Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A sneak peek at our living room redo

I've been working with local interior designer (and friend of a friend) Amanda Miller to refresh our small, cluttered living room and dining room and I'm so excited to share a sneak peek at our progress!

We've ordered this couch in brown (with teal buttons and welt), added 6 can lights to the ceiling so the room isn't so dim all the time and picked out two chairs and an accent table to replace the loveseat (one is from Rowe and the other from West Elm). We're expecting a carpenter to get us a quote on a radiator cover for the dining room radiator so we can use that space as a bar when we're entertaining.

I'm knitting a cream-colored pouf for extra seating and Josh is repainting the tall bookshelf in the dining room a dark kona brown to better coordinate with the rest of the furniture. We're also ordering some hooks to hang some of his guitars on the wall. Check out my Pinterest board to see what we've got in mind.

But one big change has already been made--Amanda helped us rearrange our modular shelving and suggested a teal accent wall to go behind the shelves (it's actually Benjamin Moore Polished Slate). We took most of the clutter off the shelves and added baskets to contain the rest. Oh, and got a bigger TV. Looks pretty nice, huh?
2011-12-24 11.25.36

Monday, December 26, 2011

The airlines wouldn't dare lose my child on Christmas

2011-12-25 09.30.08On Christmas morning, when many of my friends and neighbors were lolling about in their pajamas, opening presents and eating cinnamon rolls, I drove Zoe to Midway airport for her first solo flight. The airport was surprisingly crowded--especially after an easy, traffic-free drive to the airport--but her flight took off on time and landed early. So early, in fact, that I initially missed the "I've got your daughter" call my mom placed to my cell phone immediately upon picking up Zoe in D.C.

And I'm only half joking when I say I booked her travel on December 25th knowing what a PR nightmare it would be for an airline to misplace a youngster on Christmas. It's only been a day or so, but it sounds like my 7 year old is having a grand old time with my mom and stepdad in Virginia--reading Ramona books, looking at old photographs, learning to pick out tunes on the piano, playing ping pong and visiting my extended family.

For the record, it isn't cheap to send your child unaccompanied. In addition to the regular airfare, United and American Airlines charge an additional $100 each way, while Southwest charges half that: $50 each way (and two bags of luggage fly free). Since Zoe is only going for 4 nights, we didn't end up checking any luggage. Instead, she rolled aboard with a small child's suitcase and a backpack packed with 2 Boxcar Children paperbacks, a couple of snacks, a pack of gum and an iPod Touch with headphones. I'd also tucked her birth certificate in there, but we were never asked to show it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A guide to buying last minute gifts at Walgreens

This is my Walgreens
Thanks to Walgreens for underwriting this post. I was paid as a member of the Clever Girls Collective, but the content is all mine. Visit http://www.walgreens.com/beauty.

Walgreens might not be the first (or even the third) place you'd think to shop for holiday gifts, but they're convenient and they're open late on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas. If you need a last-minute gift, you could do a lot worse. Provided you stay out of the "seasonal" aisle.

Isn't it lovely?
I happen to live 2 blocks from one of the newly redesigned Walgreens stores, so going to Wags is actually a pleasure for me now. Gone are the cluttered aisles and singing fish--instead we have bins of fresh bananas, a clinic and a tidy beauty department where I stock up on Goody hair elastics. Pretty much weekly.

And thus I present to you: The Marketing Mommy Last-Minute Beauty Shopping Guide, gift suggestions heavily influenced by what I like.

Idea 1: Create a Curly Girl Method Gift Basket
Help the curly girl in your life embrace her ringlets with Curly Girl Method-approved products. Pick up a sulfate-free shampoo like L'Oreal EverSleek Sulfate-Free or a co-wash like Suave Milk and Honey Conditioner. Add in a more moisturizing conditioner like L'Oreal EverPure Conditioner, big bottle of L.A. Looks Gel (oh, yeah) and a microfiber towel.

Idea 2: Buy the Upscale Stuff
No one will know you did your holiday shopping at Walgreens (not that there's anything wrong with that) if you buy their more upscale, beautifully-packaged lines like Fekkai, Yes to Carrots, Burt's Bees and Essie nail polish. My account director is sporting Essie's Bobbing for Bobbles, a dark bluish-slate shade, today and it is quite the talk of the office. Throw a ribbon and a gift tag on a bottle of Essie and you've got a hip hostess/colleague gift for under $10.

Idea #3: Power Toothbrush
Buy someone (okay, a close relative) an Oral-B power toothbrush. My mom bought one for me and Josh 10 years ago and we only just replaced it (with this one, actually). Your loved ones deserve the gift of immaculately clean teeth. Seriously, we've been getting kudos from our dentist every six months. 

Idea #4: Pick up a gift pack
Full disclosure: as part of my job as a creative director, I was responsible for helping design and market P&G's beauty lovely multi-brand gift packs. They've been priced at just under $10 at Walgreens and that's a pretty tremendous value--especially if you consider the booklet of coupons inside. So whether you use a lot of P&G products (think Olay, Secret, Venus) and want to stock up for yourself, or whether you want to get a gift pack to have on hand for that "oh shoot I forgot to get something for the babysitter/coach/neighbor" moment, they're a deal and they don't even need to be wrapped.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Nice cream for a cause

Illinois state regulators have made it impossible to operate a small, artisanal food business and one company is fighting back. Nice Cream is a small batch ice cream company with just 3 employees--while they've stopped production--they are looking to raise money to lobby the governor's office to change their rules so that small-batch companies don't have to follow all the same regulations as large-scale manufacturers.

