Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What Colin Had to Say on His 3rd Birthday

Time for my favorite blog posts of the year -- the birthday interview! This is the first time that I've done a birthday interview with Colin. The process was . . . interesting. In truth, this interview took place in three different parts because he would quickly lose interest and he also insisted on asking me some questions as well (like "What color is my new backpack?" or "What should you make me for lunch today?"). It was slow-going.

Anyway, here is what my babe had to say on his third (so big!) birthday!


Cereal: Life cereal

Vegetable: Carrots

Drink: Juice

Toy: Truck

TV Show: Mickey Mouse Club House

Game: My football guys game from Santa. I put them in my new backpack to bring to Auntie LaLa’s (my Aunt Patti) House.

Book: Millie Moo

Dinner: Soup. Vegetable soup.

Lunch: Mac and cheese

Breakfast: Waffles

Holiday: Presents!

Animal: Rhinos! Don’t laugh Dad!

Stuffed Animal: My two bunnies and I go to sleep every time.

Color: Blue

Thing to do at school: Play a lot and have milk a lot.

Sport: Football

What do you want for your birthday? Have ice cream cake

If you could change your name, what would you choose? No, I want to be Colin still.

Where would you like to go on vacation this year? To a football field.

What are some of your wishes for this year? More Christmas.

What makes you happy? My two bunnies.

What makes you sad? Lions in a cave.

How old is your Mom? 3

How tall is your Mom? Like this tall (showing with hands). Like a hundred pounds.

What is her favorite thing to do? Do baseball.

What does Dad do for a job? He goes to work at the Sears Tower.

What is your mom's favorite food? Broccoli and chicken.

What is Dad’s favorite food? Sauce.

What does our family like to do together? Go get our Christmas tree.

What going to be when you grow up? I going to be a football player for the Steelers.

Who are you going to marry? Mommy.

Anything else you want to talk about? Napkins. Groceries. And batteries. Hockey Jerseys. Also football guys.

Well, it’s been good talking to you. I hope you have a good year being three. Okay, thanks Mom.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Apple of My Eye

We have a lovely, little apple tree right in the middle of our city backyard. When I laid eyes on this 80+ year-old tree, my mind ran wild with the possibilities. I was smitten from the start.

Our little tree produces fruit every other year. It is fascinating, messy and overwhelming all at the same time. Watching the progression from spring until fall is truly amazing. Cleaning up the dozens and dozens of apples that fall to the ground each day is not as amazing (although every squirrel in Wicker Park is helping to do their part by carrying away half-chewed apples to save as a snack for later).

The picking and apple sauce making have become family rituals. And I love it when one of my littles says to me, "Mom, will you make me an apple pie?" How could I say no?

In a week or two, most of the apples will be gone. We're doing our best to make use of as many as we can (and giving away apples to anyone who is interested).

I already can't wait for spring of 2013 when I see the pink buds appear and we can do this all over again.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Let's Go Bears!

There is a crazy amount of jersey wearing, tackling and (attempted) punting going on in my yard these days.

And when they aren't playing football, they seem to be watching football.

So Go Bears.
And Steelers.
And the Wolverines.
And the Fighting Irish too.

{so much football}

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Attention: Moms Interested in Making Some Extra Money

Over the summer, I told you about a unique, local company called Focuscope. This company is looking for moms who want to share their opinions in exchange for a very fair compensation. Your thoughts and ideas in exchange for money. That simple.

There is one upcoming opportunity in particular that I want to tell you about. Focuscope Market Research is looking for Moms with children under 13 years of age to participate in a research survey on the topic of children’s entertainment. This project is taking place at their Chicago and Oak Park offices. The compensation is $125.00 for a 2 hour focus group (not bad for two hours of your time). Prescreening is required in order to qualify. And don't worry, absolutely no sales are involved in this experience. Focuscope just wants to hear your opinions.

Interested? Please call 708-386-5086 and ask to speak with Daisy in order to learn more
. And Don't delay -- the deadline to apply for this opportunity is September 23rd.

Cross-posted on Wee Windy City.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Back to School for my BIG KIDS!

It's that time of year again.

Ellie has been at this for awhile now. You can take a little trip down back-to-school memory lane by clicking here (she was soooo small when I sent her off to preschool!).

Of course, Brendan has already been to school before as well.

But this is the first time that they are heading off to school together. And it is pretty cool.

As for Colin, he insisted on bringing his little backpack along as well. However, he was fine to say goodbye to the big kids and head to Target with me to pick up a new baseball bat.

Next year, little man.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Spicy Little Things

I've had a bumper pepper crop this year. I am picking poblanos, serranos and jalapenos daily.

We eat our fair share of peppers, but we can't keep up (and I can't bear to let all these lovely peppers that I've been cultivating go to waste).

In an effort to preserve some of these tasty little guys, I came across a really simple recipe for brining peppers and decided to give it a try.

They are in the fridge right now -- getting all sweet and salty (and of course, hot).

I have lots of plans for these preserved peppers (only a small portion of them will come to fruition I am sure).

I'll report back in a week or so with the tasty (or not-so-tasty results). And let me know if you like peppers -- I've got plenty to share!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Keep on Canning (plus a giveaway)!

A few summers ago, I got it in my head that I should start making jam. So I did. I bought a flat of raspberries from Seedling at the Green City Market, a few boxes of pectin, some jars and then I made some raspberry jam.

