Thursday, December 30, 2010

What are YOU doing?

It's the last week of 2010 and I'm...

Reading Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness: Stories
Listening to Robyn's Body Talk
Watching Breaking Bad
Eating homemade candied pecans and clementine cuties
And knitting this winter ear warming headband

Which reminds me, I finally joined Ravelry! My user name is almaklein.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas at Timber Ridge Lodge

The minorities were the majority at Timber Ridge Lodge on December 24th and 25th. As Christians gathered around their Rockwellian fireplaces in their red and green striped matching pajamas, the Jews, Asians and South Asians--even a couple of Muslim women in head-to-toe modesty swimgarb--hit the water park hotel in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

The snow was falling steadily outside the windows, but inside the water park it was in the low 80s. Top 40 music played over the sound system as we glided along the lazy river, zoomed down the water slides and splashed in all of the pools save the hot tub. Because I'm scared of what lives in those.

The good stuff: We stopped for pizza at Burt's Place on the drive up. The girls had a blast. I looked better in a bikini than 90 percent of the women there. And we were able to successfully smuggle in a couple of clementines and Goldfish crackers and avoid having to purchase "pizza" or "nachos" from the frigid snack bar.

The bad stuff: A kid who'd indulged in said "pizza" barfed all over the side of the pool--about 5 feet away from us. The food at Smokey's BBQ, the hotel restaurant, was the worst "barbecue" ever to grace a bun. And their fish fry was just as unappealing. The kids were so wiped out by the travel and the water park that they completely melted down after dinner and we had to forgo Story Time with Milk and Cookies in favor of Lying in the Dark with Small Children Who are Afraid of the Sprinkler on the Ceiling.

Sunday morning's meal--the buffet brunch at the Grand Cafe in the nearby Grand Geneva Lodge--redeemed the resort. We gorged on omelets made to order, a waffle bar and assorted pastries and headed back to Timber Ridge for more water park fun.

Although spending the night away from home is still a pain with our kids (and sleeping on a pull-out couch is a pain, period), I'd happily head back to Timber Ridge at some point in the future. The suite was spacious and featured a giant bathroom, ample closet space, a full kitchen and a cozy gas fireplace. The water park was clean and the staff was very friendly and accommodating. Ideally our next trip there would include friends with similarly-aged kids and some in-room meal-making.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Stocking the birthday gift closet

The following is cross-posted at

With both girls enrolled in school (1st grade and Montessori preschool), the birthday party invitations are rolling in like never before. I'm fortunate that Z and A are well-liked children with a lot of friends in their classes, in the neighborhood--and, in Z's case--from her days at Montessori school. It all adds up to a lot of invites, a fair amount of car pool negotiations and a lot of birthday presents.

Although I'm sure purchasing a well-considered, beautifully wrapped gift from Oak Park's own Geppetto's (voted best toy store in Chicago) might help me win mother of the year, I don't have the time, money or inclination to do so every week. And yes, there is a birthday party nearly every weekend. Sometimes two.

So I've been stocking and restocking the gift closet, using the 33, 40 and 50% off coupons Borders sends to its Rewards members to buy Klutz books, Alex craft kits and Pop Bottle Science kits from the well-stocked toy selection in the children's department on State Street, a block from my office.

Other gift closet stocking strategies include checking Kids Woot! for attractive deals and buying 3 or more of a particularly appealing toy. In the past, I've purchased gardening kits, car games and Disney MP3 players from Woot--all of which seemed like much more expensive gifts than they really were.

And on the last day of my free Amazon Prime trial, I choose a couple of art sets that were marked down for Christmas and hit the buy button. One was specifically selected for a little girl who is turning 7 in January, but if one 7 year old girl's likely to like it, why not buy it for a few 7 year old girls?

For the younger set, I keep my eyes out for deals on Play-Doh and Playmobil sets at Target and scoop up a couple whenever the price dips into the $5-8 range.

My goal in keeping a gift closet is to give gifts in the $12-20 range without spending more than $10 a pop. I further save by forgoing cards and wrapping gifts in recycled gift bags or brown craft paper that the kids can decorate and personalize. While I'm sure I could save a lot more by declining more invitations, I see how much my children enjoy their friends' parties and how much it means to those children to have them there. And as long as I can keep the cost of the gifts down, I'm getting a decent deal on 2 hours of entertainment and a snack.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The census gets personal

Have you checked out the interactive U.S. Census feature on the New York Times website? You can enter in your zip code and zoom down to the block level to see how your neighborhood rates when it comes to ethnic diversity, income and educational levels and property values. I took a couple of screen shots of my immediate neighborhood and Oak Park overall to see how my 'hood looked compared with others in the area. I wasn't surprised by the information; I already knew my neighbors were well-educated, somewhat well-off, about three-quarters white and living in houses worth about $350k.
Light blue dots indicate households earning under $30k and red dots are for households over $200k. Our house is smack in the middle of census tract 8129, with 1706 households. 10% are in the lowest income group, 10% in the highest and 28%--the biggest group--in the $100-$149k range.

When it comes to race, my tract is 77% white, 13% Black, 5% Hispanic and 4% Asian.

I knew Oak Park was a lot different from its neighbors to the south (Cicero and Berwyn) and west (Chicago's Austin neighborhood), but these scaled-out maps (about 2-3 miles across) show how dramatic the differences are in income and especially race. The highway through the middle of the maps is I-290. I live about 3 blocks north of it in central Oak Park.