As a Chanukah present to me, Josh donated $100 to their Kickstarter fund. In exchange, we were offered a custom flavor of Nice Cream--anything we could dream up. Fresh from our trip to Wisconsin, where I fell in love with Left Hand Milk Stout, I asked for a Chocolate Milk Stout ice cream with toffee and shortbread.

Four pints were hand delivered (along with a personal note complimenting my creativity) and I tucked into a dish after roller derby last night.

It was--far and away--the best ice cream I've ever had. If you're looking for a truly unique holiday gift (particularly for the activist-minded Chicagoan), I don't think you can do better than this.

Monday, December 12, 2011

And a glass of red wine

I was congratulating myself on a productive evening. Josh left to go see Wilco as soon as dinner was over. I loaded the dishwasher, put the leftovers in the fridge, read stories, supervised baths and put two "not tired" kids to bed. Then I sorted through old toys and puzzles, posted "free" and "for sale" notices, wrapped gifts for two out of three weekend birthday parties and straightened the living room rug. I addressed holiday cards for the overly ambitious folks who had already sent us theirs and put away the laundry.

Then I cut myself a wedge of brie, poured a glass of wine and grabbed the TVand Roku remotes. Of course, because I'm me, my glass of vino hadn't been set down for more than 30 seconds before I knocked it off its perch and into the wall, shattering it and splashing aromatic red liquid and tiny shards all over the wall, cabinet and floor.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

On Daddy...

As a follow-up to asking Ada about me, Josh interviewed both girls with the same questions about himself.

1. What is something Daddy always says to you?
Ada: “I love you.”
Zoe: “Go to your room.” 
2. What makes Daddy happy?
Ada: “Smiling and me being happy.” 
Zoe: “When we’re good.” 
3. What makes Daddy sad?
Ada: “Being bad.”
Zoe: “When we’re crying.”
4. How does Daddy make you laugh?
Ada: “Tickling me!”
Zoe: “Sitting on me.” 
5. What was Daddy like as a child?
Ada: “Being good for his momma.”
Zoe: “Had curly hair.” 
6. How old is Daddy?
Ada: “25”
Zoe: “36” 
7. How tall is Daddy?
Ada: “100!”
Zoe: “Hmm, maybe four foot seven or eight? Is that right?”
8. What is Daddy’s favorite thing to do?
Ada: “Work at home when I’m at school.” 
Zoe: “Write on the computer.” 
9. What does Daddy do when you’re not around?
Ada: “Work on the computer” 
Zoe: “Eat.”
10. If Daddy becomes famous, what will it be for?
Ada: “Being a scientist.” 
Zoe: “His articles being in the newspaper a lot.” 
11. What is Daddy really good at?
Ada: “Being on the computer.” 
Zoe: “Guitar.” 
12. What is Daddy not very good at?
Ada: “Ice skating.” 
Zoe: “Rollerskating.” 
13. What does Daddy do for his job?
Ada: “Help Zoe do her homework.” 
Zoe: “Daddy goes to concerts and then writes about them.” 
14. What is Daddy’s favorite food?
Ada: “Chicken.” 
Zoe: “Tied between chicken and fish. I mean, salad and fish!”
15. What makes you proud of Daddy?
Ada: “To cuddle with you.” 
Zoe: “He’s the funniest daddy in the whole wide world.”
16. If Daddy were a cartoon character, who would he be?
Ada: “A mermaid.” 
Zoe: “Charlie Brown. Or Scooby-Doo.” 
17. What do you and Daddy do together?
Ada: “Eat yummy lunch.” 
Zoe: “Go to museums with Hank.”

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

21 Questions with Ada

Pippi braidsAlthough I've interviewed the girls before (and posted their answers--though I'm too lazy now to comb my blog for the links), I was inspired by this post on DailyBuzz Moms and asked Josh to question four-year-old Ada about me over lunch the other day.

I was at work and laughed out loud when the answers came back.

1. What is something Mommy always says to you?
I love you.
2. What makes Mommy happy?
When I'm happy.
3. What makes Mommy sad?
When I yell and scream.
4. How does Mommy make you laugh?
She tickles me.
5. What was Mommy like as a child?
Hmm, being nice?
6. How old is Mommy?
Uh, 14.
7. How tall is Mommy?
8. What is Mommy's favorite thing to do?
Go to work.
9. What does Mommy do when you're not around?
Eat lunch.
10. If Mommy becomes famous, what will it be for?
Washing the dishes? [Someone alert the media if I wash the dishes--it is a very rare occurrence.]
11. What is Mommy really good at?
Making me Valentines.
12. What is Mommy not very good at?
Cutting out feet. [This is probably in reference to the poor job I do cutting out the feet of paper dolls.]
13. What does Mommy do for a job?
She does work.
14. What is Mommy's favorite food?
15. What makes you proud of Mommy?
When I hug her.
16. If Mommy were a cartoon character, who would she be?
A princess.
17. What do you and Mommy do together?
Go to the supermarket where there's doughnuts. [No idea what she's talking about here.]
18. How are you an Mommy the same?
We both have brown hair.
19. How are you and Mommy different?
We both have different clothes.
20. How do you know Mommy loves you?
She kisses me.
21. Where is Mommy's favorite place to go?
Rollerskating. [This took four tries, at my prodding, after "work," "Super Tony's" and "a concert." --Josh]

Stay tuned. Josh asked both girls the same questions about himself and I'll be posting that gem of an interview soon.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Downtown Oak Park Cookie Walk: It's like treat or treating for grown-ups

Downtown Oak Park has hosted a Winterfest cookie walk for a few years, but this was the first year we participated. It's actually kind of a genius idea--the merchants association sells shoppers a large, branded tin and then you get to stop into all the participating shops and get a single cookie from each one.

