Sunday, May 31, 2009

Preschool Block Party

In celebration of Z's Montessori school's 20th anniversary, this weekend was jam-packed with festivities. Friday night there was a cocktail party in the school gym. Typically parties in the gym involve dozens of hyper kids running around, screaming. This one was parents-only, catered and had an open bar.

Saturday afternoon the school hosted a killer block party. Two bounce houses, a stage with live music and a bubble machine, a visit from the local fire department--it was kid heaven. Oh yeah, and for refreshments we had an espresso cart, an ice cream novelties cart and a popcorn stand. I manned the ice cream stand for an hour and discovered all the kids want is the phallic-yet-patriotic "Mega Missile." They don't give a rat's ass about the ice cream bar or sandwich.

The highlight of the day was watching my friend Nancy's 12 year old son front a very capable rock band. Z and A were rapt, although I cringed to hear Z say "There aren't any girl rock bands...Why?"

And the perfect way to end a perfect day? Freddy's.

I'm so lucky we ended up at WSMS. Not only is Z learning all kids of interesting stuff from her amazingly capable directress (reading, math, geography, practical life, etc.), Josh and I have meet the nicest, most interesting parents--people I'll want to stay friends with long after our kids need us to arrange playdates.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The tyranny of stuff

1440948116_00fe4272c7_mTwo or three weekly trips to the grocery store. A monthly Target run. A birthday party goodie bag. A McDonald's Happy Meal toy. Drawings and craft projects brought home from preschool and daycare. Cool rocks and pine cones collected from a nature walk. A toy borrowed from a playmate. Every day more stuff walks into my small house than walks out, and pretty soon we're going to run out of room!

Compared to most Americans, I don't think we buy a lot of things. We recycle. We we even reuse things--putting nuts, dried fruit and leftovers in washed-out glass jars and making caterpillars out of old egg cartons.

But still the stuff piles up. Relentlessly. New books, DVDs, and clothes come in faster than I can get rid of their predecessors. I'm grateful for all we have, but I find myself wishing we didn't have so much.

After years of listening to me complain about the 4 7-foot bookshelves dominating our dining room, my husband took down 3 of them. I marveled at the blank walls, grateful for once to have nothing to look at but glorious yellow paint. But he couldn't bring himself to donate more than a third of the books. Josh is about as likely to dig a dog-eared copy of Kant out of the basement as he is to win the lottery (he doesn't play), but he wants to have them. He loves his possessions; he gets a sense of security and pride in physically owning the books, music and movies he loves.

I don't. In the age of libraries, Netflix, toy rental services and digitized music, I want to free myself of all that space-hogging stuff. I want space, beautiful open space. Room to breathe. To rest my eyes. Can you tell I have two children under 5?

I know, deep down, that the fewer things we own, the more we enjoy them. Certainly my kids don't play with half their toys. It's my goal this summer to "disappear" everything at the bottom of the toy bin. I will be equally relentless with my wardrobe. If a new item comes in, an old item must go.

I have to stay on top it--this stuff--because it can take over. TV shows, filmsand articles--even self-help tomes--have been dedicated to the tyranny of clutter, showing us what happens when families are overwhelmed by the junk that fills their homes. Heck, the abundance of stuff we don't use has spawned a whole new business model--the self-storage facility. You pay them to store the stuff you don't have room for in your home but can't bear to part with.

Perhaps this recession will have a silver lining. We're learning, as a country to pay cash, to live within our means, to grow our own vegetables and to shop less. We're looking around our homes for items we can sell to help pay the bills. Am I dreaming to think we'll end up with less stuff and more contentment?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wow, what a weekend!

RF Memorial Day Parade
Just today, I hit Fox Park with the kiddos, met Vanessa and her son for coffee and beignets, watched the River Forest Memorial Day parade, took Z to a playdate (where I scored some hand-me-downs for A) and had Jodi and Peter and their 4 month old daughter over for a visit.