This jam was so tasty that I decided to give away all of the jars that I had made and then make some more.

This raspberry jam ritual has become a fun part of summer for our family. I make jam. I give my jam away to people who seem interested. They eat up all of of their jam and return the empty jars to me (I assume in the hopes that I will fill them up with jam again).

In case I haven't made it clear yet, I really, really like to make raspberry jam. But that is the extent of my canning experience. I am stuck on raspberry jam.

This summer, I plan to expand my horizons. When I learned that August 13 is National Can-It-Forward Day, I felt inspired to take my canning to the next level -- tomatoes! I am going to can salsa, sauce and just plain old tomatoes.

Jarden Home Brands, makers of the classic Ball and Mason jars, has teamed up with Canning Across America to sponsor Can-It-Forward Day (this day-long celebration will feature home canning parties, local events and online instructional canning videos and cooking demos).

If all of this talk about canning (and yummy, yummy jam) has you thinking about giving canning a try, I have a fabulous opportunity to share with you. The truth is that canning requires just a few simple tools (but you do need to carefully follow the instructions in order to ensure that your food is properly preserved). The maker of Ball jars makes a Canning Discovery Kit that gives first-timers easy-to-follow recipes and the basic tools to get started. Ball sent me one of these kits to try and I've really enjoyed the contents (again, see photo of raspberry jam above).

Ball has generously offered me one Canning Discovery Kit to give away to one of you. All you need to do is leave a comment on this post (be sure to leave your name and contact info so I can find you if you win!). You get another entry if you share this post via Twitter or Facebook (just leave a comment letting me know that you did that too). All comments must be received by Wednesday, August 17 at midnight. I will select a winner using random.org and contact that lucky individual next week.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Swim, Jump, Sun. Repeat.

This is what we've been up to for the past few weeks.
Hope you are having a much fun as we are.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Focuscope Wants Moms Like You

Moms are really smart, resourceful people. They have to be. When you are responsible for the day-to-day details for all of the little people in your life, you have to be on your game!

Moms are schedulers, shoppers, medics, coaches, teachers, cooks, maids and more. Moms know how to multitask, make ends meet and keep everybody in the family happy – and they do it every single day.

Focuscope Inc. , a local, family-owned market research company, knows how valuable moms and their opinions are. Focuscope Inc. is looking for Chicago-area moms to add to its database for future paid opportunities (that’s right – real, cash money in your pocket).

Members of the Focsuscope database are eligible to participate in various research projects, including focus groups, taste tests, product testing, and in-home studies. Focuscope, Inc has three locations: Oak Park, Chicago, and Oak Brook.

To become part of the database, all you need to do is complete an online form. Once you’ve completed the application process, you can expect to be contacted by Focuscope at some point in the future to determine if you are a good fit for specific projects. If you are chosen for a project, you will be compensated for your time (the compensation varies from project to project). If you aren’t chosen for a particular project, your name remains on the database and you will be contacted again for future opportunities.

Does this sound like something you might be interested in (after all, you too are a smart mama)? Simply fill out this form to apply to become part of the Focuscope database or you can click on the Focuscope badge on the right-hand sidebar to learn more about the company.

Disclosure: Focuscope is a new sponsor here on A Hen and Two (now Three) Chicks.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In Defense of Boredom

By now, I imagine that you and your little people are fully into the swing of summer. I know that we are (ice cream cones two nights in a row, kids up until 9:30 every night because it is so bright out, swimming every single day).

I can't believe that the 4th of July is nearly here. Sometimes summer seems to move so darn fast. With that in mind, I wanted to tell you about a story that I wrote in the June issue of Chicago Parent Magazine. It is called In Defense of Boredom: The Case for Underscheduling Your Kids This Summer.

I wrote this as mostly as a reminder to myself to take advantage of all of the opportunities that summer presents to take things a little bit slower. I hope you'll have a look.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fun with Flubber!

There will be a day this summer when you think to yourself, "What the heck are we going to do today? I am totally out of ideas." And that should be the day that you make flubber.

This was one of our all-time favorite craft projects. It is a hit with both little and big kids. You too will find the whole process sort of fascinating. Bottom line: flubber is super cool.

Here are my instructions for making flubber from my June craft story in Chicago Parent Magazine in case you want to give it a try sometime.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Float Your Boat!

When I looked out my kitchen window at the puddles that remain in my backyard after yesterday's deluge, I remembered that I forgot to share my "make your own paper boat" craft with you from the May issue of Chicago Parent Magazine.

This is a super easy and straightforward craft. And all you need is some paper and tape so it's perfect for those "what the heck should we do now" moments.

Happy sailing!

Monday, May 2, 2011

What He Had to Say on His Fifth Birthday

Brendan didn't have a lot of interest in my birthday interview this year. And who can blame him. When you are ridiculously handsome and sweet, who's got time to sit around while your Mom asks you dumb questions? But I managed to get a few tidbits out of him any way.

Happy Birthday big man.

  • Cereal- Cheerios
  • Vegetable- Red peppers
  • Drink- Milk
  • Toy- LEGOS
  • TV Show- Wild Kratts
  • Game- Hi-Ho-Cheerio
  • Book- The Jungle Book
  • Dinner – Pizza and pesto
  • Lunch – Buttered noodles
  • Breakfast - pancakes
  • Holiday- Christmas and Easter
  • Animal – Tigers and lions and giraffes
  • Color – red, blue, orange and yellow
  • Things to do at school – "Make maps and books like the bird book and the mammal book."

