Friday, January 29, 2010

In Akumal

I'm writing this on my Blackberry, so I'm going to make it brief. Highlights so far include our daytrip to Hidden Worlds and watching the kids play with each other, my Mom and Rick. Leaving something to be desired: Z's refusal to eat most foods (barring junk) and A's proclivity for waking up at 5am. Tomorrow Mom and Rick are bussing it to inland ruins, so will be a foursome all day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I'm leaving on a jet plane

Posting is going to be light. We're leaving for Mexico early tomorrow morning. We're heading back to Akumal with my mom and stepdad. Akumal is a small town south of Cancun, on the ocean between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. We went there in early 2006 and 2007, and last time we visited, I was 3 months pregnant with A.

This time there's nothing between me and an ice cold margarita. Or a zip line, for that matter.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

No more snacks!

I confess, I snack. Typically I have a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit mid-morning and another around 3pm. I think it is perfectly normal--and acceptable--to have a little something (preferably healthy) to tide oneself over between meals, provided, of course, that those meals aren't too hearty.

Unfortunately, my kids do not share my sense of moderation.

If they had their way, all meals would be replaced by snacks. Crinkly wrappers, cheesy crackers, little bowls of pretzels and Goldfish and Cheerios and M&Ms--these are their bite-sized tastes of heaven. They expect snacks at a playdate and demand snacks at the park. They're hungry for snacks after school and again after gymnastics practice. They want snacks in the car and snacks on the plane and snacks in front of the TV... And they want juice boxes and water bottles and milk in a sippy cup!

Can we moms band together and give this snacking thing a rest? Cars didn't used to come with cup holders. Toddlers used to manage between mealtimes without the self-serve convenience of a Snack Trap. We got water at the water fountain and snacks (if we were lucky) at snack time. There was an era before Clif Z bars and 100 calorie packs and McDonald's Snack Wraps and demands on parents to provide snacks for 90 minute events.

I'm not trying to be a Scrooge here, I'm just finding that--thanks to rampant snacking--my kids simply aren't all that hungry at lunch and dinnertime. So we're cutting way back on the snacks, only offering fruits and veggies and the occasional cheese, cracker and nut plate. And what do you know? Even our picky eater eats dinner when she's hungry.

Now if I can only figure out a polite way to ask our neighbor not to ply her with her Doritos...

Originally posted to the Chicago Moms Blog

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I'm speaking at the Youth and Family Marketing Mega Event

Once again, my professional experience as a marketer and my (increasingly less) unique perspective as a mom blogger have converged and won me a speaking engagement. This time I'm talking about "The Love Affair between Marketers and Mom Bloggers: From Romance to Reality" at the Youth & Family Marketing Mega Event, which will be at the Hotel Sax in Chicago May 10-12.

How exactly am I supposed to prepare a presentation on a subject that's evolving every minute? Well, I'm going to start by providing the audience of khaki-pants-wearing brand managers with a brief history of the sometimes graceful (Leapfrog and Graco jump to mind) and more often awkward (Nestle, Motrin) middle school dance between mom bloggers and brands.

I want to get people thinking about who's leading us across this crowded dance floor. Is it the global corporations, who can wine and dine a stay-at-home mom, getting her to pimp their product in exchange for a box of frozen meals? Or is it the influential mommyblogger, who can bring an appliance manufacturer to its knees over a couple of angry tweets? How do the new FTC regulations come into play? Is the FTC an effective chaperone, or it it just moving the hanky-panky from the wide-open blogosphere to late night Twitter parties?

What does the future of marketing to and with mom bloggers hold? Will there be a retreat from blogger retreats? Could contests and giveaways go away? Will the stream of poorly-targeted "Dear Blogger" spam-pitches ever abate?

