Monday, May 30, 2011

#makesmesmilemondays

Tire swings.


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Friday, May 27, 2011

Mom Reads

My amazon.com cart is filled to the brim in preparation of time, precious time(!!!) that I hope to dedicate to reading this summer!

Here are some of the heavy duty, intellectual books that I've got in my shopping cart so far:

My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe
I'm Over All That by Shirley McClaine

These lighter than air celebrity memoirs are being balanced by all the academic reading (and dirt) I'll be sifting through this summer, including Storia di Roma by Indro Montanelli and a giant packet of research articles related to the summer project I'll be working on in Italy (more on that later...). My brain will need a break.

Below are some other great reads, from an article originally posted on thechicagomoms.com
Mom Reads

Disclaimer: I adored Little House on the Prairie as a little girl - both the tv series and the related books. Yes, I was the kind of little girl that actually set up my very own Native American Indian homestead in my backyard. I, too, found myself wishing that I could experience life as it was for Laura Ingalls Wilder: somehow despite the challenges, pioneer life intrigued me.

So I totally get what the Chicago-based author Wendy McClure, is looking for when she goes off in search of "Laura World", that mythical, imaginary place of the mind that she inhabited as a young girl. In her latest book, The Wilder Life, Ms. McClure takes the reader along as she embarks on a quest to rediscover Laura World by visiting Laura Ingalls Wilder historical sights, by trying out domestic duties of long ago (churning butter, preparing Pioneer dishes), and by connecting with Laura fans like herself. Along the way, she discovers the connection between her search for Laura and the death of her own mom.Though I am by no means a complete Laura fan in that I haven't read all the books nor have I see all the tv episodes (and my memory of many details is so foggy - it's been so long), I so enjoyed tagging along on Ms. McClure's journey.

I'm keeping my finger's crossed that my daughter will enjoy Little House on the Prairie, too- both the books and the tv series - as much as I did when I was a little girl. I'll 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.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture should be required reading of every mom of a girl. Author Peggy Orenstein examines the burgeoning girlie-girl culture (think Bratz, Disney Princesses, Barbie Fashionistas, and Fairies) and attempts to understand the new culture of little girls. Ms. Orentstein is a journalist who spent nearly two decades reporting on feminist issues and is the mother of a little girl herself ,so she undertakes her examination with much care, realizing, like most moms of girls do, that our girls face a challenging path as they enter their tweens then teenage years in our ever changing culture. Young girls today are dealing with issues such as anxiety, depression, distorted body image, and more. As a mom, I want to know how I can enforce positive self-confidence in my daughter. Ms. Orenstein's book was a great starting point and gave me some wise advice on raising my girl in this media-saturated world. Best of all, her tone made me feel that an experienced best friend was giving me a good talking to.





Finally, Two Kisses for Maddie: A Memoir of Loss and Love wins the tearjerker memoir award this Mother's Day. Just hours after giving birth to her firstborn, Maddie, Liz Logelin died of a pulmonary embolism. In this memoir, her husband, Matt, lovingly shares anecdotes about his courtship and marriage to Liz and his first days and weeks as both a widower and a new father. I was simply touched to see how this father kept the legacy of his wife alive despite sadness and challenges. Warning: Have a box of tissues nearby as you read.













***I was provided review copies of all three books.
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Play - a *quality* toy shop in Logan Square

Yesterday, I set out with Chiara in her buggy to El Cid, a fun Mexican restaurant in Logan Square, where a friend of mine was hosting a baby shower for another friend of mine. I had a couple of stops to make along the way: I needed some croissants and I needed a gift for said shower (running last minute in the gift department as usual...). 
Thank God for play, a cute-as-a-button new toy store on the corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Logan Blvd.. I had passed by countless times, but never found a moment to step in, and yesterday play delighted my daughter (and me - I found a cute, affordable gift for my friend, and it was sweetly gift wrapped - for free -and tied up with colorful ribbons). What a treat it is to have a full-service toy store featuring QUALITY, affordable toys and helpful salespeople - within walking distance from home! This means that I'll never have to step foot into a Toys'RUs again (!!!) Chiara wanted to bust out of her buggy and play with everything - she happily cuddled with a wide selection of ugly dolls.
Next door to play you'll find the dueling New Wave Coffee and La Boulangerie, both of whom are currently engulfed in Chicago's War of the Croissants. I am forced to side with La Boulangerie, because it manages to transport me to Paris via flaky, buttery croissant. I can't resist their pain au chocolat, either.

