Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My New Year's Resolutions

I know, I know. It's so cliche. But writing my New Year's resolutions on my blog, for all to see, means one of you can help hold me accountable. So here goes. Laugh away. I'm even starting with exercise.

1. Improve my physical fitness by getting to the gym twice a week. At least once I will either take a class or spend 20 minutes on the treadmill, doing interval training. I had been seriously slacking off this past month and a half, but Josh joined the Y and the fact that he's getting in shape is serious inspiration for me. Roawr.

2. Maximize productivity by closing my Internet browser for at least 2 hours while at work. This is hard because my work requires a lot of online time. But I am also way too easily distracted by blogs, Twitter, personal emails and the news.

3. Be a better wife and mother. To that end, I'll aim to take each member of my family on some kind of solo date/outing each month. (I'm stealing this one from Andrea.)

4. Take advantage of my sister and her family's summer trip to the U.S. to plan one heck of a road trip and family reunion.

5. Survive New Year's Day. I invited a bunch of friends to our house for New Year's brunch not really thinking that most would be in town and accept and, oh yeah, they all have families. Turns out 69 people have RSVPed yes. That's not counting the maybes. Holy shit, I'm going to need to buy a lot of orange juice. And bagels. And toilet paper.

But enough with the panic. What about last year's resolution to spend less money? I said we would put off purchasing a new dining room table and chairs and forgo the mini kitchen remodel I wanted. I also said our plans for a 10th anniversary trip would be scaled back or scuttled altogether. We indeed went without the dining room furniture and anniversary celebration (we had dinner at Publican), but we only waited until November to get our kitchen done, but I don't regret spending our hard-earned cash on new counters, backsplash and sink.

Do you do New Year's resolutions? Care to share?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On waking up in a puddle of piss

After a lovely--if a little whirlwind--trip back East, we arrived home on Sunday afternoon. Oscar, our new kitten, was hungry but happy to see us. I noticed our cat sitter hadn't picked up the cash I'd left on the counter and I panicked momentarily, thinking perhaps she hadn't come at all. But the litter boxes were relatively clean, the mail inside, sidewalk somewhat shoveled and Oscar wasn't starving.

Just then my Blackberry starts buzzing. It's Paula. "Oh good, you're back. I was so worried!" She races to tell me she's lost my house key and couldn't get in to feed Oscar that morning. She'd even had her mom (a well-known Oak Park family practice doctor) call some of our neighbors to see if they had a copy of our key.

I reassure Paula that Oscar's okay, she can come get her payment whenever and not to worry about the key. But that drama was small potatoes compared to what we were in for a few hours later.

Sunday night A wakes up, as she has been since campaigning to go Pull-Up free, at midnight. I take her to the potty, and then back to her crib. She hollers bloody murder, and after about half an hour of it, we bring her to our bed. She demands water, hogs the pillows and covers and kicks me in the face repeatedly. After a few stern warnings, Josh tells her the party's over and deposits her back in her crib. Hysterical crying commences and goes on for two bloody hours. At some point I close our door to minimize the damage to my eardrums and psyche.

Trapping Oscar inside.

Exhausted from the midnight battles, I sleep like the dead and don't hear the cat meowing and scratching at our door. Josh apparently does, but figures Oscar probably just wants to be fed.

Around 5:40, Josh wakes me up. "Um, I think Oscar might have..." I shift and find myself in the middle of a warm wet spot. How can A have wet the bed, I wonder, didn't we put her back in her room? Josh continues, "I think Oscar pooped in our room somewhere."

I dawns on me that the zoo like smell and the warm spot are probably connected and we start stripping our bed. The piss has soaked through our down comforter, sheets and mattress pad, but the mattress is still dry.

The good news is that our "dry clean or professionally launder" comforter comes our spotless and odor-free after a vinegar-enhanced trip through the washer and extended stay in the dryer (with a tennis ball). The bad news is that our room still smells. I sprinkle the carpet with baking powder, light candles and still the odor remains. I'm sniffing the mattress, wondering if somehow the cat piss has infected it when Josh discovers a giant cat turd in my walk-in closet. Gross, but at least he laid waste to my old Crocs instead of my new boots. And once that mess was cleaned up, the bedroom was fresh as a G-d damn daisy.

