Sunday, May 29, 2011

Grand Rapids getaway

"Going anywhere for Memorial Day?"
"We're headed to Grand Rapids for a couple of days."

I must have had this conversation a half-dozen times in the last week. Apparently Grand Rapids, Michigan, isn't exactly known for being a vacation destination. But I'd won a 1-night getaway via a blog contest and I wasn't going to let a free hotel night and a fistful of attraction passes go unused. We initially planned on staying a second night, but both of the girls woke up on the wrong side of the bed Friday morning and were absolute pills on the way to GR, so before we'd checked in, we agreed to make the most of a shorter (and entirely free) stay.

Our first stop was the Grand Rapids Public Museum, which is kind of a like a mini-Smithsonian with a wide-ranging collection that throws together natural science, local history and cases full of curiosities. The girls loved the room of 500 dolls, the exhibit of immigrants to the area and the restored carousel, while I lingered in the most elaborate exhibit: Furniture City (Grand Rapids was built on the furniture industry).

But as interesting as the museum was, for a 6 and 3 year old, nothing beats the thrill of checking into a hotel. The Country Inn and Suites was Z's dream come true: free Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, a library shelf full of books you could borrow, a heated indoor pool (which we had all to ourselves) and an extensive breakfast buffet with a juice dispenser and DIY waffles.

"Mom is mad"
The following day we packed in two breakfasts (one at the hotel and one at a place reputed to offer "the best breakfast in Western Michigan) and visits to the awe-inspiring Fredrik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park and the so-fun-we-had-to-drag-them-out Grand Rapids Children's Museum before heading out of town. On the way home we stopped for a very late lunch and cherry crisp at a Crane's Pie Pantry, which we've been visiting for their homestyle food and bottomless glasses of apple cider since I was 4 months pregnant with Z. Before we piled into the car, we let the girls run around the apple orchard. And they were perfect angels for the 2+ hour drive home in the pouring rain (although the DVD player running Lilo and Stitch probably had something to do with that).

Want to know more about what we ate? Read Josh's food blog. More pictures can be seen here.

Z took this picture

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A breathtaking production of Peter Pan

You may have see seen the 100 foot high circus tent at the corner of Chicago Avenue and Halsted, but unless you attend a performance of threesixty's Peter Pan, it's impossible to grasp the magic of what's happening inside those white canvas walls.
I saw the show Wednesday night with my friend Jani and our first grade daughters. Although no one sits more than a dozen rows from the stage, we were in the fifth row--close enough to see the stripes on Wendy's nightgown, the seam on Captain Hook's socks and the clothespins and neckties holding together the ingenious two-puppeteer contraption that is the Crocodile.

The show is done theatre-in-the-round style, but with two added bits of magic. The actors whip through the air like acrobats, unimpeded by tent poles; and every member of the audience gets to experience the sensation of flying thanks to the production's one-of-its-kind 360 degree movie screen backdrop. As Peter, Tinker Bell, Wendy and her brothers soar out their nursery window, we're transported over the rooftops, London Bridge and 400 square miles of CGI London. The girls' eyes widened and mine got a little teary (I'm a sap like that). Jani was suitably impressed but felt a little seasick.

This is not community theatre. Sparing no expense, the sets, costumes, effects and acting are all top-notch. If you're familiar with Walt Disney's Peter Pan, you'll find this telling of the story familiar. But the idiosyncrasies of threesixty's production are so creative and amusing they made for some of my favorite memories of the play: the animals played by fully visible puppeteers; the mermaids performing aerial acrobatics as the screens took us into an underwater realm; and Mr. Darling emerging at the end of the play from... well, you'll have to see that bit for yourself.

I was provided with free passes to the show and complimentary refreshments. Tickets start at $35/adult, $20/child and can be purchased at the Tribune Tower box office or online. We parked 1 1/2 blocks east on Chicago Avenue for $8.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

No more cheap sunglasses

Until now, I have never owned a pair of fancy sunglasses. Typically I buy pre-smudged, pre-scratched shades for $15 or less at the drugstore.

Last summer I classed it up a touch, spending $20 on "designer" shades from Filene's Basement. Since I managed to avoid losing them for an entire year, I felt like I might finally be ready for a pair of grown-up sunglasses.

Expensive sunglasses.


Crappy Blackberry self-portrait
I picked out my favorite pair at Sunglass Hut, but forgot my wallet. Used that as an excuse to scour the internet for a cheaper price, but figured the $15 I'd save buying them online from some sketchy sounding site wasn't worth the wait--particularly since we've got a mini roadtrip coming up this weekend.

So what do you think?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bad guys

My fearless child
This weekend Z came racing into the kitchen to tell me A was on the sidewalk, 2 houses away. I ran outside and shouted out her to come back, reminding her that she's not allowed to go outside without telling a grown-up and she certainly can't walk away from the house "without a big kid or an adult."

Carried away, I finished with "I need you to be safe. What if there was a bad guy out there?"

"Bad guys are just pretend!" A retorted.

Given that the kid's not even 4 yet, and I don't want to scare her with the terrifying but ultimately very remote possibility of encountering a "bad guy," I let that slide. But it might be time to check out that Stranger Safety video again.

