Monday, December 20, 2010

Fantasea at the Shedd Aquarium

Hurry! Head to the Shedd before it's too late and check out Fantasea, a holiday show that showcases our amazing aquatic friends at the Shedd Aquarium. Watch as Santa Clause makes a spectacular entrance via canoe, as festive ballerinas swirl and twirl before you, and as the stars of the show - dolphins, beluga whales show off their talent.
We caught an early show today, arriving before the holiday crowds and grabbing a parking spot along the street leading up to the Adler, hence saving money on parking too. The show itself was a treat for both my 9 year old and my toddler, who also loved the Polar Play Zone. Afterwards, we wandered the aquatic galleries and took in some marine life. It was a great start to our winter break! 

A Holiday Fantasea runs from Friday, Nov. 26, through Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011.

Check showtimes for A Holiday Fantasea at

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas

Mindful Metropolis / December 2010

The holidays have become, in many ways, a reflection of some of our worst habits: conspicuous consumption and glaring materialism. Start fresh this December and keep the true spirit of the holidays as well as our environment in mind by following these ten tips for a more mindful Christmas. May your holidays be merry, bright, simple and green!

1. Decorate with minimalism in mind. Avoid turning your home into a cluttered red and green tchotke vortex by keeping decor simple and tasteful. Choose natural materials over manmade – holly, ivy, pine cones – and recycled/reused over new. Switch to LED Christmas lights or forgo Christmas lights altogether and bask in the light of homemade candles on the dining room table and a fire in the fireplace.

2. Celebrate the beauty of nature. For an unforgettable evening, don your winter gear and head outdoors to make snow angels under the stars. Enjoy a winter hike through a forest covered in a blanket of white snow. Grab a thermos of hot cocoa and set off snowshoeing. Winter is a wonderful time to rejoice in the beauty of nature. “We also make sure that the animals get gifts this time of the year!” shares Oak Park based writer Marla Rose, “We make peanut butter-spread pine cones - roll ‘em in birdseed or sunflower seeds, too! - and hang them from the trees.”

Check out the rest of my article, which appears in the December 2010 print edition of Mindful Metropolis magazine by clicking HERE.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Holiday To-Do List

I recently wrote an article for Chicago Parent, 10 Can't-Miss Holiday Experiences. I was limited to a top ten, but here are a few more items on my Holiday To-Do list:

  1. Hop in the car and buzz over to XOCO for churros and a hot cocoa Mexican-style (not because this a particularly Christmas-y thing to do, but because I'm always looking for an excuse for churros!).
  2. Bake some gingerbread people.
  3. Host a Gingerbread House Making Party for my kids and their friends: I'll supply the gingerbread houses and ask each guest to bring a bag of a cool candy for decorating.
  4. Drinks and chestnuts roasting over an open fire at the Four Seasons' Seasons Lounge with my hubby.
  5. A family visit to the new Armour exhibit at the Art Institute, followed by lunch at the Russian Tea Room.
  6. Lunch date with my son at his fave downtown place for a burger, Flemings.
  7. An It's a Wonderful Life movie night. 
  8. And finally, lots of down time at home with my family!
Is it Christmas break yet?

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Le Donne Italiane

Italian politics - if you happen to follow the drama of it all - are simply dismal. Let's put it this way: the prime minister is currently embroiled in a scandal involving Bunga Bunga. And that, i miei cari amici, is just the tip of the iceberg.

So I was so happy to have come across this lovely, inspiring slideshow featuring some of the strongest, finest Italian women ever. I was especially inspired by the beautiful quotes of Anna Magnani, the actress of Roma Citta Aperta (if you haven't seen it - rent it asap): "Please don't retouch my wrinkles. It took me so long to earn them" and Sophia Loren: "There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Redmoon Theater's Winter Pageant

It's time to celebrate the change from fall to winter with Redmoon Theater's annual Winter Pageant, a  must-see show for all families with littles: The puppetry, funky 1960’s soundtrack, and special effects (including....shhhhh!....a bubble machine!!) will capture even the attention of your most active toddler.

Redmoon is simply so family friendly - I knew it would be the perfect 1st time theater experience for Pupa. At age 1, you can imagine that it's hard for her to sit still and be quiet for an hour - so Redmoon's upfront open floor seating for kids was perfect. She stood up front and center, bopping to the beat of the musical numbers and shouting with joy at others. The handmade shakers, handed out at the beginning of the show, were right up her alley, as was the enthusiastic request for audience participation throughout the show.
I'm not sure what I enjoyed more: watching the show or watching Pupa watch the show. And while Pupa enjoyed the music, the lights and colors, Fratellone (age 9) got the jokes and was able to follow the story line - which centered around a group of old folks that find a magic box able to bring them back to their glory days, when the were the members of a famous 60's pop ensemble. As always, I appreciated the celebration of the changing of the seasons - a reminder that winter isn't so bad after all - and spring will be here before we know it!