And we learned our lesson. Never keep a kitten from his litter box. And quit reinforcing A's bad habit of "sleeping in the big bed with Mama." Operation tough love began last night.

He didn't mean to be bad...

Friday, December 25, 2009

10 years later--and the wedding dress fits

While the rest of America was unwrapping Snuggies and drinking hot cocoa, Josh and I drove the girls from Arlington, VA to West Chester, PA, home of my in-laws and resting place of my wedding dress, which I hadn't tried on in 10 1/2 years.
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chicago's best photo-op

While I've had brunch (and enjoyed the views) on top of the John Hancock Building a couple of times, until Monday I'd never been to the top of the Sears--nay, the Willis--Tower. Its taller, but due to its South Loop location, less glamorous than its Mag Mile skyscraping cousin.

But thanks to a tweetup organized by Kim Moldofsky, my whole family got to take in Chicago from 103 stories up. We were treated to free entry, oversized cookies, VIP line-jumping and unlimited photo-ops on the Skydeck Ledge, a brilliant example of tourist catnip if there ever was one.

Josh and I weren't scared. Z was a little cautious at first. And A wouldn't put her feet down anywhere near the glass.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Princess and the Frog

I took Z to see a matinee of Disney's first hand-drawn animated feature in a bajillion years and cried through the whole damn movie. Yes, I was PMSing. But my tears weren't entirely fueled by hormones.

I cried for patriotism. I've never seen a fundamentally American fairy tale before. The Princess and the Frog manages to capture the food, music, religion and culture of New Orleans without veering too far into caricature.
I cried for civil rights. I'm not the mother of a Black girl, but if I was I'd be so glad there was finally a Disney Princess who looked like my child. It may sound trivial, but this shit matters.
I cried for women's lib. Tiana comes from humble beginnings and marries a prince, but she achieves her dream of owning her own restaurant through combination of luck, moxie and a whole lot of double shifts.
I cried for values. The triumph of good over evil is no stranger to Disney movies, but The Princess and the Frog emphasized so many of the values I hold dear: family bonds, empathy, thrift, hard work, acceptance of people's differences, friendship and the power of music to bring people together.
Finally, I cried for artistry. In a world filled with horrifying bad animation, The Princess and the Frog is beautifully drawn and features a fantastic soundtrack. Keep your eyes peeled for the art-deco style fantasy and spooky, hyper-hypnotic voodoo sequences.

Z's take: It was better than Cinderella. But not better than The Little Mermaid.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cold weather fashion tips from the creator of Yummie Tummie

It's not every day (or ever, really) that I get the chance to hang out with a fashion designer to the stars, but sometimes mommyblogging has its benefits, and last week I had the honor of meeting Heather Thomson, founder of Yummie Tummie. YT, for those uninitiated (aka those who didn't attend BlogHer 09), is a line of shapewear and fashion basics that promise to slim flabby mummy tummies and make you look thinner and more toned without all those pesky sit-ups. And Heather, in addition to being the designer and founder of the company, is a fellow working mom to two children about the same age as mine. When I sat down with her on Friday after our company holiday party, she was looking forward to heading home after a busy week on the road and regretted she would be missing sundown on the first night of Chanukah.

Yummie Tummie got its start shortly after Heather gave birth to her first child. She was looking for something to hold in her post-partum jiggle but was astonished by the ugly, ill-fitting garments in the fusty, old-fashioned shapewear department. She was so disappointed by what she'd bought she ripped them up and patched the stretchy fabric together to sew a tank top for herself. She liked it so much she went to a fabric store and made more tank tops in black, pink, nude and white. Now Yummie Tummie sells dozens of control tops, bottoms, slips, and lingerie. Heather even confessed her body shaping teddie has helped women ashamed of their bellies turn the lights back on in the bedroom.

I actually bought a Yummie Tummie tank early this year, and while it's really well constructed and battles back my muffin top, I wasn't totally sold on it. It crept up when not tucked into my pants or tights and I just wasn't convinced it was sucking in $62.00 worth of flab.

