Friday, April 29, 2011

The Proposed Pawn Shop on the Corner

Find this original post, check out more great writing from Chicago-based parents at ChiTown Parent: adventures in Urban Parenting.

Last night, I sat, fuming, in a community meeting, as the C.E.O. of EZCASH Corporation (and his two lawyers) tried their best to explain why an EZPAWN (a.k.a. Pawn Shop, a.k.a. Predatory Lender) would be the "perfect fit" for our dear, developing at a snails-pace neighborhood, on the edge of Logan Square, near the historic Congress Theater.

Among EZCORP's claims: "We make substantial investments in our communities!" "Our associates earn above average wages!" "EZCORP does not carry firearms!"

Well, EZ PAWN has  traded in handguns, and the they have invested in shops in some of the most blighted communities in the U.S., taking advantage of the Economic Slump by offering a 280% APR (no, that is not a typo, it really is 280%).

I looked the owner of EZ CORP into the eyes, and asked politely, "I'm sure we live in very different neighborhoods, but if you had small children, would you want a pawn shop on your corner?" He never answered my question. Instead, the zoning lawyer for EZ PAWN piped in to tell me how she finds visiting pawn shops "a very educational outing for children". (???). She showed off a ring that she had purchased at a pawn shop, to which I replied, "We obviously have different values, as I would not feel comfortable wearing the ring of someone who likely traded it in, hoping to get it back as soon as she could, desperate enough to give in to the ridiculous APR terms, using the cash to make rent for the month."

The fact of the matter is that, no thank you very much, I do not want a pawn shop on the corner. Besides the fact that pawn shops are known to be markets for stolen property and attract crime, I see so much potential in this lovely tract of Milwaukee Avenue. To allow the establishment of unsavory businesses will force quality businesses to reconsider investments. Sadly, just as positive development creeped up the avenue from Wicker Park and Bucktown, the recession hit. I believe -as do many other members in our community - that if we just give the economy a little bit more time to recover, business owners will see the potential, too, and have the desire and means to invest. We need local, sustainable businesses that appeal to the many families, like ours!, that have recently moved into the neighborhood, as well as to those that have been living here for years, enjoying easy access to the city, lovely parks, and an elementary school making progress by leaps and bounds. Already we have the  Congress Theater, which hosts a lovely farmer's market in the winter, the Logan Square Kitchen, Accanto, an upscale Italian restaurant, and a great bike shop, Bike Lane, on this segment of Milwaukee in question.

I am hoping that our Alderman, Joe Proco Moreno, will see this potential, too, and veto EZCORP's plans to open a pawn shop. More than that, I'm hoping that he'll do what he can to attract more quality, family-safe and family-friendly businesses to our neighborhood.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trilingual Baby: Update

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. Daddy, a.k.a. Papa, 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.

Update: Baby Chiara is now 19 months old. Developmentally, she's right on target. She has started wanted to sit on the potty - though she hasn't yet made a pee or a poo she does make a fake constipated-like look/sound, then wipes and flushes...). I think she is ready for potty-training, but I'm going to wait until the end of the school year, in just 1.5 months (!!!) so I can have a good stretch of time to work with her 1 on 1. She has great self-feeding skills and loves to sit in her little chair and look at books or color at her little table. She adores playing outdoors in our garden or at the park. Linguistically speaking, she still amazes us by understanding complicated sentences in all languages. I can ask her, for example, to go get the brush and brush her hair, or to pick the flower and give it to brother, in either Italian or English, and she understands.
I do sense, though, that at times, she gets frustrated with not being able to express herself. At least now she knows to ask for her favorite foods (banana, mela (apple), melone, arancia (orange), pane col burro (bread and butter), uovo (egg) and she'll let me know when her diaper is bugging her (Ca-CA!) or when she wants to go to the park (she calls the park the "Wheeeeee!", again one of her own invented words). But sometimes she falls to tears when trying/wanting to ask me to "do" something that she can't express. I feel bad because I feel her frustration could be tied to all this different language input, but I feel confident that it will all smooth out eventually.

We'll be spending a few weeks in Italy this summer with my in-laws, and since I'll be working on a project most of the day, the kids will be forced to spend time with their lovely grandparents who only speak Italian. Mwah ha ha ha. Not only are Nonno and Nonna fabulous people altogether, but Nonna is also an excellent cook. Believe me, my son will have all his favorite dish names memorized asap.