Also from this weekend, the annual gym show!

Z leads the Super Mini Stars
A and the Young Mini Stars

Saturday, May 21, 2011

May his memory be a blessing

The first 12 years of Blessing's life pass in comfort. Her father is loud and drinks a lot, but in her eyes, he is the lovable big man who swings her and her brother up onto his shoulders as soon as he returns home from his cushy government job.

Then her mother catches him in the arms of another woman and flees Lagos to move in with her parents in their primitive rural home. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away  is the coming of age story of a girl uprooted, a family in turmoil and a country in chaos.

Seeing her father for who his really is--not the king of the family, but a flawed character -- a failure, really--is key to Blessing's initiation into womanhood.

And so relatable. I was 8 years old when my charmed childhood came to a screeching halt. Dad had an affair and my parents separated. I met the Other Woman. I hated her. I hated my Dad. Divorce was on the table.

Although my parents reconciled and the separation only lasted about half a year, my father's betrayal forever colored my opinion of him. I admired his charm, his professional successes and his smarts, but I couldn't shake the feeling that deep down he wasn't a good person.

My Dad died of a sudden heart attack 9 years ago this week. When loved ones die, Jews say "May his memory be a blessing," and my father's memory is a blessing.

A mixed blessing.

I received my copy of Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away as part of my membership in the From Left to Write Book Club. Instead of critical reviews, we write posts inspired by the book we've read.

Friday, May 20, 2011

If the bra fits...

Many experts believe that men's underwear sales are a leading economic indicator. When the economy's bad, they'll wear threadbare briefs, but when they are feeling flush, they'll splurge on new pairs.

I think I may be a man.

While I've actually made a major effort to invest in cute panties this year (l'm a fan of the Gap's cotton hipster style), my bra collection is bordering on vintage. I've got a drawerful of Wacoal and Body by Victoria bras I've purchased over the past 8 years, but since the Loehmann's where I bought the Wacoal bras closed and Victoria's Secret smells like a cross between a florist and a whorehouse, I've been letting my underthings get a little long in the tooth.

So when Wacoal invited me to get professionally fitted and gifted, I yanked off my shirt faster than you can say "Show me your tits." They say most women are wearing the wrong size bra, but at first measure, I was still the 34C I knew myself to be. But even within the same brand, not all bras are the same. And the cute bra I picked out from Wacoal's sexier, more youthful b.tempt'd line fit me better in a 32D.

The fitter advised me that when looking for a perfect fit you want to make sure the band doesn't creep up your back. Sometimes that means going down a band size and up a  cup size. She also gave me this great shopping tip: buy a bra that initially fits on the tightest hook setting. As you wear and wash it, it will eventually get stretched out and you can adapt by fastening it a bit tighter.

Josh, a champion of cute new undies, is also lending strong support to the purchase of sexy new bras. Funny how that works.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Old photos bring back a flood of memories

Me and Eleanor, 6 and 4
Nancy in kitchen
I remember the napkin holder and bowl
My mom bought a slide converter and has been uploading old photos to the web this week. Most of them are from 1980-82, so I was roughly the age my children are now. Many pictures are ones I've never seen before, and it's amazing how small details bring back a flood of memories.

Seeing my sister and I glumly posed in matching embroidered peasant dresses reminded me of how much we hated to be dressed in itchy, identical clothes (although similar outfits in different colors those pictured here were okay).

Most impressive is how seeing little details of our home has brought back so many tactile memories of day to day life as a child. Gazing again upon the rag carpet, cane-backed dining room chairs, plastic tablecloth, concrete block bookshelves and the cheap woodgrain storage drawers where Dad kept his cassette tape collection gets me wondering how much of our daily existence is burned deep within my children's memories. What will they remember?
Those suspenders were a prized possession

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Learning Goal Fair

On the drive to the local elementary school after dinner, Josh complained he wasn't feeling well. He snapped at the girls, asking them to keep their voices down. I warned him that the volume in the car was nothing compared to what he'd hear at the Learning Goal Fair.

And I was right. Oh Lord, how right I was. The classroom was packed cheek to jowl as parents and other students (and their parents) squeezed through, gaping at the posterboard displays on Parts of the Butterfly, Square Foot Gardening, Flags of My Family and Justin Bieber. I was proud to see that Z's was one of the projects clearly completed with virtually no parental help. Some looked like Mom or Dad had done the bulk of the work.

Sick Josh bailed 20 minutes in and went home to crawl into bed, leaving me with a hyper 1st grader and a 3 year old beyond excited to join the big girls (Z and her similarly skinny and bright BFF) as they showed off their research projects and chased down their friends ("There's Gabe--let's go chase him!").

I'm not proud to say I actually lost the girls for about 10 minutes.

Still, I found them, brought them home and put them to bed by myself. Did I mention I got my mommy mojo back? Thank you 1-2-3 Magic.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

When life gives you lemons, you walk

Image courtesy of Derby Lite
In my head I imagined lacing up my skates with 100+ Derby Lite gals and gliding along the lakefront for today's ACS Walk & Roll. My only worries were sunburn and what I'd wear--leggings, Derby Skinz or both?

