Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Moving is exhilarating. And exhausting.

I just read a line in the Chicago Tribune about all of the things people would rather do than go through the mortgage approval process again. Public speaking. Gaining 10 pounds. Spending 24 hours with someone we really dislike. Even getting a root canal.

It was painful, but there was so much work to be done to move into our new (forever) home, that it was just one of many headaches I'm glad to be done with. I'm glad to be done fixing up our old house. I'm glad we don't have to stage it twice daily for looky-loos who would then leave comments like "cute house, but we don't like the street because there's no parking in front." I'm glad to be done negotiating home prices, inspection items and credits.

UntitledI'm glad to be done packing and purging, and I'm thrilled I don't need to wrap anything in paper or bubble wrap for a really long time. I'm glad that the money I'm spending from here on out will be on stuff I can see and enjoy versus services like movers and lawyers. I'm so sick of the chores associated with moving that I've been unable to sit down and relax in my new house because I'm so anxious to get unpacked and make it look like the home I've spent the last 6 months dreaming of.

The good news is that I'm really pleased with our new house. I should be, as I picked every detail, but you never know if the door pull or light fixture or crown moulding you picked out will look as good in real life as you imagined it from a picture online or in a catalogue.

UntitledSpeaking of online inspiration, I definitely couldn't have made the design decisions I did without Houzz. Creating boards of key rooms helped me identify the styles I liked best and articulate those choices to my builder. Some of my favorite features I can directly relate to inspiration I found on Houzz, like the built-in bookcase around the casement leading from the living room to the dining room, my white kitchen with black countertops and our built-in breakfast nook benches (which still need this table from IKEA).

Next on the agenda is setting up the basement family room, adding window treatments and hanging pictures and guitars on the wall. It's fun to look at all of our art and decide fresh what to put together and where versus having to find a home for a piece among everything else. I'll share more pictures soon!

Monday, December 02, 2013

Rediscovering the 1893 World's Fair at the Field Museum

Devil in the White City? I devoured Erik Lawson's true tale of a serial killer amidst the backdrop of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair shortly after it came out, in 2002. At that point I'd lived in Chicago for almost 8 years, half of which I'd spent at the University of Chicago.
Have you read

Lawson's book put the midway in Midway Plaisance, a wide strip of park and roadways that separated the main campus from a few of its northernmost buildings--including those where I took fine art classes and another where I made $8 an hour filing papers for a graduate department.

The 1893 Chicago World's Fair was a spectacle quite unlike anything we can imagine seeing today. Bigger than SXSW, the Chicago Auto Show and CES rolled into one, the World's Fair attracted an astonishing 27 million admissions, including 700,000 on a single day. Two hundred buildings were erected for the fair and an enormous Ferris wheel could be seen from miles around. It was a good 100 feet taller than the one at Navy Pier today! But more important than its sheer size was the diversity of the exhibits. There were taxidermied animals from around the world, just-discovered fossils, new inventions, advances in industry--and most shocking to those of us today--entire villages reconstructed and populated with native peoples from around the globe.

What I didn't know until recently is that the Field Museum was founded to commemorate the Fair and that museum's original collections consisted of items originally displayed there. Many of those curiosities are now out of the vaults and on exhibit. I took Zoe with me to check it out and test drive the museum's new app.

Being able to see items that once enthralled the masses at the Fair is a real treat. Zoe and I particularly liked the stuffed sea lion and model giant squid (look up; it's hanging from the ceiling), the Peruvian mummy (you can look inside it via interactive CT scan) and the photos of the "primitive" villages brought to the fair for Westerners to gawk at. Impressively, an Inuit group tired of being on display in their fur coats in the Chicago heat and walked off exhibit only to set up their own, more profitable independent showcase right outside the Fair grounds.

Screenshot of the app
We also test-drove the brand new Field Museum app, which you can download and connect to using the free wifi within the museum. Zoe, fan of all electronics, commandeered my phone and used the app as kind of scavenger hunt list.

"Look Mom, here's the Accounting Ledger! What's an Accounting Ledger?"

As wonderful as the World's Fair special exhibit is, it ended far too soon. So we exited through the gift shop and decided to look explore the rest of the museum. Periodically we'd see an exhibit with a QR code and we'd use the built-in scanner within the app. No dice. Even though the QR codes were green and looked for all intents like they'd work with the app, we kept getting error messages. Finally I scanned the QR codes with a generic scanner. That worked better, launching a cluttered but information-packed mobile website with additional content and videos. Still, it was surprising that the two functions couldn't be better linked.

