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.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A letter to my love on our 10th

To my husband on our 10th anniversary:

Remember when we used to kiss at every red light?

Sometimes we looked around at all the other couples in cars just staring straight ahead or talking angrily, and we couldn’t imagine not being the way we were. Attached. Together. Happy.

We loved to go for long walks, holding hands along the way. We’d snuggle on the couch watching Alias, slurping on homemade smoothies. We played fierce games of ping pong and sometimes Rummikub, or Mastermind. You made the absolute best margaritas and nachos—a Sunday favorite. We loved long bike rides with the promise of a snowball at the end of the trail. Crab dip was our go-to appetizer and we probably ate out every Friday and Saturday night.

Just you and me.

We didn’t have much time just the two of us, did we?

And 10 years sure flew.

Three houses. Two babies. A dog.

Our days are completely filled. Long works hours for you. Housework and writing for me. Homework and activities for the kids. Fun time on the weekends--- exploring our city, trying to find the best Mexican food around, eating ice cream, going for bike rides, playing in the yard, watching AFV and cheering on our teams on Sundays while devouring your amazing chili. It’s a typically busy suburban life, but I can’t imagine it any other way, or living this life without you.

Last Saturday you sang me a song you wrote. You know I loved it—how you summed up our life into a five-minute country ballad. You looked darn cute in that cowboy hat, and you sounded pretty close to Kenny Rogers. (At least that’s who I think you were trying to imitate.)

I know we were hoping to go on a big trip this year to celebrate our 10th, but I can say I’m happy with our little celebration. Fondue. Wine (a bit too much). A heartfelt song, and some reminiscing.

Thank you for always making me feel special.

I loved you then and I love you now. Even more.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A letter to the birthday girl

Dear Julie,

Today  you are 8.

But, I think I might keep you 7 just a little bit longer…at least until 11:18 p.m. (I’m not going to tell you this, but I’m not quite ready for you to be 8.)

Julie, 7 was your year.

We moved 700 miles away but you made the best of it and learned how to shine.

You learned to ride a two-wheeler. No more pushes from daddy or me and you don’t even whine anymore when you’re pedaling up a steep hill.

You love to write and you impressed us so much with your elaborate stories and chapter books. We especially loved the “Xzeedo” series about the little blue dot who came to life.

You found a very best friend, captured the heart of an absolutely amazing teacher and brought home exceptional report cards. You swam like a super star, learned to play tennis and started playing piano. You should be so proud that you mastered “Take me out to the Ball Game” on your keyboard. That wasn’t easy.

You got your first puppy and you could hardly believe he was yours. You feed him and walk him, and sometimes pick up after him. I think you love him more than you realized you would.

Yes. It’s been quite a year. You’ve accomplished quite a lot, but above all else, this is the year your daddy and I really glimpsed the amazing woman you will one day become.

This year you said you didn’t want any birthday presents. Instead, you asked people to make donations to a local animal shelter.

“I’ve gotten presents for seven years. I don't really need any more,” you told us. Hard to believe, but it was all your idea.

You have grown up a lot this year, but when I peeked in your bedroom the other day you were talking to your American Girl and princess dolls all lined up in a row. They were the students and you were the teacher trying very hard to teach a lesson on punctuation. White board and markers. Papers and pencils for each doll.

I smiled.

Even though you’re 8, you’re still ours for a little longer.

Happy Birthday!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Just don't ask.

How the heck do you explain the meaning of "neuter" to a 7-year-old?
All of my tactics have pretty much failed.
It started with small talk at the doggie daycare. One woman mentioned that her cocker spaniel was being neutered next week. I made the mistake of chiming in that Chico was also being neutered next week.

There's isn't much that gets by the ears and eyes of an almost-8-year-old...especially when it involves her beloved puppy.

"What's neuter Mommy?" Julie asked, innocently. "Why is that happening to Chico?"
I looked the woman, pleading with my eyes for some help.

"Well, sweetie, it's so your puppy won't have babies." the woman responded, smiling smugly--obviously proud that she had calmly and effectively answered the question of an inquisitive little girl.

"But, why would a boy have a baby?" Julie asked pointedly.

The woman chuckled, looked at me and replied "That's all you Mom."

Great. Now I'm stuck with this conversation I never intended to have with my second grader. Julie laughed and blushed, almost as if she realized she had stumbled upon some forbidden topic.

And, I just stood there, not knowing what to say, and mumbled quickly something about Chico needing to go to the vet like all other puppies to make sure he's OK.
Yes. Totally lame answer and unfortunately it did not ease Julie's curiosity.

Later that night, she started firing off all kinds of birth-related questions. I'll just give you a little flavor "Why does a mommy have to lift her legs when she has a baby? How does it get out? I don't understaaaaand!"

Yikes. I know I probably watched too many episodes of "Baby Story" when I was pregnant with Johnny but that was more than four years ago. How the heck does she remember that! I guess I must have scarred her for life.

So, I answered these awful questions by ending them the only way I knew how. "Well, sometimes a doctor has to cut open the Mommy's stomach."
Julie's eyes got huge. She gritted her teeth and said "I'm never having babies!"