But it seems someone pissed off Mother Nature in a big way. From last weekend's picture-perfect weather to the record 90 degree high on Wednesday, the mercury went plunging to a bitter 42 degrees. Add wind and rain, and you have a pretty good picture of what things looked like this morning in Grant Park.

Still, 37 Derby Lite troupers walked 5 miles in the cold and wet, blowing on our fingers, wiggling our numb toes and sharing memories of the grandparents and parents we'd lost to cancer. As a group, we've very close to raising a total of $100,000 over the course of the last 4 years. Just an extra $25 per participant will put us over the edge. If you haven't already sponsored me, would you consider doing so now?

Friday, May 13, 2011

The whiny post

It's a cliche to complain that my life is busy, I know. But the last month has been such an overwhelming blur that I'm (almost) savoring 2+ hours of alone time. Even if it is with a glass of mediocre Merlot at the Cincinnati airport bar.

What's been keeping me go-go-going? It's not one thing. It's the pace of my job. We're working on more projects and at a faster pace than before and the boss I've loved working for just moved up and off the business. The good news is that he isn't being replaced and I'm getting to fill his role. The flip side is that I feel enormous pressure to not only do my job perfectly, but to keep my team, my account counterparts and my clients happy.

Add to that my position at our local Montessori school. I'm winding down after nearly 2 years of service as co-president of the board, but every time I feel like things are going really well, another fire flares up. It's emotionally exhausting to deal with so many personalities and issues and try to do the right thing all the time. And thing is, I care. I really do. Even when my term ends in the late summer, I can't wash my hands of the school. I love the community and I'm committed to sending A there for another 2 years.

There's the change in the seasons, too. While I love spring and summer and my mood thanks the sun for every moment of light and warmth, with the warmer weather comes more commitments: soccer games, gardening, picnics, yard sales, festivals and impromptu gatherings with friends and neighbors tempt the minute I leave work and all weekend long. And longer days make it harder to wind down the kids after dinner. Because who wants to take a bath and read a book when there's a basketball game outside your window?

Speaking of the kids, A is fully in the throws of the terrible 3 and three-quarters (to borrow a phrase from Whitney, who's daughter Scarlett is the same age). She can throw a temper tantrum like nobody's business, and there's no "hey, look at this fun toy!" distraction possibility like there was a year or so ago when she could be "redirected."

If you've been reading my blog for long or know me personally, you know I'm not usually such a Debbie Downer. So I'm going to end this post and try to cheer myself up with 3 2 Things to Look Forward to this Weekend.

1. I'm skating 10 miles in the American Cancer Society Walk and Roll on Sunday. It's still not too late to sponsor me! I've raised $742 and my team as a whole is up to $30,000+.
2. Friends are coming over for dinner on Saturday evening.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Happy Mother's Day to Me

Paul Goyette took this picture right before A's recital
My loot:
Josh bought me fancy beer and liquor and loaded up the iPod Shuffle I'd won with workout music. I ran 2 miles listening to Lady Gaga and 3 repeats of Faith No More's "Be Aggressive" (maybe I won't use the shuffle in shuffle mode next time).
Z brought home a "breakfast in bed" bag she'd assembled at school that included an orange, a packet of instant coffee, a homemade blueberry muffin and "If You Give a Mom a Muffin," a clever spoof of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie," her teacher wrote and Z illustrated.
A gave me a flower seedling, a hand-painted card and an extra half-hour of sleep.

My day:
I let Z skip Sunday school and we all had brunch on the patio at Maya del Sol. We played at the park for a hour or so before Josh and I left the girls with a sitter and impulsively headed downtown to see Werner Herzog's 3D Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Probably a bad idea to waste a beautiful afternoon sitting in the dark watching a film about cave paintings, but it was pretty fascinating nonetheless.

For dinner had our neighbors over and fired up the grill for the season's first brats, dogs, coleslaw and s'mores. Eaten outside.

I couldn't have asked for a better Mother's Day. And that's taking into account the fact that A threw a world-class, every-neighbor-could-hear-it fit over not getting "the pink cup" at dinner.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


A has been driving us crazy with her temper tantrums, refusal to nap and general orneriness, but her friendships with other little girls are blossoming. [Focus on the positive. Focus on the positive.] Check out these snaps of her with one of her BFFs, Rachael. Not only is she a classmate, she's the younger sis of one of Z's best friends and soccer teammates.


Monday, May 02, 2011

Shake hands with a hero

I hope Osama bin Laden's death brings a measure of comfort to those who lost loved ones on 9/11. The timing, however, is serendipitous. Just last night, two hours after Obama broke into a broadcast of Celebrity Apprentice (and eight long years after President Bush declared "Mission accomplished"), my team launched a digital program for Kroger and Procter & Gamble that lets all of us show our gratitude to American servicemen and women.

Please participate at Our goal is to get 50,000 people to offer a virtual handshake to one of the 300+ Kroger grocery store employees who active duty soldiers in the service.