Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jump! Jump!

Remember how I said Z's turned into a swimming fool? Let the record show that her almost 3 year old sister is will not be outdone. Yes, she's armed with a little flotation assistance from water wings or a swim vest, but she's fearless when it comes to jumping into the pool unassisted.

My heart skips a beat every time her head disappears under the surface, but she can't get enough of the thrill.

I climbed a rock

Although seeing my mom and my sister and watching my children bond with their cousins is pretty spectacular, the highlight of my vacation thus far has definitely been the 2 hour rock climbing lesson that Josh, Eleanor, Simon and I took at Chimney Rock Park on Monday.

After getting suited up in harnesses and climbing shoes and learning how to tie knots and support a climber from below, we got to scale two different 30 foot rock faces and one 90 foot rock face.

It was incredible. A complete adrenaline rush that had me sweating like a fiend and working muscles I didn't know I had (although I didn't discover that until the following morning).

And yes, this photo is of me, nearing the top of my final climb.

Monday, June 28, 2010

She's a swimming fool

Two weeks ago, Z wouldn't jump into a pool unassisted or swim in the deep end. Seven Fenwick Swim Camp swimming lessons later she's ready to rule our vacation home pool.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Welcome to Weaverville

We left Oak Park around noon on Thursday, stopped for an hour in Indianapolis, and spent the night in Florence, Kentucky.

This morning we hung out in Lexington, eating a late second breakfast at the Alfalfa Restaurant and exploring the Explorium Children's Museum. We hit the road again around 1pm and let the kids burn off some energy at a McDonald's PlayLand in Knoxville, TN, before finally pulling into the drive of our vacation rental in Weaverville around 6pm. Z was amazingly well behaved the whole way. A, not so much.

We're here with my mom and stepdad and my sister and her family. Z's excited to show off all her newly-aquired swimming skills in the pool and A's delighted have her same-aged cousin to play with. Josh and I are looking forward to some grandparental babysitting, which will more that make up for the fact that we always end up sleeping separately when on vacation (we're each bunking with a different kid).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

More crazy weather

After the second insanely destructive thunderstorm in less that a week (this one featuring lightening, thunder, hail and winds that lasted 2+ hours), Josh ran outside to capture the eerie, pumpkin-colored sky at dusk (approximately 8:35).


Wordless Wednesday: These are 2 of my favorite things


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Culture shock

I just finished Girl in Translation for the SV Moms book club--likely the last ever as the Silicon Valley Moms Group is sadly closing down the Chicago Moms Blog and its sister sites across the country.

A powerful coming-of-age-in-America story that reads like a memoir, this debut novel from immigrant author Jean Kwok reminded me a bit of the times in my life when I've felt like an outsider looking in, not quite fitting in.

I grew up with my dad in the Foreign Service, and while we spent more time Stateside than many Foreign Service families, I recall clearly our moves to West Berlin midway through my 4th grade year, to Islamabad, Pakistan after 6th grade and my return to the U.S. in the middle of 9th grade. My struggles to navigate my way through new school and make friends are familiar to any kid who had to move around, but they were compounded by the added complexities of a new language and an unfamiliar culture.

It seems trivial comparing my relatively minor struggles to fit in to main character Kimberly Chang's travails in Brooklyn. After all, she has to deal with a huge language barrier, total culture shock and the utter poverty as she fights to win scholarships while working in a sweatshop alongside her widowed mother. But I still remember my return to the U.S. after nearly 6 years abroad. You might think an American teen returning to public high school alongside some of the same kids she left behind in 4th grade would have a fairly seamless transition.

You'd be wrong. I had culture shock. A minor case, no doubt, but culture shock all the same.

Apparently watching a few old episodes of DeGrassi High and listening to a tape my cousin made of an Omaha Top 40 station did not prepare me to be cool in Arlington, Virginia in 1991. I didn't know any of the TV shows on the air. I couldn't name any of the cool bands. I wasn't wearing any of the cool brands. And I had no idea my bangs should be curled, teased and sprayed into gravity-defying sausage rolls. (Besides, trying to catch up was hopeless as I didn't have a curling iron in the right voltage and the drugstore hair care aisle gave me a panic attack.)

