Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy hooky day

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving weekend, so far

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We have people!

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

Weekend update: good eatin'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Friday Shopping Report: Uniqlo, Boden and Boutiques.com

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A beautiful sight, mine

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Knit nite

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

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

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Shopping Report: soft things

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Tri-Star Gymnastics birthday party

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Coca-Cola Freestyle: fun with the ultimate soda fountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Oak Park voters, say it ain't so

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

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Welcome to the world, Lucinda

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

Interview with an (almost) 6 year old

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite toy? An American Girl

What is your favorite book? American Girl books

What is your favorite TV show? Electric Company

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

What is your favorite movie? Toy Story 3 and Up

What is your favorite restaurant? Wishbone

What is your favorite cereal? Life 

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

What does Mommy like to do? Go to work

What do you love about Daddy? He is silly.

What does Daddy like to do? Write reviews

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

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

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

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

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