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.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

School pictures arrived

Check out Z's darling school portrait. I can't believe school picture aesthetics haven't changed one bit since I was a kid. What do you think, does she look like a 1st grader? She'll be 6 next week!

Monday, October 25, 2010

More from my Marketing side

I'm back on the Leo Burnett blog today, talking about my take on brands and social media promotions.

Have you started thinking about holiday cards?

Holiday cards used to stress me out. Full of crafty good intentions, I'd buy a bag full of blank cards, rubber stamps, colorful gel pens and glitter. And then I'd lose steam about 10 cards in.

Soon enough we had kids and the pressure was on to do photo cards. But do you remember those awful holiday postcards people used to get from the drugstore photo department? They were horrible and super-Christmasy and I refused to buy them.

Thank goodness for online card offerings. You can get a photo card designed and personalized in 10 minutes or less and the quality of the designs improves every year. Seriously, I would not be embarrassed to send cards like this retro-fabulous one or this fun 20 eleven number from Shutterfly's New Year’s cards collection to my art director friends.

Even though we're Jewish, I tend to like sending New Year's cards or even generic holiday cards instead of Hanukkah cards. After all, if I prefer to not get Christmas greetings, it doesn't seem right to push our ultimately pretty unimportant holiday on non-Jews. That said, if I was going to send a Hanukkah card, it would be this one.

Do you want 50 free holiday cards from Shutterfly? Click here to go to Shutterfly for information on how you can get 50 free cards this holiday season, and make sure to select Clever 1000 as the referral source.

This post is part of a series sponsored by Shutterfly. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Z's Halloween story book

This was written for and dedicated to her reading group at school, but I couldn't wait to share it! Click on "more info" if you're having trouble reading the words.

Friday shopping report: Uniqlo crazy

Thanks to an extravagant shopping spree at my favorite store, Uniqlo (with only one US location--in NYC), I have a lot to confess on today's Friday Shopping Report.

So what does $393 buy you at the store my co-worker aptly described as "H&M meets J. Crew?" Well, in addition to the camel sweater and cordless chocolate brown skinny cords pictured here (photo credit goes to my 5 year old--please excuse my messy hair and lack of makeup), I got two cotton long sleeve t-shirts, a black turtleneck sweater, two pairs of striped socks, a fitted shiny black down jacket and two items from their thin-yet-warm HEATTECH collection, a raspberry turtleneck and a pair of black leggings.

I also picked up an orange down jacket, a flannel shirt and three pairs of socks for Josh (I think I mentioned already that Josh was just outside the store pushing A in her stroller when he saw The Boss, Bruce Springsteen).

Anyway, I'm thrilled with my purchases and feeling just stylish enough to show my face at today's Gilt Groupe Blogger Brunch at the Peninsula Hotel. So excited!

Okay, confession is still not quite over. I'm embarrassed to admit I also bought an embellished tunic top ($24) and a dark blue sweater dress ($49) from Nordstrom Rack. But that's it, I promise. No Groupon-style purchases were made this week.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Unspoiling my children

You know what? I'm learning that it's okay to say no. It's been a few weeks since I read Richard Bromfield, PhD's How to Unspoil Your Child Fast: A Speedy, Complete Guide to Contented Children and Happy Parents, but I'm starting to put his advice into action.

He recommends putting an end to indulging our children--not just because we'll be happier if we quit frittering away our time and money making them "happy," but because they'll grow into happier, more self-reliant individuals if we don't give into their demands.

Are my children spoiled? On the grand scale of American children, they're probably not. They are mostly polite, well-behaved kids, and their behavior never approached the horrifying examples in the book of children who demand a toy or candy reward for enduring a few boring errands.

But they want for nothing and probably are over-indulged. Worse yet, I've witnessed them acting entitled or attempt negotiation with us (e.g. "Please can we have dessert? I ate a good dinner. Please, please, please?") I've found it's easier to give the kids a small square of chocolate than it is to hold my ground and say "No means no."

But I'm embracing my ability to power to say no and defer gratification. Every time my 5 year old asks for something (usually something from that infernal American Girl catalog), I tell her "You can ask for that for your birthday or save up your allowance." She's learning about the relative cost of things and would rather consider purchases than actually make them.

