Monday, December 17, 2007

Hen and Chicks (and Husband) on Holiday

P.S. I have no idea what has gone awry with my header. Please try to ignore the somewhat psychedelic version of A Hen and Two Chicks until I can get to it.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Our Alpine Adventure

We are off to Zermatt, Switzerland for a family holiday! I mean, Christmas in Zermatt? A dream.
Difficult to say what will be the biggest adventure of the trip. The eight-and-a-half hour international flight with Ellie and Brendan? Learning to ski at age thirty-one? Eating out at restaurants three times a day with my little guys? Making an eight-minute train connection with all of our luggage AND our kids?
I will surely have lots and lots to talk about when we return. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Winter Gardening

Missing your garden? Starting to feel that "winter blah" already? Looking for a hands-on activity for your little ones on those long, winter afternoons spent indoors? I have a project for you: forcing paper white narcissus bulbs. So easy. My pre-schooler loved it.

All you need is a glass container (so little eyes can see the roots work their magic), a few decorative stones or pebbles, some bulbs, and a daily watering (good work for little hands). I got everything I needed at Smith and Hawken. But I am no gardener, so click here for a more comprehensive "how to" on forcing paper whites.

The bulbs only take a few weeks to get going. And the fragrance. Ahhh. So lovely on a less-than-lovely winter day.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Oh Oh

2007 Broken Ornament Count: 7

Re-enactment of the exchange that occurs daily at our house:
Brendan: "Oh, Oh."

Me: "No, no, Brendan. We look at the pretty tree with our eyes. We DO NOT touch the ornaments with our hands. Let's go get the vacuum."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

C is also for Cookies

Painting our cookies.

Baking our cookies.

Eating our cookies. Yum.

A big thanks to Aunt Meg for planning a perfect baking session with the little ones.

Monday, December 10, 2007

C is for Caitlin

Ellie: "Mommy, I was thinking about how I love you during my dinner so I made a 'C' in my berry sauce with my finger because 'C' is for Caitlin."

Brilliant . . . and thoughtful . . . and a little gross that she dipped her finger into her berry sauce, but whatever.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Never Too Sick For Dancing

The four of us have spent most of our weekend nursing head colds. We have been lying on the couch, staring into space (see above for excellent example), drinking warm beverages, and trying to avoid Mom when she comes around with the box of tissues.

But today was the "Dance-Along Nutcracker" and Ellie made it clear to me that she was "not too sick for dancing." So we packed up our germs, hit the icy roads, and headed down to the Chicago Cultural Center to make other unsuspecting ballerinas sick.

It was completely worth it (for us anyway . . . probably not for the people who caught our colds).
Now back to the couch . . .

Friday, December 7, 2007

Snuggle Bug

Brendan with the love of his life.

Brendan with the second love of his life.

I have posted about Brendan's love affair with his blanket before. His collection has grown to include at least four blankets of various sizes and levels of plushness, a stuffed monkey, and a gigantic stuffed dog named "Will." And he wants to bring them all with him everywhere he goes. It is a lot of luggage for a little guy.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Five Lessons My Breasts Taught Me

1. You can't please all of the people all of the time. Whether you are still breastfeeding your three-year-old, or you did not breastfeed at all (for whatever reason), someone is disappointed with your decision. And that person(s) will surely share their disappointment with you, even though it is completely inappropriate for them to do so. Maybe it will be a friend who says, "Wow, you are still breastfeeding him at nine- months?" Or a pediatrician who comments, "Oh, so you didn't keep going until twelve months? That's too bad." As hard as it was for me, I learned that I didn't have to defend my informed and thoughtful decisions to other people. And this skill has actually come in quite handy in all sorts of contexts in my life.

2. Some things you have to do alone. I don't mean to suggest that it isn't worth the time to read the books, go to the training, and get as prepared as you can when you are planning on breastfeeding. But at 4:00 a.m., breastfeeding really just comes down to you, your boobs, and your babe. Sure, your partner can support you (although in retrospect, it probably was not necessary to make my husband attend the "How to Breastfeed" seminar with me). And the twenty minutes with the lactation consultant before I brought my first baby home was well-spent, if only for the big boost of confidence it gave me. But if you are going to make breastfeeding work, you eventually have to figure out how to do it yourself. Also a good lesson.

