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