Thursday, February 28, 2008

Let's see if this works....

Learning how to post from YouTube now..... If you haven't seen this yet, this is Taylor Mali. It's worth a few minutes to check out his other work on YouTube!
Oooooo, I'm off and running now!


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Virtually Idiotproof Recipe #2

Ok folks, it does NOT get ANY easier than THIS. Seriously. Even I can do this, almost with my eyes closed. It comes courtesy of Robin Miller from The Food Network. Hot, Fast and Cheap, when really, how often do we get more than two of these??? And a bonus -- it's healthy!


Black and Red Fiesta Beans with Rice
Copyright, 2006, Robin Miller, All rights reserved
Show:
Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller
Episode:
Pantry Raid

2 cups instant brown rice
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1/2 cup prepared salsa
1 tablespoon onion flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can white or red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (11-ounce) can corn, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook rice according to package directions. Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients in a large saucepan and set pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer. Simmer until rice is cooked. Fold in rice and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

VOILA! I scoop this into tortillas and pretend that I've made burritos.
And it makes a PILE of food. We graze on the leftovers for about two days.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mother's Day (in February?)

video

If you've already seen this, my apologies. But we're always trying to learn new things here at the B...... Country Day Academy. And today, the Director of Curriculum & Implementation (and the Director of Admissions) is trying to learn how to post video to her blog.

Enjoy.......

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Signs of Spring

Yeah, ok, it's only still February. But you have to look forward, right? Right???? And at about this time of year, I find myself on the lookout for signs that another winter is in the past, that the temps will start inching up, that at some point we might even -- here's the irony -- whine about the heat..... So here are the signs of Spring that I've seen so far. Feel free to chime in with your own!

1. Cubs tickets went on sale yesterday. I'm from St. Louis, so I'm trying to raise Cardinal fans in a neighborhood that requires special parking permits on Cub game days (this is in addition to the regular neighborhood parking permits. and if you have guests, you have to check the game schedule to see which permit to put on their car, etc). But Cubs tickets on sale means that Spring is coming. There will be throngs of folks clogging local traffic and delaying Urban Dad's commute home. I will decide whether or not to move the car based on if there's an afternoon game. People will soon be wearing shorts, jerseys, caps, flip-flops and blue bracelets that say "it's gonna happen."

(A tangent, if I may... such is the beauty of being a Cards fan... eventually, IT DOES HAPPEN! Haaaaahhhaaahhhhhhaaaaaaaaa!)

2. I saw sandals available for purchase in a store window.

3. Urban Kid 2 has outgrown most of her warm turtlenecks. I am having an impossible time finding more. Shorts and sandals, however, are in large supply. (maddening..... but let's try to keep the positive spin here, shall we?)

4. The second semester is well underway at Great Big Urban High School. The seniors are starting to get a bit itchy and restless.

5. Urban Dad and I actually have to enter the idea of "Spring Break" into our plans. Should we leave town? Should we stay and take care of a few things? Yes, we get to discuss Spring Break as if it is actually on the horizon!

6. It might hit a blistering 40-degrees this weekend. Yes, there's plenty more snow and cold coming in a few days. But it actually feels like a normal temperature in which people were meant to live, thrive even! Some of the ice on the sidewalks, grass and streets might trickle away, revealing god-knows-what underneath. (note: dog owners in this neighborhood can be a bit, um, lazy during a cold snap) Up side -- MUCH easier to get into and out of the car!

7. While skating to our car a few days ago, Urban Kid 1 exclaimed, "a leaf! a leaf!" Ok, it was a brown, dead thing getting tossed around by the breeze, but I like how she was thinking.

8. Maria over at Eclectically Yours (http://eclecticallyyours.typepad.com/) has posted a countdown until we change our clocks.

Ok, your turn. What signs have YOU seen?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chicago's Art Institute

Last Saturday, 4 1/2 yo C (here on referred to as "Urban Kid 1") and I ventured down to the Art Institute. Urban Kid 1 has been doing an art class at a wonderful place called The Paintbrush lately, where she's learned about lots of famous artists. She now recognizes Monet's "Water Lillies," Grant Wood's "American Gothic" and several others. AIC is having Free February, and Urban Dad could stay home with Urban Kid 2. So while we didn't relish the crowds, you take your opportunities where you get them!