Redmoon Theater's 2010 Winter Pageant

Tickets and info at

Adults $20

At the door $22

Kids under 10 for $10; Kids under 3 for FREE


Thursday & Friday 7:30pm

Saturday 1pm, 4pm, 7:30pm

Sunday 1pm ; 4pm

(No shows: NOV 25, DEC 24-26, JAN 1)

Family Picnic & Performance Package

Sunday NOV 28, DEC 12; 19 11am

Adults $35, Kids $20

This exciting package includes a picnic-style lunch with the performers, a unique backstage opportunity, and tickets to the 1pm performance. An experience perfect for any holiday outing!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Christmas Wish List - Ideas for the 1 and 9 year olds in your life - and another Fantastic Giveaway!

It's that time of year again! Halloween has come and gone (but what a fun weekend!) and it's November 2nd (already?!?!?!?). Here are some of the gifts that Santa told me he has in mind for Pupa, age 1, and Fratellone, age 9:

  • My kids are active (thank God!) so Santa usually thinks of them with a fun outdoors or in the un-finished basement gift. At age one, Pupa can walk, but couldn't figure out for the life of her how to steer any of the other little ride-on cars on the market. The Radio Flyer Scoot N'Zoom is perfect for kids two and under: since it's wheels rotate 360 degrees, you don't need to know how to steer. Pupa had the pleasure of testing it out thanks to Radio Flyer, and she felt like a big girl as she wiggled her little legs and drove all around the room. Radio Flyer ( is the American company you can trust for fun, classic toys that kids will love (and then pass down to their own kids) and the Scoot N'Zoom, as well as the classic little red wagon, are timeless gifts, ideal for your favorite tot. Fratellone will be getting a Shox Scooter - He's broken his arm a whopping five times (once from a bike fall), and I think scooters are a better fit for him to get around our city neighborhood than a bike For one, they don't go as fast, second, it's harder to fall off a scooter. At least I'm hoping, since I can't handle another visit to the Children's Memorial ER).
  • Fratellone is still a big time LEGO guy. Every Christmas I get him the LEGO City Advent Calendar and by Christmas day, we always have a cute little display under our tree. He's also thrilled to see the Lego Harry Potter sets this year - he's read the series so many times I think he has it memorized. Who knows? Maybe Santa will bring him Hagrid's Hut and Hogwarts....
  •  Pupa on the other hand, is obsessed with Matryoskas. She loves playing with an old Matryoska set of mine. (Of course I had to take away the littlest ones because they are choking hazards.)I'm going to get her another set of Matryoskas - this may even be a little start of a collection for her.

  • Since we moved into a new home recently, I'd also like to gift each kid a piece of original artwork, reflective of their interests, to decorate their eclectic bedrooms. I love this artist's interpretation of Star Wars for Fratellone (who is a huge StarWars fan) For Pupa, I asked this artist to make a special painting featuring the Saint that she shares a name with.
  • I used to feel guilty sometimes because I loved to read as I nursed my kids (as opposed to staring lovingly at them like you're supposed to - that was my reading time!) Well, maybe all that reading during nursing had a positive effect after all, because we are all big readers in our family. Pupa has a little armchair that at the age of one, she loves to cuddle in with her blanket and a good book (that's my kind of gal!). Fratellone is most often found with his nose in a book and he's currently devouring anything by Rick Riordan - he's now on the Kane Chronicles. For Christmas, I'll be getting him the The Alex Rider Collection (3 Books) (Alex Rider Adventure). Pupa loves anything by Eric Carle but especially the The Very Busy Spider. I'll be heading over to Open Books, a nonprofit bookstore that also bookstore that also bookstore that also provides community programs that promote literacy in Chicago and beyond, to pick out some classic tot board books for Pupa. Open Books has been called "the most beautiful bookstore in Chicago," and it holds more than 50,000 donated books for sale to help support its literacy cause. Located at 213 W. Institute Pl., Chicago, 1 block north of Chicago+Franklin on Brown/Purple Lines, it's open Monday - Saturday, 10am - 7pm and Sunday from 12noon - 6pm. Check Open Books out online at
  • This Christmas, as always, I'd like to keep the focus less on material goods and more on good times spent together. Because we all know that kids rarely remember all the gadgets and gizmos they receive on Christmas morning, but one day, they'll hold dear to their hearts memories of baking cookies with Dad, sledding with the cousins, trimming the tree with mom, and checking out the Zoolights with Grandma and Grandpa. One of my friends, Lori Morrison-Contreras, shared an idea with me I think I'm going to borrow as a new family holiday tradition, too (Thanks, Lori!): She bought an advent calender - the kind with the little drawers that you can fill with a treat for each day of the advent season. Instead of filling her calender with treats, however, Lori fills each drawer with a note of something that she and the kids can do together that day to celebrate the holidays. Think: Bake sugar cookies. Make snow angels. Invite the neighbors over for dinner. Play a board game. Pop popcorn and watch It's a Wonderful Life. On the weekends, I also add some fun things we can do together in the city, i.e. Visit the Christmas Kindlmarket. See the Flowers at the Garfield Park Conservatory. Go on a hike in the snow. Honestly, that's all I want for Christmas: to spend time with family and friends.
I'd love to make your Christmas shopping a little easier, and the folks at Radio Flyer and Shox Scooters have given me a couple of prizes to give away! I have a little Sccot N'Zoom from Radio Flyer and a Shox Scooter to give away, In addition, I have a CD that I'll send along to the winner of the Scoot N'Zoom: It’s Santa Claus!—named for the album’s original title track—is full of holiday cheer with classic songs such as “Jingle Bells,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Let It Snow, “Frosty the Snowman,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Auld Lang Syne,” and “Greensleeves.”Songs may be sampled at