Can we look forward to an era when marketers and mom bloggers can work together in a way that both fosters connections among a community of moms and helps marketers deliver solutions that moms want to buy? Will more marketers hire moms to bringing their authentic voice to brand sites? Will the moms who jumped on the blogging bandwagon for free stuff abandon their sites when the freebie train leaves town, or will they focus their blogs on their passions and build an audience of fellow moms of toddlers, crafters, Crock-Potters or working mothers?

I've got a lot to share, but I have so much more yet to learn. Please, please drop me a line if you've got a case study or tidbit you'd like to share. I'll be sure to thank and link to all. Also, if you'd like to attend this conference or the concurrent Life Stage Marketing Summit, you can save 20% using these codes: FAMILY2010AK and LIFESTAGE2010AK.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Being sick sucks

But being a sick mom really, really sucks.

I don't need to bore you with the details (I polished off a box of Theraflu, half a bottle of Nyquil and a box of tissues!), but the good news is I'm on the mend.

Both of my nostrils have regained function and the only remnant of my illness is the nice, wet rattle in my chest, which is not unlike the cough you'd hear from an alcoholic, chain-smoking "resident" of Lower Wacker Drive.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Parent-Child Night

A was suffering from a stomach bug yesterday, so we called off our babysitter and Josh stayed home with her while I accompanied Z to school for one of the most hotly anticipated evenings of her young life, Parent-Child Night. As usual, she was thrilled to demonstrate all the new skills she's gained.

She started off tracing, coloring and labeling a map of North America, which really isn't all that impressive when you compare it to the maps of South America, the United States and Australia that she's been bringing home for a year.

We moved on to one of her favorite Montessori activities, tasting. She made me taste saline, her "favorite," and I gagged.
Then it was division,
and tonal bells.
We celebrated her progress with ice cream at the Brown Cow.

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Last year's Parent-Child Night

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Oak Park kids eat free deals

This post has been updated. Click here to read updated post.

It's been nearly 3 years since I wrote my post on kid-friendly dining destinations in (or near) Oak Park. We're still frequenting a lot of those places, getting pizza, seafood salad and gelato at Freddy's, diner fare at the Depot and big bowls of pasta with free salads and cheap wine at Jimmy's Place. Since then, Pompei closed and Bar Louie went downhill fast. We gained a Five Guys (woo-hoo!) and Sushi Sen, a great spot for Japanese food, opened just a block from our house. But this post isn't about my favorite restaurants. It's about finding those kids eat free deals that make dining with young children worthwhile. As of today, all of these deals appear to be current. But that doesn't mean a restaurant can't cancel the offer whenever they wish. And yes, I included Denny's. Never been there, but I'll give the place props for offering free food to families two times a week.

726 Lake Street, Oak Park

7407 W Madison Street, Forest Park

722 Lake Street, Oak Park

Healy's Westside
7321 Madison, Forest Park

Denny's (4-10pm)
711 North Harlem, Oak Park

825 S Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park

Trattoria 225, 225 Harrison Street, Oak Park

Denny's (4-10pm)
711 North Harlem, Oak Park

1/15/10: I just learned that Blue Max (26 Lathrop Ave., Forest Park) offers $3 kids meals ($1 drink) every day--no adult purchase necessary.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sing a song at bedtime

A and I have established a rock-solid bedtime routine, and she loves it so much she won't let me budge from it. We start by picking her clothes for the next day and laying them out on the floor. She then hands me each piece and I help her put them on. Yes, I am admitting here that my daughter wears her clothes to bed. She doesn't like jammies and I don't mind having her dressed when she wakes up. And heck, it's not like she's wearing tights or jeans--virtually all her clothes are soft jersey knits.

Once she's dressed, she crawls onto my lap and we read two library books. She likes to have her sister sitting on the table next to the chair, but sometimes Z heads elsewhere to hear Daddy read her a chapter from the Lemony Snicket A Series of Unfortunate Events book series.