Turns out I was wearing the wrong size. With a quick up and down glance, Heather pronounced me a small and hello, my new small tank feels much, much more snug. It holds onto my hips and really sucks in my gut. I think it even make me stand up taller. I wore it under a belted purple sweater to a couple of holiday parties on Saturday and 5 people told me I looked like I'd lost weight! (I haven't.)

So the Yummie Tummie works, but it's not worth it if you're hiding under jeans, a hoodie and a down parka, right? I needed to pick Heather's brain for stylish, flattering looks for those of us facing a long winter of sub-zero temps. Heather recommended dressing monochromatically and spending money on a couple of coats and a wardrobe of cold weather accessories. She suggested navy or cream hats and gloves for dressier occasions and pairing funky striped gloves with jeans. Matching my mittens to my clothes and boots never even occurred to me before! She also showed me how you can vary your look without buying anything new; grabbing her own gray hat, she demonstrated all the different ways you can style a simple fold-over skullcap. She added that scarves are great accessories that can be worn lots of different ways while also keeping you warm outdoors and in.

Heather also stressed the importance of choosing a warm coat that's not overly bulky and complimented me my fitted black Lands End down coat. She told me I should try belting it and I did so today, giving myself a bit more of a waist with the addition of a wide, elastic and pleather belt I picked up at Forever 21.

You can get more cold-weather fashion tips from Already Pretty, a fashion blogger from Minneapolis. Check out this post on layering without lumps.

Also in this picture, a hat from Etsy, gloves from H&M, a scarf from Loehmann's, jeans from Forever 21 and my new Frye boots

Disclosure: I received a free Yummie Tummie tank top during my interview with Heather

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Magnetic poetry for kids and Frye boots for me

Thanks to the grandparent largess, we haven't bought our kids more than one or two Chanukah presents a piece. But I couldn't resist getting my budding wordsmith her first magnetic poetry kit.

In related news, I got an awesome Chanukah gift from Josh--Frye boots! He knew I'd been lusting after them and surprised me with a pair he's ordered from Amazon. Unfortunately he picked a tall chocolate brown pair with a square toe. I already have tall brown boots I love and I so don't love the square toe. Oh, and they weren't very comfortable either.

I felt guilty for not loving such a thoughtful, generous gift, but I couldn't fathom keeping a pair of pricey, pinchy boots that I wouldn't wear enough to justify the cost. Josh, good sport as always, told me to walk over to Nordstrom at lunch and find a pair I liked better.

I picked out these and--with Josh's blessing--bought them (we're returning the others). I think I must have made my salesman's week. He kept saying "Thank you. Thank you." with such emphasis, passion and relief in his voice that I started thinking his commission on my purchase might have really made a difference in his take home pay that day.

Which got me thinking. Usually I buy shoes online. I try them on at home and send back the ones that don't work. (And why not? Return shipping is typically free.) I wonder if there's a growing segment of frugalistas out there trying on shoes at Nordstrom and walking out of the store empty-handed only to make their purchase online. And I'll admit, if Frye boots were available at a sizable discount online, I might have tried this dirty little trick myself.

Monday, December 14, 2009

You won't be getting a holiday card from me

Unless you are my daughter's teacher, daycare provider or named Marge (there are two of them), don't count on a festive envelope from the House of Klein. In the interest of saving trees, postage and my sanity, I'm cutting out holiday cards this year. Anyone hungry for a photo of my kids or an update on our lives knows exactly where they can find one.

I enjoy getting cards (or any personal snail mail, really), so I know I'll be feeling more guilty with every envelope's arrival. But it won't weaken my resolve. I'm not updating my address book, stressing about finding the perfect picture of our two kids or signing our names until I'm weak in the wrist. I'm not licking envelopes, affixing stamps or inserting year-end letters detailing 12 months of salary freezes, freelance furloughs and our nonetheless fabulous trip to Australia.

New to this blog and want the highlights? Here it is: A got pottytrained and Z learned to read.

Happy Chanukah!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Maybe I have too much on my plate...

Just as I was berating myself for not blogging but not having the energy to blog about everything that's happened in the past week (trip to LA, company holiday party, company after-party, interview with the creator of Yummie Tummie, preschool holiday party, co-worker's holiday party, a fleeting case of pink eye, Chavurah Chanukah party, our new kitty, etc., etc.)... I find myself having a truly blog-worthy moment.