Have you played around with the census data? Uncovered any surprises?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Don't look for first aid at the Field Museum

Field Museum Chicago
I'll show you a splinter
The following is a guest post from Josh, Mr. Marketing Mommy. 

I used to take Z and A to various area museums and attractions on a fairly regular basis, but since they started 1st grade and pre-school, respectively, it’s a practice that has mostly fallen by the wayside. Between school and other commitments, mornings are out, and as for post-school/nap afternoons, traffic (both street and museum) is pretty prohibitive. As for the weekends, well, years of touring deserted museums first thing in the morning have more or less spoiled me away from all the teeming throngs of tourists who show up on Saturdays and Sundays.

So it was with excitement that I packed up the kids to hit the Field Museum this morning, along with friends, for our first visit in quite some time. Needless to say, the girls had a blast working their way through the exhibits, from the stuffed animal dioramas to the mummy’s tomb and finally to the children’s play area (which inexplicably opens an hour after the museum does, at 10am) for crafts, dress up, music and general play.

Somewhere alone the line, though, Z got a splinter. Not a huge one, mind you, but visible, and sticking teasingly, tantalizing out of her hand at a conspicuous 45 degree angle. No prob, I though. I’ll find a first aid kit and yank it out with some tweezers. What transpired was somewhat distressing, to say the least.

First I went to the front desk at the children’s area to ask if they had a first aid kit. The woman looked perplexed, and began digging around in several drawers. She pulled out what looked like a first aid kit, but it was a sewing kit. A couple of minutes later, and the best she could come up with was a second sewing kit. I asked her where I can find a first aid kit, and she starts scrambling to come up with weirdly Byzantine directions – “turn right, then right, then left, then right again” - that sent us deep into the bowels of the Field, down several barely-marked corridors and past several locked doors, in search of an alleged first responder station that we never found.

Frustrated, I took Z to the nearest gift shop to ask for better directions. The woman looked at me like I was crazy. “Ummm, hmmm, first aid? I don’t know. Sorry.” Sorry doesn’t cut it, so I asked her if she could, you know, call someone. She actually paused for a minute, deep in thought, though I have no idea what could possibly have been going through her mind other than “should I call someone?” Which she eventually did, and which eventually led us upstairs in search of security.

I found several closets, more closed doors and janitor supply stations, but no security, so I went to a ticket seller in the front of the museum, told her our rapidly lengthening story, and asked for security. She pointed me to the lone guard standing by the ticket sellers and told me he could unlock the first aid room for me. So I approached him, and asked him about first aid. He, too, paused and thought a bit, then made a phone call. He then told me to go back downstairs and search for someone in a white uniform, who was apparently waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs.

Keep in mind this whole time Z was bravely and patiently walking around with her splinter-hand stiff and stretched out.

We reach the bottom of the stairs just in time to see a man in a white uniform vanishing into some back room, but we catch his eye before he disappears. He looks surprised when I wave, then passes us off to yet another person, who looked to be another security guard. Emergency or no, this person did the farthest thing from hustling as she led us to the elusive first aid room and slowly unlocked the door. There I asked her, finally, for tweezers. She stared at me, then literally started turning the room over in search of tweezers. She looked in the paramedic bag. She opened drawers. She looked in baskets, cabinets. She gave me permission to open doors, bags, drawers and cabinets, too, all while Z sat on a bed, at this point closer to bored than uncomfortable, since her friends and sister were still off having fun.

Eventually, this person, too, made a phone call. After a few questions, she hung up the phone, turned to me and said: “we don’t have any tweezers.”

So after all that confusion, all that back and forth, one of the most visited museums in Chicago couldn’t find one of the most basic of all first aid tools. Not the most reassuring conclusion, even if Z gamely said she could just wait until we got home, not that we had a choice at that point. An hour later, I finally plucked the thing out of her hand myself, much to her relief. I’m tempted to buy a $10 first aid kit and donate it to the children’s play area in her name. If this is the way they handled a calm kid and a simple boo-boo, I’d hate to see how they’d handle at true emergency.

flickr photo by hchao17 used under Creative Commons license

Monday, December 20, 2010

Surprise! Your daughter's on stage

I almost missed the holiday sing at Z's school. But the stars lined up to ensure I wasn't locked in New York City conference room while Z was dancing to a Russian folk song. On stage. (She's in the green shirt.)

I'd heard her practice "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth" a dozen times, but she neglected to mention she'd be dancing on stage during the 1st grade performance.

Nor did anyone tell me you need to stake out a seat 30 minutes before the 8:15am performance. It's apparently a very hot ticket.

And then Josh sang karaoke

I never thought I'd see my husband down 3 cosmos and sing karaoke at a friend's holiday party. But it makes me very, very happy.

Josh sings "Back in Black" from almaklein on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Patty's and Lula's: a tale of two brunches

Yesterday A attended a birthday party way, way up north in Niles. Josh's first inclination, whenever he's headed to a new neighborhood, is too see what restaurants are recommended by the folks on the foodie board LTH Forum. And lo and behold, a well-regarded diner was about to close after 20 years (Patty the cook has carpel tunnel).