  • Sport – baseball, football, and hockey

What do you want for your birthday? "LEGOS! LEGOS! and tractors and trailers like my Grandma got me. Also some workers."

What do you love about each person in our family?
  • Daddy – Because he is nice like when he takes us to Arizona.
  • Mommy – Cuddling with you.
  • Ellie - She lets me play with her. She helped my build my LEGO police helicopter.
  • Colin – He lets my ride his bug.

Where would you like to go on vacation this year? Pittsburgh.

What are some of your wishes for this year? "Maybe I will lose a tooth. I think I am going to like kindergarten because I am going to get to do homework."

What makes you happy? "Ellie because when I hurt myself she gives me her stuffed animal to sleep with."

What makes you sad? "Nothing."

How old is your Mom? "15" (thanks, buddy)

How tall is your Mom? Showing with hands "This tall."

What is her favorite thing to do? "Spending your time with me."

What does Dad do for a job? "Work."

What is Dad’s favorite food? "Pizza."

What does our family like to do together? "Play baseball."

What going to be when you grow up? "A guy who is silly and laughs like a clown."

Who are you going to marry? "I don't know. I am going to live by myself with two Huskie dogs."

What was the best part of your bowling party today? "Opening my presents."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Totally toothless in Chicago

Ellie lost both of her two front teeth this week -- one at Easter brunch (to the total horror of her two year-old cousin who could not believe her eyes) and the other came out tonight when she gave it a little pull.

Ellie is delighted at the prospect of being visited by the tooth fairy twice in one week (who wouldn't be?)

When I tucked her in tonight, she said, "No apples in my lunch tomorrow, okay Mom?"

No apples for awhile Ellie Bellie.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What She Had to Say on her 7th Birthday

Time for my favorite blog posts of the year -- the birthday interviews! As always, Ellie had lots of interesting things to say. As always, I think she is the most fabulous little girl a mom could ask for. Happy 7th Birthday to you, Ellie!


Cereal: Three Sister's Graham Cereal

Vegetable: broccoli

Drink: water

Toy: American Girl Dolls

TV Show: Wild Kratts

Game: Hide-and-seek

Book: "The Puppy Place Series. My favorite so far is Buddy. It's like the best one ever."

Dinner: "I have three: Mommy's homemade mac and cheese; Dad's steak with Bernaise sauce and the skirt steak with that butter sauce, mashed potatoes and green beans."

Lunch: Mac and cheese

Breakfast: Waffles

Holiday: "Is your birthday a holiday? No. Actually Christmas."

Animal: Puppy Dog!

Doll: "I need to pick three. Kit, Ruthie and Bitty Baby -- I call her Lulu. I have two babies named Lulu. I am reading a book with a character named Lulu in it . She likes horses."

Color: blue and green

Thing to do at school: "Recess and there is some subjects that I like as well. Art, dance, technology, library, and I think that's it. Oh, and music."

Sport: ice skating

What do you want for your birthday? "American Girl Dolls stuff, Pet Shop Stuff, Critters for my doll house and maybe some new clothe."s

If you could change your name, what would you choose? "Ava. Because then I would be one of the first people in line."

What do you love about each person in our family?
  • I love Dad because he takes us on trips.
  • I love my Mom because she signs us up for good things that we like.
  • Brendan: He is funny!
  • Colin – That he is also funny.
Where would you like to go on vacation this year? "To horseyland. Where is that? In the middle of the world."

What are some of your wishes for this year? "Well, I hope that Alex and me have lots of playdates and we start that Puppy Place town we are going to do. I started the idea and Alex added things into it. He decided to buy this area of property and I thought it would be good to buy this whole street. Then I decided that this should be near Disneyland so that people would be like, 'This is a great area. It is so close to Disneyland.' So I decided that is where the area should be. This might happen when we are a little bit older or maybe an adult will help us. I think we are going to call it Puppy Place Street, but I don't know yet."

What makes you happy? "My family, My friends, my teachers."

What makes you sad? "When someone is mean to me or I do something wrong."

How old is your Mom? 34

How tall is your Mom? "Pretty tall, but not as tall as Dad."

What is her favorite thing to do? "Play with our family."

What does Dad do for a job? "He works at the Sear's Tower."

What is your mom's favorite food? "I don't know."

What is Dad’s favorite food? Fish.

What does our family like to do together? "Play outside and have fun together."

What going to be when you grow up? "A mommy. I am also going to be a teacher, ballet teacher, and I think that's it."

Who are you going to marry? "Joey. I don't know."

Anything else you want to talk about? "Well, that I hope that Lily* is able to come to my birthday party and celebrate it with me and that everyone has a good time and that I have a good birthday."

* Those of you who know Ellie probably know that this is the name of her imaginary friend who lives in California. But she also has a real friend named Lily and that is who she is talking about here.

If you are interested in what she had to say in years past, you can find it here.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Switchin' Up Friday Night

By the time Friday night rolls around each week, I am one tired mama.