To enter our Grand Christmas Wish Giveaway, leave a comment below telling me what's number one on your Christmas wish list this year. Also, let me know whether you are hoping for the Radio Flyer Scoot N'Zoom or the Shox Scooter. I'll be drawing a winner on November 8th, and I'll contact you by email so we can arrange delivery. Thanks and good luck!  
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**special thanks to Radio Flyer and Shox Scooters for sponsoring the prizes in this giveaway and allowing my kids to try out their great rides!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Gnocchi! Gnocchi! Gnocchi!

Gnocchi di patate are the perfect tummy warming fall meal. I like them with a dollop of melted butter and a sprinkle of parmigiano (kids especially love them this way), but they are also great with homemade pesto.

Take about 4 large potatoes (russets, boiled, peeled, cooled then riced), add one beaten egg, and just about two cups of flour, and a dash of salt. Knead the dough until it's firm enough to roll into snakes (about as thick as your thumb).

Once rolled into snakes, cut into inch sized pieces, and press gently with a fork for a decorative indentation (not necessary if you're crunched for time).

Boil in salted water until they float (no more than a couple minutes).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Speaking of Miners...

The dramatic rescue of the trapped miners in Chile brought to mind a movie I watched earlier in the year, The Devil's Miner. Available on and netflix (also available on instant play), it's a great movie to share with your (older) children, as it will give them perspective on the injust, every day reality of so many children around the world.
Filmmakers Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani followed around a 14-year-old Bolivian miner, Basilio Vargas, as he deals with fear, hardwork and struggle in the silver mines of Cerro Rico. As he works under harsh mine conditions, including darkess, dust, 100+ degree heat and the unavoidable threat future lung disease, he shares his hopes and dreams, one of which is to receive an education. Sadly, Basilio's story isn't unique, as many children around the world work in the back and soul-breaking mining industry. To learn more about children in the mining industry, including information on charities that aim to help improve their lives, visit:
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Monday, August 16, 2010

back to the 80's

Have you ever re-watched a movie that you'd last seen when you were a child, only to remember that your memory of it was completely different from the actual movie? Case in point: Gremlins. The last time I'd seen Gremlins was when it was released, in 1984. When I came across it on my Netflix "Movies you may enjoy" suggestions, I was reminded of the cute and fuzzy Gizmo (I once had a stuffed animal of him!) and the nasty Gremlin (forgot his name) pulling a few silly tricks here and there, and I thought - Perfect movie for my 9 year old!
Well, I had forgotten about the science teacher being murdered then dragged under a desk by the Gremlin with the mohawk, about the mom blasting another Gremlin to death in the microwave, about the Senior Citizen being ejected violently from her staircase lift, out the window, where she died in the snow, Kate's holiday depression over the fact that her father died while dressed as Santa Claus and attempting to crawl down a chimney, the drunk policemen (later murdered off as well). Whereas I remembered Gremlins as a cute kid's movie, it's really a dark horror/comedy primer for kids. Which means my son and his friend loved it.
(Looking around for more info on it, I was not so surprised to discover that it was heavily criticized for violence upon release. In response to Gremlins and some other movies of the era, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) reformed its rating system within two months of its release, creating the PG-13 rating.)
Since the action takes place on Christmas Eve, Gremlins is the perfect tween holiday movie, a good break from all the other sappy holiday favorites.
After that hit, I'm eager to replay some other favorites from my youth: Goonies, Adventures in Babysitting, the Back to the Future trilogy. Click here to see what we're screening tonight!