Many of the stores are places we regularly frequent (The Book Table, Sugar Fixe, Pumpkin Moon and Penzey's Spices), but there were a few new restaurants and some retail outlets I've never been to before, so experiencing them in a casual and friendly way let me get a glimpse around without feeling guilty about leaving fairly quickly. It seems like a good marketing strategy too--get a lot of shoppers milling around downtown Oak Park and popping into every shop on Lake Street and Marion. What surprised me was how few merchants included a shop sticker, coupon or flier with their cookie. Most handed out cookies from Bleeding Heart Bakery, Prairie Bread Kitchen and Cheryl's--all lovely local treats, but why not staple a 20% off store coupon to that baggie?

Even before they got their faces painted with Stars of David and dreidels at Potbelly's it was a lot of fun for the girls--particularly after they figured out a method of receiving treats that maximized both of their participation. The highlight of the day, aside from running into friends, was watching a sleight of hand magician use Zoe as his assistant.

Also, it was about 50 degrees out there. Where's winter? It's December!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday and so much more

6 weeks of Beginning ice skating served Zoe well; the kid is fast!
Today we ate, shopped and played, pouring money into the U.S. economy every step of the way (however modestly). Although I've never had the stamina for late-night/early morning Black Friday shenanigans, thanks to my friend (and Frugalistic Mom) Carrie's urging, I did stop at CVS with my hair still wet from the shower to pick up a cart full of Free after ExtraCare Bucks items: Chex, Cheerios, toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, Kleenex and the high-class L.A. Looks hair gel ("X-Treme Value!") that I've been going through since becoming a Curly Girl Method devotee. Provided I remember to use all those ExtraCare Bucks, I probably came out 50¢ ahead, even after "buying" all that stuff.

By 8am Ada and I were done at CVS, so we swung by the house to pick up the later risers and head to the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor for their annual Day-After-Thankgiving Waffle Breakfast Bar. Josh and I got the plain waffles knowing our kids couldn't possibly eat all the ice cream on their giant DIY sundae waffles.

We got home just in time for Patty, one of our favorite neighborhood sitters, to come by and watch the girls.

Then Josh and I drove to Kohl's, where I was able to pick up all the items on the ARK wishlist. I'd adopted three needy adults for Hanukkah: an older man wanted Dockers, a woman nonstick pots and pans and a teen girl a hair dryer. Kohl's had all of the above on sale, which meant the $35 maximum I was allowed to spend on each recipient went much farther than I anticipated. We also picked up Hanukkah gifts for the family: underwear for Zoe, pajamas and a musical jewelry box for Ada, and a Fiestaware platter for ourselves. Josh, who doesn't usually care for shopping, volunteered to hit more stores, but I'd had it after CVS and Kohl's.

We paid the sitter, wolfed down some delicious Thanksgiving leftovers (starring a turkey our friend Steve smoked for 6 hours on his back porch) and headed to downtown Oak Park to ice skate at Ridgeland Commons then go to the Lake Theatre to see The Muppets. Amazingly, that was also the plan of our friends Steve (yep, same one) and Jani and their kids--the very same family who had hosted us (plus two turkey-and-pie curious Austrians and a German) for Thanksgiving the evening prior. And while Zoe and Jani's 2nd grade daughter bickered all through said dinner and declared they never wanted to see each other again (potentially putting Jani and I in an awful position), they were two peas in a pod at the rink and throughout the movie.

And what a movie! There couldn't be a more perfect film for nostalgic Gen Xers to take their children to. It really is a delight and so unlike most kids' movies today--slower paced, few special effects and nothing sexual or scatological (save--perhaps--a Whoopie-cushion shoes joke), plus all the anarchy, chaos and random, ridiculous slapstick violence us Muppets fans know and love.

*Look in the very background of the photo and you can see me holding Ada's hand as we skated--although only Ada's arm and head are visible

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On loaning my house to a stranger

On Thursday afternoon I gave a key to my house to someone I didn't know so that her extended family could enjoy a comfortable stay in Oak Park.

I felt good about it, knowing I was finally repaying the karmic universe for giving my extended family a house to stay 2 summers ago when I had them here for my bat mitzvah. For those who don't remember, an older couple who spend a month in Colorado every summer lent my family their house for 4 days in exchange for 2 weeks worth of garden-tending. I found them and last weekend's family found me through MomMail, a unique community email aggregator that Oak Park area families use to find babysitters, recommend doctors and contractors and buy and sell second hand furniture and baby gear. It lacks the anonymity and skeeze factor of Craigslist.

Our invisible house guests stripped the beds as requested and we came home to our house more or less as we'd left it. And while Oscar apparently didn't sleep inside the two nights we were gone, he was adequately fed and cared for (if missing his collar--again!).

