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Tuesday
Oct042011

Baby Makes Four: Avoiding the Store With the Bulls-Eye

I have an unhealthy relationship with a certain store that has a red bullseye for a logo.

Photo by JaxPhotography on Flickr.For me it’s like my own personal holy land. As hard as I try, I go there for toothpaste and walk out with a $100 worth of stuff that I simply cannot live without. I can’t seem to spend less than $50 in that store. They don’t always have the best prices on things but it’s a one-stop-shop. I can get groceries, clothing, toys, furniture, Halloween decorations ... oh my!!! 

It’s gotten a whole lot worse now that I have two kids. You’ll usually find me perusing the sale racks in the clothing department or knee deep in the cutest stinkin' shoes you’ve ever seen in the shoe department. I simply can not help myself.

And then ... they came out with the beautiful Missoni line. Stick a fork in me I am done! It’s an ongoing joke with my friends and me. We all love that place, so much, too much. My bank account hates me for it. I even have their card that links to my checking account but it saves me 5% on each trip. I can justify anything when it comes to that store. And when I tell my husband where I’m going he just groans. Ava has caught the bug too. Not only is it the coolest place on earth, they also have a very popular coffee place inside that sells fancy drinks with green straws.

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Monday
Sep192011

Tales of Transformation: Remote (Out of) Control

Yesterday my cable guy arrived in great time. My son was still down for the count during his afternoon three-hour nap, and I was just finishing up a freelance assignment. In lighting speed the TV in the kitchen was working again, and soon I was able to catch up on Gordon Ramsey and his Kitchen Nightmares.

Photo illustration by Sheila Corcoran-Abraham.Like ambient noise (or pollution), the chatter of the TV is always on while I am running around getting as many things done in those three hours. During that time, I feel like a game show contestant where in one minute they’ve got to grab a grand as the dollar bills are fluttering in the air before the sound of a baby crying -- I mean buzzer -- goes off. If I am able to absorb a drip of news or pick up the affairs of anything current during that naptime, even better.

The cable guy asked if I had any questions as he was heading out the door. In high school I would have never raised my hand to that sort of question. It seemed more rhetorical, and I prayed no one would take up the teacher's offer. But this time, I really did need to take things into my own hands and understand something. 

My big question? “Why are remote controls so difficult to use, or is it just me?” Seriously, I can’t tell if old age is setting in (yes), or are these remotes too remote for my visual aesthetic and intellect to take in? Why is it, when I turn off the TV at the end of the day, as I turn to walk away, it comes back on again? Why does the sound come on mysteriously at 2 in the morning? Most importantly, why can’t I find anything on TV?

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Monday
Jul252011

Review: Whimsical 'Winnie the Pooh' Is Perfect for Preschoolers

I am a movie snob.

I love movies, and I especially love seeing movies in honest-to-goodness movie theaters. But I’m very picky about the movies I go see, and in recent years, have used the site Rotten Tomatoes as a barometer of whether a film is a critical success.

So I put a lot of thought into what movie would be my daughter’s very first film. (She’ll be 3 later this summer.) When a well-meaning friend suggested this past spring that I take her to “Hop,” I nodded my head politely. But inside I was thinking, “There is no way some craptastic live action/animated hybrid starring the voice of Russell Brand is going to be my daughter’s first theater experience!" 

Instead, with input from my hubby, we decided that “Winnie the Pooh” would be the perfect first film for our daughter. And it was.

Winnie the Pooh the character is of course a constant presence on toys, coloring books and other merchandise, and there have been several straight-to-DVD releases in recent years. Yet this movie is the first big-screen Pooh adventure from Disney in more than 35 years.

The film takes place over the course of one day in the Hundred Acre Wood, and the gang is all back: Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga, Owl, etc. The plot is thin – Pooh is looking for some honey (big surprise); Eeyore is looking for his tail; and the gang all join forces to look for Christopher Robin, who they mistakenly fear has been taken by a creature called the Backson.

The whole movie is only about 70 minutes long. But the traditional, hand-drawn animation is absolutely gorgeous, and there are some lovely songs as well. It’s a gentle, sweet whimsical little movie – perfect for young children and not onerous for adults. (In fact, a few teens were sitting in front of us with their parents at our Saturday matinee.)

For those with children who are especially anxious, there is the plot point about Christopher Robin being held by the mythical Backson. It’s all a mistake, played mostly for laughs: Christopher Robin meant to leave his friends a note saying he’d be “Back Soon.” The Backson is shown as a “giant creature with a tail” who “sneaks into your library and scribbles in all your books” and “puts holes in your socks.” He also dances a lot and ties a kite to his toe – not too fearsome – and of course (spoiler alert) Christopher Robin is soon back with his friends.