I came across a cute little book - Minutka the Bilingual Dog that I snatched up for Chiara for her Easter Basket. Minutka is a little black spotted dog that speaks two languages. She shares a day in her life and includes some musings on being bilingual. I like it because it's written in both Italian and English - usually I am flash interpreting English children's books into Italian for Chiara, because so few Italian children's books are available (I'm definitely looking forward to book shopping in Italy!)

We are lucky to have Youtube as a resource - Il capello di Dipsy - a Teletubbies episode in Italian - is her all-time favorite thing to watch. Since we don't have a tv in Chiara's main playing area, she doesn't watch tv. She also loves to listen to and now sings along with the old-school  Italian music show, Zecchino d'oro She's got the refrain for Valzer del Moscherino down pat (ooo llaaa lllaaa oooo laaa llaaa!).
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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Multitasking Moms: It's an International Thing

With my tongue in my cheek, I'm currently reading The Four Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. I appreciate a lot of what this guy has to say: That the goal of life should be to make time for what you truly love, and that is certainly what I strive to do. But there is simply no way I could ever whittle my work week down to four hours, unless I quit my job and home/mom duties altogether. Until then, I'm going to keep on breaking one of Mr. Ferrisses cardinal No-Nos: multitasking.
Don't get me wrong - multitasking is something I strive not to do. But yesterday, for example, as I cooked dinner (tilapia and mushroom rice pilaf), I booked our tickets to Italy this summer, oversaw Chiara coloring at her little table, and kept an eye on my son's Internet use - all at the same time. I give my kids undivided attention as much as I can - but sometimes, other things have to get done. This mom's just gotta do a little multitasking to tie up loose ends so I don't end up with a 400 hour work week.
Late one evening, when I was in Mali, I found myself simultaneously commiserating and compelled by the woman pictured below. She traveled to our village and shared her music with all of us. Somehow, she managed to breastfeed her boy, manage her other two drum-playing tots, and make beautiful music that brought everyone up to their feet in joyful dance - all at the same time. I wish I had spoken Bambara well enough to tell her: You're amazing.
She came to mind yesterday after I caught my daughter sitting on her potty, brushing her teeth with her Snoopy toothbrush, and reading a book - all at the same time. Makes me think that maybe multitasking is something women - around the world - just do, by nature.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

End of an Era: Themed Birthday Parties

Find this original post, check out more great writing from Chicago-based parents at ChiTown Parent: adventures in Urban Parenting.

I'm not sure who enjoys birthday parties more: me or the kid that is being celebrated. I'm the kind of mom that has always thoroughly enjoyed planning birthday parties. I simply can't understand moms that get stressed out over kid party planning. I love creating cute invites, baking themed cakes, brainstorming party games. I love going on the requisite shopping spree at the party store, picking out fun napkins and plates. I love stuffing the car trunk with balloons and festooning our home with streamers. I love seeing all the kids gathered around the table and watching my kid blow out the birthday candles.

I've done (lots of) Lego, Star Wars, Circus, Bob the Builder, Nerf, and Teletubbies themed parties. Not only have we always had a kid's party, but also an extended family party as well as an intimate family party. Yep - that's three parties! Childhood is fleeting, and what can I say, I love celebrating!

But this year, mid-February, when I asked my March birthday boy: "What kind of party would you like this year?" he paused for a moment then said, "Mom, this year I just want a family party. And I want to have some of my friends over during my birthday week. But no special friends party this year."

My reaction: "?????!!!!!!"

My son is turning double digits. Now he doesn't have that one and only intimate circle of (mostly mom-managed) friends, like he did when he was a tot. Now he's forging his own friendships: he's got friends at school, old friends, and then neighborhood friends. He explained that it would be pretty next to impossible to get all these people into our house for a party - and that besides, he just loves his family party most of all.

I've also noticed that most of his friends have tapered off the kiddie birthday party thing. One of my friends held a last hurray to kiddie birthday parties this year - she's stopping at age 10 with them, too - and hired a snake charmer to entertain the kids.