Is a house swap next?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Kohler: Vacation in the land of fancy faucets

A few months ago I won a weekend getaway to Kohler, Wisconsin from fellow Chicago mom blogger Kim Moldofsky, whose latest blog, The Reluctant Renovator, chronicles the updates she and her husband are making to their new (old) house.

If Kohler sounds familiar to you, it's probably because your sink, tub or toilet bears the name. But the 140 year old Kohler company has more than an over-the-top design showroom to lure tourists to their small company town outside Sheboygan--they've transformed what used to be housing for the single immigrant men who worked in their factories into a deluxe 5 star hotel, The American Club. To further entice tourism, they've built fancy golf courses, opened a luxury spa and installed upscale shopping and restaurants on the Kohler campus. The buildings are spread out, but a free shuttle will pick you up and drop you off anywhere within minutes.

All hail the wall of toilets
Since the package I'd won was geared toward families, we were put up at the slightly less luxurious but more child-friendly Inn at Woodlake, which serves free breakfast every day and will loan you board games (or even an Xbox). The Inn at Woodlake is also home to the weekend Kamp Kohler kids programming, which we took full advantage of on Saturday.

Since it was an off-season weekend the girls were the only children enrolled, but they had an awesome time with Ginger, racing through the woods on a nature scavenger hunt, swimming at the pool at the nearby Sports Core and putting together some Thanksgiving-themed crafts. They had so much fun they begged to be sent back for the evening "Dinner and a Movie" program, which meant Josh and I had lunch and dinner on our own (Neopolitan pizza at Il Ritrovo and fish and chips at the Duke of Devon Pub) and plenty of time to explore the amazing John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, which had a very moving exhibit on memory and memory loss. There was a great multi-room installation that reminded me a bit of the Alzheimer's novel Turn of Mind and a bunch of photographs from The Oxford Project, which I loved so much I bought the book.

Ada checks out the "quiet seat" in a lit-from-below bathroom
But back to our stay in Kohler. The staff everywhere on the resort was cheerful, friendly and eager to please. The beds at the Inn on Woodlake were comfortable and the flat screen was large, but the most memorable part of room was the bathroom, especially the shower, which was from another world--5 adjustable sprayers for a shower I didn't ever want to get out of!

We toured the Kohler Design Center with the girls, which is amazing on multiple levels. I loved seeing the history of their advertisements, we all giggled imagining ourselves rich enough to live in a house with one of their many over-the-top bathroom set-ups and the kids and Josh marveled at all the crazy technology (multi-sprayer showers and Japanese-style programmable toilets with remote controls). Had we been there on a weekday morning, we could have also toured the factory.

No trip to Kohler would be complete without a stop at the fancy Kohler Water Spa, so I sent Josh and the girls off to the Above and Beyond Children's Museum in Sheboygan Sunday morning and indulged myself in a Thai-style "stretch and flex" massage and an hour soaking in a hot tub, baking in a sauna and generally feeling pampered and relaxed.

Would we go back? Definitely. At least in this family, happy family getaways are much happier when there is a kids' club to give mom and dad some alone time. And while the Kohler Resort's stellar reputation proceeded it, we were pleasantly surprised by all that nearby (and fun-to-pronounce) Sheboygan has to offer. I've never been the type to stay exclusively on a resort property, but I didn't know that there would be genuine foodie restaurants and a couple of great museums in a small Wisconsin city just 5 minutes away.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The cute school pictures I refuse to buy

I'm a sucker for school pictures. The blue background. The gap-toothed smiles. The cowlicks and stray hairs Mom's not there to smooth out. I'm not the type to spring for the super package with the 8X10 print and keychain, but I'm good for a sheet of wallets (not that anyone keeps photographs in their wallets anymore; that's what smart phones are for).

So imagine my surprise when we received Ada's proofs from Shutterbug Studios, the company serving her Montessori school. All the poses were in front of a snowy forest scene. With evergreens. At first glance, my reaction was "Wow, these are really Christmassy." Not that the gentiles have a monopoly on snowy forests, but she is leaning up against a pile of wrapped gifts in the shot on the upper right.

And my second thought: "Gee, she looks awfully underdressed for a stroll in the wintery woods." I mean the girl's wearing a dress and leggings (which I fully did not anticipate making it into the portrait session). Where are her coat, hat and boots? Wouldn't her hands be cold as she lies facedown on the "snow?"

As darling as Ada looks, these pictures are dumb. I won't be ordering any.

On the other hand, I'm tempted to get a print of this roller derby action shot by Oak Park sports photographer DT Kindler.

Monday, November 07, 2011

I'm a convert to the Curly Girl Method

IMG_3549Although I've learned bits and pieces about caring for my curls over the years, until this week I've never actually researched hair care. But I needed a trim and decided to look for curly hair cuts on Pinterest for inspiration. I stumbled upon a couple of Curly Girl before and after photos and immediately put the book on hold at the library.

I'd already cut way down on my shampoo use and switched to a sulfate-free formula for those times I felt like I really needed to clean my hair. But I had been using products with silicone (a no-no) and was relying on mousse for most of my styling needs.

The big changes were as follows: "Shampoo" hair with a lightweight conditioner and then condition with a richer formula. Finger comb out any tangles and hardly rinse out any conditioner before stepping out of the shower and squeeze/scrunch your sopping wet hair with a cotton t-shirt instead of a terry cloth towel. I also switched a Curly Girl-approved gel, a giant bottle of L.A. Looks that cost less than $3 and looks like it's straight out of 1988.
Half an hour before they completely dried

Scrunch/cup the gel into your curls and let air dry. Shake the curls free from their "gel cast" when hair is completely dry.