I've also become better about enforcing consequences. Both girls behaved atrociously on our flight home from NYC. It was lunchtime when we landed and I knew they were hungry. I also knew it would be another half and a half before they got home, so I needed to feed them. I bought them a McDonald's Happy Meal to share, but I made a point of sending back the toy. The girls' eyes widened a little, but shockingly, they didn't utter a word of protest. It was as if they understood that their actions really did have consequences and they quietly ate their chicken nuggets.

I'm not sure my demonstration of unspoiling was as dramatic as the "shock and awe" tactics Dr. Bromfield recommends, but it did work. Well enough, in fact, that I'm almost looking forward to turning around the car the next time the kids are shouting in the back seat and silently driving them back home.

Disclosure: My copy of the book was a review copy provided to me free of charge. The link is an Amazon affiliate link, which means I'll get a small percentage of the purchase price if you click through to buy it.

A couple hours after posting this, I received the following email from the book's author:

Alma, I loved your story about unspoiling. Your buying your daughters a Happy Meal but asking McD's to keep the toy was brilliant.  And I could not help but smile at your anticipated pleasure at turning the car at the next infraction.  You so demonstrate what I truly believe, that parents know all this, and that once it clicks, it clicks.
Richard Bromfield

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

NYC: Highlights from Day 3

Day 3 was even more ambitious, tourism-wise. We headed out the door before 8am and took the subway all the way down to the lower tip of Manhattan, where we caught a ferry boat to the Statue of Liberty and another one to Ellis Island. The security lines to get on the boat were long, so we missed the 9am ferry and ended up on the 9:25. We endured a little "carry me" drama from A, but eventually both girls rallied around the immense, iconic statue. Somewhat against my better judgment I bought each of the girls a little souvenir Statue of Liberty.

More cash was spent at Ellis Island, where we had a pretty good lunch after visiting the museum, which 3 out of 4 of us really enjoyed (A preferred riding the escalator to seeing what conditions were like in steerage at the turn of last century).

It was around 1pm when we got back to Manhattan. We walked north about 8 blocks to the Imagination Playground at the South Street Seaport. The enclosed space offered a giant sandbox, enormous building materials and large scarves that had been fashioned into swings. It also had a uniformed "play coordinator" and clean bathrooms. The girls loved it.
From there we hopped back on the subway and headed to Soho for a mandatory retail break at Uniqlo, an affordable Japanese clothier who only have one US location. I dropped over $300 on sweaters, shirts, coats, socks, leggings and a pair of skinny cords for myself and Josh (details to come on Friday, but don't worry--no skinny jeans for Josh). Best of all, while Z and I shopped, Josh took A for a stroller nap and saw Bruce Springsteen walking around! We also tried the teeny weeny (yet expensive) cupcakes from the teeny weeny storefront Baked by Melissa.

We made it back to the Upper East Side in time for our old, beloved babysitter Julia (now a college senior) to come over and watch the girls while Josh and I went out to dinner. All family vacations should include a few hours away for mom and dad. Even though our meal wasn't that special, spending a little time together without a stroller, a box of animal crackers and a bag full of Disney Princess figurines was well worth it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

NYC: Highlights from Day 2

A, at a LES playground with Grandma
Sunday we headed to Central Park in the morning. We dodged thousands of pink tee shirt-wearing Breast Cancer advocates and managed to check out three different playgrounds. Around noon we walked back to the Upper East Side, where we had pizza at Patsy's. Josh's parents joined us around halfway through our meal and spent the rest of the day with us.

Shortly after lunch we hopped on the subway to the Lower East Side, where we witnessed (but did not participate in) the International Pickle Day. Z and I took the "Getting By" tour from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (wonderful and informative, as expected) while Josh and his parents walked around and let A nap in her stroller. Then we hit another playground (where, amazingly enough, Josh ran into a college classmate) and had a dinner of pastrami sandwiches, matzo ball soup and latkes at Katz's Deli.
Mmm, matzo ball soup

Saturday, October 16, 2010

NYC Day 1

Check out Mrs. Toothpick Legs
After an uneventful flight, we arrived at LaGuardia at 1:45pm and we were at our borrowed apartment on the Upper East Side by 2:15. From there we spent time at a nearby playground--trying to blend in among the frightening skinny moms and kids accustomed to tame pigeons (my children couldn't resist chasing them around the park).