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

women, food, multitasking moms, Italians and God

I am the queen of multitasking, which isn't to say that I'm proud to declare myself so. I can do a number of tasks simultaneously - but most of the time, one or two of or three of those tasks is not accomplished the way a non-multitasking me would see fit.
I'm now on a quest to focus more on one thing at a time, and one area that's been iffy for me has always been eating.
My unspoken thoughts up until recently have always been: why simply eat my lunch when I can eat my lunch at my desk, write, and browse the Internet, stopping every once in awhile to also read a text message or make a phone call? Why simply relax and eat my breakfast when I can also put the dishes into the dishwasher or eat something that takes no longer than five minutes so that I can also quickly scan the morning headlines? Why eat at all? I'm not that hungry! (and then of course I'll end up snacking on something not-so-healthy later on in the day, when I manage to catch my breath).
After Pupa's birth, my in-laws came from Italy to spend some weeks with us, and I quickly settled back into Italian life via my mother-in-law, who set the pace of our home back to Roman time. She woke up every morning, early, and sat at the table with her steaming cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal - a small meal, yet one that she ate with pleasure and in no rush, in the quiet of the morning. At lunch and dinner time, we all sat down, together as a family, to enjoy conversation, healthy food, a fine glass of wine and again, all without distraction (this is something that I can't always replicate at lunchtime, seeing that we all work, but thankfully our own little family does manage this every day at dinnertime). She taught me to carefully prep the vegetables and fruits that arrive in my weekly co-op delivery. She taught me how to make homemade pizza dough and hazelnut biscotti (that no matter how hard I try, I can't replicate to her caliber without her help). She forced me to put aside the chores, hand over the baby, and enjoy a meal (and even a glass of wine! at lunch! on a weekday!).  
The fact of the matter is that I can find a way to sit down to a an uninterrupted breakfast and lunch. And if I can't, then, well, some re-ordering of the day needs to be done. I can wake up earlier to a nice breakfast, together with the kids, instead of packing lunches while they relax and eat. I can brush aside work and media for the twenty minutes that it would take to eat my lunch outdoors, and then perhaps finish up with a nice walk afterwards.
In the book Women, Food, and God, Geenen Roth connects conscious eating with healthy weight. I've only read excerpts, but I am trying to apply the seven basic guidelines she has detailed to my own life:

  • Eat when you are hungry.
  • Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car.
  • Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.
  • Eat what your body wants.
  • Eat until you are satisfied.
  • Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.
  • Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure.

I can imagine that following these guidelines would lead one to lose weight. My mother and sister-in-law live by these rules: and my mother-in-law is healthy and fit, in her late 60's; my sister-in-law, at age 50, appears at least 15 years younger. And no, they don't subsist on a low-carb, low-fat diet. On the contrary. When you take time to eat well, you are conscious of what you're eating, and therefore less likely to scarf down an entire bag of chips.  
I am choosing to focus on points #2 and #7. For me, this isn't about losing weight. Apart from a few extra post-pregnancy pounds, I'm fine in that department. Rather it's about taking time for me, and taking better care of myself, even if in a small way.
But it's not all about me: I am modeling life for my children. And I want them to sit back and enjoy life as often as possible, I don't want them to view eating that is something that needs to be over and done with, and in a rush. I want them to eat healthy, fresh, unprocessed foods that are prepared by themselves or others, with love. Children learn what they see, so it's obvious that it starts with me.
Life in Italy was always more conducive to eating with enjoyment, gusto, pleasure: The daily outdoor markets are inspirational - the fruit and veggies just taste better - and the many little local, family-owned shops selling housemade pasta and cheese and everything in between mean that there is never a shortage of the best of everything. Life moves at a slower pace there, and you can't help but to stop and smell the roses (or rather, the parmigiano reggiano) while dining at a cafe overlooking a picturesque piazza. But we can all bring a little bit of Italy into our home, by buying the freshest ingredients and cooking from scratch as often as possible, by taking a few extra minutes out of the day, to sit down, and dine, together (or alone) without distraction. 
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Thursday, July 15, 2010

