Wednesday, March 31, 2010

West Chester, PA: The highlights

We flew Southwest to West Chester Saturday morning, arriving in time for lunch (with milkshakes!) at Ruby's Diner, conveniently located in the upscale strip mall 1 mile from my in-laws' house. [And can I mention here that they bought coordinating hot pink car seats for the kids so that we didn't have to lug them along? Such a luxury!]

While A napped, my MIL took me and Z to the local mall ("It's in Delaware, a different state!" Z exclaimed) for new shoes. Although the old-school children's shoe boat Shirley wanted to take us to was shuttered for good, we found a ghetto fabulous Kids Foot Locker selling Converse sneakers, which was what we wanted anyway. Z picked out these cool kicks and Shirley wisely bought A a matching pair.

On Sunday Josh and I left the girls with their grandparents and caught a matinee of Hot Tub Time Machine, which is as dumb as it sounds, but I still enjoyed it. [Incidentally, my favorite joke was from one of the previews, when a send up of McGyver confesses to leaving an "upper decker" in the captain's quarters. An upper-decker being a shit in the toilet tank, not the bowl. Yes, I have the world's most juvenile sense of humor. Tears are spilling down my cheeks as I type this.]

Ahem. After the movie, we took Z and A off Shirley and Joel's hands for a little while, driving to a nearby playground. (You can't walk to anything from their place.) It was cool, damp and windy, but the kids had a blast anyway.



On Monday Shirley had a ton of cooking to do for the seder, so Josh and I drove the girls into the city (the long, long way thanks to screwy GPS directions) to meet his high school friend Erica and 2 of her 3 kids at the amazing Please Touch museum. Thank you to all my Twitter followers who recommended it, it was as great as you promised. So appealing to kids, in fact, that we lost our wandering 2 year old twice. (Both times I found her within 5 minutes, hanging out with a uniformed employee.)

Finally, late Monday afternoon, people started arriving for the Passover seder. Josh's aunt and uncle, his dad's cousin and her husband and his cousin and her family were all in attendance, but the only cousins who counted to Z and A were the two other kids, 6 year old Daniel and 4 year old Jessica. Aside from A, who missed her nap, the kids were fairly well behaved. A and Z wouldn't eat matzo, parsley or maror, but they did dig into the matzo ball soup with gusto.

Dinner conversation was a little too politically charged for my taste (although it might have been made more pleasant had we be drinking something other than sweet Manischewitz). I always forget that my father-in-law, his brother and his brother's wife are really right of center, so I found myself defending health care reform and mocking birthers and tea party haters to people who responded with "I don't personally know anyone who doesn't have health insurance" and "If Obama's birth certificate is authentic, why was there any question about it's authenticity?" Yeah, and there are anti-Semites who deny the Holocaust too, but we don't give them their own cable news channel.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Top 100 Finger Foods: Or twice the work for half the appreciation

I'm going to go ahead and admit I did not try any of the recipes in Annabel Karmel's Top 100 Finger Foods, one of the two cookbooks that are the focus of this month's Silicon Valley Moms Group book club. My excuse is that I don't need a specialty cookbook to whip up some pancakes (mine are quite splendid, thank you), muffins or brownies.

Her savory recipes are appealingly photographed and full of wholesome ingredients, but I'd rather teach my kids to eat my (and Josh's) favorite recipes than special kid food. We try to be a "you're eating what's for dinner or making do with bread and peas" kind of family so that we don't get caught in the trap of having our girls expecting separately prepared kid food.

And once in a while, when Mom and Dad are going out to eat, we'll rather feed the kids something we can prepare quickly, like fish sticks, scrambled eggs or black beans and tortillas, than slave over a stove only to have them turn up their noses at our lovingly-prepared Shrimp Dumplings or Minty Lamb Koftas. Which, unfortunately, I can guarantee they will.

Disclosure: As a part of the Silicon Valley Moms Group (owner of Chicago Moms Blog), I received my copy of the cookbook free.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The great slipcover experiment

Or, Hiding My Flaws (after exposing them for all the Internet to see), part two.

