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.