Saturday, December 19, 2009


The second annual Chicago Mama cookie-decorating party was this afternoon. Because we know so many little kids and have such a small house, I had to keep the number of invitees down. A few people could not make it, so we ended up with 11 little munchkins (including The Girl, The Boy, and The Tot) to decorate homemade sugar cookies with brightly colored royal icing and sprinkles, non-pareils, and more.  

Here's the calm before the storm:

I gave each child a holiday-themed tin, marked with his/her name, and pre-filled with 1/2 dozen sugar cookies. Note for next year: 1 dozen! Each child got to decorate his/her cookies and/or eat them. 

As everyone arrived, they split off into groups to play. The girls and The Girl got all dolled up from our dress-up bin, wearing fancy dresses + a pair of wings each. Some of them, like The Girl, kept this get-up on while they decorated cookies:


Afterwards, the boys went upstairs to play Lego and the girls and the tots stayed downstairs to watch 1969's Frosty the Snowman: 

For my part, I got to drink spiked coffee and chit-chat with the moms about school, books, Boden, and other topics of interest.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Queuing Up

From Blogger Photos
Yesterday, I had a completely new parenting experience: queuing up to get good seats at The Boy's and The Girl's holiday concert/show at school. The photo above shows the line stretching around the corner as we eager parents waited for 1/2 an hour or more in the 6-degree weather for a seat in the gymatorium. I don't think I've ever waited in such conditions for anything, having been blissfully unaware of the music scene until well into my college years, at which time ticket-by-phone was available. 

But: Elfis and the Sleigh Riders was well-worth the wait. My space in line gave me a seat in the third row, so I could see everyone fairly well. The Boy had a tiny speaking part, and both The Girl and The Boy sang one or more of the 5 songs in the set. It was very cute.

I took the day off of work to see the show, but I also got to have coffee with my friend Becky in the morning and take a long nap in the afternoon. The Girl was wiped from the show, so we all settled in for a long afternoon nap.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Two for Tea

When I was a child, my family's get-dressed-up-during-the-holidays event was a trip to the Walnut Room in Marshall Field's. For my children, it may very well be tea at the Peninsula. I took The Girl there on Sunday for our first fancy-schmancy mama-girl playdate. I have been to the Peninsula a few times with friends and there have always been groups of fancily-clad little girls with their American Girl dolls, but until ChicagoParent came out with its list of holiday tea spots, I knew that I had to take The Girl. You can see us in the photo to the left. We were terribly overdressed, even for The Lobby/Avenues restaurant at the Peninsula, but I attribute that to the gradual casualing of America. I made reservations before Thanksgiving, but they were not able to take us until 5:30 p.m. on a Sunday. I was a bit disappointed, because when we arrived, the maitre d' took us into Avenues, which was stuffier and also emptier than The Lobby. They reassured it me that it was just as nice as The Lobby. And the service was good, as was the food, but it was just not as festive as The Lobby, with its two-story windows and giant Christmas tree, was. Oh well. Better luck next time. 

For her part, The Girl was a dream. She was perfectly mannered, nicely dressed, and excited to be there. She drank tea--not the proffered hot cocoa--black, without sugar. The older couple dining next to us found her charming and cute. They kept asking me how old she was, etc. I told her that in England, they have "tea" for dinner, which she seemed to find interesting. We were both hungry, and enjoyed our little meals. The Girl ate most of her kids' tea:

From Blogger Photos
And part of mine as well. She did not like the lemon curd or the cold salmon, but she liked the curried egg salad on pumpernickel and some of the chocolate desserts. It was definitely a splurge--$18 for kids' tea, $38 for adult tea, plus $23 in valet parking, but I consider it part of The Girl's Christmas present, and it was pretty fun.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

When Blogging and Real Life Collide

Today, as I was resting on a giant leather sofa at the Starbucks closest to my office on a mid-afternoon caffeine run, I looked over and there was a cute blond toddler in a red Bumbleride screaming his head off. I laughed--not because I was taunting the child or teasing his parent, but because I have so been there. And then his mother popped up and I smiled at her in that way that mothers who have survived toddlerhood will recognize as the secret-club handshake of mothers...and realized that she is the genius behind Big City Fuzz and Big City Suds. Cool. Now I want some lemongrass-scented soap and recycled wool mittens.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Santa, Baby

The Boy's homework project for this month is to write a short chapter book all about his family holiday traditions. It can be any holiday, but given The Dad's  and my own respective Roman Catholic/Episcopal upbringing, we are lapsed Christians who observe the secular Christmas.

One of our holiday traditions happened last week: the Santa breakfast at Morton Arboretum with Grandma & Grandpa Naperville. We have been doing some version of this since The Boy was two. First at Marshall Fields with his cousins and, once they aged out of the breakfast and toward symphony dress-up events, at the Morton Aboreteum. As The Girl and The Tot tot were born, they came too.
And they put on a nice event for the breakfast at the Arb: they close the Gingko Cafe and have Mrs. Claus visit tables of kids and grandparents--some dressed to the 9s, some wering jeans and Santa sweaters--while they eat pancakes and quiche delivered by waitstaff. The highlight of the breakfast, of course, is the jolly old man himself, who arrives by walking down one of the Arb's many walking paths, dressed in attire reminiscent of Father Nature or St. Nicholas than the typical red-suited cad. He carries a giant walking stick/staff and wears a crown of leaves and branches. By the time he is seated in his oversized chair, a line has stretched the full length of the room and pancakes, sausages, and orange juice lie abandoned everywhere. It has been like this every year we've gone and 2009 was no exception.

The Boy and The Girl were quick to jump into line, but the tot had one destination on his mind: the train set up in the plant clinic across the way. He was not interested in the suited, bearded man that his memory is too short to remember from last year. And after The Boy's two- and three-year-old reactions to Santa, I'm perfectly OK with that. Truth be told, I have a hard time actively promoting the Santa myth.

So The Tot happily went to the trains with Grandpa while Grandma and I waited with The Boy and The Girl for the photo-and-tell-me-all-your-wishes opportunity. The treat bag at the end (Smencil, giant iced cookie, candy canes, mini coloring book and Christmas temporary tattoos) helped too.
From Blogger Photos
We got our free tickets to the train area and headed over to join The Tot and Grandpa. The theme this year was Hansel & Gretel, with lots of Necco Wafer-adorned roofs on the gingerbread houses lining the track. The Tot was beyond excited, but we had to exit after his excitement turned a bit possessive: he was pushing newcomers to the side, touching babies carelessly left in bucket seats, etc. He did not want to leave and took off his jacket three times before I gave up and took him out anyway.

Monday, December 07, 2009

And the winner is...

My random number-generator was The Boy. At almost 7 years of age, he can count to 100 and beyond, so he was a good candidate for randomness. And so, the winner is:


Thanks to everyone who participated in my first Sew, Mama, Sew Giveaway blog and commented on my post. Happy holidays and happy crafting! 

Saturday, December 05, 2009

GEAP Test, Check

So, I thought I'd be all bad-ass urban mama and take The Girl on the L to her GEAP test yesterday. And then I realized:
- the test is at 3:30 in the afternoon, which is not the best time for a 4-year-old to be at her best
- it was a school holiday, so Natty didn't need the car to pick up The Boy
- and it's 30-degrees outside

So we drove to IIT instead. Earlier in the day, Natty had taken The Boy, The Girl, and The Tot to the Shedd Aquarium before picking me up at my office (I took a half-day's vacation), so The Girl was pretty wiped out. I left at 2 o'clock, leaving myself a ton of time to get there and hoping The Girl would fall asleep in the car on the way down, but she wrote her first and last name on a piece of paper and counted to forty instead.

We got there way early, at which point I realized I needed cash to pay for parking, so we drove back up to the Jewel-Osco at Roosevelt Road for cash and snacks: Veggie Booty, grapes, and a snack-sized package of bite-sized brownies. Back down to IIT to park, scurry across State Street in the bitingly cold wind, and upstairs to the psychology department in the Life Sciences Building. The Girl was in and out in about 1/2 an hour. She, like The Boy two years ago, couldn't or didn't want to tell me anything about what she'd done during the test. And that's fine. Until recently, it hadn't even occurred to me that someone would prep their kid for the test.

