Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Around the world with two small children

Can you guess where we're going in a month and a half? I am so excited about seeing my sister and her family for the first time in over a year! She got pregnant and had her little boy (her second baby) since I saw her last. Heck, Sam will probably be sitting up and eating gruel by the time we get there.

Oh yeah, getting there. That part is going to be not so much fun.

Map by Z

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bring on the anti-vax haters

Fridays are typically slow days on websites and blogs, but nothing brings out the comments on a mommyblog quite like "controversial" posts about breastfeeding and vaccination. Check out my contribution to the conversation at the Chicago Moms Blog, where I'm comparing shots to seatbelts and leave a comment with your take on the issue.

Since the Chicago Moms Blog is being shut down, I'm pasting my post below.


Imagine for a moment you had a friend who doesn't buckle her children into car seats. Her pediatrician is horrified and her daycare provider protested, but your friend just waves away their--and your--concerns. She says sure, seat belts and car seats have saved some lives, but they could also be deadly.They're not fail proof. They're not fully tested. There are recalls all the time. Not only that, they could kill her kids if, say, the car engine catches fire and everyone needs to get out as fast as possible.

You're crazy, you respond. Everyone uses seat belts. It's the law!

Then your friend points out how the government has no business mandating how she raises her children. She needs to trust her motherly instinct instead of some government goon and that instinct knows her kids are safer without seat belts. And besides, she continues, car seats are expensive. They're made by bigcorporations with an eye to maximizing shareholder profits. That whole recommendation not to buy used and replace a car seat after 6 years of use? It's all about making money for the man, man.

To help defend her position, she forwards links to horror stories of kids killed or disfigured while strapped into their car seat. She cites experts--even celebrities--who eschew seatbelts and car seats for their own children.

The next time you head to the garage you pause for a moment before buckling in your own child. Are you doing the right thing?

I'm sure by now you've caught on to this metaphor. And you can probably tell where I fall in the great vaccination debate. The debate that shouldn't even be a debate. Scary anecdotes and a lack of understanding about the science of vaccination and the difference between correlation and causation has a growing number of moms worried about subjecting their kids to shots.

Yes, shots carry risks. So do seat belts. But in both cases, for most children, the risks of going without outweigh the risks of buckling up and vaccinating. If you never get into a high-speed accident, you may never need that seat belt. But the more parents eschew the medical "seat belt" of regular vaccination, the more children will get sick, suffer and die.

The CDC is recommending children between 6 months and 24 years of age get both the regular flu and H1N1 vaccines. Will you get your kids the shots (or mists)?

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How far could a smart shopper stretch $1000?

I love, love a good deal. Back in the dark ages, my Mom would clip coupons, scan the grocery store circulars for loss leaders and make dinner from whatever was marked down. She'd spend her weekends driving to three different grocery stores to get all the best deals and insist that any clothing she bought for us kids needed to be marked down at least twice. Clearance rack with a coupon and she'd have approved even the shortest miniskirt.

Her savvy shopping skills were admirable, but a lot of freaking work. As the mother of two small children who works full time, blogs a lot, is studying Hebrew and serving as co-president of the board of her daughter's school, I could totally rationalize Peapoding my grocery list and stocking up on toilet paper, detergent and tampons from Alice. Time is money, and my stay-at-home husband--who does most of the shopping--can't be bothered to bargain shop on his own.

Thanks to the Internet, I don't have to look very hard to score the most amazing deals. Fellow Oak Park mom Carrie Kirby updates Frugalista with the best deals at Chicago area grocery stores and savings codes for local entertainment. She turned me onto Money Saving Mom, a Christian housewife who sees economizing as a call from G-d. If I'm planning a trip to CVS or Walgreens, I'll scan through I Heart Wags or Mommy Snacks first.

I check the Woot sites and the Chicago-specific Groupon for one-day-only discounts on electronics, kids' toys, restaurants and more. If I'm feeling flush or need to buy gifts, I'll browse the online bargains at DealNews. WantNot is another great blog; Mir's alerted me to deals so good I couldn't pass them up--like the time I bought my Dyson vacuum for $249.