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Monday
Jul182011

The 1st Annual Go West 'Pooley Awards'

Unfortunately, summer is halfway over. But that also means you and your family still have about six weeks left to check out the amazing public pools, splash pads, beaches and aquatic parks in the far western ‘burbs.

To perhaps inspire you to try a new a spot, we present the first annual ‘Go West Pooley Awards.’ But we’d love to hear from you: What’s your favorite water hole, and what makes it great?

The tot slide at Elgin's Wing Park Family Aquatic Center. Photo by Tara Burghart.Best Tot Slide: The shipwreck-themed slide at Wing Park Family Aquatic Center in Elgin. The slide features coconut trees that spray water; there’s even a piece at the end that bobs a bit, like you’re walking the plank!

Best Place to Get a Burger: Aquatic Park in Montgomery, part of the Oswegoland Park District. The concession stand at this pool is called the Backyard Grill and it lives up to its name. Burgers and hotdogs are actually grilled to order!

Best Waterfall: The one located on the “island” at theTurtle Splash Water Park in West Chicago.

Best Water Play Area: Aurora’s Splash Country Water Park has an enclosed area with something similar to what you’d find on a playground, except it has waterfalls, spray guns, sprinklers and more. And the water pressure is .. well, let’s say it’s a lot more powerful than letting your kids play with your backyard hose!

Best Place for Feeling Like You’re in a John Mellencamp Song: Harold Hall Quarry Beach in Batavia. I love the quarry and I like Mellencamp, so this is a compliment. What a unique spot.

Best Twilight Swim: Swanson Pool, in St. Charles’ Pottawatomie Park, has a weekday twilight swim that lasts from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. until Aug. 14. It costs just $3 per person, whether you’re a resident or not. The pool is nearly 75 years old, but it underwent a beautiful renovation this year. There’s something about being in this historic setting, floating in the twilight with my daughter, that’s been one of my favorite summer experiences two years in a row.

Best Lazy River: It’s a tie between the lazy river at Aurora’s Splash Country Water Park and the Otter Cove Aquatic Park in St. Charles. Both are pretty awesome, although Otter Cove probably has an edge in the number of rafts available.

Best Pool for Toddlers: The new Otter Cove Aquatic Park in St. Charles has a true “toddler pool,” which seems rare nowadays. It is zero-depth entry, 2 feet at its deepest end, is entirely enclosed by a fence and has water play features. My own toddler loved having a bit of freedom to roam in it, and it was nice for me to be able to sit on the edge of the pool and exhale for a few moments.

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Thursday
Jul142011

Mom to Mom: Being Gentle to Myself

Guest columnist Rachel Engelhardt wrote this post for her own blog a number of months ago, soon after the birth of her third child. Engelhardt owns “A Closet of Her Own” and is a member of our Mompreneur Directory. Even if you don’t have a newborn in your house, I think her column will give you lots to think about. - Tara

“I am gentle with myself” reads one of the affirmation cards that are posted on my refrigerator. I put that card up shortly after the birth of my third child, in November of 2010.

The author's baby daughter, caught in the reflection of a frame around an affirmation card.Caring for a 5-year-old boy, a 3-year-old girl and an infant fills my days (and nights). The minutes are filled with the caretaking. The laundry is piled high, the dishes piled higher. There are toys, games, markers, balls, dolls everywhere. There are meals to be made, diapers to be changed, and books to be read. Do this all today, and repeat again tomorrow. And most importantly, there are children who want to be present with me, right now, always now. These children live so easily in the ‘right now.’ They know that now is the best time for enjoyment. I try to learn from them.

Being gentle to oneself probably means different things to different people. To me, it mostly means acceptance. It means that I accept where I am right now in time. In fact, I not only accept it, but I embrace it. 

It means that the house is often messy, even though it’d sure be nice if it were clean. It means that sometimes macaroni and cheese is dinner, even though I’d prefer to cook homemade meals.  (To be honest, it means that sometimes a bowl of cereal is dinner!) It means that I’m unafraid to look in the mirror and I’m happy in this size of jeans, even thought it isn’t the same size that I used to wear. (Actually, I’m really happy if I’ve managed to make it out of my sweats and into a pair of jeans for the day!)