I filled up our electric teakettle with water to make tea... and put it on the gas stove.
This, ladies and gentlemen, this what idiocy (or maybe too much wine and too little sleep) looks like:

Now that I've gotten that out there, here are a couple of photos from the Montessori holiday party. First the kids sang their favorite songs in their individual classrooms. (A wanted to sit with her sister "on stage.")


Then we joined the rest of the school for food, face painting and a silent auction. I won a pizza lunch for Z and 9 friends with "Mr Bruce," the school business manager.
Z with Evan, who she's loved since she was in diapers
Julia, one of Z's best friends, actually spent much of the evening leading A around by the hand.

Stay tuned for highlights from my conversation with Yummie Tummie's Heather Thomson. I asked her how--besides wearing her tank tops--a girl can look thin and shapely in 9 degree weather.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

On the road again...

Hello from not-sunny, kind of cold Los Angeles, where I'm helping conduct some in-home consumer research--in Spanish. Yes, with an interpreter.

I'm staying at the swanky Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood, which helps make up for the fact that my entire days are spent in a car or sitting on someone's uncomfortable kitchen chair.

Have you seen my A Few Things I'd Like to Bring Home from Australia post over at the Chicago Moms Blog?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Meet Oscar

Just a few days before Silver received her grim diagnosis, my friend Kirsten, a soft-hearted pet lover if there ever was one, rescued this kitten from an organic farm. It had been dumped on the property a few days beforehand and had been trying in vain to get into the farmhouse. The farmer didn't think he'd survive the winter as a barn/farm cat, so Kirsten and her equally soft-hearted mom scooped him up and brought him to Oak Park, determined to find the guy a home.

We weren't planning on getting another pet so soon, but the timing seem fortuitous and he's such a sweet, kid-friendly cat.
Yes, A's wearing scrubs. Getting her H1N1 booster reignited interest in her doctor kit.

A few things I'd like to bring home from Australia


I just returned from a two week visit to Australia, where my sister lives with her Australian husband and their family. As far as foreign countries go, it takes a long, long time to get there, but it is pretty familiar territory once you land. A thoroughly modern, cosmopolitan city, Sydney kind of looks like Southern California, complete with tattooed surfers, texting teenagers, Target, McDonald's, Subway and KFC outlets.

But Australia isn't America Down Under, and they've got a few things I'd like to import.

1. Public Health Care

Yeah, this is a big one. No one in Australia goes uninsured. Everyone has access to the state-run Medicare plan. Yes, you might have to wait a few months to get non-emergency work done, but you won't have to mortgage your house or go bankrupt to pay for it. Once your household reaches a certain income level, you can pay a penalty (I believe it is $2000) to stay in the public plan or you can opt to buy private insurance. In my sister's case, private insurance cost about the same as the penalty but got her access to "fancier" care like a post-partum recovery suite at a local hotel where she had catered meals and 24/7 access to a private maternity nurse.

2. Enforcement of Driving Laws

Obviously regulations vary from place to place in the U.S., but at least in Chicago it takes a lot to get yourself pulled over and a whole lot to lose your license. In Australia traffic fines are high, enforcement is constant (traffic cameras and random roadblocks with breathalyzer tests are common) and it isn't uncommon to meet someone who has lose his or her license for 6 months for accumulating too many points. Yeah, there's a little less freedom on the open road, but I didn't see anyone speeding, talking or texting while driving. In general, drivers were courteous and pedestrians respected.

3. More Natural Foods

I couldn't find a single processed food item in Australia with high fructose corn syrup. Not Heinz ketchup, not Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail, not peanut butter, jelly or crackers. The candy Smarties (basically Nestle's answer to M&Ms) was running an outdoor campaign touting "no artificial colors." Even Kraft Singles were a natural shade of white instead of orange. The egg selection at the store was a revelation. Each package described not only whether the eggs were organic or free range, but whether they were raised in a barn or a field. And they were delicious.

4. Dual Flush Toilets

It doesn't take a genius to know that you don't need the same amount of water to wash away number 1 as you do for number 2. In Australia, whether you're at a public restroom or at home, you select your flush. It just makes so much sense. Can someone please explain to me why dual flush toilets haven't taken off in the U.S.?