I'm still figuring out the amount of product I need to use, but I'm happy so far. My curls are 100% frizz-free even at the day's end and I've gotten a lot of compliments.

Tuesday morning update: One of the techniques in the book lets you sleep on your hair and revive it in the morning without showering and restyling. I was dubious, as I've never been able to skip a shower and wear my hair in anything but a bun, but here's what it looked like this morning after twisting into a top knot, sleeping on it, and then spritzing with lavender water that I mixed up myself.

One year later: See how I've adapted the method to get even better results.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

A sewing birthday party

IMG_3540Zoe got the crafting bug at Oak Park's Arts District Summer Camp this year, and one of her favorite projects was sewing. So when I found out about Angie Cataldo's sewing birthday parties, I suggested sewing as an option for her 7th birthday celebration.

IMAG0973Since seemingly every girl in Oak Park has an American Girl doll, we opted to invite 7 girls to bring their dolls and sew a doll-sized sleeping bag. Angie brought a variety of fabrics and each guest got to choose the outer fabric and cozy fleece interior. All the pieces were precut, so all the girls needed to do was hand sew a running stitch around the outside, connecting the two pieces. The sewing took about an hour and fifteen minutes and they each got a turn at the sewing machine at the very end. While the girls were intently focused on their projects and chattering happily, it was clear the slightly older girls were more manually dexterous. Zoe and the girl closest to her in age (they are the youngest and second youngest in the group) started to lose interest and veer away from the stitch line before they were completely done.

The sewing wrapped up just as the pizza arrived, and we followed up 3 large Papa John's pizzas with the cake I'd baked to Zoe's specifications: chocolate cake with chocolate pudding in the middle and blue buttercream frosting. The party was almost over by the time Zoe opened her presents and the girls joined their slumbering dolls to watch the American Girl Molly movie.
If you're interested in having a sewing party for your daughter's birthday, brownie troop or some kind of mother-daughter event, I'd highly recommend Angie. She was professional, energetic, and even brought along an assistant--which was key to keeping 8 2nd graders' needles threaded and knotted. Her sewing parties cost $100 plus a materials fee. The doll sleeping bags were $6 each.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

From Ada to Zoe, on her birthday

Who am I kidding with the Z's an A's? From here on out, I'll be using the kids' names. Reserving, of course, the right to change my mind.

In honor of her big sister's birthday, 4 year old Ada wrote her a book--complete with the first sentences I've seen her write. She also started reading simple words last week. Yay for literacy!

Mom said that [I need a] nap

Ada wanted to boss Zoe
Happy Birthday I luv you Zoe I luv you
Stay tune for a post on the sewing party we hosted for seven 7 year old girls. It was a blast.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Happy 7th Birthday, Z

You're only just turning 7, but I can tell I'm going to love this age. Seven is independent, happy to disappear into her room for a couple of hours or play with her friends without adult intervention. You can do your homework independently, coordinate your own outfits, wash and comb your hair and butter your own bread.

You've got a few bad habits, namely being an incredibly picky eater and stubbornly refusing to even try suspicious foods, and being a messy eater of those foods you do enjoy. You're also a bit flighty, frequently dropping your dirty clothes where they came off of you and failing to put on your coat/shoes/socks until repeatedly reminded. Usually your absentmindedness can be blamed on your bookwormishness. When I wake up in the morning, you're in bed with a book. When you're supposed to be getting dressed, you're reading a book. You read books while you eat, in the car, on the school bus and during any and all down time.

Don't get me wrong, your reading and writing skills make your father and I so proud. Your stories and poems are hilariously inventive and the angry letters you write me when I've sent you to your room should really be tucked away in your baby book, they're so passionate (and accurately illustrated).

You've got other skills too. You're thisclose to mastering the splits at gymnastics, and you'll be competing with your team for the first time in January. You've picked up Hebrew about 1000% faster than your mother, scoring 100% on every test so far this year. You're also making ice skating look easy, but I'm thinking that might be because momma bought you roller skates this summer, giving you an unfair head start.

Regardless of the passion you choose to pursue, I can't wait to see what this year holds in store.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Learning the value of a dollar

This post was underwritten by BMO Harris Bank, which offers a matching $25 on a new savings account opened for your child through their Helpful Steps for Parents program. Learn more at bmoharris.com/parents.

Two weeks ago, my almost 7 year old daughter gave away all of her money to charity. She'd spent a Saturday afternoon collecting donations for the Girl Scouts food drive, and was so moved by a desire to help the less fortunate, she brought $6--two week's worth of allowance--to Sunday morning Hebrew school for the tzedakah box. When we walked to Walgreens later that week, the sting of her empty wallet hit her. She badgered me to buy her gum, first appealing to my generosity and then promising me I could deduct the cost from her next allowance. No dice.

While Josh and I offer money management advice to our second grader (and we did try to dissuade her from donating all her cash to charity), I believe that the best financial education comes from experience. Having given all her money away two weeks ago, I feel fairly confident she'll balance her desire to give back with her own personal needs (okay, wants) in the future.

I also feel that spending her own money gives my daughter a real investment in her purchases and their value. Z feels like she gets a good bang for her buck when it comes to buying sugarless gum, Scholastic books and nail polish, but her tendency to lose earrings has cooled her desire to save up for another trip to Claire's.