We used the Art Institute's website to make a list of what we wanted to see. UK1 loves Mary Cassatt's "The Bath," so we made sure to include that on the list. The printout included thumbnails of the art as well as locations. Once we got there, after a loooooong wait at coatcheck, we grabbed a map and planned our tour.

I had a Proud Mommy Moment when UK1 looked at one painting and said, "it's from Pablo Picasso!" The guy next to us just stared at her. When I asked, "Why do you think that?" he physically bent at the waist to hear her. I think she said something like, "It looks like a person, but doesn't really." She did the same in another room when she recognized a Jackson Pollock. Rock On, BabyLove! Rock ON!

So yeah, The Paintbrush is my Shameless Plug this week for any fellow Chicagoans. Check them out at http://www.thepaintbrush.net/.

Oh! We even saw a marriage proposal! Not a dry (female) eye in the room!

A sidenote -- UK1's last two haircuts have been well...BAD. Poor little cutie has been sporting a near mullet lately! I realized that we were just two short blocks from my fantastic hairdresser, so I boldly called her. She had time just as we were planning to get out of AIC! So we waited for several days to get our coats back from coatcheck, then dashed over to State & Monroe. Lee fixed her up in 5 short minutes and told us to never take her back to whoever did this tragedy of tresses! God love 'er, she wouldn't even charge us!

Days like this brighten up winter. For a moment, I stop asking, "why do we live HERE?" like I tend to do at this time of year.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Great Wallet Caper

By Friday night, I was resigned to having lost my wallet. Perhaps I had dropped it, maybe someone lifted it out of the car when I ran in for the kids at the gym (a bold move, indeed, but not unheard of), who knows. I had searched and re-searched my gym bag. Looked all around outside of the building. Looked over every inch of the car. Looked underneath the cars that were now parked where we were earlier in the day. Urban Dad and I searched likely spots that 13-month-old J likes to stash things (endtables, under furniture, lower drawers). I even donned rubber gloves and checked trash cans and dumpsters around the gym, in case someone had tossed it.

Nothing. 36 hours' worth of it.

On Friday night, the four of us were playing in the kids' room. Urban Dad was lounging on the floor when he said, "Hon, what's this?" He reached under C's bed and pulled out............ a wallet!

Now let's retrace just how far little J -- this is just her SOP -- had to take this wallet once she nabbed it:

From the entryway -- the picture may be too dark, but there's a purse underneath the painting...


Through the living room and down the hall............................



Through the kitchen and around the fridge....... there's our little bandit now..........!



Into the room that she shares with her older sister........................



Where she stashed it underneath her sister's bed. Perhaps she was saving it to pour over later, like a squirrel. Perhaps she was framing her sister for trouble...................



Either way, I'm a shoe-in for Mother Of The Year for not seeing the nab, the transport or the stash.

Lesson learned.......................

Hope all of you have a Happy Monday. I'm going downtown by myself all day to take care of things that I can't get done when the kids are with me. Urban Dad has the day off teaching, so he'll be Stay-At-Home Dad for the day. I've left simple little lessons for him and C to do together. And I've ordered a grocery delivery. Idle hands do the devil's work!

If in doubt, see above story.

=-)


Friday, February 15, 2008

Good News vs Bad News

The Bad News: My wallet is gone. Ugh. What a sick feeling. Whether I lost it or whether someone assisted me in losing it remains undetermined. Either way, I feel like I should have been more savvy. The search has been exhaustive and fruitless and left me feeling like a rube.

Best case scenario: Someone took the cash and tossed the rest. Perhaps the rest will come back to me, even.

Worst case scenarios: ID theft; someone has the names of everyone in our household, our address and pictures of our kids. Again.... UGH.

Credit card has been cancelled. ATM card too. Replacing the driver's license will be a pain in the tookus.

The Good News: Car Keys Have Returned! I always travel with both sets of keys, esp. with wanting to warm up the car while loading kiddies. One set has been missing for a few weeks now. A disaster waiting to happen!

Today while loading up the kiddies, an older gentleman pulled up behind us to wait for our space. After I loaded them, he honked and waved me over. In a very thick Russian accent he asked, "you lose keys? about two weeks ago?"

This man had found the keys in the snow right next to the car. He realized that they worked for our car, so he took them in and left a note on our car. (never saw it) He's been watching for our car and for us ever since.

