Sunday, July 19, 2015

Annual birthday interview with Ada

Ada, playing "big sis" to Lucinda

Every year I interview my kids on their birthdays. Here's Ada's 8 year interview. I've included last year's answers, but there are plenty more in the archives.

What's your favorite color? Blue and turquoise. Last year: Teal
Your favorite animal? I just loved pigs. Last year: Pig
TV show? Do I have to choose a TV show or can it be a movie? I really like American Girl movies. Last year: LEGO Friends and Littlest Pet Shop
What's your favorite toy? Definitely dolls. American Girl dolls and Our Generation. Last year: LEGO!
What's your favorite book? American Girl books. I just love them. I've been reading a lot lately. Last year: The Best Birthday Party Ever, Just Grace, Ivy and Bean and Junie B. Jones
Do you have a favorite song? I actually don't, but thank you for asking. Last year: No.

What's your favorite thing to wear? Dresses, I definitely like dresses. I also like comfortable shorts, but I like dresses the most. Last year: Shirt and shorts or DRESSES!
What's your favorite sport? Soccer. I play soccer and I'm glad I'm sticking with it. Last year: Soccer.
What's your favorite restaurant? It depends. If I'm eating pizza it is probably Salernos. If I'm having ice cream it's either Oberweis or Brown Cow. Last year: Salernos.
Your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Pancakes. Totally pancakes. Especially those flapjacks you made, Mom. I love puffy pancakes. 
Your favorite cereal? I love Golden Grahams but we don't get them very often. I also really like Cheerios, but only with peanut butter. Last year: Corn flakes.
Your favorite food? Dessert. Totally dessert. And pasta. Last year: What kind of food? Food or desserts? I'd pick any dessert. And pasta.

What's the best part of school? Since I'm not counting recess, let's say…hmmm…art. And music. And if it's a real class, then reading. I really like reading, music and art. Last year: Recess.
Who are your best friends? Jessica, Bella, Ami and Sylvia. Last year: Jessica and Amelia.

Where would you like to go on vacation this year? Hawaii, Disney World and… let's see. How about Australia?Possibly we could go to China? And I could wear my Chinese earrings. Last year: Colorado, again. I loved it so much.
What do you want to be when you grow up? An illustrator. If not an illustrator than an art teacher. Anything art. Last year: An illustrator or artist. Well, they're the same thing.

Where do you want to live when you grow up? If I could be anywhere, I'd choose somewhere away from tornado alley and hurricanes. This is really hard to decide. Maybe where my grandparents live. More Virginia though. Last year: Here.
Do you plan to have children? Yes, I plan to have two. They're both going to be girls, I hope. And I'm going to name them…Alexis and Ella. Last year: [Holds up two fingers.]

Will you have pets? Yes, I'll have a cat. Maybe not a cat but a guinea pig. Not a dog…too much work! My children might have a frog. It depends if I get one. Last year: [Holds up one finger] Cat.
If you could change your name, what would you pick? Ellie or mostly I like Ada. Last year: Violet.

What do you love about Mommy? I love that she cuddles with me. And when she brings me to the American Girl Doll store. Last year: That she smells good and she's very cuddly.
What do you love about Daddy? He's a big goon. He's funny. And he plays with me in the pool. Last year: That he cleans things up for me.
What do you love about your sister? Recently she's been playing dolls with me. Last year: This is very hard…I know! That she does what I want.

What would you like to do when you’re 8 years old? Go to the American Girll Doll store. And enjoy being 8. And go to Maggie Daley again, for the third time. Last year: I want that Zoe takes me to get ice cream ALONE!

Do you have a birthday wish? Yes, but I can't tell it because that would be giving away my wish. Last year: I can't tell it to you because that's going to break my wish.

What else do you want me to know? I hope one day I'll be better at a cartwheel. Maybe someday I'll get supplies for dolls. The instrument that I play is piano. Oscar is a really nice cat. He never gets mad.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Happy 8th Birthday, Ada

Dear Ada,
I haven't updated my blog in over 6 months, but I couldn't let your birthday slip by without notice. This year you started and finished 2nd grade. You got glasses and quickly needed a new, stronger prescription. You're one of the shortest kids in your grade and skinny, with increasingly long wavy brown hair and those big dark brown eyes you've always had. Both fashionable and practical, you wear Converse low tops every day and never wear a skirt or dress without shorts underneath.

You started reading chapter books for fun and most mornings I emerge from the shower to find you plowing through an American Girl book in bed. You're still an early riser for the most part, but you'll sleep in after a late night out and you no longer show up at my bedside at 6am. For that, your Dad and I thank you.

The Actor's Garden "Tut, Tut"
On stage
Your interests have become very focused. You enjoy soccer and improved a lot while playing AYSO. You love musical theater and had the time of your life at Actor's Garden summer camp. You take piano and voice lessons and listening to you sing and play is genuinely enjoyable. At home, you spend hours in your room, dressing and playing with your dolls and begging your sister to play with you. You also like LEGO and art a lot, but you've spent less time on self-directed arts and crafts projects than in previous years. Now you're more apt to try something you've learned from a friend or YouTube video.

Helping at a work event
Your infamous temper took a turn for the better about halfway through this year. I don't know if it was your maturity or my taking a different, more empathetic approach to your frequent frustrations, but you're more likely to pout or burst into sad tears than throw a door-slamming, "I hate you and I want to run away" tantrum. And good Lord, when Zoe decides to hang out with you, you're a complete angel. (But when she doesn't want your company or spends too much time doing what you deem to be "teenager-y stuff," look out!) Some evenings you'll admit that you don't know why you're feeling upset, you just are. Letting you feel your feelings with a promise that tomorrow offers a new start is usually all you need. Well, that and a cuddle. You're still a very affectionate kid.

Perhaps its because your own emotions run so hot and cold, but you're increasingly empathetic and have a good understanding of others' motivations and feelings. Maybe that's why you've taken to acting?

Moving up to a bigger, faster bike
We celebrated your birthday today with pancakes at breakfast. You got to be the star at day camp, and after camp you, Zoe and I went downtown to the American Girl Place with the new doll your Grandma bought you, "Grace." There you and your sister spend 2 hours fingering the goods and deciding how to spend your birthday money. We finished the evening at the Mity Nice Grill downstairs and you and sister both marveled at what a perfect outing it had been, thanking me profusely.

Thank you, Ada, for being you.

7th Birthday Letter
6th Birthday Letter
5th Birthday Letter
4th Birthday Letter
3rd Birthday Letter
2nd Birthday Letter
1st Birthday Letter

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.