There's no denying smart shoppers are out there sharing their wisdom with those of us who want to save big but don't have the time or energy to snoop out all the best deals. It's about time they got recognized--and paid--for their talents! To that end, IRI is sponsoring the Savvy Supermarket Cents YouTube contest, and I--along with Liz Gumbinner and Kristen Chase from Cool Mom Picks--will be judging. Four category winners will receive a $250 gift card to the store of their chosing. One audience favorite will win a $500 gift card, and an overall grand prize winner will get a $1000 gift card. Hurry, the contest ends October 16th.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Never lose control of your interview

How old are you? Four.
What do you do every day? I have breakfast. I go to school. And I come home from school.
What is your favorite part of the day? When you come home from work and you read me stories. And when you tell me a made-up story.
What do you love to do? Art class.
What don't you love to do? I don't like to have pasta.
What are your favorite foods? Mac and cheese and pizza and peas and corn on the cob.
What does Mommy love to do? Hey, I want to ask the questions.
But this is my interview of you. I want to ask you the questions.
Okay, you can ask the questions; I'll just type them into the computer.
No, I'm big now. Give me the computer and I'll ask the questions and I'll type in the answers!

Basically, my 4 year old hijacked my interview. Here's a screenshot of her 10 minutes of reportage. Bonus points if you can translate her inventive phonetic spellings to English.

Back on the potty train

Check out my latest Chicago Moms Blog post, Back on the potty train. As you might have gathered from Sunday's rant, this was the weekend of potty accidents. But Monday's a new day, and A's stayed dry so far today.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Too much candy, too little fun

This weekend kind of sucked.

But ever the optimist, I like to accentuate the positive. So I'll start with what was good about the past 2 1/2 days. I hosted a brunch for the staff and board of my daughter's school. That was nice. I love a good bagel with lox and a shmear.

And... that's all I can think of. Josh and I had a stupid fight, both girls suffered bounce house-related injuries (from two different bounce houses, on two different days), and we had some major potty training setbacks.

I'd like to blame A's horrible, no-good behavior this weekend on Rosh Hashana services, which ran long enough to screw up her Saturday nap schedule. But I should probably shoulder some blame for taking her to our neighbor's block party, where she fell out of the bounce house and planted her face on the asphalt, pooped in her underwear (twice) and refused a hot dog (what toddler refuses a hot dog?). I finally brought her home for a make-good meal of carrots and cheese cubes before dragging her, kicking and screaming, through the bathwater on the way to bed.

She got plenty of sleep Saturday night and midday Sunday, but she wet two more pairs of panties before getting back on the potty train. And bedtime was still proceeded by a temper tantrum so out of control it was almost funny. Almost. Major props to Josh who finally calmed her down with a walk in the rain.

And at the risk of sounding like the world's meanest mommy, can I take a moment to bitch about candy? I would like people to stop loading my kids up with sugar. Between the birthday party goody bags and pinatas and the Halloween and Valentine's Day and Christmas treats, I've had it with all the junk. I mean really, do we need to give kids birthday cake and candy? Do stores need to start selling candy corn two months before Halloween and Cadbury Creme eggs in late February? I don't mind a sucker as a reward for a hair cut or an M&M for a poop on the potty--hell, I'll take my kids out for ice cream every couple of weeks (if they eat their dinner), but my ability to make treats special is seriously undermined by the constant proffering of candy.

There, I'm stepping off my soapbox now.
flickr photo by JasonTromm, used under Creative Commons license

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sewed in G-d's image

"Mommy, how does G-d make us?"
"I don't know."
"How do you think he made us?"
"I don't know. G-d is unknowable."
"Oh, I think I know. G-d sewed and sewed and sewed until he made a body and then he whooshed me down to earth. And he checked to make sure his sewing looked like my picture."

See also: Theology from a 4 year old

McCall's image uploaded to Flickr by Embroiderist, used under Creative Commons license.

How my preschooler learned to read

If you've been following my blog for a while, you know Z started to read early--at age 4. She'll be 5 in November and her reading skills improve every day. I'm no expert, but I'm guessing she reads about as well as your average 1st or 2nd grader--level 2 on all those Early Reader/Learn-to-Read books.

