A Girl President

William received a sticker book about US presidents for his birthday. He is currently obsessed with sticker books, so loves talking about this new one. He and Matt were looking through it and this is what I heard from the other room...

W: "Why are they all guys?"
Matt: "Well, I bet you'll see a girl president in your life."
W: "Like Word Girl?"
Matt: "Yeah, Word Girl would be a good president. Or some other girl. But I have a feeling there will be one."

This is why I love my husband. He had no idea I could even hear him. If you know Matt this conversation isn't a surprise. Most days I wouldn't even think twice about it, but I'm getting tired of hearing about sexism, racism, and all the other BS-isms that invade our daily lives as ignorant people get more and more extreme.

Election years bring out the worst in people. But, sometimes they also remind you why you respect other people and why you're so happy you married them.


My Boys

At first glance my boys look very different from each other. W has dark hair, dark eyes, and a more olive skin tone. B is fair with blond hair and blue eyes. Their eye shape is different, but their noses, cheeks, mouth, and chin are very similar... Except people don't usually look long enough to notice it. They take a quick inventory and then ask me how my two boys look so different. I've grown accustomed to making a joke of it, rather than pointing out their similarities.

While I was reading the amazing novel The Baker's Daughter I couldn't help but think that if we were in a different place at a different time these differences could allow for very different lives for my kids. If we were living within the setting of a book and were a Jewish family living in Nazi Germany, B would fit the perfect Aryan stereotype. Would he have been spared? Would a family have taken him in to protect him? Would I encourage him to pretend to be something else to protect himself, even if it meant W wouldn't have the same chance? I found myself wondering this again and again throughout the book. And I still can't shake the question.

I'd like to think that we live in a place and time when these simple differences don't matter and the world will view each of them the same, regardless of hair or eye color. But, we all have stereotypes, right? It can't be compared to real true bigotry or genocide, but I do wonder what the future has in store for two boys who outwardly might look so different at first glance.

This post is inspired by Sarah McCoy's The Baker's Daughter. In a small Texan town, Reba discovers Elsie's German Bakery and falls in love with more than the pastries. Shes drawn to Elsie's life in Germany during the last year of WWII. Join From Left to Write on August 29  as we discuss The Baker's Daughter. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.


William: Age 4

Happy 4th birthday to William! Our little guy became a great big brother and forfeited his role as the baby in the family pretty easily. He is idolized by his younger brother. The relationship between William and Beckett has been a highlight for all of us, especially William, who loves having a brother.

William has grown so much this year. Sometimes I find myself doing a double take. We have a REAL boy in our house now. He loves Super Heroes, bugs, and dinosaurs. He gets dirty, his feet are smelly, but he is still incredibly sweet and cuddly. William's first year of preschool really helped him blossom socially and he's still figuring out his role in social situations with other kids. He still likes to play on his own and you'll often find him wandering away to play with something that has caught his attention.

William creates elaborate games and story lines in his head. He runs around the house, having a conversation, acting out a scenario, which he will rarely explain. His imagination is really incredible. William still loves books, but has become more interested in cartoons and video games. He is obsessed with stickers.

His limitless appetite has started to become more picky and William is becoming less open to trying new things or eating some of the adventurous items he used to enthusiastically eat. Currently his favorite foods are California rolls, hamburgers, hummus, peanut butter & jelly, and pancakes.

William is clumsy and tentative physically. He needs to really wrap his head around things before giving them a try. He has a high tolerance for pain and rarely cries when he falls or gets hurt.

He is still verbally many years ahead of his age and I love that I can full, serious conversations with him. He is a great lunch date and always keeps me interested. Anytime he hears a new word he asks for an explanation of what it means and then examples of how to use it, then includes it in his own vocabulary. It's normal to hear him properly use words like "prefer" or "familiar."

William's two best qualities are his sweetness and sense of humor. He is thoughtful about things, shares hugs and kisses happily, and makes me laugh harder than anyone else. Having other parents tell me they enjoy these things about William and are happy he is friends with their kids has really made me proud of him. It's easy for me to see all of his great qualities as his mom, but hearing it from others makes my day.

I worry that William's sweetness will be taken advantage of, as he wears his emotions on his sleeve and easily gets his feelings hurt. When I've seen kids say things that hurt him, he often hangs his head rather than defending himself or letting it roll off his shoulders. It's the thing that makes him so genuinely sweet and I hope he finds a way to handle this part of growing up.

