Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cirque Shanghai at Navy Pier: A Don't Miss for Summer 2012

Last night my two kids (ages 2 and 11) and I were lucky enough to attend  the opening night of Cirque Shanghai: Year of the Dragon, and all three of us were enthralled.

These performers may look dainty, but they hide incredible strength and nerves of steel

This is a show for kids of all ages, from 1 - 100. My 2-year-old loved the bright colors, the twinkling stars, the "scary" dragon, and the "Princesses" (seemingly dainty acrobats that hide not only incredible strength but also nerves of steel). My 11-year-old was in awe of the bike balancing and hoop diving feats. The grand finale - The Wheel of Death - amazed us all. 

Chicago journalist Desiree Chen profiled the talented China-based Cirque Shanghai performers in an interesting Chicago Tribune article in 2006. Their daring feats will have you holding your breath for their lives. I felt like I should have reached out my arms to catch one of the performers as they expertly managed the incredible Group Chair Stack.

Don't miss Cirque Shanghai, now playing at the Navy Pier Pepsi Skyline Theater, this summer! Tickets are $15.50 - $29.50 and will be available by calling 800-745-3000 or visiting Discounted tickets for groups of 10 or more are available by calling GroupTix at 773.327.3778 or visiting

Chiara with two of the amazing Cirque Shanghai performers
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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Campers Have S'More Fun

This past weekend weekend will go down in my funny family memory books. We went camping! And I love camping. And based on the many fits of laughter, squeals of excitement, and the fact that they had to be dragged away from the beach every day, I'd say my kids love camping, too!

My son has a few camping trips under his belt, but this was my daughter's first camping trip. She's two, and loves to be outdoors and putter around in our backyard for hours on end, so I just knew she'd be thrilled to spend two nights in the great outdoors. When we arrived at our campsite, she had just woken up from a long car nap and found herself in the middle of a forest. Her eyes opened wide with delight. We set up the tent and once again, she was happily incredulous: We were really going to sleep - all together!!!  in a tent!!! in the middle of a forest?!!!!

This past weekend, my daughter learned the importance of s'mores. She learned that we need to pick up every single scrap of garbage and respect nature. We told her stories about Ricky Racoon (the guy who lurked around every night, looking for scraps), and she gathered rocks and we drew faces on them and put them to sleep in acorns with blankets made of leaves. She played, at length, with an ant and a Daddy Longlegs and tried her best to catch a butterfly. She learned how to dig in the sand until you reach water (with a little help from her big bro). Early one morning, at sunrise, as the birds greeted the day with a chorus,  she awoke and exclaimed, "Mamma, the birds are singing to me!" and then magically let them lull her back to sleep.

My son honed his camping skills, kayaked, and swam out to a pier in the middle of a lake where he jumped in again, and again, and again. He learned how to best start a fire. He hiked, gathered firewood, helped cook meals over an open fire, pitched and took down a tent. He built castles for his sister and dug just about to China in the sand.
Daniel, digging to China

There is just something about spending a few days in the woods, unplugged, with only family, fresh air and the forest to keep you company - that makes me feel renewed and refreshed. There is just something surrenderingly wonderful about not having to shower, wear a bra or makeup for a few days. I feel reconnected after spending 100% of my time with my family and nature.

I've stayed in some of the finest hotels in the world, but I'll take sleeping squishing into a tent, meals cooked over a fire and at a picnic table and mucking around with my kids in a forest and on a lake beach over five star elegance any day.

My Happy Campers

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Kindle Wars

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love to read. Seriously, I have a phobia about not having enough reading material on hand. I usually am reading two or three books at a time, in addition to the many magazines and newspapers on my weekly must-read list. There are worse things to be addicted to.

I came late to the eReader party, mainly because I always loved having my beloved books on hand, ready to read, no battery required. But a few weeks ago, I finally broke down and bought a Kindle Fire. And I'm in love.