It's impressive, seeing preschooler reading so well, and I'm enormously proud of my daughter. But with her accomplishment comes the persistent question: How did you teach your child to read?

The short answer is I didn't, her Montessori teacher taught her to read. Z's been fortunate enough to have a Montessori Directress who's been teaching preschoolers longer than I've been alive, and I've heard the Montessori method reliably teaches children to read before age 5. If you've never stepped foot in a true Montessori classroom, I encourage you to. Phonics, sandpaper letters and letter work help students form the building blocks of language, reading and writing.

And if there's a genetic component, Z won the language arts lottery. Both mom and dad are professional writers, as are both of her aunts and one great-aunt. She's got a former English professor for a grandmother and one of her great-grandfathers was a lifelong newspaperman. We write--and read--a lot.

Which brings me to my next point: books. Our house is filled with books--books we own and dozens more we bring home from the library each week. We read to both our girls from infancy on, and it was clear both girls loved books by about 6 months of age. Starting at 1, Z took board books to bed with her instead of stuffed animals, and she's always loved to stay up past her bedtime with a flashlight and a pile of reading material.

So what did I, as a parent, do to encourage her to read? Aside from enrolling her in the right school and taking her to the library, is there some other secret sauce, some juicy tip I can share with the rest of the world?

Okay, here it is. I spelled a lot. Josh and I spelled words like d-e-s-s-e-r-t, c-o-o-k-i-e, z-o-o and l-i-b-a-r-y when we wanted to make plans without sending the kidlets into a frenzy. Learning to follow along was highly motivating. So motivating that, when we finally gave up and switched to Pig Latin, Z picked it up in a matter of days!

And early on, I chose books with a rhyming structure and asked Z to "read" the final word in each phrase. We played rhyming and "think of a word that starts with X" games in the car. We read books until my mouth was dry and my throat ached. We bought her Tag reader books so she could "read" books alone before she could read books alone. We let her watch SuperWhy and Word World on PBS Kids.

That's it. No great secrets revealed. I think kids learn different skills at different rates, but I don't regret for a minute encouraging early reading. Reading is one of my life's greatest pleasures and the ability to read opens up worlds of adventure.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Z kept herself very busy last night creating this monstrous masterpiece.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Toy review: Leapfrog Tag Junior

Leapfrog Tag Junior from almaklein on Vimeo.

I raved about Z's Tag Reader before, so when Leapfrog offered me the opportunity to test-drive their new toddler version of the toy with A, I jumped at the chance.

Like most younger sibs, if Z has it, A wants it. And while A can turn on Z's Tag Reader, her attempts at using it involve stabbing the pen randomly at pages. I'm guessing someone at Leapfrog watched a toddler play with a Tag Reader in just the same fashion, because the Tag Junior works beautifully when whacked against one of the system's board book pages.

In fact, it's a fabulously engineered toy all around: the device is sturdy, intuitive and the ABC Animal Orchestra Book (sold separately) is actually pretty fun.

But, with all that, A never picks this toy. If Z or I bring it out, she's happy to mess around with it, but she'd rather situate herself on the couch with a big pile of board books, pretend to cook us treats or play with her dolls. Electronic games and reading on her own just aren't as appealing to my 25 month old as they are to her 4 1/2 year old big sister.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Laid-back weekend

A trip to the ice cream parlor, in their pajamas, marked the end of a lovely, laid-back weekend. We kicked off the fun at an adults-only party with neighbors Friday night. Our new babysitter, the younger brother of our two previous main sitters, has been working out really well.

Saturday we did a little yard saling and scored two more boxes of Kugelbahnen before I met with new parents at Z's preschool. We had lunch outside at Wishbone and since the kids were a little wound up, we spent a lazy afternoon hanging around the house and the local playground (instead of hitting either Art on Harrison or the Forest Park Ribfest). Saturday night Z and I went to a friend's house for another backyard movie screening.