Oils and preserved specimens, in their original vials

Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World's Fair is on display now at the Field Museum and will remain open through September 7, 2014. It is a ticketed exhibit, with a cost over and above regular admission. I recommend going right when the museum opens, at 9am, and parking nearby in the Soldier Field parking lot. Public transit is also an option as buses serve the museum campus. Use Google Maps for exact transit instructions.

I was selected for this opportunity by Clever Girls Collective, however all content and opinions expressed here are my own.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Epic Thanksgivukkah weekend

They say the blessings together so beautifully
Let's see, I took off Wednesday and headed to the Field Museum to see the 1893 World's Fair exhibit with Zoe (review forthcoming!). We followed that up with lunch at Manny's, where my half roast beef sandwich was so enormous I brought half of it home for Josh to enjoy.

I went back to Jesse Stone and picked a new top for the master bath vanity. We lit candles for the first night of Chanukah and exchanged gifts. Josh surprised me with a pair of Miz Mooz boots that I'd been coveting (and savvily pinned to Pinterest).
It's it pretty?
I made cranberry-ginger relish, challah-apple stuffing and French-style sauteed green beans with shallots and butter for Thanksgiving, which we celebrated at Jani and Steve's house again. It was a full house, with 8 adults and 11 children. It would have been 9 adults, but a dear family friend of Steve's passed away unexpectedly and he flew home to be with his parents and attend the service. Still, Jani did a very impressive job of hosting a bunch of people and smoking the humanely raised bird, a responsibility typically shouldered by Steve. Josh won Mr. Popularity by dint of his three homemade pies: chocolate chess, sugar cream and Dutch apple custard.

I did a little Black Friday shopping (mostly online, but also a brief foray into Target, where the girls spent some of their savings on Our Generation doll accessories for Ada's Chanukah doll from my mom). Josh and I saw Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Josh took the girls to see Frozen. We attended Friday night Chanukah/Shabbat services and I packed a lot of boxes, finishing Zoe's room, Ada's room, the garage, the playroom and much of the kitchen. We drove into the city to pick up even more boxes from a friend who'd just moved and stopped at the Brown Sack for lunch because hey, we were within 4 miles of it, and that's close enough to make their chocolate-peanut butter milkshake worth my while. I also had my first ever kimchi and cheddar grilled cheese sandwich.

Anyway, it was good I could pack so much into the Wednesday-Saturday morning period, because by yesterday afternoon I was seriously flagging and putting a hit on the Kleenex supply. Yes, I have a cold --  the worst cold I've endured since my kids were snot-nosed preschool germ factories. I spent today reading, drinking tea, downing DayQuils and packing (because no matter how much I pack, there's still so much more to do).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Monday, November 04, 2013

Happy 9th birthday, Zoe

Your school picture
As I sit down to write your annual birthday letter, you're in the basement, hollering and crying. I was hoping for a nice, calm evening. I'd interview you, as I do most years. We'd read together and then I'd tuck you into bed and get started on the clues for your annual birthday treasure hunt. But that warm and cozy vision might not happen tonight. Because you, my almost 9 year old daughter, are losing your shit.

You see, musical instrument lessons are offered to fourth graders, and you've been struggling with the trumpet. Your elementary school music teacher suggested the euphonium might be easier for you. Of course, the euphonium rents for fully double what the trumpet costs, and given that you've yet to meet your weekly practice time goals, I said I'd only upgrade you if you put some skin in the game. I asked for one week of 40-minute per day practice, 20 minutes on each instrument. And you freaked out.

You're an amazing kid, Zoe. You're an excellent student--an avid reader who also loves math. You continue to excel at gymnastics, adore Hebrew school and have a wide circle of friends. Yesterday, at your birthday party at Xtreme Trampolines, you took the time to introduce all of your invitees to each other and made sure no one felt left out. You're even nice to your sister some most of the time. You've just got an entitlement issue, and battling that is something I'm struggling to figure out.


Ten or fifteen minutes have gone by, and you've calmed yourself down and crawled into bed. You asked me to come up and read to you, and I explained that after how you've behaved toward me, that wasn't going to happen. Then you asked, nicely, if we could do the interview and I agreed.

What is the best thing about being 9? I don't know.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Author that illustrates her own books.

Do you want to be one thing or many things? Double, or maybe triple--author, librarian, teacher. 

