Monday, December 11, 2006


For the record, we are not househunting. And I don't recommend doing it (on the first pass, anyway) with kids. But I do read the Real Estate section of the Trib religiously and also keep an eye out for For Sale signs in my neighborhood. I prefer to look at most houses in an open-house situation, but if the price is good, I've been known to make an appointment with the listing agent to see such properties. This afternoon was one such occasion.

The house was 3 bedrooms, 1.1. baths, on a 37-foot lot in my neighborhood. The listing price is $425K, which is damn good for my neighborhood. The agent told me that the house was "distressed" when he called to confirm the appointment. Naturally, my first question for him when I arrived at the house was why a distressed house was listing for so high. He said that it was a court-ordered price, since the house is an estate sale and the estate is contested. So, basically, the heirs are trying to get as much as they can by selling the house for an inflated amount.

Grossly inflated, in my opinion. Although the agent said that my assessment of the property was too low. Which it probably is, as I am looking at the house to live in rather than to flip. But if I had money to burn to flip it, oh what a world that would be. The first floor living space was huge, with a great big living room and dining room, and a kitchen that, while totally 70s, would give me more usable counterspace than my current kitchen. Plus an eating area and a good-size front hall. All the stained glass windows, however, had been removed. The walls and ceilings, all plaster, were in terrible condition and would need to be gutted, and the floors were all covered by hideous carpetting, although they concealed hardwood floors. The 1/2 bath powder room had vinyl walls, and the upstairs bath, while big, needed all-new everything.

If I wasn't pregnant and didn't have 2 small children, and was a bit more adventurous, I'd be tempted. But the house needs at least $100K in improvements to bring it to the level of comfort of my current house, although with the lot size, it would probably be worth about $200K above mine in the end.

Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. I don't think we are going to find anything that isn't a complete pit for just slightly more than our current house is worth.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

While I do not recommend going to a popular museum on free day right before the start of the holiday season, I definitely recommend what I did today.

Which was to take a walk, with The Girl, around the neighborhood surrounding The Boy's co-op location, on a fine fall morning. She picked up sticks, examined her shadow, checked out fallen leaves, and engaged in other curious-kitty walk behavior. We walked about 4 blocks over to Starbuck's. She got a Horizon Organic Vanilla milk. I had a tall Chai latte. We split one of Starbuck's new breakfast sandwiches. And we had some good one-on-one interaction, with lots of belly laughs on her end. The Girl is the Happiest Toddler Ever.

She walked most of the 4 blocks back to the car by herself as well.

Museum Free Day

Yesterday, The Boy, The Girl and I went to the Museum of Science and Industry. If there is one thing I do not recommend, it is attending a Chicago museum during one of its free days at the cusp of the holiday season. Truthfully, for us, it is always free day at MSI, due to a nice bit of reciprocity among the Chicago Academy of the Sciences, of which we are members through our membership to the Peggy Notebeart Nature Museum. But I had not realized that it was free day at MSI before suggesting to The Boy that we go (rather than freezing our bums off at Brookfield Zoo, as was our original plan for the day). So, we went.

It was crazy-crowded. So crowded that I had a headache within 10 minutes of entering the place. I had the foresight to bring a little backpack with a leash on it for The Girl, and fortunately, The Boy is at the age when he is more terrified of losing me in a crowd than in seeing whatever interests him, so he doesn't wander off. But still, there were so many school groups and daycare groups and out-of-towners and kids-off-of-school and general mayhem that I asked The Boy to recite his name and where he lives (unfortunately, he now says "Chicago," instead of our neighborhood name, which doesn't work so well when you are still inside city limits, but is still pretty good for a not-quite-4-year-old). After The Boy was bumped off the risers in the train room by school-aged children, I was ready to cut my losses and skedaddle. I managed to convince The Boy that we should go and come back another time by calling Mr. C. to meet us for lunch.

Fortunately, I always park on a side street near the museum and never pay the $12 for the privilege of parking in the underground lot, so I was really only out time and a good deal of energy.

After circling the western part of the Loop in search of a metered spot, I finally found one, and ponied up $6 to park on the street for 2 hours. Yikes! But then The Boy, The Girl and I went to visit Daddy's office, and we all went out for a not-very-exciting, but still-very-tasty lunch at Potbelly. Afterward, we walked over to Daley Plaza to see the tree, which will have its official lighting and unveiling on Friday. Despite the incomplete decorations and the metal gate around the area, The Boy was still impressed, and The Girl rocked out to a city worker singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" to her.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Suburban Mindset

Disclaimer: I have nothing against the suburbs. I grew up in one. And, at some point, I will probably again become a resident of a suburb of Chicago.

On Saturday afternoon, after retrieving our car, I took The Boy and The Girl out to see their grandparents, who live in the illustrious suburb of Naperville. I told them about my previous evening. They said, "How did you not know that your car had been stolen? Why did you think it had been towed?"

This must be the essential difference between the city mindset and the suburban mindset. Or it could be the difference between driving a nice car and a relatively junky car. It would never occur to me that my car would be stolen in a relatively safe, well-lit neighborhood (even on the Southside); towing seems a much more likely possibility. Plus, who would want to steal my crummy VW wagon? My in-laws assumed that if they had come back to their car(s) to find it gone, it would have been stolen. This might be more likely in their case, as both of their cars are posh.


What blog about city life would be complete without a rant about parking? It's time for the obligatory post about parking.

Now, I generally consider myself a good little resident of the city of Chicago vis-a-vis parking. I pony up my $75 every June for a new city sticker, and another $78 to renew my state registration every November. My neighborhood does not have permit parking, and I do have a garage, so I generally find parking in my neighborhood to be easy-peasy. Actually, I generally find parking in most areas of the city to be easy. But that may be attributed to the fact that I am not often in Lakeview, Lincoln Park or Bucktown at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night before I go out to party. (I have two little kids; my partying days are over.)

However, in the past month, I've had not one, but two run-ins with the City's Department of Revenue. I find it apt that the business of parking and its regulation is run by a department that openly admits that the whole thing is about making cash for the City. That might explain why every time I get a ticket, it's $50. I can count on one hand the number of tickets I received by the city of Chicago. I usually swear at myself and pay them. But not anymore. I received a ticket at the beginning of the month for parking on a street that was due for street cleaning. There were no visible signs on my side of the street, so I contested the ticket. I just got a notice in the mail saying that my money was due, so I wonder if that means the City disagrees with me over the facts of the ticketing.

