Monday, December 30, 2013

Is it really over?

It takes at least two months to prepare for Christmas.
Shopping. Wrapping. Singing. Baking. Planning. Partying. A Christmas Angel. An elf on a shelf. Letters to Santa. Advent calendars. Gingerbread men and a Gingerbread house. And, of course Santa.
Then, it's over. Just like that.
No wonder Julie and Johnny always seem depressed and cranky the day after Christmas. I feel the same. All those preparations and magical moments. And, it's done. Caput.
This year was especially fun for our family. We had a packed house: nine people and three dogs.
Scott's mom Janice came out a couple weeks before Christmas to enjoy all the pre-holiday festiveness. There were Christmas pageants, caroling, a Christmas pizza, karaoke, dice games, Christmas Eve service, a visit to Chicago's Botanical Garden, outdoor ice skating and a Santa Breakfast at Macy's in downtown Chicago. We loved having her here, and I think she loved experiencing Christmas through the eyes of her grandkids. On Christmas morning, Janice woke up the earliest--at about 6 a.m. She wanted to be the first to peek at all the presents and turn the lights on the Christmas tree. "It was just magical," she told us.
My parents came the day before Christmas Eve--not wanting to miss our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day traditions. And, my sister, her boyfriend Rob and their two dogs came the day after Christmas---stretching the holiday just a little longer.

It was a full, but merry house. Can't wait to do it all again next year.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Can't we all just Believe?

What's with kids' Christmas movies?
Almost every Christmas movie revolves around the premise of some kid not believing in Santa.
It  just annoys me that there are hardly any movies with original plot lines. Why plant the idea of "not believing" in Santa before kids even think about it? How many movies can movies be created about the lack of Christmas cheer?
Even in Mickey Mouse's Christmas movie, Goofy's son 7-year-old son doesn't believe in Santa.
Come on. Why would a movie meant for 5 year olds and younger even mention the possibility of Santa not existing. Of course all these movies have happy endings with everyone believing in Santa.
But, I just don't get why that has to be the thrust of a Christmas movie.
At least for kids' Christmas movies, can't Santa just be without-a-doubt real?
I guess I'm just hanging on to the last threads of magical Christmas. With Julie we probably only have one Christmas (if that) left when she truly believes. There's a Christmas Angel that sends inspirational messages and small gifts and an elf who hides and causes a little mischief. Then, of course there are Santa and Mrs. Claus and their elves. Julie and Johnny believe wholeheartedly in all of these characters. I just want that innocence to last!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Spreading Christmas Cheer?

All the "Santa Claus is coming to Town" threats are just bunk.
It doesn't work. At least not in our house.
The closer we get to Christmas, the more Julie and Johnny seem to act up. They whine and pout and make up goofy songs about "Jingle Poop."
And then there was a recent episode of just plain meanness. I'll rehash:

It has snowed quite a bit here, and that's a big deal because Scott's mom is visiting and she rarely sees snow. So, on Tuesday she, Johnny and I went sledding. Then, we made a little tiny snowman. The snow was too powdery to make anything bigger. We had a great time and that little snowman was so cute. He had little berries for eyes, a tiny carrot nose and chocolate chip buttons.

When it came time for Julie to come home from school, I was slipping on my shoes when I heard Julie and her neighborhood friends outside laughing. I went to the door and watched in shock as she and her friend completely smashed the poor little snowman as another friend chanted "DO IT! DO IT! DO IT." Then, Julie gobbled his chocolate chip buttons. Gleefully!

I was pissed.

That was just plain mean. Peer pressure or not.
Smashing a snowman isn't the worst thing a kid could do, but I was just upset that Julie could be so purposefully mean.

Needless to say she got into a little bit of trouble, and the day ended with Julie tearfully writing apology notes. Scott and I told her she had to find ways to spread Christmas cheer.

So far so good. She has given Johnny "art lessons", made cards for all her teachers, sang and danced with her grandma and dropped money in the Salvation Army's red kettle.

Let's keep the Christmas cheer coming. Only 5 more days...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It's real.

We had two Christmas trees in our little townhouse when I was a kid. No idea why.
Our "perfect" tree sat upstairs. It was fake and covered with clumps of fake white snow. Also no idea why. This was the tree only Mom decorated. With breakable blue teardrops and mirrored diamonds. It was pretty...and boring. Beneath is sat a perfect and breakable winter village. It was so tempting with the adorable little ice rink with skaters and the little houses that lit up. But they were off-limits.

Downstairs was "our" Christmas tree. The real one. Prickly pine needles and all. The weekend after Thanksgiving our family of four would faithfully drive to our favorite Christmas tree farm and hunt for the perfect tree--short and fat--just like our family. Then dad would cut it down after struggling for a while with the saw, strap it to the car and set it up a week or so later after it marinated in a bucket of water outside. Again, no idea why.