3. Cows are mommies too. There is something very primal about the experience of breastfeeding that reminded me that all sorts of mothers have done this for their young forever. The first time I saw myself in the mirror while my breast pump was working its magic, I thought,"I feel like I have seen this before . . . happening to a cow at the 'Farm in the Zoo' exhibit." In short, some aspects of "mommying" aren't always pretty, but you do what you have to do for your babes, just like all sorts of mothers have done since the beginning of time.

4. I embrace my saggy breasts (and my lumpy tummy too). My body has worked hard for my two babes, and I wear the physical effects proudly. On occasion, I miss my flat stomach and wonder how much a tummy-tuck would cost. But then I realize that I would not want to change anything about my mothering experience - even the not-so-cute parts. I am proud of my very imperfect body for all that it has endured and provided for my little ones. I love the time we spent together when they nursed. So who cares if my boobs are a little droopy?

5. Moms have millions of best friends. Being a mother can be a great equalizer. Certainly the experience of mothering is different for everyone. But I really believe that there is a universal sameness to motherhood that connects women. I have had lengthy conversations with near strangers about mastitis infections. Women whose names I don't even know have shared graphic details from their birth experiences with me. When another mothers says, "I know how you feel," she means it. We are all lucky to be members of this club.

Cross-posted at Chicago Moms Blog.

For more perspectives on breastfeeding (or not breastfeeding), check out what other mamas are saying at the Chicago Moms Blog, Silicon Valley Moms Blog, DC Metro Moms Blog, and the New York City Moms Blog.

Okay, so I have read through many, many of the posts now, and this one is the must read. Funny, funny.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sleeping Under The Big Top

My nineteen-month-old son Brendan jumped out of his crib a few nights ago. Actually, it sounds like it was more of a head-first fall onto the hardwood floor than a jump. Not a graceful maneuver. This unfortunate turn of events means it is probably time to get the crib tent out.

Brendan isn't the first crib jumper in the family. In November of 2005, our then eighteen-month-old daughter Ellie started climbing out of her crib. Soon after she made her first triumphant exit, she was climbing out of her bed somewhere between twelve and twenty times a night. Eventually, she and I would just crash on the couch together out of exhaustion. And I was four-months pregnant at the time. This is not a pleasant chapter in my parenting history. I remember feeling totally defeated by my daughter. How do you convince an agile, but not ready for a big-girl bed toddler to stay put?

A friend suggested the crib tent. Out of desperation, I paid nearly two million dollars to have one overnighted. My husband and I eventually got it set up and Ellie seemed to love the adventure of the whole thing. At least, that is how I remember it. I have memories of her jumping around happily in her "big girl tent." My husband remembers her quivering with fear, clawing at the mesh and begging him to free her. And as a result, he isn't so thrilled about getting the tent out again.

So, back to my current dilemma. Brendan hasn't made another escape attempt (the pain of the first try no doubt fresh in his mind). But I am very anxious that a second try is inevitable so I rush to his room every time I hear him stir for fear that he is about to hoist himself out again.

The sleep situation at our house had been just lovely too, with both of my little ones regularly sleeping through the night, allowing for my mental clarity during the day. I don't want to go back to my days of sleeping on a couch with a toddler at 4:00 a.m. But I also readily admit that the crib tent does feel like a parental failure in many ways. Instead of really working through this new development, I am just going to cage him so I can get some sleep. Certainly more capable parents handle this situation without resorting to restraints, but I also don't want head injuries to be my last thought before drifting off to sleep each night.
So what do you think about crib tents? Emotionally-scarring baby jail? Or necessary safety measure for little escape artists? Any other ideas on how to keep a babe in his bed?

Cross-posted at Chicago Moms Blog.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Christmas Spirit

Eleanor is enjoying every moment of the holiday season. She has been diligently creating her Christmas gifts for family and friends. After insisting for weeks that it was time to put up the Christmas decorations because the grocery store had theirs up mid-November, she is delighted that we finally have our decorations in place. We chose our tree yesterday (although it is thawing out in the garage currently). We all had a chance to slosh around in the snow in our new boots in the first snowfall yesterday afternoon. She has learned nearly all of the words to dozens of Christmas songs. "Frosty the Snowman" is her favorite. We have been reading our new book "Olivia Helps With Christmas" nightly. Looking forward now to baking cookies and participating in the "Dance-Along Nutcracker." And she has begun a vigilant look-out for Santa and his sleigh.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Total, Complete Chaos

Eleanor and I are having a magic moment as I write this. We are in the office, listening to Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 on itunes, working side-by-side at the desk while Brendan naps. She is coloring a picture of a horse. I'm doing a bit of blogging . . . and basking in a moment of perfect mommy happiness with my sweet girl.