And then last Friday, I returned from a lovely little jaunt on the Metra Electric with The Boy and The Girl to visit friends in the old 'hood to find that my car was no longer where I parked it on Stony Island Avenue and 57th Street. It had been towed. I called Mr. C. to ask him to find out where it was, since it was by then nearly 7 p.m. on a Friday and I was on the Southside with two small, tired children and no car/carseats. I could not ask him to pick me up, since we are a small family who lives and works entirely within the boundaries of the city, we've never seen the need for owning more than one car. I was not about to take the Cottage Grove bus down to 103rd and Doty at that hour to get the car out the Chicago Impound Lot, so we went home instead. It only took a 1/2-mile walk, a bus, and two trains (Green line, Blue line) to get home in just under 3 hours. Although quite upset that our car was gone, The Boy was a trooper about the walk, and he and I had fun coming up with synonyms for the rotten luck of having our car towed (terrible! awful! hideous!).

$170 and 16 hours later, I got our car back. Such fun to walk out past the gate on the lot and find the injustice of a $50 ticket stuck to the side window as well. I plan to contest, as there was a huge tree branch obscuring the No Parking Tow Zone sign when I parked the car.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Subtitle Change

In about 6 months, I'll be renaming the subtitle of this blog. It will then be "Three Kids and Me in the City of Big Shoulders." Or possibly, "Adventures in Parallel Parking a Minivan in the City of Big Shoulders."

Kiddie Museum

Last Thursday, The Boy, The Girl and I went out to Naperville, to meet their grandparents for lunch and go to the DuPage Children's Museum. Now, despite the fact that it is in Naperville, making it quite a haul from my house and decidedly not a city attraction, the DuPage Children's Museum is, in fact, my favorite of the three Chicagoland children's museums. And not just because I don't have to pay $17 to park.

Unlike the Kohl and the CCM, the DuPage Children's Museum has a lot of hands-on, interactive exhibits for the under-5 set. They seem to embrace the philosophy that kids learn the most through open play. I love that easily half of the museum is comprised of bins of blocks, balls, Magna-Tiles, and Lego with which kids can dig in and create something. Unlike the CCM, you aren't supposed to just look at an exhibit, you're supposed to play with it. The Girl and The Boy (and Grandma N!) had a great time exploring some of the spaces (there is too much to do it all in one visit) during our afternoon there. Grandma N. volunteers there, so she got us in for free, too.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

PBK's Standards Are Slipping

On Tuesday, The Boy, The Girl and I went up to Old Orchard Mall, in Skokie, for the Pottery Barn Kids Singalong. They've been sponsoring singalongs at their stores for a couple of years now, holding them on some basis of regularity -- some time between quarterly and semiannually. In the past, they've hired some of our favorite Old Town School of Folk Music teachers/singers--either current or alumni--from the school's Wiggleworms program. So I was looking forward to some catchy lyrics and/or folk music renditions from Julie Frost and her guitar.

But instead, they had some guy with a keyboard and a microphone set-up. I should have known that it was going to be bad when the store was not mobbed with high-end strollers. The guy himself was fine. The Boy and the other 10 kids in the audience seemed to enjoy his Hokey-Pokey and other standard (tired) kids' song fare. The Girl was a bit like me and seemed more interested in protecting her PBK Anywhere Chair than in listening to the music.

Afterwards, we had a snack and played on the recently-recovered dragon play structure just outside the store. We checked out the koi at the fish pond on the other side of the mall, and then went home for lunch/naps.

It's Too Hot to Go Apple Picking

I admit it: I think of apple-picking as a very autumnal sort of activity. In an ideal situation, the leaves would still be on non-fruit-bearing trees, but are vibrant shades of yellow, orange, red and purple. Everyone has a sweater on, but we shed our jackets with the exertion of picking apples. The orchard is populated, but not crowded.

Unfortunately, that was pretty much the opposite of what we got when The Boy, The Girl, Mr. C. and I went on Sunday. We trekked up to Homestead Orchard in Woodstock, a small, family-run orchard with diminutive apple trees displaying a decent mix of varieties, raspberries, honey, and that's about it. No gimmicky stuff like a petting zoo, hay ride, apple-cider donuts, etc. Just a couple who love apples and bees. That's what I like about it. It was The Boy's second time to Homestead; his sister was just a zygote when we went in the fall of 2004.

But it was too hot and too crowded. The varietals that I like best were either picked clean (Gala) or not yet ripe (Jonagold). We picked a few runty Empires. The Girl and I spent a lot of time sitting under trees, eating fallen apples that she picked up.

On the way up to the orchard, we stopped at a little place on Route 47 whose name escapes me (despite the fact that I've been there 3 of the last 4 years), to eat our picnic lunch. We splurged on baked goods (apple crisp for Mr. C., different kinds of cookies for The Boy and The Girl, and pumpkin cake with cream cheese icing for me) before going on to the orchard.

The Lap of Luxury

Well, as close as I have come to it as a Chicago resident. Back in August*, The Girl, The Boy and I had the opportunity to spend the morning and part of an afternoon lounging by the pool at Ridgemoor Country Club. I do not play golf, nor does really anyone else in my family, so I am not overly familiar with country clubs in general. I can't comment on the scale of the course itself, and I don't know how well-heeled in general the club is, as the only country club pool I had previously been to was at Flossmoor Country Club, circa 1989.

But compared to slumming it at the local public pool, or even compared to the pool at my gym, the Ridgemoor pool was quite a treat. The lifeguards, while still tanned teenagers, were very friendly with children of regular members. They allow members to bring in and use the club's own pool toys, floaties, and what not - very nice when you go to a pool with four kids under the age of four, none of whom know how to swim. They have snacks and ice cream poolside, and the standard cabana girls will bring you drinks or lunch. We had lunch on the restaurant's pool dining deck and although it was slow coming out, it was very good. I even contemplated, however briefly, a social membership. And then I read this.

* Yes, I know that it's now October.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Oak Park

This weekend was the Air & Water Show in Chicago. Now you'd think that I would take the kids down to the lake to watch the Blue Angels buzz the water, but you'd be wrong. Instead, we headed out to spend a lovely afternoon with friends, having brunch at Buzz Cafe and playing in Barrie Park in Oak Park.

