Friday, December 26, 2014

New house stuff by local South Oak Park artists

Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas, all. I'm writing this post on my best, most useful Chanukah gift, a Chromebook that Josh got for me and the girls. The girls got mostly practical gifts--long underwear, slippers, bathrobes and board games. I managed to surprise Josh (a.k.a. the hardest person in the world to shop for) with a North Face jacket, America's Test Kitchen's Meat cookbook and a monthly sock subscription.

There are two new items in our house that weren't designated as holiday gifts, but that are giving us much joy. (Hint, I'm not talking about the strep and cold viruses.) Both were made by fellow moms from my daughters' elementary school.

Jen McNulty specializes in photo mosaics, and this one brought together 125 family photos along with tiles that pick up the color scheme from our living room. I don't display a ton of family pictures around the house, but now I have 4 generations from each of our families represented. Untitled

We also needed a dresser for our guest room. I'd been trolling consignment and thrift stores looking for the right one, but hadn't found the perfect dresser. Solution? Work with local mom Anne of Annie's Attic to custom-design a refinished second hand dresser. She'd found the piece; I picked the milk paint color and stencil design direction (with input from 7 year old Ada). Now Ada has a lovely new dresser and her IKEA dresser is in the guest room. Isn't it lovely?
A post about the rich artistic talents among the parent body at Lincoln Elementary would be remiss if I didn't also mention a new vintage and upcycled furniture shop owned by Melody Kratz, Studio 8. It's right across from the post office on Garfield Avenue. I haven't bought anything there yet, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Christmas Carol at the Goodman

Sunday evening it was cold and wet. Ada and I took the Blue Line into the city. We huddled under my umbrella and hustled up Dearborn to the Goodman Theatre, where we got to see A Christmas Carol. Clearly I'm not Christian, but I love this story and the Goodman does it better than anyone else.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet-to-Come are so imaginatively realized--as a pale, wiry Cupid, a Victorian Oprah-esque diva and a 12 foot tall empty cloak.

The diverse, all-ages cast isn't huge, so there are a handful of actors playing more than one part. I thought that might prove confusing to my 7 year old, but she was so enraptured by the storytelling magic she didn't notice that the Boy Scrooge looked remarkably like Old Joe's assistant and the ruffian sent off to buy a turkey for Cratchits once Scrooge wakes up from his transformative night.

I was surprised there weren't more children in the audience since I think of A Christmas Carol as a classic holiday tradition for families. Ada found the loud booms that accompanied the arrival of the ghosts a little frightening, but she never once turned to ask me what was happening. In fact, as we were riding home she looked out the train window said "I think was all—the ghosts and everything—they were just a dream for Mr. Scrooge."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The long-overdue tale of buying our new car

Josh and I had been kind of sort of shopping for a new car for the last year and a half (maybe longer!). We put our looking on hold when we put a contract down on our new house, but it wasn't too hard to postpone making a purchase because the only car Josh wanted at the time (a late model used Toyota Highlander Hybrid) was super expensive. And I thought it drove like a boat.

We thought we'd buy a car over the summer, but we found the Mazda CX-5, a super cute looking crossover with good gas mileage, was a little too stiff and sporty and the back seat windows were so high the girls couldn't see out. We liked our 2005 Honda CRV, but thought the new ones were ugly. The new Toyota RAV4 got iffy safety ratings and buying a Subaru Forester meant Josh would literally be driving his mom's car.

More importantly, I really wanted a third row. It would save our parents from having to rent a car when visiting and would make it kid hauling so easy and convenient.

But here's the thing. If you want a fuel efficient car with great gas mileage and a third row, your options are very limited. The Mazda 5 microvan was too uncool. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid was awfully big and cost a mint. And we couldn't find a used Toyota RAV4 with the optional third row anywhere.