I love that I can download a book in seconds. This is also dangerous for a reader like me, so I've limited myself to having three books at a time on my Kindle, and then I add to my queue. Currently, I'm reading Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son by Anne Lamott, Dropped Names by Frank Langella, and a book written by my friend, Marla Rose: The Adventures of Vivian Sharpe, Vegan Superhero (and though it's billed as a young adult novel, I'm adoring it, and especially one of the main characters, Tolstoy!).

I love that when I travel (I traveled with my kindle for the first time, to San Fran, two weeks ago), I now have access to several books and magazines on my slim and lighteight Kindle!

The only problem with my Kindle Fire: The kids and I battle over it constantly. My daughter wants to watch  Yo Gabba Gabba on it, my son wants to read his latest novels on it. My kids especially love the kindle because they can cuddle up with it in bed. In fact, one of the main reasons I bought a Kindle Fire, as opposed to an iPad, was because I knew my kids would be nabbing it from me and it seems sturdier and less breakable (and is less expensive) than the iPad. We don't have cable television in our home - no one in our home watches television in fact. We are a family that prefers to catch our media through smaller devices, I guess. And now it looks like we are in need of at least one more device.

So it looks like we'll be purchasing yet another Kindle. I'm thinking of buying a more basic Kindle for my son. My daughter will be stuck sharing with me, for the time being.

Do your kids have eReaders or iPads? How does your family catch media these days?  
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Disclosure: I was not compensated in any way, shape or form for this post. I just adore my new Kindle Fire! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

#makesmesmilemondays #NATO with My Son

On Saturday evening, my son tagged along to a reception honoring the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, who was in Chicago for the NATO summit. Governor Quinn, Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez, Cook Country Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and many others from the Chicago Italian American community were also in attendance at the smallish reception at Loyola University's Regent's Hall. 
Dapper Dan

At age 11, my son is quite the dapper young man. Dressed up in his suit and tie, catching the El and easily navigating the city, chatting with adult acquaintances and even dignitaries, he exudes a quiet confidence and charm. 

Italian PM Monti
Prime Minister Monti smiled lightly when describing the Italian propensity for living a life with a usually dark outlook peppered with moments of great exuberance. He discussed Italy's economic woes, the goals of the NATO conference, and the value of his Jesuit education (affirmed by Governor Quinn and many other in attendance). I am always awestruck in the presence of world leaders: How do they manage the weight and fate of their countries and the world on their shoulders? Indeed Monti left early to deal with the bomb attack in Brindisi and the earthquake in Northern Italy

On the Red Line. 

It was wonderful opportunity to introduce my son to the world of international politics. I do hope that he uses his unique voice, witty intelligence, and kindness to make a mark on the world in the future. 

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Road Trip!

Planning a summer road trip? Here are my two latest articles for CBS: 

When it comes to family memories, there is nothing quite like being packed into the family car, like sardines, for hours, on the way to some amazing vacation spot. The well prepared family will get there in one piece, so plan ahead and make sure that your car is stocked and ready to go. Let the summer road trips begin!

Battle the “Are we there yet?” chorus with these fun, inexpensive road trip games:
File:Route 66 road signal.JPG
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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Me, in my Daughter's Eyes

Chiara presented me with this portrait yesterday. She made special note that she had included my "boobies" and my "yellow hair". I am delighted that she captured me in a moment in which I am rolling my eyes with a light smile. I love my round body shape!

At age 2, she is quite the budding artist. She spends at least 45 minutes to an hour each day coloring or painting with her watercolors. My son, age 11, loves papercrafting. He was inspired initially by his kindergarten teacher, who was Japanese and integrated origami into her curriculum. He watches YouTube tutorials and makes the most amazing swords, ninja stars, sword cases and crossbows out of scrap paper.

There are few things more endearing to me than watching my kids happily creating, together, at the dining room table.
Ritratto di Mamma by Chiara Bocchetta, age 2

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Insieme a Chicago * Italian for Kids

Looking to extend your little one's language skills this summer? Here's a fantastic summer program that will bring Italy to you this summer in Chicago: Insieme a Chicago. I am so thankful that there is now a place for children to extend their Italian lanugage skills right here in the windy city. 