After two books, A slides off my lap and uses the potty, "earning" herself a third book me a little piece of mind. A stopped wearing Pull-Ups to bed a couple of months ago. About two weeks after we purchased an 88 count box of them, conveniently enough. She doesn't have accidents, but most nights she wakes up somewhere between midnight and 3am to pee. Since she's still in a crib and can't climb onto the toilet alone, her potty trips require one of us to get out of bed and escort her.

Our third book must be either a collection of 4 Maisy stories or Dr. Seuss's Go Dog Go, both of which she can recite from memory. Then A grabs her paci from the crib and turns off her table lamp. "Sing songs," she says as she snuggles against my neck.

Our song singing ritual began shortly before her 2nd birthday, when she asked me to sing "Happy Birthday" to her and her sister every night before bed. We've since dropped "Happy Birthday" and bulldozed our way through every goddamn song I know. "Ba-ba Black Sheep," "London Bridge is Falling Down," and "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" get old after, oh, about 60 sings, so I'm combing the dusty corners of my brain for the lyrics (or hell, at least the chorus) to "America the Beautiful," "Eleanor Rigby," "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain," "Oklahoma!" and "The Cat's in the Cradle." And while A always insists I end with a quick medley of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," "Bim-Bom" (in Hebrew) and "Rock-a-bye Baby," I need more songs. This bedtime ritual works and I'm pretty sure A's not going to let me get away with dropping the songs any time soon, so I need more material. At least until I get assigned my Torah portion. Then maybe I can subject her to that.

Photo by big sister Z

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sledding for the very first time

The girls found sledding to be a little more intense than they'd imagined. But we put our new Radio Flyer red metal disc sled (purchased on holiday clearance from Land of Nod) to good use. And check out Z's adorable new down jacket, which was on sale at Lands End for only $19.99.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Z lost her first tooth

After a morning birthday party at Pump It Up and an afternoon sledding adventure with the family, I can't say I was too surprised when Z lost her tooth at Tri-Star Gymnastics' family playtime. The tiny tooth got lost on the gymnasium bathroom floor, but Z doesn't care. "The tooth fairy will see my gap while I'm smiling in my sleep and know I lost a tooth."

Date night dinner at OTOM

Last night Josh and I booked a babysitter and had dinner at OTOM, the less expensive, less adventurous sibling to MOTO. MOTO and OTOM are right down the block from Publican, scene of our 10th anniversary date and one of my favorite meals of all time.

The interior was sleek, the service down-to-earth and the food was amazing. Josh shared his garlicky duck egg drop soup with me and I had the vegetable plate, which featured 6 veggie-heavy mini-dishes, including a friend green tomato, a bowl of a pea-flecked risotto dish, asparagus and pomegranate salad, fried tofu, sauteed broccoli rabe on a shrimp chip and fried cream cheese won tons in a sweet and sour sauce. I ate every bite and still had room to share the chilled chocolate dome with Josh. It took all my self-control to keep from picking up the plate and licking it clean.

When the check came, Josh guessed it would be close to $90, but it was only $51 before tip--thanks in part to a $10 discount from Ala Card Chicago--but also due to our not indulging in one of their famous, yet pricey, cocktails.

Still feeling a little culinarily inspired, we picked our meals for the upcoming week and I baked a loaf of bread. Tomorrow we may make the drive to Hearty for brunch as I have a $50 gift certificate sitting on my fridge.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Hey, hey it's an office

For the first time in my professional life, I have an honest-to-goodness office. The kind with a window and a door. Yes this milestone came 2 years after I quit pumping at work (when it would have been really convenient), but I am thrilled nonetheless.

While my quarters are among the smallest on the 2oth floor, it is well situated. The southern exposure keeps it warm and its proximity to the "kitchen" means I get to see all of my colleagues (and smell their microwaved lunches) all day long.

I am also approximately 20 paces from the (all-you-can-drink) Barq's root beer fountain. Not sure yet if this counts as a good thing.

Now I need to shop for some large-but-inexpensive art for the 8X10 foot empty white wall I face...