The head of the department was there to answer questions about the process. He couldn't reveal anything about the test CPS uses, or how it's scored. But he did say that the norms they use to determine the standard are actually taken from test data from four or five years ago, which I found pretty interesting. He also said that they score everyone taking into account their actual age, within the month. So The Girl will be scored against all the other 4-year-and-7-month-olds. We'll find out in March how she did.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Bag Tutorial

A huge THANK YOU to all of you who have read my blog today. I'm always happy to capture an audience's attention, if only for a day (or five). A few of you asked for the link to the tutorial. Although I've found and loved and used many Sew, Mama, Sew tutorials, like this rice heat therapy bag and this pretty garland, I used this Craftster tutorial to make the bags (using this method of strap construction) in my Giveaway post. 

These are my latest projects. I'm so excited about the Oliver + S pajamas I'm making for The Boy, The Girl, and The Tot for Christmas morning. Liesl has some fun tricks for waistbands and hems that have made construction so much easier. These are the pair I've finished for The Tot, using a trains flannel print + red flannel trim:

And these are the pants I've done for The Girl, with a white snowflake dot on red background, with a funny red and white trim repurposed from an old baby blanket. I wasn't quite sure how the reds would look against each other, but I'm thrilled with the way it turned out.

Kicking Off the Season

My friend Becky once said that she feels like she's not a "real" mom unless she makes her children's Halloween costumes. I feel the same way about Christmas presents. If you are so inclined, you should check out the tutorials under Sew, Mama, Sew's Homemade Holidays label. (However, if you are on my giftee list, you should not check out the tutorials). And if you are a regular reader or here from Sew, Mama, Sew's Giveaway Day, I'll cut to the chase.

I love these bags, created from an online tutorial. They are a beautiful alternative to plastic grocery sacks and even store-brand poly sacks, and hold about 3 times as much as well. I keep a stack in my car and one folded up in my purse. I'm giving away a set of two coordinating cotton bags:

To be entered to win these, simply leave a comment here. Be sure to include your e-mail address so that I can contact you. I'll choose a winner randomly, and I'll ship to Canada and within the U.S.  I'll leave comments open for this contest until December 6th. 

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hooper's Store

Grandma and Grandpa Texas and Aunt Sam left today. We went to Curio Cafe for brunch before they left for the craziest airport in the U.S. on the second craziest air-travel day of the year. As I have said before, and will continue to say, I love the Curio Cafe. Grandma and Grandpa Texas have been there several times -- Grandma Texas even went once with her friend without kids! When we walked into a full restaurant and I immediately recognized 6 kids and 3 sets of parents, Grandpa Texas commented that he expected Elmo and Oscar the Grouch to walk in at any moment. He meant it as a compliment to Claudia and Lucy; that they've created a neighborhood eatery with good food and good ambiance, where everyone ends up at one point or another.

After we said our good-byes, The Girl and I dropped the boys off at home and headed out to Oak Park, to attend a Leslie B. show. Grandma Naperville introduced me to Leslie B. last year.  It's like Chinese artisan/Etsy with lots of one-of-a-kind stone necklaces, pashminas, scarves, etc. The Girl behaved beautifully in the car and at the party, staying close to me and serving as my fashion advisor.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


With Grandma & Grandpa Texas at lunch with Grandma & Grandpa Naperville yesterday, we found ourselves with nothing to do on a late-fall Saturday. While I'd normally take this opportunity to go to a museum, I think that's what the rest of the non-shoppers would choose also, so The Dad, The Boy, The Girl, The Tot, and I headed up to Northbrook for our quarterly trip for arcade fun at Nickel City.

It was a slow-moving start in the morning, so we didn't leave until about 11 a.m., which is The Girl's and The Tot's usual lunchtime. Cranky kids + a 25-minute car ride does not for a fun time make. We were all much cheerier after lunch at Panera in Glenview.

We got to Nickel City about 1 p.m. and stayed until just after 2 p.m., playing Skee Ball, Bozo Buckets, Spider Stomp, and various other games. In the free section in the back, I discovered an ancient Japanese game that was a precursor/combination of Bubble Bobble and the iPhone app Bubble Pop and played that for a bit until The Tot and The Dad came to find me. Normally, I get a headache within an hour, but I was actually not ready to leave when The Dad declared that it was time to go. That said, an afternoon at Nickel City is one of my favorite ways to spend $20 and time with my family. We racked up just over 300 tickets between the five of us, enough (with $1.50) for 3 Ring Pops as consolation for having to go home.

The Dad took the kids into Hobby USA adjacent to Nickel City while I ran into Hancock Fabrics (great prices, a massive line for the cutting table and only two people working in the store) for a bodkin. Then we went home - and score! The Tot fell asleep on the way.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Crafty Chicago

One holiday down, the big'un is less than a month away. Which means that this mama needs to finish up her Christmas projects. Last year, a friend introduced me to the Sew, Mama, Sew blog, and I've been an occasionally devoted reader ever since. In November, I'm a devoted reader of their aggregate Handmade Holidays. In fact, I'll be participating in their Giveaway Day next week.  I've been having fun with the Oliver + S Pajama pattern, making a pair of perfectly coordinated flannel PJs for each of my children. You know, with my copious free time these days...  

If you are short on free-time (or inspiration, or both), however, you can buy the handiwork of artisans and artists this weekend at the Bucktown Bazaar in Holstein Park. My friend Melissa, of Rapt in Maille, will be crammed somewhere in the fieldhouse, peddling her beautiful and funky chainmail pieces. 

And if you miss her this weekend (family in town, stuck in the 'burbs for the weekend, etc.), you can see her (and thousands of other fabulous artists) at the One of a Kind Art Show and Sale at the Merchandise Mart, starting on Thursday, December 3rd.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Flashback with a Twist

With the work-holiday, today was like a flashback to November 2008 -- plus two. After staying up way too late last night to work on my first Oliver + S project, I slept in a bit this morning. Then The Boy, The Girl, The Tot, and I headed out to Aurora to visit Cara and her ever-growing brood (the plus two since last year are Kenley and Tillie).

Cara and I had an an old-fashioned mom-visit, complete with tea and toys and kids running around all over the house. The Girl and Gracie, and The Boy and Johnny started back where they left off, playing Barbies and dolls, and battlefield-stars, respectively. The Tot eventually warmed up to the toys in the living room, and was quite upset when we left around 2:30 because Tillie had to go to the pediatrician's office. 

All three kids fell asleep in the car on the way home (w00t!). When we got home, The Boy and The Tot went on the L with The Dad, while I took The Girl to the Treasure Store. We picked up Aunt Sam, who is visiting from Texas this week for the holiday, along the way.  I love the Treasure Store: this cabinet (in white) for $20, plus the usual clothing deals. The Girl drove our departure from the store, but I want to go back for the mod cabinet and about half a dozen other pieces.

We had planned to go to CBA for dinner, but discovered after we parked and paid our LAX fee that it was closed for the holiday (or maybe it closes at 3 p.m.? I can't remember a time that I went there for anything other than lunch). I was quite surprised, but most of Lincoln Park-DuPaul seemed to be buttoned up for the day, actually.  With rumbling bellies, we trekked up Armitage to Halsted to see what sort of food we could procure that would be as suitable for me, Aunt Sam, and an adventurous-but-messily-attired 4-year-old

...and ended up at Cafe Ba Ba Reeba! I've been there only once before, in 2003, for a moms' night out with our playgroup. On that occasion, we waited for 20 minutes for our reservation. Tonight, we walked in and were seated immediately. Cafe Ba Ba Reeba is definitely tapas for an American (Chicago, Lincoln Park) palate, but it suited The Girl just fine. We ordered a few pintxos, potato salad, baked goat cheese with tomato sauce, artisanal cheese plate, chicken empanada, and fried green peppers. Plus mango sorbet and caramel-almond cake. The Girl is, and always has been, a fantastic dining companion, especially outside the negative influence of her brothers. She eats everything, is willing to try almost anything, and can be entertained with a pencil and paper or people-watching. We sat just opposite the main prep bar, so we had lots to see.

