understood exactly what a shot was because, dude, the girl was excited. Here's the evidence, shot on grainy Blackberry video.
Z was calm but a little nervous. And so very brave. She turned away and sucked on her lollipop until the very last moment, when she just about grabbed knocked the needle right out of her thigh. She spilled a few tears, which got A upset and anxious to get the hell away from the nurse, but as soon as we were done and the nurse said "stickers," the A quit crying and headed off to pick out her reward--a Snow White sticker that I had to wear.

All afternoon the girls complained about how much their left legs ached--A more than Z because she refused to take any ibuprofen. A's definitely got a dramatic streak--she limped around half-naked so that anyone and everyone could see her Band-Aid and hear how it came to be: "I went to an owie. Dey give me flu shot. In my weg. You see my Band-Aid? I brave. I only cry a widdle while. I got a lollipop."

On a side note, if you haven't gotten your flu shot yet, do it at Walgreens. My agency is responsible for their current flu shot campaign, and I helped out a bit with the winning pitch!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Morning madness

This is pretty much what breakfast time looks like at our house. Finishing your cereal comes in a distant second to playing with your sister. Also, what's up with iMovie trying to make my home movie letterboxed? It chops off their heads!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Where's that tranquilizing gun when I need it?

Thursday evening: Stuck at the Cincinnati airport, then stuck on a plane. Then the plane broke and it started to rain. I spent an unscheduled night at the Cincinnati Marriott with no extra clothes, an ill-fitting contact lense and a dwindling supply of tampons. For those keeping track, my luck with United is not improving. Let's hope our upcoming trip to Sydney breaks the curse.

Friday: My morning flight back to Chicago was delayed, again, but I gave myself permission to work from home so I could change into fresh clothes and see the eye doctor. We had friends over for Indian carry-out and all of our kids played well, so that was a plus.

Saturday: Intermittent rain all day and an ongoing weariness from poor sleep on the road means the kids spend 15 hours finding new and creative ways of whining, making noise and invading my personal space and it annoys the hell out of me. They were re-lent-less. By 7pm, Z was all but scaling the walls with cabin fever, so I threw A in the Ergo and put Z on her bike and we went for a walk/ride in the dark, cool drizzle. "I'm getting my ya-yas out," she hollered for the first 4 blocks. By block 5 she was slowing down, and by the time we got home she was ready put on her jammies, brush her teeth and sit down at the dining room table to help me craft her birthday party invitations.

Josh and I tried to convince her to have a party at the local ice cream parlor, where there would be room to invite all her friends, but she opted for a smaller, girls-only "almost sleepover" at our place.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Nestle Family twitstorm

I've been in the Nati for the past two days, where, in addition to presenting some kickass work and attending a brainstorm with my clients, I've been sampling Skyline Chili and Graeter's ice cream, watching Glee from a giant bathtub at the Cincinnatian Hotel and following the #Nestlefamily twitstorm.

You see, Nestle invited a bunch of parent bloggers to their headquarters for two days. They are far from the first major packaged goods company to invite bloggers in for a little wining and dining. The mom blogger junkets started in earnest with Johnson & Johnson's Camp Baby (which I was invited to but didn't attend back in early 2008), and since then Kraft, Campbell's, General Mills and Frito-Lay have all feted well-known mom bloggers.

As a marketer, I think the mom blogger invitationals are brilliant. For the cost of a few plane tickets, samples and meals, you get hundreds of media mentions and an instant brand ambassador with huge reach. It's a bargain. You also get to focus group these women (and a few men) and find out what's important to them, culling information you can use for product development, advertising and a variety of other purposes.

But what do the mombloggers get out it, aside from a free trip and a chance to hang with friends? Are they building their visibility and personal brand at the cost of being viewed as a sellout? And, in the case of the Nestle invitational, are they shilling for a corporation many view as unethical?

Like most people, I'm aware of the horrors Nestle inflicted in the third world in the 1970s and 80s with its aggressive marketing of infant formula. I saw it with my own eyes when I lived in Pakistan in the late 1980s. But I thought things had changed. Phd in Parenting, in this exhaustive post, claims abuses continue and challenges bloggers to decline Nestle's invitation or at least ask the company some tough questions while there.

For those who complain that mommybloggers are a bunch of navel-gazing ninnies (as some have with regard to the Motrin Moms twitstorm), behold the discussion of Nestle's corporate ethics that emerged on Twitter yesterday under the #nestlefamily hashtag. A few well-meaning moms were raising real questions about global issues to a company that said it wanted to open the channels of communication, but it quickly devolved into a shouting match pitting breastfeeding advocates against defensive formula feeders who perhaps didn't understand that formula feeding can be extremely dangerous in a country where access to safe, clean water isn't guaranteed or where parents might run out of funds for formula and end up watering it down to save money.

Peppered between these posts were silly little tweets from attendees talking up Nesquik, Stouffer's meals and cake mix recipes and psycho crackpots accusing Nestle of supporting infanticide and child labor. It was train wreck, in my opinion.

Shortly after I posted this, friend and fellow Chicago Moms Blogger Kim Moldofsky tweeted me with "I was waiting for the part about what to do next time or lessons learned." I'm not sure I have any real answers. What I do know is that bloggers love attention (I'm no exception). So when a big, multi-national corporation romances us, we get a little weak in the knees. It's easy to get swept off your feet in a flurry of four-star hotel stays, airline tickets and gifts. But take it from someone who knows what's happening on the brand side: don't be a cheap date. Don't tweet and blog free word-of-mouth because you've been wined and dined and you're so very much in love. Do your do diligence (research, ask tough questions, demand better products and service) and then, if you're still the brand's number 1 fan, by all means sing their praises from the rooftops.

Worth reading: