Saturday, April 30, 2011

My foodie husband's got a blog

Have you checked out Josh's blog, Fishsticks and Ketchup? He just posted reviews of the Oak Park area's latest burger joint and first Vietnamese restaurant. Stay tuned for his review of the most talked-about restaurant in the country, Next. We're among the 7000 people to get tickets to their Paris 1906 menu and we're going on Thursday.

The Happiest Mom: We have a winner!

Congratulations to commenter #2, Shylo Bisnett, who said this about her key to happiness: "Even though I stay at home, I finally realized that the best thing for me and my toddler was to send him to pre-school. We needed time away from each other and I need time to be with myself. I felt guilty about spending the money, but my son is flourishing and I have time to train for a triathlon."

Shylo was selected using Thanks to everyone who played!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Walk and Roll update and the promised picture

Thanks to many of you, I've raised $742 for the American Cancer Society with help from 16 donors via my Walk and Roll participant page. And, as promised, I'm sharing a photo of myself in full derby regalia--fishnets, short shorts, knee socks and safety gear.

I'll be putting on my outdoor wheels and lacing up my skates for the 10 mile course on May 15, 2011.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bring your kids to work...

Z with the McDonald's gang. "Who?" 
...And fill their bellies with junk and minds with TV commercials. What? Is that my working mother of the year award? You shouldn't have.

I brought in both girls for 3 1/2 hours of Kellogg's, Coke, Hallmark and McDonald's brand experiences (they're all Leo Burnett clients). The highlight of the day was the make-a-mess room where they could go bananas with finger paints, shaving cream, bubbles and silly string before cleaning up with the new Delta Touch faucet. The girls also got a kick out of posing on a green screen and getting themselves edited into a Coke ad.

A customizes a Pop Tart
The low point was the interminable waits for overcrowded elevators (a problem every year) and standing in an unmoving line for face painting. We finally bailed in favor of popcorn and slushies from the print room and mini chair massages before dad drove up to get them home. And I could get back to work. Real work, that is.

Bring your kids to work day 2010
Bring your kids to work day 2009

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

This Energizer ad is terrible

There are a lot of mediocre ads out there, but it's rare to come across one so head-scratchingly bad as this one for Energizer Max batteries.

But I'll start with what's good not terrible. Energizer is partnering with the National Park Foundation. Cause marketing is lovely and while I certainly need batteries for my flashlight when I'm camping in the woods, it is a little disingenuous for a disposable battery brand to associate itself with the environment. But if you look closer, this isn't really a cause marketing campaign. If you buy 3 specially-marked packages of Energizer batteries, you get the $10 award in the form of a prepaid MasterCard or PayPal deposit. Or, if you're particularly generous, they will donate it on your behalf. Just don't try claiming that as a deduction on your tax return!

The image at the center of the ad, with the image of nature superimposed over the battery window, it's fine. It makes literal sense of the association. The headline, "Get a $10 reward and explore America's National Parks through Energizer" is a bit of an overpromise as $10 doesn't even pay half of the entry fee for one vehicle at Yellowstone. But the worst part of this ad--by far--is the completely baffling use of a city harbor and skyline. Hell, the water takes up half the page! If anyone can explain this staid image's connection to National Parks, to battery usage, even to cash rewards, I'm all ears.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Like auntie, like daughter

My sister-in-law Bethany's been calling A her mini me since she was born. She may have a point.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rub-a-dub-dub, it's all fun in the tub

My 3 year old has quite the imagination. Even bathtime offers no respite from her nonstop talk-out-loud fantasies. Tonight all of the tub toys were lined up on the edge for some kind of elaborate game.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jellyfish, wow!

When your 1st grader has spent the last 2 months diligently working on a research project on jellyfish (complete with a hand-written book, model jellyfish and poster display), there's no way you're going to say anything but "Hell, yes!" to a Blogger Brunch invitation at the Shedd Aquarium and a chance to see their new Jellies! exhibit, even if it is scheduled for 8am on a Saturday morning.

The event itself was pretty disorganized. The parking lot we'd been directed to was closed and breakfast consisted of a table of coffee and massive jelly doughnuts (get it?) tucked away in a room full of duffles and sleeping bags from the previous night's "Sleeping with the Fishes" overnight. In fact, the PR staff kept having to shoo tweenagers away from the refreshments, asking "Are you hear for the media event?"