Friday nights at our house usually consist of take out or a lame dinner (because mama loses her cooking inspiration as the week moves along), super overtired kids who end up crashing into bed around 7:30, and the same conversation about how we wish there were better movie choices on On Demand or that we would manage our Netflix queue in a more organized fashion.

We are invariable in bed (or falling asleep on the couch) by 10:30.

Exciting stuff. Sometime routines like this can start to feel -- quite routine.

We were recently offered the opportunity to switch up our Friday night routine and try something new. So we did. Cottonelle Brand (yes, the makers of toilet paper) arranged for a swanky date night for us. A car service (so fancy!) picked me up at our house around 5:45 and then we swung into the loop to grab David from work.

Next, we were off to Graham Elliot for a fabulous meal. Want to hear about our meal? Okay, I'll tell you.

I started off with an Elliot Spritzer ("pineau de charantes, haus-alpez orchard apricot, organge bitters, cremant d'alsace"). I honestly don't know what any of those things are, but I can highly recommend the cocktail. David had something called the Scarlet Letter made with gin. It was apparently tasty, but it certainly wasn't as sparkly and pretty as my beverage.

As we looked over the menu, we munched on the most amazing popcorn I've ever had (Parmesean cheese, truffle oil, fresh chives). We decided to order a la carte instead of doing one of the tasting menus because we wanted to try a bunch of different dishes. We each eat half of our plate -- and then we switch. This way, we get to try six different dishes. Maybe not the most polite fine dining behavior, but . . . whatever.

For our cold course, I have the fluke tartare and David had the game birds. Both were delish. For the hot course, David had a sweetbread empanada and I had the chicken noodle dish -- a deconstructed version of chicken noodle soup. This was one of the tastier things I had the pleasure of eating in my whole life. The dish consists of "thyme tagliatelle, celery x5, carrot marshmallow, and hen veloute." So the dish contained a orange puffy marshmallow, crumbled carrot "cereal," a little piece of chicken wrapped in the homemade noodle and various other components that I couldn't identify. The waiter then poured the "hen veloute" -- which is a fancy word for the most delicious chicken gravy I've ever had in in my life into the bowl. I would eat this dish every day if I could. Despite the very unconventional presentation, this was delightful comfort food.

Then we were on to the main course (more food!). David ordered the black bass with smoked leeks, salted marcona, tomato marmalade, and creme fraiche. Super yummy. I had waygu beef with trumpet mushrooms, roquefort custard, salsify frites, and arugula puree.

The food was fabulous. My date was charming and handsome. It was a delightful Friday night. The experience reminded me of how important it is to take a break from our busy, daily routine and try something new. I am always so glad that we made the effort (and I am reminded of how much I like to hang out with my husband).

Cottonelle, the folks behind my "Friday night switch" are holding a sweepstakes now through may 1st. Each day, you can win a new prize that might help you switch things in in your own routines. Prizes include digital cameras, couples massages and manicures for a year. Check out www.CottonelleUltraSwitch.com to enter to win and learn more about how this fun giveaway works.

Disclosure: Cottonelle Brand provided us with complimentary car service and two American Express Gift Cards (one for dinner and the other for pizza and snacks for the kids and babysitter). We also received a 12-pack of Cottonelle Ultra bath tissue (which I have yet to open, but seems like nice, soft toilet paper).

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Happy Place

You know how you are supposed to have a "happy place" -- a place where you can mentally transport yourself when a nurse is about to draw blood or a someone launches into a painfully boring story?

This beach on Sanibel Island is my happy place. It is spectacularly beautiful and serene.

I have been happily sitting on this sand and splashing in the surf here for over 10 years now.

First, just David and I would visit this beach -- along with his family.

Over the years, we've added three more beach-goers -- making my happy place even . . . happier.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hi There Park. It's So Good to See You Again

Thank goodness for the warmth, the sun, the hour and a half or so spent outdoors after school.

We have missed you so very much.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Use Your Noodle!

We eat a fair amount of pasta at our house. I like to serve it with a homemade pesto or a veal ragu or even just a simple tomato sauce (last night's dinner). However, sometimes I give in to the request for plain buttered noodles. I'm not thrilled about it, but I do it in the name of keeping the peace.

When I an whipping up some buttered noodles for someone's lunch, I often don't cook the whole box of pasta -- and then my cabinets ends up being cluttered with quarter-full boxes of pasta of various shapes and cooking times. So that's no good.

Those nearly empty boxes of pasta were the inspiration for my craft column in Chicago Parent this month. With the help of my handy glue gun, we built this "noodle choo choo train" with pasta shapes that we already had at home. Who knows what you can make with what you have in your cabinet?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The K. Grace Experience: Flexible, Convenient Babysitting in Chicago -- Part Four

Sara and I hope that we have given you a good feel for the client experience at K. Grace Childcare, but we recognize that a few questions may remain. Based on the feedback we've gotten from readers, we thought that we would create our very own "FAQ" (Frequently Asked Questions) post to try and tie up any loose ends.

(1) How much does K. Grace cost?

Once your application is accepted, fees are collected on a monthly basis based on hours used in that calendar month. After the first three months*, the fees are as follows:

1-25 hour placement (in a given calendar month): $55
25-100 hour placement (in a given calendar month): $100
101-140 hour placement (in a given calendar month): $125
140-400 hour placement (in a given calendar month): $200

* For the first three months that you are a client, an additional $100 per month fee applies.

