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.