There's also a selfish motive for giving Z an allowance. Because she has her own spending money, I have an automatic out whenever she asks me to buy her crap. All I have to say is "you can spend your allowance on that if you want," or "what a perfect toy to save your money up for." And I have rewarded her for big savings projects. When she wanted a new American Girl doll, I told her that if she could save $50, I'd pay the other half. And she did, putting away her $3 per week allowance and tooth fairy money for months.

Z's allowance, which she started receiving when she was 5--right around the time she learned to count money--comes with strings attached, and I've learned that this is somewhat controversial among parents today. But since my pay comes with the expectation of performance, I am comfortable withholding Z's allowance when she doesn't keep her room in order. She used to get $4 a week, with one dollar tied to violin practice. When she dropped violin, we dropped a dollar. She's since requested a $1 "raise," but hasn't managed to chose a chore she's willing to take on to earn that 25% salary hike.

I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. To learn more about BMO Harris Bank, visit their website http://bmoharris.com/parents.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Halloween, redux

We carved 3 out of 4 pumpkins. Handed out 8+ pounds of candy as well as a motley assortment of lollipops, silly bands, pencils, stickers and pens I've repurposed from goodie bags. I heated up spiced apple cider and ladled that out to grateful grownups, most of whom opted for a splash of brandy as well.
Z surprised us all by maintaining her commitment to be Vampirella (decided 10 months ago when she checked out a Halloween book from her school library), and A was low-key, opting to wear two costumes we already had in the dress up bin, but giving them her own creative twist (Belle + wings=Fairy Queen and Jill + wings = Jill who doesn't tumble down after Jack). I was a cowgirl.

Josh joined a group of neighbors and took the kids trick or treating from 4 until around 5:30. I got home from work around 4:45 and was immediately beset by the hordes. So I was grateful to Z and A's enthusiasm for handing out treats when they returned. And since they are reasonable children, I let them shoot quizzical looks at the uncostumed adult women holding out treat bags for themselves or "the baby in the stroller" and leave their bags dangling.

Speaking of trick or treating, their hauls were interesting. A and Z each scored one full-sized candy bar, and the usual assortment of Hershey's, M&Ms, Snickers and Kit Kat minis, but they also ended up with a couple of strange items: a black and orange "Happy Halloween" toothbrush (I appreciate the gesture, but black bristles?); a handful of loose chocolates; and a single Hall's cough drop. Who gives menthol cough drops to children? On Halloween?

Anyway, in keeping with tradition I let the kids eat as much candy as they wanted Halloween night (they each had 3 bite sized candies), pack their favorites into a smallish Tupperware bowl, and put out the rest for the "Halloween Fairy."

They shrieked with delight at the toys the fairy swapped out for candy--both of which were ASTRA award winners I took home from the local toy store event at Building Blocks.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

4 good things about this weekend

1. Ponies! Our dear friends Kate and Jay invited Z and A on a pony ride along a lovely wooded trail to celebrate their youngest's first birthday. No, the birthday girl didn't get to ride a horse, but she whooped and hollered when I put her up on my shoulders. I've forgotten how relaxing it is to commune with nature, so I've decided I need to prioritize finding more parks and trails in the area.

2. Halloween! My kids have donned their costumes twice and it isn't even fright night. No matter, the Montessori "Harvest" party was a ton of fun. It was better organized than in years' past, and I got to catch up with parents I know and meet a few new faces. I even called one of the moms I met in the balloon animal line and had her daughter over for a playdate with A this afternoon.

3. Bargains! The Oak Park Temple Rummage sale didn't fail to disappoint. I bought each girl a set of cozy all-cotton flannel sheets ($5 a set), picked up a few size 6/7 clothing items (Gymboree and Talbots Kids for $1 each), a vase (50¢), a handful of American Girl paperbacks and a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Naturally Z finished all 3 American Girl books this afternoon--right after plowing through the third Harry Potter book (that she'd started just yesterday morning). Total spend: $15.

4. Food! And friends! A and I baked and pureed a pie pumpkin and made a big batch of muffins, but Josh outshined us by far, cooking up a gourmet storm this afternoon. We had Jani and Steve and their kids over for an amazing smoked fish stew and homemade carrot cake. Z was in a lousy mood, refusing to eat and fighting with her friend, but after the kids had eaten I put on a movie for them. My chair at the dining room table offered a great view of Z--first by herself on the love seat, then kneeling by the ottoman, then on the couch with her sister and friends. And finally right next to her friend and A--with A's legs across her lap.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Support your neighborhood toy store

I had the privilege of attending a blogger event at Building Blocks toy store in Wicker Park on Thursday evening. Co-hosted by store owner Katherine McHenry and ASTRA (the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, the evening offered a rare chance to browse the toy aisle without my two little gimme-monsters, meet toy inventors and chat with experts on why supporting your local toy shop matters.

Saturday, November 12th is Neighborhood Toy Store day, so if you haven't made it into Building Blocks in the city or Geppetto's in Oak Park or Berwyn's Toys and Trains (or source for Playmobil sets) recently, kick off your holiday shopping with a stop at a business that stocks quality toys, donates to local schools and charities, has staff on hand to make suggestions and gift wraps for free. Yes, you can buy a lot of toys for less on Amazon or at Target, but if they become as commoditized as book and music--well, a lot of great neighborhood business owners will suffer. And so with their communities.