But there was the all-new redesigned Nissan Rogue, and it was getting good reviews. Having had a good experience purchasing our old CRV from Continental Honda, I emailed Continental Nissan requesting information on the Rogue. I exchanged a few emails and calls with the rep, who was mercifully low-pressure, and explained that I wanted to test drive the Rogue, but only with the Family Package. He didn't have any in stock, but promised to stay in touch.

A month later, he wrote that there was a Rogue with the Family Package on the lot. We went over to check it out and liked it a lot--even though it was the fairly low frills base model. I know better than to make a decision on the spot or start haggling, but I really wanted that car. I emailed my salesman (a 24 year old former football player), basically asking him how close he could get to the dealer invoice price on a Rogue with both the Family and Premium packages. I wanted to negotiate up from what the dealer paid rather than down from MSRP. We arrived on a price (I basically agreed to pay delivery) and he said he could get me exactly the car I wanted--it was just 200 miles away and could be transferred to Countryside ASAP.

It was almost the perfect transaction. But the dream car--in my ideal shade of blue--sold to someone else. It was the end of the month, so the dealer scrambled to find me another car with the specs I wanted. Red wasn't our first (or even second) choice for color, but the silver lining was that instead of getting a 2014, we got a 2015 model. And the 2015 model's Premium package comes with heated seats--something I was planning to have installed aftermarket.

Signing the paperwork and taking delivery of our car was remarkably fast, and I was pleasantly surprised that we weren't asked to spend one cent extra on protective coatings or any other nonsense.

Of course, we'd only driven the car for a week before a Pace paratransit bus sideswiped it on a residential street, ripping off the front bumper. That was a little heart-breaking, but it's all better now. (And we were reimbursed for repairs.)

What do we love about our new Nissan Rogue? I like the keyless entry, the power lift gate and the Sirius XM radio. I like the automatic headlights, the integrated navigation system and the lumbar support in the driver's seat. I like the automatic dual climate control and the stadium style seating that enables my kids to see out the back windows. I like the Bluetooth integration with my phone and the ample number of places we can plug in and charge devices. While the sight lines inside the car aren't great, I love the blind spot warning system. And yes, I love the heated seats. The only thing that bugs me? There's no trash receptacle. What's up with that?

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Labor Day camping with friends, year 3

The gang, minus Anna, who's taking the photo
Friday morning the forecast looked questionable. Josh went so far as to live-chat a state park reservation agent to see if we could get any of our money back if we canceled our Labor Day camping trip to Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine State Forest -- Southern Unit.

But our friend Megan cheered us through and I'm so glad we didn't chicken out. Yes, it rained hard Friday night. But the deluge didn't start until our tents and our canopy were up. We'd already eaten and had a campfire. Heck, Ada had already turned in for the night and she complained more about us talking and listening to music than she did about the downpour!

Saturday morning we woke up to sun, but the sky clouded and drops started falling as we changed into our swimsuits. We quickly detoured from lake plans to an outing at the nearby tourist site Old World Wisconsin. We had no idea what to expect, but is was fabulous--kind of like a Midwestern version of Colonial Williamsburg, but cheaper ($43 per family) and with far fewer crowds.

Ada bought a Laura Ingalls inspired bonnet for $7
The three families who were only up for 1 night of camping joined us Saturday around lunchtime and we spent some more time at Old World Wisconsin, riding old-timey bicycles, signing up for the Union Army, sitting for a lesson in a one-room schoolhouse and touring farms and farmhouses--most of which were original buildings moved to the site and restored. There were interpreters in costume (and character) in every building, and while the place is quite spread out, trams circle through, bringing visitors from one settlement to another.

The teacher had a quiz prepared for students
By mid Saturday afternoon, all 20 campers (10 adults and 10 children 10 and under) were set up across three campsites and the wicked thunderstorm that had been predicted fizzled out. We had beautiful weather Saturday night and Sunday morning. And as the adults sat around cooking, eating, drinking and cleaning up, the kids ran around exploring and generally having an awesome time on their own.

