Monday, March 30, 2009

Spaghetti Dinner

The Independence Park Advisory Council has been running a spaghetti dinner and silent auction for a many years, to help fund special projects and improvements at the park itself. Last night marked the 20th anniversary of the IPAC spaghetti dinner. The Dad and I have been around for 6 of those years, although we have not attended the dinner every year.

Despite the foul weather and the conflict with St. Ed's Big Red Auction, the evening was well-attended. The Boy saw two of his classmates and hung around with them. The Girl was happy to hang with her older brother's friends. They had two entertainers -- a Frank Sinatra imitator singing on the main floor, and belly dancers from nearby Arabesque, demonstrating and performing in the auditorium on the third floor. The Girl took part in the demonstration, but commented later that she didn't think it would be comfortable for one of the dancers with all the stuff she was wearing (arm bands, hair pieces, etc.). The Dad and I saw and chatted with many of our neighbors and contributed to the fundraising.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tapping the Trees

Have I ever mentioned how much I love maple syrup? I love maple syrup. Not the colored, flavored corn syrup that comes in a funny plastic bottle at Jewel, but the real stuff that is made from tree sap and tastes like the outdoors. So when I learned that there was a Maple Syrup Festival at North Park Nature Village last weekend, I had to pack up the kids and The Dad and go.

It was amazingly crowded when we got there at 10:15, with extremely limited parking (we found a spot in the lot by the recycling center) and folks backed up into the fire lane. They had vendors in the fire lane selling everything from coffee to garlic to Peruvian tchotchkes (The Dad and I split a coffee from Stivers Coffee and successfully diverted the kids from their requests for various noisemakers from the Peruvian wares), but the real action of the festival was inside the nature village center and behind it along its trail.

Did you know that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup? That sap is 97% water and 3% sugar? That they boil the sap for 8 hours to concentrate the sugar enough to make it palatable? That the amber color comes from the sugar carmelizing during the boiling? I learned all this from the volunteer at the head of the trail. The Boy, The Girl and The Tot were less interested -- they all wanted to get pancakes (with real maple syrup!) from the tent set up in the parking lot. A local church's men's club was running the food tent as a fundraiser; 2 pancakes and 3 sausage links went for $3.50/plate. We ate 3 between the five of us (The Girl had decided that she didn't want any).

The Boy and The Girl also made a stick and string craft of some sort, and were assisted by our former neighbor, who is now 14, tall and willowy. We never would have recognized him if he didn't recognize us. How did these kids get to be so big already? We went to the festival partially with our current neighbors, whose daughter is right between The Boy and The Girl in age. The Girl and our neighbor had such fun dancing to the tunes of the folk band playing in the nature center itself. The Boy ran into one of his classmates during the concert also, and shyly went up to say hello to her. It was a fun outing.
From Blogger Photos

Saturday, March 28, 2009

My Eyes! My Eyes!

That's what The Girl was saying after Dr. Zaparackis, our pediatric ophthalmologist, put the eye dilation drops in and the irises of her eyes started to expand. Two weeks ago, when The Boy went to see the well-known Dr. Z (I ran into Christina from Tippy Toes on her way out of the office as we were entering), he put up a fight to get the drops in his eyes, but wasn't as bothered by the actual dilation. The Girl was pretty OK with the drops going in, but did not like the dilation itself and complained heartily that she could not see very well. I don't blame her. As a 33+ year eyeglasses-wearer, I've had my eyes dilated more times than I can count and the vision disturbance bothers me a lot. Fortunately, both The Girl's and The Tot's vision were pronounced fine. As was The Boy's a couple of weeks ago.

Once the dilation and exam were completed, we went across the street to have lunch at Corner Bakery. I have to thank Becky for the tip that 3 people can share a single order of Pesto Cavatappi, which is what we did, and have lunch for under $13.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Big Jones

Last night, I had the rare opportunity to go out with The Dad "on a school night." We attended a celebratory dinner for his friend, Brian, and Brian's new wife. Another pair of Brian's friends own Big Jones, a relatively new restaurant along Andersonville's north Clark strip, so they generously hosted the party of 12. Big Jones's schtick is southern coastal comfort food, but it also uses fresh, locally sourced organic ingredients. The Dad and I left the kids asleep at home with a sitter, but the restaurant has a kid-friendly menu from which my three would happily eat; I joked that they must have had me in mind when they came up with their target demographic. I had the Chicken Benne with southern greens and grits, which was really, really good -- and that's saying something as the food genre is not one that I eat often or would gravitate towards if left to my own devices. The Dad had the Tallgrass Beef Burger, which looked really good. I skipped the beer for the most part and spent most of my caloric-splurge on the Red Velvet Cake*. One of the best I've had -- delightfully moist and flavorful, with a perfectly rich and lightly tangy cream cheese frosting.

