Monday, December 19, 2011

#makesmesmilemondays My daughter gives Santa Claus her famous side-eye

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#makesmesmilemondays a visit with Santa Claus

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Italian for Children: Insieme a Chicago debuts January 16th

File:Flag of Italy.svgI am happy to share the details of a new Italian language program for children in Chicago!

Insieme a Chicago is an Italian language program for children from birth to 6 years old. “Insieme” is Italian for “together” and as the name implies “Insieme a Chicago” gathers Italian speakers and Italianophiles “together”, in a space specifically designed for their little ones! Children will enjoy playing age appropriate games, singing songs, nursery rhymes and lullabies, dancing, listening to storytelling and participating in fun activities with their peers in a 100% Italian environment.

Parents are encouraged to participate in the program with their children: both will experience the warm, Italian sense of community that naturally spreads through Insieme a Chicago.

The “Insieme” children are divided into two age-based groups hosting a maximum of 8 students each: “Il Nido” for children 0 to 3 years old and “Il Volo” for children 4 to 6 years old. While our little ones (0-3) will engage in a multilevel setting, our older ones (4-6) will be assigned to a beginner/intermediate group or a native and native-like group.

A group for children older than 6 is coming soon!

With the goal of play-based learning and sharing of our Italian heritage and fondness, Insieme a Chicago invites you to join in creating a little piece of Italy in Chicago for our children to grow with…together!

• “Il nido” Group for children 0 to 3 years old

o 60 minutes once a week program

o 8 weeks session

o The group meets on Mondays from 10 to 11am

o First session starts on Monday, January 16th and ends on March 5th 2012

o Inauguration price: $20 per class

o Siblings discount: second child receives 10% discount. More discount opportunities for families of more than two children!

o Infants through 9 months are tuition free

• “Il volo” Group, for children 4 to 6 years old

o 85 minutes once a week program

o 8 week session

o The group meets on Mondays from 4 to 5.25 pm

o First session starts on January 16th and ends on March 5th 2012

o Inauguration price: $27 per class

o Siblings discount: second child receives 10% discount. More discount opportunities for families of more than two children!

• All classes will meet at: 3759 N. Ravenswood Avenue, Suite 119 Chicago, IL 60613

Interested? For more information, contact Contact: Barbara De Bernardi, Program Director at; Tel. 312/451.6880

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holiday Book Recommendations

This article originally appeared on

Growing up, I always looked forward to receiving a haul of books from Santa - who knew very well that this book loving girl needed a lot of material to get her through the long, cold winter months. I fondly remember wiling away hours cuddled up under the Christmas tree with a good book, or two, or three.

So, to help Santa out a little, here are my top seven picks for fun, new holiday reads, all available at,, or better yet, at your local bookseller or library:

Tag along with a band of Christmas elves that strive to make people's lives better in the days leading up to Christmas in theThe Helpful Elves by August Kopisch. The story itself is based on a turn-of-the-century poem by Kopisch; the cute, die-cut elves peeking out over each page give the book itself a retro feel . Ages 2 - 7

The amazing animal and insect photography of Curious Critters by David Fitzsimmons leads children to the answers of such questions as Can squirrels fly? and What do turtles and humans have in common? David FitzSimmons' stunning photography is simply brilliant; he manages to capture creatures at their magnificent, natural best. Set this book on your coffee table for browsing throughout the year. All ages

In Santa's New Idea, by Nina Chen, Santa mixes Christmas up a bit when he decides to let the toys choose the children! This simple board book is perfect for toddlers and early preschoolers. Ages 2 - 5

Merry Christmas, Mr. Snowman by Wolfgang Hamel tells the tale of a group of schoolchildren building a snowman on Christmas Eve. When the weather turns too hot for Mr. Snowman, it's time to take the party outdoors. Ages 2 - 7