So instead of kill 4 hours at home with Z, we joined Josh and A for the 1 hour drive north, dropped A off at one of those warehouses full of jumpy houses and headed over to Patty's Diner in nearby Skokie for a delicious brunch of eggs, bacon, sausage and biscuits in gravy and blueberry pancakes in the old-school, no frills storefront (complete with half-dead plants in the window and an oversized Kermit in the high chair by the door). Z put away a lot of food, so you know it was a special place. I ate a lot too, but I blame my  2 hour early morning roller derby workout.

Since we were in the area, we also bought a half-dozen fresh bagels from New York Bagel & Bialy, the bagel bakery that supplies our synagogue and the Onion Roll, the only place in Oak Park that sells a decent bagel.

A fell asleep on the way home, so I dropped off Josh and Z at the local movie theatre to see Tangled (which I'd already seen with her--and loved). I drove my sleeping 3-year old into the somewhat heated underground library garage so she could finish her nap, and I was very glad I'd brought along a magazine to help me kill time since there's no cell phone service down there.

But that's not the only special breakfast of this weekend! We left the girls with a sitter this morning and had a brunch date at Lula's Cafe. Josh ordered their justifiably famous breakfast burrito and I had the smoked salmon scramble. And bonus! We used our $10 off a la Card coupon days before it expired. My unsolicited and uncompensated recommendation: If you haven't heard of a la Card, and you need a thoughtful gift for a Chicagoan, consider buying it. For $30, you get a deck of 52 $10 off coupons to local, non-chain restaurants including some of our favorites like Nightwood, Longman & Eagle and Spacca Napoli

Monday, December 13, 2010

Look at all the pretty people

Aside from needing a thick skin and an iron liver, success in the ad world means being comfortable surrounded by beautiful people. There isn't enough Kat Von D concealer and Maybelline Falsies mascara in the world to keep up with the hotties I work with. These photos are from Friday's holiday party.
Julie and Lauren
Mairin and Andrea

Laura, me and Andrea

The Meloy sisters
The dancers were pretty hot too

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Prom picture

My colleague Andrea isn't just an incredibly talented art director and graphic designer. No, the overachiever has to have amazing fashion sense, look stunningly beautiful and throw great holiday parties. This year's party was "prom" themed and included a classic photo set-up for guests. Josh and I didn't last much past 10 o'clock thanks plenty of mulled wine and the exhausting nature of our previous affair, a 3 hour preschool holiday extravaganza.

I'm wearing a JB by Julie Brown wrap dress my friend Jani picked out for me on Bluefly. Word to the wise: if you have a small child, consider double-knotting your wrap dress belt. The first time I wore it A tugged on the belt while half-climbing my leg and the dress kinda sorta fell open. At synagogue.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Chanukah, the recap

IMG_1467For 8 nights we lit the menorah. And by we, I mean Z, who knows the primary blessing by heart. She'd take the lead in lighting the candles, leaving the last candle or two for her little sister, who was happy to finish the job.

But last night she was a little sketched out by our final candle, a lowly birthday candle pushed into service because we took hastily disposed of a broken 44th candle.

On Friday we attended the Family Chanukah celebration at Oak Park Temple, which includes singing, doughnuts and a long table filled with every family's menorah, and on Monday we fulfilled our obligation to eat latkes, gobbling down two boxes worth from Trader Joe's.

Thanks to the generosity of their aunts and grandparents, the girls each received one or two gifts a night, and the best-loved presents were something of a surprise. Three year old A went nuts for new clothes, oohing and ahhing and promptly trying on everything she received, from a 6 pack of Princess underpants to some adorable outfits from Gymboree. Thank you mom and mother-in-law for outfitting my budding fashionista.

It was a good thing Chanukah came early this year, because both girls were also gifted a selection of mittens and gloves (along with those oh-so-elusive mitten clips). And Z received long underwear, which she would wear under her pants every single day if I let her.

If underwear, mittens and clothes weren't exciting enough, A's very favorite present is another practical one: a hooded towel for swim class.

In the book and toy department, both girls thrilled over Disney figurines (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and a comprehensive Princess set that A immediately pressed into "rehearsals"). Z proclaimed her My First Sewing Kit, a box of Magic Tree House books and the American Girl Doll School set her "best presents ever," turning her nose up at the potholder loom I'd purchased for her as a "dumb gift that just makes me work hard to make other people presents." (She changed her tune a day later when we started her first potholder.)

Now that Chanukah is over, I can focus on the rest of the holiday season--which means figuring out what I'm going to wear to holiday parties, addressing cards, organizing a New Year's Day brunch and going to a waterpark! Yes since there's no good Chinese food in our area and A can't be trusted to sit through a movie, we're starting a new Jewish on Christmas tradition. We're going to a resort with a waterpark.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Holiday shoppers: Beware the gift receipt!

I was under the impression that including a gift receipt with a gift would ensure that the recipient--should she decide to return or exchange the item--would be able to do so for the price paid.

This was not the case at Anthropologie yesterday.

I went in to exchange a lovely cardigan that Josh had so thoughtfully bought for me for Chanukah. In mustard yellow. The sweater had just been marked down to half-price that morning, so I was surprised to find the cashier only giving me the marked-down price as credit. I didn't say anything because the gift receipt didn't reveal how much Josh had actually paid (maybe he'd gotten it on deal?), but I did call Josh afterwards to ask him exactly how much he'd spent.