The day we decorated the real tree was the best. Mom would carry down boxes of ornaments collected over the years and Kelly and I could barely contain our excitement. We'd dig in the boxes to find our favorites--little dolls and tiny animals, and we'd create our own magical little world.

Then, reluctantly, after a couple days, we'd hang our favorite ornaments on the tree. Our gorgeous tree---decked out with big, colorful bulbs---the old fashioned kind, and topped with an angel as old as me I guess. And the best were all those ornaments---they all had a story. There were school pictures and handprints, and hand-painted Christmas trees or Santas we bought at the school Christmas shop. They celebrated milestones or served as reminders of fun vacations. They were the best.

Today, many of those same ornaments are hung on our tree. And, our tree is very real. Scott, the kids and I search every year for the best tree--one with a nice shape, a good trunk and not too heavy to carry. Then, Scott chops it down, straps it on the car and we drag it into the house. Scott strings the tiny colorful lights around, and I lug up the ornament boxes as Julie and Johnny excitedly dig in. I listened this year as Julie and Johnny talked about each ornament, what they remembered about it and why it was special.

Real trees are full of memories.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday Munch: Gino's East

Pizza. It's what Chicago is all about isn't it?
People here are proud of their pizza and they often disagree who serves up the best deep dish. A lot of people swear by Lou Malnati's or Giordano's or Pizzeria Due. They are all great, but our family favorite is Gino's East right off the Magnificent Mile. The pizza is fantastic and the place is It's loud and most likely you'll sit at a big booth. And, you can write, draw and scribble all over the walls. A kid's dream! If you really want to keep the kids entertained bring different color permanent markers. Gold and Silver work best.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Field Trip: Chicago Botanic Gardens

Right about this time you're probably either totally in the Christmas spirit or overwhelmed by all the holiday whimsy. Maybe all you need is a little Christmas pick-me-up. If so, head to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.

After reading about this magical place in Chicago Parent Magazine, we decided to take my parents last Christmas. We really didn't know what to expect...other than some model trains and beautifully festive plants.

We were in for an awesome surprise.

The massive poinsettias and winter arrangements were gorgeous, but the train garden was truly amazing. Laid out exactly like the city of Chicago, the train garden includes all the landmarks and impressive details of the city. Before touring the train garden, we were given pamphlets and we were encouraged to search for the city's landmarks. (This was obviously a hit with the kids...especially Julie as she obsessively tried to check off each landmark.)

And, if you need any more convincing....It snows inside! I'm serious. As we were wandering around the train garden, snow became falling from the ceiling. I have no idea what the mixture was, but it was definitely magical!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

It's not over just yet....

Last night Scott and I thought it was over.
We were convinced there was no way we could recover.

The Christmas magic had come to an end.

Our cover was blown.
We had just placed our Elf on the Shelf...on the shelf,
and I was busy in the office typing up a letter from our magic Christmas Angel. (Yes. We really love mythical creatures in this house.)

It was midnight, and Julie came creeping down the stairs. I quietly peaked out of the office door, and I watched as Julie spied the elf and the angel, and tiptoed back upstairs...just as she was caught by Scott.

I felt sick to my stomach.

Did she watch as I typed the letter from the angel on the special paper? Was she listening as Scott and I laughed about where to put the silly little elf? Was Julie trying to catch us in the act? Was she trying to figure out what was real? Her teacher did send an email on Friday explaining that one child had "spilled the beans" about Santa. Julie never once mentioned this, but that doesn't mean she wasn't mulling over the possibility of a Santa-less world.

Scott and I whispered nervously about it, wondering whether our days of Santa and tooth fairies and the Easter bunny and elves and leprechauns were over. We just weren't ready for it to end.

The next morning I asked Julie why she was up at midnight.

"Because I wanted to see the Elf and the Angel," she answered.

"You can't do that Julie. What if the elf was flying or he saw you wake up in the middle of the night?" I asked.

"Well, Santa and his elves always know when I'm sleeping or awake. So, he probably knew I was awake which is why he hurried and got up on the shelf," Julie explained.

Enough said.

I think we're pretty safe with at least one more year of Christmas magic.
Thank you! Thank you for our imaginative and gullible daughter.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday Munch: Beans & Bagels

I'm not a big breakfast person. I can resist pancakes, waffles and doughnuts. Sausage and bacon literally gross me out.

Bagels, however, are my weakness. Give me an everything bagel smeared with vegetable cream cheese and topped with tomatoes and I'm in heaven. Best thing ever.