Disney II in the News

Along with the rest of the school and its community, the PR machine at Disney II works. Disney II was the lead in today's New York Times story about parent-led fundraising and Arne Duncan/President Obama's developing push for an extended school day. The Boy's class is pictured in the accompanying photograph.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Trials of the Working Mum #2

Fatigue. I don't know if it's an earlier school time, a later bed time, or just a general lack of time, but we're all just plain tired in our house these days. The Tot, who still takes a 1-3-hour nap, is the glaring exception to this. But The Girl is a disaster most days when I arrive home around 6 p.m. and cramming in dinner, books, and at least 1/2 an hour of homework is certainly not helping. The Tot likes to fart around in his crib before he goes to sleep each night--but only if I stay in the room with him. I can no longer recall where I read this (there's that fatigue component coming into play again), but I seem to remember reading a quote from some child-development expert (Burton White? Dr. Sears? Marc Weissbluth?) that no person under the age of 35 can sleep during primetime hours, while no parent over the age of 30 can stay awake during those hours.

However, the immediate post-bedtime hour on a Friday or Saturday evening is really the only time that I get to talk--or listen--to The Boy. How else is a busy working mother with a busy, full-time student (although he's only not-quite seven) going to learn all the important facts about her child? Some things have changed in the first three months of school, some things have stayed the same.

The Boy: An Interview
Favorite color: Red. And blue and yellow and green.
Favorite food: crockpot BBQ chicken sandwiches (thanks Becky!)
Best friend: A. and Enver
Best friend who's a girl: A. and S.
Favorite subject in school: Writing. And also guided reading and science.
What he wants to be when he grows up: To study science and space (Me: "An astronomer?") No, a professor.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Trials of the Working Mum #1

This evening, at the GIPNA 4th Annual Fine Wine and Cheese party, I ran into my friend Meredith, who asked me about my new job, and whether I was still blogging, although not necessarily in that order. She told me that she used to read this blog and feel guilty because I was always taking my children on fabulous adventures, while she was working.

I now understand what she means, as I've neither written for pleasure in almost a month, nor done anything enriching with my children in twice as long. Where I used to have five solid days each week to take my children to museums, on playdates, and to IKEA, I now have but one (the other taken up with football with the cousins until early February). And that day is also the day that suburbanites trek into the city to see the fish, tourists on a mad-dash Windy City trip gawk at the Bean, and all of Lincoln Park/Lakeview goes shopping. Add in my regular chores of laundry, bill-paying, dry-cleaners, menu-planning, Target runs, and catching up on my sleep. Not to mention squeezing in quality one-on-one time with each child (one of whom insists that that time include a ride on the trip and a trip to Starbucks), and well, there's hardly time to breathe, let alone muster the energy to pack three children into a crowded museum for the day.

Yes, I know: this is a uniquely middle-class problem, and I'm fortunate to count myself within it. I've been spoiled by years of visiting the Field, the Shedd, MSI, the Notebaert, the zoos, the Arb, and the Garfield Park Conservatory (not to mention the big blue box) pretty much on my own terms. But: I now understand why people take vacations. I have not worked long enough to feel guilty, as Meredith did, about the adventures upon which I am not or no longer taking my children. Someone ask me in a year if this is still true.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Impersonating a Yuppie

The pleasures of a two-year-old are simple, and simply attained. This morning, after a brief stop at the Independence Park farmer's market, I took The Tot on the train. We had no destination; merely got on the train and off the train at various stations (Harlem, Logan Square, Division) until we got tired of riding the train.

At Logan Square, I took him out of the station and up to the Gap Outlet, where he crawled under the racks and shrieked through the dressing room to hear the echo while I tried on clothes. We got a piecemeal lunch of cheese, bread, an apple, and lemonade at a bodega on Milwaukee, then got back on the train. Unfortunately, we got on the southbound train at that point, so we rode the crowded train down to Division before switching trains. At every station, The Tot waved good-bye to the departing train; most people were fairly amused by this and waved back to The Tot. Although the CTA bans eating on the train, we ate our lunch on the train, taking bites out of our hunk of cheese and apple. There was lots of cuddling and basic conversation. These moments are what I miss in returning to work.

When we returned home, we got in the car, picked up The Dad, and ran errands. The Boy had gone off this morning to Legoland with Allison, and with The Girl in Naperville, it was like we were a little family of 3 for today. So we did things that are easy enough with one child, like going to the AT&T store to pick out iPhones. Afterwards, we went to Whole Foods for free-range meats and organic milk. And finally, we cruised through Target for diapers and the obligatory Thomas-branded train (The Dad is such a sucker).

Mama-Boy Playdate

Yesterday, I enjoyed a rare treat: an afternoon out, one-on-one, with The Boy. We drove The Girl out to Oakbrook to meet Grandma-and-Grandpa Naperville for the weekend. And then spent a couple of hours bumming around together.

The Boy is just learning how to read and having some trouble with it. I love to read, and I really want The Boy to discover this joy as well. So I took him to Borders in Oakbrook. We started with a snack (cherry Italian soda and a marshmallow square for The Boy, hot tea and a snickerdoodle for me) and talked about school, Bakugan characters, and how he missed The Girl already.

Then we headed to the children's section, where we looked at picture books and easy readers. The Boy got a Henry and Mudge book as well as a more mature (but more appealing to my sensibilities) chapter book called The Magician's Boy, and a Star Wars Clone Wars comic book. It's funny, but having a challenged reader has changed my perspective on comic books completely. I refused to buy them when The Boy was younger, but I now think that anything that gets him to read is a good thing, even if the lead is "General Grievous," followed by lots of gobbledy-gook, complicated names.

I picked out a Little Golden Book for The Girl in the vintage style of which are both somewhat fond (Little Mommy), and another Max and Ruby book (Bunny Mail) for The Tot. Then we headed over to the literature section for about 5 minutes so that I could pick out books - the new Audrey Niffenegger and two novels by Alice Siddon and Ann Patchett.

The Boy declared that he was hungry and asked if we could go to McDonald's. Where better to go the golden arches than in their hometown? So we went to McDonald's flagship, where we both had chicken McNuggets and largely ignored each other while watching McDonald's TV on large flat screens mounted to the wall. We listened to music and talked a bit on the drive home.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Ready, Set, GO!

CPS applications are up. Click here to download "the book," GEAP forms, and the standard application. Applications are due December 18, 2009.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Working Moms Circuit

As recent posts would indicate, I went back to work earlier this month. A job opportunity fell in my lap and it seemed wise to take it, especially in this economy. There are lots of things I missed about not working, especially as it became harder to execute adventures between The Boy's schedule and The Tot's nap.

Although I miss spending quantity time with my children, going back to an office after 6 years at home/working evenings is a new adventure of sorts. I'm used to running into random friends on weekdays at the treasure store, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, the park, etc. Now I run into fellow working moms, our children in tow, at odd times and places, like Target at 7:30 on a Friday night. And there's the new adventure of finding, hiring and, well, having a nanny, tossing about phrases like, "My nanny can pick The Girl up," while arranging playdates with my SAHM friends. (The Tot and The Girl like Natty a lot [I can't make myself use "The Nanny;" it's too The Nanny Diaries for me and I'm sooo not Mrs. X]. The Boy is mostly in aftercare at Disney II.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Working Moms Lunch

Today, I attended the first NPN event I'd been to since before my fleeting membership expired in 2004. This time, it was a lunch for the Working Mothers Group. Embracing my new status as a working mom, and after a long time spent with the enemy in the mommy wars, I was eager to meet those women of which I had heretofore only caught passing glimpses during school events or rushing for the morning train.

Unfortunately, I didn't get much out of it. I know that networking is a process, and a reciprocal one at that. It was only my first event; I am not ready to throw in the towel just yet. But at a table full of mothers of infants, I really did not have much in common with anyone. I deliberately skipped the nursing-sleep-deprived-new-mother stage of working; except for a few months when The Boy was wee, I was at home to nurse my babies and nurture their babyhood. I have three children, the oldest of whom is already in elementary school, so I'm also largely past the school-tours-and-application-frenzy stage (not to mention past the juggling a toddler and infant stage). And I was also the only mother there who recently returned to full-time work after a long period of setting my own schedule.

I did get to have a yummy Corner Bakery lunch and spent 40 minutes listening and talking to other mothers, and I rode in a cab (twice) for the first time in recent memory, so it wasn't a total loss. I'll continue to watch the WMG events list in the coming months, but I may have to form my own working mothers lunch group.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

And here we go again...