I was starving when we got to Buzz, so The Boy ordered chocolate milk and a grilled cheese (which he did not eat - a rant for another day). The Girl had the Kiddie Pancakes and happily ate butter out of the packets, and I had a fantastic egg-cheese-pesto sandwich. Afterwards, we walked over the highway to Barrie Park, which my host told me used to be an EPA site, but they cleaned it up, excavated all of the soil, and built a block of athletic fields, a playground, sand pit and an enormous sledding hill. It amused The Girl, The Boy, and our 3-y/o friend for quite some time. The Boy held the 3-y/o's hand, went up the stairs to the sledding hill and ran down with him, and at 3 p.m., when it was time to go home, declared that he wanted to have another playdate soon with the 3-y/o. The Girl and I climbed up the easy stairs and went down the side-by-side slides together several times. In the middle, we walked back to Buzz to go to the bathroom and get an iced tea.

I have a sunburn. Always a sign of a good day spent outside.

A Childfree Afternoon

There are so many great things to do in Chicago with kids. But every once in awhile, it's nice to do something in this town without them. Yesterday, Mr. C. and I did just that. We left the kids at a friends' house for several hours and went out to lunch and to the Cottage Living Idea Home. I wore a dress, Mr. C. put on some decent shorts, and we spent an afternoon talking about money, real estate, work and, of course, the absent kids.

We went to Tapas Barcelona in Evanston for lunch. It wasn't my first choice, but all of my choices were not open for lunch, and since we were working from an older (2002/2003) Zagat Guide, we couldn't be sure that anything on the list was still around. We had been to Tapas Barcelona once before and the place was quite empty at noon on a Saturday, so the service was good. And we didn't have to worry about plates not coming out fast enough, taking anyone but ourselves to the bathroom, watching our language, or whether to coax The Boy into eating the foreign dishes.

After lunch, we headed to the main attraction: the Cottage Living Idea Home. It's at 2721 Woodbine in Evanston, but you have to park in a junior high lot at Green Bay Road and Lincoln, which you access via the most circuitous route ever, per the site's directions. A shuttlebus comes along every 15 minutes to drive you to the site. We just missed a bus when we got there, so we made out in the car while we waited.

The shuttlebus dropped us off in front of house with an amazing front garden, in a neighborhood filled with large homes on even larger lots. We paid $10 each to see the house, which had 3 bedrooms and 3.1 baths. What I liked best about the house was the light everywhere (lots and lots of windows), the creative use of space, and how the rooms were quite generously sized, but didn't feel that way. I did not like how you walked into the front door, walked 4 feet forward and into the dining table, which was the dividing piece of furniture between the kitchen and the living room. I think the layout was a better reflection of how people really live nowadays (kitchen is the center of the house), but it still seemed a bit strange to me that the kitchen would be immediately off the rather-small foyer, and in what amounted to the same room as what would be the formal living room (the focal point of the wall opposite the kitchen was a large fireplace). The house was in a rough L pattern, with rooms accessed in the long part of the L kind of like a railroad apartment. There was a "mudroom-in-a-hallway," laundry room (which even Mr. C. thought was cool), vanity bath and storage closet beyond the kitchen. If you walked futher, there was a TV room, a craft/guest/office room and a full bath. There were at least 3 sets of French doors leading to the patio down the L.

The stairway to the second floor and the door to the basement were between the mudroom and kitchen. There were 3 bedrooms and 2 full bathrooms upstairs, plus a little office done in the nook of the upstairs landing. The master bedroom was cozy (but not small), with a queen-sized bed and a little sitting area. The color scheme was very Martha Stewart: green-blue walls, dark wood floor, sisal rugs, green-blue armoire, overstuffed chairs in paisley pattern w/ a green-blue base. There was a natural-light filled closet beyond the bedroom, and access to the master bath off of that. The bathroom had his-and-hers sinks, a clawfoot tub, and a partially separated toilet and stall shower. Mr. C. did not like the fact that the shower was designed to vent steam over the dividing wall between the tub/sinks and shower/toilet. A little old lady in there at the same time commented that she thought it was weird that the clawfoot-style tub was right in front of 2 windows that faced the front of the house. Fine for a daytime bath, but pretty revealing even with the window covering at night. All of the bathrooms had pocket doors to save space.

The second and third bedrooms were pretty non-descript. The bedroom done up to look like a girls' room was really cute with two vintage twin beds, a large ottoman between them as kind of a nightstand/lounge area, a big closet and a nook that would be perfect for a desk or TV unit.

The back patio/garden was huge, with lots of space for entertaining. There was a small square of lawn at the very back, near the garage. The garage had space for 3 cars (which seemed anomalous for the neighborhood) and contained tons of brochures for vendors who had worked on or decorated the home. The list price on it? $2.2 million. That was definitely the most expensive open house we've ever seen.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Around the Neighborhood

I love my neighborhood. It is not Lakeview or Lincoln Park, so it doesn't have a lot of eye-candy in the form of cutesy boutiques and cafes, but I love it anyway. I often say that it's like the suburbs in the city; it's definitely the best of both worlds. My street is filled with single-family-homes and 2-flats on wide lots. There is a tree canopy covering the street and it's easy to find parking. I know many of my neighbors and the next street over has a block party every year, to which they invite the whole neighborhood. We are close to the highway and the El, and can walk to a grocery store, Walgreen's and a few other places.

Yesterday, the kids piled into our double stroller (which my best friend has dubbed the rolling condominium) and we took a walk to buy The Girl new shoes at a new children's shoes boutique, Tippy Toes. The store is still in its infancy, but I am so happy to see a place I'd like to shop in my neighborhood that I've been getting The Girl's shoes there. I used to buy everyone's shoes at Alamo Shoes in Andersonville, but it's quite a trek from our house. I bought her a darling pair of black patent leather and cloth t-strap Umis for fall, and a pair of boys Stride Rite sandals to hold her through the end of the season. Oh wait, this blog isn't about my obsession with children's wear.