It means that even though I’d love to get acquainted with that Jillian Michaels DVD collecting dust somewhere, my “work-out” consists simply of having a baby on my hip as I navigate through the routine tasks of the day. It means that I allow myself a square of chocolate as I unwind with Facebook for a half-hour instead of being “productive.” It sometimes means that going to bed trumps getting one more thing done. Yet on other days, it means forgiving myself for staying up too late reading because I enjoyed that rare quiet time to myself so much – even when I knew I’d be woken through the night by the baby and have to get up early with the kids. It definitely means that “caring for your kids” counts high on the list of important world contributions. And that “caring for yourself” maybe counts even higher.

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Friday
Jul082011

Baby Makes Four: Introducing Ethan Zane!

Our guest contributor Stacia returns, and she'll now be regularly writing a column called "Baby Makes Four" about the changes that come along with adding a newborn to the mix. So far, it's going swimmingly.

Hey ya’ll!!! Did ya miss me?! Do you even remember me? I know it’s been a while but ya see I’ve been kinda busy growing a human and then having said human. SURPRISE! He came early: 4 weeks and 2 days early to be exact, and he’s perfect. 

Meet Ethan Zane. Photo by Megan Abelard Photography.Remember all that talk about names? I do think I might have mentioned we finally picked out his first name but we were still undecided on the middle. Ahhh we can now check those things off the list! I would like to formally introduce you to my son, Ethan Zane. 

His initials are EZE. Oh yes, we went all gangasta rapper. Ya know... Eazy E, the dead gangta rapper? No? Well some of you might know who I’m talking about. Actually we didn’t name him after a dead rapper, his initials just happen to spell it out, but we are calling him EZ as a nickname cause holy cow it’s the cutest thing evah! Zane was a strong contender for a first name but when we came across Ethan we didn’t want to throw away Zane either. And there ya go.

He is now four weeks old. I’ve had such an amazing experience this time around. With my daughter, Ava, I had postpartum depression, and she was also early (5 weeks and 2 days -- one whole week gestationally younger than EZ). Ava’s surprise birth and stay in the NICU threw me for such a loop that it took a long time for me to come to terms with it all. She was in the NICU for 13 days.

I started having contractions with Ethan early on. I just knew what was going to happen. I ended up laboring for four days. That was fun, but I was praying I could go for just one more day. One more day with him inside me meant, hopefully, one less day in the NICU. I knew he would immediately have to go to the NICU due to his gestational age, and this time I was prepared for it. I am a freakin’ pro at having babies and not having them come home with me right away.

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Thursday
Jun232011

Tales of Transformation: Going Native

Moving day came and went. The hired movers were seamless, the contractor finished on time. We were ticking off boxes, getting things done. We both found common ground on some of the design challenges. We were both commonly broke.

Our plan for the garden areas and lawn were to wait a year to see what grows. Let nature do its thing, and we can then evaluate, germinate, propagate and other gardening terms that end in “ate” next Spring.

We came to the ‘burbs without a rake, a hose or a pair of pruners – nothing. Some of my city apartments had a deck or a back door for a few pots. In the summer, I’d have a red geranium as a nod to my grandfather who planted them in two pots at the front of the house back in Arlington, Mass. That, and catching up on the entire 5th season of Showtime’s "Weeds" while visiting my parents in Florida for a few days in February, was the extent of my green thumb.

Photos and design by Sheila Corcoran-Abraham.We decided to hold off buying yard/garden tools for a bit so we could tackle some other items on or to-do list. We hired a high school kid with a John Deere and a rake to cut the grass and pull weeds on Mondays, while we focused on unpacking, setting up and getting back to work.

Spring had sprung and we were beginning to see nice purple tulips popping up along side some yellow daylilies. The yard was beginning to take shape. It was tidy and inoffensive. Even the birds found shelter by building nests and laying their eggs in the trees close to the house. They too could look past the tacky industrial grade front door and settle in.

April showers may bring on May flowers, it also brings on May and June weeds. While my husband and I were inside drawing up to-do lists and giving congratulatory high-fives for painting our toddlers bedroom, the outside had a mind of its own. We had our own "Little Shop of Horrors" on all four sides of the house. Feed me! It was becoming clear that the weeds were boss and taking over. It was time to refocus our to-do list, put the paint bushes down and pick up a 1.33 gallon of Roundup Pump N Go (with up to 5 minutes continuous spray.)

We were learning from neighbors that for a year or two, the house was under foreclosure and the yard looked like a nature reserve, but not in a good way. They were afraid the house would never sell because of the neglect. It was time to show this Habitat for Humanity landscaping project who’s living in this house now. Green thumb – try green fist.

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