When my good Lake Zurich buddy Kelly invited the kids and I to tour her old Lincoln Square neighborhood--she enticed me with a stop at Beans & Bagels. The shop is small, and kind of hippy-ish, but the vibe is relaxed and warm. Our kids (6 altogether) monopolized the largest table in the back of the restaurant. They loved munching on the chocolate chip croissants and blueberry bagels. I couldn't get enough of my poppyseed bagel with black bean hummus. Yum!

It's just a little corner coffee shop, but worth the stop if you're in the neighborhood. While you're at it, explore Lincoln Square---lots of cute shops and fun restaurants. (That will be my next Field Trip Friday post.)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

This year's Christmas list....

Why do my kids always ask for the oddest things for Christmas???

When Julie was 3 all she wanted was cheese for Christmas, so cheese she got. Right beneath her stocking Santa placed a huge block of cheddar.
Last year she wanted "real glasses" though her eyesight was 20/20. But, Santa found her adorable fashion glasses.
Johnny last year requested the "Bean"---Chicago's gigantic mirrored sculpture in Millennium Park. He told us he wanted to put it in the basement so he could play inside of it. Santa gave him an ornament replica of the "Bean."

This year Julie and Johnny are asking for things that are not just simply unusual; They are not even in the realm of possibility.

To them, the sky's the limit. Santa will get it for them...even if their parents have no way of buying, finding, making, or building the requested gift.

On this year's list:

Johnny would like a Candy Cane Machine.
A quick Google search yields results for industrial candy cane machines made in Shanghai for $600,000
That's it. There aren't any cutsie kid versions of a candy cane machine, yet Johnny insists that's at the top of his list and Santa can make it.

Julie would like a "blurf".
What the hell is this, you might ask.
According to Julie, a blurf is a time machine that will transport her back to Biblical times....specifically when Jesus was born and also to the Garden of Eden.
When we asked Julie more about this her response was "You'll see when Santa brings it."

Seriously. What is with my kids?

While I love their imagination and creativity, I sometimes wonder, what goes on in their little heads??

Surprise Thanksgiving

It was supposed to be a quiet Thanksgiving....just the four of us.
Scott was out of vacation days and we didn't feel up to braving the Chicago Thanksgiving traffic.
I admit I wasn't thrilled about our lonely Thanksgiving plans.

Every Thanksgiving of my childhood and adulthood was spent surrounded by family at my grandma's house in Maryland. Last year was the first Thanksgiving I missed in Cumberland, but Scott's family was visiting, so it was still fantastic. It was a little different, but still wonderful to have family at our house.

I couldn't imagine quite picture a Thanksgiving without extended family. Wouldn't it just be like any other dinner we share together every night? Not that I couldn't deal with that possibility, but it definitely made me a little sad thinking about it.

Apparently Julie felt the same. Scott told Julie she could pick any activity she wanted for Thanksgiving weekend since it was just going to be our little family.
"But, I just want to be with family. I want to go visit them or maybe they can come here," Julie told her daddy.
Scott tried to woo her with promises of ice skating or restaurants or movies and popcorn.
Julie wouldn't budge.
"I just want family."

Finally about a week before Thanksgiving, Scott caved and convinced his boss to give him off Wednesday so we could get a start on our 10-hour trip to Maryland. I was ecstatic, and so were the kids when we told them.

Intent on surprising my family, we didn't say a word to my parents or my sister Kelly. I even tried to confuse my mom by asking for recipes and instructions on how to cook a turkey. The best was calling her right before we pulled onto their street, asking her explicit directions on how to thaw a turkey.

As I was talking with my mom on the phone, we rang the doorbell. She opened the door, completely bewildered. When it all registered, there were tears in her eyes, and my dad's too.
That made it worth the trek!

And, then of course, there was my completely ecstatic sister who jumped on me and hugged me for 10 minutes without letting go. "I just knew you would come!!" Kelly shouted bouncing up and down.

I think we might just try and "surprise" our family every year.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday Munch: JJ Twigs

Here's what I think every family-friendly restaurant should offer---childcare!
Just think.
You get together with a group of friends at a restaurant. Drop the kids off in the Kid Zone or whatever it might be called. The kids can play, nosh on pizza or chicken nuggets.
And, the adults eat, drink and talk. Yes. Actually talk to each other without breaking out the Legos or crayons or picking up food off the floor. Wouldn't that be amazing??

As far as I know, nothing like that exists. But, maybe one day right?
Until then, we meet up with friends at the most kid-friendly places possible. When it's just Scott, the kids and I, we brave fancier restaurants, and we just expect the kids to sit and behave. But, if you throw their friends into the mix, it's an entirely different environment.

We have tried JJ Twigs in Lake Zurich twice with friends and their kids and it has been a great experience. The kids are given popcorn as soon as they sit down and the pizza is great. I love the Mexican pizza, but the kids are happy with just cheese. I'm so not a video game fan, but I let my issues slide for a night. JJ Twigs has a video game area that keeps the kids busy until the quarters run out. The waiters and waitresses are so laid back they don't mind a handful of kids running around the lobby like crazies at the end of the night.