The Girl fell asleep in the stroller before we got to the shoe store, so we continued on to Starbuck's for a pre-shoe treat. The Boy got a Horizon Vanilla milk (they were out of chocolate) and a peanut-butter whoopie pie (which he didn't like). I tried a new Tangerine Tea Frappucino and had a plain bagel with cream cheese. We sat at a table while The Girl slept in the stroller next to us, and had a pleasant little 3.5-y/o chat. The man sitting next to our table overheard us and asked The Boy's age. When he learned it, he commented that he was quite smart and ready for school.

And today, after dinner, Mr. C. and I took the kids for a walk around the neighborhood, despite the rain. It was nice to be out and about, commenting on for-sale signs, seeing neighbors as we walked past their homes, and getting some post-dinner exercise.

A Trip to Naperville

On Wednesday, our weekly playgroup took a field trip of sorts to Naperville, where one of our members moved in 2004. She has a large rambling house with a finished basement and a complete secure yard, so we all trekked out there to admire her new bathrooms, and let the kids loose in her toy-filled basement.

Let me just say that my in-laws live in Naperville, so I have spent a fair bit of time in the 'burb. It's really quite a nice place to live if you have small children. But I don't want to move there.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A long day

Today was a long day. The earlier half was quite fun, with 2 little girls who came over to play while their mom ran errands. The Girl thought the older girls were quite interesting. The Boy was a little bothered by the fact that they were older than he was, and he and the eldest (age-7) had a bit of eldest-child negotiation. We played outside, watched a movie, had a snack, played outside again, and were just about to play with Play-doh when their mom arrived.

Almost immediately afterward, a neighbor friend and his little boy came over to play with The Boy (and The Girl). We ordered a pizza for lunch from La Villa. The Girl took a nap. The Boy and his friend played quite nicely together until about 3 p.m., when it became apparent that both boys needed a nap. We had fun with Magna-Tiles, played with cars and trucks, went outside and splashed in the pool and dabbled in the sandbox, and generally had a good time.

At around 5 p.m., however, everything started to break down. The rest of the night was pretty messy due to my poor planning. I was at the grocery store at 6:30 p.m. (because we literally had nothing to eat in the house) and the kids weren't in bed until after 8:30.

Completely Off Topic

I could relate this back to things to do as a mother of 2 small children in Chicago, but I am too tired to make the connection right now. I do want to say, however, how much I really like the movie Iron Jawed Angels. It was made for/by HBO, but is currently showing on LMN (which I never watch, but saw that it was on). I am so proud of my forebears. I am always attracted to movies and books with strong female characters wearing great clothes.

A Mini-Break

This past weekend, Mr. C. and I took the kids on a mini-break. We went to stay with Mr. C.'s relatives in Michigan. They live in a gorgeous house on the shores of Lake St. Clair. We went for a brief tour around the lake on their boat, but spent most of the time swimming in their pool, eating, playing and napping. We all had a fantastic time.

I am quite grateful that we have family in comfortable economic circumstances. We are a long time away (if ever) from owning a second/summer home and the leisure/comfort that comes from having grown children and little debt, so I'm quite appreciative when our friends and family choose to share their leisure with us.

The Insanity of Pediatric Dermatology

Do you believe this stuff? The Girl has a birthmark on her knee. Her pediatrician has recommended that I make an appointment with one of the peds derms at Children's Memorial Hospital to have it looked at. I've been actively trying to get an appointment booked since June. The books just opened this morning at 9 a.m., so I called at approximately 9:03 (since at 9:01, I was still getting the answering service). Multiple times. I was put on hold each time and put into voicemail. So I just got a call back at 10:44 a.m. and the only appointment left was in Westchester at 8:45 a.m. in November. CRAZY. There are only 5 peds derms in the state of Illinois -- all of them are in Chicago. Four are at CMH; the fifth (who The Boy has seen for a weird fingernail problem) is at the University of Chicago.


I started this blog to talk about fun things to do with small children in and around Chicago. But for a moment, I am going to talk about something that is patently not fun to do: go shopping for a new bathing suit. This is an activity that most women avoid like the plague. Adding two small, energy-filled persons into the dressing room does nothing to further the enjoyment of said activity. And yet, that is just what I did last Tuesday when I spent 90 minutes trying on suits at the Land's End Inlet in Schaumburg. (Fortunately, for everyone involved, that time was not spent in vain because I did find something that fit/flattered and, to boot, was inexpensive.)

Afterward, we went back to IKEA. It must have been "Northsider at IKEA" day because we ran into at least two people we knew, however tangentially. First, in the restaurant, we ran into Kerry and Zach of Bloom Studios, a yoga studio in Lincoln Square (Rockwell Crossing). They had their son with them. Although I saw her walking around with her baby in a Moby Wrap, I didn't recognize her until I passed her while steering The Girl and The Boy toward the checkout with our tray cart. Amazingly enough, because I've only been to the studio once or twice (and that was over a year ago), she seemed to remember me as well.

Later, we were walking around the bedroom section when we heard a parent page from Smalland. We recognized the name, so we went over to say hello to The Boy's friend from Mother's Day Out and his little sister, who is just a few months older than The Girl.

The Boy and The Girl had great fun playing with each other within the children's section. They each had a frozen yogurt cone before we went home.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Going to the old neighborhood

Yesterday's adventure was taking the train to the area in which I grew up. We rode the Metra Electric to Homewood, to visit a friend of my mother. I've known her since I was The Boy's age, and my mother and I used to have play/coffeedates with her and her children. Although the trip required some advance planning on my part and broke up the journey into arguably unnecessary legs, it was a lot of fun and I'd do it again. I drove to the 55th-56th-57th Street station, parked the car on Stony Island Avenue, and the kids rode in the double stroller up to the station (thank goodness for accessibility regs and elevators!) and onto the train. The train ride was about 1/2 an hour from 57th Street to Homewood, which is the perfect length of time for a train-interested (but still impatient) 3-year-old and a people-interested 1-year-old. It took me about 20 minutes to walk from the station to our destination in Homewood.

We had an enjoyable time in Homewood. I visited with my mom's friend. She delighted in my wee ones and bemoaned the fact that her offspring have not yet produced grandchildren. The Boy and The Girl played with a circa-1976 plastic Fisher-Price Little People farm set (complete with silo!) with which I clearly remember playing. We had lunch that included freshly picked blueberries (another activity I remember doing as a child) and freshly picked tomatoes from the garden. Then we prepared to go home.