Here goes: Every single one of our cats (Silver and Tallulah, may you RIP) has felt compelled to scratch the outter arm of our loveseat, and it's looking mighty pitiful.
No wait, it looks even worse with the flash off.
The couch itself is solid, and while I might want to get the cushions reshaped (am I wrong to think there's a service out there somewhere that sells new foam inserts?), I'm not ready to spring for reupholstering them at this point. And honestly, I paid about $850 for both the couch and the loveseat together, which means they're probably not worth reupholstering.
So I tried something different. A machine-washable slipcover by Surefit. It's a single piece of stretchy fabric with an elasticized bottom that gives it a reasonably snug fit.
The girls were thrilled with our "new red couch" and they oohed and ahhed over how soft the fabric is.
What do you think? Should I get one for the big couch as well, or is it okay to rock the mismatched couches look?

Disclosure: I received the Surefit Stretch Royal Diamond One Piece slipcover for free.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My baby belly is a jelly roll

[Or perhaps a big, doughy bagel]

Let me preface this post by saying I really don't have body "issues." I've never dieted, I don't (and never have) suffered from anorexia or body dysmorphia or any of the common -ias that make women eat Lean Cuisines. Once, after learning that the milkshakes in my dorm snack shop were made by merely microwaving a pint of Ben and Jerry's until soft, I stuck my finger down my throat, but that really just an experiment to see what all the fuss was about. And for the record, the Chubby Hubby stayed down.

But I do have an issue now. And it's my belly. I pretty much look 4 months pregnant all the time. The belly is part fat, part excess skin and it is usually accentuated by the end of the day with bloat. Not a pretty picture, and it's taking all the courage I can muster to admit it here.

Now I've learned how to dress my waist to best disguise the pooch, but a couple of days ago I forgot the rules and wore a somewhat clingy sweater tunic. And hated myself all day. My mantra must be jacket or ruching, wrap dress or layers. I haven't yet figured out a flattering solve for the gym, where my muffin top always pokes out of my stretch pants.

Speaking of the gym: I work out, I do. But I know myself well enough to know I'll never up the intensity to level guaranteed to burn off all my stomach fat (although I've done a great job of strengthening the muscles under my middle roll).

I'd love liposuction--at least in theory--but the cost, recovery time and sheer selfish vanity of it have so far kept me from Googling local plastic surgeons.

For now I'm trying to eat moderately, exercise more and dress to disguise my major flaw. But I can't help wondering if there's some kind of miracle cure I don't know about. Is there a food I should eliminate? An ab exercise I need to learn? I know better than to hope my salvation will come in the form of a pill or a cream, but a girl can dream. Right?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I remember being 5

I'm in new parenting territory. My oldest daughter, Z, is five years old. She's finally an age I remember being, learning to do thingsI remember mastering. Reading books under the covers after bedtime. Cooking scrambled eggs on the stove. Shedding bicycle training wheels and wobbling down the sidewalk with a parent steadying the back of the seat.

It's exciting to relive these milestone moments with the perspective of an adult and the pride of a parent, and I'd like to think I'm able to show a little
more empathy since I actually can relate (if only from the dusty cobwebs of my memories). Now, when I hear her impatient sighs from the backseat, I remember how boring and loooong even routine car rides seemed (and I thank my lucky stars she's not just screaming bloody murder any more). When she begs me to play Old Maid with her, draw with her or tell her a made-up story, I remember craving my mother's presence and how getting her full and undivided attention warmed my whole body and made me feel complete.

There are little moments too, that make me feel a bit like my own mother, interacting with my 5-year-old self. Combing the tangles from Z's hair before school ("Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow!"). Taping her artwork to the wall. Asking her to set the table and make the bed. Helping her write thank-you notes. And trying to figure out how to respond to the "So-and-so says my __________ are __________ and she won't be my best friend anymore unless I ________."

Yeah, the girlfriend drama stumped my mom, and so far I don't have all any of those answers either.

Originally posted to the Chicago Moms Blog

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

THIS is what I look like with straight hair

Every 2 months or so, I get a haircut and a blowout. It's not me, but I like it.

Z, animal artist

We signed up Z for an extracurricular art class offered on Fridays at her Montessori school, and I'm pretty excited by the work she's been bringing home.