While the food isn't sophisticated or healthy, it's fun for a get together with friends.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Life goes on without an iPhone

The first cell phone I ever used was a clunker. Technically it was my parents’ “car phone” that I had borrowed while going out for a night with college friends in Baltimore.

It was awesome.

I remember stuffing the huge phone into my purse, so proud that I actually had a “cell phone”.

I don’t even think I knew the phone number. But, it was pretty much the greatest thing ever that night.

After that I was hooked.

Being able to call anyone anywhere was just the best. After college, I racked up major phone bills…that was obviously before unlimited phone calls and a few years before texting.

Then, of course came the smart phone. I was a little slow to buy one. I remember thinking it was an extravagance I just didn’t need. But, when it came time for an upgrade, the Androids were pretty cheap.

I was hooked again.

Next came the iPhone and I was in love. FaceTime, iMessages, Uploading photos to Facebook automatically. It was all completely wonderful.

Until it died. Last week my iPhone just completely stopped working. No warning. No reason. Just done.

At first I was devastated. How would I text? What if people were trying to call me? I couldn’t upload pictures to Facebook! How would life go on?

It was complete unnerving silence.

Then, it became almost like a vacation---being unreachable was kind of fun. Like an adventure.

I called people on the home phone. I met up with a friend for breakfast by arranging a time and place. No texts or cell phone calls. Somehow she found me at the back of the restaurant.

When waiting in a grocery line, I talked to the kids instead of playing on my phone.  And, I remembered all my assignments and appointments, even though I didn’t have my iPhone calendar or reminders.

I was completely capable without my iPhone.

Two days without a cell phone or smart phone and I survived!

So, I’m not replacing my iPhone (just yet). I reactivated my old, cracked Android. It’s slow, I can’t upload to Facebook, I don’t receive texts from some people and it’s a tad embarrassing because the screen is cracked. But, I’ll live…

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tough Love??

I got the call this morning...the very first call I received from Julie all by herself.
I could just picture her dialing the number on the school office phone.
This had to be good.
"I forgot Scorch. Can you bring it?"
Scorch is a stuffed dragon in Julie's class. He's special. Each kid probably only gets to take home Scorch every two months...if they're lucky. Last night was Julie's night.
She was supposed to bring him back to school, along with a story she wrote about him. She left him at home, and the assignment.

"Julie...." I trailed off. I was tempted to give her a mini lecture, but I envisioned the secretaries listening in. Was it on speaker phone?

"I can't come right away," I told her, as I was on the way to drop Johnny off at preschool.
I was also tempted to not get Scorch at all. Maybe that could be a lesson in responsibility. How would she ever learn if I always picked up the pieces? Monday she left her spelling words at school. Last week she completely lost her math homework. And, at least three times a week she just loses her adorable hair ribbons and barrettes at school. Those cost money. They're from Gymboree darnit!

What if I just never came with Scorch and she had to suffer the consequences?
I seriously considered that idea, rationalizing that it was actually a better parenting move than going home, picking up the dirty stuffed animal and dropping it off at school.

Scott reminded me she was in second grade not high school.

Then, I thought about all the times my parents picked up the pieces. Would my mom and dad deliberately let me fail? Would they ignore my calls for help? Heck no. They always came to my rescue. They still do.

And, do I love them for it? Heck yeah. Because they made me feel loved. Like I could be who I was with all my faults and mistakes and bad habits.

Isn't that the mom I want to be?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday Munch: Ditka's

We had some unexpected guests this weekend.
Scott's Uncle Bob and Aunt Sue were traveling across country for their 40th anniversary. On their way back to  California, they decided to stop in Chicago.

When we have guests in town, we always want to show off Chicago's dining scene. There are so many fun restaurants that  Scott and I are always wanting to try something new. This time we decided to give Ditka's a try. Mike Ditka is all Chicago, right?? The restaurant is covered in Bears and Ditka paraphernalia--most of which is pretty funny, though some things are a tad inappropriate for the kids. Overall, it's a fun, happening place.

Scott thought "Da Pork Chop" was great, Uncle Bob liked his steak and Aunt Sue enjoyed the roasted chicken. I ordered Perch, which probably wasn't a great idea because I didn't realize it was covered in batter. Not my favorite. The kids of course loved the chicken fingers, but the service was a little slow, and they got a bit antsy.

I would say Ditka's is worth a visit, though definitely not our favorite Chicago joint. Gibson's Steakhouse still wins in terms of food and far.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday Munch: Walker Brothers

I'm not a breakfast person. Eggs, pancakes, waffles...blech.
Don't even talk to me about sausage and bacon.