The parade, my favorite, was a hit with all of the families we met there. We sat, as usual, at Ashland and Iowa, near the home of the guy who offers all the kids free rides on his model train. A practiced a lot of new words and phrases, including "flag," "another fire truck," "more people," "choo-choo train," and "candy." I liked the marching bands and old-school planes flying over in formation. The highlight for Z? "The princesses." Really, how can three not-that-pretty beauty queens perched on the back of a convertible beat out gymnast kids doing handsprings, flag team girls and the entire staff of Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor? They didn't even throw tootsie rolls!

Here's Z riding the train with Vanessa's kids. A was too scared to ride the train, but her daughter--only 2 weeks older--jumped right in.

Sunday night we had a cookout with two sets of neighbors and their relatives. Nine kids and 10 adults put away a ton of grilled burgers, chicken breasts, brats and hot dogs. And we finished with this strawberry-rhubarb crumble from Smitten Kitchen.
Rhubarb-Strawberry Crumble
It was so good we made it again today.

Lots more photos are up on my flickr page.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fox Park is open!

Fox Park (aka the playground around the corner) just reopened after nearly one year of remodeling work. It's a beautiful space now, and while it was nearly empty at 8:30 a.m., when I took these pictures, there were probably 50 kids frolicking there yesterday afternoon.

And you know what else just reopened? The Oak Park Farmers Market! We headed straight from the park to the doughnut line and spent an hour visiting with friends and listening to the bluegrass circle.

The doughnut line.
Z with Ruhi and Vilas.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

1 window unit and a river of tears

Today it got up to 89 degrees in Oak Park. It was still about 80 degrees at dinner, which meant it was time to lug Z's A/C out of the garage and into her window. After we'd secured it to her rickety old window (an elegant process involving a brick, two old towels and a couple of strips of duct tape) and Z was bathed, brushed and read to, I headed downstairs.

A couple minutes later, Josh heard a beep. "That sounds like Z's air conditioner. Is she playing with it?"

"I told her not to," I replied.

Fast-forward about 15 minutes and Josh calls me out of the kitchen, where I was starting to make bran muffins. "Is that crying? Is that Z crying?"

Indeed, I hear her sobbing audibly. I put down the eggs and milk to race upstairs. Z's buried herself under her comforter. She's slick with sweat, hiccuping and sobbing so uncontrollably it's impossible to figure out what she's saying. Eventually I calm her down enough to figure out the following: She turned her air conditioner off because she wanted it to be on high. After turning it off, she couldn't figure out how to get it on again, but she didn't want to call me up because I'd take away a penny.

It was such a sad, pitiful story that Z ended up getting extra cuddles and the made-up story I'd apparently forgotten to tell her. And she kept her penny.

22 months, a comparison

Z and A, captured at 22 months of age. While they are wearing the same white sandals (you can't tell from the pics), A outgrew the white dress Z has on at 11 months of age!

You can also travel back in time via my blog. Z was 22 months in September of 2006.

Autism's snake-oil salesmen make me mad

I do not have a child with autism, but I know a number of families (mostly virtually) who have children "on the spectrum."

While some of these parents embrace their children's differences, raising a child who regularly acts out and doesn't connect with you emotionally can be heartbreaking, and a lot of people are desperate for a cure--something that will bring their kid back and allow them to move into the mainstream.

Unfortunately, where there is desperation, there are shamans and snake-oil salesmen ready to take advantage and profit from someone else's misery.

This weekend, the Autism One conference comes to Chicago. The keynote address will be delivered by Jenny McCarthy, a celebrity-turned-author who has made it her mission to cast doubt upon vaccine safety and promote autism "cures" backed largely by her own anecdotal evidence. Also on the schedule are Dr. Mayer Eisenstein and Dr. Mark Geier, promoting their "Lupron protocol," an unproven regimen of dosing autistic kids with a castration drug. The therapy is based on a theory, unsupported by mainstream medicine, that autism is caused by a harmful link between mercury and testosterone. Children with autism have too much of the hormone, according to the theory, and a drug called Lupron can fix that.

