Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Walk of life

A long walk with lots of talking has always been a favorite past time of mine.

When I was six, my parents took up jogging in the summertime. My dad would get up at 6 a.m. to run; my mom would go at 7 a.m. I started jogging too, alternating days with them while my baby sisters slept. I can't remember what we talked about, but it was a special time for me, having one-on-one time with each parent. 

When I was in middle school, my friend Amy and I would spend summer afternoons taking walks around my subdivision. (We were very good girls.) We would stretch our legs, gossip about our friends and talk about our families.

When I was a sophomore in college, my friends and I - a mix of girls and boys - would go running at night - 10 p.m. or later - as a study break (my, how my life has changed). We would run in the cold - skidding over ice patches - as we shouted out to one another. We would run north to the Evanston-Wilmette border and then head back to our dorm. I was in the best shape of my life - I met Jeremy soon after, and I always call it the greatest bait-and-switch ever. He thought he was getting involved with a runner.

When I was a twenty-something, my boyfriend-now-husband and I took epic walks. There was the walk of 50 blocks on our first date in New York City that ended with dancing to jazz in the plaza at Lincoln Center; there was the walk through the hills of San Francisco while Jeremy was living there (I was literally so tired afterwards that I fell asleep at a rock concert that night); and there was the walk along the Lake Michigan shoreline from downtown to Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, where Jeremy decided he was going to move back to Chicago for our relationship. That last walk ended with a pitcher of margaritas at El Tapatio.

And now, Jack and I have started our pj walks.

Earlier this week, Jack and I had 30 minutes to go before his bedtime. Jossie was asleep and Jeremy was eating a late dinner. Jack was dancing around, already dressed for bed, and I said, "Let's go for a pj walk." 

He looked at me excitedly. He put on his sandals and scrambled into the stroller so I could walk at my own pace (and he's happy to just go along for the ride) and out the door we went.

We talked. I learned more about his day at school than I would ever learn at home - he told me about his friends, the snack they had, and how they did not build a rocket ship out of blocks that day. Sometimes we were quiet (though Jack is never fully quiet - he's always humming or chatting). It's a great way to end the day - the fresh air calms us and it feels good to move.

We've done pj walks all this week. Jossie joined us tonight. It's been good for all of us.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Watermelon-lime ice pops

I'm back. Mostly. Tonight, as Jeremy grilled pork chops for dinner, Jack and I tried our hand at homemade ice pops.

My sisters and I enjoyed homemade ice pops as kids all of the time. Our mom mostly made them out of orange or apple juice - sometimes chocolate pudding. I, years before having kids, bought myself ice pop molds at the Chicago Architecture Foundation's store so I'd be ready. I knew one thing going into this project with Jack tonight: It was going to be sticky.

And yes it was. But the results are a light and refreshing summertime treat.

Watermelon-lime ice pops
Recipe from The Naptime Chef: Fitting Great Food into Family Life

Makes 8 (2-ounce) ice pops

4 cups seedless watermelon, cubed
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1. Puree fresh watermelon with a blender until completely liquefied and strain out the solids with a fine-mesh sieve, reserving the juice. You should have 2 cups.

2. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the sugar and 3/4 cup water to make a simple syrup. Cook until the sugar has completely dissolved, then immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the syrup to cook to room temperature. (The simple syrup can be made up to a week in advance.)

3. Add the lime juice and simple syrup to the watermelon juice and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into frozen pop molds and freeze for at least six hours.

A clever variation from the author is following the basic recipe and swapping in peaches, raspberries or strawberries for the watermelon and lemon juice for the lime juice. Yum!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Down but not out

This Memorial Day weekend started with such promise. Jeremy and I took Friday off from work to accompany Jack on his class field trip to Chicago Fire Station 98. The weather was beautiful - crisp, cool and sunny. The kids were well behaved, and it was nice to spend time with the teachers and fellow parents as the school year nears to an end.