The jellies are beautiful and mesmerizing to watch, but their stinging tentacles are not the only reason to fear these ocean-dwellers: it turns out global warming, pollution and ocean acidification are actually good for jellyfish--making them a scary harbinger of bad news.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Happiest Working Moms

I'm honored and delighted to host today's stop on Meagan Francis' virtual book tour. I've known Meagan since the early days of the Chicago Moms Blog (R.I.P.), and in the years since, she's added a fifth child (her first girl) to her beautiful family, moved from the big city to a much smaller town in southwest Michigan, and shifted her writing career into overdrive. 

The Happiest Mom is not unlike Good Enough is the New Perfect--also just released--in that its focus is on not sweating the small stuff, something increasingly hard to do in this age of hyper-parenting. But while Good Enough is a fairly weighty read of interviews and research into the lives of happy (and unhappy) moms with demanding professional lives, The Happiest Mom is a light, cheerful book full of quizzes, tips and adorable illustrations. It's not unlike an issue of Parenting magazine (who partnered with Meagan to publish it) in that you can open it to any page and find immediate inspiration in the form of a helpful hint. 

In The Happiest Mom and on her blog of the same name, Meagan speaks to a broad audience of SAHMs, WAHMs, part-time working moms and full-time working moms, regardless of their academic or professional ambition. So I challenged Meagan to come up with her top tips for happiness for moms like me--those of us who are as dedicated to our career selves as we are to our children and have upended traditional roles to become the primary breadwinners for our families.

Even though I'm a working mom, in our household my husband and I have still stuck to fairly traditional gender least, on the surface. But like many families, we're slowly working toward a more equitable division of labor: both the kind that happens in the home and the kind that pads the bank account. 

And we're just one face of the changing modern family. Maybe in your partnership the roles have been completely reversed: you're working outside the home while he's caring for the kids and getting dinner on the table. Or maybe you're a single working mom, or both you and your partner work full-time outside the home. These days, there are almost as many different variations of work-life arrangements as there are individual families.

No matter how you and your partner juggle life, work, and kids, my "secrets" of happier motherhood can apply to you. Here are three I think are particularly relevant to working moms:

1) You don't have anything to prove. As a busy working-out-of-the-home mom, my sister Kathreen used to feel obligated to chaperone every possible school field trip and head up the PTA, just to prove she was really caring and involved. After many years of giving all her personal time to the school, she realized she was volunteering more out of guilt than because she felt really strongly about accompanying her child to the zoo...and as for the PTA, well, it was time to pass the baton. Lucky me--by the time I got to have school-aged kids, I was able to follow my sister's example and limit my volunteering without guilt. 

Sure, maybe some moms shake their heads behind my back because I don't appear to be as involved as they are, but who cares? I don't have anything to prove to anyone besides myself and my own family...and there are many ways to contribute that don't include a lot of classroom face-time.

2) Do what you're best at or enjoy most, and delegate the rest. I actually love to clean...a few very specific areas of my house. As for the rest? Between deadlines and a toddler hanging off my leg, there's no way I'd regularly get around to cleaning my own baseboards or dusting the ceiling fan blades. My solution is delegating. 

My kids and my husband pick up a lot of the slack, but because my husband also works and my kids are still pretty young, there's just no way we can do it all. So we have a cleaning person, Lynda, come in twice a month to do the real dirty work. Worried about affording her services, I did the math, and realized her pay is about the same as the cost of a premium cable package.

I ditched the cable and never missed it. On the other hand, I'd miss Lynda something terrible.

Cleaning is just an example, of course. From grocery shopping to cooking, from schedule-keeping to managing your finances, chances are good you'll do a better job of juggling if you delegate the stuff that brings you down or just doesn't seem to fit. 

If you can't afford to hire something out and it doesn't seem all that important, another option is just ignoring it. After all, will anyone really notice if your baseboards aren't clean? 

3) Deconstruct guilt.
"Don't feel guilty" is easier said than done. And I'm not totally anti-guilt: I think real guilt (the kind you feel when you freak out on your kid for no reason, for example) is a useful tool that can let us know when we are on the wrong path. But nothing gets in the way of making confident decisions and enjoying life like free-floating, non-specific guilt. Whenever I'm feeling vaguely guilty but can't quite pinpoint a cause, I ask myself questions like these:

  • Why do I feel guilty? Specifically, what did I do or not do?
  • Is somebody else's opinion causing this guilty feeling?
  • If so, does that person's opinion matter?
  • Have I actually harmed anyone?
  • Will my child (or spouse) remember this in a month? How about a year?
  • Is there anything I can do to make this situation better?
  • Are there positive sides that I'm not looking at?
And so on. Usually I find that the more I start to deconstruct what I'm feeling in relation to what's actually happened, the less and less guilty I feel. Sometimes I realize I'm feeling guilt over something silly, and that even though I, say, forgot to turn in the Scholastic book order (AGAIN), it isn't actually doing my child harm. Other times I realize that even though my child might be sad or disappointed (say, because I'm going away for the weekend for work) that there are positive sides (a fun weekend with Dad or Grandma!) and that I can ease his sadness with some special together time on my return.