And so it is: The era of the themed birthday party for my son has come to an end. I guess I couldn't expect that he'd have Thomas the Tank Engine and Lego parties well into his teens. Instead our large family gathered to celebrate with a dinner party, the menu chosen by the birthday boy. I still found myself stuffing the birthday balloons in the car, I still baked his cake of choice, and I still caught myself bursting with joy upon watching him make his wish and blow out his candles. Now the question is: How did these past ten years fly by so darn fast?

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Back from the Bahamas

We had a lovely time in the Bahamas. Our resort, the Wyndham Viva Fortuna Beach was just right: simple, comfy, with a beautiful ocean view, a spotless, white sand beach, and crystal clear, warm waters. What more does a family need? Among the more unforgettable moments: watching Pupa dip her toes into the ocean for the very first time: she squealed with delight and would have dived right into the waves had we not stopped her, and scuba diving with Fratellone: he was Jr. certified at the PADI 4* dive center located right at the resort (he's 10 now) and we did a 15 ft. dive together as buddies: I couldn't believe what a pro my son was at it all, and I couldn't help but to smile, even with my mask and regulator on, every time he made the universal underwater sign for "awesome!" upon spotting a troupe of trumpet fish or the large Moray eel poking out of the reef.

The uninterrupted family together time was priceless.

I'll do a full review soon, on the Wyndham Women on Their Way website.
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My pretty baby in an Easter bonnet
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Friday, April 15, 2011

Bugs with Bunny Ears, Giant Chocolate Easter Eggs, Theater for Toddlers, Books for Tween Boys, Ladybugs and Dr. Phil

We'll be away next week so I'll be shopping for some Easter Basket goods this weekend: I found  Brazilian-Style giant chocolate Easter eggs at our favorite neighborhood grocery shop Brazil Legal (2153 North Western): they have a huge selection of huge, hollow (milk, dark, white, nut-crisp) chocolate eggs wrapped up in colorful foil. The proprietor of this store also makes the best chocolate cake ever - gooey with layers of condensed milk, like the Brazilian treat Brigadeiro, sold by the slice. She also keeps a secret stash of freshly fried Brazilian empanadas (I like the ones filled with hearts of palm the best) in the back - just ask! Don't forget to grab some frozen pao de queijo to go - lighter than air, cheesy puff bread.

I'll never understand the craze for Hexx Bugs, the small vibrating bugs that wander around like amped-up roaches, but both of my kids are mesmerized by them. They've made a special one for Easter: a purple bug with bunny ears. You can find them at on of our favorite local stores - Cat and Mouse (2212 West Armitage) - which also features a wide selection of quality, educational games and toys. I've already called to place a hold on two Easter Hexx bugs and I'll likely come home with a few more basket stuffers from Cat and Mouse as well.

Theater for Toddlers? I was delighted to hear about the Chicago Children's Theatre's upcoming performance,"Dot and Ziggy," running from May 8 to June 26 at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater (2433 N. Lincoln Avenue). My little toddler thoroughly enjoyed her experience at Redmoon Theater's Winter Spectacle, but since then, there haven't really been any performances on offer that would appeal to a toddler (and the mom and dad in charge of wrangling her). This show, however, is aimed at audiences ranging  from 6 months to four years. The storyline is all about the friendship between a ladybug and a skunk. With tickets costing just $16 weekdays; $18 weekends, this is the perfect theater outing for families with younger kids. Tickets also include an exclusive discount or offer at nearby family-friendly partner restaurants, including Kim and Scott's CafĂ© Twist (2218 N. Lincoln Avenue), or John's Place (1202 W. Webster Avenue). Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 773.871.3000.

Looking for some spring break/summer reads for your boy? I came across a good guide to books for tween boys here. I just ordered Hatchet for Fratellone; he's currently reading Hero.

Speaking of ladybugs, I just bought this book for Pupa and she is constantly pulling it off her bookshelf and bringing it to me to read to her. Here the rhyme online.

Me? I'm still reading and loving The Wilder Life by Chicago author Wendy McClure. As a reminder, you can catch Ms. McClure on her book tour, too! She's coming to Chicago on April 21, to read/speak at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. I'll be posting a full review soon.

Finally, here's another Chicago based mom's blog - Sassy Moms in the City - written by Allison Ray. I'm excited to be having lunch with Allison and....Dr. Phil! on April 27, at the Chicago Marriot Downtown. Join us! For more info, head over here.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

What to do when no one can pronounce your kid's name properly?