ragazze che si perdono * girls that get lost

The day after high school graduation, I flew far and away to Rome, Italy, all by my lonesome self. It was a trip that would mark me forever, because when the travel bug bites, it bites hard. Once I had a taste, I was insatiable. For the next ten years, my one desire was to live out of a suitcase, to see the world.
I know it was hard for my parents to let me go, and I thank them tremendously for swallowing the lectures I wouldn't have listened to anyway. They saw me off from O'Hare, and I remember their hugs and kisses and "Have Funs!" and "Send us lots of postcards!"and I felt their gulps. I can imagine now what that must fell like, as the mother of a son and a daughter myself. To let a child go into the great unknown that is the world - trying to dismiss as much as one possibly can all the disasters that can possibly befall a young woman traveling on her own - it must not be an easy thing to do, to wave goodbye that last time, from that glass partition that separates the travelers from those staying home. 
At the time of my first extended trip overseas, Italy itself was enthralled by the disappearance of Ylenia Carrisi, the daughter of showbiz parents, who had run away to New Orleans, where she fell in love with a street musician and then disappeared into thin air. Did she commit suicide? Was she killed? Espresso, the Italian version of Newsweek, ran a cover story featuring the pretty, blonde haired, innocent looking Ylenia under the ominous heading: Ragazze che si perdono - Girls Who Get Lost. The gist of the article was: How could Ylenia's parents have let her do just that - get lost? Were they off their rockers? What kind of parents would permit their daughter to go off, on her own, halfway around the world? More than one Italian had asked me "Your parents let you travel - alone?", with eyes questioning their sanity
Today Ylenia's sad tale has been replaced by that of Natalee Holloway, and the other young Peruvian woman, both of whom happened to fatally run into the obvious sociopath, Joran Van der Sloot, and once again, it appears that the backlash has caused many to hem and haw about young women traveling on their own. This gist today is, "Um, not a good idea." Just check out your latest People magazine and you're bound to find an article on the latest young woman attacked, missing, or murdered.
On the topic, check out this one blog post by Theresa Walsh Giarrusso of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution here.
Thinking of my own travels as a young woman: Did disasters befall me? Yes. But nothing major. Did I make some poor decisions? Yes. Here and there. Did I hop onto a Vespa with a stranger (albeit a gorgeous Italian)?  (Ms. Giarrusso recalls a girl doing so while participating in a study abroad program she too was a part of). Well, I did. And I fell in love with him too. Do I regret it? Not at all. Did I buy a Vespa of my own, to drive around the crazy streets of Italy? Yep. And I had a few accidents too, which I survived with scratches and bruises. Did I get lost? All the time.
I made a few more questionable choices: I dove into the Red Sea of Egypt, with just a bikini and a flashlight. I hitchhiked. A few times (in the company of friends, though, never alone). I lost my way - in the West Bank. I slept in a room, on the floor, with 30 or so other complete strangers (yet again, a good friend of mine). I jumped off cliffs, into the Mediterranean. I climbed a mountain in rickety sandals. I had a seance with a witch doctor in Africa. I scuba dived alongside hammerheads.
But no one ever hurt or harmed me.  99.9 percent of the world is not a sociopath, and you can't hide in a closet trying to avoid that .01%. In fact, most people welcomed me warmly and were eager to share their culture with me, young and old. Even the hammerheads were kind - or at least they were oblivious to me!
Besides that, travel gave me the chance to  to live history and languages, really know other cultures, to really know myself. And there is much joy in sitting at a cafe overlooking Piazza Navona watching the world go by, window shopping with a Bertillon glace en main, around the Ile St. Louis, hiking up Masada and arriving at the break of dawn, to see the sun rise over the Dead Sea and then coming back down to float in it, slathering yourself in mud at the shores. Swimming in an emerald lit grotto; exploring a lonely hill town. To wander. Alone. At your own pace. With your own thoughts.
I tell my husband now that he'll never have to worry about me running off to Eat, Pray or Love, because I already ate a ton of pasta and gelato and pizza in Italy, I already prayed a lot around the Holy Land, and well, I never went to Bali, but I did fall in love with a Brazilian (and married him, to boot).
I am so thankful for my parents who let me go and even came to visit me. They listened to my adventures and only encouraged me to follow my heart, without ever really saying so, rather through their actions and support.
The point is that disasters can befall young woman whether they stay home or not. And the world is too wonderful to miss, or worse, to be afraid of. Let's face it: travel is best when one is young and unencumbered - and the safety and security of a tourbus filled with other Americans or Mom and Dad, or a head filled with worries about paying the bills at home, hinders exploration and connection. For this reason, I hope to someday see my daughter off at O'Hare, whereupon, with much effort, I'll too swallow my tears and offer up the best smile and waves goodbye I can muster, wishing her only many happy trails.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