Visit on a Sunday - when the Logan Square Farmer's Market will be in full force - it starts June 5th!

Check out this noteworthy article from the New York Times earlier this year: Logan Square’s Time Comes Round in Chicago





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Monday, May 23, 2011

#makesmesmilemondays

Catching a glimpse of wild horses, after hiking in search of them for more than an hour, on Shackleford Island, North Carolina



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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

All the Tea in China: One of My Favorite Blogs from a Friend Living with Her Family in China and a Sweet Deal on Tea

I love the idea of packing up the family and heading to live abroad...but in my case, my husband and I are pretty tethered to Chicago by our jobs. Thankfully, I can live vicariously through my friend Jane, who, along with her husband, Dave, is living out the adventure of a lifetime: They've moved to China where they now work as university instructors, while their three smart, adorable kids are completely immersed in all things China, including the language and school life. Check out Dave's stunning photography and get a first hand glimpse into everyday life in China by following their adventures on their blog, Slow Boat to China @ http://www.wellszawadowski.blogspot.com/

I usually don't pass these on but Jane got me thinking about my love of tea (she just had the chance to pick tea herself and participate in two traditional tea ceremonies!) when I received this deal from an affiliate program I participate with in my inbox:  $9 for $23 worth of certified organic and eco-friendly teas and accessories from Teatulia.com (Offer expires: 11:59 PM - May 20, 2011).

post signatureHere's a good article on the benefits of green tea. I drink about five cups of it (unsweetened and freshly brewed) each day. There are some interesting tea recipes on the Teatulia website, too - the Earl of Bengal Cookies sound delicious.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Kids in the Kitchen

*Early* in the morning on Mother's Day, I could hear the cracking of eggs and the clanging of pots and pans: These, by far, were some of the sweetest sounds ever to reach my ears. I knew it was my 10-year-old son, cooking up a storm in the kitchen, as he likes to do on occasion. Finally he waltzed into our bedroom with a perfectly plated cheese omelet and exclaimed proudly "Happy Mother's Day, Mom!" This year's mother's day surprise topped my all-time fave (a hand drawn portrait of me with a few strands of hair, dots for eyes and a HUGE smile, in a silver painted macaroni frame). I ate my truly delicious omelet in bed with my son and baby girl snuggled by my side. Heaven on Earth for this mom.  


Cooking with the mime at Kenmore Live Studio


Teaching my son how to cook has always been a priority of mine. I started him early with mixing batters, adding ingredients, then he moved on to cracking eggs, and finally safely manning the stove and oven on his own. Baby Chiara has also started home cooking lessons: I put a spoonful of flour in a big bowl and she likes to mix it with a whisk. 
This past weekend I took my son and his two cousins to check out the Kenmore Live Studio. Located at 678 North Wells (bonus: pretty easy street parking on the nearby side streets), the studio is an event space that works to better connect people to both their community and their kitchen. Most Sundays at 2pm, a live cooking show entitled "Healthy Kids in the Kitchen" teaches kids a new recipe or two, usually taught by a local, noted chef. The show is streamed live on facebook - in fact the host of the show is happy to take any questions posed on the Kenmore facebook page.
The kids got a kick out of the live studio experience which included a juggling mime and lots of taste-testing. They especially enjoyed the recipes presented, which called for digging out the center of a muffin and filling it with goodies: A cornbread muffin was scooped out and filled with scrambled eggs and topped with cheese for a breakfast/brunch treat; A plain vanilla muffin was scooped out and filled with the a choice of fresh fruit. These were all recipes that could be easily made at home, together.
The Kenmore Live Studio is a great place to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon with your kids. Best of all, it's entirely free! "Friend" Kenmore on facebook and you'll be kept in the loop of upcoming events, seminars and celebrations. There is a great offering of events in the near future, for both children and adults, including an Experience New Zealand Wine Tasting Seminar and a presentation on Wedding Cakes of the Future.
   