Phew. The end. For now at least.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday Wow: Stitch Fix

My sister-in-law Melinda introduced me to the coolest website: Stitch Fix. When we were in San Francisco this summer she pulled out a box of clothes sent to her by Stitch Fix, an online personal shopping service. I was intrigued!

So, I signed up and I received my first "fix" on Monday. Based on a profile I filled out about three weeks ago, my own little personal shopper sent me a package with five items she thought would complement my wardrobe. The way it works is I keep and pay for anything I went, and simply return the rest in a prepaid packing envelope within three days. There is a styling fee of $20 which is deducted from the purchase.

I only kept one thing---a sheer black three-quarter sleeve shirt that I love. But, I did like a few of the others. A corduroy blazer with elbow pads was adorable, but I just couldn't picture myself wearing it.... especially to any professional outings. I also really liked a short, fit and flare black cocktail dress, but once again, I couldn't think of an occasion to wear it. We do have a wedding coming up, but I don't think it was fancy enough. The personal shopper also sent one piece of jewelry---a really cute and fun necklace, but I really just would rather spend money on building my wardrobe at this point. The only thing I really didn't like was a polka-dot sweater, which I found kind of blah. Overall, it was a fun experience. Who doesn't love receiving packages?

Here's the shirt I chose to keep. I think I will wear it a lot.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How about them apples?

It all started with the coloring contest.
On the first day of Johnny's preschool, there was a coloring contest. Three kids were awarded ribbons for the their coloring prowess. The rest of the papers were tacked neatly on the wall outside of the classroom for all the parents to see. Smiley face stickers or "Way to Go" stamps joyfully adorned each paper.
Except one.
Belonging to my Johnny.
"Done with Teacher's Help" was written in red ink across the top of the paper.
I glanced at the paper in disbelief, but not too long, so the other nosey parents wouldn't think it belonged to my son. All I could think was "Seriously? You're going to call out my son on the first day for not coloring a picture of a school bus absolutely perfectly?"

Then it happened again. Two days later.

This time it was a drawing of a pencil.
First place. Second place. Third place. Stickers. Stamps. Smiley faces.

And, "Done with Teacher's Help" inscribed boldly on top of one paper.
Once again neatly tacked outside the classroom for all the parents to notice as they waited for their perfect little artists to exit the classroom.

As I steamed a bit, I half wondered whether I was being irrational. Was I the only mom who thought it a bit ridiculous for 4 year olds to participate in coloring contests the first and second days of preschool? And, also display the results for everyone to see? Do we really want our kids being in competition this early in the school year or really in their school careers? Can't we all just work together? More importantly, did I really care whether Johnny was an expert colorer or drawer or whatever-er at 4 years old? Did it really matter whether he colored perfectly in the lines or batted his eyelashes and asked the teacher for help? Did he really need his mistakes circled where he had colored outside the lines with little red "Oops! :)" written next to the mistakes?

Plus, I felt bad for the kid. Later that day Johnny got all pouty and proclaimed that  he was an "awful color person" because he "wost the contest."

So, we worked on coloring all weekend. And drawing. He got little prizes for working really hard and coloring in the lines.

That next Monday he won first place. He drew an apple and it was darn good.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Monday Munch: Rock The Block

Saturday is usually our night to eat out. We love trying new restaurants or exploring fun new spots. This past Saturday we headed to Rock the Block, a block party in downtown Lake Zurich, and it was a blast.

There were food trucks, drinks, bands and bounce houses. We really enjoyed the small tacos from Taquero Fusion in Skokie, but our friends raved about the barbeque nachos from Smokin' T's Barbeque in Long Grove. There was also Chicago Cupcake, Beelow's Steakhouse and Chaser's Sports Bar and Grill.

The only complaint? It was a bit too well-attended. Food and drink lines were long and it was hard to keep track of the kids. Event organizers admitted turnout was much better than they expected.

Good for the organizers (Lion's Club) for trying to bring events downtown. It was a fun night, and I'm sure there were will be a repeat next year. We'll be back for sure.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Puppy Mama

I used to cringe when people would equate a puppy to a newborn baby. It just bugged me that anyone could think that caring for a furry critter was even close to taking care of a newborn. The absolute worst were the Facebook posts on Mother's Day from kid-less friends proclaiming they were enjoying their "Mother's Day" with their furry babies. Seriously?

Keep in mind that I have never in my life owned a "real" pet...(besides a rabbit named Midnight who died after running headfirst into our basement wall.)

When I heard stories of friends sharing their beds with their dogs or cats I couldn't think of anything less appealing. Celebrating dog birthdays with cake, balloons and presents? Ridiculous, I used to grumble. It's not that I didn't like animals. It's just that, well, an animal is not a kid.

That was until we got our little puppy Chico. While I still believe an animal is not a human and shouldn't be treated like one, I have to admit he's kind of like another kid. More specifically....a toddler.

He needs to be entertained. He's constantly hungry. I need to force him to go potty every hour. Sometimes there's puddles on the floor...or other stuff. He leaves his toys everywhere, munches on shoes, and somehow finds the one thing he's not supposed to play with.