Additional fees also apply for last minute placements, overnight placements, and cancellation fees. And if you don’t use any hours in a month (say, like if you take an extended vacation or your mother-in-law comes to town and becomes your live-in babysitter), then you aren’t charged anything at all for that month. So you just end up paying for the service hours that you actually use.

Is this service cheap? No, but it’s true what they say: you really do get what you pay for. K. Grace is licensed by the city and state, fully insured and bonded, and all staff are licensed employment counselors. And of course, they put every sitter through an intensive screening process. The fees that K. Grace charges its clients covers the costs of providing first-rate childcare to Chicago families.

(2) What do the sitters think about this process?

K. Grace obviously wouldn't exist were it not for the extremely well-qualified babysitters they employ. Here is what some of the K. Grace sitters have to say about their experiences.

K. Grace's thorough interview process not only let me know that I would be
joining true professional childcare providers but also made me feel proud
because I knew my accomplishments in the childcare field were valued. The
mutual respect and high standards make K. Grace a great fit for me.
As someone who came to K. Grace for a second income, I more often find
myself making time (in my already full schedule) because of the families I
get to work with as opposed to a financial goal. The families are truly
great and each experience has been wonderful! - Susie Fogle
K Grace's interview process was the most rigorous of any other job I've had.
There is clearly great care in choosing sitters for jobs as each job I have
been assigned to through K Grace has been a perfect fit! If I were a parent
looking for a babysitter, I would not hesitate to call K Grace.
- Jami Garton
When going through the hiring process for K Grace, I was amazed at how
thorough it is. With two online applications, a group interview, an
individual interview, a background check, and quizzes, I have to admit that
I thought it was all a bit much. However, after having gone through it all,
I can't help but think, if I were a parent, I would want all my sitters to
have to go through the same process! It serves as K Grace's promise to
their families that they aren't willing to settle for anything but the best.
I would go through it all again in a heartbeat!
- Jenn Walton
I chose K Grace because it does what I feel are the hard parts--scheduling,
organizing, putting together important information, etc-- and lets me do all
the fun stuff! What more could a sitter ask for? I feel so supported by
the management; it was clear to me on the first interview (and very clear
after the third) that I was going to be part of a very, very capable team.
It was as if the staff at K Grace went to the produce section in the grocery
store and looked at EVERY SINGLE apple twice before deciding on the best twoor three. The questions I answered were carefully chosen, very conscientious, and each time I was asked back, my confidence in myself grew because I knew that K Grace thought I was special enough for a group of equally special kids.
- Leah Ellenbogen

(3) How can my family get to know the babysitters beforehand?

Let’s be honest – leaving your kid with someone that you don’t know very well can be stressful for everyone involved. K. Grace always wants to do whatever it can to make this introduction process go as smoothly as possible. When the new K. Grace website launches this spring, clients will receive emails from new sitters along with a photo so that your kids know who to expect when the door bell rings. K. Grace can also arrange “play dates” (with plenty of advance notice) so that your kids can spend some time with a new sitter before the first official babysitting date.

As with all areas of the K. Grace experience, the management encourages you to bring any questions or concerns to their attention. They want to do whatever they can to ensure a happy experience for you, your kids and your sitter.

(4) What can I expect when I work with a “team” of sitters?

For families who are accustomed to relying on only one or two regular babysitters, the idea of working with a “team of sitters” might be kind of intimidating. As I mentioned in last week’s post, K. Grace goes through great lengths to match your family with sitters that are right for you. They are taking into account all of the information in your detailed application – plus all of their knowledge about each individual sitter and making the best possible matches.

If you have a reoccurring needs (like every Tuesday afternoon), then you can pretty much expect to have the same sitter each week. If you have a one-time request, K. Grace checks with all of your previous sitters (according to how you have ranked them) before moving on to a new sitter. So as your “team” grows, the chances of having a new sitter decreases.

Plus, because K. Grace sitters follow certain protocols and procedures, you can expect a level of consistent quality from each and every sitter. As a client, I can tell you that my experience with K. Grace has encouraged me to think about my childcare needs on a more long-term basis. For example, K. Grace encourages clients to request their placements for a given month at one time whenever possible. This kind of advance notice allows for a great chance that the same sitter will be available to cover more of your family’s requests.

(5) How is this service different from just finding good babysitters on my own?

I have found that K. Grace not only saves me time finding sitters and then booking them for particular dates, but I’ve also realized that I could never do the type of thorough screening that they do on my own. I don’t have the time or resources for background checks, interviews and training sessions with every single potential sitter. I can’t really imagine myself asking each sitter for proof of their CPR certification. K. Grace does all of this for each and every client.

I’ve also come to really value the fact that I can always count on the K. Grace sitters (as opposed to running the risk that my own sitter might get sick or cancel). When K. Grace says that you will have sitter for a certain time and date, you can rest assured that a sitter will be there -- on time and ready to take excellent care of your kiddos.

Did we answer your question? If not, please feel free to email Kayme, the owner of K. Grace Childcare at info@kgracechildcare.com. Trust me, she will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have (she is super friendly and a parent of two herself).