It's nearly October 1, the date on which CPS school applications come out. The Girl is set to enter Kindergarten in Fall 2010, which means I'm about to climb back on the apply-test-and-wait roller coaster that is the CPS application process. Of course, I will apply and hope-like-hell that The Girl gets into Disney II via the sibling lottery, but I'd be a fool to put my daughter's education eggs all in one basket.

Someone recently asked me about my experience with Disney II, now that we're in Year Two. Here is what I wrote:

My neighbor and I joke that we feel like we really won the lottery because our kids got into Disney II. Seriously, it's a fantastic school with a great principal, a committed parent body, an even more committed teaching staff, and good resources. Since my 1st grader (The Boy) is my oldest child, I haven't had any first-hand experience with other CPS schools, but I am very happy with Disney II. I recently attended a parent meeting where the principal said that her goal is to make Disney II one of the top 10 elementary schools in CPS; I have no doubt that she'll do it.

The school mandate is to integrate technology and the arts. There seems to be a greater emphasis on the arts part of it, but whether this is actually true or a misperception on my part, I am actually fine with the inequality. We have more computers than children, so I have no doubt that my kids will get supplementary tech education at home. They have art, technology and gym twice/week and music once/week. Currently, the school's gym and music teachers are part-time, but if they can swing the budget, they'd like to hire them full time.

The curriculum also has a huge emphasis on literacy, which really appeals to me as a reader and writer myself. I do not know how it is at other schools, but at Disney II, the literacy component seems to be very well thought-out and developed. They are the only school in CPS (and I think within Illinois) to use the U. Chicago-developed STEP system. There is an emphasis not only on learning TO read, but on learning HOW to read.

In Kindergarten, The Boy had a harder time of it -- as did my friends' children who were in 1st and 2nd grade last year, but now that he's been trained in the Disney II way to learn, he's doing really well. Watching your kid learn how to read is one of the most daunting and amazing things I've seen as a parent. Last year, I had no idea how they were going to teach my kid how to read, but they've done it and I think he's doing well for his age/inclination. The school had a full-time literacy coordinator last year, but her title has shifted a bit and she is now the curriculum coordinator. She knows The Boy and The Girl and they know her. They also have a few special education coordinators, although The Boy and The Girl don't interact with them much.

Over the summer, the school developed an assessment and benchmarking system to use for their math curriculum. They do use everyday math, which I still don't quite understand. There's no formal math curriculum in K, and I'm only just getting into 1st grade, so I cannot really comment on the math component. There is a science part of the curriculum as well.

Finally, they use a looping/circular system to instruction, which I like because that is how The Boy learns. The school day is 1 hour longer than any other CPS school day. This allows them to make up instructional time missed for staff institute days, etc. and have a daily recess.

The overall vibe about the school is positive. This is a school whose parent population is overwhelmingly present, involved, and interested in their children's schooling. Students put on quarterly shows that integrate all the elements of a learning unit; the first one was last year in December and was SRO - they split them into 2 shows and they are still SRO events.

Our PTA was formed in November; we raised well over $16K last year for a gym sound system, gym mats, percussive instruments, and other things. Disney II is in its last year of funding from the Renaissance Foundation/Renaissance 2010 initiative. A corporate fundraiser for the Renaissance Foundation came to speak at an IAC meeting and said, "You can tell when you walk in the door whether a school works. Disney II works."

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Look to the Left....

I decided to follow a neighbor/classmate's suggestion that we go to the Justin Roberts concert at Retro on Roscoe this afternoon, and took The Boy and The Girl there this afternoon while The Tot and The Dad stayed home to nap. Yes, both of them.

A $5 donation got us in the door, and it would have been a fantastic deal if I hadn't succumbed to the $5-per-kid all-access wristband for The Boy and The Girl to go through the bouncy castle and "play" mini golf. I know, I know, it's a fundraiser for Roscoe Village. We got there about 1:30 and waited in line for the bouncy obstacle course a couple of times before sitting down on the astroturf in front of the stage. We waited through about 20 minutes of soundchecks before Justin Roberts and his band reappeared in their nerd-cool wear to do his thing.

I turned to the left during JR's Picture Day song and saw at least 4 of my fellow Homewood-Flossmoor grads. I shouldn't have been so surprised; the last time I went to Retro, I ran into the late Nancy McLinden in front the same stage.

The Boy and The Girl listened and danced to most of JR's hour-long set, but he lost them to the bouncy castles before he finished. We stayed until about 4:30 before calling it quits. At that point, I was hot, tired, hungry, and bored standing in line by myself while the kids played.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Kindergarten Playdate

It was a highlight of the summer: a Saturday playdate/picnic with The Boy's kindergarten class and teacher at Disney II playground. The Girl, The Boy, The Tot and I all walked/biked over, and The Dad joined us later with the car (and coffee!). Although the tail-end of the meeting was rained out and not everyone came, there was a good turnout of classmates and their families and The Boy, The Girl and The Tot all had a good time.

Afterward, The Dad dropped me off at the Women's Building so that I could help the GIPNA crew set up and prep for the 6th annual Gourmet Pancake Breakfast.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kung-Fu Fighting, Kung-Fu Crying

The Dad and I went out to see the new Harry Potter movie at the Davis Theater a couple of weeks ago. It was my first time in a Chicago movie theater in months, so I was unaware of the theater's Camp Hollywood program. So my outing today with The Boy and The Tot was to see Kung-Fu Panda at the Davis. The Boy had never seen it and he really enjoyed it. But most of the kids in the theater were younger--and restless. The Tot was one of these. We left the theater about 3 times during the film -- to get more Runts from the gumball dispenser, get some water from the fountain, or just to run up and down the ramp a couple of times.

In the afternoon, after naps and The Girl's return from camp, we took a trip to the library. It was nearly a successful visit. I say nearly because, of course, the security guard started to yell at me because The Tot pulled a few picture books down from the shelf while I was around the corner cleaning up the mess he'd made in the children's section. I try to instill good library manners in my children, but it's difficult to do so with 3 kids and so many constraints placed on me/us while we are the library: no strollers, we seem to be the only people who are ever shushed, must wait in line, not spin the oh-so-tempting rotating shelves, can't pull the picture books off the shelves. Seriously? Would they rather I just not use the public library?!? The security guard at Independence must think it's still 1962, when children were seen, but not heard -- even in the children's section of the darn library. Thank goodness the librarians there are all sweet as pie. The upside of the visit was a new stack of books to read at bedtime and a museum pass for a trip to MSI later this week.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Contemporary Art

We had an old-fashioned, Chicago Mama-style adventure today: The Boy, The Girl, The Tot and I took the Blue Line and the bus down to the MCA. We met Jenna and her kids to see the Olafur Eliasson exhibit.

... and discovered a farmer's market in the plaza on Mies Van Der Rohe. We stopped for a pastry at Floriole Bakery and then walked up and down the stairs a couple of times to wait for Jenna, whose problems parking surpassed our own in public transportation. The Tot did an amazing job with all those steps.

The Olafur Eliasson exhibit was pretty amazing. We explored it thoroughly while I kept a watchful eye on my tactile-happy children (fortunately, they did OK with the no-touching). The exhibit explored light and nature. I took from it that there's beauty in the simple things in nature (sunlight through water makes a rainbow, for example). My favorite section was the hall whose lights bleached everyone out to black-and-white. It was the coolest thing, although it did hurt my eyes.

After a quick stop at the children's art table set out front and at another farmer-vendor to get zucchini and arugula, we all walked over to Seneca Playlot to eat our potluck picnic lunch and play on slides and swings. Jenna and I actually got to chat during this portion of the day. They left about 1 to get home for decompression and naps.

We caught the bus down Michigan Avenue to Nordstrom to get The Boy a pair of school shoes in the anniversary sale. Then home via nearly the same route we took to come downtown. The Tot was pretty tired by the time we got home around 3 p.m.; he fell asleep on me on the train.

When we arrived home, The Boy took about 5 minutes to get inside the house, take off his shoes, check his toys, and then asked me if we were going to do anything fun today and declared himself bored. I declared that he could go explore the inside of his room! Gah!

Monday, July 27, 2009

New Docs

Today was a relatively uneventful day: I took The Girl to camp, and The Boy and The Tot to their respective 6-year and 2-year well-child check-ups at the pediatrician. Our pediatric practice has gone through some staffing changes recently. Our favorite doctor, Dr. Shah, left to take a fellowship at U. Chicago. We met one of the new doctors, Dr. Deitch, at today's visit. The Boy and The Tot got shots, which pleased no one in the room.