On Sunday morning we met my cousin and his partner for breakfast at the Medici in Hyde Park, and the afternoon another relaxing one--nothing more than hanging out with neighbors on the street and at the park.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Twitter=faster customer service

Periodically I see a tweet from 6pm.com (basically Zappos outlet) announcing a collection of shoes on sale for some ridiculously low price--$24.95, usually. I clicked on through for one of my favorite brands, Indigo by Clarks, chose a pair of gold flats (pictured, only $21.95 right now) and added a pair of environmentally-friendly hemp and recycled rubber sneakers from Simple.

The shoes arrived quickly and the fits were right on, but half of the rubber appeared to have been shaved off the sole of one of the Simple shoes. Major defect on otherwise adorable kicks! I send a DM (direct, private 140 character message) to 6pm_com:
Just received order and the Simple sneakers, while adorable, are defective. Barely any sole on 1 shoe. Do I still pay to return?
They wrote back quickly, figured out my order number (no idea how they managed that!) and assured me they'd take care of the problem promptly. When they got my voice mail at home, they tweeted me asking for a better contact number. I wrote them my office digits and they called immediately. Net net, I've been credited for the faulty shoes and the shipping and I don't even have to bother returning them!

Per Josh's suggestion, I may take my now free faulty sneaks to our neighborhood shoe troll and see if he can patch up/waterproof the sole.

I've said it before: if you want better customer service, get yourself on Twitter.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Funny sh*t my kids do and say

I've got a mild case of blogger's block, so instead of dazzling you with my thoughts on President Obama's health care speech, the 3 1/2 hour preschool board meeting that I was stuck in during the speech or the fairly tedious projects I'm tackling at work, I'm going to pimp out my cuties. They've got plenty to say.

Z, upon seeing my blow-dried hair this morning, asked, "Why is your hair so straight?"
"Because I got a haircut and the lady who cut it straightened it. Don't you think it looks nice?" I responded.
"I think it hangs in your face."

Minutes later I was trying to get A dressed, and I kid you not, this is what she said. "I wanna wear a costume! I bumble bee costume. Or a pin-sess. Where's my tutu?" After getting her out of the silky slip--my silky slip--she was wearing as a floor-length gown, I finally coaxed her into a sailor dress by claiming it was a sailor costume for boat riding. I can't wait for the Halloween sales to start because this kid loves to dress up.

After breakfast, A caught a glimpse of Z's underwear and realized her big sister had helped herself to her Little Mermaid panties. The newly (nearly) potty trained one threw a fit until Z disrobed and the two girls exchanged underpants. "It's okay, Mommy," Z reassured me, "we pretty much wear the same size."

The final anecdote I was not there to witness, but apparently A saw a squirrel on the back porch and yelled to Josh, "Der's a mouse in da house!"

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Her first day of school

No butterflies in this girl's belly. Of course, since this is her third year in the same Montessori classroom, with the same, wonderful Directress, Z's got nothing to worry about.

She is, however, going to be taking a full day of classes instead of "napping" after lunch. She'll be in Morning Montessori in a 3-6 year old classroom and then have two hours of afternoon coursework with the other 5-6 year olds. Yes, she's 4 until November, but she's already reading better than many 1st graders.

To quote Z this morning, "I'm ready for some new lessons!"

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Yeah, I'm neglecting my blog

What, you wanted to hear about dinner at Nightwood, ZZ Top at the House of Blues, our various park outings or Charlie's first birthday BBQ?

Tough. I'm too tired.

Here, more pictures.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The President is coming to my high school

President Barack Obama will be speaking at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia next week. I guess we just keep missing each other. I went to college at the U of C, in Hyde Park, before Obama was well known, and now he's visiting the cinder block halls of my old high school.
Alma 1992
Me, as a Wakefield HS student

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The half-life of friendship

It's usually pretty clear when a romantic relationship is over. Friendships, not so much. My musings on the subject are up today at the Chicago Moms Blog.

Since the Chicago Moms Blog is being shut down, I've pasted my post here:

3845601154_282cccfe74Like a lot of women, I need friends. My husband completes me in many ways, but my life would have a giant hole in the middle without girlfriends. And since my lifelong best girlfriend hasn't lived within 1000 miles of me since we were both 17, I don't take girlfriends for granted.