Does this personalized and detail-oriented childcare service sound like something that might make be a helpful addition to your family life? Want to try it out? K. Grace is offering you the chance to win a $160 voucher towards placement services (which is fantastic -- because you will have the chance to use a few different K. Grace sitters and really get a feel for the experience over time). Note that, in order to provide the best level of service to their clients, certain geographic limitations apply and the winner is responsible for compensating the babysitter for her/his time).

There are two ways you can enter to win: (1) leave a comment on this post (be sure to include your contact information so we can reach you if you win! and (2) Become a fan of K. Grace childcare on Facebook. So 2 total entries per person. All entries must be received by midnight CST on Monday, February 28, 2011. We will contact all of the winners from all of the giveaways next week.

Disclosure: I am working with K. Grace to help spread the word about their services and I am being compensated for my time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The K. Grace Experience: Flexible and Convenient Childcare in Chicago -- Part 3

This post is the third installment in a series about the K. Grace Childcare experience. Need to catch up? Read Part One here and Part Two over on Self-Made Mom.

I've had good babysitters. I've had terrible babysitters. And I've had babysitters that were . . . you know . . . just fine.

In my ongoing search for childcare for my kiddos, I've learned that not all sitters are a good fit for every family. Have you ever had a friend recommend a babysitter to you and then find yourself surprised when you didn't love this sitter as much as your friend and her family do? I don't think that is an uncommon experience. The truth is that the term "good sitter" means something different to everyone.

At K. Grace Childcare, they take steps to ensure that you not only get a great sitter -- but you get a sitter that is a great fit for your family. And honestly, I am not sure how you would be able to conduct this sort of intensive, personalized screening process on your own. It really is unique to the K. Grace experience.

Before you become a client at K. Grace, you spend some time (I would say that it took me about 15 minutes total) to complete their online application form. This detailed questionnaire is designed to elicit all sorts of information -- from any special needs that your kids have to your approach to discipline at home. The form also provides plenty of opportunities for you to share as much information as you want (like whether or not television is allowed or any other special requests).

After you fill out the online form, all clients receive a call from Erin Barlow, the client services manager at K. Grace. She follows up in detail (serious detail) about how the screening process works and how certain sitters are determined to be a good match for your family. Erin explained to me that after the K. Grace sitters complete a rigorous application process, they are trained to follow a certain "baseline protocol." For example, every K. Grace sitter will remove her shoes upon entering you home and wash her hands before interacting with your children. The sitters all know to engage the children right away and keep a detailed log of their activities while you are gone (which is so helpful because you know all of the ins and outs of meals, sleeping, diaper changes and moods when you return home).

When I recently used K. Grace sitter Abby to hang out with my little guy Colin for a few hours during the day, she kept a fantastic (and also adorable) log. She noted how long Colin napped -- and also that she had heard him cough over the monitor a few times (this was helpful information given that he was developing a little cold). She also noted that he was a bit upset when he first woke up, but then adjusted and devoured his snack. Abby even mentioned that she was impressed with Colin's communication skills! See -- helpful and adorable.

K. Grace also does their best to provide you with the type of sitter introduction that you are looking for. When their new website debuts in the spring, clients will even receive a photo and personalized email from new sitters (which creates the opportunity for you to say, "Hey guys, come here so I can show you a picture of our new friend Abby!"). If a client wants to meet their prospective sitter before the first official sitting date, K. Grace will do their best to arrange such a meeting.

When we recently tried two new K. Grace sitters, we received emails from Erin Barlow with information about each sitter prior to her arrival. For example, I knew where each sitter attended school (plus her major!) and whether she was local to my neighborhood. The email also included information about the sitter's other jobs or hobbies, plus feedback from other K. Grace clients. These "recommendations" from fellow clients provided very helpful insight into each sitter's individual personality.

I found this experience to be so very different from having a new person show up at my door to watch my kids. I already knew a lot about each sitter before she arrived. Plus, I felt confident that the folks at K. Grace has put lots of thought into matching these particular babysitters to our family.

Client feedback is another crucial component in the personalized service. K. Grace requires clients to provide online feedback whenever they have a new sitter. This information helps them know what type of sitter to send to your house on your next request. When you make a placement request, K. Grace first reaches out to sitters that you have ranked a "10" in the past. They wait to hear back about availability from all of those sitters before they move down the list to sitters that you've given a lower rank.

Does this personalized and detail-oriented childcare service sound like something that might make be a helpful addition to your family life? Want to try it out? K. Grace is offering a Chicago family the chance to experience their placement process for free (a $40 value). The winner will have the opportunity to experience what it is like to be a client at K. Grace (note that, in order to provide the best level of service to their clients, certain geographic limitations apply and the winner is responsible for compensating the babysitter for her/his time).

There are two ways you can enter to win: (1) leave a comment on this post (be sure to include your contact info so we can reach you if you win!) and (2) Become a fan of K. Grace Childcare on Facebook. So 2 total entries per person. All entries must be received by midnight (CST) on Monday, February 21, 2011.

If you don't win this week, check back here on Tuesday, February 22nd for the final installment in this four-part series on finding flexible and co
nvenient childcare in Chicago -- plus, you'll have another chance to win a free placement from K. Grace!

Disclosure: I am working with K. Grace to help spread the word about their services and I am being compensated for my time.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Family-Friendly Fondue

If there were ever a time to try fondue -- this is it. The weather is miserable. We are basically snowed in -- except for absolutely essential outings.

