Monday, September 30, 2013

#makesmesmilemondays Apple Picking!

Yesterday we traveled to southwest Michigan with friends for our annual grand apple picking excursion. The kids hit the orchard with a wagon and huge bags that they filled up with big, beautiful, crisp apples of all varieties.

More than one apple made it into a belly instead of the wagon.
We just barely hit the orchard and the kids were already munching on the irresistible apples!

Chiara and her BFF
I think Chiara won the prize for the most apples eaten in a day. She ate at least three whole, giant apples!

Daniel did a good job of testing all the varieties and deciding on the best ones for apple pie baking and lunchboxes.

Daniel and his pal hard at work picking apples.

What a beautiful day at the orchard! Best of all we came home with a trunk filled to the brim with apples!  

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

3 Things I'm thankful for this week #ThankfulThursday

Every Thursday, I'll be highlighting three things (four today!) that I'm thankful for. Join me by sharing three things you're thankful for, too. #ThankfulThursday   

1. I'm thankful for Fall. Weather in Chicago could not have been any more gorgeous this week. I love the leaves as they begin to change into their Autumn best, I love all the fun fall activities (we're going apple picking this weekend!), I love the flavors of fall. 

2. I stepped into a new bakery on my way home from work: La Farine. There are now TWO Parisian style bakeries on my bike commute home from work. This negates all the calories I burn riding my bike of course, but who can resist a buttery croissant, fresh from a bakery oven?!
Just a few of the pretty cakes at La Farine

3. Daniel and I went to get our flu vaccinations yesterday. I'm thankful that in less than ten minutes, we were in and out of our local Walgreens. An annual flu shot is a must-do for me, and I'm baffled by people who don't get one. I'm so pleased to see that Walgreens has partnered with Shot@Life! When you get a shot you give a shotNow through October 14th, when you get a flu shot or any other immunization at Walgreens or Healthcare Clinic, they will provide a life-saving vaccine through the Shot@Life Campaign!

4. I'm thankful that the tagging on a garage near our home has been replaced by a fun, colorful, happy(!), mural. Chiara especially loves the dragon hatching out of an egg (it's Yoshi!). Every day we watched as the artist added more and more to the mural, since we pass by on our walk home from school. It was completed on Chiara's birthday, so naturally she thinks this was a gift in her honor. Thank you to our alderman, Alderman Joe Moreno, and the artist, Ali6. I haven't been able to capture an image of the entire mural, because every time we pass by it's been thankfully too sunny this week, but let me tell you, the message written on this mural is something I just adore, and I hope that my kids will alwaya heed its advice: Let your smile be your character! 
Let your SMILE be  your character.
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Monday, September 23, 2013

Recap: A My Little Pony Party in the City #MakeMeSmileMondays

Chiara is currently obsessed with all things My Little Pony. So for her 4th birthday party, I wanted to treat her to the best My Little Pony Birthday Party ever!

Since Chiara just started PreK, this was her first birthday party where she was inviting some new friends of her own, so I wanted to involve her in the planning process as much as possible. She shared with me the names of some of her newest friends at school, and we also invited some of her old friends. The little girls who came to the party were a wonderful mix of old and new friends from school, and it was so delightful to see Chiara enjoying the gift of friendship with her eight little pals!

Chiara helped my set the table by carefully arranging all the My Little Pony plates and pink tableware. At the center of her table stood her precious Princess Twilight Sparkle. She also help me with the party favors: we put a My Little Pony sticker on a bottle of bubbles and also gave each girl a My Little Pony coloring and sticker book.

Did you know that Build-a-Bear now has some lovable, stuffable My Little Ponies? If you want to treat the special little girl in your life to a fun day out, head over to Build-a-Bear and let your girl stuff her own limited edition My Little Pony. Chiara just loves putting on Princess Twilight Sparkles cape and shoes and brushing her hair. She made for the perfect centerpiece for our birthday party table!