He'd paid retail, which meant I should have gotten an extra 80-odd dollars in credit. I called the store. They apologized and said that if I could track down the original receipt they'd credit the difference. Fortunately Josh had saved it and today they made good on their promise.

From now on I'll use gift receipts sparingly and tape the real receipt under my gifts. If someone doesn't like what I've picked out, I sure as heck want them to be able to spend the whole amount on something they'll love.

I bought this sweater with some of the credit. Gift receipt policies aside, I love me some Anthro.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Sharing the spoils from my 1-800-Baskets event

The secret is glue dots. And beautiful lighting.
A week ago today I was at 1-800-Baskets headquarters in Melrose Park, glue-dotting together a gift basket, sipping wine and tasting gourmet cheeses and chocolates at their Home for the Holidays event for bloggers. I knew that 1-800-Baskets was a part of the 1-800-Flowers empire, but I had no idea the company owned so many "gift-giving" brands: Cheryl's cookies, Fannie May, The Popcorn Factory and They also own, a content site dedicated to party-throwing (appropriate, given their brand mix).

I would have been delighted to indulge in a midday wine and cheese tasting with Vanessa, Farrah and Kim, but the event managed to squeeze a few inspirational gems (mostly from their resident party expert Shawn Rabideau) alongside the more expected brand familiarization bits. I was cheered to see a category I'd long associated with excess packaging encouraging consumers to reuse and repurpose its cookie boxes, gift baskets and ribbons. They even nodded to the frugal bloggers in the audience by suggesting we buy a gift tower and separating the boxes for individual gift giving, but I can think of more creative and budget-friendly ways to save money. My favorite tips were Shawn's suggestions to create a tiered tray using 3 different-sized plates and 2 rocks glasses and decorate with twigs, berries and pinecones. I may try that at my New Year's Brunch.

1-800-Baskets sent us home with two tote bags full of goodies, and I've been doing my best this week to spread the love around. I gave a Popcorn Factory tin to the staff at our Montessori school (in addition to a check for the annual staff gift fund). My neighbors had us over for dinner and I brought the Popcorn Factory's popcorn ball decorating kit for the 5 kids to play with and devour while the adults finished a bottle of wine and put away Josh's indulgent sticky toffee pudding.
Happily gluing on candy with frosting

Today I brought the gift basket I assembled myself (pictured above) to work for my colleagues to enjoy. Had we not made a team outing to Christkindlmarkt for lunch, I think it would have disappeared more rapidly. As it stands, I give it 3 days, max. All that's left of my spoils is a box of Fannie May Mint Meltaways, and as sorely tempted as I am to eat them all by myself, while knitting and watching The Walking Dead (okay, not really, it's on hiatus now), I think I'll save it for a hostess gift.
Who likes hot, spiced wine in a boot? 

Disclosure: I was invited to the 1-800-Baskets event and received free product samples. I was not asked or paid to write about my experience.  My opinions are my own. You can save 15% at all of the companies I linked to with the code SHAWN (except Fannie May--their code is 1225).

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The groothsome toothsome girls


How is it two girls can bicker all day, have a delightful time in the bathtub, and then bicker again until bedtime?

I love these photos because, looking at them, I can almost forget the pushing. The screaming. The name-calling that goes on all day long. Or at least any time they think they've got an audience.

Also, check out those teeth. Z lost one of her two front teeth on Thanksgiving, and the other one is hanging on by a thread. It sticks out perpendicular to the floor, lending her a rather ogre-like appearance. And then there's A's dead front top tooth, which has darkened to a pretty noticeable gray. We're still resisting having it yanked because I figure a gray tooth is somewhat less noticeable and certainly more functional than no tooth.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Dancing to Harold and the Purple Crayon

There are a few things I should have said to my very inquisitive, very talkative, very literal 6 year old daughter before the Hubbard Street Dance Company's performance of Harold and the Purple Crayon this afternoon.

1. Unlike most stage performances you've seen, this story will be told with dancers, not actors.
2. Aside from some narration, there will be no talking.
3. You, as an audience member, should not be talking.
4. You are not so thirsty that you cannot survive a 60 minute performance without a beverage.
5. I do not require--nor desire--that you read me every word of the program out loud.
6. While the dancers are using their bodies to tell the story, their every moment will not be a literal interpretation of the book as you remember it.
7. They may use different dancers--even women--to play the part of Harold. This is in no way shocking, wrong or against the rules.

In spite of Z's endless stream of questions and commentary and the noise and seat-kicking of the poorly behaved kids seated behind us, I really enjoyed the performance. I don't make an effort to see dance as often as I should. I also really appreciate Hubbard Street Dance's partnership with Target since it meant $5 tickets for this performance. Any time we can share the performing arts with our kids for less than the cost of movie ticket is wonderful. But I have a couple of bones to pick with Hubbard Street nonetheless. Two, to be exact.

1. Where was the dragon? Even my 3 year old knows the story well enough to know a major plot point was missing, and how much fun would a dragon be to interpret?

2. Why is your promotional photo (left) so misleading? The little I did do to prepare my kids involved telling them the dancers would be "painting with glow sticks" and nothing of the sort was included in the show. In fact, all of the drawings appeared Reading Rainbow-style on a screen behind the dancers.