I overshot the train station by about 1/4 mile so that we could stop at Mitchell's Candies and Ice Cream. No trip to Homewood is complete without a stop at Mitchell's. In business since 1933, Mitchell's was the place we went to after band concerts and baseball games, to celebrate good report cards, to buy Father's Day and birthday presents for my father, and occasionally "just because." The Girl had fallen asleep in the stroller, so she didn't get anything. The Boy got a sugar cone filled with chocolate ice cream and covered in sprinkles. In tribute to my mother, I got a chocolate chip malted milk shake, which The Girl had some of later when she woke up. We bought 1/4 lb. of vanilla pan caramels to bring home to Mr. C. and I got 1/2 lb. of mixed creams to save for later.

We arrived at the station with about 15 minutes until the train was due. While The Girl snoozed, The Boy and I watched a freight train start, stop and start again on the far track, and talked about the different types of cars and the couplings. On the train ride back, the conductor amused both kids by answering The Boy's questions about the ticket punch.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Mr. C. and I took the kids to Kiddieland yesterday. Located just outside of Chicago at North and 1st Avenues in Melrose Park, Kiddieland is a small amusement park designed for children under 54" tall. The rides and amusements remind me of those at traveling carnivals or street fairs. I had never been there before, but taking the kids brought many happy childhood memories of going to Great America with my dad. With ticket prices of $20.75 for adults and $17.75 for kids over 3, it isn't an everyday kind of outing, but it is nice to do once or twice per summer.

We had a great time. At The Boy's request, we first rode a little train that encircled the park. It gave us a visual overview of the park's attractions, and we were able to plan our day a bit. The northern half of the park had larger rides and attractions for slightly older/bigger kids (most had a minimum height requirement of 42" - The Boy missed it by an inch and was quite upset that he didn't get to ride the bumper cars), while the rides in the southern part of the park were geared to kids under 3' tall.

The Girl particularly liked the flying elephant ride (9 elephants spin in a circle and if you pull a bar back, it goes up in the air), the mini Roto-Whip (which was apparently Grandma T.'s favorite ride, too), a tiny racecar ride (12 small racecars in a circle), and a "drive the car" type ride where everyone had their own steering wheel and horn. She also liked the carousel and the sandpit at the Volcano Playcenter. We also went on the big Ferris Wheel, which The Girl liked, but freaked me out when we were stuck at the top and I had a sweaty deathgrip on her chubby calf.

The Boy really liked the old-fashioned cars, the mini Roto-Whip, the rocket ride, the sledding water tube (which freaked me and Mr. C. out because you're twisting and moving downward in a hot, lightless black tube filled with water), the pump-your-own-train-car in the Volcano Playcenter, and of course, the train.

A couple of other things to know if you go: the park does not allow outside food to be brought in, so you're on the hook for at least $20 for a family of four. They do allow you to leave the park and come back in again, so I might be tempted to pack a picnic lunch and eat it in the car (which has more to do with the grease factor of their offerings over cost). They have 2 free Pepsi-product fountain stands throughout the park, so you can always fill up a Styrofoam cup with ice and get a soft drink or water at the water fountain. And the restrooms are kid-friendly, of course, with changing rooms.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Art Class, the Pool

I love Lincoln Square. It's one of my favorite city neighborhoods. We were there this morning while The Boy went to his art class at the Old Town School. While he checked out his tie-dye and painted, The Girl and I got a Mocha Frappucino (me), Horizon Vanilla Milk (her) and a bagel and wandered down Lincoln Avenue for awhile. I had intended to go to Giddings Plaza, which seems to be where all the moms with small children gather, but I didn't bring a stroller and The Girl wanted to walk. She wandered into Her Secret Closet (great second-hand clothes if you are a size-2), and I wandered into the The Dressing Room (trendy, but also targets moms) and unsuccessfully tried on clothes. TDR is opening up a new clothing store of kids called City Mouse in the old hardware store by the El tracks on August 14th. I'm excited about that, although a bunch of little boutiques selling varying levels of kidgear have opened in the past year in Lincoln Square.

When we picked up The Boy at 11:45, his teacher said that although he is one of only 2 boys in the class, he is the chattiest one, providing commentary and asking questions all the way through the class.

Later, after The Girl napped, I brought both kids to the water playground at Portage Park again. We've gone during the pool's 4:30 - 6:30 p.m. time slot every day, arriving just after the 5 p.m. staff change, and that has worked out well for us in terms of waiting and access to the water. Although I would think it would be the busiest time of day when parents would come with their kids after work, I haven't found that to be the case. It's actually pretty empty and calm then due to the fact that it's rush hour and before dinner time. The perfect time to go with two small children without a back-up. The Boy frolicked and splashed around; The Girl was more timid and more interested in watching the occupants of the large pool on the other side of the gate.

Afterward, we stopped at Cody's Hot Dog stand to get a couple of dogs and some Gatorade for dinner.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Back to the Pool

We took advantage of the cool, wet weather to ramble around the house for much of the day. The Girl and The Boy play quite well together first thing when they are both fresh with the day and have had a full night's sleep. Both kids took naps.

After The Boy woke up from his, I left The Girl, sleeping, with Mr. C. and took The Boy back to the water playground at Portage Park. We got there just as the shift change ended and owing to the cool 83-degree temperature, the place was practically deserted. I had great fun spending an hour's worth of one-on-one time with The Boy. He went down the slide several times, and decided to attempt the crawling tube as long as I was waiting on the other side. I also pushed him and another little girl on the "tire" swing. After about 45 minutes, his lips were blue and he was starting to shiver, so it wasn't too hard to convince him that it was time to go home and have dinner. We chatted about the sounds that the cars in the movie Cars make all the way home.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


After swimming, we were all hungry and debated whether to eat dinner at home or go out. Not surprisingly, going out won. We had dinner at Chicago's Pizza and Pasta, which has recently opened at 4520 W. Irving Park Road. The restaurant itself is a nice--but not elegant--space. The decor suggested an attempt to appeal to parents as adults and parents as parents: wipe-down table cloths in a pretty terracotta color, pale green and mustard yellow ceramic plates, and paper napkins. When we arrived, The Boy and The Girl each got a lidded plastic cup full of water, children's menu and crayons. We also got a plate of foccacia and olive oil. The kitchen easily takes up half of the building, leaving room for only about 8 or 9 tables for dining-in, but given the gigantic stack of wooden highchairs next to the takeout counter, they clearly expect children.

