Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy Birthday Dad!

I have this memory of my dad.

He’s in a rocking chair and I’m 4 or 5 and snuggled in his lap. I’m wearing red and white striped pajamas. Maybe it’s because there’s a photograph somewhere, but this moment is ingrained in my memory.

And, he’s singing to me. “Edelweiss” was our song of choice that night, and on many nights for that matter.

The song made popular by “The Sound of Music” was such an important part of my childhood. We sang it in the car on road trips, trying to create perfect harmonies, or we sang it around the house or at big family get-togethers. It was “Our song.”

It’s still our song.

As Kelly and I got older we still loved to sing along with dad and our voices (at least in our minds) seemed to meld seamlessly when we sang “Edelweiss.” On a recent family reunion, the three of us sang karaoke to “Edelweiss”. We sat on dad’s lap together and sang the song like old times.

I’m hoping the song will carry on.

When Julie was a baby, I sang it to her every night before she went to sleep. Sometimes I changed the words saying “Julie May” instead of “Edelweiss”. I’d get a little teary thinking about my dad singing the song to me.

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday. He turned 69.

Guess what song Julie played for him on the piano?

She asked her piano teacher for the music, and learned the song in two days…just in time to Skype with my dad on his birthday.

I think he might have teared up a little bit seeing his granddaughter playing the song that meant so much to us growing up.

It will always be our song


Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Munch: Cafe Selmarie in Lincoln Square

Have you ever visited Lincoln Square in Chicago? If you haven't, you're missing out. Don't worry. I'll include more details in a Friday Field Trip post.

Today's post, however, is about Café Selmarie  on Lincoln Avenue. It's an adorable French café with pastries, pancakes and sweets, as well as plenty of delicious soups, salads and sandwiches.

The kids and I stopped by for lunch last Friday while touring the neighborhood for an upcoming story of Chicago Parent. Café Selmarie was the perfect lunch break for my two freezing kiddos.
They both  ordered the homemade mac and cheese. I loved that it was real food, instead of the out-of-the-box junk most restaurants serve. Julie of course gobbled her entire dish. Johnny, on the other hand, had a slight issue with the tiny green specks of celery. Get over it kid! He was content after I gave him my cornbread, which I really wanted to dip in my delish veggie chili. But being a nice mommy, I sacrificed both of my perfectly moist and scrumptious pieces of cornbread to Julie and Johnny.

Despite the celery specks, Café Selmarie was to our liking and was a great place to warm up with comfort food on a freezing day. (We were all wearing snowsuits!)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Field Trip: Eataly Chicago

One of Chicago's newest attractions is Eataly-- an amazing mecca of everything Italian. From cheeses, sweets and meats to pasta and wine, the two-story building features a market downstairs, and cafes and restaurants throughout.

Johnny and I were lucky enough to be treated to a special tour of Eataly for a story I'm working on for Chicago Parent. Johnny's favorite? The Nutella bar. He gobbled two slices of freshly baked bread slathered with Nuttella. Second for Johnny was the Gelato.

But, Eataly isn't all sweets.
Upstairs, Johnny got a kick out of watching a woman make fresh mozzarella. (He scarfed down a few freshly cut pieces.) We also watched pasta being made and cut into interesting shapes. He begged me to buy flower-shaped raviolis. Little did he know they were stuffed with squash. (He loved them!)

With the wine and upscale eats, Eataly would be perfect for a date night. But, there's plenty for kids too. If we lived closer to the city, I can imagine we'd frequent this Italian treasure.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wednesday Wow: Chicago Parent's Best of the Best

I almost didn't go.
Chicago Parent's Best of the Best Awards Night was last Thursday night in downtown Chicago.
That meant skipping out on Julie's dance class, dropping the kids off at Scott's work in Rosemont and driving into rush hour traffic.

But, I hardly ever am able to interact with colleagues, and I was excited to dress up a little and meet new people. I was so glad I went!

Not only did I chat with the heads of many Chicago organizations, but I was finally able to meet my awesome editors. It was such a great night!

We had our photos taken before we walked into the cocktail hour.

I decided to wear a dress I found at last year. My sister gave me the necklace for Christmas. It's from Charming Charlie. (Love the store!)  And, I finally got my hair cut---chopped off six inches or more!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

...because God wants you to look nice....?