The Nutcracker Ballet, written and illustrated by Chicagoan Aleksandra Efinmova, a former ballerina, is the perfect accompaniment for a first trip to the eponymous ballet. Classical illustrations and easy-to-read text introduce children to the wonders and stories behind classical ballet. Efinmova has also penned Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, both primers to the world or ballet, as part of her continuing Growing through Arts series of books, cd's and toys focused on the classical arts ( Ages 3 - 10

Sister Bear: A Norse Tale, by award-winning, bestselling author Jane Yolen, is a lovely take on a traditional Norwegian folktale. When a young Norwegian girl, Halva, takes in an abandoned bear cub as her unofficial sister, she disovers a kindred spirit. Follow along as this bear/girl duo sled through the snow, frolic and fight a band of giant trolls. The rich illustrations of Linda Graves will transport you to wintertime in Scandinavia. Ages 4-10

Forget about the frilly, prissy princesses! Learn the truth behind some of history's most notorious women in Goosebottom Books' new series, The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Dastardly Dames. From the atrocious Agrippina to the bold Black Queen Catherine de 'Medici, these books charm with their fun take on some of history's most challenging rulers, bringing them back to life by detailing what they wore, ate, and why they made certain, often downright nasty, choices. Maps, photos and historic artifacts supply the historical context. Currently available titles in the series introduce young readers to Cleopatra, Agrippina, Mary Tudor, Catherine de' Medici, Marie Antoinette, and Cixi, the Dragon Empress. Ages 4-12

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dinner with Dessert with Friends - Easiest Holiday Dessert Ever: Pumpkin Dump Cake

Thanks to Duncan Hines for sponsoring my writing. There's no limit to the baking possibilities, so grab your favorite Duncan Hines mix and Comstock or Wilderness fruit fillings and Bake On!

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This year, our winter break begins the day before Christmas Eve, leaving me with little time to spend prepping the home or preparing elaborate pre-holiday meals. I am always on the lookout for holiday decor and recipe ideas that are simple, simple, simple.

Here's a tried and tested menu for a simple pumpkin themed dinner and dessert with friends:

Antipasti: Selection of Italian Antipasti: Prosciutto, Olives, Taralli - we love the selection at Caputo's Fresh Markets. Here is a great how-to on Italian antipasti by Giada DeLaurentiis.

Primo PiattoPumpkin Risotto 

Secondo: Braised Chicken with Garlic and White Wine

Contorno: If I had more time, baked artichokes with lemon. But since I don't, simple, sauteed broccoli will do.

Dolce: The kids will even be able to help with this easy recipe! Pumpkin Dump Cake is more like a pudding. Serve it will a dollop of whipped cream - I guarantee that this will become a holiday favorite for your family, too!

Pumpkin Dump Cake
-1 (29 oz.) can pumpkin
-1 cup of sugar
- 1 (13 oz.) can evaporated milk
- 3 eggs
- 1 Tbs pumpkin pie spices
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 box Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Classic Yellow Cake Mix
- 3/4 cup butter, melted
- 1 c. pecans, chopped
Combine pumpkin, sugar, evaporated milk, eggs, pumpkin pie spices and salt in mixing bowl. Beat well. Pour into greased and floured 9 x 13 inch glass pan. Sprinkle cake mix over pumpkin mixture, then sprinkle on the pecans. Pour melted butter over all. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Remember to check out Duncan Hines' website to find some great recipes for your holiday get-together! I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

#makesmesmilemondays Depression Cooking with Clara Cannuciara

Clara Cannuciara's online cooking show, Great Depression Cooking with Clara, always makes me smile. This spunky 97 year old grandma presents easy, inexpensive recipes that her mother used to prepare during the depression. I enjoyed her book too, which is a collection of anecdotes and recipes. Born in Chicago in 1915, Clara is the daughter of Sicilian parents, and many of her recipes reflect her Italian heritage: Pasta with peas is one of our favorites, and she also demonstrates an easy recipe for traditional holiday biscotti. Visit Clara's website, and find a list of her delicious recipes here.
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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Callling All Sweet Teeth! Enter to win a trip for two to CakeSpy headquarters in Seattle!

Here's a fun contest I'm happy to share with my sweet toothed readers!