In addition to the great food, the evening was enjoyable for me because the rest of the party consisted of a cross-section of Chicagoans with whom I am not ordinarily in contact. Most people did not have children -- and if they did, the children weren't the focal point of dinner conversation. We talked about politics, the economy, the restaurant itself, obscenely rich people, the Joffrey ballet and dance education, crazy You Tube videos, Chicago Public Schools, neighborhoods, and shooting off rockets with a group of grade school kids with Mad Science.

*Red velvet cake has become a bit of a theme in my life lately, as my new friend Jenna has about 8,000 recipes for it and made some for The Girl, The Boy, The Tot and me on a recent playdate, thereby renewing my love for the red velvet cake. I've made it only a handful of times and have discovered that it is a lot of work, and it's probably best to focus on the baking that I do well and leave red velvet cake to someone with more time, more patience and more red food dye than me! Apparently, I am not the only one who is obsessed with red velvet cake; there was talk that the Trib will run a food piece on the best red velvet in Chicago. I hope Big Jones's entry makes the list.


I have been awful about updating this blog of late. The Tot and I have been having fun doing little stuff around the north side, and generally ignoring or skipping our classes. I have to get better about actually going to our Moms, Pops, & Tots interaction class at Independence Park, which is on hiatus this week between sessions. And I have not been great about going to Jam with Julie, which The Tot does enjoy, but is often in a time conflict with both the start of the school day and, an hour later, the start of the CFC day. I'm no longer involved with the co-op, thus eliminating daily runs to Midwest Bank and freeing up our schedule to enjoy our Wednesday morning class with Julie. But I have no great excuse for missing our IP class.

On tap this week? Lots of nonfat vanilla lattes at Starbucks. On Monday, we went to the Treasure Store. The Tot likes to run and hide under the racks, and doesn't respond when called, so I must keep him in the stroller or mei-tei in the store. On Monday, I was wearing him on my back in the Catbird Baby and a pregnant woman who was clearly shopping the baby bargains, asked me if I had ever seen slings in the TA and where could she find them. I don't recall noticing a sling in the TS, but told her that she could buy them used on The Baby Wearer. I always seem to find something at the TS -- on Monday, it was a new terrycloth bathrobe and NWT plain navy blue t-shirt for The Boy, and a cute Hawaiian print camp shirt and PsychoBaby Mack Daddy tee for The Tot. Afterwards, we stopped at Starbucks for--you guessed it--a nonfat vanilla latte.

On Thursday, we skipped the latte and went to Joann's ISO yellow fabric to make a t-shirt for The Boy. Another store that is a nightmare chase scene for Mama, Joann's displays tons of little things (spools of thread and ribbon, packages of elastic and so much else!) at a height of approximately 3' off the floor--just level with The Tot's line of vision. And I've noticed that fabric stores tend to employ women just below the age of retirement. Presumably, it's because they know a lot about fabric and sewing and can speak knowledgably to inquiring customers. This may be true, but they also tend to be crabby and have behavioral expectations of small children that are stuck in the 1960s, and they have no problem correcting my kid when they think he's doing something wrong -- like picking up a spool of plastic-wrapped serger thread and licking it. Which he should not do, but really?!?

Afterward, we walked down to Strack & Van Til, the signs in the windows of which read, somewhat incorrectly in my opinion, "thank you for shopping at your neighborhood market." There's a difference between a store that is in your neighborhood and one that is your neighborhood market. The parent company is based in Highland, Indiana. Still, there was a man giving a food tour to a group of school kids in the produce section, and one of the deli counter ladies gave The Tot a steak fry when I asked her if she had any plastic knives that I could use to cut open the avocado that The Tot was trying to gnaw his way through (they were sold "by the each") as he was hungry and crabby.