We were getting ready for church on Sunday. It was about 15 minutes before we were supposed to head out the door and here's what Julie was wearing when she emerged from her room.

1. A faded yellow University of Delaware t-shirt that was two sizes too small.
2. Pink pants with paint stains.
3. Mismatched socks.
4. Old ratty gym shoes.
5. Toothpaste splotches on her cheeks.
6. Unbrushed hair.

Before you blame the mama, keep in mind, that I had neatly placed a perfectly acceptable outfit at the foot of her bed for her to wear. It was not too prissy or tight or uncomfortable.

Here's how our little conversation went down:

Me: Ummm. Julie, that is not an appropriate outfit to wear to church. That outfit is barely acceptable to wear in the house.

Julie: (Pout. Huff.) But why?

Me: Your shirt is too small. The pants don't match and it just does not look nice. And you have to brush your hair!

Julie: But why do I have to wear a nice outfit to church?

Me: Because that is what you do when you go to church. It shows people you care about being there and you care about yourself.

Julie: That's not true. Clothes don't matter. God loves everyone no matter what they wear.

Me: (Gulp.) True. But, it's still nice to take pride in your appearance when you are going to church. It shows people you care about them and you took time to look nice for church.

Julie: I don't  understand. God doesn't care how you look. You could have the nicest clothes and be a mean person. Or you could wear yucky clothes and be a really nice person. God loves everyone.

Touche'. So, I got burned by my 8-year-old. I did not win that argument with my very perceptive little girl, but she did change her clothes and wash her face and brush her hair. Sometimes mama just pulls rank. And, God loves me anyway.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Monday Munch: Moe's Cantina, River North

Next stop on our Mexican food train: Moe's Cantina in River North. This place obviously morphs into a hoppin' bar after 8 p.m., but it's perfect for a Saturday family lunch. The place is spacious, fun and the menu is full of delicious Mexican and Spanish tapas. As soon as we were seated we were served an interesting array of salsas and chips. Of course we ordered the guacamole, which was tasty.

Parents of picky eaters beware: There is no kids menu. But, most kids would probably be OK with a quesadilla or a taco. My pickiest kid (who really isn't all that picky if you compare him to other kids) opted for the tilapia slider for $4. Perfect size for Johnny, and the kid loves fish. Go figure! Julie was in heaven with her make-your-own tacos plate. It was served with steak, lettuce, tomatoes, beans, cheese and sour cream. She loved putting together her own creations. And, the steak was yum. Scott absolutely loved the paella. It as kind of fun to switch it up and go for a Spanish plate. I opted for the Al Pastor tacos, which were about six mini soft tacos with delicious bites of pork I topped with cilantro, onions and tomatoes.

 Portions were big, but we somehow still managed to gobble dessert. The churros with caramel sauce and ice cream were amazing, and the chimichanga dulce, (a fried pastry filled with cream and topped with caramel and ice cream) was also devoured.

Though Moe's is probably targeted to adults, the restaurant is still great for families for lunch or early dinner (as long as you're OK with no kids menus.) Another unique offering on the menu is the skewer with meat and vegetables. When brought to the table, the skewers hang from a hook at the table. We didn't realize this until we were finished eating, but that will be a must on or next trip to Moe's.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Poop....and more reasons why working from home STINKS!

Whenever I tell someone I work from home the response is almost always "Oh. That's so wonderful you are able to do that."

In theory, yes, it is. I'm so grateful that I have been able to stay home with the kids and be with them all the time. I also feel lucky that I have found work that I can do almost entirely from home, and it's something I enjoy doing....something I have wanted to do since I was probably in first grade.

Working from home; however, is not always as fantastic as one might think. I'll be honest. Some days it's darn right hellish chaos.

I really try to limit my working to mornings while Johnny is at preschool or afternoons while he's napping. With deadlines and phone calls this is not always possible. Sometimes I have to finish writing a story while the kids are playing or watching a movie. Other times, I have to sneak away to make a quick phone call.

This is when working from home gets dicey. There are two kids. One puppy. And absolute unpredictability. I have had embarrassing "work-from-home" moments before. There was the time I was on the phone and Julie was hysterically crying because Johnny smeared a boogie on her bed. Another time Julie was upset because Johnny had "poopie on his finger." And yet another time I left 3-year-old Julie alone for 15 minutes and in that time she had colored herself and her bedroom purple.