But, just like my own kids, he's the absolute best in my eyes.

He loves to play and his little puppy eyes will just make you melt. His smushed little puggy face is just the cutest. He's super smart and always happy. And, when he snuggles up on my lap and starts to snore, I have to admit, I love being a puppy mama.

My two little boys :)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Happy Birthday Mom

Sept. 11.

Twelve years ago, I had trouble remembering my mom's birthday. I know. Bad daughter, right? I just always seemed to think it was the 14th. Then  It happened. Everything of course changed, and I'll never forget my mom's birthday again.

That Sept. 11, I was a newbie newspaper reporter still living at home with my parents. I worked a lot of late nights. Anyone in the newspaper biz can relate. That particular, night, however, I was supposed to be home by dinnertime to celebrate my mom's birthday.

You know what happened. And of course, while a lot of people at normal jobs rushed home to hug their children or spend time with family, I couldn't. I was a reporter. It was one of the busiest and most emotional days in my short newsroom career. (I only worked in the newsroom for five years.)

I eventually left work well past dinnertime. Spent from a hectic, trying day. Feeling much like everyone else in America---worrying about friends I knew living in NYC, and shocked that such horrific events could happen in our country.  I drove home listening tearfully to the president's address on the car radio. Almost everyone else in America was undoubtedly doing the same.

Then, we somehow celebrated Mom's birthday. Quiet. Somber. Different. Changed.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Monday Munch: Lindy's Landing

Julie and Johnny are pretty good at dining out. For the most part, they sit at the table, color, play with Legos and wait for their food to arrive. But, I think all parents feel a little stress when they take their kids out to eat. Not sure how long this lasts...maybe until they're teenagers or beyond. So, when we found a restaurant that has great food, and built-in entertainment for the kids, it quickly became our favorite summer spot.

That distinction, for us, goes to Lindy's Landing in Wauconda. The best part of this beach restaurant/bar is its swimming beach. That's right. There's a swimming beach at the restaurant. Families eat on tables in the sand, while the kids splash around in the water or build sand castles. Obviously, this means you don't dress for a fancy night on the town.

But who cares? Scott and I enjoyed some mango margaritas and appetizers while the kids happily played in the water. Sure. they came to the dinner table covered in sand, but a quick dip in the lake, and a trip to the bathroom fixed that.

Obviously this spot is best in warm weather, but Lindy's is fun during other times of the year too.

Lindy's Landing also hosts quite a few events in town, from fireworks nights, bands and ping pong tournaments to cardboard boat races. My favorite night is Wednesday--Sushi night! A sushi chef comes to the restaurant and prepares fresh, delicious sushi only on Wednesday nights.

The rest of the menu ranges from sandwiches, soups, burgers and salads to fish, steak, chicken and pasta. We have always been pleased with our meals.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

It's time for some Football!!

The first Sunday of the season.
Most wives and moms I know dread football season...especially if their husbands are hardcore sports nuts like Scott. They resent their husbands for spending all day rooting on their favorite teams. Or worse.. glued to the Red Zone channel for the quickest fantasy updates.
But, I have grown to absolutely love the sport...well the NFL at least. It doesn't hurt that my all-time favorite team won the Super Bowl last year. Even if they were a long shot, I think I would still love football. The whole family gets into the games and Scott's chili is a Sunday ritual. We wear our teams' jerseys and root on the teams. Ravens for me. Niners for Scott. We both supported each other's teams, though this year, is a little touchy considering our recent Super Bowl history. We'll see how that works out.
Even with the Super Bowl tension, the whole family is excited for football season.
Bring it on!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Only a dream...

My mother-in-law Janice isn’t quite sure when she first started dreaming about Nashville.
She grew up singing along to the sweet tunes of Patsy Cline and the soft croons of Charlie Pride, and vowed to one day visit the birthplace of country music. Scott clearly remembers his mom gushing about Nashville as if it were some sort of far-off fantasy land—a place she could only dream about visiting. Janice had a “Nashville fund”—a jar where she stored extra money in hopes that one day the family could afford the trip. The kids grew. The years passed. Nashville never happened.
Finally for Janice’s 60th birthday we made her dreams come true.
Scott, the kids and I, along with Todd and his wife Melinda finally took Janice to Nashville. It was truly a trip to remember. We wore cowboy hats and boots, and practiced our southern twang. We toured the Country Music Hall of Fame, got all gussied up to watch the stars at the Grand Ole’ Opry performance and noshed on Nashville barbeque and fried catfish. Julie played “Happy Birthday” for her grandma on Elvis’ piano at RCA’s Studio B and we bar-hopped on Broadway, listening to all the aspiring country musicians and dancing on the stages. We strummed Miranda Lambert’s guitar at Barbara Mandrell’s house and Julie and Janice toe-tapped to old country songs at practically every restaurant and bar in Nashville.
But, as Janice quietly sang “Crazy” into the microphone on the stage of the Opry---the exact spot where so many country stars had performed, I got goose bumps.
Her dreams had come true.