We planned a lunchtime party, and on the menu were Baked Chicken Nuggets, Honey Glazed Carrots, and Sweet Potato Puffs. The girls all had fun eating lunch around the table with one another.

For dessert, I made simple chocolate cupcakes topped with melted marshmallows, pink sprinkles and miniature ponies. 

By far, though, the highlight of the party was the arrival of two real ponies at our front door! One after the other, the kids hopped on for a pony ride down our city street. For many of the kids, this was their first experience riding a pony. 

Chiara donned her pink cowgirl hat and boots and hopped on the pony like an old pro. 

I think this might go down in the record books as one of the most fun parties hosted in our home ever.

I always make a big deal of my kid's birthdays, and I'll always host a fun party in their honor - whether they are turning four or forty. Why? Because birthday parties are a wonderful reason to celebrate LIFE! (and childhood is so very fleeting).

Happy 4th birthday to my darling daughter!
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Disclosure: Special thanks to Build-a-Bear for treating my daughter to a special Princess Twilight Sparkle Pony. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

#CarFreeMe !!! Car Free Week Chicago 2013

This Sunday, September 22, is World Car Free Day...and it kicks off Car Free Week right here in Chicagoland! To celebrate, is giving away great prizes for tracking your trips next week!
I know I've said it 1,000 times, but I love commuting to work by bike. It energizes me, keeps me fit, saves gas, and I feel more relaxed at the end of the day. Biking to work really is a win-win situation for me. I log in about 8 miles every day I ride my bike to work. So far, for the month of September, I've biked 81.7 miles, saving almost four gallons of gas and burning over 4,340 calories! 
Drive Less Live More!
If you've thought about biking to work, too, next week is the perfect week to get off on the right pedal! At, you can create your own bike commuting challenges, or see if your employer already has a team in place. Every time you log in a commute, you have a chance to win prizes, too. I like keeping a log of the miles I've pedaled, and it's interesting, too, to see how much gas I've saved. Check it out!

P.S. Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein was recently interviewed on the nationally syndicated radio show, "The Take Away with John Hockenberry" about the great changes bikesharing, recently introduced to Chicago as Divvy, is causing in public transportation. To listen, click here. 
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Thursday, September 19, 2013


Every Thursday, I'll be highlighting three things I'm thankful for. Join me by sharing three things you're thankful for, too. #ThankfulThursday

1. I'm thankful for fresh, homemade bread, warm from the oven. On Tuesday night, I made homemade challah bread, which was devoured by my family by the yesterday afternoon. I followed this recipe, but let my food processor do the initial mixing then kneaded with my own two hands and popped the loaf into the oven. Making fresh bread is so easy thanks to the Cuisinart; I am going to make homemade bread at least once per week from now on.

2. I'm thankful for the British History Podcast I am so fascinated by British history, so I was absolutely delighted to wander upon the British History Podcast last year: This chronological series tells the story of Britain in bright, funny, and down-to-earth capsules. If you've never listened, start with the What Not to Wear: The Dark Ages episode. 

3. I thankful for Kurowski's Sausage Shop and Rich's Bakery on Milwaukee Avenue, which is on my bicycle route to school, and which I often stop in on my way home for yummy (reasonably priced) European imports and handmade delights (Fresh Pirogi!!!). Yesterday I stopped in for fresh Polish ham and Nutella (European style, in the glass jars). All the employees here assume I speak Polish which I always find funny. I only know enough Polish to say thank you - dziekuje -( jen-ku-je).  


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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ready, Set, Read and Write! LeapFrog #LeapReader Review

Disclosure:  This is a sponsored post. All LeapFrog products featured in this post were provided to me to host an in-home party. All opinions are my own.