I tried to give him $20 for his trouble, but he refused. I explained that it would have cost me $90 to replace the key, but he still refused.

Thank you Car Key Angel Man!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Going to the Chapel...

Ok, it's Valentine's Day. You already know how Urban Dad and I got together. Now for the wedding story.

It had been seven years since that Auto Show. SEVEN. But the thing is, I was the one just hanging on to how things were. I mean, was it broken? Did it need fixin'?

We had moved in together a year earlier, but I continued to hold out on getting married. I had so rarely ever seen it WORK. I knew only a tiny number of people who could say, 10 years later, "ooooo boy am I glad I did that!" Add the kids he wanted into the equation and my only thought became "no single mom thing for me, thank you."

Finally, on a Thursday in October, at 4am, he was tossing, turning, huffing, puffing. Since he wasn't sleeping, obviously I wasn't going to either. And so the conversation began.

As the conversation went on, it became apparent that this was the "now or never" moment. While he did not use these words, I knew my choices: Marry him and start a family, or let him go and let him find someone else. (If this doesn't sound like the most romantic proposal ever, don't sweat it. Keep in mind that he had been trying for about two years. I think there were three "proposals" during that time.)

Someone else? Oh hell no!

We opted to not tell anyone about our "engagement." I was subbing at Great Big Urban High, so after school, we took off for City Hall to get a marriage license. We planned to get this wedding done this weekend. He had to move now while he had the "yes!" I looked at the plastic "Marriages This Way" sign in the basement and just couldn't do it. We could do better.

On Friday, we asked a friend of ours to officate. He was a security guard at GBUH who was also an ordained Baptist minister. He sometimes teased us about doing a little something in the garden at lunch. He had to leave town for the weekend, though!

Saturday was spent trying to figure out when and where to do this.

Finally, we settled on our living room. Monday afternoon. My mom made plans to attend. Urban Dad had yet to notify anyone, although I kept suggesting his best friend and best friend's wife might like to come. Finally, late Sunday night, he called them. God love them, they cleared the time!

On Monday, Urban Dad asked our security guard/minister, who agreed. And who was also terrified -- he didn't have the right clothes, he'd never done a wedding and wanted time to look things up, etc. We offered him an internet connection and told him not to worry about the rest.

Monday after school, I went home, changed into my nicest suit. We had filled the living room with white roses and lillies. Urban Dad was having a hard time hurrying out of the building without giving anything away. I watched "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and waited.

Finally, our little crew assembled. Our Baptist minister, my Catholic guy, Methodist me and my mom, and our Jewish witnesses. And in all of this diversity, we got the job done. I was shaking so hard afterwards that I needed that glass of champagne.

My mom was so excited to not have to deal with a big wedding that she offered to take us anywhere in Chicago for dinner that we wanted. We opted for the Ritz Carlton. (the restaurant has since closed, so it was a good choice)

On Tuesday, I took the day off and ran around downtown doing the name-change, getting the new license and passport, etc.

On Wednesday, we told people at GBUHS. A teacher eloped with a sub? Word travelled like wildfire, and the behind-our-backs question was "is she pregnant?" Many people shook my hand, congratulated me, and their eyes flicked downward, then back up to my eyes.

Ahhhh, let 'em figure it out.

We haven't looked back since. Sometimes you have to get out of the wading pool, strap on the weights and jump into the deep end.

Seven weeks later, I was pregnant. Urban Kid 1 came in September.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thimple Thoughths

It sheemsh that I grind my teethhh. According to my dentisht over the lasht few yearsh, I need to get a mouthguard made to protect thhhem. Sheemsh that I'll grind them down to liddle nubth if I don't take acthon shoon. But a shtupid mouthguard ith expenthif! Finally, at my lasht vithit, the dentisht shed that I could pay 400-dollarsh for one now, or 800-dollarsh per tooth thoo crown them all lader. Tho here I am. It theemth a shtupid amount thoo pay for a shtupid peeth of plathtic. Bud the huthband athoores me that ith fine. Heeeth jusht fine with shnugglin up with a mouthguard-wearing shweetie. Gee, I feel shoooo shexsheee.

Yet more shnoe again yeshtherday. Ugh. Will Shpring ever come? Thime to go wake the kiddeeth. Thoon, I'll have to come ub with nicknameth for them for thith blog. Perhapth that will be my goal for Thurthday.