Have you ever been to It bills itself as a Dessert Detective Agency "dedicated to seeking sweetness (literally) in everyday life." You'll find writing about bakeries, sweet inspired art, baking product reviews, baking experiments, interviews and insight from bakers and food artists. 

Jessie Oleson, a.k.a. sweet treats blogger CakeSpy, and Sasquatch Books have teamed up to offer a lucky winner a trip for two to CakeSpy headquarters in Seattle! CakeSpy is "accepting applications" for dessert detectives in the So You Wanna Be a CakeSpy? Contest.

To enter the contest, submit a color photo of your own sweet treat along with a brief description. Jessie will be picking her favorite from the entries, and the winner will enjoy a trip for two to Seattle and a host of other fun prizes, including CakeSpy artwork, CakeSpy goodies, and signed copies of Jessie's new book CakeSpy Presents Sweet Treats for a Sugar-Filled Life. Meanwhile, just in time for that holiday cookie exchange you're invited to, check out some of Jessie's sweet recipes here:

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Disclosure: I would have posted this contest info regardless, because I like, but in return CakeSpy and Sasquatch Books are sending me a copy of Jessie's latest book.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'm Be Living and Raising My Kids in the City

Here's an article I just recently wrote for I'm Be Living and Raising My Kids in the City. For more Thanksgiving perspectives from some other members of the ChiTown Parent team, check out

It's not always easy being an urban mom, and the city of Chicago tends to take more criticism than applause. This season though, I'm giving thanks for the city I live in: Chicago.

Here seven reasons why I'm thankful to be living and raising my kids in this Windy City:

1. Lake Michigan is our swimming pool. There is nothing quite like jumping into a cool Lake Michigan on a hot summer day. My kids have grown up with Foster Avenue beach as their sandbox and Lake Michigan - the 2nd largest of the Great Lakes - as their swimming pool. The lifeguards keep things in check, the water is remarkably clear, and the people watching is sublime.

2. We can travel the world, one restaurant at a time. We can "visit" other countries on a whim - via the huge selection of delicious ethnic restaurants that dot our city. From naan to lassis, from bulgogi to kimchee - my kids have tried it all.

3. Amazing things are happening in our public schools. While much of the news is doom and gloom, my son is enjoying his elementary school experience at a fantastic CPS magnet school. Involved parents, super teachers, and a rigorous curriculum make his school one of the best in the city. Best of all, the rich cultural diversity of our world is reflected in his classroom. Something to look forward to: of the 500 top high schools in the U.S. rated by U.S. News and World Report, Chicago has three (Northside College Prep, Lane Tech, and Lincoln Park High School).

4. We don't have to depend on a car to get from point A to point B. My kids love taking public transportation. They beg me to take the blue line downtown on a regular basis. I'm fairly certain that I could drop my 10-year-old off at a random spot in the city and he'd be able to find his way easily and confidently home on public transportation. We also have been enjoying riding our bikes, and I'm finding that Chicago is becoming bike friendlier by the day.

5. Our family pets live at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Who needs a pet cat or a pet dog when you can have a pet lion, gorilla and sea lion? We don't have to feed them and they don't shed on our sofa. Our pets live at the lovely Lincoln Park Zoo, and we can ride our bikes over and visit them for free, whenever we want, year round (during visiting hours).

6. Backyards are overrated - especially when you're surrounded by beautiful city parks. We have a huge backyard: our city is dotted with parks, both big and small. From the big - Humbolt Park (the ducks living at the pond are especially friendly) and Lincoln Park - to the small - Adams Playlot (with its awesome water play equipment) and Holstein Park - our parks are beautiful and simply made for fun.