The campground wasn't anything too special. It was nicely wooded, but our campsite was directly across from a squeaky-doored pit toilet that someone conveniently left off the map. It was a 5 minute hike to the water fountain and about a 10 minute walk to the showers/flush toilets. One parent--he knows who he is--managed to get lost on the walk back from the showers and nearly spent the night in the woods.

Anyway, I'm so glad we went. The irony of camping is that it's a whole lot of work for the pleasure of being inconvenienced. And yet, it's so much fun.

Also, my ankles itch. So. Many. Bug bites.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A death in the family

Joel, on left
Last Tuesday night I was at a meeting at a friend's house in Oak Park. My phone buzzed and it was a text from Josh, warning me that we should be prepared for a funeral. His father was in the hospital and things weren't looking good.

Wednesday morning I stepped out of the shower and Josh was on the phone with his mom. There hadn't been any improvement and our weekend getaway with friends--a repeat of the previous year's Outstanding in the Field trip--was in jeopardy.

By the time I'd finished my first cup of coffee, my father-in-law, just 71 years old and suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's, was dead.

Time, it seemed, stopped. Between 8am and 2pm I'd called American Airlines, updated my mom, gone into work to sort out coverage, packed suitcases and found a cat sitter.

And then we were on the road, driving east. Even though the drive took 16 hours (split into two days by an overnight in Youngstown, OH), we arrived in plenty of time to talk with the rabbi and prepare for Thursday's funeral and Shiva. I even found a moment to buy appropriate dresses for the girls to wear.

My mom and stepdad, who'd planned to fly to Chicago on Friday to babysit Zoe and Ada, gamely canceled their tickets and took the girls home with them Thursday night (Thank you, Mom!). That left us free to sit Shiva and generally be available to Josh's mom. I kept busy triaging the refrigerator and sorting through Joel's clothes, all of which are going to charity. I also learned that, while Edible Arrangements are both lovely and delicious, they are monster refrigerator space hogs and eating them before the fruit goes slimy is like a race against time.

Suffice it to say, I existed on deli tray cold cuts, egg salad, sliced melon and chocolate covered strawberries for 5 days.

Because my mother took the girls home with her, Josh and I were able to drive back to Oak Park without a single "are we there yet?" We even treated ourselves to a decent hotel in Cleveland and a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Tuesday morning I was back at work, and while I'd missed a number of days, I couldn't shake the feeling that time had stood still. I guess I'm still feeling that way because our childless house is so quiet and clean.

You can read my father-in-law's obituary here. He was a leader in the field of pediatric infectious disease, a huge baseball fan and a really funny guy. He had the gift of connecting instantly with others and making them feel like he genuinely liked them. I recall meeting him when I was first dating Josh and thinking, yeah, I think I know what Josh will look like as an older guy and I like it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Belated birthday interview with a 7 year old

Continuing my semi-regular tradition writing about and interviewing my children  on their birthdays, here's an overdue interview with Ada, who turned 7 in mid-July. We celebrated with a birthday party for friends at a local pottery studio and again with extended family in Colorado.

But before I let her speak for herself, a quick note to my second-born.

Ada, you've lost all your baby fat. You're lean, brown from the sun and you still possess those big brown eyes and long, long lashes. You learned to read with fluency this year and you loved school and your first grade teacher. You also love every camp and every activity we've ever signed you up for. You thrive on novelty outside of the home and routine within. You happily eat the same foods over and over again (your favorite meal is black beans, cheddar cheese, a tortilla and an apple); you play with your LEGOs for hours on end and you need to be tucked in just so at night. And yes, you still sleep with Funny Bunny.

On to the interview!
What's your favorite color? Teal.
Your favorite animal? Pig.
TV show? LEGO Friends and Littlest Pet Shop
What's your favorite toy? LEGO!
What's your favorite book? The Best Birthday Party Ever, Just Grace, Ivy and Bean and Judy B. Jones
Do you have a favorite song? No.

