Friday, November 23, 2012

A Thankful Thankgiving

Ada and her friend with post-parade hot chocolates
This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for...

Living a short train ride away from a world-class city...but one so accessible I can take two 5 year olds and an 8 year old to the Thanksgiving Day parade and immediately score them a "front row" curb seat to the marching bands, giant balloons, pageant queens, miniature horses, acrobats and Irish dancers. Also, my fellow city-dwellers are just so darn nice. When one of the girls whined that she was thirsty, a neighboring spectator--the same one who'd gamely tolerated them leaning against his folding chair every time they got up to fidget--handed over a sealed bottle of water.

Amazing friends who can cook. We joined our friends Jani and Steve and some old friends of theirs for smoked turkey and all the fixings. Josh made handcrafted gin-cranberry-rosemary cocktails and three pies: chocolate chess, sour cream apple crumble and pumpkin. I assembled a charcuterie/cheese board with three kinds of cheese from Whole Foods, olives, cornichons, fig jam, crackers and cured meat. Jani's old friend from Philly made 10 pounds of mashed potatoes, 10 pounds of sweet potato casserole and an almost equally insane quantity of stuffing. Zoe had turkey and 3 helpings of corn. Ada had a bite of turkey and an apple. I ate and drank myself silly.

A community where both of my kids can spend the afternoon at playdates and where we'll run into people we know at the ice rink and the shopping center. (Both happened today.) 

Speaking of our great community, I got to pay it forward a bit today. The phone rang at 9am, and it was a former neighbor who moved to Colorado at year ago. She was in a panic because a realtor was trying to show her house and her tenant was nowhere to be found. She asked me to run over to her house, find the hidden key and let the realtor and a potential buyer into the place. If you're in the market for a beautiful E.E. Roberts home across from Fox Park, it can be yours for $575k! 

And of course I'm thankful for my husband (and his great sense of humor), my job, my health (and health insurance, just in case), my smart girls and the awesome cat who is curled up on my lap and making it quite challenging to type this. I'm thankful for caring and generous parents and in-laws, lifelong friends (like Franny, whom I'm visiting next weekend), and most of all the local friends I love like family. As a foreign service brat who moved a lot as a kid, It was my dream that we would be able to raise our children in a welcoming, stable place where they could form close, long-lasting friendships. I didn't realize how much I would treasure that gift too.

Friday, November 16, 2012

I collect hobbies like hobbyists collect stamps

One of the ways I stay happy is by constantly learning new things and adopting new interests. My newest "thing" is indoor rock climbing, but it's only the latest in a long history of dabbling...

When I was a newlywed, it was knitting. I took a class at a yarn shop across from the old Children's Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park and then got to know the motley crew of knitters during weekly open knit nights. I also revisited two of my high school activities in those years, playing second base for my agency softball team and taking a pottery class at a local studio. Oh, and there was the fall I played co-ed flag football, which didn't kindle in me much of a passion for the game, but it did clue me in to the strategy behind the tackles.

We moved to Oak Park in 2003 and I found another local yarn shop (it's since closed). I oversaw the initial updating and decorating of our house and knitted the biggest, most complicated project I've ever completed, a 6 foot by 5 foot cabled blanket, but then Zoe arrived and parenting a newborn became my all-consuming passion.

By the time she was 1 1/2, I'd stumbled into the world of mom blogging. It's hard to believe now, but in those pre-Twitter and Facebook days, I was updating my blog two or three times a day, sharing videos, my own commentary on news stories and the requisite kiddo updates.

I was still in the thick of blogging when Ada arrived. She was just a few weeks old when I nursed her through sessions at BlogHer 07. But I longed for new challenges. First I changed jobs. Then I joined our Montessori school board and promptly got myself elected co-president. I decided to learn Hebrew and spent one year mastering the basics and a second year learning cantillation in preparation for my adult bat mitzvah. After two years on the preschool board, stepped down and then allowed myself to be recruited for our synagogue's young leadership training group.

Meanwhile, I joined Derby Lite and started skating 1-2 times a week. I joined a book club that meets once a month. And just last month, I dropped into a few open climbing sessions at FFC. I've since started their beginner climbing class!

Friday, November 09, 2012

MyStyle-I: Personal styling on a budget

Having access to a personal stylist is a dream come true for me. I don't have to go shopping or process returns. I don't have to figure out what looks good on me and think through  perfectly-layered outfits. But it's usually out of my price range. Either you pay a stylist a consultation fee or you go the route of Cakestyle, which was an awesome experience, but really designed for someone with much more expensive taste and a much larger pocketbook than me.

So when Marie Claire sales associate Cheryl Kogut reached out to me with a brand new business idea, I quickly agreed to be her first non-family, non-friend styling guinea pig. I sent her my measurements and a few of my favorite brands (as well as a link to my Pinterest board dedicated to fashion inspiration). Then we met face-to-face to review her process and discuss my goals (layered outfits, items that work with boots and tights, cool sweaters).

Then Cheryl went shopping. Her passion is online flash sales, where great designer items are sold for a steal. Plenty of fashionistas swear by them, but I don't have the time or inclination to check them daily or figure out how to incorporate a single, deeply-discounted item into my wardrobe.

About a month later Cheryl came to my house with bags and bags of goodies. She'd purchased me a $2488 fall/winter wardrobe for $1667.96, including tax and shipping. Of course, not every item fit, I wasn't crazy about the cardigans she'd brought and a few outfits fell by the wayside because one piece wasn't quite right. But I ended up loving an awful lot of it, buying 3 dresses, 3 pairs of Spanx tights, 2 scarves, a Rachel Zoe silk blouse and a pair of designer jeans for about $550 altogether. The Paige jeans ($158) and Rachel Zoe top ($129, reg. $295) accounted for about half of the total cost, but I felt like a million bucks in them. Seriously, now I know why people spend so much money on denim. This is the first pair of jeans I've ever worn that make me look like I have a nice ass!

