Thursday, December 31, 2009

At Year's End

Last year at this time, I was sitting by my fireplace cuddling with my five-day old baby boy. As I write this, that same baby toddles around my kitchen, clapping and laughing and getting into everything he possibly can.

This was a fast and busy but happy year for the Giles family.

Going into 2010, my only hope is to keep moving the direction of better -- better person, better wife, better mother, better sister, better daughter, better friend, better writer, better knitter, better baker -- you get the idea.

Onward and upward.

Happy New Year friends. I hope that 2010 is all that you want it to be.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

His First Birthday

We feted little Colin today on the occasion of his first birthday. He is still recovering from pneumonia so he wasn't exactly the exuberant baby boy that he usually is. But we celebrated any way.

He wore his adorable new t-shirt and played with his birthday balloons.

Grandma and Aunt Bethany whipped up a delicious birthday dinner -- complete with a snowflake spice cake for our winter baby.

He even reluctantly wore a party hat.

And played with his new music box.

But he still has pneumonia. So he mostly wanted to cuddle and be held.

Looking forward to a healthier second birthday for our baby.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Guess What Colin got for Christmas?

We are hoping that we have seen the worst of it and that he will be on the mend shortly.
Tomorrow is his first birthday after all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Can bird seed make this day better?

We had big plans for today.

After rising bright and early (about 6ish), we planned to eat breakfast (Ellie and Brendan are eating waffles AND a bowl of cereal AND fruit smoothies for breakfast these days). I hoped to grab a quick shower (HAH!). And then we were going to get dressed (Ellie in a special Christmas outfit for her performance at school).

By 7:35 or so, we needed to be in the car to drop Ellie off at school by 7:50. Then we were going to quickly spin by the post office to mail our holiday cards. Then back to Ellie's school to watch her Christmas concert from 8:15 until 8:45. Back in the car to head over the Nature Museum where Brendan was supposed to take a class about birds starting at 9:30 a.m.. If we had a few extra minutes, we might even swing by the Green City Market to pick up some fresh produce for our holiday celebration on Saturday.

All that before 11:00 a.m.

Things were moving along smoothly until . . . let's see . . . we had breakfast. And then everything went off the rails. As the clock ticked down to departure time, Brendan informed me that he had packed EVERY SINGLE PAIR OF SHOES he owns in his backpack for an imaginary trip to Dallas. The backpack was of course no where to be found.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

We eventually located the backpack and a suitable pair of shoes. As we peeled out of the garage, I thought I heard a funny sound (although it was hard to tell over Brendan's crying about the fact that I had unpacked his trip bag). And again, that funny sound.

I pulled over and discovered a big, fat flat tire.

So back into the garage. Out of the car. Into the kitchen. Cue the crying due to the fact that the Christmas Concert began in less than a half an hour.

This sad story turns out okay in the end. My heroic brother delivered Ellie to school just a few minutes after the concert got going. After nearly two hours on the phone, my tire got changed. The baby eventually napped.

Brendan did miss his bird class at the Nature Museum. But we made this simple pine cone bird feeder instead. Not a bad substitute, right?

Off to bed now. Kind of a long day around here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

First Christmas

Is it your first Christmas too? Yippee! I am so excited.
This is going to be so great!

(Colin and his seven month-old cousin Saoirse getting ready for the big day)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Back on the Bark

Last year at this time, I was waiting (not so patiently) for Colin to make his debut. And I was also making obscene amounts of peppermint bark to pass the time.

After making about twenty or so batches, I feel that I can confidently say that I know peppermint bark.

I understand the subtleties that separate a great batch from a total mess. I know that one has to be mindful of thickness, temperature, and that oh-so-potent peppermint extract.

So I am at it again this year (just the peppermint bark, not the birthing).

We've only made three batches so far. But we have big plans. This stuff is good.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Have you donated diapers yet?

I don't mean to be pushy . . . but I was wondering if you've had a chance to pick up a package of diapers to donate to a family that needs them this holiday season?

In this tough economy, many families are struggling to buy basics like diapers. Have a look at this Chicago Tribune story about the increased need at food and diaper banks (but grab a tissue or two first).

Community and social service agencies in many Chicago neighborhoods are holding diaper drives during the holidays. Next time you are stocking up on diapers for your own little ones, I encourage you to put an extra package in your cart.

If you are looking for information on where you can donate diapers, have a look here or here.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Man About Town

I know I look handsome. Just look at my sweater.

Whoa. I got it. I got it. I'm fine.

Back on the go.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Wee Windy City (and me) on ChicagoNow Radio Tomorrow

This Saturday morning, I am going to be one of the featured bloggers on ChicagoNow Radio on WGN from 9:00 until 9:30 a.m. So exciting!