Touring the hills of Rome with my daughter perched
on my shoulders. 
“Insieme a Chicago” is an Italian cultural program for children from birth to 5 years old. “Insieme” is Italian for “together” and as the name implies “Insieme a Chicago” gathers Italians, Italian speakers and Italianophiles “together”, in a space specifically designed for their little ones! Children will enjoy playing age appropriate games, singing songs and lullabies, listening to storytelling and participating in fun activities with their peers in a 100% Italian environment enriched with authentic Italian materials. The program focus is to immerse our children in an Italian school setting, so to expose them to both the Language and the Culture!

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 3 to 5 years old. The program for the little ones is structured around the same fundamental learning topics and goals taught at Italian day cares; while “Il Volo” is based on the Italian Preschool Curriculum and Objectives.

A program for 5-8 years old will be launched in the Fall.  

The goal of Insieme a Chicago is to provide kids with a place to share their Italian heritage and/or our love for Italy. For more information, contact program directo
Barbara De Bernardi  at; Phone: 312-451-6880 

Enjoying a gelato in Rome with my son last summer. 

Il Nido Program (0-3): 
Thursdays 4.30-5.30pm
Location: 3759 N. Ravenswood, Suite #119 Chicago, IL 60613
The program is 8 weeks long
It starts on July 12th and ends on August 30th
The cost is: $160 ($20 per class)

Il Volo Program (3-5): 
Mondays 10.15-11.45am
Location: 3759 N. Ravenswood, Suite #119 Chicago, IL 60613
The program is 8 weeks long
It starts on July 9th and ends on August 27th
post signatureThe cost is: $240 ($30 per class)

Disclosure: I received no compensation for this post. All opinions are my own. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

#makesmesmilemondays A Perfect Day in San Francisco

On Friday, I spent a perfectly perfect day in San Francisco, letting serendipity lead my around this beautiful city.

I woke up and lounged around in my comfy bed at the lovely Parc 55 in Union Square. Wyndham Hotels had hosted me for a very thought provoking conference on digital media on Thursday; It was wonderful to meet some of my fellow travel writers. Among my freelancing work, I truly enjoy writing for Wyndham Hotel Group - the largest hotel group in the world! Check out their valuable online travel resource for women business and leisure travelers, Wyndham Women on Their Way.

I took advantage of the Parc 55's premier lounge and enjoyed a little breakfast with my view.

Then I started to wander. Stopping first to take in bustling Union Square...

The trolleys made their way up and down the peaks and valleys of San Fran - I chose to walk. I'm pretty sure I walked close to four miles on Friday! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my secret to being able to eat whatever I please when I travel and not gain weight - I walk everywhere, and for miles, and I love it!

Next stop: Maritime National Park. Just as I set foot upon the pier, a National Park Ranger announced "I'm going to lead a tour of the marine life here at our park - if you'd like to join me, come along!" So I stepped up and followed her along and below the piers. I learned so many new things about the anemones, starfish, seagulls, and other creatures that populate this national park within a city.
It was a bit foggy, but can you see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance?

Can you spot the seagull nesting in this tugboat?

Self-portrait with Ghirardelli in background 

Angry Garlic Bulbs
For lunch, I ate at a restaurant I'd always wanted to try: The Stinking Rose. I ate so much garlic that I can count on keeping vampires away for at least the next year. The garlic relish on warm focaccia was to die for!

I explored North Beach, stopping to browse for awhile at the famed City Lights bookstore...

What to read, what to read.

...then wandered through Chinatown, where I bought a little accordion for Chiara and a book on making origami fighter jets out of dollar bills for Daniel.

By this point, I need to give my feet a rest. I turned a corner and saw a sign for Foot Reflexology Massage. So I settled into this little salon and cherished an hour and a half long foot massage and pedicure. How do you spell relief! Re-energized, I continued my city trek back to Union Square and through the Market District.