5. Parents with Prams Parking

I was astonished to find that my sister's local shopping center, an indoor mall with a Target, Big W (Walmart), a bunch of mall-type boutiques and a food court, had an entire section of the parking garage dedicated to "parents with prams" (that's strollers to us Yanks). Those not headed to family parking don't even pass through! Imagine how wonderful it would be to park close to the entrance in a special lot where every other driver is on the lookout for small children on the loose and no one will impatiently tap their steering wheel as they wait for you to fold up your stroller and buckle two wiggly kids into their car seats.

There are lots of other things I'd like to bring home from Australia, like warm weather, sandy beaches, roundabouts, flat white coffees and honeycomb as an ingredient in indulgent treats (ice cream, gelato, chocolate bars and butter). I'll pass on the harsh sun, rampant wildfires, poisonous snakes, enormous spiders and roaches and Vegemite.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Why we gave our toddler an iPod

It takes 20 hours to travel from Chicago to Australia. 20 long hours when you're traveling with two small children. That right there is reason enough to buy an iPod Touch.

Now a couple of years ago, iPods were for music. Podcasts and audio books, maybe. But today's iPod Touch (an iPhone without the phone, really) can function as a mini wifi-enabled computer
and entertainment hub. One with impressive battery life that won't take up space in your carry-on.

We loaded up our new 32GB iPod with music for Josh, Hebrew lessons for me, a selection of photos from our iPhone album, audio books for Z (she's partial to Lemony Snicket), a few Disney animated movies and games. We bought a headphone splitter and two sets of headphones so the kids could watch Toy Story at the same time. Unfortunately we only bought one pair of kid-sized headphones, and they were far more comfortable than the adult pair.

Now about those games. On Rookie Moms' recommendation, we downloaded iWrite Words and iChalky. Sound Shaker and Sort Slider were provided free to me by TickleTapApps so that I could review them. We were gone for 2 weeks and spent a whole lot of time in the air or driving somewhere, and both games were compelling enough to stop a crying jag cold. They were also compelling enough to start a few fights over who got to play them. Both girls mastered the noncompetitive, endless games quickly, and Sort Slider, a game that rewards you for matching a shape ended up being too easy even for 2 year old A. I'm honestly surprised it's recommended for kids 3-5. Sound Shaker (recommended for kids 4+) was the bigger hit: even I found its musical balls and hatching baby birds mesmerizing. Both games are available for $1.99 at the iTunes store.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

From two cats to none

Less than a month ago we euthanized Tallulah. She was a healthy cat with an unhealthy litter box problem that just couldn't be resolved.

Today karma scratched back and we had to euthanize Silver. Over the past 3 or 4 weeks Silver lost a lot of weight (down to 6lbs from 11) and started wheezing when she was excited/purring. She lost interest in food and stopped coming upstairs to our bedroom.

When we returned from Australia Josh and I agreed something was definitely very wrong. Josh made an appointment with the vet, and at noon today we got the diagnosis: advanced lung cancer.

A huge tumor was filling up Silver's chest cavity, squeezing out her lungs and heart and making organ failure imminent. She didn't respond to oxygen treatments.

The vet advised Josh against bringing her home. I wanted to be there for Silver's last breaths, but I didn't want her last hours to be in a cage at the vet's office, a place she'd always despised, so I agreed to let Josh escort her to evermore.

I'm so sad. Silver was our first baby. It was 1997 and Josh and I had just moved in together. We drove his white Toyota Corolla from Hyde Park to the Anti-Cruelty Society downtown. She was a 6 month old adolescent in a cage labeled "unwanted." I stroked her pretty tabby coat and, gave said, stupidly, "Isn't she sweet. We could call her Silver." Not a proud moment for an aspiring copywriter, but the name stuck.

For years, we spoiled her with cat treats, catnip and toys. Her favorite was the wire and cardboard cat dancer. She tolerated Z's arrival 5 years ago, but became suspicious of the baby when she went mobile. Since then, she's been a gentle evening caller--spending her days on our bed and her evenings on our laps, appearing as soon as the kids are tucked into bed. Until very recently she slept on Josh and my bed, hopping up as soon as we'd turned in for the night.

Silver, you'll be missed.