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Monday, May 16, 2011

Les Friends

This past weekend, I had the chance to see the new boutique that my friend Christine has worked so hard to open: le Thrift, an adorable little shop on trendy Division. It's brimming with cute little dresses, smart accessories, and, much to the delight of my already shoe obsessed baby girl and me, flats, heels and more. Best of all, it's entirely affordable. Even better, Christine is the queen of putting an outfit together and is right there on hand as a fashion advisor.
I met Christine over seven years ago, when we both found ourselves living in the same apartment building, actually a historic Lincoln Park home divided into four units. Christine lived above us, as did her daughter who is just a year younger than my son. Needless to say, our kids and Christine and I became great friends. Our homes were interchangeable; the kids had each other as constant playmates. We saw each other through many ups and downs in life and it was wonderful to see her happily opening her store this past weekend. I asked her daughter, "Aren't you proud of your mommy???" and she beamed, "I was so proud and nervous and excited I almost cried!"
Visit le Thrift at 1754 West Division or online at lethrift.com





Chiara checking out the shoe selection at le Thrift

#makesmesmilemondays

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Learn Italian on Your Smart Phone - Great Free Aps for Adults and Kids

Heading to Italy this summer? Looking to learn more about your family's heritage language? Or simply dreaming of la bell'Italia? Grab your iphone and check out these fantastic seven (free!) aps for learning Italian!


1. Vocab Review: Free Italian Audio Flashcards is a great ap for learning new words and perfecting your pronunciation.

2. Italian Verbs Free is a great ap for verb practice/review. Once you get the top 23 verbs down, you'll be set for easily catching on to all the rest. Berlitz 21 Italian Verbs is another good verb review ap.

3. News: Though I prefer La Repubblica's print edition, their ap isn't the best - you can only breeze through the entire paper which is unwieldy on an iphone. Correire della Sera instead runs easy to click and read lists of front page articles and more.

4. Word of the Day: Learn a new word every day at Italian Word of the Day

5. Italian for Kids: Flash Card Italian is a simply ap to help your kids learn some basic vocab. They'll like the colorful pics and double check pronunciation via audio.

6. TG1 - one of Italy's public television channels offers an ap that let's you watch top Italian news stories. Warning: It's always difficult for beginner - advanced language learners to follow tv audio so be patient with yourself.

7. Love Italian Style: Anthology: Love Poems is the only ap listed here that costs money, but it will only set you back 99 cents. It's a collection of over 150 love poems by celebrated Italian authors, from Dante to Pascoli.

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Grave of the Fireflies - Family Film Review

The Grave of the Fireflies is one of those don't miss movies, quite simply one of the most touching films out there. A cartoon that manages to stir the soul? Yes - this movie manages to touch to the core, as it highlights the relationship between a brother and his younger sister amidst the ravages of war. I can't watch it without tears. Based on the eponymous semi-autobiographic novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, Grave of the Fireflies is the story of a brother and a sister, Seita and Setsuko, who find themselves suddenly orphaned, at the end of World War II. Facing grim conditions and an uncertain future, the two siblings struggle to survive and stay hopeful. The anime' format manages to capture the strength of Seita in the face of death and the toddler-like, bumbling innocence of little Setsuko.
I recommend watching it in Japanese with English subtitles - even if your kids are early readers, the anime' format will help carry along their understanding. That said, you can also switch to English under audio options. Be sure to watch it with your children, and use it means to open up conversation the heavy topics it introduces: war, death, homelessness, and the importance of standing by your siblings.
Grave of the Fireflies is available on both Netflix.com and Amazon.com

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Do you remember the moment you first became a mother?

My mother's day gifts
Do you remember the moment you first became a mother?

Some women I know experienced that first "Wow. I really am A Mom" moment the first time they felt the baby kick about in-utero. For other moms, it happened the moment they opened an envelope delivered via Fedex, to find a referral photo of a soon-to-be adopted child. For other moms, it was the moment the midwife or doctor announced with joy, "It's a Boy!" or "It's a Girl!" and all that raw, oxytocin-fueled new Mom emotion caught fire.

For me, it happened the moment I first dared to attempt to go pee after giving birth to my son.

You see, I am the kind of person who can't believe things until I see them. So despite the fact that my baby bump was double watermelon sized, I still couldn't fathom that I was about to become a mom. Then, when my son was born, I was so high on Entonox that it all still seemed so surreal - Is this really happening? I wondered. The doctor handed my newborn son to me, my little burrito of a boy, wrapped in his blue blanket, and though I was elated, my heart literally bursting with joy, I still just couldn't believe it.
Daniel - my firstborn and now 10 year old was born in London. Hence the Entonox: in the UK they roll a tank of laughing gas into your room and let you control how much you think is necessary. So in the throngs of labour, of course, I was sucking it up like a distressed scuba diver. By the time  he was born, after just a couple quick hours of labour, I really was floating on air.
Later, I came down to Earth. I was wheeled back to my recovery room - which was shared with about 15 other women separated by curtains. I spent much time lovingly cuddled up with my newborn boy. It really was idyllic - but I still simply could not believe that I was...A Mom.