William is turning out to be a great kid and we are so proud of him. I feel lucky to know and love him each and every day. He is an extraordinary boy.

Previous Birthday Posts:


Brookfield Zoo Trip

We went to Brookfield Zoo a couple of weeks ago. It was awesome. I wrote a post about it over on TheChicagoMoms.com that you should check out and then plan your trip to this awesome local zoo.

Look how much fun we had!

Full discloaure: I received complimentary tickets to the zoo and all exhibits for my family. All opinions are my own.


Meal Planning: What Really Happened

I like sharing meal plans on this blog. Not only does it force me to give some thought to our schedule for the week, but it gets me to actually prepare for it. The thing is... Meal planning is one of those things that doesn't always work the way you planned. Let's take this week, for instance.

This was my plan:
Monday: Wheat Penne With Peas and Homemade Pesto (yum!) and green salad
Tuesday: Paprika Chicken with Rice and Pattypan Squash
Wednesday: Royal Pies from Pleasant House Bakery and green salad
Thursday: Something with kale (cuz I have a big bag of it...)
Friday: Pizza for the guys... Mom is going out

And here is how it really went down:
Monday: Wheat Penne With Peas and Homemade Pesto and green salad (PLAN!)
Tuesday: Taco Night!
Wednesday: Greek Peasant Salad and Baguettes
Thursday: Mac and cheese (with peas and tuna)
Friday: Matt's parents are coming in, so we're all going out for dinner

See? I stuck to our plan ONE NIGHT. And now I have a bag of kale, squash, and mixed greens that will most likely go bad. It's wasteful and frustrating, but I did the best I could to get by. I made things that sounded good and made my life easier. It's hard to guess what you'll be hungry for in four days... So, there's give and take with meal planning, like everything else.

I hear from people that they don't make meal plans because they're just too hard to stick to, which isn't wrong. Maybe sticking to meal plans isn't the point. The point is creating one, ensuring your family enjoys healthy meals together, and trying not to waste too many fresh items by the end of the week.


Lessons From The Dailey Method

I've been going to classes at The Dailey Method for the last few weeks. It's been really great for me. Not only has it given me time for myself, but it's also been a good reminder that pregnant ladies need to get their exercise on.

Here are five things I've learned from working out at The Dailey Method:

1. The Dailey Method (like so many other types of exercise) is a practice... You have to work at it, sometimes you're just a mess and other days you're in the zone. There are hundreds of things that affect you each day, so don't stress if you're not "on." Practicing is a step in the right direction.

2. You look and feel better when you're working out in nice gym clothes. Yes, lululemon and Lucy and Athletica might be a little expensive, but worth getting some good basics. You're going to watch yourself in a mirror, splurge a little and feel good about what you see.

3. Little movements make big differences. Just go to a class and you'll understand.

4. Pregnant women can work out and will feel better if they do. Yeah, sometimes you have to modify an exercise or stop for water more often... But, all in all, even a tough work out - like The Dailey Method - is doable.

5. Mom needs some time. The women who own this location are moms, most of the teachers have been moms. They get it. Remember the failed attempt at keeping the boy's in the kid's room? No one judged me for leaving my kids in there in the first place... Instead, they apologized that I wasn't able to use the hour of time I had carved out for myself. I knew they understood.

I've loved these classes. Loved clearing my head, feeling good afterward, and feeling strong. So, moms, whether it's The Dailey Method or something else, find your outlet.

Full disclosure: I received an unlimited month of classes at The Dailey Method North Shore location. All opinions are my own.


Our Meal Plan

I can't tell you how much easier the week goes when I make a plan for our dinners. Even if I don't follow it completely (which I often don't), it still makes me feel prepared and always have something to fall back on.

Here's what we're cooking this week:

Monday: Wheat Penne With Peas and Homemade Pesto (yum!) and green salad
Tuesday: Paprika Chicken with Rice and Pattypan Squash
Wednesday: Royal Pies from Pleasant House Bakery and green salad
Thursday: Something with kale (cuz I have a big bag of it...)
Friday: Pizza for the guys... Mom is going out

What are your dinner plans this week?