But enough with the Debbie Downer. Building Blocks is the kind of toy store I remember from my childhood. Its all narrow aisles and crowded shelves and toys jam-packed from floor to ceiling. Unlike Geppetto's, where shopping is more akin to browsing a museum of elegant (and expensive) Waldorf-approved playthings, Katherine has European toy brands like Haba, Corelle and Klein family favorite Playmobil cheek to jowl with inexpensive Alex arts and crafts supplies, LEGO sets and award-winning games. I even spied a beautiful set of Hebrew ABC blocks. She even confessed to stocking a handful of Barbie dolls so that no birthday gift shopper need go elsewhere. I bought a roll of paper for our art easel, a set of creamy crayons and 3 books Z can write and illustrate (gift wrapped for her birthday).

But I went home with much, much more. ASTRA sent bloggers home with two bags filled with the toys independent shop owners had votes the best toys of the year--awesome, inventive toys like an updated potholder loom, a make-your-own safety pin bracelet kit, a teaching cash register, nanoblocks and Tegu blocks. I'll be writing more about them as they get doled out, likely for Chanukah.

Another highlight of the evening was meeting toy inventors Peggy Brown and River Forest's own Bruce Lund. They were autographing their toys, The Cat's Pajamas card game and Doggie Doo, respectively. We broke out both games this weekend. The Cat's Pajamas, a silly, simplified version of Go Fish that involves "speaking cat" is a delight, but my high hopes for Doggie Doo--a game in which players compete to see who can make a plastic dog pass a gummy turd--were dashed when it turned out that getting the dog to go was a long, frustrating process that involved way too much kid fighting and parental intervention. And the wet, flatulent sounds that accompany the doggie doo's approach are truly, em, realistic.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

So proud of my 2nd grader

School pictures came in, and this one couldn't do a better job of capturing Z's personality. A self-proclaimed "Lincoln Leader," she prides herself on getting her homework done ahead of time, never "going on yellow or red" on the in-class behavior chart, getting 100% on all her Hebrew tests and mastering new gymnastics tricks at team practice. She also loves her friends at school and is looking forward to having 7 of them over for her 7th birthday party, which will have a sewing theme.

This evening is our first parent-teacher conference of the year. When I asked Z what her teacher would have to say about her, she said "All good things." Here's to hoping she's right...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Weekend update: food drive, clothing swap and more fall fun

Although it turns out having A's two front teeth pulled has not lessened her propensity for temper tantrums, this weekend was full of delightful moments, with and without the children.

On Saturday I joined Z's Brownie troop along with a group of 5th grade Junior Girl Scouts for the annual food drive pickup. We went door-to-door asking for nonperishable food donations for the Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry, and Z was so excited to help out  she raced from one house to the next, sharing her pitch to donate with everyone who dared answer the door.

In fact, she was so inspired that she donated all of last week's as well as this week's allowance ($6 in all) to her Jewish school tzedakah (charity) box. "Being a Brownie and a Girl Scout it is your duty to help the poor, so I want to give all my money to the poor this week." She added that some poor people "only earn a few pennies a day," so it's possible her altruistic streak is being furthered not just by the Girl Scouts, but by her choice of reading materials.

Saturday evening we dropped the girls off at their gymnastics facility's Parents Night Out event and headed over to Kate and Jay's house to prep for the clothing swap Kate and I were co-hosting that evening.  My last clothing swap was about two years ago, and we ended up with absolutely zero overlap in attendees, but the mix of ladies and awesome clothes meant everyone went home very happy--not only with  the fresh (and free!) additions to their wardrobes, but with the knowledge that some of their old items went to good homes. My major scores include a lovely Ann Taylor pant suit, a gray floor-length silk Banana Republic dress, a pair of nice gray trousers and a strappy black Gap dress. And as if the clothing swapping wasn't enough of an attraction, Jay made beautiful appetizers and he and Josh kept all the guests happily sipping Champagne cocktails.

Other weekend highlights included the Derby Lite lock-in (although I was only able to attend for 2 hours), a birthday party for A, hanging out at the Oak Park Conservatory's Family Fun Fest (snakes alive!), lunch at the Depot Diner where A finished a bowl of chicken noodle soup (she ate something that wasn't pancakes!) and the picking of pumpkins for our front porch (even though we got them at the Jewel).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Her two front teeth: gone

Longtime readers may remember A injured her two front teeth when she was 2 and Josh and I opted to take a wait and see approach instead of pulling them preventatively. The only real risk of waiting was the possibility of infection, but since infection comes with pain, I figured we could wait until the teeth were bothering A before subjecting her to a pull.

Well, on Friday evening she said "My gray tooth hurts." She said it again on Saturday, and on Sunday she said drinking orange juice made her tooth hurt, too. So I made up my mind to call the dentist first thing Monday morning. The funny thing is that before I even got out of bed, Z came in to announce two more of her own teeth had just come out. That brings Z's tally up to 8, by the way.

They had us come in at 10am, and 15 minutes later the dentist was showing me a side-by-side comparison of A's teeth at her last appointment and her current X-rays. It was clear the roots had dissolved a lot and there was a small infection in the more damaged tooth. I gave my permission to pull and A walked out with the nurse 30 minutes later, her new gap stuffed with gauze. We took it easy for the rest of the day, watching videos, playing at the park, and going out for a pasta dinner.
2011-10-10 17.40.36
She was such a trooper. No tears before, during or after her visit, and in a super mood all day. Josh and I are actually beginning to suspect that her frequent moodiness and daily tantrums might have been triggered by pressure and discomfort in her mouth. Which makes me feel like kind of a lousy mom. But a pretty busy tooth fairy!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

May my daughters get to choose

Driving back from a 1 year old's birthday party in Naperville on Sunday, we passed two dozen anti-choice picketers holding up signs.