Bring on the melted cheese and chocolate, I say!

Fondue can be a fun and novel family activity. Plus, it is yummy. Really yummy.

Interested? Have a look at my story in Chicago Parent about family-friendly fondue options.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The K. Grace Experience: Flexible, Convenient Babysitting in Chicago -- Part One

The truth is that I don't actually get out all that much. Most days, I am quite happy to just hang out at home tending to the needs of the little people in my life. But sometimes Mommy needs to get some work done -- or have a night out with Daddy -- or get my hair highlighted. You know, the "stuff" that all moms sometimes need to do.

But I absolutely cannot focus on my work or enjoy my "personal time" unless I am confident that my kiddos are in the care of a competent and kind caregiver. And as all of you parents out there know, finding competent and kind caregivers is not always an easy thing to do.

I have some regular sitters that I can rely on and trust. However, these babysitters each have their own busy lives -- full of other commitments. It is not unusual for me to reach out to three or four different potential babysitters before I find someone -- particularly during the day time hours. I have also had situations where I just haven't been able to find a sitter so I ended up canceling or rescheduling my plans.

Let's just say this -- finding consistent, reliable, quality childcare has not been an easy thing for me. And I have often wondered why this process can sometimes be so complicated and time-consuming.

Recently, my search for quality babysitting in the city led me to K. Grace Childcare. Maybe you've never heard of this company -- but I bet that you are exactly the type of family that would benefit from their services. K. Grace Childcare primarily offers part-time babysitting that fits into any family's ever-changing schedules (hey, like us!). That unique feature is why this service has been a perfect fit for my family.

K. Grace Childcare specializes in providing Chicago families with professional childcare services whenever they need it -- whether it be a one-time evening request or a reoccurring weekly time slot. Basically, when you need a top-notch babysitter, all you have to do is let K. Grace know and they will find you a sitter who is beyond qualified for the job.

So that means you don't have to email or call your entire list of available sitters to find someone for next Tuesday afternoon. As a client of K. Grace, you simply make a request for a sitter (ideally more than 48 hours in advance but they can work with less). K. Grace then selects from a "team" of sitters who they have already determined to be good matches for your family (based on both their extensive screening process and your completed application).

This sitter will show up at your house on time, take wonderful care of your kiddos, and allow you the piece of mind to get done whatever it is you need to take care of. It's pretty fantastic. This flexible service is perfect for such a range of circumstances -- everything from changing work schedules to days off of school or activities that conflict with a baby's nap schedule.

For example, on a Wednesday afternoon in late January, I volunteered to help out with my daughter's girl scout meeting so I needed someone to stay with my four-and-two year-old boys. I had booked a sitter weeks ago, but she had a change in her school schedule and had to cancel. I reached out to K. Grace and they sent a wonderful babysitter named Bailey over to our house. She kept my little guys entertained, successfully managed a somewhat complicated schedule of kiddie drop-offs and pick-ups and even dealt with a throw up incident. Most importantly, my boys loved her.

Does this service sound like something that might make your life a little bit easier? Want to try it out? K. Grace is offering a Chicago family the chance to experience their placement process for free (a $40 value). The winner will have the opportunity to experience what it is like to be a client at K. Grace (note that, in order to provide the best level of service to their clients, certain geographic limitations apply and the winner is responsible for compensating the babysitter for her/his time).

There are two ways you can enter to win: (1) leave a comment on this post (be sure to include your contact info so we can reach you if you win!) and (2) Become a fan of K. Grace Childcare on Facebook. So 2 total entries per person. All entries must be received by midnight (CST) on Monday, February 7, 2011.

And if you don't win this week, come back on Tuesday, February 8th for the next installment in this four-part series on finding flexible and convenient childcare in Chicago.

Next Tuesday, we will be talking more about exactly how the K. Grace Childcare process works from both a provider and client standpoint -- plus, you'll have another chance to win a free placement from K. Grace!

Disclosure: I am working with K. Grace to help spread the word about their services and I am being compensated for my time.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Four Days of Giveaways from Little Beans Cafe: A Little Time for Mama

Listen -- I like quality playtime with my kiddos as much as the next mama, but I am not afraid to admit that sometimes I need a little break.

And by break, I don't mean a leisurely nap or anything like that. Sometimes I need a break from my kids so that I can attend to all of the other pressing issues in my life -- like paying bills, finishing up work assignments, actually having an adult conversation with a friend, or getting through the myriad of items on my to-do list.

Sometimes Mommy needs a minute of alone time (preferably with a hot beverage and something sweet to go with it).

Luckily for me, the newly-opened Little Beans Cafe can help with this kind of predicament. In addition to being a fabulous indoor play space and cafe destination for city families, Little Beans Cafe has a few really unique offerings for parents -- including supervised play and several other "mom-centric" offerings such as manicures and yoga classes.

Supervised play is basically on-site entertainment and fun for your kiddo while you return that phone call or meet your deadline in the adjacent cafe space. Your little ones will be placed in age -appropriate groups with a trained staff member who will keep them entertained with various activities and projects while you do what you need to do (while remaining on site). Parents must sign up in advance to reserve their space. Supervised play costs $20 for 1 and a half hours (admission to play space included).

Another great mama-only option is the Mommy Time Yoga class offered several times a week. Be sure to check back and see what other mama-offerings are added to the calendar in the coming weeks (I've heard rumors about manicures and classes on how to make your own baby food!).

