Hi2mommy's Blog

Hi everyone-

OK – new topic. I’m proud and excited to be helping prolific and profound author Richard Hawley venture into the world of social media. His work deserves a huge, appreciative audience and I’m going to do everything I can to help him find it.

If you happen to be in the Beaufort, S.C. area Sept. 26-29, be sure to meet Dr. Hawley and hear him read excerpts from his gorgeous story collection, “The Other World” at the Short Story America Festival and Conference. Signed pre-release copies of the book, due out December 1, will be available.

This sample chapter, “For Love,” offers a delicious taste of Dr. Hawley’s singular ability to bring readers back to the heartbreak and magic of childhood.

Download “The Other World-For Love (Richard Hawley)” here. If you like it, please share!

Hi! I’m back, still committed and excited as ever to continue my quest to cook/eat through David Grotto’s “101 Foods That Could Save Your Life” and “101 Optimal Life Foods.” Yeah, I know – the original 1-year deadline has come and gone. I should be flogging myself, but instead I choose to continue, out of the sheer joy of discovering great new foods, increasing energy, decreasing bloat and sharing cool recipes and stuff with the 10-15 TRUE FRIENDS who will read this.

Almost everyone I know complains that life is moving too fast. Work, family, travel, activities – where in this whirlwind do we find time to plan and consume fresh, optimal-life meals or even snacks? One particularly expeditious route is to jam a bunch of healthy ingredients into a blender, hit puree and drink the goodness. Perhaps my favorite recipe in “101 Foods That Could Save Your Life,” is the Whey Protein Smoothie from Dave’s three beautiful (and now nearly grown) daughters (p. 351). It’s a great bet for kids who are either finicky or pressed for time, before school or between sports practices.

INGREDIENTS:

1 t vanilla extract

8 oz. nonfat milk (soy, rice, almond, oat)

1 packet frozen Acai pulp

1/2 c. frozen mango or mixed tropical fruit

1 scoop non-denatured whey protein*

2T agave nectar

Blend, garnish with fruit chunks and SLAM. So. yummy.

*Full disclosure: I have no idea if my whey protein is denatured. It’s the Whole Foods 365 brand (vanilla), and I DO know that it does not taste like Play-Doh, unlike some others I’ve tried.

Another wonderful find in this category came courtesy of my aunt, Molly Hawley (incredible portrait artist, in case you feel like being immortalized in vibrant color), on a recent visit to her home in Vermont – a place with health and soul-boosting properties of its own. While Uncle Rick was the head chef (and what a chef!), Aunt Molly treated us every morning to one of her savory smoothies, also labelled “green drinks.” Salad in a glass is not your typical breakfast fare, but these raw concoctions are refreshing, cleansing and delish.

You might want to start with a basic recipe like this one, and then experiment, based on your taste and vitamin needs (I add a handful of baby carrots and, sometimes, red bell pepper). I use a food processor instead of a blender  because mine’s easier to clean, but the results are chunkier. Convenience. Texture. Do what you gotta.

1/2 avocado

1 small tomato (or a handful of grape tomatoes)

Organic baby spinach (2-3 good handfuls or enough to pack the food processor bowl)

Sprinkling of fresh cilantro and/or basil leaves

1 c water (add more for a lighter texture, flavor)

I’m sure it’s imaginary, but I actually feel my skin glowing after I drink one of these  (in a healthy, non-alien way).

Mrs. Darlene Parker, an incredible baby sitter that I’m happy to recommend (available through College Nannies and Tutors in Glenview, IL), turned me on to this one:

Pineapple (two rings, cut into small wedges)

Cucumber (1/3 of a large or 1/2 of a medium-sized cucumber)

Organic baby spinach (again, enough to fill the FP bowl)

Somewhere, I think there’s a cocktail version of this with vodka and champagne, but I may have dreamed that.

You’d be hard pressed, I think, to come up with another way to prepare 3-5 servings of fresh raw fruits and vegetables in 10-15 minutes (including clean up), with such a tasty result. It almost makes you wish that all meal prep could be this easy. Why not?  Just cram and blend some pork chops, noodles, green beans, applesauce et. al. into a tasty, hearty smush.

Yeah…but don’t.