What is your favorite toy? Legos and my imagination. And books.

What is your favorite book? The Harry Potter series and Percy Jackson series.

What is your favorite TV show? Phineas & Ferb.

What is your favorite song? I don't have one.

What is your favorite movie? I'll have to think about that. Beetlejuice.

What is your favorite restaurant? Salerno's, Pompeii and any kind of barbecue restaurants.

What is your favorite cereal? Don't have one.

What do you love about Mommy? She buys me stuff. And is nice.

What does Mommy like to do? Roller skate.

What do you love about Daddy? Really nice.

What does Daddy like to do? Go on the computer.

What do you love about your sister? Nothing.

If you could change your name, what would you choose? Elizabeth.

Where would you like to go on vacation this year? Mexico.

What will your house be like when you grow up? Cozy little house.

How many children will you have? What will you name them?  I will have two to three children. If two, they will be named Georgia and Ivy. If I have three, I will name them Lizzie, Jake and Samantha.

Last year's interview
Interview with 6-year-old Zoe
Interview with 4-year-old Zoe

Friday, October 25, 2013

The bliss of a weekend alone

Maybe I'm an introvert after all. I really enjoyed last weekend, when Josh took Zoe and Ada to visit his parents in Pennsylvania. New post up at Chicago Parent.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Me and my DNA

Most people at this point have heard of 23 and Me, the personal genetics company that--for $99--maps your DNA and reports back where your ancestors came from and what genetic diseases you may be a carrier for.

I've long been tempted to have my "genes done," so when our rabbi invited our synagogue to a genetics seminar (taught by a geneticist from among the congregation) and dangled a free membership to 23 and Me, I jumped at the opportunity (and not just because the session overlapped with Zoe's Hebrew school class and got up out of the house for yet another showing). Why free? Apparently the founder of 23 and Me spoke at the Conference of Reform Rabbis and offered all of them 100 free memberships to bring back to their communities.

Why rabbis? Jews belong to a particularly small gene pool and are thus much more likely to be carriers for genetic diseases like breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer and heart-breaking childhood conditions like Tay-Sachs disease and cystic fibrosis. Although interestingly enough, Jews do so much pre-pregnancy genetic counseling and prenatal testing that our Tay-Sachs incidence numbers are now lower than that of the general population. In fact, our gene pool is so small that pretty much all Jewish women are descendants of four female individuals. 

"Are those four women Sarah, Rebecca, Leah...?" a woman in the audience asked. "No," answered the rabbi, who went on to explain that while most Jewish men can trace their patrilineal lines back to Africa, those Jewish ancestors likely "left Africa and found nice non-Jewish wives in Europe."

As a product of intermarriage myself (Jewish mother and 5th generation Nebraskan dad), I can't wait to get the results of my 23 and Me test. I'm hoping that my diverse DNA won't show a lot of scary disease  markers, but I'd rather be aware and prepared than not.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Outstanding weekend

Long table, amazing view
Way back in March, my friend Anna suggested a group of us head to Louisville for an Outstanding in the Field dinner. Eight of us (four couples) purchased tickets and procured babysitters. My mom and Rick graciously agreed to fly out to Chicago and fill in for us for 3 days and 2 nights.

Planner extraordinaire in ivory
We stayed at the luxuriously quirky 21c Museum Hotel, which we'd enjoyed so much during our spring break trip to Kentucky in 2012, and had an absolutely amazing time, eating and drinking with our best friends, shopping (the boys for bourbon and the girls for vintage clothes) ... and running!  I am decidedly not a runner, but all three of my girlfriends like to run and frequently do so together. I finally got up the nerve to join them, and while I had to drop out early, I still clocked in 3 miles, which is longer than I've ever run before (not counting high school). My fitbit was very happy, and I built up an appetite for the fantastic food and wine we enjoyed on a hill overlooking a spectacular view of the Ohio River.

Incidentally, the farm is owned by the same family that owns the 21c hotels and Proof (we had drinks there the first night and Sunday brunch on our final day), among other restaurants and bars. They raise bison, rare breeds of super-fatty pigs (including one that isn't cloven), flowers, orchard fruits and lots of hay for their animals. Their farm—like the museum hotel—has oversized sculptures and quirky art installations around every bend.
Big bunny
Josh and I returned to Chicago rested and happy—and delighted to find our children hadn't completely driven their grandparents mad. In fact, it looked like Zoe and Ada had enjoyed a wonderful weekend as well.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mom's in town and the drywall's going in

I took today off work to spend time with my kids, who had a half day, and my mom, who flew in from Virginia to watch the girls over the weekend while Josh and I head down to Louisville with friends for a weekend of amazing food and drink. I spent the morning looking at granite, marble and cesarstone remnants, finally finding a suitable piece greenish limestone-looking piece for our master bath counter. Then I headed to the showroom to pick carpeting for the basement and talk paint with the designer, Lauren.