What's your favorite thing to wear? Shirt and shorts or DRESSES!
What's your favorite sport? Soccer.
What's your favorite restaurant? Salernos.
Your favorite cereal? Corn flakes.
Your favorite food? What kind of food? Food or desserts? I'd pick any dessert. And pasta.

What do you like to do at school? Recess.
Who are your best friends? Jessica and Amelia.

Where would you like to go on vacation this year? Colorado, again. I loved it so much.
What do you want to be when you grow up? An illustrator or artist. Well, they're the same thing.

Where do you want to live when you grow up? Here.
Do you plan to have children? [Holds up two fingers.]

Boys or girls? Girls.
Will you have pets? [Holds up one finger] Cat.
If you could change your name, what would you pick? Violet.

What do you love about Mommy? That she smells good and she's very cuddly.
What do you love about Daddy? That he cleans things up for me.
What do you love about your sister? This is very hard…I know! That she does what I want.

What would you like to do when you’re 7 years old? I want that Zoe takes me to get ice cream ALONE!

Do you have a birthday wish? I can't tell it to you because that's going to break my wish.

And now, for a trip back through time...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Steamboat Springs family reunion

Steamboat Springs is not a convenient vacation destination for Chicagoans. We drove to Midway, flew Southwest to Denver, rented a car, and drove 3+ hours through hills and thunderstorms to get there.

However, we were greeted by a rainbow as we turned into town. And while Steamboat might not be easy to get to, our family reunion in a rented 5 bedroom ski chalet/townhouse made the trip worthwhile.

So what is there to do in an upscale Colorado ski town in the summer? We took the gondola to the top of the mountain and walked through hills of wildflowers. We hiked to waterfalls, rafted down the Colorado River, rode tubes down the Yamba River and soaked in natural hot springs. We also enjoyed a little local color at a professional rodeo, where big buckled cowboys rode honest to goodness bucking broncos and my 5 year old Australian nephew chased a bewildered sheep for a chance to win a new pair of Wranglers.

We also jogged, cooked, ate out, celebrated Ada's birthday, swam in the community's private pool and negotiated the wild and wooly moods of four children between the ages of 5 and 9.

Colorado is just as stunningly beautiful as people say. There are miles and miles of forest and flower-filled meadows between each small town and everyone there seems to be out enjoying it and generally living a healthy lifestyle: biking, hiking, swimming, running and walking their dogs. It, however, isn't a terribly diverse place. We ate lunch at a highly recommended local sandwich shop that listed the "Jewish" as one of its sub sandwiches. It was a pastrami and cheese, something no observant Jew would ever eat.

And while it rained at least once every day we were there, the atmosphere is remarkably dry. My skin, nose and throat were continually parched. My hair, however, enjoyed a break from the humidity. Below are a handful of pics from the trip. You can see more here.
View from our dining room window
Most of the gang at Fish Creek Falls
Zoe and Eliza photograph me and Eleanor

 photo TriptoColorado128_zps40ad1bd8.jpg
Ada the Fish
 photo TriptoColorado013_zps0a447efd.jpg
Me and Ada, before the rapids
Mom and Rick at Strawberry Park

Monday, June 23, 2014

One step closer to being prepared

B*72: Supplies for 2 people for 72 hours
Let it be known that Josh and I are lousy preppers ("prepper" being a popular nickname for those who actively stockpile for disasters). Once, about a year after Ada was born, we took it upon ourselves to prepare an emergency rations box. I rediscovered the container while readying our house to be sold last summer, only to discover that the water bottles had burst, soaking through the graham cracker boxes. Everything inside the box was covered in black mold, right down to the expired jar of peanut butter.

We're not even well prepared for power outages. Whenever a severe storm is forecast, Josh runs around gathering candles and pilfered restaurant matchboxes like he's getting ready for a seance. And given that an actual fire burned down three neighbors' homes a block north of us just a couple of months ago, I don't think its wise that we court disaster with our disaster preparations.