But, I do have a weakness for bagels. There's nothing like a soft everything bagel toasted with vegetable cream cheese and tomatoes. Hummus or lox are also good toppers.

Surprisingly I discovered a local pancake place as one of the best places in town to get a good bagel. The bagel platter with lox and cream cheese is amazing.

Julie and I had a special breakfast today with some friends at Walker Brothers in Lake Zurich. Julie loved the pumpkin pancakes, her friend gobbled up the chocolate chip pancakes and my mom friend said her personal favorite are the potato pancakes. I happily finished my bagel platter complete with lox, cream cheese, capers, cucumbers and tomatoes. Yum!

Walker Brothers first opened in Wilmette in the 1950s, but the pancake restaurant opened in Lake Zurich in 2001, and has remained a popular stop for Saturday or Sunday breakfast or brunch.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Read to me

When Julie and Johnny were babies, I used to love cuddling them in my lap and reading them books. I could have stayed there for hours, but of course they always got squirmy or hungry or tired. As toddlers, I could usually only hold their attention for one short book until they wiggled away to play with something more interesting. If I had it my way, I would just snuggle them forever reading the day away. Much more entertaining to me than playing Barbies or trains. I could never turn down a request to read.

As semi-big kids Julie and Johnny love story time. Maybe I brainwashed them, but they still love sitting with Scott or me and listening to book after book after book. And I still love it.

I would do it forever, though I know it won't last.

I'm not sure when I first started to notice Julie sneaking off by herself to read chapter books. I think it probably started with bedtime. We usually take turns reading chapter books, but sometimes I was too tired to read anymore, and she'd ask if she could stay up a while and read by herself. "Of course!" I'd say. This mom will never ever discourage reading any time of day.

Then, there was a night when it all changed. "That's OK Mommy. I just want to read by myself tonight."

Say what??

A tiny part of me was completely exhausted and was kind of relieved I didn't have to read a book for 30 minutes. Another part of me was so thankful that she loved reading. Most of me, however, felt lost.

Obviously, I knew it was coming. When I was her age, I spent most of my days reading books. I couldn't get enough. I was completely thrilled that she loved to read. It's just that I'm not ready to give up that time. I loved sharing in the story and asking her questions and seeing whether she could guess the ending, or whether she really understood what was going on.

So, I've started to barge my way into story time by asking if I can listen to her chapter book. Or sometimes I'll entice Julie with an interesting book to join in nightly story times with Johnny and me.

 It's working so far, and occasionally she'll still bring me a book and say "Mommy, read this to me."

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sneaky little sleepover

Here's a secret:
As a kid I absolutely hated sleepovers. I'm a morning person. Always have been. So sleepovers were hell. I tired so hard to stay awake, but of course I was always the first to fall asleep. So, I was teased, or worse. One time I was forced to eat dog food because I fell asleep first. Another time, an older sister made this awful concoction of mayonnaise, pickles, hot sauce, peanut butter, and who knows what else. And, I had to gulp down that nonsense. No fun I tell you.

So, when Julie started asking me about having a sleepover. My answer was consistently "No way!" She's in second grade, and I'm so not ready for sleepovers. Scott agreed. We couldn't think of one "plus" to inviting a bunch of second grade girls to our house to spend the night.

But, the little stinker caught us at a weak moment.

We had friends over, who happened to be the parents of one of her very best friends. The kids were up well past bedtime having a great time. And, the adults were drinking a few glasses of wine, and crooning karaoke tunes into the microphone.

Then, the two little girls popped the question: "Can we have a sleepover? Please! Please! Please!"

They were simply too adorable to resist... as are a lot of things after a few glasses of wine.

So, Julie had her first sleepover.

Late to bed. Early to rise. But, the girls had a blast.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Monday Munch: Gibsons Steakhouse

When Scott first started working in Chicago, he would constantly brag about this restaurant with awesome steaks and crazy desserts. It was Gibsons Steakhouse. The restaurant is downtown and on the pricier side, so we never ventured there with the kids. But, when our good friends Heather and Grant were visiting we jumped on the chance to indulge.  The guys of course went for the huge cuts of steak, which they said were delish. Heather and I aren't huge steak fans, so we opted for the lobster roll, which was pretty good, though I've had a lobster roll in New England, and of course it's hard to compare. What won us over were the insanely huge desserts. We ordered the macadamia turtle pie. It was ridiculous. I mean it was served with a steak knife! Surprisingly we ate the entire piece and were licking the chocolate from the plate. Overall, Gibsons is a fun experience, and a must for tourists.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy Halloween!

I've always loved Halloween. There's just something about wearing a costume---any costume you want, that's free-ing. I think my best costume as a kid was a refrigerator full of food. So random, but I think I won a costume contest that year.