We stopped at K-Mart to look for watercolor sets, got a new Bakugan lunch box for The Boy, and then went to lunch at Potbelly before picking up The Girl and her friend from camp.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


This morning, The Girl and I headed out to Lee Nails for a brief Mama-The Girl playdate. She got her fingernails polished ($5) from my lap, and I chatted with the D2 PTA mom and the CFC mom I knew.

Afterward, we went over to Sears to check out possible replacements for our slowly dying and terribly impractical side-by-side refrigerator (the icemaker is toast and has been since about 2003). The Dad and I currently debating the merits of SBS with icemaker in the door versus a French door or other bottom-freezer model. Why this is a debate, I'll never know, as we're both tall and leaning down to reach stuff in the bottom of the fridge is a PITA.

After The Tot's nap, we took a family outing to Nickel City in Northbrook, a favorite destination for both The Boy and The Dad. The Tot just likes putting nickels in the slots, whether he plays the game or not. I played a couple of rounds of DDR, but grew too tired after I moved out of beginner mode. We had collected 135 tickets by the time we were ready to leave, and I overruled the kids' desire to use it for tiny pieces of plastic junk they'd lose in the car and forget about by the time we got home; instead, we got a bag of M&Ms, which we split 3 ways among much crying. The Dad took the kids into Hobbytown USA, and I headed to Tuesday Morning, where I inadvertently started my Christmas shopping with a $15 Corolle doll for The Girl and German wooden train set for The Tot. We went to Panera in Glenview for dinner--and no one complained about that choice! A sweet afternoon all-around.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Vella Cafe

With The Dad and The Boy out of town with the car, I decided to take The Girl and The Tot on a little adventure on the L this morning. After a thorough read of good-for-kids brunch spots in Logan Square and Bucktown, I decided to hit Vella Cafe. To echo the Yelpers, it's hard to believe that this tiny building under the Western Avenue L stop could be so full of light, air and space, but it was. I ordered the polenta triangles for me for $8, a $3 side of scrambled eggs for The Tot, and a $4 cinnamon-sugar crepe for The Girl. Also ordered fresh-squeezed OJ ($3.50) for The Tot, fruit lemonade ($2) for The Girl, and an Olla something latte ($3) for me. With the exception of the cherry-lemonade, which was too sour for the The Girl, it was all good. The polenta-cheddar triangles were smothered in scrambled eggs, cheese, and salsa verde; yum! The Tot mostly ignored his eggies in favor of eating bits of The Girl's crepe (which she called a "grape" -- a good reminder to use the proper French for such words).

She asked me if I could make crepes at home. I told her I could, but I needed a special pan for it, and suggested we get back on the train to get to that store (Sur la Table). So we got back on the Blue Line, transferred to the Green Line (The Girl wanted to ride the Pink Line, but the green came along first), and then again to the Cubs-Fan-packed Red Line, disembarking at North & Clybourn. We headed over to Sur la Table for our $25 crepe pan (and $4 India Tree pink sanding sugar), then did a bit of impulse back-to-preschool (assuming there is PFA in the fall) shopping next door at the Carter's outlet. And then we went home the long way, transferring to the Blue Line at Jackson.

Friday, July 24, 2009

More PFA News

This morning, a friend told me that Ebinger and Edison Park canceled their PFA programs for Fall 2009. After a round of half-informed conjecture among 3 interested would-be PFA parents this morning, and a thorough review of posts on NPN about the subject, I called the Office of Early Childhood Education (773-553-2010) for the real scoop.

I spoke with a very nice man, Christopher Rosine, who directs the PFA program for CPS. He clearly (and very patiently, I might add!) answered all of my questions -- and there were a lot, as would be true of anyone with a vested interest and/or a journalistic background.

First, he said that it his office's goal to keep all of their current PFA programs open in the fall (which, for those of you keeping track at home, is in 6 weeks). He mentioned this point several times during our conversation.

He reiterated what I already knew: that the State Board of Education met on Tuesday and cut 32% of the funding stream for early childhood programs. But what I didn't know was that this cut affects not only PFA, but birth to 3 programs, and Early Intervention, the social service that evaluates and works to correct children's behavioral, speech, gross motor, fine motor and other skills delays. CPS and the Office of Early Childhood Education does not yet know what percentage of the Early Childhood Block Grant will be for Chicago's PFA program versus these other programs. If there are insufficient funds, they will either find resources within CPS to keep the program, or go outside for alternate funding options. Unfortunately, Mr. Rosine said, his office does not yet know what, if any, the shortfall will be, and therefore cannot go shopping for funds. He expects Springfield to notify his office within the next 2 weeks.

If they have enough funding, no programs will be cut. As it stands now, the program pays for a teacher and assistant for each school's PFA, plus room supplies and furnishings when a preschool first opens. If they do not have enough money, cannot reallocate funds from within CPS, or cannot find an outside source of funds, two things can happen:

1. Schools can choose to convert their programs to a 1/2 day tuition-based preschool. In this scenario, each school would administer the program at the school-level, collecting annual tuition of $3500-$4000 from parents. According to posts on NPN, Audubon is considering such a program; per Mrs. Stone, Disney II has said that it does not have the resources to do so.

2. They will cut PFA programs. Mr. Rosine said that they'll use the overall school community statistics to determine which programs to cut. Because the state has mandated that PFA serves at-risk for school failure children first, and a significant indicator of at-risk children is economic status, those programs that serve a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged children are more likely to retain their programs, whether they offer 8 PFA classes (like Belding) or 2 (like Disney II). His office uses the percentage of free and reduced lunch participants at a school to determine at-risk status. However, he said that a number of schools with a 100% free/reduced meal rate have already been converted to Head Start programs (which are federally funded -- and they have money) and they have plans to convert another 1000 slots to Head Start before the fall.

Fingers crossed that the Office of Early Education makes its goal for Fall 2009.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

We'd Like to Thank You Rod Blagojevich

...for screwing up our state's budget. OK, it probably was already screwed up when you got it, but you did nothing to improve matters. And neither has your successor. I am thankful to you myself for creating a statewide program (preschool for all), upon which my family has come to depend, but which our state can no longer afford (assuming it ever could). The IL Board of Education announced earlier this week that the early childhood education budget took a 33% hit. What that means for The Girl (and me) remains to be seen. But I'm thinking that the program will probably get the axe at the 11th hour, leaving me and about 12,000 other parents citywide scrambling for alternate preschool for our children. That is, assuming we see the value in early childhood education and/or can afford it.

At this point, CPS has not disseminated any information to PFA parents about the near future of their children's education. I've got my ear to the ground on this issue and I still don't know a damn thing.

I talked to State rep Deb Mell last week, who first told me that I'd have to call the governor's office to find out what was happening with the education budget and PFA, and then asked me what people did for preschool before PFA. The Boy is 6 and The Girl is 4; I don't know what "people" did for preschool before PFA, I was not among them then. Presumably, they sent their children to daycare, private schools, parochial schools, or park district programs, at varying levels of affordability. The Boy spent a year in parochial preschool, an experience I do not care to repeat. I have no problem sending The Girl to the park district, but fear that the Web site will lock up at 9 a.m. on August 17th as thousands of parents attempt to register their children for the already limited spaces in these programs.

Today, I spoke to the lovely Mrs. Santiago at Disney II, who also had no news. At last week's IAC meeting, a member proposed a 1/2-day TBPK. However, besides being problematic in terms of tuition amounts and teacher fee structure, such a program would have to be administered by the school, which does not have the resources to support it. I wonder if D2 has enough interest to open a second TBPK classroom?

Scuttlebutt from CPS teachers, friends in-the-know and other interested parties suggests that I -- and any other would-be PFA parent -- would do well to have a back-up plan for preschooling our children. Where will your children attend preschool next year?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Orient Express

Listened to The Girl scream bloody murder this afternoon because The Boy marched around the Metra platform, nowhere near the yellow strip and with the train running 20 minutes behind. This may be the reason that our adventures are severely reduced. With 3 kids, I cannot devote the mental energy required to prep us all plus watch the boys and work to calm The Girl (a futile effort it would seem). She was, quite literally, hysterical. Finally, after I threatened to go home and then counted slowly to 10 with her for about 5 minutes straight, she calmed down enough that we were able to sit on the platform and wait another 10 minutes for the train to arrive.