At 4pm, a towncar whisked me back to SFO, where I enjoyed a light dinner at Pinkberry. And to top off a fantastic day, when I checked in for my flight, I discovered that I was flying first class. Thank you, @americanair !

It was a perfect day in San Francisco, and though I missed my family, it was great to spend some one on one time with... myself!

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Monday, May 7, 2012

#makesmesmilemonday Hey, Girl Teacher!

Because I'm not just a blogger, and not just a freelance writer, and not just a mom - I'm a (language) teacher, too! - I love, love, love They truly make me laugh out loud. Forward the link to your teacher friends - I promise they'll thank you! 

Submission: MaggieSubmission: Ali

Submission: Nana

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sleep Issues and My 2-year-old

Sleep? Who needs sleep?
My daughter enjoying the beautiful weather
at the park yesterday.
N.B. The crocodile boots: some battles are
not worth fighting.
So my daughter is now going through that lovely phase when I put her to bed, and then at five minute intervals, for an hour, she comes down to ask for:

- a drink of water from her red polka dotted cup
- a drink of water from her blue cup
- a drink of water from her orange cup
- a new shirt
- a Clifford book
- her seal figurine
- her penguin figurine
- a piece of bread
- a vitamin
- music from her Santa Claus music box
- a kissy
- another kissy
- an episode of Gatto Silvestro
- an episode of Barbapapa
- a strawberry

Now, I do not honor all of these requests as you can imagine. I usually walk her, calmly, back to bed. By the 25th request, I am usually ready to bang my head against the wall, but thankfully, I know that this is just a phase, that this too shall pass. I try to reason with her: I remind her that only girls who go to bed like big girls get to go to the library (a major treat in her book). I remind her that being bossy (i.e. demanding to have a drink of water from the red polka-dotted cup and not the blue cup) is not a nice character trait. I remind her that she needs her rest or she'll be grouchy.
I think, in part, she's going through this phase, because a. she just recently learned how to climb easily out of her crib on her own, b. we were at the dentist yesterday and learned that she has a molar coming in, and c. She is just so darn excited about springtime, and life in general, that she has a difficult time resigning herself to sleep after a delightful day.

My 11-year-old son's bedroom is next to hers, and I have asked him twice: "Please remind your sister of this when she has kids of her own, and remember to be patient with your own kids, too!" He is surprised many nights when fast asleep, a little gnome girl taps him on the nose or blows raspberries in his face: his sister is more of a nightowl than he is - he appreciates his sleep!

I do know that my daughter will outgrow this phasee, and that one day she'll fall asleep on her own, without climbing out of bed and making 1,000 off-the-wall requests. For now though, I'll just have to give her the gift of patience.

Coincidentally, Chiara was sent a penguin pillow yesterday from Happy Nappers: Ring his doorbell and you'll hear him snoring and snoozing away inside his igloo. Open up his zippered door, and he wakes up, transforming from a pillow igloo into a stuffed penguin! Chiara loves penguins and was immediately enamoured of this soft pillow penguin.  I just wish she liked to snooze as much this fluffy guy. You can order your Happy Napper here. Enter the promotion code SPECIAL4U for free shipping!
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Disclosure: Special thanks to Happy Nappers for sending over snoozy Mr. Penguin and his igloo for review. All opinions are my own. 

Fly the Happy Skies: EVA Air's Hello Kitty Airplane Fleet

Yes, it's true: Taiwanese airline EVA Air now has Hello Kitty airplanes in its fleet. Which means I have another reason to embark on a grand tour of Asia. I've loved all things Sanrio ever since I was a little girl. If I weren't a grown woman, I'd still be carrying a Hello Kitty purse and using a Hello Kitty lunchbox. Thankfully, I have a daughter. :) 

I am waiting until Chiara is just a wee bit older - old enough to handle loooong haul flights. I'd like to spend a month or maybe two, perhaps two summers from now, and take my children on a grand tour of the great capitals of Asia. And now it looks like I'll have to squeeze a flight on EVA Air's Hello Kitty Airplane.

Read more about the Hello Kitty fleet here.

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