I also arranged to stop by the new house in the afternoon so I should take a look at the progress and show it off to my mom and her husband. When we got there, an enormous truck with a crane was swinging drywall across the sidewalk and up into the front door. But the guys on site graciously let us traipse around the house, which has framing, insulation, mechanical, electrical and plumbing installed.

20131010_150118 The siding has gone on the back and one side of the house, and I'm so pleased and relieved that I like my choice in both the siding and the aluminum trim.

Up next: finalizing paint choices and the stain for the wood floors.

But first: Louisville without kids!

Friday, September 27, 2013

I'm living a lie

Living in a "staged" home is beginning to wear on us, but our house has never been cleaner. Check out my Chicago Parent post.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Another house update

We toured our new house last Friday and since the walls have all been framed, we could finally feel what the space is like for the first time. Our living room is huge, the dining room seems like it is going to be perfectly proportioned for our furniture, and the family room off of the open kitchen is a little smaller than I'd envisioned.

All of the bedrooms are fantastic and the place is absolutely flooded with natural light from all the windows.

I've picked our siding (James Hardie fiber cement lap siding in Timber Bark), the trim (an aluminum cladding in Silver Mist) and our roofing material (GAF Timberline HD in   Weathered Wood), and every element of the kitchen has been selected save the hardware, which I continue to overthink.

Roof is on

View of living room from dining room
Me, in our bedroom
The girls, posing by two back bedrooms
The backyard looks bigger without a forest of weeds

Friday, September 13, 2013

Last weekend was a good weekend

I left work Friday a reeling a little from an unexpected reorg, but immediately met my friend Anna and headed up to Belmont Harbor for some trapeze action. We'd purchased a LivingSocial voucher 3 months ago for a picnic/Trapeze School NY Chicago experience and it was So. Much. Fun. Not only did we get to fly on the trapeze (and execute a "catch" while hanging from our knees--you can see the video here), we learned some fun partner acrobatic moves that I can't wait to ambush our friends with at the next get-together.

Then on Sunday, after spending the morning with Ada in her 1st grade Hebrew School family class, we had lunch at Smoque BBQ and spent the afternoon at the Renegade Craft Fair, which has grown absolutely enormous. The kids found all the child-friendly activities (photo booths, print-making and petting dozens of doggies) while I fingered scarves and handbags and ultimately bought some fancy soap. Actually, the kids made out better than me--Ada got a fox mask and Zoe scored a Megan Lee t-shirt to match Josh's.

Friday, August 30, 2013

House update

The roof is gone. The second floor is gone. The stucco's been ripped off and the interior walls, floors and doors have been demoed. Very little of the original bungalow will be left standing, but under the stucco and hidden behind the living room wall we did find 2 stained glass windows. They aren't to code anymore, so we can't use them in place of regular windows, but we are considering incorporating them in the house--perhaps as an attic window.

Front of the house
Living room, facing the street
Art glass on the right
After visiting the site, Josh and I drove up to Abt and ordered all of our appliances. We're getting an LG refrigerator and range, a Bosch dishwasher, a Broan range hood and a KitchenAid microwave, which will be installed in the peninsula. We also bought an LG washer and dryer, which I'm kind of giddy about. While certainly not top-of-the-line, all our household appliances are major upgrades from the mid-level Kenmore appliances we purchased from Sears in 2003.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A report on the first day of school

UntitledAda, at elementary school for the first time, is in a multi-age combination first and second grade class called "the Big MAC." (It's Big and a Multi-Age Classroom.) While one of the two teachers is new to the class (but not the school), it seems like a wonderful and very unique combination class that has the first and second graders doing a lot together. Ada's report from her first day of school was dominated by her explanation of the classroom's behavior chart (green smiles through red frowns), but she also said she got her pick her seat (next to her Montessori buddy Ami), her teacher was "mostly nice but a little bit mean," her class "earned two big Wows," and she almost cried on the playground because she didn't know where to put her lunch box during recess. "But I kept my tears in my eyes."
My self-proclaimed tomboy, Zoe entered fourth grade. She has a well-respected, seasoned teacher and many friends in her classroom. She reported that the first day's work was "too easy" and she can't wait for the gifted program to get back underway. She's also not thrilled about sharing a locker, but her locker buddy is in gymnastics and Hebrew school with her too, so many this will kick-start a friendship. After school, Zoe had a short break before heading to gymnastics practice. She moved up a level this year and has a smaller team of only 12 girls, which means a lot more personal attention from the coaches. So she's very happy about that.