Disclosure: I paid for my own tickets to the show. We also shelled out $14 to park. And while my 6 year old was full of questions and commentary, 3 year old A was awestruck for the first 45 minutes (and quiet but tired for the last 15).

Thursday, December 02, 2010

I'm a Derby girl

What happens when you put 25+ women on quad skates for a park district fitness class designed to teach the basics of roller derby? You get a motley crew of skinny, curvy, tattooed urban and mom-hair suburban 20, 30 and 40 somethings adopting derby names (mine is Alma-Geddon) and enthusiastically dressing the part in fishnets, shiny booty shorts and knee socks.

You also get the Holy Grail: a workout that doesn't feel like a workout. Whether its rolling around the track to Lady Gaga, practicing plow, toe or T-stops, competing in relay races or falling on purpose on our well-padded knees, elbows and wrists, Derby Lite is the most fun I've had while working my ass and inner thighs. And I'm really sad to find that only beginner classes are offered on Saturday mornings, the time most convenient for me. If I opt to enroll in the intermediate class, which I'm sorely tempted to, I'll be running up against a variety of other weeknight commitments.

Give Derby Lite a try and watch me nail my cross-overs on Get in Gear Day, your opportunity to get a taste of what Derby Lite is all about. Come to the ARC building (18 Chicago Ave) on Sunday, December 13th from 12-3pm.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

We're off to see the Wizard!

I can't take my 3 year old to the movies, but she's sat stock still and absolutely rapt--forgetting even to blink--at the two theatrical productions she's seen at Chicago's child-friendly Emerald City Theatre. Having found Pinkalicious a sweet treat, we headed down the yellow brick road this past Sunday.

And while Pinkalicious managed to stretch a popular picture book into a 60 minute musical, this production of the classic movie musical The Wizard of Oz is a fast-paced, condensed version of the film that manages to pack all of the famous song-and-dance numbers and major plot points into just over an hour. The munchkins were cleverly done with puppets and an actor played Toto the dog. There were loud noises (hello, the show starts with a twister) and the drag queeny Wicked Witch of the West is no more huggable than her cinematic predecessor, but the scarier elements of the movie (like the flying monkeys) are much less intense in this version.

Although I'm a sucker for any musical theatre, I thoroughly enjoyed this performance and I've already recommended it to some friends. But the actors and director are only indirectly responsible for my very favorite part of the experience: watching my children's faces as they took in the show.

It also bears mentioning that at the very end of the performance, the children in the audience were invited to "send us an email at" Naturally Z couldn't wait to do exactly that and her ransom note-looking fan mail received a prompt, personalized--if somewhat salesy reply. She was thrilled.

Disclosure: The Emerald City Theatre provided me with 4 tickets to the show.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy hooky day

I took a day off work today so that I could have breakfast out with Josh, attend a holiday blogger get-together at the 1800 Baskets headquarters in nearby west suburban Melrose Park and get my nails done.

After ushering the girls to the bus stop and preschool, we went out for pancakes at the new Delia's Kitchen on Lake Street in downtown Oak Park. As I'd heard from others, it's a  huge improvement over the sad sack Maple Tree Cafe. The food didn't rival the American Depot Diner for deliciousness (and the stodgy light wood decor didn't add much atmosphere), but the addition of Intelligentsia coffee and a menu reminiscent of the Original Pancake House (hello Cherry Kijafa crepes!) should translate into a thriving business. I also noticed a well-priced kids menu that will surely meet with Z and A's approval.

After heading home to wrap Hanukkah gifts and driving west to indulge in wine, cheese and Fannie Mae chocolates at the "Home for the Holidays" blogger event, I swung by Old Navy to pick up a $7 fleece for my perpetually cold older daughter and got myself a purplish-grayish manicure at Avenue Nails.

But the day got better yet! My dear friend Kate (she of the brand new 3rd baby) offered up her DKNY little black dress. I headed to her place to try it on--and it fits!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving weekend, so far

5 children at our Thankgiving feast: 6, 5, 3, 2 and a mere 4 weeks
4 adults (older than 30, younger than 40)

3 meals of turkey--the main event plus a lunch and dinner of leftovers
2 mornings of pie for breakfast

1 tooth lost, double playdate, viewing of Tangled (I loved it; Z declared it "a little too scary")
0 Black Friday shopping excursions

Right now I'm enjoying 2 hours of blissful peace as our 13 year old mother's helper plays along with whatever imaginary game A invents (and cleans up behind her). Tomorrow we're going to meet friends for brunch at Nightwood and see The Wizard of Oz.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We have people!

I love it when little kids start drawing identifiable--if a bit jellyfish-like--people. This work of art is by my 3 year old, A.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Weekend update: good eatin'

It's been a very Monday Monday, so I'm going to pause and reflect on our weekend fun.

Friday night: We picked up Popeye's chicken and shared the salty, juicy, crunchy, bad-for-you deliciousness (along with a wholesome homemade salad) with our friends Jay and Kate and their kids. We all got a chance to cuddle and sniff their new baby. And apparently I'm some kind of baby laxative, because every time I picked her up she farted or pooped. Like, endlessly. After getting home and putting the kids to bed, Josh and I watched Winter's Bone (good and depressing) and I finished one of these fingerless gloves.