I received my book for free as a part of Silicon Valley Moms Group Book Club. See how other moms were inspired by this book here.

The Little Looster: Not for small bathrooms

Market overview: Small, potty-trained children need a stool to make one. They simply can't climb onto the toilet and use it effectively without a step and some support.

Opportunity: Most step stools are small and easily kicked over.

Potential solution: The Little Looster, a lobster-claw of a booster that wraps around the base of your toilet.

The Promise: "As an extension of the toilet, the Little Looster never needs to be shuffled around the bathroom. All grown-ups can use the toilet while standing or sitting without needing to move it out of the way."

The Reality: If you've got small bathrooms like we do, no adult will be able to use the toilet with the Little Looster in place. Grown mens' shoes simply do not fit between the Looster and the wall. This makes grown men very grumpy.

Conclusion: My almost 3 year old loved the Little Looster, but Josh has demanded it's immediate removal from our house so we're going back to our highly-kickable Ikea stool. If you live nearby and want it, shoot me an email.

Disclosure: I received a free product sample of The Little Looster, which retails for $39.99.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Our American Girl Slumber Party

This is Z, early Saturday afternoon on the El platform by our house. We were heading into the city for a mother-daughter overnight at the
Embassy Suites on State Street. Which, by the way, I last stayed at in the mid 1980s when my parents took me and my sister to Chicago to visit their old college haunts.

I'd been given a free one night stay complete with their exclusive American Girl Place package via my association with Kristen Chase (aka the Mominatrix). I checked in at the front desk, and a manager then stepped out from around the corner with a clipboard and helped Z "check in" her doll. She was tickled pink. We dropped off our suitcase in our 2-room suite on the eighth floor and walked to the retail-as-entertainment emporium that is the American Girl Place. Holy mother of consumerism, this place is like Disneyland without the rides. So many lovely things upon which to spend money. And all so alluringly displayed.

I'd had a chat with Z beforehand about how many nice things we'd see and how much she might want to buy the things displayed there. I also emphasized that we'd buy her yard sale American Girl doll a new outfit, get her ears pierced (I had a coupon for a complimentary ear piercing from the hotel) and get her ratty hand-me-down hair fixed up. I needed her to understand we wouldn't be buying extra outfits, furniture, accessories, food or anything else.

We headed straight upstairs and reserved a spot for "Hannah" at the doll hair salon. Then we spent 40 minutes wandering through the 2-level store, checking out the period dolls in their museum-like historical dioramas and selecting just the right outfit for Hannah to wear.

When we returned to the salon, Hannah was strapped into a tiny salon chair and we learned the proper technique for styling her hair (wet it well and use a wire brush).

$15 later, Hannah was pierced and styled and we changed her into her new pink dress (with matching shoes and a necklace). We didn't buy cupcakes, an American Girl magazine with Z's picture on the cover, miniature American Girl dolls, any one of the hundreds of American Girl books or hobby-accessories. (If you're into dancing, ice skating, horseback riding or gardening, your doll can be too!) But we did linger in the book department and read the first chapter of "Meet Felicity," a book about a girl who lives in Philadelphia in the 1800s.
Two lovelies
To my surprise and immense relief, Z didn't whine or ask for anything beyond her allotted goodies. She even remarked a few times how lucky she was and how beautiful her doll looked. She is, however, very much looking forward to her birthday and plans to ask for a second American Girl doll. Julie, specifically.

We left the store and headed back to the hotel, where Z was overjoyed to find the American Girl package "turn-down service" in full effect. A custom fold-out American Girl doll bed was set up (complete with a wrapped chocolate on the pillow) on her fold-out couch and the TV was tuned to the Disney Channel. Minutes later a staff member stopped by with two gift bags full of junk food and the manager called to let us know that--due to their On-Demand service being down--we wouldn't be able to order the movie included in the package. Instead, he offered us a $20 AMC gift card!