But, I'm not sure I can top what happened Monday afternoon.

It was about 4:30 p.m. Julie had recently gotten home from school. Johnny was up from his nap, and they were both creating Rainbow Loom bracelets. Our puppy Chico was relaxing in his doggy bed, chewing contentedly on a bone.

I told the kids I had to make a phone call and to please play nicely. Usually, I will turn on a movie to occupy the kids if I expect the phone call to take a long time. But, this was a very quick phone call to verify some facts. I went to my room, closed the door, and was on the phone for about three minutes when the banging started.

Johnny was knocking furiously at my door. "Mommy!! Chico pooped!!!" he shouted.

I hid in the closet, hoping he would stop. I tried to finish the conversation.

"Mommy!! Did you hear me??? Chico pooped. It's gross!"

I was so tempted to "accidentally" hang up the phone. Somehow I politely finished the conversation without letting on that I was completely mortified.

Then, I went to clean up poop.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Munday Munch: Cantina Laredo

Second on our list of must-eat Mexican restaurants in Chicago: Cantina Laredo. With a prime location on State Street, Cantina Laredo was shockingly not crowded on Saturday afternoon. Surely the Mexican restaurant books up during the dinner hour. But, Scott, the kids and I enjoyed lunch in a pretty empty restaurant.

If you're looking for authentic Mexican fare, this isn't necessarily the place. It's a bit more trendy, but the food is great. We would return just for the table-side guacamole and grilled chicken nachos! The pomegranate margarita was also one of the best I've sipped. (And I'm pretty much a margarita expert.)

Chicken Nachos!

Table-side guacomole

Mom! What are you drinking?
Only  the most delicious margarita ever!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday Field Trip: Ice Skating at Rosemont

If you really want to feel like you're experiencing Chicago, you have to ice skate at an outdoor rink. Of course the rink at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago is the best---it's big and there's the view of the city while you're skating around the rink.

Recently, we also enjoyed skating at MB Financial Park in Rosemont. We chose a pretty warm day after Christmas, and headed to Rosemont with Scott's mom, my parents, my sister and her boyfriend. It's free to skate, but rentals are $8 per person. My kids are still ice skating newbies, so Scott held up Johnny the entire time, and Julie nervously shuffled along, while clinging to my sister or me. My mom whizzed around the rink....until she tripped and face-planted on the ice. Poor Mom. This was her second winter injury of the trip. She also hurt her hip while jumping a mogul while sledding.

After we were sufficiently worn out from ice skating, we noshed on huge Bavarian pretzels and sang German songs at the Hofbrahaus. The kids, their grandmas and I marched and played instruments, and Scott couldn't leave without guzzling a stein of German beer.

If you're not into German food, in the same park are an Irish pub, a Mexican restaurant, an American/southern restaurant and an upscale steakhouse, as well as a bowling alley and an upscale movie theatre. And, you can pretty much walk to the new outlets!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pure love.

There are some little Julie and Johnny moments I just want to bottle up forever.
I was seriously taken aback by their jaw-dropping sweet innocence tonight.

And it happened in the shower.
Not exactly the place you would expect to find innocence.

But, I unexpectedly found Julie and Johnny showering together. Julie was gently washing his hair, as she calmly told him to close his eyes.

"Good boy Johnny. You're so brave," Julie told him. You 4 year old Johnny hates showers. The last time I tried to give him a shower was probably a year ago, and he screamed as if he were in pain. I don't give my boy showers.

For some odd reason, he hopped in with Julie tonight and she took care of him like a little mommy.
I watched from just outside the bathroom as she bundled him in a towel, dried him off, and hugged him.

Why can't I see these moments of pure sibling love all the time?? And, they're doing it without me they're not expecting praise or treats or anything. They're just being nice to each other to be...nice. WOW!

Naturally I praised the heck out of them and hugged them both together until they wiggled away to get dressed into their matching penguin pajamas. "Let's be sister penguin and brother penguin," Johnny told her, like it was the Brady Bunch or something.

Then, "Julie, I always want to take showers with you. Even when we're grownups, let's always take showers together."

Now, where was my iPhone to record that one???