The transportation comedy of errors continued when the water taxi reached capacity as we were on the ramp, and we had to wait 20 minutes for another boat. It ended up a good thing, however, as we discovered when the next boat showed up that the original boat was heading east to Michigan Avenue, in the opposite direction of Chinatown.

Before getting on the water taxi, we stopped at the food court in Ogilivie Center for lunch. Food courts are such a bad concept for families with young children. The Boy, The Girl, and The Tot had McDonald's Happy Meals while I had an Arby's Jr. The Dad got something from Great Steak and while he was waiting, I fell victim to the tourist-hounding scam artists downtown: $1 for a postcard of Chicago's skyline "to help the homeless." Oh well; The Boy can send it to Grandma Texas.

We did eventually get the water taxi to Chinatown and enjoyed a pleasant ride down the river to Ping Tom Memorial Park. We let the kids plan on the equipment for a good 1/2 hour before heading further into Chinatown in search of caffeine and a snack. I hadn't been to Chicago's Chinatown in over 20 years, so the outdoor shopping mall we entered through the "Dragon Gate" was completely unfamiliar. What I remember of Chinatown is garish storefronts, MSG-laden and dark Chinese restaurants, and 5 & Dime stores selling rice candy and cheaply made bamboo finger cuffs. Very different from the sleek and airy restaurants, bubble-tea hawkers, and imports stores that greeted us today. It was at this point that The Boy ramped up his complaints: he didn't want to eat here and he wanted to go home, NOW, for a snack.

We stopped at Joy Yee for dessert--original frozen yogurt (that actually tasted like yogurt) with sprinkles and M&Ms for The Girl and The Boy, respectively. The Boy didn't like his and quickly abandoned his "no-sharing-with-The-Tot" attitude and the yogurt itself to The Tot, who loved it. The Dad ordered a watermelon smoothie with tapioca; he discovered 3 sips in that he doesn't like bubble tea (what was he doing during our 4-year stint in Silicon Valley?!?).

The Boy, The Girl, The Tot and I made a brief trip into a store with lots of Sanrio. The Boy begged me for some Yam-Yam sticks and got them. The Tot ran in circles until I handed him to The Dad outside. The Girl and I looked at lots of Hello Kitty stuff, eventually settling on stickers and a sandwich carrier.

Not long after, we called it quits and headed back to the park, the water taxi and the train. We caught the 4:30 p.m. train home, just managing to find 3 adjacent seats way up in the front of the train. I did have to ask a woman seated near us to move her giant bag and nearly-as-large purse out of the seat so that The Boy could sit down for 10 minutes while she read her Lucky magazine with a disgusted look on her pinched face. Oh to be the fly on the wall of the compartment after we got off at the Irving Park stop and a whole crowd of drunk and sweaty Cubs fans got on after the afternoon's double header. I was never so happy to get off a train, walk home, and make dinner (zucchini quiche with zukes and dill from this morning's farmer's market at the park this morning).

Independence Park Farmer's Market

If the number of tents and the crowds at this morning's farmer's market were any indication, I'd say that the Independence Park farmer's market has finally arrived. This morning's market had 5 actual produce-bearing farmers (one of them organic), the coffee guy, the free-range/organic beef/eggs guy, knife-sharpener, organic donuts and sugar-waffle gas, nun with baked goods, Ideal Pastry (my kids are addicted to their $3/pop smiley-face cookies), another cookie lady, olives and hummus, cheese, tamales, Pappy's kettle corn, pet treats, soap and a few things I've missed.

The next Independence Park farmer's market will take place on Sunday, July 26th from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Wandering in Wicker Park

The Girl went back to camp today. I had planned to take The Boy and The Tot to Des Plaines' Choo-Choo Cafe, but after reading several Yelp reviews that panned the restaurant, I abandoned the plan. I went in a different direction to achieve the same end: a train ride and lunch.

So we took the L to Wicker Park -- The Tot was both excited and mildly freaked out by the train -- and bummed around. I completely forgot that nothing in Wicker Park really opens before 11 a.m. and it started to rain just as we exited the Damen station, so going to the playground was out. We got coffee and pastry (and cupcakes, for The Boy and The Tot) at Red Hen Bread and had just started to wander aimlessly when The Boy and I remembered that Wicker Park is the site of The Boring Store. So we trekked down Milwaukee to go to the store, but discovered that it opened even later than the rest of Wicker Park.

Back down Milwaukee to kill more time, we stopped into Urban Outfitters, one of the only stores open at the normal retail hour of 10 a.m. I tried on skinny jeans and decided they look ridiculous on someone my age. The Tot wanted to walk upstairs, so we did and looked at the tchotckes there. Then we had lunch at Penny's Noodles at The Boy's request, and went back to The Boring Store.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Pirate's Cove Playdate

Today, the weather cooperated enough for me to take The Boy, The Girl, and The Tot to Pirate's Cove in Elk Grove Village. I was first introduced to Pirate's Cove by The Dad's sister-in-law, an EKG resident and fellow employee of the EKG park district, but hadn't been again since The Boy was just over 2. We met our friend Cara and her kids in the parking lot, and our huge group of 6 kids and 1 baby walked into the park together.

The kids had a great time; with a handful of automated rides and other kid-level amusements, all staffed by fresh-faced, madly-texting teenagers, the park is perfect for kids between 4- and 7-years-old (conveniently, the age of our group). Everyone rode the Safari train and played at the playground. The Girl, The Boy, Gracie and Kenley rode the kid-size carousel for an hour straight, and did the burlup-bag slide for another 1/2 an hour. The Boy lent John his Cons so that they could both do the climbing wall, and everyone waited in line for like 1/2 an hour to go on the hand-crank paddleboats (The Girl lasted about 30 seconds before she tried to hold onto the side of the pool, while still in the boat).

We left for about an hour and went across the street to Panera for lunch. That was an experience; 7 kids and 2 moms trying to have lunch at noon at a crowded lunch place next to an office park. We managed to all eat and use the facilities and even get cookies afterward. Then we returned to Pirate's Cove for a couple more hours of playing.

Cara had to take off around 3 to visit her eldest child at Girl Scout camp, so the kids and I left Pirate's Cove as well. We made a quick stop at Jewel in EKG before heading home to take The Boy to his swimming lesson at Independence Park.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Craft Mobile

The Girl stayed home from camp this morning and spent the day with The Boy, The Tot and me. We started the day by attending the Disney II kindergarten playdate; Caroline D. moved it this week to Kolmar Playlot so that we could take advantage of the park district's Craftmobile. From my perspective, this was a disastrous move; most of the kindergarten was at camp, Magic Mushroom, or other summer programs, and The Boy was not happy about playing with the 3 girls from his class who were at the park. He eventually calmed down enough to paint a beautiful dolphin as the craft. The Tot and The Girl painted dolphins as well.

We made a quick dash to K-Mart afterwards, where we ran into our neighbors D. and H. and their nanny. We met them a bit later at Athletic Field Park to run through the sprinklers together. I somehow ended up pulling 4 kids in our wagon on the way home. Oooof.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Justin Roberts at Ravinia

After a morning spent on the incredibly frustrating task of trying to install slab doors in The Girl's room, we all changed our clothes, hopped in the car and drove up the Edens to Ravinia to hear Justin Roberts (and the Not-Ready-for-Naptime Players). They weren't promoting a new/specific album, so they played a mix of old favorites during the hour-long set.

Unlike our last JR-Ravinia concert experience, we made it to the park on-time--nay, early enough to eat our picnic lunch of PB&J sandwiches and cold salads before Justin Roberts hit the stage. The Dad and I borrowed a corkscrew from a neighboring family to open our Provencial Rose and split the bottle. We bopped around on the lawn with The Boy, The Girl, The Tot and a ton of other kids; I managed to lose my glasses in the process.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Independence Day 2009

Sometimes -- and always on Independence Day -- I love living here. Last year, we sweated and baked in the hot sun at the park's parade-and-field day festivities. This year, it was raining and cold -- seems to be a theme for this summer. As drizzly and gray as the weather has been, I think I prefer it to the beating-down sun and the inevitable headache I get from squinting.