Here is my planned project for the day:

I am not proud of this. Behold my "kid drawer." This is basically a drawer full of garbage. Plastic garbage. Melamine garbage. It is a graveyard of mismatched sippy-cup tops. I am inclined to take this entire drawer, dump it into the trash, and start over (maybe I should hold on to one or two sippy cups).

I am looking for something a little more civilized and understated than green plastic (but this isn't as easy as I thought it would be). Here is what I have found. This set is a little too "jailhouse" for me. I adore this place setting, and imagine a group of perfectly-behaved children sitting together dining on quiche with a simple green salad while they sketch with their little all-natural crayons or whatever those are.

I think I am just going to order child-sized stainless steel flatware and white porcelain tableware from Michael Olaf. Simple. A definite improvement over my current mess. So long plastic pink spoons.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


So did you let your three-and-a-half year-old (and Jennie Garth's #1 fan, by the way) stay up until nearly ten o'clock last night watching the Dancing With The Stars finale, even though it was a school night?

Oh . . . me neither. Much too late. Definitely . . . not.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Feeding Our Birds

Winter afternoons at our house can be . . . long.
After Ellie and Brendan wake up from their naps around 3:30, we are usually looking for an activity to last until about 5:00 or so when we get some soup started for dinner.
A craft or art project seems to fill this (sometimes cranky) time period quite nicely.

Yesterday afternoon we made pine cone bird feeders for our backyard birds, who we thought might be hungry now that the apple tree has lost its fruit.
Pine cones, peanut butter, bird seed, red raffia and . . . you have homemade bird feeders.
Ellie worked very hard on the project, with beautiful results. Brendan tried to eat a lot of bird seed.
Update: A squirrel has absconded with one (soon to be both) of our pine cones. Ellie is livid.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Holiday Must-Do

Take a break from your stirring, stuffing, and mashing. Put down the holiday wreaths and lights. Your online shopping can wait.

You MUST take a moment to ElfYourself and your loved ones. Watch my family, and then create your own . . . all courtesy of my clever sister.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Almost Turkey Time

Yesterday's post was such a bummer (and Ellie does seem to be intact . . . and happily home with me today) that I feel compelled to post something new in the spirit of moving on.
First up: Do you love this turkey hat? Wouldn't Brendan look adorable in this hat? (Note to self: must devote some time to learning new skills after holiday craziness dies down). Check out this crafty gal's blog if you are inclined to attempt a cute hat like this. She has been kind enough to share the pattern.
Second, if you are getting into the Thanksgiving mood (and wondering how to keep the wee ones busy when they are home with you for the long day), take a peek at my thoughts on Turkey Day with the kiddos.
And tomorrow . . . I have something really good to share.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Me at preschool . . . in 1980.
I visited Ellie's preschool class this morning to give a little presentation about Thanksgiving traditions. Ellie had been so excited about the visit. We worked together yesterday to make mini cranberry-orange muffins for her friends. She helped me to cut out some pictures of traditional Thanksgiving fare for a little craft project to follow the presentation.
I was eager to get a peek at her private life, because I do constantly wonder what she experiences in her time away from me.
When we first arrived, Ellie jumped right into her happy morning routine, greeting her friends. And the little Thanksgiving presentation went just fine. But when I started to do the craft project with two children at a time, Ellie turned very sullen. She lurked behind me, wondering when it would be her turn, wondering if she could take another turn, trying to sit in my lap. She kept asking my to help her choose a montessori work to do. She said, "Mom, I have so many things to show you and free time is almost over and you won't see any of them." When all of the students had completed the craft project, it was nearly time for me to go. I only had a few minutes to sit and work with Ellie. When I said goodbye and got up to leave, she started crying a very quiet, sad cry. She kept listening to her teacher and stayed with the group as they walked on the line, but she was crying such a sad cry.
When I made these plans, an interactive group activity seemed like a way to make a contribution to her class while also getting a peek into her school life. But Ellie thought I was coming to class to spend time with her. I got what I wanted from the visit. She did not. She was still crying when I left. Her teacher assured me that this was not uncommon when parents come to class. I wish I told her that she could come home with me if she wanted. I have been so sad about her feeling sad. I can't wait to pick her up this afternoon.
No more visits to preschool for right now. Too hard for both of us.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Waldorf Birthday Rings

My kids' birthdays are more than five months away (and trust me, I am going to need that time to improve upon the dreadful birthday cakes I made for them last year). But I came across a great item that I hope to incorporate into our family birthday celebrations.