So when Boltwell (get it, bolt well?) introduced me to their line of fairly-mainstream prepper packages (I say mainstream because they don't talk Doomday prophecy and their packaging is hip and modern), I was happy to take a look. I got to try out a number of their most popular products, including a first aid kit more substantial than any I currently have (and regularly raid for Band-Aids), a handy multitool, a super lightweight pocket lantern (batteries included!), and a fantastic weather/AM/FM radio that can work with AAA batteries, a hand crank or solar power. Best of all, the hand-crank radio has a USB port so you can use it to charge your mobile phone--the hardest thing to do during an extended power outage. They also sent me a dense, 400 calorie raspberry energy bar that could likely be weaponized and a disposable, portable toilet bag, I guess for the kind of emergencies I don't think preppers are terribly worried about.

Feeling 100% more prepared than before (if still not 100% prepared), I took it upon myself to also purchase fire extinguishers for the house. After the incident with the exploding water bottles, I'm not sure I'm ready to restock those. Maybe I'll just get some purification tablets and plan to drink out of our rain barrel.

Friday, June 20, 2014

I am a warrior

Three days before I turned 38 years old, I ran the Warrior Dash, a muddy, Viking-themed 5K race with a bunch of hair-raising obstacles (think fire, razor wire, rope climbs and mud pits). I had been convinced to go with some some girlfriends from Derby Lite back when tickets first went on sale in the winter, but I'd forgotten all about it until May. Realizing there was an actual 5K to be run in addition to muddy hills and massive slides, I kicked up my jogging schedule from very rare to occasional.

Fortunately I'm in pretty decent shape. I skate once a week for 2 hours, take a weekly ZUMBA class and log 10,000+ steps most days on my fitbit. That was enough to manage the Warrior Dash, but barely. I definitely had the strength and agility to master the obstacles, but running between all of them, in the sun and on uneven surface, was a challenge. I might have had to walk if there hadn't been bottlenecks at 2 or 3 of the obstacles.

Did I mention it was also exhilarating fun? It's been a long time since I've pushed myself to my physical limits. Combine that with with temperate weather, ample sunshine and wonderful people to keep me company, and I didn't even mind publicly sticking a hose down my pants to wash mud out of my underwear.
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Friday, June 13, 2014

Ups and downs in Pennsylvania

Josh and I took Zoe and Ada to his parents' house for a 4 night visit. We pulled the kids out of school two days early and looked forward to hitting either Dutch Wonderland or Hersheypark for a day of fun before the summer break crowds descended.

Before things got ugly
We made it to Dutch Wonderland, but it turned out spending $120 on amusement park tickets did not buy us happy children. We left after nearly 3 hours of line-free rides, but both of the kids were a sickly combination of overstimulated, underfed and queasy from being spun around. Not a good combination. Our Amish meal at the tasty but touristy Good 'N Plenty was miserably tense and we spent the rest of the afternoon in Lancaster checking out the outlet stores in the pouring rain and telling our kids how disappointed we were in them.

Ironically, they were fantastic for the rest of the trip, which consisted of sightseeing at the more "grown-up" destinations I wanted to visit and checking in on their ailing grandfather, who moved to the memory ward of an assisted living home the day after we arrived. I think I learned a valuable parenting lesson: Do what you want to do instead of catering to your children's wishes.

Here's what we saw (and enjoyed) aside from visits to Grandpa, which would have been depressing if it wasn't for the patience, love and tenderness Zoe and Ada showed for him…

Colonial Plantation Pennsylvania
We visited Colonial Plantation Pennsylvania, which wasn't very far from my in-laws' house in West Chester. There we met all of the animals being raised humanely and sustainably on the farm and saw what an 18th century farmhouse was like. The girls figured out how to play with a wooden hoop and stick and we got a Revolutionary War era rifle demonstration from a guy dressed like a member of the Union army. Loading and reloading took a long time and a great deal of effort back then.