OK, SO…

I am counting on the belief that the 12 or so loyal friends and cousins who read this blog knew with absolute certainty that, although I disappeared for 7 months after committing to doing a Julie and Julia
through my friend David Grotto’s “101 Foods That Could Save Your Life” and “101 Optimal Life Foods,” I would return to honor my commitment.

Here’s the thing:

– Two weeks after my last entry, The Optimal Life Romantic Train Picnic (for VALENTINE’S DAY, thank you very much), I started a new job (a job at Red Hat, a job that I LOVE) that proceeded to kick my butt for six months. I have finally reached a point of sufficient clarity and control that I feel comfortable picking up extracurriculars.

– Have to confess – perusing a copy of the book Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, I had a bit of a panic that, in identifying this project with that book, I had set an unrealistic expectation. In the 5 months that remain of this project, there will be few, if any, personal epiphanies, and there will almost definitely not be anything worthy of a film starring Meryl Streep. On the upside, I will probably not say “fuck” as much. We’ll see.

– Let’s face it – I still get off on the adrenaline rush of leaving things to the last minute. SOME things – I’m never late to the airport anymore, we do our taxes a month before the deadline – just give me this.

So, without further ado…

OMG, we need new things to do with chicken! Are you with me???? AND someone needs to force the FDA to add “tasteless” to the “boneless, skinless” chicken breast label.

The answer for our family, lo these past seven months, has been Chicken Thighs with Red Wine, Dried Plums* And Garlic in “101 Optimal Life Foods” (p. 323). It’s fantastically tasty and so easy, but presents like a gourmet entree (or, as my kids say, with little wrinkled noses, “DINING ROOM FOOD”).

Dave has passed along his publisher’s permission to share this great recipe with you in its entirety (occasional individual recipes are OK, as long as we’re not giving away a whole book  – you understand). This will be a slightly “mommified” version, offering modifications for tighter schedules and less expertly appointed kitchens (do you own a pestle? I don’t  – haven’t used one since college botany lab).

Coming clean on the health front, this recipe does contain more fat than a simple roasted chicken breast (11g as compared to 3g for a 4ish oz. portion), and slightly more saturated fat (3g as opposed to 1g). The protein level (29g) is comparable. As always, free-range, organic chicken will be lower in fat, free of chemical crap and, best of all – TASTE LIKE CHICKEN!

Here goes:

Chicken Thighs with Red Wine, Dried Plums* and Garlic

Ingredients (with “mommifications”):

8 pitted dried plums (or more to taste – I always use more)
8 cloves garlic, peeled (or 2  TB minced garlic)
2 whole cloves (or 1t ground cloves)
1/2 cinnamon stick, bashed with a pestle (C’mon now – 1t ground cinnamon)
1 fresh rosemary sprig, bashed with a pestle (or not)
8 chicken thighs (a 2 lb. package of 8 serves two adults and two children under 5)
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth (vegetable broth works well)
Juice of 1/2 an orange (or 1/2 c of orange juice, not from concentrate)
3/4 cup dry red wine (I used pomegranate wine once, in a pinch – nice; not so much for drinking, btw)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Scatter the dried plums, garlic, cinnamon, cloves and rosemary in the bottom of a roasting pan. Arrange the chicken thighs on top, skin side up (meaty side up if they’re skinless). Mix the broth, orange juice and red wine together. Pour over the chicken. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 2 hours (I baked for 1 hour when time was tight and no one got sick). Let the chicken rest in the juices for 10-15 minutes.

Remove the chicken to a platter. Pick out the dried plums and garlic cloves (if you used whole cloves) and serve one with each piece of chicken. Strain the juices and ladle off the fat. Check for seasoning, adjust with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with mashed or boiled potatoes (include the chicken juices!), and steamed kale, green beans, turnips or any vegetable you like.

Bon Appetit! And PLEASE, if you have interesting, healthy, family-friendly chicken recipes, please share!

*Prunes, re-branded – so much sexier, yeah?