We passed on the children's menu options ($5.75 for milk or soda, choice of entree and choice of side), although it comprised the widest variety I've yet seen on a children's menu (pasta, rotini & cheese, pizza, cheeseburger, hamburger, chicken fingers). Unfortunately, they didn't have chocolate milk, which greatly upset The Boy. He eventually settled for apple juice instead. We ordered a 12" thin crust, half cheese and half artichoke, and a house salad ($4.95) and avocado salad ($6.75). The salads came on enormous plates, very tastefully arranged. The pizza was very cheesy, which The Girl loved of course. One last sign of kid-friendliness. When we asked for the check, the waitress said that they offered Italian Ice for the kids and did we want lemon or cherry? The Boy had cherry and The Girl had lemon. They both really enjoyed them. Total bill: $24.75 + tip.

We'll definitely go back again.

Swimming at Portage Park

After The Girl woke up from her nap, we packed up our swimsuits and "scumscreen" (as The Boy calls sunscreen), grabbed Daddy, and headed to the children's pool playground at Portage Park. I have been a handful of times with both kids, always with my husband because The Girl is at an age where she wants to stay close to a parent and The Boy can't be left solely to the supervision of the lifeguards.

I have kind of a love/hate affair with the pool at Portage Park. The pool set-up itself is quite cool: a zero-depth entry leading into a depth of about 2' at the deepest end. In the middle of the pool is an amazing aqua jungle gym, complete with a crawling tube, "tire" swing and a tube slide. There are all kinds of fountains and waterfalls on and shooting off of the unit. The Boy loves it, and was brave enough to try the tube slide today. The zero-depth entry is perfect for The Girl, who is a bit timid in the water after one too many baths with her rambunctious brother.

But I don't like the way the lifeguard and pool staff act in general. The playground pool is only open at certain times of the day, for about 2 hours each time with 1-2 hour breaks in between open times. It's unclear to me why the park district chooses to run the pool this way. Is it a staffing issue? A pee-in-the-pool issue? In addition to the odd hours, the staff cap the number of people allowed in the area at any one time (which does make sense to me), but when a line forms outside, they kick everyone out after about 20 minutes or so. Anyone with little kids knows how difficult it is for them to wait, let alone wait patiently. So if it's very hot and/or crowded during the time you're there, chances are that you'll only be in the pool for about 40 minutes in a 2-hour time slot. Finally, no one on the park district staff communicates to the crowd about their actions or procedures. So you've no idea what is going on or why. I now understand why people join private pools in the summer.

We got there just after they opened for the 4:30 - 6:30 p.m. slot and, fortunately, it was not crowded, so we walked in. About 8 minutes later, just when The Boy was really getting into it, all the lifeguards blew their whistles and said, "Everyone out of the pool." So we got in line to get back in while all the lifeguards went down to the main pool and played water polo in the deep end for about 15 minutes. The Boy kept asking us why they had closed the pool and we had no answer for him. Neither did anyone else. Finally, after we had all completely dried in the sun, a different set of lifeguards and a PD staff member came back and let us all in. We all frolicked in the water for another 40 minutes or so. The Girl really liked the tire swing until she let go of one of the chains and partially fell into the water (I caught her partway in).

We decided to go when we were all thoroughly wet and starting to get a bit cold, shockingly enough. It was just in the nick of time because the first drops of rain fell as we were walking back to the car. We stopped at the little hot dog stand outside the changing rooms for a packet of crisps and some Gatorade to restore our salt levels.


It was an extraordinarily busy day for us today. First, we hosted playgroup at our house. What would I do without my playgroup? I've no idea. It's my mommy lifeline in the City. And The Boy learned what the word "friend" means from hanging out with playgroup children every Wednesday since he was 6-months-old.

We just celebrated our 3-year anniversary. We started out as a group of six moms and babies, added a seventh soon after, and took new members only when someone moved away. Of the original seven families, two moved to the suburbs and one moved to Maryland, but the remaining four (plus two new families) are still urban dwellers. Unlike most playgroups, we aren't neighborhood-based (I'm somewhat of an anomaly in my neighborhood of professional [lawyers, bankers, etc.] working parents), but are spread out all over the City. We rotate hosting duties, so it's nice to see other parts of and neighborhoods in the city on a regular basis.

Three other moms and six children came to play and have lunch at our house today. My original plan had been for the kids to enjoy our outdoor climbing unit/slide, paddling pool, and sand and water tables, but with the oppressive heat, I decided that we'd all be more comfortable (and less fractious) if we stayed in our well air-conditioned first floor rooms. The Boy, The Girl and their friends colored, played with trains, had lunch, ate cupcakes, and played with punch balloons. The Girl was quite interested in playgroup's newest member, a 4-week-old boy named S. When I held him, she kept whinging at my feet until I knelt down so that she could see the baby, too.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I am insane

In today's 107-degree heat, I took the kids and met a friend and her 3 children at Brookfield Zoo. Not surprisingly, the zoo was pretty deserted. We spent most of our time going from air conditioned comfort to water activity and back again, though we did ride the new Carousel this time. The Boy loved running around with his friends in the splash pad outside of the Seven Seas exhibit. We discovered a new (to us) activity in the stream/"beaver dam" behind the Hamill Family Play Zoo (The Boy kept calling it "the streamer"), and due to the frigid temperature of the water, we were all able to keep cool. Both kids (and me) were red in the face and sweating profusely. I am exhausted from the heat.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Cottage Living Idea Home

I really want to go to the Cottage Living Idea Home in Evanston. But this is one activity that I think will be much better done on my own.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Race Relations

While we were at The Corner Bakery today, The Boy was coloring the front of the menu/coloring book with a red crayon. He fiercely colored over the face of one of the cartoon people on the front, saying that he didn't want him to go over to another cartoon person's house. I looked over and the face he had colored over belonged to what was supposed to be a black person. It may not have been related or even a race thing; The Boy seemed to think that the Latina cartoon person was OK. But it got me thinking.

Although I consider our neighborhood to be fairly diverse, it isn't of the black/white variety. There are lots of brown folks here, but not a lot of Asians or Blacks. In fact, in my musing this afternoon, I could only come up with one black resident, a man (married to a white woman, with two small children just older and younger than The Boy) in our immediate neighborhood. I am on a "hello" basis with the family, but nothing further. I am on only a "hello" basis with most of my neighbors. However, in this case, I don't want to deepen the relationship at all. This has nothing to do with my neighbor's race and everything to do with his recent place on the registered sex offender list.