Amazingly enough, after two errands, we still had time to kill before we had to retrieve The Girl from preschool, so I headed over to Clybourn to do a quick cruise through Cost Plus World Market, a store in which I loved to browse when we lived in San Francisco, and which the non-IKEA furniture and decor in my house almost invariably comes from. Picked up a new glass canister to hold coffee beans and a fun new bath toy for The Tot. And then it was time to get The Girl from school.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Ordinarily, I'd say that this is a post that Jessica could get behind, but sadly, it's about children's shoes. Last night, I went to a CFC moms' night out at Tippy Toes. There was wine, cheese, vodka, and cute shoes involved. Sadly, any attempt to wear said shoes would have me play an evil stepsister in Cinderella's tale. But The Girl got a new pair of pink Umi sport MJs. Afterwards, I went down the street to McNamara's for a beer with a couple of the moms. It was good to get out of the house after a long week of sick children and out-of-town husband.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Organic Goodies in a Tiny Spot

I have been horrible about updating this of late. It's a good thing that my readers are like me as a blog reader: sporadic.

Last Saturday at 8 a.m., I happened to look at my planner and realized that it was one of the Green City Market at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum days. The Girl and I had been talking about going to one of the indoor markets, so I managed to pack everyone up and drive us over to the museum for the market. Despite the gray, dreary, rainy day, Lincoln Park was packed. I managed to find a parking spot on Cannon Drive that wasn't too far from the entrance to the museum, but also managed to forget my produce-and-goodie-schlepping bags in The Great White Moose.

We arrived at the museum entrance, took the elevator (The Girl doesn't like the main open stairway) up to the second floor, and walked into a wall of people in the South Gallery. Unfortunately for me (and The Girl and The Tot), they were a people unaccustomed or unaware of the presence of wee ones; The Tot was quite the tripping hazard. Not much grows in the Midwest for harvest and sale in early March, so the market was a lot of potatoes and canned/prepared foods. Not that any one of our party minded! I managed to spend $30 in cash in just under 1/2 an hour -- on crepes, baked goods from Bennison's Bakery, fresh soft caramels from Floriole Bakery, Honeycrisp Apples from Hillside Orchards (I think), a plate-licking pie from Hoosier Mama Pie Co., and a $1 donation to the market itself in exchange for a cup of coffee from Blue Marble Creamery (too bad no one in my house really drinks milk). We went downstairs to eat our pastry/drink my coffee. On the way out, The Girl and The Tot joined the market's Sprouts for Kids program by trying some sprouts from a shallot plant. The Boy, who of course is the one most reticent about trying new things, did not want to participate.

It was pouring down with the rain as we were leaving the market/museum. Although The Tot and The Girl had jackets with hoods, The Boy and I were bare-headed. I had bought an umbrella at the gift shop, but it was raining too hard for us all to share it. Rather than have us all get wet (and listen to misery all the way home), I asked The Boy and The Girl to wait in the myseym entrance vestibule while I got the car. There was a Green City Market volunteer standing there and she kept an extra eye on them as well, for which I was extra thankful.

On the way home, we stopped at the 1730 Outlet on Wrightwood, which I had passed a few times previously. I was looking for stools, although I did not find any that suited my needs. If I needed modern furniture in the C&B style, this is the first place I'd look. We took a quick cruise through the Tag decor outlet, but though the prices were good and The Boy and The Girl were begging, the decorative pieces contained therein would be destroyed within 90 seconds of entering my home.

Also on the way home, we stopped at Costco. Yes, on a Saturday. Normally, I avoid that sliver of land between Clybourn and Ashland Avenues like the plague on weekends, but it wasn't too awful. Although we had to park in a remote corner of the lot, we managed to arrive at the warehouse during a break in the crowds. The Tot never wants to go in the cart anymore, so my job was made harder by tracking 3 kids in a store crowded with carts that could easily crush a small child, but we managed to make it through within a reasonable timeframe, forgetting only one item on our list. I discovered that you can pay for cafe items at the main check out lanes, so we had lunch at Costco as well. You just can't beat feeding a family of 5 for under $9.