I am going to be chatting about how to do the holidays in Chicago -- family style. Listen in for my suggestions on the very best kid-friendly events and activities that you won't want to miss this holiday season.

You remember that your kids are going to be out of school for two whole weeks, right? You are going to need to fill up your calendar with fun things to do. I'll also be talking about great free activities for the whole family with fellow blogger Carrie Kirby (aka Frugalista).

On Saturday morning, you can listen to the show live here. If you have any questions about things to do with kiddies in the city, you can tweet them to @ChicagoNow ahead of time and I will do my best to answer them on air. Of course, if you want to call in to the show on Saturday, that works too. The number is 312-591-7200.

Tune in Saturday morning to hear more!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

December issue of Chicago Parent

The December issue of Chicago Parent is out this week. I wrote three stories in this issue (and had a lot of fun doing it).

First, I have a few ideas for alternative snacks for Santa and his reindeer. It doesn't have to be all about cookies and carrots, you know.

I also have a piece about meaningful and inexpensive sibling gift exchange ideas. Rather than head out to the dollar store to pick up trinkets for your kids to exchange, have a look at these ideas that focus more in sentiment than money spent.

And then on to one of my favorite topics -- cooking together as a family. Families who want to learn how to cook together have lots of good options right here in Chicago.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Let There Be Light

I wrote the cover story for the December issue of Mindful Metropolis. It's called Let There Be Light: Ideas for family winter solstice celebrations.

You probably don't celebrate the winter solstice. But you really should.

This overlooked day (December 21st this year in case you are wondering) is an opportunity to celebrate the many wonderful aspects of the holiday season without all of the commercial distractions.

If you are looking for ideas on how to plan your family's first ever winter solstice celebration, have a look at my article.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Tooth Fairy Makes Her First Visit to our House

Eleanor lost her first tooth yesterday. After weeks of fretting about whether it would hurt, refusing to let me look at it or touch it, and an insistence on eating only soft foods in an effort to keep the tooth intact, the little tooth fell out while Ellie was reading to her babysitter.

Ellie thought that the tooth might have wanted to get out of her mouth because she was talking so much.

We put the tooth into her special "tooth fairy pouch" embroidered with her initial. Ellie drew a picture of her building a snowman with the tooth fairy flying overhead as an additional offering. Brendan suggested that she leave some money for the tooth fairy as an inducement. Ellie thought that sounded sensible so they put a penny in a plastic baggie and added it to the growing collection under her pillow.

This morning, Brendan ran into my room and declared that the tooth fairy hadn't come. He hadn't heard anything. He woke Ellie and she checked under her pillow to discover that the penny and artwork were gone and the pouch contained $3 instead of her tooth.

Both of them were appropriately wowed and amazed. Brendan has officially begun the countdown to when he loses his first tooth -- maybe when he is four years-old, he hopes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Look Who's Not Afraid of Santa Any More

Last Saturday, we went to an event at the Lincoln Park Whole Foods sponsored by Underwriter's Labratories. The kids had a chance to learn a little bit about holiday lights safety while decorating their own wreath.

And then Santa showed up.

When I saw him approaching, I thought, "Oh boy. This isn't good." Eleanor has never been a big fan of the ol' guy.

It isn't just that she doesn't want to sit in his lap. Last year, Brendan wanted to wait in line to talk to Santa during Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Rather than wait with us, Ellie insisted that her Dad take her to an entirely separate building to avoid contact with the jolly ol' elf.

So imagine my surprise when an event coordinator asked, "Who wants to sit on Santa's lap?" and Eleanor exclaimed, "I do!" and ran right over to him.

What a difference a year makes.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Holy Hand Turkey

Ellie's handiwork (a rainbow theme, obviously).

Brendan's take on a turkey.

It has been all about the bird around our house this week.
I've devoted an entire wall in my kitchen to displaying hand turkeys and other turkey crafts.

Busy little birds, I tell you.

Friday, November 20, 2009

This is a brave and beautiful boy

It's funny when your three year-old teaches you about bravery and grace.
You are looking at one sensitive and spectacular little boy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Holiday issue of Going Places

The holiday issue of Going Places Magazine is available now. This is a great resource for Chicago families. Who among us couldn't use some suggestions for family-friendly activities and events to weather the next few cold months with our little ones?

I have two stories in this issue. First, check out my guide to taking your kids to the Modern Wing at the Art Institute. Yes, you should absolutely take your kids to the art museum. Don't be worried that they will make too much noise or break something. This place is full of stuff for kids (and you get to sneak in a cerebral and cultural experience too).

I also have a piece about how to make perfect paper snowflakes (because you can't just take scissors to paper and hope that they are going to come out looking pretty). This is the perfect project for a chilly winter afternoon.