After graduation, my college girlfriends moved away. A few years later, I changed jobs and drifted apart from my work girlfriends. I made friends with the women who dated and married my guy friends, but I was lonely for genuine girl-friendship.

Finally, in 2004 we started a family. Now having a baby is good for lots of reasons, but for me, the cherry on top of the cuddles and cuteness was the whole new social network motherhood opened up. For the first time since college, I could strike up a conversation--even exchange phone numbers--with someone I'd met by chance. It seemed "How old is your baby?" was the ultimate pick-up line. And it kept getting better. I made friends at a new moms' support group, at the park, at daycare, in the neighborhood and at baby classes. I made friends with other mom bloggers. I organized a playgroup, took turns planning girls' nights out and just about cried with joy when my still fairly new friends helped my husband plan a surprise 30th birthday party.

We signed our daughter up for preschool and made more friends--people who didn't just have kids the same age as ours, but really great, interesting people whom I would have wanted to know regardless of their family situation.

But as we make new friends, old friendships are fading. I'm seeing less and less of my "original mom friends" and I struggle with that. How much effort do I put into keeping the fires of friendship alive as our children head off to separate schools and find their own, new playmates? If I've planned the last outing or hosted the last dinner, should I wait for a reciprocal invitation, or is keeping in touch from time to time the kinder thing to do?

On the one hand, I don't think there's such a thing as too many friends. On the other, I don't want to expend a lot of energy trying to rev up a friendship that's stalled, especially at the risk of coming off seeming needy. Is it worth it to nurture a previously close friendship if you only see each other every few months? I'd say only time will tell, but hopefully the internet will fill me in a lot faster.

My work is in the news today

For the last few months, I've been working on the marketing activation for Procter and Gamble's U.S. Olympic Team sponsorship, and I'm thrilled to see my work getting mentioned in publications around the company, including the New York Times!

Check out this quote from Sports Business Daily, which calls out the theme line I wrote.

The company will support the deal with advertising on NBC during the '10 Vancouver Games using the theme "Look Like the World is Watching" to promote its beauty products. The theme is designed to draw a parallel between the performance qualities of beauty products like Olay, which can help women look their best, in the same way the performance abilities of Olympians help those athletes look their best before the world. P+G is in final negotiations with a number of female athletes who will be used in the campaign. In addition to the commercials, the company also will activate at retail. Those plans are in development, but Perry said, "We will be loud and proud with the participating brands whether it will be packaging or multi-brand, in-store displays."
Hopefully I'll make it to NYC for an athlete photoshoot later this month. Don't know yet if I'll get to go to the Games in Vancouver, but a girl can hope! Regardless, you'll be seeing my team's work in magazines and stores across the country in February. Have I mentioned how much I love my team? Because I do. I'm really lucky to work with such great, talented people.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Post surgery: day 4

You can find the original surgery post here

Mostly good news to report on the recovery front. I was able to leave my $14.99 aluminum cane at home this morning. I'm able to put much more weight on my right foot and I can walk at a halfway decent pace, albeit with a pronounced limp. I've traded gauze bandages for a giant Band-Aid on the bottom of my foot, which I top with moleskin and a cushiony white sweat sock for comfort. Even though my foot isn't visibly swollen, I can only fit into a sneaker with the laces very loose or my Crocs. Sexy. In a fit of vanity, I tried slipping into a pair of low, comfy heels and one second of downward pressure just about sent me flying into my closet ceiling with pain. Ow-ie. Anyway, it may amuse you to learn that settled on wearing a black gladiator sandal on my left foot and a turquoise Crocs Mary Jane with an athletic sock on my right. Both colors are reflected in the print on my dress. Incidentally, this injury has given me the opportunity to "stress test" sweat socks for cushioning and I'm like to report that the Hanes ankle socks distributed free at the the BlogHer conference are far and away the most comfortable.

As for the wound, it kind of looks like Swiss cheese. Dried out Swiss cheese. I don't much like being able to see the muscle tissue at the bottom (top?) of the holes, but I Can't. Stop. Looking. Good thing I've got the thing wrapped up tight 99 percent of the time.