Before kids, Scott and I always went all out for Halloween. One year we were smurfs. Then we were Hungry Hungry hippos. Another year he was the Pillsbury Dough Boy and I was Miss Piggy. We didn't match but it was still fun.

Dressing up kids on Halloween is awesome....until they start picking out their own costumes. That takes the creative fun out of it for parents, doesn't it? Obviously kidding...but sometimes I just want to rewind to the days when they were babies and I could dress them up as Kermit the Frog and they would have no clue.

I have learned to deal with their choices and try to jazz up the creativity. This year Julie wanted to be Dorothy, which was a totally cute choice. Johnny couldn't make up his mind. He wanted to be a tree. Then a flower. Then a black pumpkin. So, I suggested a lion to go with the whole Wizard of Oz theme. "Yeah. That's good," he said.

Of course we had to get our puppy Chico in on the fun. Julie wanted him to be Toto, but that's just kind of boring and predictable. So, he was the Tin Man. Hilarious. And, I can't go a Halloween without dressing up, so I was the Wicked Witch of the West. Scott wasn't a fan of dressing up as a scarecrow, so he was out this year.

Next year we have a great idea---let's just hope the kids agree!


Doesn't he look thrilled??
He still loves us even though he hated his costume.
I will get you my pretty!!
An end to a rainy Halloween

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wednesday Wow: Stitch Fix

I got another Stitch Fix last week. A lot of the pieces were super cute but didn't fit or were a tad too expensive for this time around. One of the my favorites was a dark green blazer but it was too snug in the chest. Another was a cute pair of dark gray work pants, but they were too long. That's what I get for being short and stubby I guess! I did keep one thing---a burgundy top for $38. Pretty cute and I will definitely wear it a lot with skinny jeans and boots. (And, I promise I ironed before I wore!)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Push it.

Exactly two years ago Scott and I ran a marathon. Yes. 26.2 miles.
It seems like a lifetime ago.
The training was painful. Physically. Mentally. And totally time-consuming. We basically dedicated our lives to running. That's not easy with two small kids. Julie was 5 and Johnny was 2.
Though it was difficult, sometimes boring and we often wanted to quit, it was our thing. Our bonding. There's not much more that brings a couple closer together than running 20-plus miles together every weekend. We talked a lot. We listened to music. We helped each other and we motivated each other. Scott finished every run by saying "Push it. Sprint." And, even though we had run for hours, we would both sprint and give it our all at the end.
After our runs, we would high-five, and drive to the local sandwich shop to treat ourselves to subs, chips, Gatorade and a huge frozen coffee drink.
Six months of intense training and then we finished the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C. What a feeling.

But, after we finished, we were done. That was it. We had spent so much of our time running that we were convinced we wouldn't run another race any time soon. Scott started biking. I went back to the gym. That was that.

Then, last Saturday Scott had the idea to get a babysitter and run along the Lake Michigan Trail in downtown Chicago. It's a beautiful trail. Every time we're downtown with the kids we talk about running along it.
So we did. Not too far...probably six or seven miles. But, it was a good run and we were together.

Who knows. Maybe the Chicago Marathon 2014 is calling our name.

After our run last weekend on Lake Michigan

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday Munch: De Cero Taqueria

"De  Cero" means "from scratch," and De Cero Taqueria lives up to this translation. Located in a trendy stretch on Randolph Street in West Chicago, De Cero serves up small, but tasty bites. Scott and I stumbled upon the place while out for a date day in the city. We were actually looking for a barbeque restaurant, but Scott made a wrong turn and ended up driving past De Cero. It must have been fate because I was secretly longing for some Mexican. We ordered a couple margaritas. Scott's mango chile margarita was a bit too thick for his liking and he would have rather opted for a more refreshing drink, but he was glad he tried. My passion fruit margarita was tasty, but I've had better margaritas. The food, however, was fresh, unique and delicious.
We devoured the duck nachos, tamales and fish tacos. We weren't quite prepared for the tiny portions, so we weren't completely satisfied. We left wanting more, which means we will be back!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Field Trip: Shedd Aquarium's Penguin Encounter

It was the day Julie had been anxiously awaiting--a trip to Shedd Aquarium in downtown Chicago to meet and pet a real penguin.

A couple years ago Julie decided her favorite animal was a penguin and she hasn't changed her mind. So, for her birthday we decided to surprise her with a special Penguin Encounter at Shedd. What made it even more special was her Aunt Kelly adopted a real penguin from Shedd for Julie. She named him "Flimmer" and couldn't wait to meet him.

Though we didn't actually meet the penguin Julie adopted, the Penguin Experience was still amazing. Scott, Julie, Johnny and I were among a group of just eight people to meet a penguin named Sparrow. The shockingly tame and calm penguin walked around our feet, and we each pet and took pictures with the penguin. Julie seemed to be in a state of disbelief.