Pick up a copy of Going Places (or have a look online at Chicago Parent's new and improved website).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Walk This Way

He can only go about five or six steps before he tumbles -- but still -- pretty good for a guy who is not quite ten-and-a-half months-old yet. He is usually giggling and squealing in delight at his accomplishment -- and that often causes him to lose his balance.

This is a little man on the move.

Monday, November 9, 2009

TruKid: A Review

The more I learn about all of the junk in most conventional personal care products, the more disgusted I am -- particularly when in comes to products for babies and children.

I just want to give my kids a non-toxic bath. Is that too much to ask? I shouldn't need to have chemistry and medical degrees in order to understand what these ingredients are and whether or not they are safe for my kids.

A few weeks ago, I was offered the opportunity to review TruKid products. I usually pass on these sorts of things but I have been shopping around for a brand of kid's bath products that I could feel good about. Plus, a mommy started this company and I am a sucker for that. So I figured that I would give TruKid products a try.

I am so glad I did. I have finally found bath products for my kids that do the following things: (1) get them clean (2) make them smell good and (3) don't leave them swimming in a sea of harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals. Plus, these products are affordable.*

I tried the Silly Shampoo, Cool Conditioner, Friendly Face Wash, Bubbly Body Wash, Happy Face & Body Lotion, Hero Stick and Spiffy Spearmint Natural Lip Balm.

The ingredient list is full of regular words that anyone could understand -- everything is spelled right out for you. You'll recognize items such as aloe vera, essential oils, kelp, coconut, and chamomile. TruKid products are all paraben, phthalate and SLS free (see here if you want to know more about why these substances are not so great for your kids to be splish splashing around in).

When I put these products to the test in the tub, I was very pleased with the results. My five-year-old daughter thought it was fabulous to have the chance to use conditioner and face wash in addition to the shampoo and body wash (really "grown up" she said). I liked the easy-to-use pumps and the pleasant smell of the products. And my kids were clean and ready to be tucked into their beds. Just a nice bath without any of the yucky stuff.

* I was not paid to say any of these things. TruKid just sent me some of their products and I gave them a try. Apparently, you need to be clear about these things in the mommy blogger world now.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Giveaway from over on Wee Windy City

Have you heard about a new website called This is a great site created by a Chicago-area family that brings together information about environmental concerns (i.e. BPA, lead, etc.) and green living with the opportunity to purchase the basic items you need for kids and babies.

Over on Wee Windy City, I am hosting a giveaway, courtesy of One lucky winner will get an organic cotton tote bag and a stainless steel water bottle. All you have to do is leave a comment telling me what small change your family has made to live a more eco-conscious life. That's it. Pretty simple.

All entries must be received by midnight CST on Sunday, November 8th so go on over and enter. Thanks friends!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Get Grateful

I really enjoy the month of November. Sure, it is getting cold around these parts. But on the plus side, we're drinking lots of hot apple cider. Our garage is stacked high with wood for cozy fires. We've been snacking on pumpkin muffins and slurping squash soup.

Halloween insanity is over (thank goodness) and holiday hustle and bustle hasn't really kicked into high gear yet.

Things are good.

In the November issue of Chicago Parent, I wrote about two ways for your family to focus on the many joys and gifts in your own lives during the coming weeks.

These simple activities can be tools for talking to kids about the real point of Thanksgiving celebrations (aside from filling up on mashed potatoes and stuffing of course).

Have a look here

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mini Massages in Mindful Metropolis

Shortly after Ellie was born almost six (what!!!) years ago, I signed up for an infant massage class. I was mostly motivated by the desire to meet other Chicago moms -- and I did. But I also discovered that babies love massages -- and this type of interaction is so, so good for them (and parents too).

Ever since this introduction to infant massage, I have been known to regularly break out a jar of grapeseed oil and massage my babes (and my big kids too). All of my children love massages -- whether it is a full rub down for baby Colin or a hand massage for Ellie as we sit together on the couch watching a baseball game.

I love this topic so much that I wrote a story about it for the November issue of Mindful Metropolis. Have a look (and check out that cute baby in the photo -- not mine, but still really cute).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

I drive my kids to school in my pajamas.

Somebody out there please say that you do this too. Anyone? Maybe even occasionally?

I don't know how this has happened -- but I have become that mom who drives her kids to school wearing the same clothes that she slept in. Every day.

It has certainly never been my goal to be the most stylish mom at school in the mornings. There are the working mommies looking lovely in their suits and heels. Then there are the put-together mommies who are at least wearing make up and a bra. And then there are the moms like me who -- on a good day -- maybe brushed their teeth before pulling out of the garage.

I never thought that our morning routine would be so chaotic that I would have to sacrifice basic hygiene and the most minimal fashion sense in order to simply deliver my children at their school in advance of the tardy bell. But we are seven weeks into the school year already and I simply cannot figure out how to get up early enough to take a shower and put on clean clothes before we all have to hop in the car at 7:30 am.