The Farmtastic Food Trek

I really don't like grocery shopping. OK, let me clarify this... I have grown to dislike grocery shopping in big chain grocery stores. Why? The produce is often not local (though this is getting better) and their organic selection tends to be disappointing and overpriced. It's also hard to grocery shop with kids and the stores are seemingly overrun with food marketed to children, yet terrible for them.

I tend to shop at smaller stores, farmer's markets, Whole Foods, and order from services like Artizone, but sometimes I just have to go to the grocery store with the kids. If you're like me and tend to struggle with your visits, I might have just the activity to help...

Illinois Farm Families is hosting the Farmtastic Food Trek now until September 30th. It's a really great way to teach your kids where their food is coming from, turn grocery shopping into a game, and have fun at the grocery store.

Here's how it works: Farmers provide clues on www.WatchUsGrow.org that lead to the food they raise. Families then use those 15 clues to find that food at local grocery stores. Once you identify the food referenced in the clues, use Instagram™ to take pictures of your kids holding the products and add the hashtag #foodtrek in the photo comment.
Go to www.WatchUsGrow.org and use the Farmtastic Food Trek button on the homepage, which will link you to the clues, instructions on how to play, as well as the complete contest rules.

To win, you must upload five accurate photos using the hashtag #foodtrek. Three random winners will be chosen. Check the website for all of the details. The winners will receive: A gift certificate for $500 in free groceries, a family farm tour, and farm games and toys!

Sounds fun, right? The clues are fun and aren't too difficult. Can't wait to start participating the next time we're at the grocery store! I'll share some photos on here so you can see our findings!

Full disclosure: I was compensated for partnering with Illinois Farm Families on this campaign. All opinions are my own.


My Stonyfield Superhero Alter Ego: The Delightful Yogurt

Making banana bread... Secret ingredient? Greek yogurt!

Superheroes are all the rage around our house these days. A certain preschooler is slightly obsessed with them and his little brother follows suit, lifting up any figure he can get his hands on and making it fly through the air as he makes sounds effects. I don't know much about superheroes, but I'm learning a ton and they're actually pretty fun.

Stonyfield is giving moms like me the opportunity to transform ourselves into Food Superheroes. Who am I? The Delightful Yogurt, which is perfect considering I eat yogurt pretty much every day and let's face it... I'm delightful, right?!?!

You can choose your name, your superpower, and your favorite Stonyfield food. Visit www.iWillKnowMyFood.com to make your own persona. Trust me, it's fun! And then come back and tell me what your superhero alter ego is in the comment section. Why?

Because I'm giving away a $50 Whole Foods gift certificate, a Stonyfield "Food Superhero" cape, a coupon for a free 6 oz Stonyfield yogurt, and some temporary tattoos:

Here's how to enter:

1. Comment on this post and share the name of your Food Superhero alter ego. Be sure to include an email address if it doesn't connect back to your blog. (You must comment to be entered!)

2. Follow Hannemaniacs. (Look on the right side bar to follow.) Click on the "Join this Site" button.

3. Like the Hannemaniacs Facebook page.

4. Follow Hannemaniacs on Twitter.

5. Mention this giveaway to your network on Facebook and/or Twitter (one entry for each) by pasting this in your status: Enter to win a Stonyfield Food Superhero Package including a Whole Foods gift certificate at www.hannemaniacs.com.

Please let me know which of the above actions you have done to be counted.

As always, that's SIX possible entries per person. Contest ends at 9 am Friday, August 31st. Enter now!

Disclosure: I received a $50 Whole Foods certificate, Food Superhero cape, Stonyfield yogurt coupon, and temporary tattoos and another package to give away to a reader. All opinions are my own.


Good Deeds 2012: Week 33 Recycled Wire Hangers

Good Deed: Saved box of wire hangers from the landfill.

I don't reuse the wire hangers we get from the dry cleaner, but I feel terrible throwing them away to sit in a landfill forever, so I've been collecting them for a while. I wasn't sure what I would do with them, but I knew that I'd figure it out.

Three years later and I decided to ask my dry cleaner if they would like them, which they did. So, the next time I brought in clothes, I also carried in a box of hangers. And guess what? They were actually really appreciative.

I figure this counts as a good deed for the environment and my dry cleaner, which is a family owned business with a husband and wife who work 12+ hours/six days a week. If this saved them a few pennies, then I'm happy to keep doing it.

Trust me, it would be much easier to just throw the hangers away, but I'm glad I didn't.

What was your good deed this week?