Happy Wednethday!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Happy Anniversary to Us

Yep, 13 years ago today, I went on a date to the Chicago Auto Show.

Three days earlier, I had locked myself out of my apartment, having left my keys at Great Big Ad Agency's fitness center. I got home in the evening, needing a shower and dinner. No keys. Anywhere. The building super was not home. Neither was my next door neighor, Mimi.

Oh no, please don't make me go to the cute guy down the hall. I would die of embarrassment.

Ian, the cross-dressing South African across the hall, was not home. Three other neighbors who I knew were not home. Keep in mind that this was before the omnipresence of cell phones. It was 1995! And NOBODY I knew was home.

Oh no, I have to go try the cute guy down the hall.

Our apartment numbers had been removed from our doors in order to paint them. I stood in front of two doors in a strange variation of Let's Make a Deal. Which door? Which door? He said 507 when we chatted a few months ago (yes, i remembered...). Did I count correctly? Is this 507? Or this one?

Then I heard his voice on a phone call. So I knocked. He told me later that he thought a present from heaven had been dropped at his doorstep.

I tell him that if I'd knocked on the other door, I'd be married to Michael Hudson now.

He babysat me, hydrated me with glass after glass of water and chatted me up. Once the super returned, he said, "shall we continue this?" I said, "great, see you in 20 minutes, I need to shower, I'll take you for a bite to eat to say thanks." He told me later that he meant AT ANOTHER TIME. Geez, Val, smooth. Really smooth.

The next morning, there was a note under my door inviting me to the Auto Show. It's a good first date place. Crowded. Easily accessible by public transit in case you have to bail out. And if things are not going well, you can "have other plans" that you have to get to. And if they are going well, you keep hanging out.

12 hours later, I finally went home. I had little interest in marriage and none in motherhood. Who knew what had started??????

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Virtually Idiotproof Recipe Debut

I'm thinking of starting a new feature called "Virtually Idiotproof Recipes." Let me know what you think!

I'm NOT known for my culinary skills. And while my kitchen is a pretty good size for an urban apartment (i had one for a while that barely fit a trash can), there's almost no counterspace. And did I mention that I'm NOT known for my culinary skills???!!! Thank God I have a husband who doesn't care. He's chosen his priorities, and a gourmet meal every night... or ever... is not one of them.

So here's Virtually Idiotproof Recipe #1. When I worked at Great Big Ad Agency, I lamented once to our Radio Producer that I was sick to death of Lean Cuisine and pasta. His wife sent him in with this the next day. You can keep the ingredients stashed in the kitchen for "emergencies."

Tortellini Soup
2 cloves garlic, crushed (ok, i cheat and use a few scoops out of a jar of diced garlic)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 13+ oz cans chicken broth
1 8 oz pkg frozen cheese tortellini
1 10 oz pkg frozen chopped spinach (doesn't have to be thawed, but it speeds the cooking process if you do)
1 16 oz can Italian-style stewed tomatoes

Saute the garlic in the olive oil until almost brown (2 min?). Add chicken broth. If the spinach is still frozen, add it now and simmer until is it thawed, then proceed. Otherwise, add the tortellini and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer 10 min. Add spinach (if you thawed it first) and tomoatoes. Simmer 5 minutes.

I usually double the recipe. Not only do I not cook a gourmet meal every night, I don't exactly even cook every night. And yet I drool over the gizmos featured on I Want That! Kitchens on HGTV. Go figure.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Long Strange Trip to Chicago


Getting home after Vegas was somewhat, well, involved.

The Best Namma Ever, the two girls and I piled into the CR/V in St. Louis on a beautiful, sunny, oddly warm day. Perfect for a drive across Illinois! As we gathered ourselves fueling up on gas for the car and Starbucks for the grown-ups, we got a call warning us that our turnoff to I-55 was a mess due to a 12-car pile-up caused by fog. What fog???????