the opposite of overscheduling

Last summer, Fratellone, now age 9, was enrolled in tennis camp, golf lessons, swim lessons, boxing lessons, writing classes and some other programs here and there that I can't remember. This year, he's enrolled in a whopping zero programs.
He spends his days playing soccer outside in the alley with the neighborhood boys, creating robots and space vehicles with his legos, filling in World Cup stickers purchased at our local grocery store into his album, and reading, among many other things. He loves reading, and especially during the summer, when he doesn't have to fill in the dreaded reading log required as part of nightly homework during the school year.
The day starts with breakfast - which I actually love to prepare since during the school year I don't have time to do anything more labor intensive than cereal (and my breakfast is a tea which I drink on my way to work). Then we usually go to the pool when it opens, for family swim, returning home whereupon the baby naps and I try to find a moment to write. It's always a late lunch - together - the three of us, sitting down at the table, after which we head to do errands or take a trip to a museum or the local library, or even just a walk to the park. We rarely even use the car: it's parked in front of house, under a tree, and covered in bird poop.
Thank God that as a teacher, the summer is mine. If I were President, I would support a one month break for each and every parent to spend with their children. To be honest, I don't know who benefits more from our time spent together - my children or myself.
Childhood is so fleeting: there is an entire adulthood ahead of them where they'll have to balance work and home and everything else us moms and dads manage to fit into our days.  June, July and August are a blessing that I am so very thankful to have.   
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Thursday, June 24, 2010

just let go

This past weekend, at a memorial service for my Aunt, the priest shared his experience witnessing the birth of a child. He noted that he hadn't imagined, until witnessing firsthand, the amount of pushing and pain that it takes to get a baby out into this world. It was, he explained, as if the child were protesting (as they all seem to do): I'm perfectly comfy in here and I have no idea what's out there, so I'm staying put! Ha!
He likened this to death. That since none of us can know what's involved in the great beyond, all we can seem to muster is understandably fear and apprehension when it comes to even contemplating death. But that, like the baby, we must find within us that bridge of faith, someone who would stand by our side and see us through: who, in the baby's case would be all those that shower him with constant love, affection and care; for us it would be the Universe, a higher power, God, God expressed through the words, gentle action and care of those who love us.
Of course I thought of my own kids: both were reluctant about entering this crazy world. Fratellone, it seemed, wanted nothing more than to live inside me forever, enjoying the Tesco Swiss Rolls and the Hagen Daaz midnight dark chocolate ice cream. Even after a ride on the top of a rickety double-decker bus and several jerky Tube rides, sex (feeling like an elephant, I might add), curries, cups and cups of raspberry leaf tea, many, many walks around London - he just wouldn't budge - and he was two days late already. It reached the point that I finally just collapsed into a ball of tears, wondering, in my raging hormonally induced state, if this baby thing really would ever happen at all.
The same with Pupa. With her, I tried all of the above, as well as swimming and "membrane stripping' - but not even that could get her to take even the slightest step in the birthday direction. She was due the 18th but was instead born on the 22nd. Whereas Fratellone made the snap decision, Oh well, may as well..., popped his water bag and came out fast and furious, Pupa had to be induced. A slow dripping pitocin began and for an hour, she seemed to say, No. You can't make me do it. No. No. No. You'll see! as both of our hearts beat steady and slow, until the pitocin was cranked up and she had no other choice. Alright! Fine then! + excruciating pain + a few pushes on my part - and there she was, ready to live her life.
Even babies when they let out that first piercing cry - with their smashed up faces and super pissed off expressions - they really do seem to be yowling, I didn't want to have to do that. Why did you evict me? Whhyyy? No fair!!!. Until finally they recognize that indeed there are cozy arms to hold me here, gentle voices no longer so muffled, pleasant, familiar smells, something warm and sweet to drink, and well, they just must sense that everything is going to be okay, or at least we'll try our best! through the beaming smiles and wide-eyed joy, even if they can't see or exactly understand.
I wish I had the faith to believe 100% that there is indeed a heaven. I hope (when I am a grey-haired centenarian, great-grandma to several) that I will indeed possess that bridge of faith that will carry me into whatever comes next with dignity and the sense of a life well lived.
I do believe 100% that there is someone showing me the way - who I choose to call God. There have been times in life when I too was scared to let go and follow whatever it was that was laid out before me. How much easier it would have been had I just let go and taken a deep breath, Okay. Here I am. What's next?
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