The three of us had lunch out and then Maria dropped Jossie off with us downtown so we could go for a walk and visit Mommy's office - always a treat.

By the time we got home, I was tired. Really tired.

I woke up Saturday with a fever and a very sore throat. As soon as I could, I got myself to our local prompt care medical center. Both the nurse and doctor who saw me were mothers. I practically insisted on getting any antibiotic they would prescribe to me, underlining the importance that Mama can't be sick at my house. They ruled out strep and influenza, but my tonsils looked terrible, so they called it tonsillitis. I left clutching my prescription.

Jeremy calls Saturday my rock star day - I spent the rest of the day in bed, taking prescription drugs while my roommates trashed the place. We all know how much I love my husband but let's just say he does things differently than me. Our standards of cleanliness are certainly on different levels. And I think during my Saturday night haze, I saw Jack walk past me in flannel long-sleeved pjs. It's 98 degrees in Chicago, people.

But the kids survived and Daddy survived while Mama hid in my bed all day, so all is well. At one point, Jack was on the side of my bed, saying, "I miss you, Mommy." On the bright side, I did have the chance to talk to both of my sisters, my mom and my mother-in-law on the phone. I can tell you that's the first time that has happened on the same day in all of 2012.

And now it's Sunday night. I'm not perfect but I can sit up, which is more than I can say 24 hours ago. I'd like to thank E! for running a "Sex and the City" marathon yesterday and HGTV for "House Hunters" today, keeping my sanity in check. I've washed our sheets in hot water, and I'm praying that no one else in my family gets sick. I'm past the point of being contagious, but I've still been doing a lot of air kisses at the kids, just to be sure.

So that's my holiday weekend so far - hoping yours is faring much better.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A bunch of pastors saw me in my bathing suit

Tonight, Jack wanted me to take him to swim class. Usually, I sit on the side lines, towel in hand, while Daddy's in the pool with Jack. But tonight, Jack wanted me. I wasn't excited to go public in my bathing suit, but I was excited for Jack to be enthusiastic about class.

We're enrolled in a great program - Chicago Blue Dolphins. The only issue currently is that their facility is under construction, so our classes are held at other various locations throughout the city. Tonight, Jack's class was held at the student center at Moody Bible Institute. It's fine for us - close to home. And while I was already feeling a little self-conscious in my bathing suit and cover-up, I just had to laugh when we got to the center - we walked right into a pastor convention. Ah, life. I'm not sure what was more a spectacle - us coming in with me in my bathing suit and cover-up or when we left after class, me, having changed out of my wet suit, was wearing my industrial-strength nursing bra underneath my cover-up with spaghetti straps, a wet pool towel draped around my neck and me pretending it was a scarf.

Jack's gaining more and more confidence in the water. However, he's still not a big fan of putting his face in the water, which continues to hold him back from advancing to the next level. His least favorite part of class is when the teacher holds on him and "swims" him over to me, briefly getting his face wet. Right before she started moving, he looked at me intently, his goofy Spiderman goggles on his face, and his wet hair sticking up in all directions. I held my breath, puffing my cheeks out, and he mimicked me, filling his little cheeks with air. The teacher pushed him toward me, briefly dunking him, and he came up, looked at me surprised and then smiled.

It's one of those parenting moments I could either cry or laugh - I love that boy so much and how much he trusts me. It's a moment of giving him the skills to do something for himself, when all I really want to do is keep him little and mine forever.

And yet, we parents continue on, helping our children to find their own strength and master new skills. Giving them the bravery and confidence to take on new challenges.

Even if it means getting a little embarrassed myself.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Getting our hands dirty

The nice thing about longer days, more sunshine and 80-degree temperatures is that it really distinguishes the weekend from the workweek. There's a distinct break, which is necessary and nice.

Screen time was limited this weekend - computers were only accessed to find parking for the beach, the hours of the Lincoln Park Zoo and a recipe for la paloma.