We headed downstairs to the lobby and joined the crowd in line for the Manager's Reception, and I got myself a glass of wine and a handful of snack mix. Then, after a half an hour of TV and Cheetos (two rare treats for Z), we walked back outside for dinner. We had "the best dinner ever" at Nordstrom Cafe and we walked across the mall to the Crocs store, where I replaced Z's worn-out Crocs with a ballet slip-on style that were on sale for $19. We also picked up a Belle Jibbitz for A.

Since Z was still gung-ho to shop, we headed into Ann Taylor Loft. There she declared me to look absolutely beautiful in everything I tried on. The $10 lilac T-shirt was a go. The saggy-ass boyfriend-style cropped white jeans. Um, no.

Our Enchanted-style shopping spree complete, we headed back to the hotel for baths and bed. And little tech-savvy chica that she is, Z figured out how to take my picture while I was in the tub and email it to Josh. Fortunately his is one of the only email addresses loaded into my Blackberry.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

It's my birthday

There's nothing like a birthday to snap a girl out of her funk and remind her how loved and lucky she really is. Thank you everyone for the emails, the Facebook wall posts, the balloons, cookies and cocktails.

And mark my words, I won't turn 35 without becoming a Bat Mitzvah, a Creative Director and the parent of a kindergarten graduate.
See what I was saying when I turned 33, 32, and 31 (or maybe skip that last one--it was a sad birthday).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Flashback to finger knitting

Although I didn't learn to knit knit until I was in my 20s, I finger knitted up a storm in elementary school. And somehow I never forgot how. This week, I taught Z. Maybe I'll end up using her knitted strands to mark our luggage. That's what my mom did.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Family pictures: done

I've always wanted some really nice pictures of my kids and a portrait of my whole family, and now I have them. Photographer Paul Goyette met us in Oak Park's Austin Gardens early Saturday morning (before the downpour) and we fought against the awkwardness of posing to get some really great shots. My only regret is that we didn't get any good ones of just Josh and me (we were too self-conscious). But my kids--dang they're photogenic. For $200 I got 2 hours of Paul's time and a CD with all 71 high-res images. You can see all of the images from our shoot here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

We made t-shirts at Frankie's

Thanks to an invitation from one of my oldest and best blog friends, Sara, the kids and I joined a few of my other favorite bloggers at the Lincoln Park tween boutique Frankie's on the Park. We headed upstairs to the Graffiti Bar, where you can page through binders of graphic transfers and have them applied to a tee shirt or hat.

We'd brought our own tees, $2 tank tops from Old Navy for the girls and an old ringer tee of Josh's, and the girls picked their own designs.
Notice anything different about Z's ears?

A chose a cupcake and I added the number 3 to her back since she's almost 3 years old. Her collection of cupcake tee shirts is now at three.
Check out the big-eyed shy face she's giving the employees

Z picked a retro-ish dog and the number 5 after lingering over a glittery penguin and some cheese-ball dolphins.


After she'd warmed up a bit, A checked out her new tee in the mirror and hung out with Carrie's daughter, whom she'd met at the farmers market a couple of weeks ago.

We couldn't find the perfect design for Josh, so the girls decided to have "DADDY" emblazoned in 70s-style letters on the front.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Strawberries and stuff

Josh and the kids picked strawberries Friday morning and I've been doing by best to put all 7 lbs to good use before they get overripe. So today I made a batch of bran-strawberry mini muffins, 3 jars of strawberry freezer jam (I followed the recipe on the pectin box), strawberry shortcake and strawberry sorbet. And I still have a lot of strawberries to go through. I'm thinking there might be smoothies for breakfast tomorrow.

And the strawberry recipe bonanza wasn't the only way I was productive today. I hired a babysitter to occupy the kids for a couple of hours this afternoon while Josh and I decluttered and organized the crawl space. It was a good day to be an Oak Park Freecycler.

Speaking of which, I just finished reading Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things and I'm now convinced the Freecycle list is probably dangerously tempting to hoarders. As addictive to them, perhaps, as it is to those of us who love to purge.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The red sea

Let it be said that while the Blackhawks players are a tasty bunch, Blackhawks fans as a whole look kind of trashy. At least those pumped enough to fill downtown Chicago streets for the ticker-tape parade and rally today. I saw girls who'd managed to slut-up their red t-shirts with some creative cutting and twisting. Those tees were paired with big hair and super-short jean cut-offs, rolled up.

