Monday, April 30, 2012

Two New Beauty Product Reviews: Silk'n Flash & Go Permanent Hair Removal System and the Mumbani Fresh Face

I recently received two beauty products to review:

The first, a Silk'n Flash & Go Permanent Hair Removal System was a Godsend. Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I have been a client at American Laser Skincare for seven years, and for seven years I have DREADED going in for my laser hair removal touch-ups. There is nothing more unsettling and unnerving to me (in the beauty department) than stripping down, wearing sunglasses yet freezing my butt off, and being painfully zapped by a laser hair remover. That said, laser hair removal has worked well with my skin (very fair) and hair type. In the end, I really have saved money and most of all, time. But back to the maintenance appointments: I dreaded them. So when I was gifted a Silk'n Flash & Go system, an FDA cleared home laser hair remover, at a Pretty City event, I was delighted! It's super easy to

#makesmesmilemondays Feeding the Ducks and Geese at Humbolt Park

One of our favorite things to do on a Sunday afternoon: ride our bikes to Humboldt Park to feed the ducks and geese. 
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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Heart of Haiti

This Mother's Day, I'm working with Clever Girls in support of Macy's Heart of Haiti to shine a light on the "trade, not aid" program, which provides sustainable income to Haitian artisans struggling to rebuild their lives and support their families after the 2010 earthquake.

What is Macy’s Heart of Haiti

Heart of Haiti is a “Trade, Not Aid” initiative launched by artist and social entrepreneur, Willa Shalit, The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund and Macy’s. Already, Heart of Haiti has led to the employment of 750 artists in Haiti, providing financial benefits for an estimated 8,500 people in the country.

Each item is a one-of-a-kind design and handmade by a Haitian master artisan from raw materials such as recycled oil drums, wrought iron, papier-mâché and stone. The collection features more than 40 home decor items including quilts, metalwork, ceramics, jewelry and paintings and is made almost entirely from recycled and sustainable items such as old cement bags, cardboard, oil drums and local gommier wood.  

Heart of Haiti products are available online at Macy’

I was encouraged by Clever Girls to share my experience with a mother who touched my life. I've chosen to share the story of my time spent with a woman who helped many women on their journey to motherhood, a midwife I had the honor of meeting when I traveled to Mali with Chicago Public Schools students as part of the BuildON program.  BuildON helps villagers build new schools while providing cultural and language learning opportunities for its participants. 
-photo: Baby Fatimata and mother Fata by Amy Vitale Oxfam 
In the story below, I detail the existing conditions of maternal health and parent education in the town of FounouFuni, located in the Segou region of Mali. One of the poorest countries in the world, children born in the region have an average life expectancy of only 38 years. During my trip, I spoke with the town's only midwife, Zubaila Tu. 