writing samples

I'm Dreaming of a Green Chrismas
Mindful Metropolis

When in Rome, Do as the Young Romans
Family Travel Forum

Oahu: A Family Paradise
Chicago Parent

Tranquil Territory: Galena
Long Weekends

Slip, Slide and Soar! (Lake County, Illinois)
Long Weekends

The Midwife of FounouFuni
Green Parent

How to Raise a Kid Who Loves to Write
Chicago Parent

Be Your Son's Best Advocate, at Home and at School
Chicago Parent

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

preggo in the summer: 10 tips to save a bloated mama

Pregnancy can be uncomfortable enough, but what do you do when the dog days of summer set in at the peak of your pregnancy? Grab a virgin pina colada, put your feet up and try these tips:

Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! At the top of your to-do list, strive to stay well hydrated. Aim for two liters of liquids, preferably water, per day. Avoid soft drinks, since they work like diuretics, stealing more water from the body than they provide. Wherever you go, commit to bringing along a reusable water bottle. Make your own refreshing drink by adding a few lemon and cucumber slices to a pitcher of cool water. By keeping your body constantly hydrated, you'll help avoid the discomfort of pregnancy-related swelling.

Put your feet up. To prevent swelling, elevate your feet any chance you get: at home, at the office, at the pool.

Comfy footwear only, please! You might be tempted to opt for flip flops as your footwear of choice, but did you know that flip flops can be just as bad for your piggy toes as wearing high heels during pregnancy? Your feet now need extra support and stability to prevent eventual back pain and possible spills. Stick with supportive sandals with secure straps.


Click here to check out the seven other useful tips that appear in my article in this month's Chicago Parent Magazine.



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Thursday, April 29, 2010

leave no child inside: Ten Must-Have Outdoor Childhood Experiences

In today's fast-paced and connected world, our children sadly spend most of their time indoors, parked in front of the television or a computer rather than playing outside. Recent studies have noted that children spend more than 44 hours per week on plugged-in activities and that kids can identify up to 1,000 corporate logos, but fewer than 10 plants or animals native to their backyards.

Make it your goal this spring and summer to take advantage of the beautiful weather and help your children check off each must-have outdoor experience on the official Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights.

1. Discover wilderness -- prairies, dunes, forests, savannas, and wetlands

2. Camp under the stars

3. Follow a trail

4. Catch and release fish, frogs, and insects

5. Climb a tree

6. Explore nature in neighborhoods and cities

7. Celebrate heritage

8. Plant a flower

9. Play in the mud or a stream

10. Learn to swim

Read the rest of this article that I wrote for Chicago HERE.
New to this site? Check out 27 facts about me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

celebrate your mom with a different kind of gift

Ah, to be a woman. We represent 70 percent of the world’s poor, perform 66 percent of the world’s work and produce 50 percent of the world's food, but only earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property. Only 3.6% of overseas development assistance was earmarked for gender equality (UNIFEM). For every dollar of development assistance, only two cents goes to girls (Girl Effect). About 70% of casualties in recent conflicts are women and children (UNIFEM) and the forms of violence they experience include torture, rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and mutilation (UN).

You're too old now to make her the usual macaroni necklace and hand drawn card, so this year, why not sponsor a woman in need in her name?

"Women to Women International is Women for Women International (WWI) provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies. Your monthly contribution will provide a woman in a developing country with rights awareness education and job skills training so she can continue to support her family in the future. She will also receive a portion of your contribution in direct aid so she can provide her family with basic necessities. You'll not only know her name, you can exchange letters. In fact, your letters are a powerful tool for helping women in these desperate regions of the world know that there is someone out there who knows of her existence, who actually cared enough to sponsor her and write to her. Many women in our programs have never received a letter addressed to them, so you can't imagine the impact it has on her self-esteem."

For more information on sponsoring via Women to Women International, Click HERE.

New to this site? Check out 27 facts about me.

how to raise a kid that loves to write

Teaching our children to write well is just another way of helping them to better communicate their thoughts and ideas to the greater world. Here are some simple, fun ideas for helping your children put the pencil to paper (or fingers to the keyboard!).

Click here to read the rest of this article I wrote, published in the February issue of Chicago Parent Magazine.

New to this site? Check out 25 facts about me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

27 things about me

I have married, divorced, married, birthed a boy, birthed a girl, lived as a single mom for 5 years, lived 5 years in Italy, 2 years in London – not necessarily in that order, but all in the past ten years, from age 27 to 37.