Chiara (KEY-are-ah) coloring
Our family is Italian: my husband is from Rome, and we speak Italian at home. When it came to naming our daughter, my husband insisted on naming her after Amalasunta, ancient Queen of the Visigoths. No, nope, that won't work. I stood firm, No one will ever be able to pronounce that! And so we settled on Chiara, which means light and fair, the perfect name for our little blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter.

Well, as it turns out, no one seems to be able to pronounce that, either.

While I was pregnant, we kept the name a secret from everyone, so it was never tested out. Of course we don't have a problem pronouncing Chiara (KEY-are-ah) - one of the more popular girls' names in Italy - and we just assumed that everyone else would be able to pronounce it fine, too.


I don't know whether to laugh or wince when, at the doctor's office, for example, the receptionist on duty calls out everything from Kiera to She-ierra to She-are-ah. I can't tell you how many times I've politely had to say, "It's Chiara - key-are-ah" - and even then, most people still don't get it.

For a brief moment in time, I thought about officially changing her name to Claire - the English equivalent of Chiara. But by then, she was already our Chiara, and her name fits her just perfectly.

Here's to hoping that our Chiara - that's key-are-ah - comes to love teaching people how to say her name, the right way.

***this post originally appeared on The Chicago Moms
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Monday, April 11, 2011

Easter To-Do List

Easter has always been on par with Christmas for me, as far as holidays go. How I loved waking up to an Easter egg hunt and a basket full of spring goodies, putting on my best pastel dress and a matching bonnet and heading over to my Grandma's to (weather permitting) play outside on Easter Sunday! I love the flowers of Easter, the foods of Easter, and the symbols of Easter. And now of course, as a parent, I love celebrating this spring holiday with my kids.

Here are three things I want to eat, make and do this Easter:

EAT: Swirlz - my favorite cupcake bakery in Chicago, is taking orders now for these delightful basket themed cupcakes: Chocolate Coconut Rich chocolate cake layered with bittersweet chocolate ganache and a layer of coconut filling, topped with coconut buttercream and shredded coconut. 

MAKE: One of my all-time favorite reads is Family Fun magazine. I always seem to find an easy, seasonally themed recipe or craft suitable for one or both of my kids in each issue. Check out their Best Egg-Decorating Ideas Gallery for a full lineup of inspired eggs. In honor of our trip to the Bahamas (next week!), we're going to make some of these dive-buddy eggs in addition to our usual food-colored eggs. Our resort has a 5-star PADI dive center, and I'm looking forward to taking Fratellone (age 10) on his first ever exploratory dive!

Pupa loves farfalle and Dora, so we're going to catch Dora & Diego’s 4-D Adventure: Catch that Robot Butterfly!, now playing at the Shedd Aquarium, the Saturday before Easter.

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Mall Easter bunnies.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Five for Friday: Chimney Cakes, Blue Men, Little House on the Prairie, Minimalist Moms and a Movie

My kids eating their chimney cakes on an impromtu after
school trip to Chiney Cake Island
This rainy day is perfect for chimney cakes. Here's our review of this new (and yummy) Chicago bakery.  

I'm keeping my finger's crossed that my daughter will enjoy Little House on the Prairie - both the books and the tv series - as much as I did when I was a little girl. I look forward to cuddling with her on the sofa in the wintertime for Little House marathons, and if (read: as soon as) she gets into the book series, I'll be taking her on a whirlwind tour of the Laura Ingalls Wilder related travel sites. You can imagine how thrilled I am to be reading the latest book by local author Wendy McClure, The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie. I just started reading, and already I'm hooked as I follow Ms. McClure on her quest to return to "Laura World"- those idyllic childhood moments brought on by watching, reading, and dreaming of life on the prairie. As she reconnects with her past passion for all things Laura, she rediscovers both her childhood and current self. The book will be released on April 14th, and you can catch Ms. McClure on her book tour, too! She's coming to Chicago on April 21, to read/speak at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. Read more about Ms. McClure and find more info on where to buy her book, here.