On the recommendation of a friend, we had dinner at Ko Sushi, and thanks to Cinderella on the video iPod, we were able to relax and enjoy the company of one of Josh's oldest friends, a former bandmate who, like me, is one of only a handful of U of C grads to go on to become an advertising creative.

Both girls are thrilled to be in NYC and staying on the 31st floor. Tomorrow we're going to eat breakfast at home and visit Central Park. My in-laws are taking the train up from Wilmington, DE around noon, so we'll have lunch with them before Z and I take a tour at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday shopping report: Wine, cupcakes and a very special book

My name is Alma, and I'm addicted to social shopping websites.

This week I bought this Red Wine Tasting pack from MyWinesDirect, paying with a Groupon + about $7 in tax. Shipping was free.

Two different sites, Groupon and Plum District, offered special deals for Bleeding Heart Bakery, which has a location close to our house in Oak Park. I snapped up both, which means a dozen cupcakes and a box of assorted bakery treats (including their delicious scones, brownies and cake balls) are our future.

Prudent Advice for My Baby Daughter
I bought two copies of my exceptionally talented friend Jaime Curtis' beautiful book, Prudent Advice: Lessons for My Baby Daughter, (A Life List for Every Woman). You can be sure I'll have her autograph them when she comes to Chicago for a party later this week.

Also, the Gap
As I wrote earlier, I also hit the Gap on Monday, scoring a pair of black pants for only $35. Buying the pants was a headache, but I'm thrilled with how they look.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

You can find me at Leo Burnett

I'm not just an employee, I'm also a blogger. Check out my first post on the official Leo Burnett blog, What young moms' embrace of social media means for marketers.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

SinuCleanse Kids Mist: It beats nose-picking by a mile

I'm a proponent of the sinus-clearing neti pot, but I'm always shocked when I hear anecdotes of small children mastering the technique. As used to it as I am, pouring salt water in one nostril and out the other isn't an altogether pleasant sensation, and doing it right isn't exactly child's play.

So I was intrigued to hear that SinuCleanse was introducing a saline mist product specifically for kids. I accepted a free sample of their Kids Mist and offered it to Z as an alternative to her near-constant, furtive nose picking. I was surprised she was willing--nay, excited--to self-administer the nose spray, but I think it helped that is was designed specifically for her.

As you can see, she has no trouble managing the spray bottle, which delivers an ultra-fine mist of preservative-free saline solution (3 vials are included). I can see how this product would be great for clearing tiny baby noses as well--and without the drippy mess and large dropper size of more typical saline nose sprays.

Disclosure: I received 2 samples of SinuCleanse Kids Mist for review. My 3 year old has yet to try hers.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Can you smell the desperation at the Gap?

First there was the Gap Groupon. Yes, it was so popular it crashed, but going in a couple of weeks ago to spend my Groupon bucks was hard--I couldn't find any inspiring pieces among the messy displays and ended up stocking up on black and white basics.

Then today, a 40% off storewide sales promotion was announced. I figured this was my opportunity to score the black pants I'd been eyeing for nearly half off (Gap card buyers saved 45%), so I slipped into the Oak Park location before my podiatrist appointment. The checkout line was 15 people deep and it took 3 cashiers 25 minutes to get to me. The store was shockingly understaffed and looked like it was under siege.  Had I not been under a time crunch, I would have rummaged through the children's sale racks and brought an armful of clothes to the register like the rest of the shoppers.

So why, so close on the heels of its much ballyhooed Groupon would the Gap offer a fire-sale to the masses? Given that the sale was announced via Facebook, blogs and signs outside the stores, I don't think it was planned very far in advance. Which makes me wonder it if was a tactic to clear slow-moving merchandise from the stores before the holiday sales push or to divert attention from the giant marketing blunder the Gap made earlier this week when it launched a universally hated (and really, truly awful) redesign of its logo. 

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Gap also announced it is scrapping its new logo late today.

I'm actually looking forward to seeing the Gap's holiday advertising. They still have time to remove the offensive Helvetica monstrosity from TV commercials, but magazine ads may have already been turned in. Furthermore, having cheapened their brand through aggressive discounting and showing a shocking lack of design chops to an increasingly discriminating public, selling scarves and cashmere sweaters at full retail price is going to be an uphill battle.

Smell like a monster, look like a monster

If (like me), you don't have today off for Columbus Day, these two items should chase away the Mondays.