7. There's no excuse for boredom. With so many gems just a short skip, hop or a jump away, there's no excuse for boredom. Feel like flying into space? Rocket on over to the Adler Planetarium. Undergoing a dinosaur phase? Trek on over to the Field Museum, and say hello to Sue. In the mood for exploring a forest of ferns? Pop into the Garfield Park Conservatory. There are so many neighborhoods to explore on a whim - our favorite is Chinatown - and the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry are just right for just right rainy days. Any ordinary day can be transformed into an day bursting with adventure and new discoveries when you're living in Chicago.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

#makesmesmilemondays Mr. Apple's Urgent Chest Surgery

My 10-year-old son loves medical dramas and medical reality shows. Inspired by a Grey's Anatomy episode, he robbed my sewing kit of needle and thread and with a scalpel he cut open Mr. Apple's chest then deftly sewed it back together. He worked on a few more Mr. Apples until he got the entire procedure down pat. 

This is the kind of oddball stuff my son is inspired to do in his free time - and it really makes me smile.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

#makesmesmilemondays Gatto Silvestro

Here is Chiara's latest love: Gatto Silvestro. Even if you don't speak Italian, I promise you'll enjoy this cute video of Gatto Silvestro and Titti (Sylvester the Cat and Tweety Bird) in Venice - one of Chiara's faves.
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Goodnight, Moon! at the Chicago Children's Theatre

I'm always a bit nervous before taking my daughter - age a little over two years old - to the theater. I keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best. The first play she ever attended was the Redmoon Christmas Pageant (don't forget to buy your tickets for this year's show here!). She was a little over one then - and she was enthralled - dancing to the beat of the musical numbers - and mystified by the bubble machine grand finale. The next play I took her to was Dot & Ziggy, presented by the amazing Chicago Children's Theatre: aimed at toddlers, I was extremely skeptical before the show, envisioning a madhouse of toddlers running around. Instead, the babies and toddlers at our showing - including my baby - were quietly engaged in the simple storyline about the friendship between a skunk and a ladybug. It was incredible - how did they do that!?
Still though, I was nervous as we set out to see Goodnight, Moon! this past weekend. I should have known better, though. The Chicago Children's Theatre once again proved me wrong: their shows are so skillfully presented by such talented actors, that kids are automatically captured by the story being told. In Goodnight, Moon!'s case, the great green room came alive before our eyes. The two little kittens, the pair of mittens, the quiet old lady whispering hussshhhh - they were all there, vibrant and alive before my daughter's eyes and she was thrilled. She talked about the show all afternoon and evening, and even this morning, she once again brought up "Bunny" - the little guy who just did not want to go to sleep (I think she identified with Bunny in a big way...).
I am so thankful for the Chicago Children's Theatre for raising our city's littlest residents to learn early about the joy of live theater!
If you've got a child ages 2 - 6, don't miss Goodnight, Moon! - now playing at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater. Buy your tickets now, here.
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Monday, November 7, 2011


On Halloween Eve, my good friends and I took our kids to a haunted house at the Theatre on the Lake. It was a beautiful night, and afterwards, they ran to Lake Michigan's edge where I caught them contemplating the misty lake and skyline.

I love watching these kids group up together.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Here's my little ladybug: Chiara in her Halloween costume - I thought she wouldn't like wearing the antennae headband but it turns out I have to hide it from her or she'll want to wear it everywhere we go. Grandma is still working on Daniel's costume...he's going to be a mummy. On Sunday, we're celebrating Halloween at my our annual Halloween party: I'll be making the usual mummy dogs with a side of spooky tater tots, then we're headed to the 13 Terrors on the Lake haunted house. Happy Halloween!

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Bilingual Baby: Update

Chiara also loves "writing"
Background Recap: We are trying our best to introduce our baby girl to her heritage language, Italian. I have been keeping up with speaking to her mainly in Italian (90%). Her father speaks to her solely in Italian. Her home daycare provider speaks to her in Spanish. Her brother speaks to her in English peppered with Italian.