Saturday morning: I skipped Derby practice and Josh and I drove the kids to Navy Pier for the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. My blog got me  media passes, so we checked out all the exhibits before the crowds of Monopoly fanatics tore through. Which was a good thing, because 60 minutes was about as long as my kids could last in front of hundreds of toys they could touch but not take home. I was most impressed by the Silly Band Factory (design and bake your own silly bands at home!) and the Baby GoGo doll, a gender-neutral baby doll designed to ready older siblings for a new baby.

Saturday afternoon: While our mother's helper entertained the kids, I prepped Martha Stewart's Tuna, Artichoke and Noodle Casserole for our Chavurah potluck. It was delicious, both immediately and as leftovers, but it really makes a TON of food.

Sunday morning: There was a family activity for all 1st graders at Sunday school, so I finally got to meet some of the other Temple families with kids the same age as Z. Then Josh deposited me and A at home and drove Z to yet another birthday party. It seems she goes to one a weekend, and this one was at an indoor water park in Elmhurst! While Z was gone, A and I polished all of my silver jewelry*, lunched and napped. Well, she napped and I ironed and neatened up for dinner.

Sunday evening: We had our friends Megan and Bruce and their 5 year old daughter (also Z) over for dinner. Josh made Peruvian chicken with Cook's Illustrated's oven fries. My contribution? A salad. Delicious food for delightful company. And I'm not just saying that because they brought 2 awesome bottles of wine.

I also spent part of Sunday writing Thanksgiving shopping lists. We're contributing butternut squash souffle, roasted brussels sprouts and grapes, cranberry-orange sauce, salted caramel pumpkin pie and apple crumble pie. I'm also making salad and dinner rolls or biscuits, but I haven't settled on a recipe yet.

*To shine silver jewelry, line a shallow dish with tin foil. Pour in boiling water, 2 tbsp baking soda and 1 tbsp salt. Mix to combine and put in your silver for a few minutes. Rinse pieces in cold water and buff with a soft cloth. (I learned this from The Modern Girl's Guide to Sticky Situations).roasted brussels sprouts and grapes

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Friday Shopping Report: Uniqlo, Boden and

Yes, I was in NYC earlier this week and I stopped at Uniqlo. But aside from a thermal tank, a pair of gloves (which are already unraveling) and a super-cute flannel tunic top, my purchase was really weighted toward purchases for Josh. He got another thermal long-sleeved top (his request) and a black and white striped dress shirt and coordinating black argyle vest sweater. He's wearing his new duds today and looks so handsome.

I wear my Boden dresses a lot, so when Want Not alerted me to a 25% off sale with free shipping and returns, I pounced, ordering this wrap dress and this printed jersey dress.

Have you heard the buzz about Google's foray into fashion, I checked out the site and found it really easy to search and browse clothes, something I ordinarily find impossible on the web (unless I'm in a very limited catalog situation like Boden or Ann Taylor Loft). I used their tools to figure out my personal style (it's street, surprisingly enough), and give my preferences in silhouette, designers/brands, colors and patterns. Fifteen minutes later a personalized boutique was created just for me. Go ahead and click through. You can "follow" my boutique if our tastes align and even buy me gifts from my favorites (yeah, right). In addition to browsing the photos, I can search for free shipping, sale items or sort by price. Or, if I decide my taste sucks, I can view the boutiques curated by fashion icons, bloggers and celebrities. It's a brilliant concept, really. Who would have expected it from Google?

Hours later it occurs to me that today is THURSDAY and I've published the Friday shopping report early. I guess that means I have to go to work tomorrow. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A beautiful sight, mine

I looked out the window as the airplane descended Tuesday afternoon and as the cloud cover gave way to the streets, houses and parking lots of greater Chicagoland, I saw something amazing: everything. Back in September I had PRK laser corrective surgery on both of my eyes and spent the first few weeks wondering if perhaps I'd made a huge mistake.

The first couple of days I slept a lot and wandered around in a drug-induced stupor. The first week I couldn't use a computer screen--even reading emails on my Blackberry was a challenge. The first month I went through bottle after bottle of moisturizing eye drops and struggled with my distance vision. I couldn't recognize faces from more than 10 or 15 feet away, so I felt awkward wondering if I should be smiling and waving to people down my block (or even across the street).

More recently I'd noticed I could recognize friends at a distance and read street signs before they were directly over my head.

But looking out that tiny window above O'Hare I could see everything and every detail was crystal clear. I finally felt like I would be happy if my vision settled at this level of accuracy. But from everything I've heard, it is more likely that it will continue to improve over then next few months. And that's fine by me too.

Why was I on a plane on Tuesday, you ask? I went to NYC for a brainstorm on Monday. Productive work + delicious food + late night saki bar + Uniqlo (yes, again) + amazing hotel = good trip.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Knit nite

Friday evening I hosted my neighborhood knitting group (the one I joined with my friend Kim about 9 months ago). A dozen women descended on my living room for 3+ hours of wine, talk and the chance to repeatedly screw up our projects by drinking and talking. I served a Middle Eastern-inspired spread of Sabra hummus and Stacy's pita chips (courtesy of House Party), stuffed grape leaves, Trader Joe's spanikopita, feta-tomato-cucumber skewers and baklava. Josh made a lovely pitcher of Rachael Ray's Sunset Sangria and since everyone brought a bottle of wine, I was skating with a hangover at this morning's 8am Derby practice.