Now I understand that stressed-out parents are ready to hear--and try--anything. But the Lupron protocol is baseless; "more than two dozen prominent endocrinologists dismissed the treatment earlier this year in a paper published online by the journal Pediatrics." But what's the harm? Well, experts in childhood hormones warn that Lupron can disrupt normal development, interfering with natural puberty and potentially putting children's heart and bones at risk. The treatment also means subjecting children to daily injections, including painful shots deep into muscle every other week.

What will it take for the autism community to partner with scientists and work to find a cause (a genetic link has already been discovered) and a real cure--the kind backed by rigorous, double-blind studies? All the chatter over vaccines, diet, chelation and other quack theories and cures is drowning out the real information, guidance and support these families surely need.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

No more double stroller here

I sold our Phil and Teds Sport Buggy a few months ago, recouping $275 of the $400 I spent on the stroller. After two years, neither kid wanted to ride on the bottom. And really, who could blame them?

I thought about buying a cheap umbrella double stroller, but so far I haven't needed to as Z's become quite the little bicyclist. Since warm weather arrived, she's walked or biked the 1 mile to and from preschool each morning.

I'm a stickler for helmet use and Z's wearing a new one this year, a Bell TrueFit helmet. Bell sent it to me along with an adult TrueFit helmet, and I can't tell you how happy we are with our new headgear. It really is easy to adjust to fit just right and it's comfortable. More important to Z, it sports a cute fairy design.
As you can see here, the band in the back--in addition to sporting large reflectors--is a nice, stretchy elastic. Best of all, Bell helmets are widely available and very affordable--usually no more than $20 each.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Gap pajamas are the cat's pajamas

Yeah, I could write about this weekend's big three preschool-related Ps: playdate, picnic and party, but I'm going to tell you about at different P altogether: my favorite kid pajamas.

This is a totally unsolicited, uncompensated--no, I really did not get any free PJs--post about the Gap's amazing pajamas for babies and toddlers. Not only are the PJs I got for Z 3 years ago going strong for A, the ones I bought used, at a yard sale, for Z are still in wonderful shape. Yes, these soft-as-butter third-hand jammies that A's wearing most nights looks practically as good as new! The colors are good, the patterns are timeless, the fabrics don't pill and the elastic waistbands are in great shape.

Score one for the Gap!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Interview with the 4 year old Z

Inspired by Danielle's interview with her 5 year old, I asked Z some questions this evening.

How old are you?
Z: 4

Where were you born?
Z: Chicago

What's your favorite thing to do?
Z: Go to school and play with Leo [the boy next door].

What's your least favorite thing to do?
Z: Play with my sister.

What does Mommy do for work?
Z: Write a blog [um, not quite].

What does Daddy do for work?
Z: Works on the computer.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
Z: A dance teacher.

What was your favorite trip?
Z: England

Where would you like to travel to next?
Z: Florida

What's your favorite toy?
Z: Dollhouse

What's your favorite food?
Z: Lasagna [she said this but then refused to eat another bite]

What's your least favorite food?
Z: Salad

What will you be doing when you're 10?
Z: Going to Lincoln School.

What about when you're 16?
Z: Going to high school.

And when you're 25?
Z: Work!

Do you remember being a baby?
Z: Yes, I was teeny-tiny and I came out of your stomach.

What makes Mommy happy?
Z: I don't know.

What makes Mommy sad?
Z: When I bother you when you're sleeping.

How old am I?
Z: You are 32.

What is my favorite thing to do?
Z: Work.

What do you want to say to the people who read this interview on my blog?
Z: I want to say I love you.


Slide already

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

LOL links

Sites like these, ladies and gentlemen, are why the Internet was made. No reading required.

Product Displacement
Screen captures of fake products that stand in for the real thing on TV.
Awkward Family Photos Hands on chins, matching clothes, horrible backdrops...
Awkward Boners The name pretty much says it all.
This is Photobomb The #1 reason photographers should always check the background before snapping that picture.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Starved Rock State Park: Maybe next time we'll make it a day trip

Chicago is a world-class city, but unlike much of the country, there isn't much in the way of nature nearby. No mountains. No oceans. No great forests or wild rivers. But we do have Starved Rock State Park in Utica, about 90 miles outside of the city, and it only took me 15 years to finally check it out.