Either The Dad and I have gotten better at preparing him for these events, or he's matured significantly in the last year, but The Boy had a much better attitude this year about the park festivities. He was excited to decorate and ride his bike in the parade, and he enjoyed seeing his friends. He happily participated in the games and races for his age group, and took not winning cheerfully. He even sat in Engine #69's cab and posed for a photograph:

After the parade, The Girl went up to the podium to help Susan Ryan sing "the dawnzer song" (to quote Ramona the Pest). Then the games began, and she was an enthusiastic participant:

The Dad and I hung out, chit-chatting with neighbors and friends. We all played on the playground, and went home around noon for lunch and regrouping. My neighbor said that she was going to take her brood out to lunch, and I decided to do the same. We had a hard time agreeing on a place (The Girl wanted McDonald's, The Boy wanted Golden Nugget), but we ended up at Chili's in Niles (sometimes you just want something easy and reliable, if not exactly stellar cuisine).

We spent the rest of the afternoon puttering around the house and napping. The Dad took The Boy to the fireworks in Skokie, and I let The Tot (who was despondent that The Dad left without him) and The Girl watch Cars on DVD before we read books and went to bed.

Friday, July 03, 2009

A Day Off

I've just come home to a quiet house. The Dad has taken The Boy, The Girl, and The Tot to the AMC Theater on Western to see Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Like many white-collar companies, The Dad's company is observing the Independence Day holiday today, and has given everyone the day off. Since he has the day off, I thought I'd take the day off as well.

So I took the bus to Lincoln Square to meet my friend Jen, have lunch at Oparte Thai House, buy a couple birthday gifts at Timeless Toys (it is kind of fun to look at toys without the kids), and stop in at a treasure store on the way home. I overheard way too much Michael Jackson blasting from everyone's stereos on round trip. Now I'm off to read my book, The Billionaire's Vinegar, and take a nap.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Playdates All-Around

This morning, we trekked up to Niles for The Girl's swim lesson at the Leaning Tower YMCA. The weather was finally decent enough for us to enjoy it, so The Boy and The Tot played on the equipment in the attached playground while The Girl had her lesson. I sat on a bench in the playground area observing all of their "Mama, look at me!" moments and making a few phone calls to line up social occasions for the afternoon and next week.

When The Girl's lesson was over, we went over to Target, as has become our custom, to pick up the 3 things on my list, have a snack, and kill time. The Boy and The Girl are at a double playdate at their friends' house now, The Tot is sleeping and I'm enjoying some quiet time. Sometimes, the best part of a mother's day is the part where her kids are happily and quietly occupied.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

IKEA... Again!

What is with this crummy Chicago weather? Part of me is relieved not to be sweating and baking in the hot Chicago sun, but part of me is bummed that it's too damn cold/overcast to do anything fun.

Grandma Texas left this morning, so our plan for the day included a trip to Pirate's Cove, a small-time amusement park of sorts, in Elk Grove Village, which is a short drive from O'Hare. Unfortunately, after we dropped Grandma at the airport, the sky looked dark and menacing and I was freezing, so I pulled rank on the kids and headed to IKEA instead. The Boy and The Girl weren't particularly happy about this decision, but they got into Smalland today and made the best of it. The Tot and I wandered around the As-Is section and contemplated kitchen gadgets while the older two kids played in Smalland. Afterwards, we all had lunch and watched Ice Age 2 in the restaurant. And then, this time they were good and got ice cream, and froze their bums off eating it on the benches outside before hopping into the car to go home.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mama and The Dad Do Madison

This past weekend, The Dad and I had the wonderful opportunity (thanks Grandma Texas!) to get away for a weekend without The Boy, The Girl, and The Tot. The occasion was our 10th wedding anniversary, which actually falls over Father's Day each year, but I'm willing to slip the date a bit if it means a weekend with my husband without the kids. We had originally planned to celebrate the occasion in early June, with a combined business/anniversary trip to San Francisco for Java One. Unfortunately for all of us (me, The Dad, and Grandma Texas, who had already booked our flights), The Dad's company, with its acquisition by Oracle pending, canceled his trip.

So we set our sights closer to home: Madison, Wisconsin. A town (technically a small city, but after Chicago and San Francisco, it feels like a town) where neither of us had ever been, despite our combined 52 years' Illinois residency. The Dad's been to Milwaukee many times, however; the only place I'd ever really been in Wisconsin was Kenosha, just over the Illinois border.

It turns out, Madison is pretty cute. The New York Times covered Madison recently in its Travel section, although its reporter was much more interested in the varied pursuits of the town's residents. The Dad and I, on the other hand, were not that ambitious. We didn't bother with the university, Frank Lloyd Wright (although having recently read Loving Frank, I was mildly interested in checking out Taliesin -- until I found out a visit would require reservations and getting in the car), or Lake Mendota.

Our interests were much more basic: eating, drinking, walking, and light entertainment. Like the NYT reporter, we dined at both Harvest (a localvore foodie's dream) and the Old-Fashioned, the latter of which really is a microcosm of Wisconsin (The Dad got a shot of beer to go with his bloody Mary). We also ate at a less-than-stellar Ethopian restaurant on State Street (although it passed the people test with flying colors), grabbed coffee at Espresso Royale (which brought me back to my own college days, where I went to Espresso Royale in Urbana on a daily basis [except on Saturdays; then I went to Gypsy in Champaign for beer]), and shared a communal table in the crowded, but excellent (and on-par with its Yelp reviews) Sophia's Bakery Cafe. I bought myself a pile of books to read from A Room of One's Own bookstore (The Dad had a stash from home). We also saw Star Trek at a theater with horrible sound on State Street. And slept at our hotel, the Doubletree (a quick walk to both the university and the central shopping/Capitol area). And read. And walked lazily around the Capitol Square on Saturday morning, buying (and eating) loads of fresh pastry and freshly shelled peas and strawberries and maple syrup from the vendors at the Dane County Farmer's Market.

On our last day, we took the long way home - via the Elkhorn Flea Market, one of the Midwest's biggest and well-known flea and antiques markets. We got there late and weren't charged the $4 pp entrance fee. I did manage to find a sweet occasional chair for our living room, which just fit in our Toyota Corolla rental car.

Musing on Motherhood

This morning, after dropping The Girl off at Kilbourn Park camp, I took The Tot and The Boy to our usual Monday morning playdate at the Disney II playground. The Boy played with his friends, and Grandma Texas and I talked with the moms. The organizer came in late, telling us that she's fed up with her children's seemingly endless bickering and ingratitude for all that she does for them. She pointed out that we do so much more to entertain our children than our mothers did when we were young.

And she's right. But how did we get from there to here? Although I don't think of myself as a constant entertainer for my children, I realized that in my own way -- taking them to the zoo, museums, farmer's markets, etc. -- I am guilty of entertaining my children, possibly of entertaining them too much. Are my friends and I raising another generation of spoiled brats? Will my children have the sense of entitlement that appears to have permeated the latter half of the Millennials?

It's an interesting question to ponder, although even pondering it feels like yet another indulgence in the parenting-as-movement culture. Between celebrity babies and contemplative articles every week in The New York Times's culture section, The Atlantic Monthly, and other such cerebral pubs, not to mention the seemingly endless number of mom-blogs, it seems that the parenting culture is steeped in itself. Were our parents so deliberate in their parenting? Did they even have a "parenting philosophy?" And if they did (which I doubt), how did they overcome the isolation of parenting in the absence of e-mail, the Internet, mobile phones, and in the presence of a still-intact standard of socialization? Barriers may have been coming down in 1970, but no one was watching Jon and Kate Gosselin's marriage unravel on national television.

In the circles I run in, it seems that modern mothers have benefitted from time, education, and wealth (which gives us time) to examine and re-examine our parenting. Are we overthinking things? Much has been made of parenting-by-instinct, but even in the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder (we have been reading The Little House in the Big Woods before bed) and her Pa, a societal order was imposed on everyday interactions. And has "conventional parenting wisdom" embedded itself so deep in our collective parenting psyche that we're unable to discern instinct from CW? And even if we were, could we withstand the mommy drive-bys that would inevitably occur? My instinct is that it's OK if I leave The Tot and The Girl in my gated backyard to play while I am working just inside, but CW (and perhaps DCFS) would disagree with me. And thus, I have became an entertainer for my children.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Note to Self: Dempster Hosed

On Thursday afternoons, The Girl participates in a 3-way kid swap with two of her friends. Today was our turn to host. Before we could open our home to a gaggle of 4-year-old girls, however, we had swimming lessons for The Girl and an errand to run.