I love seeing my girls excited about school and learning, but I don't think my enthusiasm is any match for Josh's, as he was very ready for the kids to return to school. He'll be volunteering in both girls' classrooms and keeping the house spotless for showings. What, did I forget to mention our home will be going on the market in early September?!

Monday, August 26, 2013

A perfect end to summer vacation

What do you do on the last day of summer vacation when one kid wants to build sandcastle on the beach, one kid wants to hit the pool in a neighboring town (the one you don't have passes to), you'd love to take a bike ride along the lakefront and your mother, visiting from Virginia, says she "doesn't long as we don't go to an amusement park like Kings Dominion"?

UntitledIf you're me, you head over to the Garfield Park Conservatory. Inside, the kids played hide and seek in the fern room while the grandparents wandered around identifying some of their own houseplants. But outside was actually the highlight. We usually head to the Conservatory in the middle of winter to get a bit of a green fix, so I'd forgotten how spectacular the grounds can be. Workmen were setting up for a free Shakespeare in the Parks performance to be held later that afternoon and the goats were off duty, but the city demonstration garden was brimming with fresh herbs and vegetables (even a few surprises, like an orange tree). The kids spent over a hour playing with the sticks, logs and palm fronds in the play garden, and by the time their elaborate games of pretend were winding down, some volunteers had set up a butterfly and ant learning activity. Zoe pretended to be an ant and used her nose to follow a trail to food. (A bee hive--did you know ants and yellow jackets raid bee hives for honey?).  Meanwhile, Ada drew a beautifully detailed picture of the tabletop ant farm and butterfly cage.

And my mom and Rick? They took photos, chatted and played a bit too.
After a few hours, we had exhausted the snacks I'd brought along and we were pretty hungry. So we walked over to Inspiration Kitchens, which is just half a block away. I'd read about the nonprofit restaurant before, but this was my first time dining there. I highly recommend it for a family friendly bite to eat. The portions are on the smaller side, but everything was made with fresh, in-season fruit and vegetables from their urban gardens and all the tips help pay for meals out for families who couldn't otherwise afford it. I had a very tasty watermelon, feta and mint salad, which was served over mixed greens with a lime vinaigrette.

By the time we'd finished our lunch/brunch (the girls had pancakes and I had coffee), it was hot, so we headed over to Rehm Pool. Due to the heat and everyone being back from their various summer vacation travels, it was so crowded we had to wait until folks left before we could get it. But we nabbed a deck chair, the water was gloriously cool, and we saw a bunch of friends--one set of whom took Zoe home for a steak dinner!

Finishing our perfect end to a lovely summer: the grandparents babysat while Josh and I heading to the Publican for dinner (al fresco!) with friends.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A mini beach vacation with friends

Since a) we're buying a house before the year is over and b) summer is Chicago's best season, we've been sticking pretty close to home. But we needed a little getaway and booked 3 nights at a VRBO rental home in Sawyer, Michigan with our friends.

The 4 bedroom manufactured house wasn't that close to the beach or particularly nicely decorated, but it was just the right size for 4 adults and 5 rowdy children, aged 2 1/2-8.

Here are a few photographic highlights from our trip. Not pictured is adults-only evenings on the deck, drinking wine and stargazing (which is infinitely more interesting with a stargazing app!).
Hours upon hours of sandcastle building
BFFs Zoe and Hank
Climbing to the top of the dunes in Warren Dunes State Park (hard!)
Fernwood Botanical Garden in Niles
So much delicious food
Raspberry and apple picking

You can see all of Josh and my photos here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Something for everyone: from Pitchfork to Shrek

Kate took this pic
This weekend had a little something for everyone, grown-ups and children alike. First, Josh and I took the kids to Union Park for day 2 of the Pitchfork Musical Festival on Saturday. It was decidedly for us versus for them, but after a lot of initial whining from Ada ("It's hot. It's loud. I hate this place."), they enjoyed their free ice cream and sunglasses. Ada rocked out to The Breeders with me and Zoe brushed up on bad words by wandering around, reading the t-shirts and rings for sale in the craft tent. ("There was the F-word and the S-word...")