Hi! Hope everyone had a great Valentine’s Day! It’s so important to celebrate all the love and lovable people in our lives, yeah? Partners, kids, families, friends, pets… and if we need a Hallmark made-up holiday to focus our attention there, so be it. I really wanted to share the good wishes sooner, but the family has been laid up with strep throat, pink eye and bronchitis (except for my dear husband, who was on a fishing trip in the Everglades, but is now stuck taking care of the rest of us). Clearly, we are skimping on our life-saving foods. Time to step it up, so here we go!

This year, my husband was an exceptionally good Valentine, foregoing an intimate dinner in favor of a trek into the The Loop to see August: Osage County, a play originally produced by Chicago’s/my beloved Steppenwolf Theatre,  which went on to Broadway, a Pulitzer win and a boatload of Tony Awards. I never forgave myself for missing it the first time around and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see it on tour. As luck and logistics would have it, this was the only night that worked.

Friday night in The City is not really a sacrifice BUT the play’s 3.5-hour running time made dinner plans problematic. The solution? A ridiculously delicious dinner picnic, made up ENTIRELY of recipes and items from David Grotto’s “101 Foods That Could Save Your Life” and “101 Optimal Life Foods,” to be savored on the train.

The Menu

Appetizers:
Rosemary Nuts – mixed nuts lightly coated in rosemary, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, sea salt and a hint of butter (Optimal Life, p. 269)

Dried Apricots

Salad:
Barley Salad With Edamame (Shelled Soybeans) – Tasty Asian-flavored chopped salad with cabbage that you can make in 5 minutes, if the barley’s cooked (Optimal Life, p. 287)

Main Course:
Smoked Salmon/Boursin finger sandwiches on whole wheat rounds (Whole Foods sliced demi-baguette) with fresh lemon and dill,  a combination of “save-your-life foods” – plus soft cheese, which will not save your life but will, for a moment, make it better.

Asian Satay Skewers – I chose firm tofu, but you can easily do these gingery skewers with chicken, turkey, lean pork or tuna. I also skipped the black bean dipping sauce to avoid an in-transit mess, but can’t wait to try it at home (Optimal Life, p. 263)

Dessert:
Cheese-And-Fruit Kebobs, with mango, pineapple, red grapes and Babybel gouda – more food on a stick (Optimal Life, p. 272)

Vosges Haut Chocolat Red Fire Exotic Candy Bars (55% Cacao) – the chocolate equivalent of your favorite french kiss

It should go without saying that all of the above were prepared with passionate love  – because, if you’ve ever seen/read Like Water for Chocolate, you know how that mojo seeps into the food and drives some excellent behavior. Of course, if you really want to spark that flame, you can’t go wrong with good cocktails. If you’ll permit a less-than-healthy digression:

FOR HIM: Vodka Martini – vodka, ice and olives pre-packed in a mini-shaker, alongside a MISTO vermouth sprayer (let him handle that – vermouth balance is a delicate, personal thing).
FOR HER (ME): chardonnay in an airtight purple sippy cup.

Note to Chicagoans: you CAN take cocktails on the Metra train, as long as you’re not going to some big booze-a-palooza like BluesFest.

With mobile feast packed perfectly into this snappy little black tote, I made the train with 5 minutes to spare – in 4-inch heels, thank you.

First, it was a diaper bag.
Then it was a brief case.
Then it was a picnic basket.
Kate Spade, you can do ANYTHING!

The 50-minute ride was just enough time to savor the rich mix of tart, tangy, smooth, salty sweetness. AND, on top of being fully sated and sensualized, in that one sitting, we managed to:

  • prevent motion sickness (ginger)
  • promote good vision (apricots, carrots)
  • prevent all kinds of cancer (apricots, cabbage, carrots, edamame, ginger, grapes, mango, pineapple, rosemary, salmon, tofu)
  • fortify our hearts (apricots, almonds, barley, carrots, dark chocolate, edamame, mango, salmon, tofu, whole wheat rounds)
  • stave off Alzheimer’s (almonds)
  • cleanse our colons (almonds, barley, dark chocolate, ginger)
  • fight diabetes (barley, carrots, dark chocolate, salmon, whole wheat rounds)
  • support bone health (edamame, tofu, cheese)
  • improve cognitive function (dark chocolate, grapes)
  • protect our lungs (rosemary, salmon)
  • eliminate bacterial cooties (rosemary)
  • fight emphysema (carrots)
  • support good digestion (ginger, mango)
  • shine up our skin (dark chocolate)

…all while holding hands and enjoying two things that have forever been synonymous with romance  – a picnic and a long, slow train ride.