And you know what? It's pretty great. Gorgeous waterfalls, quiet streams, wooded trails and even some wildlife. Most of the trails are less than 5 miles, and many are less than 1 mile, so it's very doable with kids. Just don't bring a stroller as the trails are largely boardwalks connected by occasionally muddy (and slippery) wooden staircases.

Since we arrived in Utica an hour and a half before check-in, we stopped for a late lunch at Ron's Cajun Connection, which Josh had seen written up on LTH forum. We split the special appetizer and entree, and after stuffing ourselves with alligator, dungess crab, gulf shrimp and shrimp etouffee, I was treated to a free Mother's Day slice of pecan pie. I really needed hit the trails after that mostly deep-fried meal (and I still wasn't hungry at dinnertime).

We stayed in a "family cabin" at Starved Rock Lodge, which was built in the park in the 1930s. While I'd paid extra to have a two room cabin (two adjoining hotel-style rooms) so that Josh and I could sleep separately from the girls, we ended up sleeping apart, with separate kids. I kept Z company and Josh slept fitfully, afraid A was going to pinwheel herself off the king-size bed. Again. Our $190 off-peak room rate included a $30 breakfast credit in the lodge dining room, and it more than covered our breakfast, which was tasty--but no better than your typical diner or pancake house. I think the highlight of staying on the premises was the tiled indoor pool area, which had a full-sized pool, a hot tub and a bathtub-warm kiddie pool. Z and A loved it!

Before leaving Utica, we stopped off at Mattheissen State Park, which had even more impressive waterfalls and about as many hiking trails. We didn't stay there long since our morning hike was about 2 miles and Z threatened not to walk any more.

All in all, it was a fairly successful mini-vacation. The kids were fun, particularly A, who loved petting everyone's dogs, riding in the Ergo and getting down to master the staircases "by self." Z had fun, but tempered her good time with lots of complaining about all the walking, the length of car ride and the variety of snacks packed.

We left around noon on Sunday and returned to Chicago around 3pm on Monday, having stopped at Ikea in Bolingbrook on the way back. Cheap kid food, clean bathrooms and a chance to buy some things that have been on my Ikea list for months (recycling bins, a new duvet cover to Z, etc.)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Target's Bullseye Bazaar

Have you checked out Target's adorable pop-up store on Michigan Avenue? The space, which occupies two stories in the Tribune Tower building, is only open for three short days.

I went there--ostensibly for work--and ended up trying on a bunch of clothes and buying a Tracy Feith for Target swim cover-up/tunic. While in the dressing room, I eavesdropped on the resident fabulous gay guy as he dispensed fashion advice to the masses (and the videographer following him around): "Oh my gawd, I'm just loving white on white this season, don't you?...Pair this with a little cuffed jean, maybe a skinny leg?"

The whole shop has the vibe of hipster farmer's market/arty bazaar, and it does a great job of showcasing Target's many exclusive product lines, not just fashion labels, but brands like Smith & Hawken, @Home, Up and Up, DwellStudio, Liz Lange Maternity, Pixi by Petra, Umberto, Converse One Star and Archer Farms.

Mother's Day is on its way

Only two more days until the world's biggest Hallmark holiday, and I'm not leaving anything to chance. I ordered handmade-but-not-by-me gifts for my mother and mother-in-law from Etsy. They might not arrive on time, but I'm supporting self-employed artisans instead of pesticide-spewing multi-national floral companies.

Because I believe in asking for what I want, I've requested a new bathrobe for Mother's Day. I love jewelry (preferably inexpensive stuff that it won't kill me to lose), but my bathrobe situation is dire. I'm using a hand-me-down Victoria's Secret bathrobe that my mom got back in 1985. Seriously. It was pink once upon a time. Now it's shrimpy pinkish white terry, threadbare and sporting a 5 inch hole at the neck.

I've also made our Mother's Day plans. We're heading to Starved Rock State Park in Utica, about 90 miles from Chicago, where we'll spend the night in a cabin and take in a little nature.