Howie Is Sick, But It's All About Me

Remember our dog, Howie? Yeah, we have a dog. A dog that has dropped far to the bottom of the list. I've written about Howie on occasion. Not enough, clearly. Howie just isn't my thing anymore. He is Matt's responsibility and that's how it should be, because my plate is overflowing. And sometimes I get a little resentful when he gets in the way. Clearly I am not the poster dog parent these days.
The other day I was working from home and on a call when I started to smell... something. I thought to myself, "No way. This dog never has accidents." I investigated and found the source. I'll spare you the details, but let's just say that clean up was not pretty and it was in the worst possible location in the house... The only room with carpeting and right in the middle of where the kids play.

I considered that he might be sick for a split second and then decided that it was must be a behavior thing... And by behavior I mean: he was punishing me personally. I kept him outside for the rest of the day and grumbled to myself about how mad I was, but thankful that I was working from home and the kids weren't here when I found it. I have no idea how our nanny would have handled it had she been here.

The next morning I'm sleeping until I hear Matt come into the bedroom, "Howie did it again. How should I clean this up?" It wasn't even 6 am yet. Good morning!

Anger launched me out of bed and I told him I would take care of it. Scrubbing dog poop out of your carpet is not something I would recommend while seven months pregnant and/or before coffee. I became convinced it was behavioral. Matt had taken Howie out at 3 am and then again before he got in the shower and Howie struck again. Matt's manager and his assistant were out last week, so working from home wasn't an option for him, which meant I had to work from home and continue with Howie duty.

I turned to the vet (who now thinks I'm totally crazy). I described what was going on to her and her response was: colitis. Here is a picture of our conversation:

Me: "Are you sure? Because I kind of think it's behavioral."

Vet: "No, this doesn't seem behavioral. It can be stress-induced, though."

Me: "Yeah, but, he's given every opportunity to go out and he only does it when I'm home."

Vet: "I think it's an urgency issue and you just happen to be home at the wrong times."

Me: "OK, but, he's choosing to do it in the middle of the kid's play area. I feel like he's choosing the worst possible place on purpose."

Vet: "How about we try some treatment and see how it goes. If this continues we can talk more about it."

Me: "So, you're sure this isn't behavioral? It just feels really personal. I mean, he is fine otherwise."

I think the vet wanted to scream: "Hey lady, this isn't about YOU!" But she remained patient and let me get all neurotic and crazy.

And she was right. Now that Howie has been on special food and is taking medication, he's much better and it's clear the poor dog has colitis. Yeah, I'm pretty much a monster. But, here's the thing: My plate is full. I have two kids under three and am almost seven months pregnant. I work full time, have spent the greater part of the last month working on our house each night, just hired a new nanny...  Right now anything that doesn't go according to plan or is an additional thing for me to deal with is beyond what I can handle without it feeling personal.

Sorry, Howie... But, in the back of my mind I still think you were torturing me.


Meal Planning: Bringing It Back With The New Kitchen

Now that our kitchen renovations are done and everyone is focused on back-to-school preparations, I feel like I need to get back into the meal planning swing of things. It makes each week so much easier, so we're jumping back in. Here's my plan for this week:
Monday: Avocado Chicken Salad
Tuesday: Rotisserie Chicken (store bought) with Green Salad and Rice
Wednesday: Broccoli and Cheddar Frittata
Thursday: Chicken Breast with Black Beans & Corn in the Slow Cooker
Friday: Turkey Tacos

What are you eating this week?


Good Deeds 2012: Week 32 Donated Items to Epilepsy Foundation

Good Deed: Donated two bags of clothes, accessories, and toys to Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago.

If an organization calls asking if they can schedule a pick up for a donation of gently used clothes and household items, they will most likely get a "yes." I have some clutter bug tendencies and donating a bag of items has always been a good way of finding things that we don't really need.

Epilespy Founation of Greater Chicago called and I told them I would be happy to make a donation. The morning of the pick up, I packed up a skirt and a dress shirt of mine, t-shirts that were handed down to W and don't fit in his drawers, five stuffed animals, a few outdated belts, and a couple of books. All of the items were gently used and can be sold in their thrift store to support families impacted by epilepsy in the Chicago area.

The best part? I filled the bag, put it out before I left for work, and it was picked up before I returned home from work. Easy as can be. Learn how you can make donation here.