Not pictured here is my favorite of all her works, entitled "Robots." I'll share it soon.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I've been (food) poisoned

I still remember the last time I had food poisoning. Josh and I ate a bag of some frozen orangey-Asian dish from Trader Joe's and woke up in agony. Z was about 6 months old and as rookie parents we couldn't figure out how we were supposed to take care of her when both of us were curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor, so we called some childless friends who swooped in and entertained her for a few hours.

Well, the barf-and-backdoor-agony is back. Fortunately I'm the only one affected, which narrows the culprit food down to a single dish--the only one Josh and I didn't share. Rick Bayless, your Alaskan Cod with Chorizo was more than a little off last night. Seriously, I've been poisoned by French street food, an Asian frozen dinner and a meal by the winner of Top Chef? The most expensive meal I've enjoyed in a year?!? I'm struck dumb.

Anyway, I huddled under my blankets from 4am to 4pm, leaving only to bolt into the bathroom. Oh, about every 15 minutes. But it's 4:15 now and I'm bathed and dressed and alive--if more than a little weak and shaky.

Naturally this happened on the first 70 degree day of the year--a day when my entire team was going out to (a free) lunch. At one of my favorite downtown restaurants. I'll guess I'll just take solace in the fact that no food sounds appetizing to me right about now.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mom-invented products and me: as seen on WGN-TV

Welcome WGN/Channel 9 viewers! Here, as promised, is more information on the mom-invented products I shared on the morning news program. I hope you click around to some of my older, more personal posts and decide to stick around as a reader.

The NeckSaver ($12) is one of those inventions I wish I'd known about--oh, about 5 1/2 years ago. My children were forever falling asleep in their carseats and strollers and slumping over in a most pitiful-looking way. Looking just like a miniature travel neck pillow, the NeckSaver is ergonomically designed to reduce strain on the neck and stabilize a baby's head, keeping it from slumping or flopping while baby sleeps.

My kids are potty trained now, but I would have loved having My Royal Heinie Daypack ($34.99) in my backpack. This genius invention with the idiotic name is a compact diaper bag with a built-in wipes dispenser for quick and easy access. The similarly-sized bag I carted around had a wipes box tucked inside a special hidden pocket, making it remarkably inconvenient to grab a wipe when duty called.

If you've ever seen a toddler tilt his sippy cup way back, you'll understand why the Tilty cup ($5.99 for 2) makes a lot of sense. Its internal angled wall forces liquid to the spout, allowing your child to drink with minimal effort and head tilt. By encouraging "correct" drinking behavior, the Tilty cup promises to help babies transition to a regular cup more quickly. Which is a good thing if, like me, you hate seeing 4 and 5 year olds drinking from sippies. Each 7 oz cup is BPA, dye and phthalate-free. Ages 9 months and up.

My Plate-Mate ($7.95) is a handy spill guard that attaches to the rim of any standard plate. The curved wall design helps children scoop food onto their utensil, promoting self-feeding while minimizing spills and cleanup. It is made in the USA and contains no lead, phthlates, BPA, polycarbonates or PVC.

I know my babies came home from the hospital with a whole lot of paperwork. And every trip to the doctor meant more handouts to file away. BabyBriefcase ($25.95) helps new parents keep track of birth certificates, immunization records, social security forms and warranties and instruction manuals for all that baby gear .

When your kids are old enough to want to sock away their own keepsakes, they can keep them safe inside a Treasure Chest Pet ($19.99). Secret compartments hidden on and inside these cuddly stuffed animals offer the perfect hiding places for your child's favorite things. Z can't wait to fill her pig with pennies, marbles and hair accessories.

For those of you who missed it, here's the segment.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Is FAME for 5 year olds?

My 5 year old daughter likes nothing more than live entertainment. Concerts, plays, magic shows, Chinese acrobats--bring it on. A couple of months ago a friend of mine suggest we take our daughters, who are good friends, to a local 6th grade production of Charlotte's Web. It was local and the price was right. Heck, we knew a few of the children on stage.

The kids were enthralled. But we longed for a little more, em, polished performers.

Cut to last weekend. FAME was playing at the local high school and the my friend had enjoyed a performance of Beauty and the Beast there last year. We bought tickets.