I planted my planter boxes - supplemented with a trip to the Home Depot for more plants Saturday morning. Potting soil, garden tools and flowering plants took over our small porch as Jack and Jossie "helped." I'm still in love with my find - the spiky, feathery asparagus fern. The two big beauties I bought at the greenhouse looked perfectly urban oasis-y in my square zinc planters. And I happened upon smaller ones at Home Depot, which the garden expert guy there was raving over. Perfect height for your container gardens, gentle readers.

And I'm a cheat on my tomato plant this summer. Last year, we planted a few little tomato plants given to us by our neighbor. We worked, we pleaded, we prayed. But nothing every happened. So this year, Mama got smart. I bought a plant that's already two feet high and even has a small green tomato in its branches. Brilliant!

We braved the Lake Michigan beach Saturday afternoon. Despite the traffic and the hassle of finding parking, the afternoon was lovely. It was warm and sunny but not overwhelmingly hot. Jack is much braver this year in the water than last as he played with Jeremy, and Jossie enjoyed playing in the sand and sitting like a queen in the beach chair. Jack and I built sand castles, smoothing our hands over the sand, leveling it off to make our creations. It was nice to feel so in the moment with the warm breeze, bright sunshine and downtown Chicago in the far-off distance.

Saturday night, friends came over for take-out bbq. We pulled out the tequila because it was one of those kind of nights. It felt like summer. My girlfriend and I chatted on the porch, the newly planted plants swaying in the breeze, the party lights twinkling and the sounds of the city as the background to our mommy chatter.

And today, my bestie and her husband hosted an art-themed birthday party for their almost-five-year-old daughter. My friend is always so thoughtful, and her details and touches made the day so special for her girl, including a made-from-scratch birthday cake. Jack and Jossie enjoyed being guests at the party, coloring, making chocolate-covered pretzels and painting picture frames. It was a messy and delightful end to the weekend.

Tonight, we're physically tired (a million times better than mentally tired) with sun-kissed arms. Sending good thoughts to you on the week ahead - especially for those of you who conquered the Cleveland marathon or half-marathon this weekend,  for those of you who are starting new endeavors this week, and for those of you celebrating your birthday. Happy week, loves.

Friday, May 18, 2012


I felt like I lived this week in 15-minute increments, going from one activity to the next. Early on in the week, my lack of sleep and lack of space to think was showing - my brain wasn't making connections fast enough and I felt exhausted. And it was only Monday night.

Wednesday was my Super Woman day - worked a few hours, volunteered in Jack's classroom, had a parent-teacher conference, had a doctor's appointment, worked a few more hours, made dinner, took Jack to his swim class, got the kids ready for bed and then worked another hour. I was shaking with exhaustion when I went to bed. And I know many a person in my life who pushes themselves to the limits like this. 

Today, I'm slowly gaining back parity in my time. Maybe I mean sanity. I worked most of the day from home, close to my babies and in comfy clothes. Jossie is so close to walking.  Tonight, it's good. I'm having a glass of our summer favorite white wine on our fourth-floor balcony. Helicopters periodically buzz over, as security precautions for the NATO summit, but otherwise the evening is calm with slight warm breezes.

We all need space. Space to think and let our minds wander. To ponder, to explore, to test. The older I get, which is not that old just yet, I'm learning the value in rest and reflection.

Summer annuals sit at my feet this night, waiting to be planted. Jeremy and I took the kids tonight to one of my favorite greenhouses in Chicago, Christy Webber Landscapes Farm & Garden Center, formerly Grand Street Gardens. Just five months ago, we were there on a December Friday night, picking out our small but mighty Christmas tree, and tonight we pulled our red wagon around, picking out vibrant pink, purple and yellow flowers. Fill, spill and thrill, a family friend once told us when it comes to container boxes.