And if romance isn’t key to an optimal life, what is??

Getting a late-ish start on my favorite New Year’s Resolution, I am thrilled to announce “The Kim & Dave 101 Foods Project.” Inspired by “Julie & Julia,” the only film I actually saw on a big screen in 2009, and more deeply inspired by my friend David Grotto’s enthusiasm for nutrition and culinary discovery, I hereby resolve to prepare in 2010 each and every one of the recipes in Dave’s two books, “101 Foods That Can Save Your Life” and “101 Optimal Life Foods.” And then we can talk about them. And then we’ll all have roles when Hollywood makes it into a movie (with Meryl Streep playing Dave).

Dave, a long-time registered nutritionist/dietician, has been a friend since we went through the Second City improvisation training program in 2003-2004 (which, by the way, I recommend – the skills apply everywhere and you meet the coolest people – another topic). During class breaks, he would talk about his “nutrition housecalls,” in which he’d visit people’s homes and build a personalized shopping and diet plan for them based on an assessment of their refrigerator/freezer/cabinet contents. He’d also make little comments about apples helping diabetics or oregano fighting cancer, or how food was arguably more important than drugs in fighting and preventing disease. I didn’t feel moved to do anything with the information at the time, but it stuck.

It didn’t take long after receiving my copy of “101 Foods That Could Save Your Life” for the full-fledged conversion to kick in. I started taking tablespoonfuls of honey instead of cough medicine. When an ache or pain surfaced, I’d first look through the book’s index to see how it might be treated nutritionally before turning to pills. These days, I pile garlic on everything and, lo and behold, we’re halfway through cold and flu season without a single incident or vampire sighting (of course, you know I just jinxed my whole family).

So now we’re going the full monty. Please come along for the ride. Dave’s given permission to share recipes here and there, but I wholeheartedly encourage you to get the books. Your life will be better for it.

101 Foods That Could Save Your Life

101 Optimal Life Foods

Here’s what’s great:

IT’S NOT A DIET. You’d have to living under a rock in rural North Dakota not to have gotten the memo that diets don’t work. They’re temporary and they focus on deprivation. They stink. “101 Foods…” is about introducing a wider range of foods into your lifestyle that taste great and make you feel great- including facilitating weight loss. It’s a positive and, if you’re willing, permanent move.

FOOD IS GOOD MEDICINE. What’s better – whole wheat toast and yogurt or a lifetime of Lipitor? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of pills, am I right? Nuff said.

THE RECIPES ARE EASY AND AWESOME. I’m no Julia Child, are you? Dave’s grade school-aged daughters helped create, test and re-test these recipes, so I think we’ll be OK, which brings me to my favorite point:

DAVE WROTE “101 FOODS THAT CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE” WITH HIS KIDS. That, honestly, is what inspired me to do this. I want to bring MY kids into this process, to introduce them to the amazing variety of foods that we are blessed to have at our fingertips, and, I hope, introduce some other important conversations, such as:

– The importance of trying new things
– How food makes your body grow and feel good
– Sharing food with people who don’t have as much

Of course, my kids are 3 and 5, so those conversations will go south a hundred different ways, but I’m excited to try. And I hope that some of you will join me. You can start by getting the books right here.

101 Foods That Could Save Your Life

101 Optimal Life Foods

Bon Appetit!

(Actually, that’s taken – we need our own catch phrase – anyone? How ’bout “Eat This!”)




Those Facebook addicts among us have probably noticed that every fifth newsfeed item lately is about someone building a new roller coaster, adding to a zoo, whacking a mob rat, or whipping up a new recipe in a cafe. Tried as I did to resist, I got sucked into this virtual vortex – Farmville, specifically – by one of my oldest and dearest friends, who swore up and down that it was therapeutic fun. I thought, OK, I’m going to hate this (haven’t played a computer game since Tetris in, like, 1992), but if it keeps me in touch with AK, who lives 2000 miles away, it’ll be worth it – for a while, and then I’ll discreetly sell my farm to condo developers.