As we sat down and started leafing through our program, these words jumped off the cover: Not for children under 13. Oh, yeah. It's FAME. What did I expect? The lights went down and the curtains parted. The opening number was a riot of red, yellow and blue--it looked like the school for the performing arts was putting on a fashion show for H&M. But there was singing. There was dancing. And those kids were good.

Cut to song two: "Can't Keep it Down." A song about erections. An entire stage full of adolescent boys grabbing their crotches. My friend and I exchange nervous glances and I consider grabbing the girls and ending their evening early. But as I peered at their faces, I saw that the innuendo was sailing right over their heads. Thank G-d!

We stayed for the whole, wonderful show, keeping the girls up way past their bedtimes. And as we stepped out into the cool, damp air, the girls asked us why Carmen died. "She took some bad medicine," we answered, glad that the questions didn't get any more pointed or specific.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hot Locks Dolls: Hip-hop Rapunzels for all!

It's been a while since I've pimped out my blog (read accepted free stuff and wrote about it), but how can I turn down a huge box full of free dolls for my girls and a bunch of their friends? And not just any old dolls, either. But the kind of heavily advertised, inspired-by-Bratz-but-far-less-obnoxious, now-available-at-Toys R Us dolls my kids would be clamoring for if they ever watched broadcast television.

Hot Locks are small, trendily-dressed plastic dolls who come with barrettes, a comb and 14 freakin' inches of hair. The good news is that all that shiny, brilliantly colored hair is like catnip to kindergarten-age girls. I spent half the party helping them braid, curl and apply tiny plastic clips to their dolls' insane tresses. The bad news is that I spent the other half of the party detangling all that long synthetic hair. In any case, so far the girls can't get enough of their Hot Locks dolls; they'v been playing (and in A's case sleeping) with fishnet-clad "Harlow" and purple-haired "Morgan" nonstop for a day and a half. It's too soon to say whether or not the fun will outlast the novelty, but I can say without a doubt A's doll's hair will be irrevocably snarled by week's end.

Ruhi meets Ami.
Riley and Sophie: I think I see a resemblance.
Who says you can't mix toy brands? The Hot Locks Dolls made themselves at home in Mrs. Goodbee's doll house.

Although we sent each child home with a doll and Z claimed two, we ended up with 4 extra dolls (3 of whom are African American). We'll be taking them to Hephzibah.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Singin' in the rain

A was all smiles as we left the Family Farmed Expo today. We rewarded the girls for their excellent behavior (collecting free samples, petting large bugs and learning some animal-inspired yoga poses) with a lunch stop at Pompei near UIC, home of their very favorite dish: 8 finger cavatelli.

And I'm very happy to note that I am no longer in any pain from my horrible dental appointment.

Friday, March 12, 2010

No wonder everyone hates the dentist

Yes, I was live-tweeting my dental work yesterday. I was in pretty significant pain all last night (which wasn't helped by A's 2 1/2 hour middle-of-the-night freakout), but my jaw is starting to feel more normal now and my dentist promises me I'll be comfortable by tomorrow morning. I've got to eat carefully for a few weeks so that I don't jar loose my temporary crown and expose my rotten wisdom tooth to more decay.

The only good news here is that while waiting for me to emerge from the chair, Z got to watch some dental propaganda that featured needles large enough to scare her off candy for a week.

Monday, March 08, 2010

World's cutest SuperModelquin

I couldn't resist creating a mannequin model of A for Old Navy's online contest, and now I'm campaigning for votes for her entry. Not for the $100,000, but for the fame and glory. And because I want to avoid the shame of having my daughter dead last in this popularity contest. So vote now, won't you please? Pretty please? With sugar on top?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The longest 2 day weekend, ever

I can't believe Friday was only two days ago. Since the sun went down on Friday night, I've hung out with a neighborhood knitting circle I've joined, finished a scarf for A (a purple version of this one) and started a cowl-neck scarf for myself. I cleaned out our closets and reorganized the kitchen cabinets, bringing 5 bags of goods to The Brown Elephant a couple to the local kids consignment shop. I met with our tax preparer, wrapped presents for the two birthday parties Z attended (one at a bowling alley and the other at a kits art studio) and took the kids out to enjoy the sunshine and slightly warmed weather at Fox Park (our first trips to the park this season). I took Z to see FAME at the local high school and I folded laundry and made granola and pancakes and wrote shopping lists and menu plans.

