Friday, May 31, 2013

Thought for the Day: En la vida, hay 2 cosas che te muevan: tus suneos y el agua.

When I was in Mexico this past spring, I snapped a picture of this quote on my water bottle:

Translation: In life, there are two things that get you moving: your dreams and water.

I've always been a dreamer, so I've got the dreams part down but...I drink A LOT of tea and very little water. 

Do you know that water makes up 60% of your body weight???

Starting today, I'm going for the recommended 8 glasses of water per day. 

How much water do you drink every day?

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Kids LiveWell: Healthier Menu Options Brought to You by the National Restaurant Association

Disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a campaign for Mom Central Consulting on behalf of the National Restaurant Association. I received a  promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate. 

As a parent, I am certainly tired of restaurants that offer kids menus containing the usual kid menu suspects: chicken nuggets, hot dogs, burgers - all served with a side of greasy fries. Usually I don't even bother to request the kids menu, and instead order a full size adult entree for my children to share. 

Thankfully, the National Restaurant Association has landed on the same page of parents hoping to teach their children to make healthy choices via the award-winning Kids LiveWell program. 

Restaurants that participate in this voluntary program promise to offer healthful meal items for children, with a focus on fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy while limiting unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium. Nearly 30,000 restaurant locations are part of Kids LiveWell; check out the restaurants in your area here or download the free Kids LiveWell app to  to find a location near you offering Kids LiveWell choices.

One of my favorite features of the Kids LiveWell website is the Restaurant Recipes page, which features the (healthy!) recipes of some of our favorite menu items. Check out this Vegetarian Bowl recipe from Blue Pacific Grill and this Vine Ripened Tomato Salad from Bahama Breeze - both perfect for summertime. The Ask the Dietitians page is also very useful: you can ask a question directly to the team of certified dietitians, or see if it has already been covered in a blog post. Here's a useful post on how to focus on a healthy diet while dining out

To learn more about the Kids LiveWell initiative, visit the Kids LiveWell Home Page or check out the links below: 
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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

#makesmesmilemondays Kicking Off Summer in the Woods

We spent the entire Memorial Day weekend in a little piece of paradise: camping on the shores of a beautiful, spring-fed but chilly lake. That's my son out there in the inner tube out in the middle of the lake in the photo below, his friend Jaleel about to dive off the floaty pier, his other pals Mila and Zoe in the water with him. I would guess that the water was about 50 degrees but the kids incredibly seemed amazingly oblivious to that fact. (At what age do we humans develop intolerance for freezing water temperatures?). My daughter was beside me when I took this photo, dipping her toes into the lake, too, and madly building sandcastles galore with other little friends. 

Nothing says summer to me like sleeping under the stars in the great outdoors, cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner by a roaring campfire, hiking through the woods, watching my daughter build her sandcastles on the beach, and best of all, gathering with friends at night, beside a campfire, while the children sleep snuggled in their sleeping bags. 

The weather was chilly at night but beautiful and sunny during the day for our first three days. On the day we were set to leave, yesterday, we woke up to the pitter patter of rain on our tent. My daughter woke up and was amazed by the fact that it was raining on our tent. The first thing she said when she woke up was: "I lurrrrrrveee camping". Indeed the kids loved camping so much that they were begging to please stay for a few more days. I am proud to see that my kids appreciate the un-pampered, media-free, muddy, messy but delightful outdoor life. Camping isn't easy work for me, but I think that it's essential to unplug my kids from everyday life and teach them skills such as pitching a tent, building a fire, using a pocketknife, and best of all, find the joy in in connecting with others in nature. To know that they appreciate a rugged, rainy tent as much as a five-star hotel is priceless to me. 

I am also thankful for my friends who joined us - five families in all! To see all of our children - 11 kids in all, ranging in ages 4 months to 12 - running around in the woods, leaping into the lake, and roasting marshmallows over the campfire was a joy. And to have some uninterrupted time with my friends, late at night, round a campfire, just filled me up with happiness. 

This post is brimming with superlatives but I just can't help it: I'm just thankful for the many fun memories we made this past Memorial Day weekend. 

Three cheers for summer! 