Is Meagan's advice amazing, or what? I want her to move back to Chicago and next door to me so I can hear this kind of stuff every day, in person, over a glass of Pinot Noir. The only piece of wisdom I have to add is that just because you're working full-time doesn't mean you have to devote 100% of your nonworking time to your family. Meagan touches on the importance of pursuing your own interests in The Happiest Mom, but I find too many working women feel guilty about spending one more hour away from their children and avoid joining a book club, volunteering, or joining a roller derby team. I'm hear to tell you that you can do all of the above. Just not if you care to watch television ever again.

Do you want to win a copy of The Happiest Mom? Leave a comment here or on Facebook with your key to happiness, be it something you do...or something you don't. I'll select a winner in a week or so.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Passover

Why is this Pesach seder different from all other seders? For starters, because it was 90 percent read/led by my precocious 6 year old. But also because we continued a childhood tradition of dying hard-boiled eggs with Easter egg dye and placing the prettiest on the seder plate.
My in-laws joined us around the seder table this year, and while A barely made it through our abbreviated 30 minute seder without losing it, it was a pleasant meal and one my children are sure to remember. Josh cooked a fantastic roast chicken and matzo ball soup as well as sweet potatoes and homemade horseradish. I contributed the charoset and Smitten Kitchen's addictive chocolate toffee matzo, which I sprinkled with pecans and sea salt.

And I'm because I'm still not tired of sharing pictures of my new dining room...
Happy Passover!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Two toys I'm raving about: Tegu blocks and Uno

In advance of yard sale season, we've been going through a massive toy purge at our house. Our girls are getting older and it's becoming clear not only which toys they've outgrown (Little People), but which toys have staying power (Playmobil sets), which are only intermittently interesting (puzzles) and which can disappear without anyone even noticing (those poor neglected stuffed animals).

We've also brought two very small new playthings into the house. Remembering fondly my own childhood obsession with Uno, I purchased a deck of Uno cards for Z at Walgreens. Hands down, it is the best $6 I've ever spent. Not only does my 6 year old want to play every single day, Josh and I actually enjoy a quick card game or two against our strategic little Uno player. And since A knows her numbers and colors, she can play too, with some assistance.

I also accepted a toy for review for the first time in many months. Tegu is a socially responsible company that makes these marvelous wooden blocks embedded with tiny magnets. They sent me a $28 Tegu pocket set with a little woolen carry case (not much larger than a deck of cards) which I promptly slid into my handbag.

People, A gave up the iPod touch to play with Tegu blocks as she waited for her gnocchi to arrive at Jimmy's Place. And once again, the parent play factor can't be ignored. I love the little click the blocks make as they snap together into tiny wooden beds, desks, chairs and robots. The smooth wood surface is pleasant to handle, and with their perfect size and magnet attraction, the blocks are intensely satisfying to tinker with. They're pricey, but I'm tempted to buy more.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

An early taste of summertime

Winters in Chicago stink, but this city sure knows how to enjoy a warm day! With temps in the 70s on Saturday and mid-80s (!) today, we spent most of our time out-of-doors, rollerskating, scootering, yard sale-ing, biking and playing at the park. Z bonded with her buddies and A made new friends wherever we went. It was simply glorious.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Good enough is the new perfect: the book

It seems like the more I'm on my game at work, the less I shine at motherhood. And it isn't about time at the office versus time at the dinner table. I get home at a decent hour, but I've been so focused on ideation and creation and presentation that I seem to have misplaced my mommy mojo.

You see, Josh left to review a show last night and both girls were up late, fighting sleep and in tears two short hours after I was bragging about how easy they were to a prospective babysitter. And today I earned parenting demerits from Josh for making Buckeyes batter before lunch, for failing to get A to nap, and for letting the kids play at the park too long.