As a teacher and a mom, LeapFrog has always been a brand that I endorse. Both of my kids have learned their basic phonics with a little help from these two LeapFrog friends:

Don't get me wrong: I think the best way to learn to read is by reading to your kids the old-fashioned way. But I believe that LeapFrog products offer a great way to reinforce reading skills when you just can't, especially on the go (these products are great for road and airplane trips!). So I was thrilled to be asked to host a LeapReader party! We invite some of my daughter's preschool-aged friends over for a fun playdate and let them enjoy all the fun LeapFrog products together.

Monday, September 16, 2013

#makesmesmilemondays Two Ponies in the City

We brought two ponies to our Chicago neighborhood to celebrate Chiara's birthday party with her friends!
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Sunday, September 15, 2013

“Pray that we never see this day. Today, more than 68% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to.”

Read the rest of the article @Buzzfeed

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

3 Things I'm thankful for this week #ThankfulThursday

Every Thursday, I'll be highlighting three things I'm thankful for. Join me by sharing three things you're thankful for, too. #ThankfulThursday

1. I'm thankful that I can walk to and from my daughter's school to drop her off and pick her up. Sometimes Daniel comes with me and we bring the wagon. Few things make me happier than seeing how happy and kindhearted my two children are when they are together. 

2. So many of my students are so seriously talented. One student of mine always decorates her paper with artwork (see below - She has also written wonderfully in Italian). I'm so thankful to have so many talented, bright and kind students in my classroom everyday.

3. I've had a wonderful week biking to work. So far this month, I've biked 47 miles (!!!) - and we're not even exactly halfway through the month. I feel so.much.better. when I start my day with exercise! 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Race to Fight Hunger in America: Chicago's Run10Feed10

Women’s Health’s wildly popular race and fundraising event, RUN10 FEED10, is coming back to Chicago on Sunday, October 6, 2013!


This year's 2nd annual event inspires people to race to fight hunger in America and will include a bonus yoga session, nutrition and beauty consultations, great giveaways and more!

WHO:  Join Women’s Health Magazine, FEED and its founder, Lauren Bush Lauren, and thousands of amazing men and women runners in the fight against hunger.

WHAT: This fall, Women’s Health magazine will hostRUN10 FEED10 in Chicago. The concept is simple: run a 10K with us and provide 10 meals for those struggling with hunger in San Francisco. Last year, RUN10 FEED10 raised 1 million meals nationwide!
Timed 10K races will also be taking place across the country in New York and Chicago.  People living in Boston, Los Angeles, Miami and Seattle can participate in one of Women’s Health’s “Fun Runs” and if runners do not live in one of our host cities, they can still participate by signing up to run their own 10K. The money from the registration and fundraising efforts will go to their nearest metropolitan area food bank. Download the official, free RUN10FEED10 app to plot your training course. 
The day will include:
·         An unforgettable experience running at 10K for those in need
·         Pre-and-post race activities including guided stretches and yoga with a special guest trainer
·         Tons of freebies, experiences and giveaways from FEED, Dove, Degree, Lipton Tea, Simple, Kellogg Nourish, OPI, Vaseline, Birkenstock, Sketchers, Cigna, Ford Fiesta, and more.
WHY: Right now, over 50 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they don't know from where their next meal is coming. The reality is there is enough food in the world today for everyone to get the nourishment they need for a healthy and productive life. The other reality is that we can do something about it. Together, we can make a huge impact in a very simple way. All you have to do is RUN!

                        WHEN: Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 8 AM

WHERE: Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL

Registration Fee: Sign up for Run10 FEED 10 at www.run10feed10.comIncluded in your $50 registration is race entry, your donation of 10 meals, and a limited-edition FEED bag
$50 – until 9/9/13
$60 – 9/10-10/3 or until the race sells out!
Fundraising Information:
Women’s Health is encouraging all participants to raise $100. You can start fundraising by going to, clicking on the START FUNDRAISING tab at the top of the page and joining the appropriate city’s RUN 10 FEED 10 fundraising team. Share your page with your friends and family to spread the word! It only takes 10 friends donating $10 each to raise an extra $100 for your community.