Monday, January 6, 2014

Monday Munch: Garcia's Restaurant: Lincoln Square

You will not believe what absolutely amazing story I have been assigned!
It has to be my favorite yet.
Best family-friendly Mexican restaurants in Chicago!
Scott and I couldn't be more ecstatic!
We aren't official foodies and we aren't culinary experts. But we KNOW Mexican.
On our first attempt at the story we found a treasure: Garcia's Restaurant
on Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Square (an adorable little neighborhood in Chicago.)
There isn't a website for this goldmine of Mexican fare, but Google and you'll find the menu and all the details.
The restaurant is spacious and perfectly laid out for families large and small. The guacamole was fresh, but a tad bland for my liking.
Scott, however, says that's how guacamole is supposed to be prepared so that diners can add salt or spices to their liking.
The meals were delicious. I ordered the tilapia fish tacos topped with fresh avocado and tomatoes. Perfect.
Scott opted for the Chicago burrito--humongous and smothered with cheese and a delectable sauce...just the way he likes it.
Julie gobbled a burrito made to order with rice, beans, meat, cheese and sour cream, and Johnny
went boring with the chicken fingers. Oh well! Can't win them all over.
Overall a great experience. My only regret? Not ordering a margarita. What was I thinking??
On to the next conquest!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Let it snow??

As a kid, snow was magical.
Living in Baltimore we didn't experience huge snowfalls all the time. So, when a couple inches fell, we rejoiced. Just the threat of white stuff meant a "snow day" from school. It also meant sledding, snow angels, snowmen. Mugs of hot chocolate were always waiting when we came in from the cold, and lunch was usually a crock of French onion soup. Then around dinnertime, my sister, parents and I bundled in snowsuits, walked to the Pizza Hut on the corner for buttery pan pizza and tall cups of Root Beer. Snow days were the absolute best.

I've been thinking a lot about those glorious days as I watch Julie and Johnny enjoy the white stuff. They bury themselves in snow, build snow forts and delight in sledding down the "big hill." Last night Johnny spent 40 minutes helping his daddy shovel the driveway and sidewalks. Then, when it's time to come in, they guzzle hot chocolate with marshmallows and whipped cream. To them, snow is the best.

But, I'm wondering whether it will ever get to be too much.

I think it's snowed for seven consecutive days, and tomorrow the temperature is supposed to be 14 below zero with a wind chill of 45 below zero. Yikes!  School is cancelled, the YMCA is closed, trash pickup is delayed and a few businesses will not open.

Snow days are all fun and games, but you can't even step outside in subzero temps. So our almost three-week Christmas vacation will be extended for one more day.
Any ideas for entertainment??

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Anything is possible.

Not making New Year's resolutions is the new "thing."
In the past two days I think I've read a dozen blogs or Facebook posts where people vowed to not make resolutions.
"They're not worth it." "They never work." "I won't stick to it so what's the point?"

I disagree.
A new  year is a new promise. I truly believe that. Every year I make a half dozen resolutions, and I have to say, I usually stick to half of them. Whether it's losing weight or running a marathon or writing more. I usually do all right if I'm determined enough.

The thing is I don't know if I stick to the stuff that really matters.
Last year I promised to "live in the present." Having just moved to Chicago, I was determined to have a fresh start. With the kids. With Scott. With me. I just wanted to live in the moment. Not stress about tomorrow or rehash all the mistakes of the past.

I have to admit that it didn't happen.

As I focused my efforts on other resolutions, (like writing for more publications), I kind of forgot about my other resolution--which should have taken precedence. I felt stressed and hurried and exhausted. And, I let it slide---that promise to myself to live life the way it is intended.

So I'm going to try really hard this year. I know it seems vague but I really want to set my focus on whatever is happening at the moment. This might mean setting a stricter work/play/family time schedule. It might mean saying "no"  to some people, or signing up for less activities. But, I just want to enjoy life as it comes. When I'm working, I want to put all my efforts into work. And, when I'm with Scott and the kids, I want to focus on texting, or updating Facebook or talking on the phone. And no thinking about my to-do list or worrying about what I should be doing. I want my heart and mind to be with them.

It's Jan. 2, 2014. So far so good with my little resolution. We spent most of today playing around in two feet of snow. These are the moments I want to live fully in this new year.