"Abortion... kills... babies. Mommy, what's an abortion?"

Although I winced, I'm not one to ignore pointed questions from my bright almost 7 year old 2nd grader. We've discussed where babies come from (I recommend the book It's Not the Stork), but I wasn't prepared to discuss abortion. How would I provide a truthful answer while that also conveyed my solidly pro-choice perspective?

Now, I'm not pro-abortion. I can't imagine anyone is. But I believe there are valid reasons a woman may want to terminate a pregnancy, and it is not my place (or our government's) to interfere in what is a very personal, private, emotionally-fraught medical matter.

"Well, honey, an abortion is what happens when a woman had a very tiny baby in her tummy and either that baby is very sick and might die or that woman is very upset that there is a baby in there and doesn't want to be pregnant and have a baby. It is very sad when there is an abortion and some people believe they shouldn't be allowed. But your mom and lots of other women believe every lady has the right to decide if she wants to have a baby. It is her choice."

I walked through another batch of anti-choice protesters today, these ones shouting and holding up far more gruesome posters. It was an uncomfortable approach to NARAL's Pro-Choice America's Chicago Power of Choice Luncheon, but one women in crisis deal with daily as they try to approach a Planned Parenthood or other women's health clinic for reproductive services.

The speakers, journalist Sylvia Ewing, NARAL President Nancy Keenen and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, drove home how anti-woman the so-called pro-life movement is and how much scary legislative progress they've made in states across the U.S.

Now I understand wanting to end abortions, but the anti-choice lobby is anti-contraception. Contraception! Last I checked, the Pill, IUDs and condoms were without a doubt the best way to prevent unplanned, unwanted pregnancies. And as if that wasn't galling enough, some Republicans want to ban abortion even in cases of rape or incest. This cause matters. For my friends, who've endured so much pain and heartbreak securing second trimester terminations for non-viable pregnancies, and for my daughters, who most certainly will need affordable, reliable contraceptives before they decide to start having children.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

UrbanMom Salon: This blowdry comes with babysitting

Marketing to moms has become a lot more sophicated and nuanced than it used to be. Or is it just that moms are more sophisticated?

No matter. The point is that speaking to moms (who make the lion's share of household buying decisions) is no longer a one way street, with Madison Avenue pitching images of the perfect housewife to legions of potential Hoover, Frigidaire and Jell-O purchasers. Read the NY Times' recent article, Pitching to Real Moms, the Ones Who Aren't Perfect, which quotes Leo Burnett Chief Creative Officer Susan Credle (my boss's boss's boss).

When it comes to converting moms to customers, one of the smartest decisions a business can make is to listen to what moms want. Ever since I visited Portland, Oregon with a 10-month old (6 years ago now), I've bemoaned Chicago's lack of family-focused spas and coffee shops. Zenana Spa in Portland offers child care while moms get themselves pampered and plenty of West Coast coffeehouses boast a playroom (or corner) where small children can play while their otherwise socially-isolated parents hang out.

Well, Chicago finally has a spa for moms! UrbanMom Salon on Damen, offers hair, nail and waxing services while your children are well cared for by a babysitter from Chicago Nannies (brand synergy!) in a nicely-outfitted, secured playroom (or "playoasis," as they like to call it). Because they're brand new and looking to build buzz, I was offered a complimentary blowout this weekend. I took my 4-year old along, and while she looked a little shy as she was introduced to the nanny on duty, she begged me not to make her leave one hour later. And while there was lots for little kids (tunnels, kitchen, trains, art supplies and bubbles to name a few diversions), the management wisely included a Wii to entertain older children. Child care is $7 for the first child and $4 for siblings.

But as nice as it is to be able to bring your kids along, are the services up to par? It takes a lot to break up with one's stylist and put your head in someone else's hands. I'm happy to report I was thrilled with the blow dry I received. Even though I said I typically have my stylist tame my curls with a blow dry followed by a flat iron, stylist/manager Tara convinced me to go with a wavier round-brush blowout.

I got a lot of compliments!
2011-10-01 11.08.12
2011-10-01 11.07.57

Incidentally, UrbanMom Salon is very close to Little Beans Cafe, a family-focused coffee shop with an elaborate indoor playspace.

Friday, September 30, 2011

I love midday updates like this

Josh sent emailed me this from his phone today after picking up Z from school. Made my afternoon.

A: I know what private school is! It's a school where you're not allowed to show your privates.
Z: No, that's not what a private school is. A private school is a school you have to sign up for where they give you a code to open the door.

Incidentally, A claims she forgot to put on underwear this morning.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Extreme Makeover: Home and Garden Edition

You know what's a match made in heaven? A friend of a friend looking for odd jobs and my very overgrown garden and a cluttered garage. I practically wet myself every time I pull into what is now the world's most organized garage. Heck, there's enough room for a second car in there!

These photos doen't really do justice to the transformation Courtney visited upon our property, but they're still something to marvel over.
Garage, before
Garage, after
After, tools
Every tool has its place
The garden, before
Garden, before
After, garden
Garden, after