Sesame Street has parodied the Old Spice ad.
And my daughter looks something fierce.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The case of the dry erase marker and the lie

There I was, reading Z a chapter of one of the Rebecca books on her bed, when I glanced up and saw an 8 inch green rectangle etched on her bedroom wall. Although Z initially professed innocence in what appeared to to be a combination marker drawing and pencil scribble, her lies were pretty unconvincing.

"I don't know how that got there."

"I think it's always been there."

"It doesn't bother me."

Two seconds of sleuthing and I found a green Dry-Erase marker about a foot and a half from the crime scene. Its shade matched the evidence on the wall. 

"Z, come over here and use this pencil eraser to erase the marks on the wall." 

"But that's not pencil," she replied. "It's key. I was drawing a door to fairy land and the key is to get in."

And thus, with any remaining doubt as to her guilt removed, I gave Z the opportunity to choose a consequence. She offered me up a doll she never plays with and said I could have it for a week. No dice. She offered up her American Girl doll, but since she hasn't played with it this week, I turned her down and told her she wasn't going to get to play on the computer or Daddy's iPod Touch for a week. I was shocked when she accepted her fate without protest as we've been dealing with a lot of backtalk lately.

I didn't finish the book chapter, but went downstairs to Google remedies. Apparently Z isn't the first to take a Dry-Erase marker to a painted wall, and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser removed the marker pretty well and softened the key scratches somewhat. A little rubbing alcohol took care of any remaining stain and I, feeling like the punishment now outsized the crime, lessened Z's punishment to 3 days.

Speaking of discipline and parenting challenges, I've been reading How to Unspoil Your Child Fast and will be reporting later this week on my take on the book that promises "A Speedy, Complete Guide to Contented Children and Happy Parents."

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Friday Shopping Report

Knee socks for skating
I discovered the hard way why so many roller derby girls wear knee socks. Roller skates can rub you the wrong way if your skin isn't protected. After scoring an ankle blister at last Saturday's Derby Lite practice, I stood in line at Nordstrom Rack for 15 minutes to buy blue and black striped knee socks and hot pink Betsy Johnson over-the-knee socks. I also stocked up on knitted tights for winter as I love a) how cozy they keep my legs and b) that they are control top free. I hate control top tights.

Organic fruit and veggies
Having taken delivery of our Mamaloot Ripe Organics box on Tuesday and finding it to be a pretty good deal, I snapped up a $15 Groupon for $30 to use with Irv and Shelly's Fresh Picks. We spent our Marion Street Cheese Market Groupon and snapped one for another Oak Park restaurant, Klay Oven.

Knitting book
Since I finished my cabled hat and abandoned a crap pattern for a baby hat for my friend Kate's about-to-be-born daughter, I was hungry for some more knitting projects. I'd admired Stephanie's fingerless gloves and she told me the pattern was from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts. Based on the reviews I'd read, I ordered its sequel, More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts from But if it doesn't arrive ASAP, I may try knitting these. And Kate, if you're reading this, I still have plans to knit something for your baby girl--it just won't be ready in time for her to wear it home from the hospital.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Meet the bloggers of Oak Park

Sometimes I fantasize about starting a hyper-local blog about my adopted home town, I love Oak Park so much. But since we're blessed with two local newspapers, Chicago Parent's headquarters, Annette's amazing MomMail email newsletters and the community site Live Here Oak Park, there isn't exactly a gaping hole in the online version of our great community (or my schedule, for that matter).

So I've decided to do my part to promote my fellow Oak Park/River Forest bloggers. The most famous, of course, is the 14-year-old fashion phenom Tavi Gevinson of The Style Rookie, but Making It Lovely has an impressive following for her design blog and the beautifully-photographed food blog Lottie + Doof has received tons of accolades in the mainstream press.

I can count among my personal friends Carrie Kirby, the penny-pinching expert behind Frugalista and fellow synagogue members Emily (expert canner and author of West of the Loop) and Marta Block (aka The Wedding Maven). I'm also friendly with Angela, who writes about her family at P Four and her family dinners at Peas 4 Dinner and Molly, who writes about food, farming and family life at Virtual Farmgirl. Matt, the daddy blogger behind The Cote Boys, is a fellow parent at our Montessori school; and Vanessa Druckman, who writes the popular food blog Chefdruck Musings, recently moved from Columbus, Ohio to nearby River Forest and treated my family to the most delicious Rosh Hashanah dinner we've ever eaten.