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Tooth Fairy is coming, the Tooth Fairy is coming

I discovered Z's first wobbly tooth on Sunday night as I was flossing her teeth, and on Tuesday I sat her down for this quick interview about tooth fairy. She's created her own myth that I can only guess is fed by what other kids have told her and her own imagination.

In preparation for the tooth's eventual trip under her pillow, I asked my Facebook friends what the tooth fairy's going rate is these days. Apparently a dollar (preferably a gold one) is the preferred currency. I'm glad my friends don't live in Silicon Valley.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Brunch for HOW many?

It was in the doldrums of mid-December, after defending my decision to axe holiday cards from my to-do list, that I decided to host a New Year's brunch open house. I dimly recall my mom opening our home for this kind of event a few times while I was growing up, and visions of bagels, coffeecake and steaming cups of coffee filled my head as I entered the details into Evite.

Ah yes, the Evite invite list. Assuming a good portion of my friends would be traveling, hung-over or otherwise occupied on New Year's, I invited a lot of people. I figured I'd be lucky to get a 50% response rate.

The first two RSVPs arrived in the next hours. Both regrets. I started to regret sending out the invite. What if no one came? What if I ended up being the giant loser who invites a bunch of people to brunch and ends up sitting in the living room alone, sadly nibbling fruit salad?

I ended up with the opposite problem. Having largely ignored Evite while traveling over Christmas break, I logged in three days before the event to find 64 yeses and 15 maybes. By New Year's Eve the total we were up 69 yeses. Panic set in. I live in a small, 1100 square foot house. I've never had more than 25 people over at one time, let alone 69 people, half of whom would be children!

My husband, not exactly the soothing, sympathetic type by nature, wasn't reassuring. He basically told me I was nuts to invite more than a handful of our closest friends and that this was a dilemma of my own devising. My next door neighbor sympathized with my plight and offered her basement for spillover of any "big kids." She also handed me her three largest serving bowls and advised me to simplify my menu offering and maximize each item's quantity.

I spent New Year's Eve day at Trader Joe's, buying bagels, orange juice and clementines in bulk. I defrosted a banana bread, baked muffins and prepared a spinach and cheese strata and french toast that could be popped in the oven before our guests arrive. I rearranged our furniture, bringing in additional chairs, while Josh hauled up the 42-cup coffee urn I'd found at a yard sale last summer and got to work grinding 2 1/2 cups of coffee. All the while I was telling myself it will be okay.. it's an open house...people will come and go.

And you know what? It was better than okay. It was great. Somewhere between 50 and 60 people actually showed up and while it was a little crowded, loud and chaotic at its peak (with about 10 families of 4), our guests did come and go in waves. Since many people arrived with food or drink in hand, we had more than enough to eat and only ran out of coffee at 1:30, a full hour and a half after the party's scheduled end time.

In the end I'm glad I overextended myself a little bit. After all, I can't think of a better way to spend a sub-zero New Year's Day than with a few dozen of my best friends and neighbors.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Dr. Ornish offers personal advice for my picky eater

Last month Parent Bloggers Network invited its members to submit a question about healthy eating to Dr. Dean Ornish. He selected a few to answer on video and mine was among those chosen! Here is my question:

My 5 year old has been a picky eater since toddlerhood, but her food aversions are getting worse, not better, as she ages. She refuses to eat any fresh fruit save bananas and any vegetables except for peas and cooked tomatoes (in sauce). Dried and dehydrated fruits are acceptable. She used to eat beef, chicken, salmon and shrimp, but now she'll only nibble on chicken--and only sometimes. I feel like she survives on lactose-free milk, Grape-Nuts, cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese and pizza. She's a skinny kid, but she grew a few inches over the summer. She's physically very active and extremely bright, doing second grade reading and math at her Montessori preschool.

What should I do to encourage a broader palate without starting a food fight? We've stopped preparing separate dinners and she'd rather eat a piece of bread or a bowl of peas than try most of our meals. She's a stubborn kid.