They were a sight to behold. And the guys? Suffice it to say I saw a lot of big guts, mullets and long goatees. The Loop smelled like day two of Lollapalooza: sweat, sunscreen, cigarettes and port-a-johns.

But the energy was palpable and that was kind of cool.

The photo is a view of the parade from my office window taken on my Blackberry. I'm looking south to Washington. Click on it for a closer look.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Outdoor cat

His wishes couldn't have been clearer. So finally we collared him, tagged him, attached a bell to him, and let Oscar outside. Fortunately he stays within 1 or 2 houses of our own and comes home on his own.

I know we're taking a risk letting him out, but he seems so happy chasing moths, eating grass and resting under the shrubs, watching the world go by.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The jerk in the silver minivan

Driver #1 shook my faith in my beloved community. You see, I live in Oak Park, a family-friendly, bike-positive inner suburb of Chicago. My 5 year old recently learned to ride a two-wheeler, and with my 2 year old in the bike seat of my bike, the 3 of us can get pretty much anywhere in the village on our bikes. Because of my daughter Z's age, we ride on the sidewalks, moving to the grass when we need to pass pedestrians and slowing at all street intersections to make sure it's safe to cross.

It isn't the fastest way to get around town, but it's quiet and peaceful and I don't have to listen to my youngest holler for snacks or complain that her car seat straps are "hurting" her. We were biking west along Jackson Avenue on our way home from a park when we paused to cross a side street. A red car was slowly inching into the intersection, trying to find a safe moment to cross Jackson Avenue, which was busy with cars. A man in a silver minivan behind her was laying on his horn, nearly rear-ending her in his frustration with her slow pace across the street. He didn't stop at his stop sign and didn't bother to look for pedestrians. Much less small children on bicycles who happened to also have the right of way.

"Hey," I called out, "This little girl is trying to cross the street."

"I'm trying to get across Jackson, lady," he replied through his open window.

"Well you need to stop and look! There are kids around." My voice was probably a little whiny, but I was too upset at his carelessness and what it could mean for my child and others in the neighborhood to sound scolding.

"Hey, I've got two kids of my own. Don't you tell me how to drive." His voice turned nasty, his eyes were slits and the veins in his neck were bulging.

"I'm just asking you to be more careful."

He stopped his car in the middle of Jackson Avenue. I thought his was going to jump out and attack me, but his just yelled, over and over, "Don't you tell me how to drive. Don't you DARE talk to me about my driving!"

"Well you don't have to be such a jerk," I replied and biked away, anxious to avoid any further confrontation. If I'd been faster on my feet, I'd have asked him how if he'd like drivers looking out for his 2 children.

"Mommy," my 5 year old piped up, "Are you going to call the police on that man?"

"No, honey, I'm not."

"Mommy, is he going to call the police on you?"

Ha! I'd love hear that story. Officer, I was running through a stop sign, tailing a slow car and laying on the horn in a quiet neighborhood when a parent dared speak to me because I didn't register that her little snot with the right-of-way was waiting to cross the street.

The next day we were back on our bikes. Failing to take the weather forecast seriously, we rode to the farmers market and arrived just as the skies opened up. We took refuge in the high school parking garage, but 15 minutes went by with no sign of the rain lightening up. Then one of the children's librarians (let's call her driver #2) walked by. She's a friend of a friend and an acquaintance of my husband's and she miraculously recognized us and our plight and volunteered to come back and fetch us after she'd ferried her own family to the library. She even had two car seats installed in her minivan. Which, by the way, definitely wasn't silver.

Originally posted to the Chicago Moms Blog

Monday, June 07, 2010

Z's first book

Soon to be a hillbilly (maybe)

We just got word from our pediatric dentist that A's little gray tooth has got to go. She damaged both of her front teeth months ago when she took a flying leap off the couch and slammed her chompers into a trunk, but the one on her right side is more damaged than the other.