I've concluded that The Boy just must not see a lot of black folk. I think we need to change that because it kills me to think of my child excluding anyone, whether it's for reasons of race or otherwise.

It's A Hot Time in the Old Town

This time, we cannot pin the guilt on Mrs. O'Leary's cow and instead have only ourselves to blame. It is 97 degrees fahrenheit outside today and while I should take this opportunity to take the kids to the beach or Millennium Park to play in the fountain sculpture or even to Portage Park's zero-depth pool, I just can't manage it. Too hot and, since it is Saturday, too crowded. And, since it is Saturday with a 3:05 p.m. start Cubs game, too much traffic. All I want to do is sit on the couch in my freezing living room, drink iced tea and zone out in front of the boob tube.

Unfortunately, The Boy had other ideas. He's been bugging me for Cranky the Crane, which parents of boys will recognize as yet another character in the Thomas the Tank Engine series. The Boy calls all of the Thomas branded stuff "trains with a face" and has gotten quite picky about with which train cars he'll concede to play.

Anyway, last night, he repeated his request for Cranky and I told him that if he started wiping his own bum when he went potty, I'd get him Cranky. I have discovered that offering The Boy some trains with a face is an amazing motivational tool on the potty learning front. I gave him Spencer right after he started pooping in the toilet about 6 weeks ago and we haven't had a problem since then. So this morning, The Boy woke up, ate his oatmeal, went to the bathroom, wiped himself, and demanded that we keep our promise.

So, with The Girl, out we trekked in the 97-degree heat to buy Cranky. Although I am normally quite a fan of small, independent toy stores like Timeless Toys, Toys and Treasures, and Building Blocks, I just dropped no small amount of cash at one of them yesterday and so decided to take advantage of big corporate by buying Cranky the Crane (and nothing else) at the Niles Michael's with a 40% Off One Item coupon.

We also had lunch at Corner Bakery, where I was again so nicely complimented on my children by an older woman who told me that they were adorable (and patted The Girl on the head) as she left. She didn't say anything about their behavior, but they were really well-behaved in the restaurant. We all sat there, quietly coloring, for a good 10 minutes after we finished eating.

Pre-K, Part I

The issue of what to do for pre-Kindergarten for The Boy has been pressing on my mind a lot lately. I didn't get into the whole preschool frenzy that some of my friends and many of my online acquaintances did. It hardly seemed worth it to stress over which program, which philosophy, which school was the right choice for a 2- or 3-year-old. Not to mention that while we probably could afford to pay preschool tuition of $300+ per month, I'd rather spend the money on something else, or save it for his high school or college education.

But now, with pre-K applications due in December 2006 (for the fall of 2007 -- eek!), I feel that I should get on the ball. I don't know if I am a disadvantage compared to my research-heavy compatriots or not, because we've decided that our children will attend public schools. This decision makes us anamolies among upper middle-class urban parents; most parents, it would seem, would prefer to send their children to private schools. But my husband and I feel strongly that we should employ the public school system, for several reasons:
  1. I'm a product of the public school system and although I am not a rocket scientist, I feel that I received an excellent education that has prepared me for work and life.
  2. I feel that if we are going to live in the city and enjoy the benefits of urban life, we should put "our money where our mouths are" so to speak. This is our community; one way to make the schools fit our ideals is to get involved by enrolling our children and working from within to effect change. Related to this is that our local school community will be more reflective (than private schools) of the diverse community in which we live.
  3. My husband went to parochial (Roman Catholic) school and disliked everything about it. Incidentally, my own father went to (Roman) Catholic school from K-8 and my mother went to (Roman) Catholic school from K-12, and their experience is part of the reason that I attended the public schools.
  4. Cost. We're paying for the public schools in our property taxes. As I said above, while we could find ways to afford private school tuition, I don't want to. And I certainly don't want to get into a situation similar to one I read about in a magazine, wherein the author's daughter's education was paid for by grandparents who were suddenly unable to meet their obligation. The author had to scramble to pay her daughter's tuition herself, but didn't want to pull her child out of the school that she and her husband otherwise couldn't afford because of the stigmatization and lack of continuity her daughter might experience.
To be continued...

Friday, July 28, 2006


We had a busy morning in Lincoln Square today. Lincoln Square is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. It has been established for awhile, but the amenities/shopping have really exploded in the past four years. I could easily spend (and have spent) hours bumming around that area of town. The Boy and The Girl really like it, too.

Our reason for visiting today was The Boy's art class at the Old Town School of Folk Music. I suppose that it is a bit odd to take an art class at a music and dance school, but they seem to offer reasonably priced classes for children under 5. (Plus, they aren't all about branding him. If my kid recognizes brand names, I'd prefer that he learned them from me at this point.)

Before class, we made a quick trip to the Marie Sulzer Regional Library, to return and renew books, and check out some new ones for this week. I find that checking books out of the library is a good way to preview what The Boy and The Girl like to read. If a library book is often requested during its three-week stay with us, I'll buy a copy to add to our collection.

The Girl and I feasted on a snack of hummus (fabulous!) and pita from the Old Town School Cafe during The Boy's class. After class, we all went to the toy store. The Boy played with trains, as usual. The Girl liked just about everything. We got another set of Magna-Tiles, which I cannot recommend enough. My brother and sister-in-law got The Boy a set two years ago for Christmas and it is consistently a hot toy among my children and visiting ones. We made one last stop to The Book Cellar to pick up two books I had ordered, favorites from the previous round of library books, Jazz Baby by Carole Boston Weatherford (for The Girl) and If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen (for The Boy).

Although the kids were tired, hungry, and hot, we had to stop at Trader Joe's. This is one of the brands that The Boy knows and recognizes. Indeed, he shouted out "There it is Mama!" as we approached the parking lot (although I think he recognizes the more prominent CB2 logo that is adjacent to TJ's). We got everything on our list and then skedaddled home to enjoy lunch and the blissful cool of our air conditioned house.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Yesterday, we took a trip to IKEA in Schaumburg. I know that the mecca of semi-disposable furniture IKEA is not a "destination" for kids, but it is in this household. (In fact, it was The Boy's first outing.) It's got Smalland, a restaurant, and lots of little play stations around the store for children. And The Girl loves to climb up and down on the sofas, chairs and beds although, yesterday, because we were with friends, she did not.