Seven hours by plane to Paris, another six to the capital city of Bamako, Mali, followed by eight hours via bumpy van on a dust whipped road past the small city of Segou, sits the small village of FounouFuni. I had arrived there all the way from Chicago to meet a unique goal: to break ground on a elementary school – the first ever in this tiny village where the future students filled my days with laughter and made digging into the hard ground littered with hibernating desert frogs all the more meaningful. Sharing my same goal were 17 Chicago public high school students – all of us brought together by Building with Books, a U.S. based organization that encourages and inspires student to volunteer in their local communities and help build schools in developing countries.
The children of FounouFuni ran freely about the village all the day long: they played soccer with an old nylon sock filled with sand, they skipped along with sticks rolling popped bicycle tires, and watched us as we mixed cement, pounded out bricks, and dug out a foundation under the hot African sun, their parents working beside us. Fathers taught newly-apprenticed construction workers like me (a Chicago Public Schools teacher by trade) the ins and outs of making a durable cement brick. Mothers drew water from the central deep well and carried bucket after bucket to the cement mixing station. The excitement of the children over their new school – over which their parents and these odd outsiders were working so hard – was palpable. They arrived daily at the construction site to check up on our progress, were eager to learn English words and expressions, and couldn’t get enough of the pencils, notepads and picture books that I had brought along to share.
The children of FounouFuni are survivors for the simple reason that they were born in a country where only one in five children makes it through childbirth. Children in Mali are not even named until they are at least a week old: newborns face a myriad of troubles, with one in four children dying before reaching the age of five. Their killers are malaria, dehydration brought on by diarrhea, and respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia. Killers that could be eradicated through such simple steps as parent education, clean drinking water and timely vaccinations. 78 percent of children are not immunized against preventable disease by their first birthday and access to medical care is extremely limited or altogether non-existent.
The mothers of FounouFuni are survivors in their own right as well: more than 1,500 women die during childbirth in Mali for every 100,000 live births. Childbirth and its complications are the number-one killer of teenage girls in Mali. Compare this statistic to that of the U.S., where 17 women die during childbirth per 100,000 live births. Again their killers could be eradicated through simple steps. Death can start via infection from an unsanitary knife that cuts the umbilical cord. A simple tetanus vaccination could spare mother and infant. But again, the majority of women in Mali lack basic medical care and formally educated women are the minority.
Zubaila Tu is the one and only midwife in FounouFuni. Cheery and bright, with a dimpled smile, Zubaila is 57 years old and has served as the village midwife for the past 19 years. Her only formal training was from an agent from UNICEF and two Peace Corps volunteers that visited the village and trained her 19 years ago. But her true mentor was her grandmother, a midwife that she followed around as a little girl, quietly observing and then serving her as a young assistant. Zubaila also birthed 10 babies of her own: her first child was born when she was just 15. Of those ten children, only 4 survived, fitting with statistics on birth survival rates in Mali.
There is no birthing room or center FounouFuni. Zubaila Tu travels to the home of the woman in labor, and tries her best to set up an adequate space. But since most women live in small, two room cottages with dirt floors, no chairs and no beds, an adequate birthing room means clearing out the usual inhabitants and laying a straw mat on the floor.
In 2007, Zubaila birthed 307 babies from FounouFuni and its neighboring villages, of which 270 survived.
When I spoke with Zubaila via translator, she remained optimistic but expressed her one wish: a sanitary birthing house for the women of FounouFuni. “If only I had more sanitary conditions and better supplies…if only the women were better educated on maternal and child heath…life would take a turn for the better in our peaceful village,” she half-smiled as she held a napping baby on her lap. Zubaila’s one and only “instrument” was a pack of razor blades for cutting umbilical cords, her only education tool an illustrated book on maternal and child care by UNICEF.
She continued, “We have no methods of pain relief during difficult labors. If the labor does not progress, the only solution is to find a way to get to the nearest village with a small hospital, Marakala (20 km from FounouFuni). Usually it’s a painful ride by donkey cart. And many pregnant women do not survive the journey.”
Most girls in FounouFuni have their first child between the ages of 18 and 20. However, sometimes younger girls do become pregnant out of wedlock at earlier ages.
“We consider this an accident,” Zubaila whispers to me in her grandmotherly way.
“What if a woman doesn't want to have any more babies: what does she do?” I ask, my western innocence shining through.
“It's a woman's obligation to have many babies” sighs Zubaila. “If she doesn't, her husband will refuse or leave her.”
 “And what about women who are unable to become pregnant for whatever reason?” “Women who can't have babies pray, pray and pray,” Zubaila lifts her hands to the sky up for a moment.
During the fifteen days following childbirth, women eat special dishes such as fish from the nearby Niger River – and are encouraged to eat when ever they are slightest bit hungry. The new mother is helped out by her daughters (if they are old enough) or her female neighbors with the many chores around the house: drawing water from the wells, pounding millet (the staple grain that needs to be extensively processed with a large mortar and pestle), preparing meals, taking care of younger children.
When I asked Zubaila about her thoughts on combating malnutrition in a country where most people survive on less than $2 per day, she sighed. “Most women breastfeed children up to at least 24 months. Most babies enjoy their first solids at six months of age, rice or millet porridge with fish powder called RuYi. Some children obviously aren’t receiving enough nutrition. And it's often difficult to tell a woman that she or her children may be suffering from malnutrition. It's a matter of pride. If you approach a woman the wrong way, she will usually angrily retort: 'Are you trying to tell me that I don't have the means? That I don't know how to care for my children?'…So I usually delicately suggest that perhaps the baby might have malaria. And I make food and health recommendations that I can only hope the mother will find the means to follow."
She takes time to educate new mothers on both nursing mother and child nutrition, making much use of her illustrated UNICEF guide, which featured easy-to-understand nutrition charts.
Zubaila is currently training several women from surrounding villages, and four women from FounouFuni. She looks forward to the inauguration of the schoolhouse, which will be completed by the villagers in about two months. Not only will the children finally receive a formal education, but the school will also be used as a women’s education center in the evenings, which will fit well with the African proverb: “If you educate a woman, you have educated a population.” It is likely that Zubaila herself will hold some seminars and women’s meetings at the completed school. The government of Mali has agreed to send and support a primary school teacher to every school funded and built by Building with Books. In a country where 66 percent of men and 77 percent of women have not attended school, the building of this rural schoolhouse represents a huge step in the right direction towards a healthier future for both women and children.
Recently, the First Lady of Mali, Madame Toure Lobbo Traore, herself a former midwife, has taken steps towards her goal of cutting maternal and newborn deaths in half by the year 2010. Together with the first ladies of several West African nations, she is working to increase funding in national budgets for maternal and child health programs. As a testament to her hard work, the healthcare budget has substantially, though as always, relatively, risen in Mali in the past ten years, so that the number of women and children who have access to health centers has increased from 20 percent to 65 percent.
I will always remember the one evening when on my walk home towards my simple adobe hut, I came across my neighbor, Miriama, lying on her side, on a mat under the wide expanse of stars, quietly and gently nursing her tender baby boy. She seemed so peaceful and content, her baby fat and adorable. It happened to be my son’s seventh birthday, and I missed him terribly – for two weeks we had been not only worlds away but also incommunicado (FounouFuni has no running water, no electricity, and no telephones). As I smiled at Miriama, the thought struck me: what a double-edged sword life can be. This mother of FounouFuni most likely gave birth to her baby in an adobe hut, on a mat resting on a dirt floor. Seven years prior, my son was born in a sterile white hospital room, caught by a midwife wearing a surgical mask. We each had sons and there was much joy. My son grew to age five in remarkable health – but it is a real possibility that Miriama’s cuddly boy will not survive to his fifth birthday. Children die in Mali of illnesses that so easily could have been prevented, from diarrhea caused by unclean drinking water, water that could have been cleared of killer parasites through the installation of a simple purifying pump; from the prick of a mosquito – pricks that could have been avoided by sleeping under a $10 mosquito net.
But Miriama and I have more in common that we could imagine: our love for our children is great, our goals for them greater: we both dream that our children will grow up to be healthy and educated. But the chances that my goals will be reached are within reach, while Miriama will likely face much struggle, for the simple fact that I happened to be born in a city 5,000 miles away.
How can the inequities between the mothers in our world be so great? What mechanisms are in place in this world that cause our country to face problems with children being overfed and obese, while children in Mali face malnutrition on starvation?
We need to start caring about the future of children around the world as if they were our very own children.
What have you done recently to help out a mother or child in need?
Malian Baby Blessings: 
Ala ka den balo. May God watch over (a.k.a. feed) your baby
Ka na can dja. May your child's mission be fulfilled.
Ka bu ko ah dogoni ye. May this baby not be the last one.