These are called Waldorf Birthday Rings, a tradition from the Waldorf theory.

Here is how they work (courtesy of My Three Sisters Toys site):

Traditionally, on your child's first birthday, you place one candle on the
ring and fill the rest of the holes with figures. On each consecutive
birthday, you replace one figure with a candle. Place the unused figures in
the center of the ring to signify the child's previous years. Finally, on
the twelfth or sixteenth year (depending on the ring you choose), the ring
will be fully illuminated. . . . You may choose to create your own
variations on this tradition, perhaps placing figures that represent events your child experienced during the year since the last birthday or using just one number decoration to represent the child's age along with the corresponding number of candles.

I love the idea of taking time on each birthday to acknowledge your child's growth and accomplishments that year. FYI . . . I found the above-pictured rings at The Wooden Wagon, Three Sisters Toys, and Magic Cabin.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thank You, Trader Joe

I am a Trader Joe's girl. I love the place. Sure, I have gotten a yucky item here and there. And the fresh produce situation can be pretty dismal some days (Why never any leeks? How am I supposed to make soup? Or quiche?).

But there is lots to love. Ellie is obsessed with pushing her own tiny shopping cart (God help me when Brendan wants to push one too). And she loves to look for the stuffed lion hidden in the store (and is usually successful). The stickers. The balloons. All of the great kids snacks. And most of it is organic too. What is not to like?

But today, I came across the BEST Trader Joe's item EVER: Sublime Ice Cream Sandwiches (I swear that I was actually looking for organic frozen peas. I swear.). It is as though an ice cream truck stopped by my house while the kids napped.

Go get some of these as soon as you can (their products are often here one day, and gone the next). They are amazing. Just one contains almost your whole recommended fat and calories for the entire day. But they are amazing. I am going to have to skip dinner because I am so full now, but it was amazing. No regrets on that one. Worth every calorie.

Try one and let me know what you think.

Monday, November 12, 2007

My Little Lover Boy

Brendan is a really, really good hugger. In fact, he gives the best hugs I have ever received. His hugging has made me a better hugger. I'm serious.
A "Brendan Hug" goes something like this: he approaches you with arms open, embraces you and gives you a little squeeze. His hug lingers for a few seconds. It is the best. While he is hugging you, he shuts his eyes and has a totally contented look on his face, like he loves you the most in the world.
And he doesn't just hug me like this - whoever he is hugging gets the same treatment. It is as though he is doing it just to make YOU feel good.
Please, please let my boy always be this sweet.
(Photo credit to Auntie B.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Train, Two Taxis, Quiche and Crepes

I am embarrassed to admit it . . . but Ellie and Brendan have never been on an el train. Worse yet . . I haven't been on the el in over three years . . . because my little guys are always with me (all the steps, the stroller, the electrified rails, my warm car, excuse, excuse, excuse).

David had a lovely idea for a little adventure this morning. With Mr. "I Love All Things Transportation-Related" and Miss "I Want to Ride the Train like my Dad", we headed off to the Damen stop on the Blue Line. And we rode the train three stops to Grand, where we exited . . . and then hopped into a taxi headed for the Jazz Brunch at Bistro 110 (this route made absolutely no sense, but we got there eventually).

Brunch was delightful. The kids split quiche lorraine with pommes frites. David and I had crepes. Live jazz. Ellie somehow ended up with THREE SCOOPS of chocolate gelato. And then we took a taxi home, playing "I Spy" all the way.

Happy Sunday.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Our November

New snow boots for us all. Warm apple cider with mulling spices. Dinner by candlelight. Collecting leaves. Flannel sheets. A slice of chocolate banana bread with my coffee. Slippers. Thanksgiving preparations. First fire in our new fireplace. Vegetable soup with crusty bread. A movie and a cuddle. Two bowls of oatmeal every morning for my little guys. Cute hats. Waiting now for snow.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Spinach Brownie, Anyone?

Originally, I was going to just say some nasty things about Jessica Seinfeld's new cookbook, Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Getting Your Kids Eating Good Food, where she advocates pureeing veggies and hiding them in kid-friendly recipes. But there are a LOT of different opinions out there about this book already so I decided to just say one (sort of) nasty thing, and then refocus on my own attempts to feed my kids real, healthy food.