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Day on the Farm with Illinois Field Moms

This past Saturday, I traveled with more than 20 Illinois Farm Families "Field Moms" from the big city to the small town of Mazon, llinois, where I had the chance to learn more about the lives of Illinois Farmers. In particular, corn and soybean farming, as Paul and Donna Jeschke welcomed us onto their beautiful home and farm. 
The Jeschke Farmhouse

As a city mom that encounters most of her food in the aisles of a grocery store, I have much to learn about how our food is planted and harvested. 

Here's what I learned while visiting the Jeschke farm:

  • Farming is hard work, and farmers are dedicated to their craft. It truly is a craft, and a job that permeates your entire life. There are stretches where farmers work almost nonstop. 
  • Farming is high tech. Donna's nephew, who works on the farm and holds a degree in engineering, showed us some of the farm trucks and machinery: everything works in tune with GPS and high tech systems that baffled me. High techonology aptitude is a must for today's farmers. 
  • The work that our Illinois farm families do has a worldwide impact. You know those shipping containers you see rolling on the train tracks near your home? They carry goods from China into the U.S., and carry Illinois-grown grains back to China. The Jeschke's have also hosted farmers from around the world, and in turn have visited farms in other countries, hoping to learn from one another and work together to improve farming for all. 
  • Farmers care about their product and do their best to make sure that it's healthy and nutritious. The Jeschke family has been farming in northwestern Illinois since the early 1900s. For generations, they have been committed to raising crops to provide not only for their own family, but also families near and far. "Farming is our lifestyle and our business. We work diligently to grow the crops that help put food on your family’s table," explains Donna.

Throughout the summer and into harvest time, I'll be following along with my very own acre of corn grown at the Jeschke Farm. Will it be knee high by July? Let's hope for a bumper crop!

To learn more about Illinois Farm Families, check out 

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Monday, May 20, 2013

#makesmesmilemondays Summer in Chicago

I lived in Rome for a few years, in London for two. I've spend lengthy amounts of time in Paris, Edinburgh, New York City and Tel Aviv. But they say home is where the heart is, and my home is sweet home Chicago.
This past weekend's warmth and sunshine reminded me that summer in Chicago has unofficially arrived.My garden is finally in full bloom, my kids were begging me to go for a bike ride for Italian ice, and my daughter's kiddie pool opened for the season.

Summer in Chicago is the best: Nothing beats spending a day at the beach with my family, or hanging out in our backyard with a neighborly BBQ.  I love being able to ride our bikes to the Lincoln Park Zoo, stopping for cupcakes and at a Wizard of Oz inspired park on the way home. I love our neighborhood, Logan Square, which manages to be both trendy and urban and sometimes downright smalltownish. I love traveling the world via the restaurants, cultural events, neighborhoods, and festivals in Chicago. I also appreciate raising my kids here (Check out my top 7 reasons why I'm thankful that I'm raising my kids in Chicago).

I have been blessed with the opportunity to write about all things fun for families in Chicago for the Chicago Visitor's Bureau. If you're looking for fun things to do with your kids in Chicago this upcoming summer and beyond, visit me at Choose Chicago.

Fall Registration Now Open for Italian Language Kids Program in Chicago! Insieme a Chicago

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.  

Director Barbara De Bernardi teaches kids Italian with a fun and creative
method that makes every child - even those that don't speak Italian
at home - feel welcome 
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 daycares; while “Il Volo” is based on the Italian Preschool Curriculum and Objectives.
The goal of Insieme a Chicago is to provide kids with a place to share their Italian heritage and/or our love for Italy. 
12-week season:  September 26th-December 19th


St Michael Church
1633 N Cleveland Ave  Chicago, IL 60614

Il Nido
(1-3 years old)

Il Volo
(3-5 years old)

Il Viaggio
(5-8 years old)

Insieme a Chicago Tuition-12 week Season:

Il Nido: $240 (60 min per class)
Il Volo: $360 (90 min per class)
10% sibling discount

Registration begins May 15th
To register contact Barbara at:

Guest Post: Choosing the Perfect Venue for a Special Occasion

The venue for your corporate event, wedding, conference, party or other occasion sets the tone for the entire event. You may have a multitude of options from which to choose, but will quickly find that only some are suitable because of the facilities they offer, tone that they set and the atmosphere they create. You will need to ensure you have sufficient budget to secure a great venue. Venue hire often represents the greatest category of expense for any event and it is possible that additional venue hire costs are incurred. Be sure to discuss all charges with a representative of the venue and account for the fact that a great venue can prove the difference between fabulous and mediocre events. You should choose a venue according to the number of guests that you expect to attend. Your venue should not be so small that a feeling of claustrophobia results, but also not so vacuous that the space seems empty and people are overwhelmed. Think carefully about whether the venue is appropriate and well-suited to the type of event you are organising. A great way to do this is to find out about past events held at the venue — this will provide you with insight into why people have chosen a venue for their wedding, conference, seminar or even Mother's Day.
In choosing a venue, it is imperative that you thoroughly check out the facilities on offer and make sure they parallel your needs. For example, car parking provision, catering facilities and a stage or platform may be critical to the activities and ultimate success of your event. All encompassing venues
such as Ballara take all these things into consideration. The success of any event is heavily influenced by the level of service provided at the venue. Any staff that will be appointed to assist with the event should be familiar with the venue and, if staff are provided by the venue itself, it is important that they are familiar and confident in working at the type of event you are hosting.
The selection of a venue is definitely one of the most important decisions to be made when hosting an event. By choosing a great venue that offers the facilities required, sets a wonderful tone and meets the needs of you and your guests, you are very likely to deliver an event that is an incredible success.

- Isabelle Riley

Disclosure: I received compensation for editing and posting this guest post. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Guest Post: Search for the Sun

Looking forward to and planning a holiday is a particular highlight of the year, especially when we have had such a long and hard winter, as we have had this year. Everybody feels in need of a little bit of sun yet just as we get a hint of some warmer weather, the rain sweeps in again. As ever, package holidays seem to represent the only fail-safe way to secure a bit of sun.

Choosing where you want to go is probably the most difficult part of booking your holiday as there is so much choice. Many countries now offer excellent package holidays with great beaches and facilities, so you can decide whether you want to visit the well-worn paths of Spain and Greece, or up and coming destinations such as Bulgaria.

It really is pretty simple and inexpensive these days to travel abroad for a holiday. In fact by the time you have factored in fuel and accommodation plus meals and activities, it can be cheaper travelling abroad than it can be staying at home. Obviously there are extremes of holidays and depending on whether you are a luxury cruise kind of person or a bargain hunter will determine how much you need to pay. However, these costs can be drastically reduced if you shop around and look for some special offers.

Search through some of the travel websites offering package holidays and you will find some good deals and online specials, although it is wise to make sure you are choosing a reputable travel agent. There is plenty of choice available and the main agents such as Thomas Cook offer good value as well as tried and tested package holidays. After all, it is in their interest to make sure that everything runs like clockwork, as this is most likely to keep you coming back year after year!

Disclosure: I was compensated for sharing this guest post. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

My Miracle Gro GroProject! #MiracleGroProject

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Miracle-Gro for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

This spring and summer, I have worked hard to transform little, neglected patches of dirt in our front and backyards into lovely urban mini-gardens, with a little help from Miracle-Gro

Our little front garden

Miracle-Gro came up with The Gro Project as a way to simplify gardening for a whole new class of gardeners and show that it can be easy, fun and enjoyable! These simple, fun garden projects are easy enough for preschoolers - my daughter, age 3, even helped out with my project. 

For my Gro Project, I constructed a window box out of simple plywood (with a little help from a carpenter...), filled it with Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix (an ideal filling for container gardens since it absorbs 33% more water than ordinary potting soil and protects against over and under watering) and then planted it with bright yellow and white pansies. I love looking out my front window and seeing my happy pansies. 

 I also had installed a simple raised garden in our backyard, filled it with Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix and planted basil, parsley, tomatoes, strawberries, sunflowers and kale. My kids, especially my daughter, had a ton of fun planting this simple garden with me. The sunflowers, kale and basil are grown from seed, which we had initially planted in an egg carton and then transfered to the raised garden. We're looking forward to watching our garden grow and perhaps even eating some of our garden goods come harvest time. Stay tuned!