I have found the perfect green for my containers - the asparagus fern. This morning, I had a breakfast meeting with a colleague at Jam in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood, and I just loved the spiky green plants they had around their outdoor seating. I called the restaurant later in the day, happened to get the owner on the phone, who was super-excited about these plants, giving me all of the details. I promise a picture of our finished boxes soon. Happy weekend, loves.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

And remember to smile

Life is hectic and I'm not-so-secretly worried that I'm serving my job more than my family lately. Every day has been jam-packed from the moment my feet slide into my slippers in the morning to the moment I close my laptop at night.

I found this on my chair this morning from my friend/co-worker. It made me smile.

Hoping God shows Himself to you today through the kindness of your family and friends.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Thursday was one of those days - in between me working late and half-wishing I could attend a night event -where I dreamed my mom and mother-in-law lived in town so I could send Jeremy and the kids over to them for dinner.

We are one of many families with young kids who do not live near our extended family. It's helped me to think about the ways in which my day-to-day interactions remind of the communities I've come to rely upon during my life in Chicago. My people.

It  was sitting at an awards luncheon this past Tuesday with some of my favorite colleagues and board member, getting recognized for a really big project that I had no idea we could execute last year. I had a newborn. I was tired. But I had really good people working with me. And we did it. With accolades. 

It's the same luncheon where I saw Jeremy and his colleagues also get recognized for their good work and that's just plain cool.

It was participating in a day-long retreat, surrounded by board and fellow staff for my organization. A group I know so well that I seated the room of 43 in 10 minutes on paper. My facilitator called it "social engineering" and so I would like that title now. Social engineer. We were there all together ready for change. And it's inspiring to know you're part of a moment in an organization's history. With nice views of Millennium Park to boot.

It was going back and forth with a corporate donor I know well. And where we got to the point that she left a dollar amount on my work voicemail and told me to work with that.

It was opening my mailbox and getting a lovely mother's day card from my best friend. It was opening my email and seeing good job news from another friend. 

It was seeing Jack's excitement at the prospect of Maria's daughter Ruby coming over Saturday night with her mom. I predict Jack practically pushing Jeremy and I out the door as we head to our anniversary dinner so he can play Legos with his friend.

It was spending time at Jack's school today, celebrating the school's teachers at a lovely lunch and feeling camaraderie among the parents. It was making playdates, sharing pictures of our kids and sending post-event text messages. And getting nostalgic as we near the end of Jack's first-ever school year. 

I love my family and Jeremy's family very much. I talked with my mom and my sisters on the phone this week. I texted a picture of Jossie's rash to my middle sister (turns out it was just a reaction to a vaccination). There's no doubt of the place they have in my heart. I'm grateful, however, to have found the people I have here in Chicago.

I organized the childcare for today's lunch at the preschool. I was there until the very end, and as I gathered up my children and our things to go home, I surveyed Jack's classroom. Today was a warm spring day, and the windows were thrown open, and it feel like the waning days of the school year. The afternoon noise from Michigan Avenue was soft in the background and the breeze fluttered the glittery paper stars that were hanging in the doorway. I smiled - I could here a clock tick-tocking - I certainly had never been in the classroom when it was that quiet. I'm grateful for what we found here - this loving community.

And it was the woman who rode the elevator up through the parking garage to our car with me and my cranky children who reminded me of the larger community we're all apart of. Humanity. I had my stroller laden down with a drowsy Jossie, a portable high-chair, a lunch bag, a laptop, an extra pair of shoes, my purse and Jack's monkey backpack. Jack's hand was tucked into mine as I held onto the stroller. She surveyed my little world of chaos and simply said, "Happy Mother's Day."

Happy weekend, loves.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Seven years

Today Jeremy and I celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. Marriage is an amazing thing when it works, especially if you meet your mate when you're young and so inexperienced with life. I marvel at the journey we've taken since our first date when he was 19 and I was 20. Each day has its joys and its challenges, but I will never doubt his love and faithfulness to me and our kids, as well as his uncanny ability to make me laugh. Happy anniversary, babes.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Detours and pie

I took Jossie to get her bangs trimmed this morning. As I'm scared to even cut my kids' fingernails, I leave haircuts to the professionals. As we headed to Jossie's beauty parlor, we drove over the recently completed Halsted Street bridge.