Future Oak Park bloggers hang out on their home turf
And although I cut a mango for her at a PTO healthy eating event, I only feel like I know Chef Melissa Elsmo of Inspire Mel and Tales of the Elsmo Four.

Oak Park is also home to the home blog Four Thick Walls, which chronicles the renovation of an energy-efficient home, and Health at My Size, a blog that's only nominally faithful to its title. There are probably more local blogs I don't yet know about. If you can think of any, please drop me a line in the comments.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

I (gasp) wish this weekend wasn't ending

It's a little embarrassing to admit, but sometimes I look forward to Monday mornings. Too often our weekends are likemarathons of picking up (only to have the house messy within an hour), preparing our children food (only to scrape 90% of it into the trash) and taking the kids on supposedly fun outings that no one seems to enjoy that much (or at least express any gratitude for).

This weekend was different. I kicked off Saturday morning with a 2 hour roller derby-style workout class (fun and fitness!), and swung by the farmers market on the way home (no doughnut requests!). After an early lunch, I dropped Z off at a neighbor's house and hit the Parenthesis Consignment Sale's 1/2 price mark-down sale while Josh put A down for a nap.

When I got home, A was asleep and Z was gone, and Josh and I got to indulge in a midday DVD viewing of Louis. A woke up as Z got home, but there was only an hour to kill before our Saturday mother's helper arrived. We have 2 mother's helpers now, a 7th grader and a 5th grader who entertain the girls while at least one of us is in the house. It is a sanity saver for us and the girls love spending time with kids old enough to be cool, but not too cool to play with them.

Our Saturday hit a snag when, at 5:30, I checked my phone to see that our 6pm babysitter had texted me that she was sick with strep. Fortunately our daycare provider saved the day and we were able to keep our date with the Swifts: dinner at Marion Street Cheese Market (I had the bison burger and an exploding glass of red wine) and a live comedy performance starring none other than Louis C.K. He was vulgar and wrong and absolutely hilarious. I suffered hiccups for most of the show.

Sunday offered more kid-free moments and entertainment. I finished knitting this lovely slouchy cabled hat while Z was at Sunday school (and A imprisoned in the babysitting room).

And Josh and I took in a matinee of highly entertaining Facebook biopic The Social Network as yet another neighbor girl (newly babysitting) watched the kids.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Friday shopping report: Halloween and the Gap Groupon

Master Shake
This week I did my part to revive the economy and deplete my cash.

Spending my Gap Groupon
I headed over the 3-story Gap on Michigan Avenue on my lunch break and found it hard to find $50 worth of stuff I wanted. Well, actually I fell in love with a $70 pair of black pants (curvy fit), but I only buy on sale at the Gap. So I headed to the back, where everything on sale was marked down an additional 25% and it looked like a tornado had touched down. I picked up a striped v-neck sweater, a striped tunic top with 3/4-length sleeves, a thin gray long-sleeved tee with button detailing on the shoulder and one other shirt so uninspiring I can't even recall it.

Halloween costumes
Since my mom and stepdad are going to be here for Halloween, my kids are jazzed about the holiday, and since Josh and I were actually invited to an adult Halloween party, I decided it's high time got into the spirit of things. I used the coupon code attached to a catalog from and made sure to click through to the site via USAA's Membershop so I could get 6 points per dollar. There I picked up a witch's wig for Z, a Baroness costume for myself, Jill from the nursery rhyme "Jack and Jill" for A and Aqua Teen Hunger Force's Master Shake for Josh. The $85 order received upgraded shipping and arrived the very next day! Josh had to pick his chin up off the floor when I popped into the living room as Master Shake singing "We are the Aqua Teens!" He said, and I quote, "I'm so surprised I just might wear that."

Birthday party plans 
We put a deposit down on Z's 6th birthday party, which will be held at Tri-Star Gymnastics in early November. I ordered these "budget" invitations from Tiny Prints. The plan is to invite the girls from her 1st grade class, but we might have room for a few non-class friends as well.

Daily deals
I purchased my first deal from Mamaloot, $20 for a $40 box of organic, mostly local fruit from Ripe Organics. It will be delivered on Tuesday.