Eleutherian Mills, Du Pont home
We also spent a full day at Hagley, an enormous 235 acre property near Wilmington where E. I. du Pont founded a gunpowder factory and built his estate back in 1802. A tour guide walked us through the ancestral home and gardens and we got to see some of the other historical highlights (the machine shop, water wheels and workers' hill) before ended at the visitor's center museum, which had two fantastic exhibits. One was a temporary exhibit on the history of nylon (a DuPont invention) and the other is the permanent, hands-on exhibit of DuPont engineering. I had no idea that they'd created so many familiar synthetics--Kevlar, StainMaster, Dacron, Corian, Neoprene and Lycra. I also didn't know that some of their earliest innovations, like car and house paints, were based on their gun powder heritage.

National Museum of American Jewish History
On our last day, we headed into Philadelphia to check out the National Museum of American Jewish History, which was built in 2010, and had a fascinating collection that traces the paths and fortunes of the Jews in America from colonial times (1654) to the present day. The exhibits are a mix of artifacts, imagery, sound and video, and each floor has a hands-on area that appeals to kids. Mine dressed up as settlers in a Conestoga wagon, sat down at a Shabbat table like tenement residents in the first half of the 20th century, and watched TV in a 1950s rec room. They also discovered photos and pictures of OSRUI, where Zoe is headed in a few days, in a room dedicated to the role of sleep away camp to the American Jewish experience. And, appropriately enough, we stopped at a Famous 4th, a Jewish delicatessen, before heading to the airport.*

*We flew in and out of Trenton-Mercer, which may very well be the tiniest airport I've ever been to. One airline. Two gates. It's a bit less convenient for my mother-in-law, who picked us up and dropped us off, but it offered terrifically cheap fares and the novel opportunity to exit the plane directly onto the tarmac. Then it was up one flight of stairs from the baggage claim barn and there was Shirley's car. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The world weeps

Today I learned that my friend Emily's daughter Meera succumbed to brain cancer. She was just shy of her 6th birthday.

I didn't cry when I read the news on my computer at work. I didn't cry when I told my family at dinner. I held it together as I shared my struggles with whether or not I should take my children to a child's funeral with the other women in my parenting class.

I can't cry. A mother's worst nightmare has come true and I'm afraid to let myself feel even a fraction of what she's feeling. I can't put myself in her shoes. I can't.

When I left my class, it was raining. Pouring. And as I headed south, down the length of Oak Park on my bicycle, the wind picked up. Lighting shattered the sky.

Wind whipped rain into my eyes. Streamed down my face.

My heart pounded as I sped up, racing against the traffic lights. I lost, stuck at a red as the rain intensified. Beating down on me.

I'm afraid to let my mind—my emotions—feel Meera's loss. But feeling something felt right. Necessary. So I'm thankful for tonight's hard, heavy sorrowful storm. For the thunder, rumbling with anger. And for the rain, pricking my skin and stinging my eyes.

Wanting to do something but feeling powerless to help, a group of Emily's friends decided to walk in Meera's honor and raise funds for pediatric brain cancer. If you're local, consider joining us or making a donation to help fund research.

Monday, April 07, 2014

1929: When free-range kids were really free range

In 1929, when my Grandpa Bob was 10 years old, his parents sent him to California to spend the summer with his grandparents and his aunt and uncle. And by send him to California, I mean they put gave him a roll of cash and put him on a train.

My mother rediscovered one of the letters he sent to his parents upon his arrival in Los Angeles. He used a typewriter and covered two full pages describing the four days and three nights he spent heading west. There was a lot of eating consomme and sliced tomatoes in the dining car, sleeping in a berth and getting dirty on the observation deck, but there was a little drama too. My grandfather played cards with a girl ("you needed worry she wasn't good looking"), repeatedly forced another kid out of his seat by yanking on his feet, and interacted with a drunkard ("I forgot to tell you that when I was coming back from the diner that the drunk man that I told you about in my cards grabbed my arms and said where have you been"), and befriended an old lady ("remember that last time we went we saw a boy talking to another lady and you said that I would never talk to any-body like that buy you got fooled because I did.")