Good thing perfect parenting is overrated. In their new book Good Enough is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood (out April 19th), Becky Beaupre Gillespe and Hollee Schwartz Temple, the work-life balance columnists for the American Bar Association Journal, interview dozens of working women and comb through hundreds of surveys to determine what makes us happy. The answer, not surprisingly, is that the "good enoughs" among us are happier with our jobs, our spouses and our children than the "never enoughs." And while in our culture of perfectionist overachievers "good enough" is often interpreted as "you suck,"between the demands of our children, our jobs, our spouses and our own personal needs, something has to give. And it shouldn't be our happiness. Because you know what they say, if mama ain't happy, ain't no one happy.

Fortunately, I am happy. One of the hardest things about Josh and my gender-role reversal is I have to accept that--through practice and familiarity--he has become the more adept parent. He knows our children's routines and can read their moods better than I can. The bonus points I earned from breastfeeding and baby soothing (especially late at night) have long since expired.

My happiness comes from hanging up my supermom cape and realizing that my kids are thriving regardless of whether or not I'm packing every lunch, volunteering as room mom or watching them at swim practice. Not only that, I have obligations that take me away from my family multiple evenings a month. But I refuse to feel guilty about maintaining my friendships, nurturing my passions and staying fit. 

That said, I need to re-master the bedtime routine if I'm even going to qualify as a "good enough" mom.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book at no cost. I was not required to write about it and all opinions expressed are my own. 

Friday, April 08, 2011

Have you read Unbroken?

The story of Louis Zamperini, a ne'r do well kid turned Olympic runner who enlists as an officer during WWII, goes down with his plane and fights off sharks only to be further tortured as a POW in a series of horrific Japanese camps, is the focus of Unbroken, a newish nonfiction book by the same woman who wrote Seabiscuit.

My mom recommended it to me when she was last in town, and I suggested it to my book club, who gathered in my dining room to discuss it last night. I took a couple of photos before my guests arrived.

Note the new paint on the walls, the buffet I bought off craigslist last Sunday and the food. Emily set the bar high last time by serving a very English spread of shortcake, strawberries and homemade (!) lime curd for our discussion of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. How was I to keep up when Louie spends three-fourths of the book starving. I couldn't very well serve filthy, bug-infested rice balls or raw shark liver, so I pulled from Louie's Italian heritage and offered working mom-friendly antipasto assortment courtesy of Whole Foods and Trader Joe's: Parmesan-Reggiano and Provolone cheeses, a beef salami, marinated artichoke hearts, olives and Josh's homemade crusty loaf. "Dessert" was strawberries and Hershey bars.

IMG_2474Reading this book while following the crises in Japan was disconcerting, to say the least. On the one hand, I was watching the media's coverage of the immense challenges facing the poor, unfortunate elderly Japanese citizens living on the northwest coast and being reminded of the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. On the other hand, I was finally learning about horrors a very racist, brutal country inflicted on its neighbors and POWs 60 years ago and how Hiroshima could have been prevented had the Japanese not been so unwilling to accept defeat. All of us were surprised we'd grown up so well educated on the Nazis and the Holocaust and so fuzzy on the details of the Pacific front beyond the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

I recommend Unbroken without qualifications. It is a highly readable story about a truly inspirational character that gives today's reader a thorough education our war with Japan and a profound respect for the men and women of the greatest generation. At the very least, reading about the Louie's incredible trials (starvation, daily beatings, humiliation and torture) will put into perspective the relatively minor challenges we face today.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Changes are afoot in the Klein house

First it was the spring cleaning--clearing out toys my kids have outgrown and clothes I haven't worn all season for whatever reason. Then it was the rearranging of Z's room to accommodate a desk and chair and the clearing out of other rooms to get painted.

Last week we had our dining room, master bedroom, A's room and the bathroom professionally painted. I'm anxious to share before-and-after photos, but I want to wait until the rooms a little more "done." So I'm looking for rugs, reconsidering the placement of art and--in the most dramatic move--rearranging the dining room to make it less of a play area and more of a grown-up space.

Please, please arrive tonight!
The art table is going to go downstairs. The 7 foot bookshelf will be relocated or sold and a vintage sideboard (pictured) is coming in. I'll finally have a buffet and a place to store platters, extra silverware and the china set my mom's been threatening to give to me for the past decade!

Anyway, the piece is a 1958 Davis Cabinet Company Walnut buffet. Kate went with me to Edgewater to check it out in person last night and I handed over my $250 in cash. Called a mover I'd used to collect my dining room table and chairs and he agreed to pick it up after we finished our (delicious!) dinner at Big Jones. Only he got waylaid and now the plan is to have it picked up and delivered to Oak Park tonight. Fingers crossed all will go well.