In the spirit of celebrating quality mommy time, Little Beans Cafe is giving away one free play date package -- a play date for a group of up to 10 people. This would be a fabulous chance to get together with some of the mamas in your life that you never get to really sit and talk to. Let the kids explore the custom Little Beans village while you sip coffee and catch up.

There are a couple of ways you can enter to win this fab prize: (1) leave a comment on this post (make sure you include your contact info so we can get in touch with you if you win!); (2) Become a Fan of Little Beans Cafe on Facebook (and leave a separate comment telling me that you've done so); and (3) Follow @LittleBeansCafe on Twitter (and leave a separate comment telling me that you've done so).

So three total entries per person. All entries must be received by midnight CST on Friday, January 28, 2011. We will randomly choose and winner and contact that lucky, lucky individual on Monday, January 31, 2011.

This is the final giveaway of the week. If you haven't done so already, be sure to enter to win the other amazing prizes listed below (but hurry, because time is running out!)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Four Days of Giveaways from Little Beans Cafe: Play, Play All Day!

Have you heard about the hottest new opening in town -- at least for the age 6-and-under set? Trust me when I tell you that Little Beans Cafe (an indoor play space and family cafe located near Elston and Webster) is going to be the place to be for Chicago families this winter.

Little Beans offers the perfect combination of fun for kiddos and comfort and convenience for parents. It is part imaginative play space and part family cafe. Kids can play, run and explore in the customized indoor interactive village (which is a-maz-ing!) while mom and/or dad grab something yummy to eat from the cafe.

Little Beans is really all about creating opportunities for Chicago families to engage in imaginative play together. Drop-ins are $12 per child (plus $7 for each additional sibling). Adults are free. Stop in and let your kids explore this interactive, creative space while you grab an Intelligentsia coffee, goodies from Flirty Cupcakes or one of the many other fantastic menu offerings (seriously, yummy stuff for you and the kiddos).

Want to get in on the fun? For free? Little Beans is giving away a one-month unlimited membership (Value: $85). There are a couple of ways you can enter to win this fab prize: (1) leave a comment on this post (make sure you include your contact info so we can get in touch with you if you win!); (2) Become a Fan of Little Beans Cafe on Facebook (and leave a separate comment telling me that you've done so); and (3) Follow @LittleBeansCafe on Twitter (and leave a separate comment telling me that you've done so).

So three total entries per person. All entries must be received by midnight CST on Friday, January 28, 2011. We will randomly choose and winner and contact that lucky, lucky individual on Monday, January 31, 2011.

Wait, there's more -- lots more! All week long, Self-Made Mom (Sara Fisher), Sassy Moms in the City (Alison Ray) and I are going to be giving away fantastic items from Little Beans as we gear up for our big Media/VIP event at Little Beans Cafe on Friday.

So enter to win this great prize right now and then head over to Self-Made Mom's site tomorrow to see what cool Little Beans item she is giving away to a lucky reader (could even be you!).

Disclosure: I am working with Little Beans Cafe to help promote the grand opening and Media/VIP Event. I am being compensated for my time.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Our Week with Penny: A Retrospective

Another snack, Penny? Sure, Why not.

Let's play ball in the backyard! Everybody -- snowsuits on! Let's go!

Back to my spot on the living room couch.

More playing! More playing!

And . . . back to the couch again.

We miss you Penny (some of the little people in the house really, really miss you).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

We Got a Dog! (well, sort of)

Meet Penny!

She really belongs to my sister and her family -- but this week, she belongs to us!

When Ellie was about three years-old, she asked me when we could get a dog. Like an idiot, I said, "When you are ten."

Of course, she remembers that exchange perfectly and we've been in a count-down ever since.

Most days, the three-and-a-half year wait until Ellie actually turns ten seems entirely too short and I rue the day I ever uttered those words.

With all of the people and needs that we already have in our house, I often question my ability to competently deal with more potty and discipline issues.

But when the opportunity to babysit Penny for a few days arose, we jumped on it. So this week, we are giving it a trial run.

Admittedly, this isn't really a true trial because Penny is the easiest dog ever. But she still needs to be fed, played with, let out and loved. And I actually think we're doing a pretty darn good job so far.

Miss Penny is pretty nice to have around actually. The kids love her and she seems to find them kind of intriguing, at least part of the time (and the other time she spends snoozing on my living room couch in relative silence -- which is fine too.)

Penny will be with us for a few more days. So I'll be back with updates on our so-far pawsitive foray into dog ownership.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ice Cream Clown Sundaes for Colin

We aren't really cake people.

Between Colin's egg allergy and Ellie's general anti-cake-or-cupcake sentiment, I've found that it is easier to stick to ice cream for birthday celebrations.

For Ellie's birthday last April, we made ice cream flower pots (complete with hidden gummy worms) and those were a big hit.

For Colin's recent birthday celebration, my clever and talented sister-in-law Bethany created these ice cream clowns. We dipped the rims of plain ol' sugar cones in melted chocolate and then covered them in sprinkles. Bethany piped frosting up and down the "hats" to create the most adorable puffs. We used chocolate chips for the eyes, a red M&M for the nose and a piece of Twizzler for the mouth.

Viola. Tasty and fun.