Thank you to Macy's Heart of Haiti for sponsoring my participation in this “Share Your Heart" promotion. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Italian Language Summer Program for Preschoolers! Insieme a Chicago

I am so excited to spread the word about Insieme a Chicago's summer Italian Language Program for Preschoolers! I know of one special little bilingual Italian/English little girl who will be participating! 

The Il volo program (3-5 years old program) is based on the Italian Preschool Objectives and Curriculum.
While the language is simplified for non-native speakers, the Curriculum is an effort to replicate a typical day at an Italian Preschool!
Because this program is offered for 90 minutes once a week, the contents are
shorten and revised accordingly.
Meeting 90 minutes once a week, the program is 8 weeks long and covers one Cumulative Project (Argomento Tema). The project is presented through age appropriated games, songs, body
movements, books, age appropriate art projects, rhymes and other creative
The program’s focus is to immerse children in an Italian school setting, exposing them to both the Language and the Culture! Il Volo is designed so that the Italian Preschool Objectives merge with the American ones (in particular the ACTFL National Standards for Foreign Language Education).

The program starts on July 9th and ends on August 27th.
The program day is: MONDAY, 10.15-11.45am
The location is: 3759 N. Ravenswood, Suite #119 Chicago, IL 60613
The cost is: $240 ($30 per class).
Siblings receive 10% discount (the discount is also applicable for siblings who are in
different programs!)
Registration deadline is: May 7th
. A deposit of $50 is required for the registration.

For more information, visit or contact Barbara De Bernardi  at; Tel. 312-451-6880 

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London Derriere as 1960's Batman
Photo by K. Leo
This week, I was invited to review a show called...Superboobs.

The title itself prompted me to believe that it would make for a good girls night out. I gathered two good friends who, like me, already know how super boobs can be having each breastfed two kids - to come with me for some laughs. The theater - Gorilla Tangoat 1919 North Milwaukee Avenue, is just a stone's throw from my home. And midway between the two is Margie's Candies (on the corner of Armitage/Milwaukee/Western), one of the best ice cream parlours in the city, so this is also the perfect excuse for a turtle sundae. 

Superboobs bills itself as a Superhero Burlesque Adventure. All the top comic heros are brought to life - from Iron Man to Wolverine - by a hilariously sexy troupe of women. When the Joker and Jester band together to entrap superheros, the triumph of good vs. evil in the world is sent into a tailspin. If you've ever wondered what would happen if Superman, Iron Man, Wolverine and Batman, all actually male impersonators, were held captive in a closet, here's your chance to find out. 

Burlesque brings out the fun in sexiness - there is no outright nudity, no fake boobs, no porno stylings. Superboobs is Chicago theater at it's most kooky best. And the smaller venue, Gorilla Tango Theater, led to a cozy atmosphere that encouraged audience participation and laughs. It you want a taste of the burlesque, in addition to Superboobs, there are a ton of other fun-sounding shows coming up at Gorilla Tango, including Boobs and Goombas: a Supermario Burlesque. 