 Sunday, we tagged along to a kid show, seeing Shrek The Musical at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier. And just as our children ultimately had a good time at Pitchfork, Josh and I enjoyed Shrek almost as much as Zoe and Ada. I hadn't seen the movie in many years, but this live stage performance brought it all back: the farting, burping ogre; his jive-talking donkey sidekick; the diminutive Prince Farquood and all the other mixed-up fairy tale characters. Only Puss in Boots was missing in action.

It's a funny show and fast-paced--the whole thing is only 85 minutes (no intermission). I brought a picnic lunch for us to enjoy afterwards in the gardens outside of the theatre, but Ada saw a few wasps on the flowers and completely flipped out. Instead of riding the carnival-style swings as planned, we had to hightail it out of there. Which is kind of a shame because CST offers the best parking deal on Navy Pier--about $14 for the whole day.
Mom's lap/bug defense zone

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Happy 6th birthday, Ada!

UntitledAda, looking at your lean limbs and confident stance, it's clear you're growing up and ready for 1st grade.

This year you became a more capable reader and excelled in your Montessori kindergarten. Just this summer you learned to ride a bike and aced the summer camp swim test, earning the coveted green wristband of freedom. My little thrill seeker, you'll jump at the chance to hurl yourself off the diving board, go down a water slide or ride a carnival roller coaster by yourself.

You're also a ham. The only thing you like more than attending musicals is being in the spotlight yourself. You loved your dance and theatre classes at SCAW (Summer Community Arts Workshops), and you're forever sitting me down on the couch to watch an over-the-top performance in which you gleefully play all the roles--director, narrator, dancer and all the roles.

And you're pretty good, too. You stayed in character for the overly long SCAW play, you recognize and sing along to pop and rock songs on the radio, and you can pick out a lot of tunes on the piano, having started lessons this past winter.

You are a true extrovert. You make friends wherever you go and are outwardly affectionate with all of them. When I visited you at camp, I marveled to see so many other kids run up and hug you and say hello. You had a sweet way of intertwining your arm with theirs and leaning in close to whisper in their ears. And be they family, friends, teachers or counselors--you love to sit on people's laps, hold their hands and touch their skin and hair. 

If I had a wish for you this year, it would be that you expand your limited palette (like your parents) and learn to love books (as much as your sister), but keep nurturing all those other fabulous qualities that make you uniquely Ada.

Happy 5th birthday, Ada!
Happy 4th birthday, A!
Happy 3rd birthday, A!
Happy 2nd birthday, A
Happy 1st birthday, A

Friday, July 12, 2013

Interview with an (almost) 6 year old

Ada and Oscar, buddies.

Although I'm not 100% consistent, I like to interview my children around their birthdays. Since Ada's birthday is fast approaching, here's an update from the inside of her head.

What's your favorite color? Blue.
Your favorite animal? Bunny.
TV show? Phineas & Ferb
What's your favorite toy? American Girl Dolls.
What's your favorite book? Rapunzel.
Do you have a favorite song? Ode to Joy.

What's your favorite thing to wear? Dress.
What's your favorite sport? Piano.
What's your favorite restaurant? Salernos!
Your favorite cereal? Kix.
Your favorite food? Pizza.

What do you like to do at school? Draw pictures.
What are your best friends? Aminatta, Jenna and Lyric. And Ella!

Where would you like to go on vacation this year? To Australia where there is penguins.
What do you want to be when you grow up? A hair salonist.

Where do you want to live when you grow up? Oak Park.
Do you plan to have children? Yes.

How many? Two.
Boys or girls? Girls. That are twins. Wait, I mean a boy and a girl that are twins.
Will you have pets? Yes. My pet is going to be a cat.
If you could change your name, what would you pick? Violet.

What do you love about Mommy? She is soft and warm and chubby.
I'm chubby? Yeah. I mean look at your arm, it’s all chubby!
What do you love about Daddy? He’s grumpy, dark and he looks like me.
What do you love about your sister? It’s hard to think of my sister. She’s funny.

What would you like to do when you’re 6 years old? Get my nails done.

Do you have a birthday wish? A new flashlight, because my flashlight’s gone.
Fearless swimmers!