Chiara turned two in late September. A week earlier, her grandparents - Nonno and Nonna - flew in from Italy to stay a over a month with our family. Chiara has been staying at our home with Nonno and Nonna since then instead of going to daycare, and, fully immersed in Italian, she has picked up so many words and phrases in such a short amount of time. The ease with which Chiara picks up not one but two languages amazes me. Italian seems to be her language of choice, but she also fully understands English. Oddly enough, she knows to speak English to those that don't speak Italian.
She's having a blast with her Nonno and Nonna, who have indulged her to the max with love and care. Happily, she never watches tv save for the odd Italian kids music video or Barbapapa here and there, and she is turning into a huge book lover. She absolutely needs a book or two in her bed each night or she'll throw a tantrum: she needs to know that reading material is readily available or she'll go nuts. Like mother, like daughter - who knew that these traits were passed down from mother to child?!
I read most of her books to her in Italian - interpreting on the spot - but I'm realizing that I'll need to bring a big haul of Italian kids books back home with us on our next trip to Italy, so when she does start to read, she has a good selection of Italian books, too.
Her big brother, Daniel, age 10, is also benefiting from having the Nonni around. Once again, if you ask Daniel if he speaks Italian, he'll say no. And then you'll find him having a conversation in Italian. He also speaks Italian along with his sister, so it's as if they are almost at the same level of the language, learning together.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Top Five: Nashville

I just spent a wonderful long weekend in Nashville - my first time ever visiting music city USA. It was a quick   (just over an hour via direct flight on United), fun escape from Chicago. I'll be writing some articles for travel-based publications which I'll eventually link to, but for now, here are my top five Nashville picks:
Fun Shops in East Nashville
Live Music on Broadway
Vintage concert posters: Hatch Prints

Popsicles at Las Paletas

Singing my heart out at the Ryland Auditorium, after the backstage tour

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

#makesmesmilemondays at the Pumpkin Patch

Chiara at the pumpkin patch...she is simply basking in all things Halloween, especially pumpkins and "OOOOoooooo Sccccarrrwwweeeyyy Guys" (a.k.a. skeletons).
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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Carrie Fisher in Wishful Drinking at the Bank of America Theatre, Chicago

I have been admiring Carrie Fisher for a long time: Star Wars was one of the very first movies I ever saw at the movie theater, and I can still remember forcing my classmate, Jason, at Triton College preschool, to play Luke to my Leia in the loft area. I have a massive Star Wars card collection that I passed on to my son, Daniel, who shares my passion for all things Star Wars. Later, I admired Carrie Fisher as an actress in scores of movies and eventually, as a writer: I thoroughly enjoyed her semi-autobiographical Postcards from the Edge, and her autobiography, Wishful Drinking. I appreciate her for being brave enough to stand up and share her struggles with her weight, bipolar disorder and alcoholism.
So I was thrilled to be able to catch Ms. Fisher in her award-winning play, Wishful Drinking, last evening at the Bank of American Theatre in Chicago. Similar to her eponymous book, Wishful Drinking is more of a confessional than anything else. You'll feel as if you're having a night out with an older, wiser, wittier friend who really has been there/done that and approaches life and all her faults and foibles with refreshing frankness and honesty. Having grown up amidst the craziness of Hollywood, Ms. Fisher shared that she's finally reached the point where she can look back on her life (which includes overdoses, struggles with mental illness, divorce, remarriage to a man who eventually admitted to being homosexual, having a good friend overdose and die at her home) -- and laugh. It seems that by embracing the painful facets of her life, Ms. Fisher has been able to heal, help others, and have a laugh, too. She really is a bright, honest force in this world, and she made my evening complete by kindly autographing one of my precious Star Wars cards for my son.

Don't miss Carrie Fisher in Wishful Drinking. Now playing at the Bank of America Theatre until October 16th. For tickets, head over to
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Disclosure: Special thanks to Broadway in Chicago for treating me to tickets to this show. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pomp and Circumstance VS. The Wedding March

This article originally appeared on The Chicago Moms

This morning, it happened again: hoping to get the students at the high school where I teach excited about working hard towards graduation, the teacher/presenters at an assembly blasted Pomp and Circumstances. Tears welled up in my eyes. Pomp and Circumstance always manages to make me emotional.