Miraculously I finished A and Z's matching elfin hats amidst the chit-chat and hosting duties. And perhaps even more miraculously, the girls went to sleep to (as Josh described it) a lot of loud cackling.
The hats, which are quick and simple to make, are the cover pattern on More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Shopping Report: soft things

I purchased our queen sized mattress 6 1/2 years ago. It's easy to remember the mattress's age because we bought it when I was pregnant with Z. Since it was our first queen, I also bought two sets of sheets.

Both sets gave up the ghost this month. They're different brands (and different colors, not that it matters), but they both got worn through at exactly the same time (although not in exactly the same way).

So lest we start sleeping--crackhouse-style-- on a naked mattress, I ordered us up another set of sheets. Based on the reviews and the reasonable $39.99 price, I bought these Laura Ashley flannel sheets from (oh my, they're even cheaper today!).

Sleeping on them is like a dream--they're as soft and cozy as can be. I've only washed them once, but so far there's no sign of pilling.

And speaking of soft and cozy, have you seen the sweet, domestically-designed toys offered by North American Bear Company? They kindly sent my Cinderella-obsessed 3 year old their Topsy-Turvy Cinderella, a huggable cloth Cinderella that transforms from scullery maid to princess with the flip of a skirt ($28). A ran around singing "Bibbity bobbity boo!" and performing the fairy godmother's magical spell on her new doll for a few days, but her interest in the new toy eventually flagged. Perhaps her repeated viewings of the movie limited her imagination when it came to different ways to play with the doll (I've read that can happen)? Nah, I actually believe it is because her favorite toys are small and can be set up in a variety of ways and made to interact with each other (think Playmobil, Little People and Littlest Pet Shop).

Note: This post originally described North American Bear Company's dolls as domestically-manufactured. I was mistaken and the company set me straight. I apologize for the error.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Tri-Star Gymnastics birthday party

I want my child's triceps
I want to award the two coaches who led Z's 6th birthday party at Tri-Star Gymnastics in Forest Park a perfect 10. For $200, we had the enormous gym all to ourselves. The coaches led the girls in a warm-up, stretches and tons of fun exercises on the equipment to the Kidz Bop soundtrack Z provided, keeping them busy and challenged for nearly the entire 2 hour block.

Z was thrilled to get to demonstrate all of the skills she's mastered for her friends and I was impressed by how capable she's become after 2 years of classes. It was probably the most pleasant, relaxing birthday party we've thrown yet--the girls all got along famously, A kept up with the big kids and Z was sweet and gracious. Since the coaches had everything under control, Josh and I were free to take pictures and do our weekly meal-planning.

The gymnastics portion ended about 15 minutes before the end of the party, leaving us just enough time to serve cupcakes, milk and juice to 16 very hungry girls.

I made yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting and sprinkles, using the two new boxed mixes from Trader Joe's. Their frosting is miles better than anything in a can--probably because it's made with a stick of butter instead of transfatty, shelf-stable shortening. I recommend it. I also don't feel bad about (once again) forgoing goodie bags. Only one kid asked if there were any and I was saved the hassle and expense of preparing a bunch of sacks of cheap Made-in-China trinkets.
You can see more photos from the birthday party here.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Coca-Cola Freestyle: fun with the ultimate soda fountain

Remember being a kid and helping yourself to a self-serve soda fountain--I think they were at Taco Bell? I'd mix together a little Coke with a splash of Minute Maid Lemonade and marvel over my own creativity.

Add 100 more flavors, a computer touchscreen and an iPod-like main button and you'll have the Coca-Cola company's latest innovation, the Coca-Cola Freestyle, a soda vending machine-sized invention that's being slowly rolled out in quick-casual restaurants, movie theatres and the like.
Behold, the shiny black Freestyle

Z and I had the honor of being among the first people in Chicago to play with the machine at the Cosi at Washington and Wacker. I sampled the soda "cocktail" created for me by the red, black and white-clad Coke marketing team, a mixture of Barq's, Vanilla Coke Zero and Cherry Coke Zero (it was only okay), and Z mixed up a purple Laffy Taffy-like drink that was half Grape Fanta and half Grape Hi-C. Ultimately, I was more interested in discovering a wide range of lesser-known Coke products (hello Diet Mr Pibb!) and low-cal flavored waters than mixing one super-sweet soda pop with another.

Lest we fly away on a sugar rush, we also got to sample the lastest seasonal sandwiches from Cosi. I'm such a fan of their Signature Salad that I'd practically forgotten Cosi made sandwiches for grown-ups with their yummy flatbread, but I loved the three cheese grilled cheese and fig. The Thanksgiving-inspired turkey and stuffing sandwich was nice and I liked the ham and yam a lot more than I expected too. I picked off the ham (not a fan) and finished off the sweet potatoes and balsamic vinegar, an unexpectedly savory combination.

I don't typically order soda when I'm out to eat--I'm more likely to enjoy a glass of wine or settle for plain tap water--but I'll admit there's something very compelling about picking your drink from dozens of possibilities. It's a little like a jukebox, and it will be even more so when they upgrade the machines with the ability to save and share individuals' favorite soda combinations.