Interview with an (almost) 4 year old -- Ada
Interview with an (almost) 6 year old -- Zoe
Interview with Zoe on her 8th birthday

Saturday, July 06, 2013

The Jungle Book at The Goodman Theatre

"Hey Zoe, since I took Ada to Oliver! you get to come with me to see The Jungle Book!"
"Is it at the middle school?"
"No, it's at the Goodman Theatre, near my office downtown."
"Then I don't want to see it."

Zoe missed out.

Almost 6 year old Ada and I had a wonderful time seeing Mary Zimmerman's new musical adaptation of "The Jungle Book," which is based on both the Disney animation and Rudyard Kipling's book. It's been updated with Indian-inspired music, dance and costumes for a delightful, eye-popping show that could very well follow in the paw prints of Broadway's The Lion King.

I loved every minute of the show, but the highlights for me were seeing (and hearing) "Colonel Hathi's March (The Elephant Song)," "I Wanna Be Like You," and "Bare Necessities." "The Jungle Book" was one of my very first records and I spent so much time looking at the record sleeve I can close my eyes and picture it. Now I have new imagery to recall--like the undulating hoops of Baloo's costume that helped actor Kevin Carolan lumber in a very convincingly bear-like fashion; the wolves' tails, which popped straight up when they were alarmed; and the elephants, essentially upright soldiers with large gray ears and wrinkled boots. I should note that all of the animal costumes were suggestive rather than realistic (think an orange striped maharaja-style outfit for Shere Khan), but the actors brought them to life through such convincingly animal-like movements and gestures. Look out for the scene when Kaa hypnotizes Mowgli--the snake is actually a mesmerizing dance performed by the ensemble with children's plastic balls.

The Jungle Book is appropriate for all ages, but at 2 hours 15 minutes long, it probably is best for kids old enough to sit still for extended periods of time.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Our weeklong test drive of the Ford C-MAX

20130627_192443Josh and I are slowly readjusting to our 2005 Honda CR-V after spending a week behind the wheel of a brand-new Ford C-MAX. Frankly, going back to an older, unsexy, non-hybrid car is hard. I'm suffering from withdrawal.

A little background on the C-MAX. It's basically Ford's answer to the Toyota Prius. Unlike the Hyundai Sonata or the Honda Civic, you don't get to choose between hybrid and traditional gas engines (paying a premium for the former). The C-MAX is all-hybrid (regular hybrid or plug-in hybrid). It's heavier and roomier and way more fun to drive than a Prius, but both Josh and I were disappointed we never quite reached the lofty 47/47 mpg promised.

In fact, driving like a cautious old lady — easing out from a full stop, gliding slowly to a halt, and generally adhering to the speed limit, with few exceptions —  Josh was once able to average around 40 or so mpg, and that factored in 10 minutes of circling around O’Hare, waiting for me to get off my flight from San Diego. Driving like a normal human, we got closer to 30mpg, which is not bad, but not great, given that is around what the much bigger and more powerful Toyota Highlander hybrid supposedly gets.

Boo: 29.1 MPG, Yay: 3/4 tank after 1 week of driving
That said, there’s something noble about a car that rewards better driving habits with better mileage. Sure, that holds true for conventional engines as well, but our CR-V would never get close to 30 or 35 mpg no matter how carefully we drove. Dashboard graphics make getting better mileage into something close to a game, and a fun one at that.

The environmental appeal of hybrids is very attractive, at least as far as emissions go (materials/battery production/disposal is another matter). But there are other positive environmental considerations as well, such as the quiet driving and idling, which cuts down on ambient street noise. We've also heard stories of hybrid drivers getting 500k to the car, which is incredible. (I believe the premium pays for itself once you make it to 75k, or somewhere between 5 and 10 years.)

Josh had read horror stories about the operation of the hands-free trunk opener, but it not only worked for us, it frequently came in handy. I loved walking up to the car with the key fob in my bag and having the doors unlock. Then, a quick kick under the rear bumper and the liftgate would swing open (or closed). Very handy for a parent carrying a child or an armload of groceries.

The backseat was spacious for two children in booster seats and quite comfortable for the two adult friends I put back there for the 30 minute drive to and from King Spa.

I miss navigating the car's large touchscreen to control the climate, browse through satellite radio and access the built-in navigation system. My next car will definitely need to have Sirius, push-button keyless start, voice command, and Bluetooth connectivity with my phone. (I should mention here than as much as Josh also enjoyed exploring satellite radio, he thought the stereo was "boomy and boxy.")