The Nasty Part

As for Mrs. Seinfeld . . . I am sure that some of her recipes (say the burgers with mushrooms and zucchini?) are just delicious. But her suggestion that moms serve their kids spinach brownies or chocolate and avocado pudding is just too much for me. It offends all of my food sensibilities. I can barely think about it without gagging. I don't believe for a second that the "hidden ingredients" don't affect texture or taste. I cannot imagine serving my family brownies with spinach in them, much less eating one myself.

Although I confess to tricking my kids into eating healthy food from time to time (I think all moms do), I think that Jessica Seinfeld's approach sends two undesirable messages to kids about food. First, vegetables ARE disgusting, which is why we hide them in other foods to disguise how they really taste. And second, she totally overlooks the value in the process of preparing food (i.e. choosing quality ingredients, combining them together in a way that is complementary, and serving food in a way that appeals to all of our senses). She just throws some mushed butternut squash or beets . . . well, wherever they are unlikely to be noticed.

Food is about so much more than nutrition. Kids benefit from the opportunity to talk about food, help prepare it, and watch others enjoy it (even if they don't). Who knows, maybe next time they will try it. I just don't think that getting them their spinach via a brownie is a sensible idea.

Now Back To My Own Problems

My Dinner Ideal: The Family Dinner. We all sit down together and enjoy the same food. The kids sit patiently and try new things. We have delightful family conversation about our day. And then we all help clean up.

My Dinner Reality: It is 5:30p.m. (which unfortunately turns out to be about lunchtime for poor Daddy's workday). Ellie is declaring that her belly is hungry, while Brendan has gone into the drawer to retrieve his bowl, hoping I will get his clear message. This is usually about the time I crack into the Annie's Macaroni and Cheese (the three-minute microwavable variety), and throw it on a plate with some raspberries and a few steamed baby carrots or peas. And Ellie reminds me - again - that she finds carrots to be "extremely yucky."

My Alternate Dinner Reality: It is Friday night. I bought trout from the fish monger that David is going to turn into something delicious when he gets home around 7:30p.m.. We are going to sit and eat together after the kids are tucked in bed. So that means I throw something together (do we have leftover pasta?) for the kids around 6:00p.m. and look forward to eating my trout like a civilized adult.

New Plans

I can do better in the dinner department. On the nights that we aren't all going to be able to eat together, I am going to do some dinner prep earlier in the day so we don't have a mac and cheese crisis at 5:30p.m. when I don't have anything ready to go for the kids. I am also going to aim for more family dinners with food we all love to eat (no "children's menu items"). I'll probably start with Bolognese, which is a favorite cold-weather dinner for all of us. But I am also going to try some new things (maybe steak diane with some broccoli, or crepes stuffed with ham, leeks, and cheese alongside mixed greens). And when I go to Trader Joe's today, I am going to skip the Annie's Mac and Cheese (for this week at least).

Friday, November 2, 2007

"I quit"

Our November has been a little sassy so far, mostly due to Ellie's new all-purpose retort: "I quit" (which actually sounds more like "I quick" when she says it, making it even more comical).

She has yet to use it in any context which makes sense. As she says it, she throws her hands up in the air in an exasperated fashion. Her delivery is so full of emotion and flair that I have to go into another room so she can't see my smirk.

A few examples:

Me: "Ellie, please put your soccer clothes on so we can get in the car."
Ellie: "No, I quit soccer clothes"

Me: "Ellie, no more treats. You are going to get a belly ache."
Ellie: "Well, I quit then. SO THERE."

Me: "Ellie, it is time to clean up our toys now."
Ellie: "I already tell you three times . . . I quit."

Me: "El, have a few more sips of your milk."
Ellie: "I quit that milk since yesterday."

Me: "Put the lollipop down. We are not buying that."
Ellie: "I have had it. Now I quit for serious MOM."

Cute today. Certainly not cute a few days from now.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A Menagerie


A gregarious monkey.

A very animated cat (who loved her first official trick-or-treat with friends).

My reluctant pup (this is the only existing photo of B with his ears on).

The happy group. A good time had by all at our little Halloween party (although I am going to skip the pictures of what these guys looked like after they ate too much candy).

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Our Time-Traveling Jack-O'-Lantern: A Retrospective

Halloween 2007: (from top to bottom) the work of Uncle Sam, Uncle Mike, and Daddy

Halloween 2006

Halloween 2005

Halloween 1999: Our first joint carving project (mine on the left and David's on the right)