It was very important to The Girl that Grandma Texas come to watch her swimming lesson at the Leaning Tower Y in Niles. She did, and The Boy, The Tot, Grandma Texas and I watched the lesson through the glass wall between the pool and the SRO entrance lounge. The Boy and The Tot declared that they were hungry, so I spent my last $1 in cash on a bag of Cheetos from the vending machine.

After class, I got The Girl dressed and to the car, and we headed north and east to Vogue Fabrics in Evanston. The Girl was starving after her lesson and complained loudly that she needed a snack all the way down Dempster, which was completely backed up due to traffic. My snack destination of choice was Breadsmith, near Dempster and McCormick, but The Girl could not wait, so we pulled into the Starbucks drive-thru in the converted Skokie train station and ordered up 3 apple fritters (the kids), a blueberry muffin (Grandma), and a tall nonfat vanilla latte (me). After that, the traffic on Dempster wasn't quite as irritating, although we were still running up against the time contraints of both Grandma Texas's friend coming to our house in the city and the start of the girlie playdate.

I needn't have worried about Grandma Texas's friend, who came from the south suburbs, got stuck in Taste of Chicago traffic, and made every wrong choice possible in the drive up. It took her 2.5 hours to make a drive that should take about an hour.

Fortunately, we found Vogue Fabrics with only a little help from the folks at Verizon Information, parked easily just across the street, and zipped in and out of the store. If you need oilcloth for any reason, they have some great patterns at this location. I picked out a cute black and white pattern that is more grown-up than the juvenile/retro patterns I was expecting to find (and found) based on oilcloth mats available at Land of Nod, etc. We made it back to the city with time to spare.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mobile Misses

Cell phones only work if you remember to charge them. I planned my morning around an 11:30 a.m. appointment with my friend Sarah M. to return her kids' Kettler tricycle. Despite otherwise careful planning -- up at 8, The Girl's lunch made, weather checked, trike in the car and ready to go -- I failed to charge my cell phone and was unable even to text her to say we were there. She got there at 10:30, we got there at 11:00. I paged her at 11:40, but she'd already headed back to the Gold Coast.

Grandma Texas is coming today so that The Dad and I can leave The Boy, The Girl, and The Tot in her competent care while we travel to Madison, Wisconsin for the weekend. It's an ever so slightly belated celebration of our 10th wedding anniversary. I should clean my house in anticipation of her arrival, but Grandma Texas is my mother and, fortunately as such, she's taught me everything I know about housekeeping. Which is that life is too short to spend it scrubbing the floor more than once/month or so.

The Tot, The Boy and I brought The Girl to camp at Kilbourn Park, then headed south to do a little Treasure Store run. I bought 4 dresses, a Cynthia Rowley jacket, and a sweater for me, all for less than the price of one dress elsewhere (and by elsewhere, I mean Target or TJ Maxx). Given the number of trendy young women at the T.S. today, I'd say that the folks there have gotten wise to us bargain-hunters -- the prices I paid were a bit higher than usual as well.

After our failed Target meet-up, we also ran to the Carter's Outlet to pick up some short-sleeved PJs for The Tot; he's been sweating in his Hanna zippers every night. PJs were on clearance, so that was good news for me. I also checked out the new fall stuff for girls. It's very Mini Bodenesque.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Untitled Tuesday

After last week's scary outing and being trapped in/near the house with the kids (two of them sick) for most of the weekend (though I did manage to plow through several tasks on my home to-do list prime doors, install new doorbell buzzer, plant impatiens, hang ferns), I decided to try to go out again today. Due to my hatred of having to pay to park, I wasted time weighing our possible options--Field/Shedd, MSI, Notebaert. Rattled by last weeks outing, I didn't yet want to return to "the scene of the crime," so Notebaert/Lincoln Park Zoo were out. Ninety-degree, humid temps made the long, sun-baked trek to Field/Shedd from Miegs Field utterly unappealing. (Although my Shedd membership is about to expire and new kid-facing exhibits [as shown by Cheryl Bardoe's photos] look appealing--must go next week.) Therefore, MSI was the clear winner: straight shot, indoors, discounted entry through reciprocity with Peggy Notebaert membership. I packed a simple lunch of PB&J sandwiches, hardboiled eggs, water in SIGG bottles, and dry cereal for crunch, and we clambered into The Great White Moose for the drive to the southside.

Before we even got to the entrance ramp to the Kennedy, The Girl asked, "When are we going to get there?" The battle cry of an impatient 4-year-old (has anyone ever met a patient 4-year-old?!?). Sadly for all of us, the Kennedy traffic sign reported 36 minutes to downtown. A stop into Vogue Fabrics on Roosevelt for oilcloth ("Sold out. Check Evanston.") added another 1/2 hour onto the trip due to my clouded understanding of city streets after 7 years of northside living. The southside of Chicago does have an east side -- and it gets larger the further south you go. So a simple drive down Canal Street became a long drive east through lots of blight before we reached Hyde Park's leafy antiques.

Parking near the museum was, as usual, easy-peasy. Why anyone spends $16 to save themselves 3 blocks and a light is beyond me. Though perhaps I should be glad everyone does and that no one reads this blog my parking secrets revealed to a mass audience and I may have to eat it at Standard Parking. Today, although spots were easy to find, we were especially lucky with street cleaning, which had already come, gone, and ticketed. At noon, the signs were already removed along 57th Street.

The Boy was happy to see the R2D2 postal box is still near the museum entrance. I was happy to see that 1 adult and 3 kids can gain entrance to the museum for under $16 with Peggy Notebaert membership. We come to MSI about 3-4 times/year; at those prices, it makes little sense to shell out $118 for a family membership. Maybe when my kids are old enough to read the museum text and be mildly interested in genomes. On the ride down, The Girl asked a lot of questions about how babies -- human and chicken -- are made and born, so our visit included a stop at the chicken hatchery on the 2nd floor. Once there, all the questions stopped; she was more interested in tapping the glass to make the fluffy chicks come to peck at her hands on the glass, which is exactly how it should be when you're four.

Our tickets purchased, and wanting to avoid a repeat performance, I laid out a few ground rules for our visit. Then we went in. Straight to the bathroom for The Boy, then the cafe for a much-needed coffee for me, and finally to a table smack in front of the Jollyball for lunch. Which The Tot, The Boy, and The Girl ate only during the machine's 60-second breaks between runs. Most of the time, they were pulled up against the railing, wathcing the giant metal pinball make its rounds through refurbished junk-heap Switzerland. Oh, and back to the bathroom for The Girl as soon as our lunch was all spread out on the table. Any tips for taking 3 kids to potty in public places? Besides, asking them to go all at the same time, which backfired this time.

After 1/2 hour at the Jollyball, The Boy was ready to go upstairs to the train hall (The Great Train Story), an exhibit that captures the rapt attention of The Tot and The Girl as well as it does The Boy.

Down again to see "the girlie show" per The Girl -- Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle. She listened intently to the full audio tour. The boys were more interested in pulling down all the audiophones and fleeing to the exit and the ancient fire engines at every opportunity (The Tot).

Finally, we spent our last 45 minutes at the Idea Factory in the basement. Mobbed with daytripping daycamper when we arrived at 2:10 p.m., the Idea Factory was closed to new guests until they left the area. They were all lining up to leave as we approached the gate, so there was room not only for us to enter, but to enjoy our time there. The Boy and The Girl were hardworking factory employees, making the balls go down the river, where The Tot retreived them and put them in the air tube to be zipped back down to the factory base with The Boy and The Girl.

We headed home about 3, giving ourselves enough time to hit the bathrooms and a rare trip to the gift shop before picking up The Boy's swimsuit at home in time for his 4 p.m. swim lesson at Independence Park. (In the end, we needn't have rushed; lessons were canceled because some kid pooped in the pool and they needed 4 hours to ensure that it was properly cleaned.) My favorite part of the trip home from MSI is the stretch of I-55 that leads to I-90/94. I drive it so rarely these days, but the memories of driving home from the Loop with my parents when I was a child are strong. After years of hearing my mother's voice telling me to take the way to Indiana, it's hard to ignore it to take the way to Wisconsin.