And then it hit me: I had to go pee.

The recovery room lights were dim - we were still in the wee hours of the morning. How would I ever manage to find my way to the bathroom? I wondered. And then – the baby. Surely I couldn’t leave him here in his little crib! Someone could snatch him! I miscalculatingly thought it best to wait until my boyfriend returned, during visiting hours – but no doubt I’d pee myself before that happened.
I tried to avoid it a few moments more, at least until my bladder was ready to burst. Alas, the sun was rising, and filtering through the dark ward. I wrapped the baby burrito style in his blanky – he’d have to come with me, because I wasn’t about to leave him alone in a room full of strangers – and set off to the bathroom. As I stood up, more blood flowed out of my soaked pad, down my legs, onto the floor.
It was a single, windowless bathroom, leaving me no choice but to turn on the oppressively bright florescent lights.
The adept balancing act that is motherhood began that very moment for me: as I balanced the baby on one shoulder, then the other, opening my hospital gown, shimmying down my bloody hospital-issue mesh underwear and tossing them – Plump – into a metal wastebasket – finally, I’d made it. I was sitting on a toilet and though it hurt like hell, I peed.

Afterwards, I did what I could to get myself back into clean, working order, as best I could, kissing the baby’s head at intervals.

Then, out of the corner of my eyes, I spotted it: a full-length mirror, obviously nailed there to the wall to intrigue then torture new mom recruits. Dare I look into it? I challenged myself, opened my eyes.

My first thought was: I really look like a state mental institution patient that just stepped out of the ring with Mike Tyson, stealing someone else’s cute baby boy along the way. My eyes were littered with broken blood vessels – a sign of panicked pushing. My hair matted, my lips chapped, my skin pale over the loss of blood, magnified by the fluorescent lights. I lifted my gown and caught a glimpse of my legs, streaked with dried blood, my throbbing, veined breasts, and most strikingly my empty paunch, still swollen and missing the baby.

My second thought was: I wonder if it’s true, if I press in at my empty belly, could I feel my spine? Should I try? I shuddered and then…

My third thought: I'm A Mom.
But damn if I didn’t relish the sight of myself with that cute, blanket wrapped baby. I forced myself to envision life three, four months into the future, when I’d be cleaned up, certainly bound to look perkier, walking through Green Park with my bouncing baby boy in his buggy. I pulled my gown down. Took a deep breath. Slowly walked back to my little curtained off sanctuary. I nested on my side, led the baby to my breast, and tried to will out some colostrum.

Hospitals in the UK are nothing like the fancy ones here in the U.S., and giving birth to Chiara at the sparkling Prentice Women's Hospital here in Chicago was an altogether difference experience. However, I will never forgot that moment in that dismal, fluorescent-lit hospital bathroom in London, where I caught sight of myself - a Mom! - for the very first time. I am thankful, too, that the UK hospital experience had me parenting 100% on my own from the get-go.

This Mother's Day, like every one for the past ten years, my biggest gift is the chance to keep on learning and growing as a mom, as I parent these two kids who have brought nothing less than joy and love into my life. The flowers, the breakfast in bed, the handmade gifts and cards - they are the cherries on top of the sweetest sundae ever, Motherhood.



Happy Mother's Day!



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Thursday, May 5, 2011

City Vs. Suburbs


                          Our home, a week before we moved in, last year. Note:
                     my husband knocked the gargoyles off the porch, thankfully.

Chicago Parent is running a great forum today on city vs. suburbs. The writers in our city-living parent group (some of them are already planning on moves to the 'burbs?!?!) were each asked to contribute.

We love our home and our neighborhood, and quite honestly, I can't imagine living anywhere else. We've got the best of both worlds: we live on a pretty, tree lined street, our kids can walk to the park and play in our backyard or ride bikes around the block...and yet we're steps away from everything that the city has to offer. Happily, every day, I notice more and more families buggying, biking, and walking about our little corner of the city.

I'm pretty much alligned with Selena when it comes to Why Chose the City, and I echo Heather's words.

Here's my take on why I choose to live and raise my family in the city.