New Nanny, Frustrating Reference

After kind of freaking when our nanny quit last month, I switched gears and put a ton of time into trying to find a replacement. I interviewed seven candidates and instantly felt comfortable with the woman I chose. She is warm, sweet, trusting, smart, and her references were really solid.

So, now we have Nanny C working with us. The transition has been more difficult that I anticipated. W is pushing limits. He isn't listening well and I've caught him taking a surprising tone with her. I know he'll get more comfortable with her in time, but it's hard to see him act this way. It's hard to go to work and just hope he listens. I'm just not feeling confident.

Maybe it has something to do with on a comment that one of her references made that is eating at me... In response to a question I asked about thoughts on Nanny C's ability to take a 4 year old, 18 month old, and infant to a park, the reference responded with something like this: "I think that would be difficult for anyone. Are you sure you're comfortable with someone else doing that with your kids?"

My response was something like: "Well, I don't think I have a choice but to trust someone."

This conversation has played over and over again in my head... It felt judgmental, because really it was none of her business. She wasn't answering my question about Nanny C's capabilities, she was questioning my choices. The whole situation struck me a as strange. I chalked it up to the fact that she was a new mother of a 15 month old and was still getting comfortable having other people watch her son.

Then Nanny C mentioned to me that the other mother she works with (who happened to be said reference) doesn't work. And it pissed me off. Because, seriously, this woman has no idea what I'm facing in hiring a nanny for my (soon-to-be) three children. Her reasons for having a nanny and my reasons are very different. Working moms question their decisions enough, as does everyone else.

A word of advice if you are ever a reference check for a nanny: The referral is for the specific candidate, not whether you think they should hire a nanny or not.


Good Deeds 2012: Week 31 Humanity Helping Sudan

Good Deed: Voted for Humanity Helping Sudan for the VH1 $100,000 Do Something Award.

I received this from my sister-in-law in Richmond, so am pulling her words directly (thanks, Kim!)...

At age 3, Manyang became a refugee of the Sudanese Civil War. For 13 years he lived in refugee camps for Lost Boys, where homelessness, hunger, fear, and abuse were part of his everyday life. At age 17, Catholic Charities brought Manyang to Richmond where he learned English, finished high school and began college.
He started Humanity Helping Sudan Project to improve the lives of Sudanese refugees and attempt to battle the problems of an entire displaced population. Humanity Helping Sudan runs on-the-ground programs at refugee camps where they provide fishing nets, agricultural programs, and community gardens, reaching 40,000 displaced people.

Learn More About Humanity Helping Sudan and take a minute to vote for Manyang Reath for the $100,000 Do Something Award.
What was your good deed this week?


Protecting My Child or My Paranoia?

W is taking swimming lessons at a swim school that I have been very happy with. Everything about it seems just right. The classes are small, the teachers are enthusiastic, there are changing rooms in addition to women's and men's bathrooms with showers... And most of all W is happy there (except for a few off days so far).

We had to do a make up class last week and afterward I was showering him in the women's bathroom. There was another mom showering her son while her daughter was playing with her phone behind us. I suddenly heard the mom say, "No! No taking pictures in here! Do not take pictures of your brother!" and I turned to see her snatch the phone away from her daughter.

I wrapped W in a towel, changed him, and left. But when I got into the car I started to wonder... What photos had that little girl taken? Should I have asked the mom to make sure there wasn't a photo of my son on her phone? Did I do enough to make sure she didn't get a picture of him?

The mom seemed totally normal, but still... It just wasn't sitting well with me the more I thought about it. So, the next time I went to the swim school at my normal time I decided to mention it at the front desk. I asked to talk to a manager. I explained the story and recommended that they consider putting a sign up requesting that people not use cell phones in the shower area. The manager agreed that I was right to be concerned and said he would address it. I felt better, a little bit of an alarmist, but better for having said something. After all, my #1 priority is protecting my children, right? So, if that occasionally makes me seem paranoid, then fine.

It's been two weeks and I have yet to see a sign or any indication that they took my concern seriously. I believe it was a one-time issue and I should let it go, but I feel like I'm one of many parents with little ones who will continue to be overly skeptical when it comes to our children's safety. It's a post-Penn State/Jerry Sandusky world and places that cater to children should take these concerns seriously, right?

So, now what? Do I press it? Do I let it go? What would you do?