After witnessing the effects of hunger firsthand when traveling as a WFP Honorary Spokesperson, Lauren Bush Lauren founded FEED Projects in 2007 with the mission of creating good products that help FEED the world. Every product sold has a measurable donation attached to it and, to date, the social business has been able to donate over $6 million and provide nearly 60 million school meals globally through the United Nations World Food Programme. FEED has also supported nutrition programs around the world, providing vitamin supplements to over 3.5 million children through UNICEF.
Over the past six years, FEED has forged successful partnerships with companies such as Target, Disney, Pottery Barn, Clarins, Whole Foods, Gap, DKNY, Links of London, Godiva and TOMS. 
FEED products are available online and at retail locations around the world.  For more information, please visit or follow FEED on Facebook (FEED Projects) and Twitter (@FEEDProjects).

I'll be running this year - will you? Join me! Here's a special code (Run10 Feed 10: R10F10USA) that will give you $5 off your ticket price through September 22nd!

Get a Flu Shot, Give a Flu Shot: @Walgreens and @ShotAtLife

Now through October 14th, when you get a flu shot or any other immunization at Walgreens, Walgreens will in turn provide a life-saving vaccine through the United Nations Foundation's Shot@Life Campaign. 
It's easy to get a flu shot at Walgreens and help a child in need. No appointment is necessary and most insurance is accepted.
How this partnership helps
Immunization is one of the world's biggest public health success stories. Yet, 1 in 5 children still lack access to the lifesaving immunizations that help keep children in the U.S. healthy. Coordinated worldwide vaccination efforts have made significant progress, particularly in reducing cases of measles and polio.You can be a part of this success story by getting your immunization at Walgreens.
About Shot@Life
Shot@Life, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation, educates, connects and empowers Americans to help protect children in developing countries from vaccine-preventable diseases. By joining this movement, you can help save a child 's life every 20 seconds by learning about, advocating for and donating vaccines to children who need them most.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Check out @thredUP and earn a $10 credit plus free shipping!

Disclosure: I have included referral links in this post. All opinions are my own. 

My kids grew like weeds over the summer. It seems as if every season, I am buying new clothes and shoes for the two of them. Every time my son has a band concert - three each year - I find myself rushing out at the last minute because he's outgrown his requisite black dress pants and white dress shirt and shoes - oh my son and his ever-growing feet! We always have an overload of hand-me-downs to pass on. 
My kids grew faster than the morning glories in
our garden this past summer. 

Thankfully, there is a new service to help you get rid of all those clothes that your kids grew out of in the flash of an eye: thredUP
Here's how it works: You order a free bag. Fill up that free bag with any outgrown brand name clothes. Then send the bag in for free via UPS. In a few weeks, thredUp will have processed your clothing, and you'll receive a credit to spend on their site. OR you can donate your earnings. As an added bonus, thredUP donates a portion of proceeds from EVERY thredUP bag and order to Teach for America to help support the development of high-quality teachers in our schools.

I had a great first experience with thredUP: I cleared out my kids' closets, folded as many items as I could fit into the bag, dropped the bag off at the UPS box on our corner, and in a few weeks, I earned some credits on thredUP, which I used to purchase two back-to-school dresses for my daughter. 

After my great experience, I'm happy to share a deal with you! Visit thredUP and order your free bag today. You'll receive a $10 credit just for signing up today, plus free shipping on your first order with the code SHIPSEPT13. Head over here to sign up:

#makesmesmilemondays Humboldt Park

Humboldt Park is one of the loveliest parks in the city, a place where we ride our bikes, play at the parks and picnic. 

On Saturday, we headed to Humboldt Park to catch the Redmoon Theater: After a drumming workshop in the Fieldhouse, the audience and theater troupe paraded through the park, led by an amazing transformer-like machine that breathed fire, had a slide and was topped with giant speakers and a soapbox. Our final stop was in a colorful garden, were we were not only surrounded by flowers and friends but also inspired by the Young Chicago Authors, dancers, hip hop artists, musicians, and poets. 