This bridge closed in December 2010 for heavy-duty reconstruction, a month before Jossie's birth. I complained mightily. It stood between our condo and my life's essentials - the pediatrician's office and the grocery, to name a few. We learned the detour and gave ourselves extra time to accommodate for the extra traffic.  This past December, the bridge opened to our glee, until we found out that the portion of Halsted just south of the bridge was now closed for construction work. And this detour was even worse than the last. Fooey, I stomped my foot.

Just a few days ago, I started think about the good that came from these closures. Our stretch of Halsted was a lot quieter. There was significantly less traffic. I could easily make a left turn from my own street without having to wait for forever.

Yet now the street is open again. Jossie and I took our first victory lap over the new bridge this morning as we sped along to our morning full of bang trims and errands. The distance between Points A and B has shortened once again. But this time around - that darn detour has taught me to really appreciate this little life's ease.


Despite my fear of making my own pie crust, I do like to make pies. I summon my inner-Southern lady as I pull out ingredients like pecans, corn syrup, vanilla, and brown sugar. Since it's Derby Day, I consulted one of my Kentucky-born and -bred friends for the best Kentucky Derby Pie recipe; it is not for the faint of heart.

The best Kentucky Derby Pie

1 refrigerated pie crust
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
1 cup (6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup bourbon or water
4 large eggs
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons cornmeal
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Sprinkle pecans and chocolate chips evenly onto bottom of pie crust; set aside.

Combine corn syrup, sugar, brown sugar and bourbon in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Whisk together eggs, melted butter, cornmeal, vanilla extract and salt.  Gradually whisk one cup of the hot corn syrup mixture into egg mixture; add to remaining hot mixture, whisking constantly. Pour filling into prepared pie crust.

Bake at 325 degrees for 55 minutes or until set; cool completely on wire rack. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Carry on

Yesterday I was recognized for my 10 years with Openlands at our board meeting. The same board member who called this to the board's attention, also spoke with me before the meeting. He told me how sincerely proud he was of me and my accomplishments. I am never good at thinking on my feet, so I simply said thank you with a tiny tear in my eye - when I could have said so more.

A week ago, I told a friend I wasn't sure what to make of being with one organization for so long, but I concluded with "well, I'm happy, and that means something right?"

It's the people who go beyond being my coworkers and my board volunteers. It's their passion for our work and their compassion for one another. Even after a particularly stressful week, I still feel blessed of where I am. My salary helps our family, to be sure, but beyond that, I've made a conscience decision of where to work. It is a place that remembers that family comes first and fits with my lifestyle. And, truth be told, it feels good to knock things off of my to-do list at work when home can be so...messy.

As I was leaving work, headed for the elevator, I told a co-worker with a tired smile, "All I want to do is go home and climb under the covers."

"But, instead, you have to go home to care for two little people," she said, reading my mind.

Yet then she went on, past my own thoughts.

"Two people whose favorite person in the whole world is you."

And so I am carried on. Work is hard and work is rewarding but motherhood is still the greatest job for me.

I was immediately put to the test - Jack was a grump. With our strategic planning process at work, we're learning a lot about the "presenting issue" - the real issue behind the issue. This can be applied to parenting.

Jack was upset about Maria leaving with his second booster seat but I know underneath it all, he was just tired and needed his mama's cuddles. And again, I carry on, as I held him, hoping and praying I'm making the best choices by working full-time and still trying to be the best hands-on mama I can be for my kids.

That's all the best we can hope for, right? That we are making the best choices for ourselves and for our families. And that everything evens out in the long run.

Happy Friday, gentle readers.