I would also like my next car to have the responsive handling and fun-to-drive pep of the Ford C-MAX. It reminded me a bit of the VW Jetta and Beetle.

But here's the rub: our next car really should be a 6 or 7 seater. With two elementary-aged girls, we're right in the thick of car pools and play dates and as nice as it would be to enjoy the C-MAX's bells and whistles...It is actually a bit smaller than our current ride. We ought to go bigger. And the pool of hybrid vehicles from which to choose is really small. It's basically the Highlander. Which is nice and all, but a whopping $20k more than the C-MAX and not nearly as fun to drive.

I guess it's a good thing we won't be making a car purchase until we close on our new home. If we wait long enough, we may end up seeing some new car options come onto the market.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The night Zoe ran away with the circus

Thursday evening at 5:15pm, I hop on the train. It's early and I've been working long hours, but I'm not going to miss Zoe's 6:30 circus show. The sun is shining under partly cloudy skies as I leave the office. By the time the El emerges above ground, around 5:40, Josh texts me to ask if I have an umbrella with me.

No, I type back, why? He replies something about noisy thunder and, indeed, I see a few sprinkles outside the train.

Then, about one or two stops from home (it's 5:50 now), the sky opens up with the biggest, most intense rainstorm I've ever experienced. It was positively hurricane like. The ramp leading from the Oak Park blue line station to Oak Park Avenue is covered and has walls about 2/3 of the way up each side. And yet, the rain was so wild, so horizontal, even those carrying umbrellas were soaked clear through in a matter of seconds.

Josh picked me up,  but I was so thoroughly drenched I had to strip off all my clothes--undies included--the minute we got home.

As soon as I'd changed and Zoe put on her "outer space-inspired" costume, it was time to head out for her 4-week Circus Performance Camp showcase. The rain stopped as we stepped outside and a beautiful double rainbow followed our route to Beye School.
double rainbow

And that is when my phone camera stopped cooperating with me. A combination of low battery, quick act changes and user error kept me from recording any video of Zoe's amazing circus acts. She performed a combination of tumbling, dance and prop manipulation in the opening combination, twisted herself into a pretzel while hanging in the silks and got to be the star of the acrobatics routine. At one point, she and another small girl latched onto each other--head to legs--and did a series of double cartwheels and attached front walkovers. She has video of them doing something like 40 in a row on her camera, so we'll post that at some point.

This is the sole evidence of Zoe's participation.20130627_191000_3666
It was a fantastic show and Zoe loved the camp so much she's said she'd like to be enrolled every summer she's eligible. "When I'm 9 and 10 and 11 and 12 and 13!"

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Peek at the renderings of our new house

As promised, I'm sharing the 3-D renderings for our new home. Our builder will be submitting the plans to the village this week, but we've warned they've very slow to approve. Anything less than 6 weeks is considered "lucky."

Exterior view (houses on each side not pictured)

First floor, front of the house
First floor, rear of the house

Living room
The living room will have built-in shelves along the west wall, which you'll walk through/under to get to the dining room. This rendering isn't 100% accurate as I've moved the coat closet next to the stairs to the foyer. It makes the foyer a little more cramped, but opens up a lovely space just beyond the steps where we can (eventually) place an upright piano.

This view of the dining room is from the "hallway" near the kitchen versus the living room.

Family/breakfast nook

There is a family room off of the kitchen where we can watch TV from a couch and eat casual meals. Pictured is the L-shaped breakfast nook bench built into the northeast corner. If you look at the birds-eye view of the first floor, you can see the mudroom off the family room.

Second floor
Here's a fly-over view of the second floor. In the front of the house is the master bedroom, with two large walk-in closets and a master bath with double sinks. There's a second floor laundry room (!) and two linen closets, one in the hall and one in the master bath

All three of the other bedrooms are larger than my kids' current bedrooms and they also have decent sized closets. The hallway bath has two separate vanities, which initially struck me as quite unusual, but which I think my girls will love having as they grow into adolescence.

Another view of second floor
I don't have any renderings of the basement, but it will be partially furnished, with an additional full bath.

As for the exterior, the house will be sided or shingled with Hardie Board, a maintanence-free composite that looks remarkably like real wood. I haven't decided on a color yet.

Next week I start picking the finishes for my kitchen and baths. Starting from scratch might seem little overwhelming, but I joined Houzz and started some ideabooks so I could capture inspiring interiors to reference throughout the design process. Turns out I really like white cabinetry, dark countertops and industrial pendant lighting.