We snaked north through Alton, taking the long way to 55, but feeling that it was smarter than sitting in a parking lot of traffic. Alas, the fog came hard, fast and THICK. All around us, what we could see around us, were people going no more than 40mph and using their hazards. I'll spare you too many details, it was like this without a break all the way to Bloomington-Normal, about in the middle of the state. And a 5-hour drive across the state turned into a 5-hour ordeal just to B-N. Finally, we stopped. The word from Chicago was that it was just as thick there, plus it was raining. Add nightfall into the equation, and things were just ridiculous. I had my mom and kids with me. Why do something stupid? So we stopped at the Quality Inn -- we HAD to find a place with a POOL after cooping up a 4-year-old in the car all day. She got to jump on the beds to her little heart's content, frolic in the pool and walk (we were DONE with the car!) to Cracker Barrel with Best Namma Ever to get dinner while I gave little J a bath.

The next morning, it took us two hours to zip the rest of the way home.

Finally, I'm trying to learn how to post pictures here. My wonderful husband (and he is!) doesn't want me to post pictures of the kids. Understandable. But I figure that I'll try this with a picture that isn't current. That should be safe enough, right?

Drum roll please.......................
Ok, this is C at a few weeks old. And she's at the top of the page instead of down here. Hmph.
This should keep me awake tonight.
Happy Weekend, All!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Las Vegas

Ahhhh, the joys of travel with kids! Actually, it was really a very nice trip. I have few complaints and am VERY glad that we did it.

First, my mom -- aka: Best Namma Ever -- flew up to Chicago in order to drive back to St. Louis with me and the two munchkins. I planned to drive to StL on my own, but she worries. And why stay at home worrying when she can get out and do something instead! And why turn down an extra set of hands?

The next day, we all loaded up and drove to StL. Then the munchkins got baths and were off to bed. I didn't sleep. When you know that you HAVE to get up REALLY EARLY and that you CANNOT mess it up, it makes for a restless night. Sharing a bed with a 4-year-old who seems to dream that she is a badmitton-playing windmill doesn't help.

So it was up at an ungodly hour and off to the airport for an 8am flight. The goodbyes to little 13-month-old J went more smoothly than I thought, and C & I were off for our adventure. After getting into line for the wrong SWA flight (note to self: there are multiple planes leaving for Vegas simultaneously!), we got our bearings. We colored, watched Dora videos and snoozed the rest of our way there.

Wow, what a town! This big-city girl was momentarily mezmerized by the signage. Ok, I was momentarily mezmerized by the "Thunder From Down Under" signage.

We connected with our friends who had flown out earlier directly from Chicago, plus our friends that we were out there to visit and headed over to Circus Circus for the Adventuredome. What fun! An indoor amusement park for kiddies. The kids rode airplanes, a ferris wheel, a roller coaster, played mini-golf, and still only saw a fraction of the place. C & I did not get to the Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier this year, so it was a real gift to be able to enjoy the Adventuredome.

Later, we went to a show featuring a guy named Popovitch and his trained dogs and cats. Yes, trained cats. Don't ask. I don't know. But the kids dug it, so who cares?

While out there, we also went to see the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay. Ohhhh, how the homeschool mom in me wanted to break out! But we were on vacation. Just watch and enjoy. Let her punch in the numbers that she wants for the displays that she wants on her little audio guide thingy. And she and her little buddy who lives out there lingered for a looooong time over the touch-pool. Good fun.

We also wandered through the garden at the Bellagio, which had a Chinese New Year theme. Pretty.

That night, we got a sitter. How did our hostess find a sitter who would take 3 4-year-olds? Again, I don't know. But she did beautifully. All three were zonked out when we got home. If she had a bottle of Benadryl in her purse, I wouldn't blame here... In the meantime, the grown-ups went to see Cirque du Soleil's Mystere. A friend of mine had never seen any Cirque du Soleil's before and knew nothing about what she was getting into. It was a treat to sit with someone who was beyond astonished at what she was seeing! Also, there were taiko drummers in this show, something that I have always loved. I'd love to see O, the water-based one -- a reason to plan another trip, I suppose!

One day, we took the kids for a hike and a frolic in the hot tub at home. Burn off that energy, kiddies. Burn it off!

Details on the trip back home to Chicago tomorrow (via StL to pick up little J from Best Namma Ever). But it was great to get out of the winter weather for a while and shake off a few doldrums in a colorful, fun place with colorful, fun friends!

Haven't done a shameless plug lately, something that I'd like to do somewhat regularly. Here's the link for the Cirque du Soleil that we saw: http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/CirqueDuSoleil/en/showstickets/mystere/mystere-Las-Vegas.htm

Maybe I'll get ambitious tomorrow and try to post an actual picture of something!