I have seen the Redmoon Theater in action more than once, and every time, they leave me surprised and inspired. I felt the spirit of community in a city so divided, for once united, to appreciate the arts, on that late Saturday afternoon in Humboldt Park. 

Friends joined us, we met up randomly with other friends, and everyone danced, drummed and picnicked in under-appreciated Humboldt Park. 

Have you ever been? Go! And while you're there, check out this Audio Tour of Humboldt Park.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Best Gelato in Rome

Someone asked me again recently: what's your pick for the best gelato in Rome?

You can never eat enough gelato when in Rome. Our favorite: Gelateria al Teatro, which is hidden in a tiny side passageway off Via dei Coronari, a short walking distance from Piazza Navona. You'll find artiginale gelato here, housemade - so no bright colors or processed ingredients. Last time we were there, I wanted to try the many interesting flavors - Sicilian blood orange, or Blueberry Ricotta, or the range of fresh granitas (a cross between a slushie and a sorbet) - but I stuck with my tried and true favorite, dark chocolate, which was creamy, rich, and bittersweet as it should be, topped with unsweetened fresh panna (whipped cream). Daniel had fresh strawberry sorbet with a side of straciatella, plain ice cream swirled with dark chocolate. The little staircase that leads up to a small theater is the perfect spot to enjoy your gelato. I wish I could teletransport myself there today!
Daniel eating his daily gelato in Rome

Gelateria al Teatro

Via S. Simone 70, Roma (near Piazza Navona, off via dei Coronari) 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

3 Things I'm thankful for this week #ThankfulThursday

Every Thursday, I'll be highlighting three things I'm thankful for. Join me by sharing three things you're thankful for, too. #ThankfulThursday

1. I'm thankful for being able to ride my bike to work on these gorgeous Autumn days. I ride down the tree-lined Logan Boulevard,  through Logan Square, down Milwaukee Avenue, passing by so many wonderful shops, cafes, restaurants, bakeries, and murals. I love circling through the actual square, and seeing students and friends along the route, making me feel like I'm living in a small neighborhood as opposed to the big city. I'm happy to see more and more of the students at the school where I teach riding their bikes to school this year, too. I also drop my daughter off at school and pick her up on my bike, and for the short time she is with me, riding in her little seat on the back of my bike, I sing songs to her. Mornings are still so hectic for me, but this little routine makes them special.

2. Speaking of mornings, my kids have been in school for almost two full weeks now, and I am so thankful that they are excited about school! I am very proud of my daughter, who I drop off early in the morning to a brand-new before-school care program: she is all smiles and has settled into a new school without any problems. She is so resilient and strong, at the tender age of 3-going-on-4.

3. Yesterday I was in our school library chatting with our librarian while she checked out book after book for boy after boy. "The boys are out-reading the girls this year!" she shared, as she scanned yet another book for checkout. "I've had to order more books already." I listened in as boy after boy asked when such-and-such book was scheduled to arrive. I am thankful for kids that love to read, and I am especially thankful to see that more and more boys are finding the joy in reading.
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What are you thankful for this week? Join the #ThankfulThursday conversation!

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Monday, September 2, 2013

A new school year = a blog makeover! Welcome to Amy Writes at

September is always the start of a fresh new year for me. It's my personal "Happy New Year!"

Autumn: my favorite season of all

Since I'm a teacher, it's a fresh new batch of students, ready (or not!) to learn.

As a mom, September means getting into the groove of a new schedule - this year I have a child in middle school, edging closer to high school, and one at the start of her formal education, in PreK.

September is the time of year when I shop for the most new clothing, when I try out new beauty products and routines, and when I make new resolutions.

This September, I also wanted to throw in a little blog makeover, too, so welcome to Amy Writes (

I look forward to sharing!

Happy September to you and yours!
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