Disclosure: I was invited to a media event where I sampled the Coke Freestyle and Cosi sandwiches for free and received a swag bag. I was not asked or paid to write about it and all opinions are my own.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Oak Park voters, say it ain't so

I voted!
I originally published this post at the collaborative website
As I prepared to vote in Tuesday election, I was shocked and dismayed to find this referendum at the end of the ballot:
Shall the Village of Oak Park require those who inject vaccines, in the Village of Oak Park, to give the vaccine recipients, their parents or guardians the vaccine manufacturer’s specific package inserts of the vaccines they will receive, and to inform them that, thimerosal/mercury-containing vaccines, including but not limited to, influenza (flu), meningococcal (meningitis) and tetanus vaccines, may contain 3 1/2 times the daily toxic dose of mercury exposure for an 148-pound adult?
This is what’s called a leading question. Responsible survey writers try to avoid questions like these because they don’t give recipients a fair share at expressing their true, informed opinion. But apparently you don’t need to write a responsibly-worded referendum to get it on the ballot in our village.You just need 15 signatures.
Oak Park Public Health Director Margaret Provost-Fyfe and other medical experts have spoken out against the ballot referendum, but the leading question appears to have swayed enough voters and the referendum is poised for victory.
It’s too bad, because regardless of the fact that study after study that have demonstrated there is no link between autism and vaccines and the fact that vaccines are safe for the vast majority of people, fear continues to grip parents and they continue to delay or skip vaccinations. If too many people are freaked out by the list of scary-sounding ingredients in vaccines, will they refuse the shots? Will we lose herd immunity, so important for babies under 2 months, the immunocompromised and those who are truly allergic to vaccine ingredients? Will we make the news for something scarier than a crackpot ballot initiative–a potentially deadly pertussis or measles outbreak?
I sure hope not.
Flickr photo by Paradem

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Welcome to the world, Lucinda

I got to hold, feed and burp my friends Kate and Jay's newborn baby girl last night. Love her!

Interview with an (almost) 6 year old

In honor of Z's approaching birthday, I gave her a survey to fill out.

What is the best thing about being 5? It is fun.

What do you think will be the best thing about being 6? That I get more shoes.

What do you wnat to be when you grow up? An artist

Do you want to be 1 thing or many things? One thing

What is your favorite toy? An American Girl

What is your favorite book? American Girl books

What is your favorite TV show? Electric Company

What is your favorite song? Telephone by Lady Gaga!!!

What is your favorite movie? Toy Story 3 and Up

What is your favorite restaurant? Wishbone

What is your favorite cereal? Life 

What do you love about Mommy? She takes me places.

What does Mommy like to do? Go to work

What do you love about Daddy? He is silly.

What does Daddy like to do? Write reviews

What do you love about your sister? She is sometimes nice. 

If you could change your name, what would you choose? Sophie

Where would you like to go on vacation this year? Australia and Mexico

What will your house be like when you grow up? Really pretty

How many children will you have? What will you name them?  David is going to be born first. Then Abigail then Rachel.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

Although neither of my children wore the costumes they'd initially picked out, Halloween was a roaring success. Z traded in her "itchy" Spider witch getup to be a pop star and A declared her Jill (of Jack and Jill) to be "too big," so she raided the dress-up bin and was, once again, a wingless Tinkerbell.

A and her BFF Stella in 2009...

And today!

The pop star enjoys a hot dog "bloody finger." Because our block is awesome, wrapped candies were frequently accompanied by homemade cookies, tiny cups of Jell-O, margaritas and a chocolate fountain that wasn't quite able to stay liquid in the chill.

Yes, I got into the act as well.

See more photos here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Shopping Report: Loft bed

The bed in pieces on my front porch
The time has come for my 3 year old to move out of her converted crib and into a twin bed.

I posted a want ad to MomMail (a local newsletter) and spent Sunday afternoon checking out second hand beds in OPRF. I saw two Pottery Barn beds, but the cottage style and giant headboards were a little too stylish for my kids' "IKEA-eclectic" bedrooms. They were also priced at $175 each--a decent deal for PB, but pretty pricey for something I'd have to haul home in my CR-V.

One River Forest mom led me up to her garage attic, where she showed me her collection of twin headboards and a pile of frames and bed rails. She told me I could take whatever I wanted for free, but that she'd need to have her husband sort through the stuff to pull out all the necessary pieces. One of the beds (last used in the early 70s) was pretty appealing, but midway through the consideration process I'd floated the idea of putting a loft bed in Z's room and handing her bed down to A, and it was seeming more and more like the smartest way to maximize the space in their small bedrooms.

So I ended up purchasing a second-hand IKEA loft bed for $75. Josh picked up a mattress ($99), duvet and sheets on Wednesday, which means we my mom and stepdad can assemble it this weekend.

Why did I decided to go the second-hand route? A couple of reasons. I don't think our current house is our forever home, and I anticipate moving sometime before both of our girls are teenagers. I imagine their rooms in our future house will be more spacious--perhaps even big enough to accommodate a double bed. That means the beds I'm buying them for early childhood only need to last 5-10 years. I also don't believe children need fancy, super-supportive mattresses. Z's been sleeping fine on IKEA's entry-level foam mattress for a few years, and I've even spent the night on it once or twice. It's firm, but perfectly adequate.

This is what the bed looks like assembled but unmade
I also believe second-hand is an excellent way to afford higher-end furniture that can last a lifetime, like my beautiful dining room table and chairs. It's cost-effective and better for the environment, too.