I am forever on a quest to keep things simple at our home, and so it was a pleasure to recently interview, via email, Minimalist Mom Rachel Jonat. In September of 2010, Ms. Jonat and her husband set out to live a life free of clutter – both physical and mental - hoping to own fewer things and get out and do more as a family. They got rid of half of their possessions, including their car. Follow her journey at Read more about Ms. Jonat, and find out seven steps that will help you to get on the minimalist track this spring, in an article I wrote for Mindful Metropolis, Extreme Spring Cleaning.

Looking for something fun to do with your tween or teen? Don't miss the revamped Blue Man Group. It features all the elements that kids (ages 10 and up) love: balls, paint, Twinkies, regurgitation, and giant smartphones. We took Fratellone a few weeks ago; check out our review here.

This Saturday is a great day to visit the The Notebaert Nature Museum: grab some fresh, sustainable snacks at the Green City Market (held this Saturday and the next from 8am to 1pm in the Lobby and South Gallery of the Nature Museum, before it resumes its outdoor location at the south end of Lincoln Park every Saturday morning) relax, visit the new Nature's Architects exhibit, and enjoy a free screening (included free with regular admission) of the documentary Lunch Line at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. or noon. Lunch Line, produced by Chicago-based documentary film company Uji Films, takes an in-depth look at the school lunch program and frames the ongoing battle to make lunch food healthier for our kids and the environment.

Have a wonderful weekend!
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***special thanks to Penguin Putnam for providing me with an advance copy of The Wilder Life to review. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Swimsuits and the Thirty-Something Mom

I am having a terrible time finding a swimsuit for our upcoming trips.

I fall somewhere between Exhibit A - the full-on MomSuit, and Exhibit B, The Bikini.

Exhibit A
Exhibit B
I *could* technically wear a bikini -  my children were gracious enough to leave me sans stretch marks - but I just bought my daughter the itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny yellow polka dot bikini (Exhibit C) - and furthermore, I no longer lounge at the pool or the beach with a cocktail and People magazine - I've got either a baby in my arms pulling at my straps or a boy jumping off my shoulders. I'm either playing Marco Polo or building sandcastles. And thank God - there is nothing that makes me happier than spending time with the kids at the beach or the pool. However, I need a swimsuit that will stay on/in place, but also something that will let me earn some well-deserved sunshine. I'm just not ready for the Momsuit (nor the TANKini - Ugh) and yet, I'm not teeny-weeny bikini material, either.
Swimsuit designers - are you listening?

Finally, let's face it - I'm formerly hot. Whereas once looked forward to swimsuit shopping season, where shopping for swimwear was actually fun - I now find it only challenging.

Are you formerly hot, too? I pulled this questionnaire from one of my favorite blogs,, Dispatches from Just the Other Side of Young, written by Stephanie Dolgoff. She recently wrote a book, too, My Formerly Hot Life, which is on my to-read list.

You Know You're a Formerly When...

1. You've even once pulled the skin of your face back and slightly up to see what you’d look like with a facelift

2. High school kids are now wearing what you wore in high school.

3. You count calories in mixed drinks.

4. Your ass is starting to need a bra.

5. You suddenly prefer interior design magazines to fashion magazines.

6. A supermodel could give you one of her kidneys and you would still kind of hate her.

7. Whereas you used to be grossed out by obscene catcalls, you are now relieved first, grossed out second.

8. You have a doctor devoted to a single part or function of your body (your patella, your endocrine system) other than your vagina.

9. There’s a decent chance that the doctor is younger than you.

10. You need to pre-caffeinate before meeting someone for a morning coffee.

11. Your adolescent nieces and nephews are starting to regard you as a potential narc.

12. You let your mother friend you on Facebook because you have that little to hide.

13. Besides, moms is cooler than you ever gave her credit for

14. Conversations about mortgages and 401Ks, while not exactly interesting, are no longer stultifying.

15. You have heard of Death Cab for Cutie, but couldn’t ID their songs on threat of waterboarding.

16. You freeze bread. Like there won't be another loaf at the store when you need one

17. You still think “hook up” means “let's meet up for a drink”

18. You have been ma’amed outside the Deep South

19. You can't fathom why they would remake such classics as Fame and Melrose Place

20. Cosmetic surgery that you once considered deeply anti-woman is now “a woman's personal decision.”

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Monday, April 4, 2011