Yesterday's trip was somewhat difficult with two independently minded 3.5-year-old boys and a 15-month-old who wandered off unconcernedly. Plus the store just remodeled, changing the layout (that I had memorized) and that, combined with all the new 2007 catalog items, made for an overwhelming trip. We will have to go back again soon to check everything out. The new kids' section is really cool. And The Girl needs a bookshelf for her room.

The parenting highlight of the trip came when a man, who had been sitting at a table behind all 4 kids and my friend and me, walked by and told my friend that she had very nice/well-behaved children and that I did, too.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The List

Before the summer started, I had a mental list of all the things I wanted to do with the kids. It's now late-July and I'm not sure we've done half of them. Some of them will keep until next year or even the fall, but maybe recording them will keep me focused.
  • Ravinia
  • Kiddieland
  • Train garden at Chicago Botanical Garden
  • Beach
  • Kids garden at Morton Arboretum
  • Centennial Beach in Naperville

Brookfield Zoological Park

The Boy woke up this morning and asked, as he does every day, "What are we doing today, Mama?" My initial response (go to daycamp at a program in our neighborhood) elicited tears and whinging, so I gave it up (he's been protesting camp since its second week and I'm sick of convincing him that he wants to go, even if he has a good time once he gets there) and suggested that we go to the zoo instead.

"Which zoo, Mama?"
"Do you want to go to the face-painting zoo or the other one?"
"The face-painting zoo, Mama."

And, after loading the car with the double stroller and bottles of water, we went to Brookfield Zoo.

Brookfield Zoo is an amazing place. It is quite a bit larger than Lincoln Park Zoo and it's not hard to imagine ladies in white dresses and parasols walking primly around the grounds with their flannels-clad escorts admiring the center fountain and wildlife, stopping to rest on the benches under the big oak trees lining the wide sidewalks. Today's 90-degree heat made it difficult to imagine being one of those women, however. I'd have swooned in all those layers and boning. I was nearly swooning in my t-shirt and capris, huffing around with 2 heavy children in a 30-pound stroller.

Due to the fact that I never seem to have actual cash on me, we went through the North Gate, with the masses. When we got there, The Boy insisted on holding the map. We were all attracted to the newly open, but still vaguely under-construction Carousel. But, since I was still without cash, it wasn't an option. Next time.

First up, we saw a brown, hairy tarantula (not its actual name) from Costa Rica in a box with a pink lid. The docent/zookeeper kept saying that he was excited that the creature was actually awake, as tarantulas are normally nocturnal. I was skeeved out, but The Boy was vaguely interested. We agreed that it looked like the spiders in Harry Potter 2. The zookeeper asked if we had any questions about the spider, but The Boy didn't seem to have any. We walked away and the first thing he said was, "Where did the spider come from, Mama?"

Next, we walked over to the Seven Seas area, to see when the next dolphin show would be. It was at 11:30 a.m. and though it was still half an hour until it started, The Boy insisted that we go into the unairconditioned auditorium. The Girl was not happy about sitting there for so long, especially once it became crowded and I would no longer let her sit on the concrete steps instead of the plastic bleacher seats. The show started and The Boy was entranced. I thought it was better than the dolphin show at the Shedd (shorter and more splash/tricks), but The Girl was terrified at the dolphins jumping in the air. (She felt warmer than just too-hot-from-the-weather-warm while we were sitting in the auditorium and, sure enough, was running a fever when we got home, so that may explain her fear at the show.)

After the dolphins, we wandered past the bears to the Hamill Family Play Zoo, which is probably his (and mine: it's air conditioned and indoors) favorite part of Brookfield Zoo. We saw the bears on the way. The Girl was somewhat animated watching one sleeping in a corner and The Boy had a good view of one playing in a pool of water.

At the Hamill Play Zoo, The Boy waited patiently for his turn in front of the mirror and painted his face pink, green and yellow. He later told his daddy that he was a lion. We looked in on the Hissing Cockroach, gecko and snake. Painted water colors in the Activity of the Day section (The Girl painted, too, clever little monkey. I helped her for awhile and every time I put the brush down, she would pick it back up and hand it to me), and then sprayed the plants in the spray room.

I was ready to go home after that, but The Boy insisted that we have lunch there. I had been planning to go elsewhere because while there is more to do for little kids at Brookfield, the food is much better at Lincoln Park Zoo. And, for what you get, it's pretty expensive at Brookfield as well. But, to go elsewhere, I'd have to put them into and take them out of the car again and it was already past The Girl's naptime, so I decided that The Boy had a point. We went to the Safari Grill, where The Boy had an Animeal(r) of 2 mini cheeseburgers, fries and milk. The Girl and I split an organic turkey + cheese sandwich. I brought out the fries last and The Girl ate quite a few dipped in ketchup.

I got the kids loaded up into the stroller and walked back to the car. The Girl was asleep before we got to the car. The Boy fell asleep before we got home. A bit of traffic on the merge from the Ike, but not too bad otherwise.

Another day, another adventure.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


Yesterday, after The Boy's class I took both kids with me to The Red Balloon Co. annual sale at their location in Bucktown. On the way, I called my husband to check in and told him where I was going. The Boy perked up at "Bucktown" and asked me more about it:

"Will there be buckets there, Mama? Do they have shovels there too? Is it a sandbox?"

We talked about the buckets and shovels of "Bucketown" all the way down to the store. He was sad when we got into the store and there were no buckets, shovels or sand.

Alas, there were no great deals there either.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Introduction: About This Blog

Welcome to my Blog for Chicago parents and kids.

Having grown up in Chicago's south suburbs, it was my life's goal to move to the city itself. After 27 years, I finally made it, and became a bonified City of Chicago resident in 2002. With my husband, I'm now happily raising 2 little Chicagoans on the Northside. Although I stay at home with The Boy 3.5y and The Girl, 15-months, I am not a mom who likes to actually stay at home. We are constantly out and about, exploring all that this city has to offer. And it offers quite a lot for the under-5 set. This blog is my attempt to detail our adventures in and observations of city (and sometimes suburban) life.