It was definitely an experience to remember.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

The social scene

Both of my kids were reprimanded in the same week for being a tad too social.

I kind of expect it from Johnny. He's such a little goofball that I wasn't shocked when his teacher told me that Johnny was "being silly" with his friends and was rushing through his work.

Julie came as a complete surprise. She used to be my little wall flower--the little girl who would kick and scream at the mere mention of play dates. The one who would cling to my side and whine to go home when we were in a big group of kids.

The information came home in the form of  a progress report. A little dash appeared next to "speaks at inappropriate times." Say what??

Apparently our shy little girl is "quite social" according to her second grade teacher. She finishes her work quickly, so there is sometimes downtime when she turns and talks to her "best friends."
She has three little best friends, and every day she brings home a letter or drawing from another kid in class.

The other day a little girl wrote her a note "Julie you are a really nice girl. It's no wonder you have three best friends. If you ever need anything I am here for you."

I can't say I haven't noticed Julie's social urges, but It all kind of snuck up on us.

I guess I always assumed she'd be a little shy like I was when I was at her age.
Though I had friends, I was completely intimidated by big groups and I would throw up at the thought of speaking in front of class. I am so relieved Julie didn't inherit the shy gene--or at least not to the extent that I had it as a young kid.

I have to say I'm a tiny bit pleased that Julie has become Miss Social. I love that she's comfortable and happy at school, and she has some good friends.

That doesn't mean she escaped a "talking to" by Scott and me. But, secretly we were just glad our little girl was doing well in school and loving it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The gift of giving

It was her idea.
Julie decided seven years of birthday presents was enough. It was time to give back.
Instead of birthday presents at her 8th birthday party, friends brought donations to our local animal shelter Orphans of the Storm in Riverwoods. Before Chico, we had been thinking about adopting a puppy from the shelter, and those animals really touched our hearts. Of course, after Chico, we really can't adopt another puppy right now, but we would love to give to the no-kill shelter in some way. So, with the help of Julie's awesome friends we delivered cat food, dog food, dog toys and treats, a huge dog bed, and $70.

Julie of course didn't go present-less on her birthday. She had plenty of gifts from grandparents and aunts and uncles and a the pretty cool gift of the aquarium penguin encounter from her wonderful parents. But, we were so touched that our little girl decided to forgo potential presents from her friend. I'm sure she got the idea from another birthday party, but what a great form of peer pressure. We obviously didn't make a huge difference yesterday when we brought in our three bags of donations, but it was something.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Munch: Twin Anchors

I'm a sucker for history.
I just love exploring old places and daydreaming about who might have lived, walked or met there. So, when I heard about Twin Anchors in Chicago, I was all about it. It's one of the oldest restaurants in Chicago, and is situated in the Old Town building built in 1881. Since 1931 it has been Twin Anchors, a pretty famous barbeque joint, considering Frank Sinatra used to frequent the place, and the restaurant has been the scene of a few movies.
Though I wouldn't say the food is excellent, Twin Anchors is worthy of a visit. With its old school tavern charm and nautical theme, Twin Anchors has a fun atmosphere, and you can't but marvel at its history.

Twin Anchors in 1910

Inside the restaurant today

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A perfect gift

Julie asked Santa for a piano keyboard last Christmas.
Scott and I were a bit skeptical.
Would it just be another untouched toy taking up space in the playroom? Would Julie and Johnny pound on the keys driving us absolutely nuts?

Two days after Christmas she taught herself how to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" by reading the beginner's book. Then, she asked to take piano lessons.

Maybe this was for real, we thought; however, we weren't quite convinced it would last.

Almost a year later, and Julie still loves to play. After school she runs to practice her lessons, and has even written a couple short songs.

Today was her first recital.
She was nowhere near the most experienced piano student, or the most talented. But she did great, she tried her best, she had fun and she was completely proud of what she had achieved.

Way to go Julie!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Field Trip Friday: Didier Farms


The pumpkin patch.
It's pretty much an obligatory part of Fall.
Considering I'm a sucker for all things festive, I'm all about visiting a pumpkin patch or two or three before Halloween. Chicagoland has plenty of great pumpkin patches.

When my parents were visiting a few weeks ago, we tried out Didier Farms in Lincolnshire. It's a bit carnival-like and a tad expensive, but of course the kids had a blast. I mean they rode a camel, chowed on hot dogs and apple cider doughnuts and fed birds in a huge cage. What's not to love?

There was so much to do that we almost forgot our mission---to find carving pumpkins and possibly some apple cider. The kids picked out some pumpkins---one completely white one which looked like a swan. (Julie and Meme later painted and crafted to transform this pumpkin into a penguin. But, more on that later.)