But the most exciting accomplishment of the weekend is A's. Josh took the side off her crib this morning and she went right to sleep in her "new" big girl bed at both naptime and bedtime. Without her paci. The pacifier that has been her constant comfort for the last 2 1/2 years is gone. It was so easy I'm scared to blog this and jinx it.

Friday, March 05, 2010

An ode to my bookworm

As if it wasn't troubling enough that my 5 year old can more quickly and confidently identify the countries of South America or the faces and places on U.S. coins than I can, I've found myself in the awkward position of wondering if she's reading too well, too soon. And trying to figure out what that means (if anything) long term.

A brief history. My daughter learned to read somewhere between 4 and 4 1/2. Shortly before she was officially 4 1/2 she fluently read me a 28 page book she'd hadn't seen before. It was then that I acknowledged she really was reading--not merely memorizing her favorite books.

Z is 5 now and her reading and writing skills are tremendous. Her Montessori teacher deserves a lot of credit for teaching her to read and continually challenging her, and she's probably inherited some natural verbal ability from me and her father as we're both professional writers. But still.

It is no longer sufficient to lug home a bag of picture books from the library each week. We need to get those picture books plus a bunch of early reader chapter books. Z can devour Crystal the Snow Fairy before she leaves for school and finish a Judy Moody book in the afternoon. Last night, after I'd read her a chapter of A Little House on the Prairie, she flipped her bedside lamp on and plowed through 3 chapter of Charlotte's Web. Then I discovered her reading Roald Dahl's The Twits as she pulled on her socks, put on her coat and rode to school in the back seat of our car.

I'm proud of my daughter (and I love to read as well), but I worry that that she might find content she can read but isn't emotionally mature enough to understand. I feel like my husband and I should be reading along with her, checking her comprehension and asking her to sit back and reflect on what she's read. But really, it's virtually impossible to keep up

Yes, she picks her own clothes

A, wearing a sundress from Mexico, striped leggings from Gymboree and a headband I bought as part of a hair accessories pack from KidSteals.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

We redecorated Z's room

Z is over the moon with excitement for her updated, less "babyish" room. She'd still like a bigger (read double or bunk) bed, but that's not going to happen. What I do still want to find is a mirror for the wall between her wardrobe and the door and new knobs for her wardrobe. In the meantime, we're both thrilled with the new rug, wall decals and throw pillows.

Making these changes in Z's room did have one unintended consequence: the first serious bout of sibling rivalry on A's part. She desperately wants to have a "big bed, new sheets and a rug... like Z." We're working on it.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The night we lost the cat

Oscar is a people cat. When I'm putting A to bed he's right outside her door, one paw reaching underneath. When I'm reading Z a bedtime chapter, he's on her bed, drowning out my words with his purr. After both children are asleep he comes downstairs, runs around like a maniac for a few minutes and then curls up on Josh's lap. At meals he's trying to jump on the table. When someone's in the tub he's on the edge.

He likes to be with us. So when he didn't appear for Z's bedtime story or come down to the living room at 8:30, we worried a little. Had he gotten locked in the bathroom or a closet? Josh and I went through the house opening cabinet doors, shaking the treat can and calling "here kitty, kitty, kitty." I'd opened the door to the enclosed front porch once and we checked it repeatedly, even though I was quite sure he hadn't slipped by me.

After half an hour of looking, I wondered if maybe our 8 month old kitten had made it to the porch and somehow escaped to the great outdoors. I put on my winter gear and walked the neighborhood, calling "Here Oscar, here kitty, kitty, kitty." My stomach tightened as I imagined breaking the news to the kids in the morning, as I planned an email to the block list and mentally designed signs to post up and down the street.

I returned empty-handed and Josh decided to go out and look. But then, just as he'd slipped on his coat, there was Oscar, on our living room cabinet. He looked, for all the world, like he'd just woken up from a deep sleep. But the mystery remains... where?!?