Other items were real steals. A tie waist sweater dress from Spense & Cupio was only $32, marked down from $89. Cheryl paired it beautifully with a bordeaux scarf from Topshop ($36) and suggested chocolate brown tights and loafers. (I didn't buy the ones she'd brought, but found pair in my closet that worked.) The striped A-line minidress I'm wearing today (and tonight to see Louis C.K.) was $49.50 (originally $79), and she picked it specifically to wear with black Spanx and the tall black boots I had on when we initially met.

Cheryl makes money by charging a commission of 20% of each items' cost, but her extreme bargain-hunting ability pretty much guarantees you'll still be getting a good deal.

I've been wearing my new clothes all week, feeling pretty and getting so many compliments. If personal styling is something you've always considered buy haven't tried, this is your chance! Cheryl's website,, won't officially launch until January, but she is ready to start taking more clients and anyone who finds out about her through this blog will have her initial $25 consultation fee waived. Read on to learn more about Cheryl and her stylist services for the bargain-loving babe.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Get these things before you go to Disney World and save

Wearing their Target tees and clutching discount autograph books
Life got busy, but I promised money-saving tips for Walt Disney World (also applicable to Disneyland, I'm sure). Here they are, a full month late!

Buy the "must-have" Disney souvenirs before you go. If you have little girls, buy them official Disney Princess costumes at a discount store or even at the Disney Store (if high quality is a must) before you leave. You'll spend $20 versus $65-80 per dress and really, do you want your kid wearing a fancy gown in 90 degree weather, while eating a ketchup-covered hot dog? And if it's your thing, rest assured you can bring your own costume to the Bibbidi Bobbiti Boutique and just shell out for hairstyling, makeup and massive amounts of glitter.

You can also buy autograph books ahead of time. I got Disney-branded spiral books that came with a matching pen and a plastic carry case for about $5 on Amazon and my kids didn't notice that their books were any different from the $12 hardbacks sold on site.

T-shirts and other wearables should definitely be purchased ahead of time. You'll see everyone wearing Disney apparel, and even I felt a tug to join the masses (I resisted). But since t-shirts at WDW around $30 a piece, I'm so glad I got the girls their Mickey/Minnie tees at Target for $6.95. Actually, another mom stopped me outside a ride to ask me where I got their shirts, they were that cute. The Disney Store online offers lots of items on sale, including official park merchandise that you won't find at your local Disney Store.

Disney will offer you discounts to prepay for the Disney Photo Pass package, but since the official Disney photographers will graciously take your picture with your camera, you don't need to pay a premium to get everyone in the frame. But go ahead and use the pass while you're there. It's free to have the photos taken and to view and share them online for a limited time.

If your trip is still a few months away, look into applying for the Chase Disney Visa card. I received an application for the card that offered me a $200 Disney gift card, no fee for a year and Disney Dream Dollars (Disney gift card money) on all my purchases, from 1% to 2%. I put our vacation package on the Disney Rewards Visa and used the card for a few months. I ended up with well over $300 (including the original $200 gift card) that I could use for souvenirs (I wasn't a total Scrooge) and tips and wine/beer at our DDP meals.

We saved a little money by bringing the refillable mugs that came with our resort package to the parks to fill with water. But we wasted money on Disney ponchos (definitely something we should have purchase cheaply ahead of time).

I hope someone else finds these tips helpful. As the cast members say, "Have a magical day!"

Monday, November 05, 2012

Interview with Zoe on her 8th birthday

Sam covers Zoe with kisses
Zoe, getting kissed by her 3 year old cousin, Sam
Although she wasn't really into it (she's apparently 8 going on 13), I re-interviewed Zoe with exactly the same questions I'd asked her when she was turning 6. We had a low-key celebration this year with extended family (my sister, niece, nephew, mom and stepdad were all in town), our closest family friends and Zoe's BFF. We ate pizza and pasta from Freddy's Pizza and a cookie dough ice cream cake from Brown Cow. Although she missed out on the gift haul of a traditional birthday party, she loved the presents she received: a Harry Potter Lego set, a Harry Potter journal, books, a couple of craft kits and a iPod dock/CD player.

What is the best thing about being 8? Don't know.

What do you think will be the best thing about being 8? Don't know.

What do you wnat to be when you grow up? Author

Do you want to be 1 thing or many things? Two things, a mother and an author.

What is your favorite toy? Harry Potter Legos

What is your favorite book? Harry Potter books

What is your favorite TV show? Phineas & Ferb

What is your favorite song? I have a favorite singer, Taylor Swift

What is your favorite movie? Harry Potter movies. I've watched 5 of them.

What is your favorite restaurant? Freddy's Pizza

What is your favorite cereal? Cracklin' Oat Bran 

What do you love about Mommy? She is awesome.

What does Mommy like to do? Work

What do you love about Daddy? He gives me lots of things.

What does Daddy like to do? Work on the computer

What do you love about your sister? Nothing 

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

Where would you like to go on vacation this year? Hawaii

What will your house be like when you grow up? It will be a house sort of like ours. It will be colored tannish-brown. It will have 3 bedrooms, a dining room, a living room, a kitchen, a basement, lots of bookshelves and sort of fancy furniture like ours right now.

How many children will you have? What will you name them?  I will have two children names Rose and Ivy, if they're both girls.