Colin usually wakes up sometime between 5:40 and 6:00 wanting to nurse. By the time we've wrapped up his sleepy snack session, Brendan is awake informing me that he needs to use the bathroom and that he is hungry for his mango strawberry smoothie.

We all head down for breakfast. I pack up the lunches, drink six cups of coffee, empty the dishwasher, and then it is time to herd the whole group back upstairs to brush hair and teeth and get dressed.

Inevitably, I glance at my watch and realize that we all have to be in the car and moving in about three minutes or the kids are going to be late. This is when I throw on my ugly, shapeless fleece jacket over my Lululemon yoga pants (whatever -- they are pajamas), grab some flip flops and we head out.

Luckily (for the sake of my kids, other parents and school staff), both schools have "Kiss and Fly" drop off lines so I remain in my vehicle in my jammies.

The other fashion victim in this whole thing is Colin -- who never even stands a chance of getting his clothes changed before we have to head out the door. He wears footed jammies until at least 10:30 am most days.

I recognize that the obvious answer to this dilemma is to get up earlier -- like 5:00 am. I could shower, whip up some scrambled eggs for breakfast and maybe even get in a few yoga poses before the rest of the family wakes up.

Totally not going to happen though. Did you see how dark it was this morning? For now, pj's it is.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thoughts on Colin at (Nearly) Ten Months

Likes: Attempting to climb any set of steps he spies (the steeper, the better); Having his mushy, soft belly tickled; Biting (we are working on this); Riding belly-to-belly with his Mama in the Ergo carrier; Sneaking into the bathroom to play with the toilet paper and dunk his hands in the toilet; Being endlessly entertained by his hilarious siblings.

Dislikes: Losing his footing while crawling and smashing his nose into the hardwood floors (which unfortunately happens daily); Spending a large portion of his life strapped in his car seat as we drop off or pick up those hilarious siblings.

Loves: String cheese

Loathes: Bananas

Next Big Thing: Walking!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Holy Hydrangea!

It has been a very good year for my hydrangeas. They are spectacular. First they were bright white, then pale limelight green, and now a lovely pink. They stand in a tall, bushy row like trumpeters along my fence. While the rest of the yard turns a sad brown, these beauties steal the show.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Feeling a Little Bit Witchy, I Guess

You are gearing up for Halloween at your house too, right? Decorations, making (or in my case ordering) costumes, parties, pumpkin carving -- all that good stuff.

I didn't realize that I was so crabby about some aspects of this celebration -- but my recent posts say otherwise.

Over at Chicago Moms Blog, I wrote about the fact that I am seriously considering not handing out candy on Halloween this year. Yes, I realize that the neighborhood kids might egg our house. What's wrong with a piece of organic fruit leather, I say?

I also wrote a post for Wee Windy City complaining about the decapitated clown heads in the Marc Jacobs display window that are giving my kids nightmares. I get that Halloween has a certain scare factor, but public displays need to be appropriate for the general public (including the littlest, most easily frightened members).

Coming soon . . . less crabbiness.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Our Jack-O-Lantern

The teeth. I mean, look at those teeth. And the cheeks. If you colored this guy orange . . .

Speaking of Broccoli . . .

This is romanesco broccoli. I have never seen anything like it before. It came in our CSA box and has been sitting in our fridge for a few days -- waiting for me to figure out what to do with it.

I find it beautiful, intriguing, and sort of repulsive at the same time. Anybody have any experience with this item? Looking for some inspiration/a recipe/an art project.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Getting all Huffy over a $95 Homeless Doll

Sorry no new posts here this week -- it's been a busy few days for me.

On Tuesday, I read about a new American Girl doll named Gwen Thompson. According to her story, she and her family are homeless and sleeping in a car. American Girl is selling her for $95 (accessories not included).

None of the profits from this doll are being donated to help actual homeless children. American Girl isn't making Gwen available for real homeless girls who likely do not have any beautiful dolls.

All Tuesday morning, I could not stop thinking about how offensive I found this situation. So I wrote a post about it on Wee Windy City. It has been viewed almost 40,000 times in the past two days. Apparently, lots of other people have strong opinions about this doll too.

Have a look at the post and let me know what you think. Would you buy this doll for your daughter? Do you find this whole situation troubling or is it much to do about nothing?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Paint + Broccoli + Creativity = Lots of Fun

I wrote a story for the October issue of Chicago Parent about painting with produce. Next time you clean out your fruit and vegetable drawer, turn your past-it's-prime produce into art supplies.

You'll be surprised at how much fun you can have with a head of broccoli and a halved potato.

Want to know more? Read my article here.