As my mother noted as she sent along scans of Bob's letters, "His parents were not exactly helicopter parents."

It's amazing to think about how much freedom and responsibility used to be granted to children and how much less freedom each successive generation of parents grants their own children. I consider myself a free-range parent, but I don't think Zoe would be ready to travel for three days on her own in a year or so. And even if she was ready, I'd surely be arrested and charged with child endangerment for trusting her with the trip.

The culture around children and freedom as changed so much that I worry less about the safety of leaving my kids unsupervised for short periods or letting them roam the neighborhood than I do about what other people might think. I just read a blog post about a woman unwilling to let her 12 year old son go to the ice cream parlor with his friends. There's another 4th grader on our block who isn't allowed to walk the 2 1/2 blocks to school without an adult. There are so many parents out there allowing so little freedom that I worry that our culture is raising a generation of future basement dwellers unable and unwilling to leave the house unattended.

Zoe asked me this weekend if she'd "get a whole bunch more freedom in 6th grade." I responded that I like to increase her independence slowly but surely and all the time. I explained that I'm always giving her a little bit more rope, and that as long as she behaves responsibly and shows good judgement, I'll keep letting out more and more rope. Next up: taking her 6 year old sister to the ice cream parlor.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Our piano comes home

UntitledI grew up with a piano in the house. I took lessons on our pianos, and while I was no musical prodigy, I'm glad I learned to read music. I want the same (and preferably more) for my children.

Ada started taking piano lessons at her Montessori school about two years ago. I told myself that if she stuck with it, we'd eventually replace her cheap keyboard (the kind that plugs into a computer and runs off GarageBand) and get a piano. But there was no place for a piano in our old house.

So as we were designing our new place, I took the average measurements for an upright piano and made sure our first floor layout would have a place for one. That forethought paid off last week when two piano movers hoisted a new-to-us 1940's art deco style Charles Frederick Stein piano through the front door. It fit perfectly in the spot I'd selected on blueprints last summer.

I'd been collecting information on the best ways to acquire a quality used piano for a few months. The Montessori school got theirs from Keys 4/4 Kids, a charity that sets a lot of used pianos. Plenty of other people had bought theirs off Craig's List or MomMail, a classifieds-like listserv that is fiercely local and not anonymous (and therefore infinitely less sketchy). Because I'd chosen a prominent place for our piano, looks mattered. And when I saw a photo of the piano we eventually bought, it was love at first sight. But it wasn't free and I knew we'd also be paying to move it and tune it.

We visited it and talked with the owner, a piano teacher who played the instrument through high school. I consulted with my daughter's piano teacher and scoured the internet for information on the maker. I also paid a piano tuner $95 to come inspect it for me. With everyone in agreement that the piano looked like a very good buy, we plunked down the cash and bought it. $900 seems like a lot of money, but it's also what we're paying to rent Zoe's euphonium for the year. And we don't even get to own that!

Anyway, watching and listening to Ada practice piano on a real piano has been a real pleasure. She's pleased as can be and has been very reliably washing her hands before she sits down at its ivory keys.


Friday, January 24, 2014

The time I test-drove a mouthguard

Every Thursday night for the past 3 or 4 years (time flies), I've laced up my roller skates for a Derby Lite workout. I wear a helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads, knee pads and a mouth guard because it's the rules and also I don't want to break anything.

Mouth guards are tricky. I have a pretty pronounced gag reflex, and most mouth guards are too bulky. As soon as I bite down, I start gagging and have to spit them out. I've had good luck with ProTech's Dent mouthguard, as they are slim and provide a very custom fit. They're also expensive, so I've been using the same one for a few years. I clean it every couple of weeks, but ew.

Anyway, I was thrilled to try a new flavored sports mouth guard called the MoGo M1 Flavored Mouthguard. I picked Fruit Punch and fit it to my mouth following the directions in the package (soften in hot water, bite down and suck, harden in cold water) and wore it to practice last night.

