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.