Our dog checking out our urban garden

 If you would like more tips and information from Miracle-Gro check out these links:

Visit Sponsor's Site

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Win a Free 2-month Trial Subscription to

We don't subscribe to cable tv in our home. Instead we rely on Netflix for movie-watching. Just as I was growing tired of the selection on Netflix, IndieFlix approached me and asked me if I'd like to give their online streaming site a try. 

IndieFlix is a community of independent filmmakers and fans. Through its membership-based streaming service, IndieFlix helps filmmakers translate artistic vision into commercial success, and gives film lovers access to high quality independent films not otherwise available. IndieFlix’s mission is to champion filmmakers, rethink traditional approaches to distribution, and celebrate the artistry and impact of independent film. 

I am working my way through the IndieFlix selection and I really enjoy the quality and variety of movies. Two documentaries that have moved me so far are This Way of Life, about a family living off the grid in New Zealand, and Finding Kind, another documentary, about the sad culture behind girl/girl bullying (an increasing issue in schools everywhere). I am so inspired by Finding Kind that I'm thinking of launching a Kindness Team at my high school next year!

I have ten 2-month subscriptions to give away to ten lucky readers! You won't be required to enter any credit card number or otherwise obligate yourself to continue after their trial period is up. To win, enter via Rafflecopter below! 

Thanks for entering and good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, May 13, 2013

#makesmesmilemonday Mother's Day

I woke up on Mother's Day to sunshine, pancakes prepared by my son, and lots of kisses and smiles, all reminders of the greatest gift that God has blessed me with: the chance to be a mother. I will never take motherhood, nor my two children, for granted. I always tell them that I prayed to God to give me healthy children and he decided to bless me with two kids that are not only healthy, but also beautiful and kind and funny. I'm so incredibly and eternally thankful to be their mother.

Chiara's teacher made this Mother's Day photo collage - Chiara is at the top of the O and the E.

And Daniel made me this beautiful 3-D card. I can hardly believe he once lived in that big ole' belly of mine - and that picture was taken when I still had a month and half of pregnancy left to go! (He was a BIG baby!). 

On the inside of the card he wrote: "Thank you Mom, for being the most wonderful Mom in the world!"

And that, my friends, says everything about motherhood: I am certainly not perfect, nor the most wonderful Mom in the world, but all of us Moms are wonderful and perfect in the eyes of our children. Happy Mother's  Day! 
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Friday, May 10, 2013

Braces Vs. Invisalign - The Battle Begins

Three weeks ago, my 12-year-old son entered the orthodontist's office with sparkly white teeth and left with....brace yourself!....
(Can you see his brace-filled smile in this picture I took of him fixing his sister's bike?  He's been pretty camera shy since he got his braces but can you spot that amazing smile?!)

We were hoping that he would qualify for Invisalign, the new alternative to braces - Invisalign Teen makes it available to pre-teens and teens - but because of overcrowding and overbite issues, we had to go with traditional, metal braces. My nephew, a.k.a. my son's twin cousin (since they were born just three days apart), qualifies for Invisalign, and will be starting treatment in a few months. So when the SITSgirls and Invisalign invited me to an event that included a Straight Talk about Crooked Teeth presentation last week, I was happy to attend; I've got crooked teeth on my mind.

·       While metal braces today are more sophisticated than ever - no more head and neck gears, thank GOD! - removable aligners, like Invisalign and Invisalign Teen, are becoming a popular choice. The Invisalign system uses a series of clear aligners made of lightweight plastic that sit smoothly on the teeth. Perhaps best of all, because the aligners can be removed, kids can eat, brush and floss as they would normally. This is one of the main reasons we were hoping for Invisalign. Instead, I have become the teeth cleaning police as I don't want to see these results when my son's braces are eventually removed. The cost of Invisalign is roughly about the same as traditional braces, the system usually requires fewer office visits and shorter appointments (thanks to new digital imaging technology) and no "emergency" visits for broken wires or brackets. To summarize, my son is trudging his way through metal braces, but boy-oh-boy do I wish he would have qualified for Invisalign. My nephew should have an easier road ahead of him when it comes to working towards that perfect smile. 
      Want to learn more about Invisalign?  visit:
o   Invisalign Website:
o   Invisalign on Twitter:
o   Invisalign on Facebook:

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.