While I wait for her to embrace a wider range of healthy foods, is there anything else I can do aside from giving her a daily kids multivitamin to ensure she gets enough nutrients?

And here is his answer:

Many of Dr. Ornish's ideas make sense--so much so that we're already doing them-- things like cooking with Z, taking the girls to farmers markets and not pressuring them to eat at meals. I was, however, intrigued by his suggestion to supplement her diet with omega-3s like fish oil. Josh and I both take flaxseed oil, but I hadn't considered offering to the kids since I wasn't sure what a kid's dose would look like. I add ground flaxseed to homemade pancakes and bread, but perhaps I'll look for liquid fish oil and figure out a way to mix it into her food. Does anyone have any experience with that?

Disclosure: Since my question was selected, I'm supposed to receive a copy of Dr. Ornish's latest book, some products from Mars and a $50 Spafinder gift card.

Friday, January 01, 2010

2009: A year in review

In January we visited my mom and stepdad and I came back to work only to watch my former Ogilvy colleagues announce their joblessness on Facebook.

We endured the sights and screams of a local indoor water park and I went to Las Vegas by myself twice in February and March, first for a work-related convention and then to speak on a panel of mombloggers.

Josh and I flew to New York City for a friend's wedding and ate our way across Manhattan, and a few weeks later Josh and Z took a daddy-daughter trip to visit his sister in Leeds, England.

April highlights included my first ever clothing swap party, Bring Your Kids to Work day and another trip to the Big Apple, this time to start planning P&G's Team USA Olympic sponsorship.

In May A claimed Stella for her BFF (they're still thick as thieves). We celebrated Mother's Day with an unnecessary overnight at Starved Rock State Park, delighted in the reopening of our local playground and rocked out at the WSMS 2oth Anniversary block party.

June brought me to the sexiest strip mall nightclub in Dallas and to the local pool, where I inavertently took a bath in baby shit. I turned 33 and Z became a reader--at the tender age of 4!

In July Josh and I celebrated our 10th anniversary and A's second birthday. I answered pointed questions from Z about human reproduction and spoke with a Channel 2 reporter about the blogola and the mommybloggers who accept it. (You can find the televised interview here.)

We road-tripped it to Omaha, Nebraska for a family reunion in August, where I learned I'm related to the Omaha Steaks people and A potty trained herself. We also did a little local tourism, spending a day on the beach on Chicago's lakefront and enjoying one last trip to Kiddieland before the beloved, old-time theme park closed for good.

Z started her third and final year at WSMS in September, doing a full day (8:30-2:30) of academics. Having mastered reading over the summer break, she quickly accelerated into learning parts of speech (the kid can identify nouns, verbs, prepositions and the like!), mathematics and geography. She also started an extracurricular art class, which she's really enjoyed.

October brought multiple Halloween costume changes, H1N1 vaccines for the kids and the mini kitchen remodel we'd been dreaming of since we moved here in 2003, while November featured Z's fifth birthday party (an almost-sleepover hosted at home) and our long-anticipated trip to Australia. It was a bittersweet time for pet ownership as well; we said goodbye to Silver and Tallulah and brought home a new, kid-loving kitten, Oscar.

In December I flew to Los Angeles to do research and took the family East to see our relatives (and try on my wedding dress). In one busy week, I attended two holiday parties, interviewed the creator Yummie Tummie, jumped up and down on the glass ledge on the top of Willis Tower and saw three movies--The Princess and the Frog, Up in the Air and Avatar.

Still reading? Then you get to hear about my New Year's brunch. The one that 64 people RSVPed for. More than 50, but less than 60 showed up for bagels, mimosa, fruit, muffins, spinach strata and overnight French toast, but it was actually completely manageable. Fun, even. I just may make this an annual event!

Looking back on this year-end summary, I'm realizing I spent a fair amount of time on airplanes and in airports--and I'm not even including three overnight trips to Cincinnati.

Photo taken by Z 2 days ago