Four pros:
The flavor was great. The flavored part of the mouth guard is located next to one's saliva glands, and my mouth kind of tasted like I had just sipped watered down Kool-Aid. I felt like my mouth was wetter that usual and I thus I didn't feel quite as thirsty (although I still drank a bottle and half of water).

It's a tough, well-built mouth guard that made me feel very protected from collisions and falls.

It comes with a helmet strap that let me spit it out without dropping it on the nasty practice floor.

It's a bargain at only $11.99. My regular mouth guard cost well over $20.

One big con:
While I didn't gag constantly, the mouth guard was too bulky for comfort. I couldn't close my lips or talk--something that's crucial when you're working a team drill or scrimmaging.

Unfortunately, not being able to communicate with the mouth guard in place means that it won't work when I need it most. It's a deal killer, which makes be sad because I really, really liked having a flavored mouth guard to suck on.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

New house tour--the first floor!

Now that we've been in our house for a few weeks and I've got art on the walls and window treatments on order, I thought I'd share a few photos. Obviously, a wide angle lens, a fancy camera and a bright, sunny day would make these much better pictures, but you'll get the idea.

This is the living room, with a view to the 5 windows overlooking the street. All of the furniture came from our old house, with the exception of the new coffee table, which I purchased on clearance from West Elm. The table is too busy for our old area rug, so it's now in the guest room and I'm anxiously waiting for this rug to go on sale. The modular shelves had been arranged differently at our old place--now they are in two spots, under the windows and agains the wall. In a week, the windows will have plantation-style shutters covering the bottom half and we'll stop living on display to the neighborhood.
This is the view of our living room into the dining room from the foyer. I've always wanted built-in bookcases, and the idea of having them extend over the pass-through into another room is something I stole from Houzz. Don't the floors look nice? I just about went nuts trying to pick just the right stain and ended up going with Special Walnut.
Dining room
The dining room has our existing table and buffet. I added 4 Nate Berkus window panels from Target and the chandelier, which is hard to make out in this picture, is this lovely number--again from West Elm.

Dining room 2

Another view of the dining room, this one from the hallway. Walk down that hallway and look right and you'll see our breakfast nook.

Breakfast nook 1

The table is from IKEA, the benches lift piano-bench style for lots of storage, and the chairs I purchased from Overstock.

Kitchen view of peninsula

The light fixtures are from Pottery Barn (with the two orangey ones on clearance). We purchased our appliances from Abt: an LG French door refrigerator (with ice maker! and water dispenser!) and gas range and a Bosch dishwasher which is so quiet I can't even tell when it is running!

Microwave on peninsula
On the inside of the peninsula is our microwave, a KitchenAid with a trim kit that gives it a built-in look. The big drawer under the microwave is our new catch-all bin for student directories, park district brochures, Scotch tape and other important bits of clutter. Also, see that vertical cabinet to the left of the stove? We have two of them, one for cookie sheets and muffin pans and one for cutting boards.
Here's another view of the kitchen. To the left of the fridge is a large pantry cabinet. The three drawers to the left of the pantry are huge. One holds all our storage containers and another lunchbox paraphernalia.

Light over sink
I'm so happy in our new house that I feel incredibly blessed every single day. Although we did have our first home-owner's emergency. The drain outside the basement exit is clogged and with all the snow melting water came under the door today and soaked the carpeting in the back of the basement. Josh rented a wet vac and sucked out a lot of liquid and our builder is sending a plumber tomorrow to clear out the drain.

Not pictured in this first floor tour is the mudroom, the small foyer and the powder room. There's also an area near between the breakfast nook and the mudroom that doesn't quite have a purpose. For now it's home to a large bookshelf and the girls' musical instruments.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Our first house party, 10 days after moving in

Last year we didn't throw our annual New Year's Day Open House because we were in Australia. This year I refused to commit to the party because all I could focus on moving. But once we were in and unpacking, I decided there was no better way to celebrate the new year and our new home than by reviving an old tradition.

Read the whole story on the Chicago Parent Blog.