Every other year or so, on graduation day, I have to announce the names of the students in my homeroom. As I proudly and carefully read their full names and watch them walk up to receive their diplomas, I always have to try my best to gulp down those happy tears. I have to completely avoid looking out into the audience, at their hopeful, happy parents if I plan on reading all the names clearly and distinctly.

So if graduation day for my students makes me emotional – what am I going to do when it comes down to the graduation days of my own kids?!?!

Some moms dream of the day that their daughter marries. They dream of the day when she’ll be dressed up as a princess in her white wedding dress, when she walks down the aisle to the wedding march, a bouquet of flowers in hand.

I dream of the day when my daughter walks down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance at her college graduation. I will be the bawling mom in the audience. We will have the biggest party ever or I will take her on a trip to the destination of her dreams – maybe even both. When and if she is conferred her PhD? I will spend more on her outfit that day than on a wedding dress. I will be delighted to save up every penny, nickel and dime, enough to take my daughter to Chanel for the most beautiful dress or suit ever. (The same goes for my son, too. And he’s already chosen his dream destination, Australia, so I’d better start saving!).

Don’t get me wrong: I love fancy weddings! And should my daughter choose to have one, I’ll help her plan a day to remember down to the very last detail. Just as well, should she forgoe college to choose a career path that meets her dreams and doesn’t require extensive education – we’ll find a way to celebrate that, too.

Just take a look at latest cover of any celebrity magazine: Our country celebrates over-the-top weddings and glamourizes women who have done little more than meet a guy and make some arrangments. We need to tone done the celebrating women for their manufactured wedding days, and focus more on celebrating women for their achievements.

On her wedding day, I will be over-the-moon happy for my daughter. On her graduation day, I will be over-the-moon proud of her. She’s still my baby girl so I’ve got lots of time before either big date, but for now, I want her to always know that I value her education and her dreams more than anything.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Chicago Kicks

Image Credits: Akin x Nike LunarGlide+ 3 “Chicago Marathon”
image via akin

At age 10, my son is already wearing men's size 7 shoes. When he was just born, his doctor in England told me that he'd be Tall - as in 6 ft. 3" or taller. Since that day, March 27th, 2001, it seems like he's been on a neverending, beanstalk-fast growth spurt. He grows out of shoes and clothing every four to six months or so. And at age 10, he's already entered into that territory that all moms dread: he has actually started to care about what he wears.

As a treat this weekend, we rode our bikes over to Akin Chicago, where a celebration was held for the release of the Nike LunarGlide+ 3 exclusive Chicago colorway running shoe. We had fun checking out the latest shoes, Chicago marathon-inspired clothes and other unique sportswear. The ride there and back - from our home at Western/Fullerton to Fullerton/Clark, was challenging, but it was a beautiful, crisp fall day, perfect for bike riding.
The shoe's artist, Tara D., was inspired by the lakeshore and old Chicago signage. If you've got a tween/teen already caring about what he wears, Akin is a good place to catch the latest shoes - and this one-of-a-kind Chicago shoe is now available at Akin and the Nike Sportswear store only.

Daniel at Akin on Clark/Fulleron

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Disclosure: In exchange for sharing the invitation and blogging about the event, I will be getting a pair of these Chicago running shoes.

#makesmesmilemondays Apple Picking with my Kids

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Time to Order a Your Early Winter Hat

Pretty Cloche in Sage Green with Flower - Hand CrochetedWool Blend Slouchy Beanie in Blue and Green - Hand CrochetedI just ordered a lovely early winter hat and I wanted to share the website with you, simply because I like to support the independent sellers of beautiful handmade goods on Handmade Cottage offers lovely, affordable hand-crocheted hats and heatbands. I am so happy with my purchase - a softly knit yet durable hat. Check out Handmade Cottage at Wool Blend Flapper Cloche in Blueberry/Raspberry - Hand CrochetedTextured Cloche/Toque in Charcoal/Gray/Burgundy - Hand Crocheted
Kitt Chunky Flapper Cloche in Butterscotch and Wine - Hand Crocheted - Wool Blend
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