And if you're really intrigued by Burlesque - why not consider taking some Burlesque classes? A studio opened up in my neck of the woods - Vaudezilla (love that name!) where you can learn to shake and shimmy and definitively let go of any body image issues you've ever had! 

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pinterest Mania!

Pinterest Logo I was hesitant to start pinning on Pinterest. But now, yes, I admit, I'm officially addicted.

I find it's a great way to organize ideas, to make travel plans, to gather recipes in a virtual recipe book, to dream and to be inspired. I've even curated an Asparagus board!

Where are you on Pinterest? Follow along with me!

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Meet Spooky

Meet Spooky, my 2-year-old daughter's lovey.

She has tens of adorable stuffed animals and pretty little dolls (Did you see what she did to Cicciobello??). But her stuffed playmate of choice is none other than Spooky, a stuffed ghost her Grandma made her for Halloween. He's made of white felt, with hand-stitched eyes, nose and mouth.

Seriously, she cannot go to sleep or on a trip without her little ghost. She doesn't like him to take any spins around the washing machine, which is a problem for a ghost that is white and dragged everywhere. Sadly, Spooky has issues with his neck ligaments, too, and it looks like he'll need some sort of a brace soon - he can barely hold up his head anymore.

No matter that he's dusty and grey, with a broken neck - he's just perfect in my daughter's eyes and a constant companion to her days.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sweet Home Chicago

I've traveled the world, I've lived in London and Rome, but I always love coming home to Chicago. I love the fact that though we live in the big city, my kids can still ride their bikes around our neighborhood. We have a backyard! And yet world-class museums, fabulous boutiques and restaurants from every ethnicity you can think of are just steps or a quick El ride away.

Here's a beautiful tribute to the city I call home!

Check out my reviews and ideas for fun in the Windy City at

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Monday, April 16, 2012

#makesmesmilemondays Cicciobello's Eyebrow Makeover

Cicciobello is a popular Italian doll. To be honest, Chiara doesn't really care for Cicciobello, and I can't blame her: he's cute, yes, but really a pain in the butt. Take out his pacifier and all he does is cry.

So no, I wasn't surprised when Chiara came to me one day, very proud of Cicciobello's eyebrow makeover. He's got quite a bit of flair now, with one pink and one blue brow. Still, Cicciobello is stuck in his own crib most of the day, pacifier in mouth, while Chiara prefers playing with her favorite lovey, actually a stuffed ghost she calls Spooky.
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Friday, April 13, 2012

Mark Your Calendars: Global Activism Expo

File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpgHere's a fun event to inspire some global activism in your family: 

OSaturday, April 28, from 12 - 6pmChicago Public Media (WBEZ 91.5 FM) will be presenting the 5th Annual Global Activism Expo as part of the 2011-2012 Off-Air Event Series.  Hundreds of Chicago-area activists will gather together at this all-day, free (!!!) event at the UIC Forum (725 W. Roosevelt Road).

Here's what's on the menu of things to-do:

  • meet local activists in-person and learn about their organizations.  Every organization has been featured on the Worldview series.
  •  shop an interesting range of fair-trade jewelry and apparel
  • take part in on-site demonstrations and activities including: LIFT Foundation (Leading India’s Future Today) hosting a live video chat between Expo attendees and children in India for a transnational game of “Simon Says”; CircEsteem youth members displaying their circus skills and teaching guests how to juggle, spin a plate, and balance a feather; Project FOCUS presenting a community mural for attendees to contribute; and El Fuego del Sol with a solar Sun Oven display.
  • enjoy great food and music!

Before you set out for the event, look around your home and gather some donations if you can:  

-          Aid Africa's Children is requesting toothbrushes (kids and adults) and small samples of toothpaste;
-          Fr John Kolkman Sickle Cell Foundation is collecting blood pressure cuffs/monitors and stethoscopes for their work in Cameroon;
-          Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach is collecting items to be assembled into a standard hygiene kit such as hand towels, wash cloths, fingernail clippers, bath bar soap, tooth brush, toothpaste, Band-Aids, combs, and one-gallon Ziploc bags;
-          Matanya’s Hope is collecting gently used book bags and school shoes, soccer balls, air pumps, and fleece blankets for children in Kenya;
-          Solidarity Bridge is collecting crayons, children's books (Spanish preferred), Band-Aids, or any household medical supplies for distribution in Bolivia;
-          Working Bikes Cooperative is collecting bicycles and wheelchairs.  Working Bikes will also have an on-site demonstration of “bike machines” showing how bicycles are being used for UV water sterilization, water pumping, or charging phones and laptops in communities around the world.

 For more info on the Global Activism Expo, visit:
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