After picking out the pumpkins, the kids washed and scrubbed them in a basin set out just for that purpose. There of course were hay rides and mazes and plenty of places to run and play.

Two thumbs up from Julie and Johnny.



Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Munch: Fogo de Chao

Saturday is usually try a new restaurant day, so off we went in search of a new place to eat. We thought about being festive and eating at a German restaurant in honor of Oktoberfest. But, lines were too long at Hofbrauhaus in Rosemont, so we went across the street to Fogo de Chao. I had never heard of this amazing smorgasbord of salads and meats and everything delicious. But, my big-eater husband of course had eaten at the chain while living in Maryland. He was practically drooling when he set eyes on the restaurant, which just recently opened in Rosemont. The place is not for the light eater. Meals are $46 for adults and $23 for kids. We quickly decided we would be dining without the kids if we returned to Fogo. Despite the hefty price tag, the meal is truly an experience. I'm going to use the word "salad bar" but please don't picture wilted lettuce and cottage cheese. This is a gourmet bar with meats, cheeses, vegetables and salad fixings. Smoked salmon, prosciutto and fresh mozzarella were my favorite choices. The highlight of the meal is of course the fresh meat, which is brought to your table by dozens of waiters, wielding skewers and knives ready to cut off your ideal slice of beef, lamb, chicken, steak, whatever looks best. The chicken osso buco and lamb were my favorites. Along with the never-ending array of food were hot sides of cheesy mashed potatoes, hand cut French fries and fried bananas, as well as rolls. We definitely didn't leave hungry!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday Field Trip: Morton Aboretum

Every time my parents visit from Maryland they are amazed at how much Chicago has to offer. This time we ventured to Morton Arboretum in Lisle. It was on my summer to-do list with the kids, but we just never made it out there. With my parents here, it was the perfect to make the trek. We were not disappointed. There were dozens of hiking and biking trails, but the Children's Garden was our favorite---with rope bridges, garden mazes and secret passages. The fall is an excellent time to visit the changing leaves and pumpkins. Following a one-mile trail along a small lake, we admired the scarecrows and chose our very favorites. The café was decent---soups, salads, sandwiches, and adorable little brown bag lunches for kids. On weekends in October the arboretum offers fall festivities, and during the holiday season there illuminated holiday hikes, and other activities.
Overall a great place to visit!

My mom and Johnny navigating a garden maze.

My mom and Johnny traversing a ropes course

My mom's scarecrow pick: Flower Fairy

Mom and Dad outside the Children's Garden

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Don't neuter your dog. I'm serious.

I walked timidly into the office holding my trembling bundle of fur.
It stunk. The receptionist scowled at my whimpering pup. She smugly shoved a list of fees into my naïve hands, as I pretended to not look completely horrified.
I know I'm new at this whole dog thing, but someone please explain to me in detail about the pressing need to neuter animals who live in decent homes. I understand we don't want a litter of unwanted pug puppies running around Lake Zurich, but it's highly unlikely this scenario would play out with our puppy who we never let out of our sight. Besides, pug puppies are cute, right? Then, I know there's the issue of behavior--- the removal of manhood is bound to calm a dog. So, those are the pluses.

Well, here are the minuses:
1. My poor puppy is completely bruised and battered down there.
2. It's gross. Seriously. I can't even look at it.
3. I think my dog hates me now.
4. I just paid $150 for superfluous extras plus the $65 I paid for the cheap Friends of Animals neuter certificate. I know you're going to say you paid $600 for your dog's neuter. Did I mention I'm cheap?
5. My puppy stinks and I can't give him a bath.
6. I have been forced to define "neuter" in G-rated terms.
7. My kids keep asking "What's wrong with Chico's hiney?"

Case closed.

After the chop-chop

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wednesday Wow: a pretty little watch

I love jewelry, but I rarely splurge. I usually stick to fun, costume pieces. But, Scott was so sweet and bought this awesome silver watch from Mondavo. I love that he took the time to pick out something special for our 10th anniversary.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Monday Munch: Popeye's in Lake Geneva

My parents are visiting for close to three weeks. So, we're always on the lookout for fun road trips. Saturday we headed to Lake Geneva in Wisconsin--one of our favorite day trips. The lake is beautiful, the little downtown is adorable, and there are a plethora of fun, yummy restaurants. This time we tried Popeyes in Lake Geneva. No, there is not a relation to the fast food Popeye's, though the theme for this sit-down restaurant is also chicken. If you're looking for excellent roasted chicken this is the spot. We thought the menu was a bit overpriced, but the restaurant is fun and almost every table has a lake view. The roasted chicken and seasoned fries are awesome, and Scott and my dad insisted the bloody marys were the best. Definitely worth a stop at this Lake Geneva institution.