My great-great grandparents owned a feed store on State St. in the 1800's. My great-great Aunt jumped off a bridge into the Chicago River in the 1800's. I've never even seen a picture of her (none exist that I know of), but I do think of her when I cross the river sometimes.

I once drove in an old VW bug from Rome to the tip-top of Scotland.

I was named after Little Women. I even have an older sister named…Beth.

Beth and I routinely fought during our pre-teen/teen years. I once ripped a sleeve off her ESPRIT sweatshirt, and she threw a spool of thread at my forehead.

I love dumplings from all culinary corners of the world: Pierogis, Jamaican patties, empanadas, arancini, coxinhas...

My son was born in London. He's half-Brazilian. My daughter was born in Chicago. She’s half Italian.

I gave birth to my son with the aid of Entonox, a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide (laughing gas), the UK's epidural. I couldn't believe it when they parked what looked like a scuba tank and a regulator in the birthing room. It provided little pain relief, and rather magnified the enormity of the entire situation. My daughter was born without the use of any drugs at all – though I did scream for an epidural at one point, she was out a couple of pushes later.

I was born on St. Joseph’s day.

I was a Dept. of State intern during the Lewinsky years, posted at the US Embassy in Rome. I was witness once to Bill Clinton's charm...(but was too classy to flash him my thong). I found Hillary bright and personable, the true brains in the Clinton family (followed by Chelsea).

In Mali, I lived in a polygamist family compound. I slept on a mat on a dirt floor in a hut with bats, random scorpions (and the occassional frog), and had no access to running water or electricity. It was very peaceful, I felt very welcome, and I long to return someday and repay the kindness.

I have only one dimple, on my right cheek.

I always wanted to be a teacher. When I was little, I used to set up my basement as a school, with my miniature schnauzer, Maggie Mae, as my one and only pupil. I even had a chalkboard. That poor dog: I used to even dress her up in rompers and coveralls. When she got run over by a car when I was 12, I was heartbroken.

My actual first teaching job was disastrous. I taught at Holy Cross High School for Boys, in River Grove, Illinois. I had almost zero control over the boys that sat before me, their hormones raging. But I did have a lot of laughs and I took them on some memorable field trips, including one to the Lyric Opera, where we even got to try on costumes backstage. One of those Holy Cross boys is now a teacher himself at the school where I teach! I just about passed out when I saw him signing in before me, the first day of school this year.

I want to work for as long as I possibly can. When I “retire” I’d love to join the PeaceCorps or a more local organization that promotes education or women’s health issues.

I am a part of a national organization called buildOn, which promotes volunteerism both locally and around the globe. I run a chapter at my school. This is what brought me to Mali in 2008, and hopefully Nicaragua and Malawi (and I’m hoping, Nepal) in the future.

Despite all these travel notes, I am a homebody at heart.

I believe that people come into your life for a reason, and that you need to respect them and honor them for that single reason, even if you can’t necessarily stand them.

I'm a terrible procrastinator. I can't write unless it's down to the wire.

I tutor my pregnant students or students with newborns afterschool. As much as I wish they’d made different choices, it is refreshing and heartening to see them trying their best, getting their lives back on track, and learning to be good mothers despite their circumstances. Recently, when I arrived at the home of a particular girl after the birth of her son, I asked her with a smile, “How was the delivery???” and she looked at me, bags under her eyes, circles of breastmilk soaking her shirt, and deadpanned, “It was SO not cool.”

I still look at my son and think, “!)#@%&!)%!!!! How did I get so lucky!????” Watching him grow and turn into a little man that I’m proud of - I am so blessed.

I feel equally blessed with my daughter. I also look at her and think, “!)#@%&!)%!!!! How did I get so lucky!????” Because honestly, I never thought that I’d find my soul mate and, to boot, be blessed with a daughter, after years of having lived as a single mom (there were many Bad dates with a capital B, it was hard not to turn hopeless). The thing with Pupa is….looking at her is like looking at me. She’s my mini-me.

I am always cold, a.k.a. “freddulosa” – I’d be best suited as a desert-dweller. Why I am so attached to Chicago is beyond me.

I love being underwater. I am fascinated with freedivers, and one of my favorite movies is the Big Blue by Luc Besson.

I speak Italian, French, and basic Spanish. Portuguese I learned through osmosis though I can only speak about topics like love and baby care. We speak Italian at home.

Last year, I learned to surf and snowboard. I'd like to learn Chinese or Arabic, or another very difficult language. I can't stop being ultra-curious about the world…