The pictures are from this morning. Instead of biking the mile to school, Z wanted to run.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

On the road again

I had a few hours to myself this morning since I overnighted in Cincinnati for an afternoon presentation. I used the time to study Hebrew and write this blog post about how my brief love affair with Twitter has fizzled. Minutes after I filed the post, it was up and picked up for syndication. Look for it this week in a small town newspaper near you.

As any mom who travels for work can tell you, the guilt over being gone is tempered by the comfort of having a hotel bed all to yourself and enjoying a shower and a cup of coffee without having to wipe anyone's butt or dispense Cheerios and juice.

Still, I felt a little extra guilt this morning when I rolled out from under 6 pillows and a goose down duvet to this email from Josh:

I woke up to the pitter patter of little feet. Zoe hops into bed - "scared" - and I lean over to the clock to see how much time I have left. It's only 12:05! So I tell Zoe it's too early for the big bed and tuck her back into her bed, where she goes back to sleep. I go to the bathroom and then back to bed. I'm woken up by the sound of Ada chanting "Mommy, up," which escalates until she's yelling for either of us. I check the clock: 12:25! I go in to her room, pat her, and put her down for bed. She screams for another ten minutes, then at 12:40 or I so I go in there to put her to bed again. She's tossed all the stuff out of her crib, but I re-pacify her and put her to bed. She screams again until 1:15, at which point I relent and take her to the big bed. She squirms and kicks on my chest until 2:00, so I give up, frustrated, and put her back in her crib. She screams until close to 3:00, when I grab her and take her to the big bed again. This time she and I fall asleep, and the only reason I know that is that somewhere around 5:30 she falls out of bed and wakes me up crying. She's fine, but Zoe rushes in to see what happens, hops in the big bed, and we all "rest" until 6:30, when we all get up.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

I know I'm irresistable, but this has got to stop

You know what kind of sucks the relaxation right out of a nice hot morning shower?

Hearing your 21-month-old in hysterics, crying your name over and over and over. Hollering so so loudly that you can hear her, up the stairs, through the closed bathroom door and over the rush of water.

Can you say separation anxiety? Because Baby A has it, and she's got it bad. It's gotten so she waves Josh away from me as she nuzzles her head in my neck. She melts down when I leave her at daycare. And while Josh can push her all over town, she won't let me put her in the stroller for more than a second before the "Up, up, uppy!" demands begin.

Yes, I'm glad she loves me. But I can't wait for this phase to pass.

P.S. Would it be 1000% worse if I adhered to AP principles? Just wondering...

Monday, May 04, 2009

I swear it wasn't a shotgun wedding

"Mommy, did people laugh at you at your wedding?"
"No, of course not. Why would they?"
"Because you were pregnant with me."
"I wasn't pregnant with you at my wedding, Z. You came 5 years later!"
"Yes you were. I think I came the next day. The day after your wedding."
"No, you came a long time after. Trust me, I remember."
"Well, were you pregnant at any wedding?"
"Um, I don't really remember. But no, I don't think so."

WTF, huh? It boggles my mind to believe my innocent little four year old was sitting in the backseat on the way to the zoo with visions of her mama's shotgun wedding dancing in her head. And the fact that she knows, on some level, that a bride in the family way might be blushing as her guests tut-tut about her? Sheesh. Either Caillou's got a subtext that I'm missing or the kids at preschool are giving her quite the extracurricular education.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

My baby has a buddy!

There's only one thing in the world cuter than an adorable 21 month old, and that is an adorable 21 month old playing with an equally adorable 20 month old. Watching A and her new friend Stella was so sweet I probably should have forgone that ice cream cone.

A little background. As the second-born, A's seriously gotten then shaft when it comes to playmates. Sure, she's got 24-7 access to her big sister, but her "friends" have until now been a handful of Z's friends younger sibs.

But tonight we had over a new-to-Oak Park couple, parents to Stella and a 2nd daughter due in late June. We ate barbecue chicken, salads and corn of the cob in the backyard (yay, spring!) and watched the little girls share toys (yes, I was astonished), share snacks and point out airplanes to each other. They even held hands!