The dentist is recommending that at a minimum we pull the gray tooth, but he also suggested we pull both of her two front teeth and fill the space with a partial until her adult teeth start growing in. It would definitely look better, but it would also cost quite a bit more. I think right now we're leaning toward the wee little hillbilly look.

Or perhaps doing nothing at all, which plenty of people do. There is a risk of abscess (in which case she'd be in pain, there'd be some risk of infection and we'd have to pull the tooth). And there's also a minor risk of her adult tooth being pitted if we don't pull. Decisions, decisions.

Kind of glad that I scheduled our first ever family portraits (with fellow Oak Parker and preschool parent Paul Goyette) for this coming weekend. We'll be able to capture A's adorable, impish grin before it's too late.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Would you let your 5 year old bike around the block alone?

My daughter is 5 years old and I let her ride around the block by herself. My heart raced the first time she sped out of sight on 2-wheels. How long should it take before she reappeared at the other end of the block? I'm not sure exactly how long it took her--probably no more than 2 or 3 minutes--but they were among the longest 3 minutes of my life.

Now there are parents that probably think I'm crazy. Moms and dads who would never dream of letting their 5 year old out of sight. Heck, there are parents out there who don't let their 10 year olds go the playground unsupervised and hire babysitters for their 13 year olds. But I always knew I wouldn't be the overprotective sort. I admire Lenore Skenazy, the mother who famously let her 9 year old ride the NYC subway alone and founded the Free-Range Kids movement to promote giving kids developmentally appropriate freedoms. I was a free-range kid myself; my mom gave me a house key and let me navigate the Berlin public transit system as a 10 year old.

But it's one thing to talk up freedom and another to let your 5 year old round the corner alone for the first time. After all, just last year an attempted child abduction took place in our neighborhood. Attempted because the 7 year old boy who was approached knew better than to take a ride in a stranger's car.

So I decided to arm my smart, responsible daughter with a little extra wisdom. I borrowed Stranger Safety
from our local library and watched it with her. It's a little low-budget, but its a charming DVD from John Walsh's organization that divides adults into Don't Knows, Kinda Knows and Safe Side Adults. Aside from the title, the video avoids using the word "stranger" to describe anyone. After all, plenty of kids are taken advantage of by coaches, neighbors and other familiar faces. I also appreciated that the video wasn't scary. I don't want my daughter to be fearful--I just want her to know the some basic ground rules about who to talk to when I'm not around, how to maintain a safe zone around herself, and what to do if someone does try to hurt her (hint, it's yell "Stop! You're not my Mom/Dad!"). We had a good discussion afterwards and my daughter asked me to quiz her. "You name people and I'll say if they're Safe Side, Kinda Knows or Don't Knows!" She didn't miss an answer. I rewarded her with a few more trips around the block, and I relaxed. Mostly.

Originally published to the Chicago Moms Blog.

Jelly bracelets for the new generation

Here's a milestone they don't leave space for in the baby book: First Fad.

We've avoided buying Z any "hot toys" (Tickle-Me Elmo and Zhu-Zhu pets, I'm looking at you), but I've indulged her desire for the rubber jewelry fad that's swept through grade school classrooms across the nation and is now trickling down to the preschool set. For those unfamiliar with this latest fad, these flexible plastic bracelets revert to shapes when removed. They come in "farm," "zoo," "cars," "military" and other themes. And, because you can get a dozen for under $3, they're perfect for sharing and trading with your friends.

We've purchased a second set to use as rewards for good behavior, but chances are this fad will fade before we break them out.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Huggies Jeans: go blue for poo

Although I think they're uglier than sin, Huggies new Jeans Diapers are kind of genius. I can imagine the brainstorm over at Kimberly-Clark:

"Market research shows that moms dress their babies in just a diaper and a sometimes a t-shirt when it's hot."
"So, tell me what's cool these days."
"Jeans are always cool."
"Yeah, but jeans are hot when it's hot."
"Baby jeans are so cute."

Cue lightbulb.

As for the commercial, I think it's tasteless and awesome in equal measure. It's memorable and there's no doubt about what the product is, how it is to be worn or who makes it.

But you know what's way cuter than diaper-clad toddlers? Potty-trained kids hanging out in their underpants. Or maybe that's just me.