Turns out that harvesting crops and petting cows, not to mention watching your little fake bank account and achievement scoreboard rise, is surprisingly fun  – and addictive. As if Facebook, Twitter, horoscopes, tarot, news, etc. etc. didn’t make it hard enough to get in a solid work day and get to bed at a decent time (OH! And now there’s Blip.fm – don’t even! Super fun, though…story for another time).

But as I felt my blood pressure drop while daydreaming and planting pink roses and soybeans, I started to think that there might be some real benefit to this kind of play. After all, the friend who drafted me has a (great, funny, sweet) friend who lives in our town. We’ve become Farmville neighbors, and we’re having coffee this week. How cool is that? Social networking mission accomplished! And may I say, she picks out really thoughtful fake farm gifts.

The feeling was compounded when I started playing Farmville with my kids. I had been looking for more fun ways to pique their interest in computers. Slam dunk! My son has been able to buy three farm vehicles and drive them around the fields, while my daughter has planted watermelons, pineapples and daffodils – all of which she loves! In the meantime, they now know the difference between a track pad and a mouse, and can operate both. Geoffrey can type simple messages on signposts to leave on our friends’ property. Allison types “slkcofiaflkxldkfjoifsfdli,” but with great enthusiasm.

Better yet, our Farmville conversations have taken some surprising and useful turns. As we visit other farms and chase away raccoons or fertilize crops, we talk about how nice – and how important – it is for neighbors to help each other. We talk about our actual neighbors, and I tell them stories about our Farmville neighbors – my friends, who either live far away or, because of busy schedules, we don’t see as often as we’d like. The kids love listening, and it keeps my friends close, which feels good.

Geoffrey has also learned some good lessons about financial responsibility. “Why can’t we get a tractor TODAY?” he whines. “Sorry, not until the bank account hits 30,000. We’d better harvest some cherry trees and collect some swan feathers.” And when we hit the target, his little face glows with the satisfaction of achievement (Yeah, I wish – he’s really just happy to get the truck – but I’d like to think that he’ll eventually make the work-reward connection).

In my own use, I find myself becoming increasingly strategic. How can I time it so that my animals all cycle at once and the crops pop in the evening? What’s the fastest way to get the last 150 experience points (XP’s) I need to move to the next level so I can expand my farm? So it struck me that, if you had an older kid who was a little smartypants in math, you could actually use Farmville as a fun way to hone those skills. For example:

  • Which crops offer the highest return? There are many online “seed guides” to check your answers, but the math is pretty simple.
  • If you have 10 plum trees that pay 18 coins each and harvest every 2 days, how many days will it take to get 360 coins? You can make up dozens of variations on this.
  • What would you plant to make the most money in exactly 1 week (not 6 days, not 8)?
  • What should you plant to get the next crop harvesting ribbon as soon as possible?
  • What should you plant/buy/sell to get to the next experience level as soon as possible?

How many of you are getting a geek rash? I don’t care. From what I’ve been reading, smart is the new cool.

So, looking back, Farmville’s rewards are stacking up:

  • Staying connected to old friends
  • Lower blood pressure from daydreaming
  • Making new friends
  • Teaching basic computer skills
  • Lessons about helping others
  • Warm fuzzies from reminiscing and sharing stories about friends
  • Lessons in financially responsibility
  • Strategic planning practice
  • Math and logic skill reinforcement
  • New coolness from becoming smarter

Add those up, and Farmville becomes a seriously effective time investment.

Please God, let it be so, because there are 3 weeks, 18 hours and 48 minutes (and counting) of my life that I’m never getting back. HEY! My squash just popped! Gotta go…

Farmville Logo

Play Farmville! We can be neighbors!

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Did everyone else know that November is “National Blog Posting Month” (cleverly shortened to “NaBloPoMo”)? Yeah, apparently you’re supposed to post every day. Didn’t get the memo, and am probably out of the club. But some of my good, good friends are reading this and that. is. e. nough. for. me. so. there.

Work kicked my butt last week – hence the absence –  but my awesome teammate (Yo, T!!) and I accomplished great things.

Did everyone have a nice Halloween? Did you celebrate Day of the Dead (November 2)? El Dia De Los Muertos has done a much better job of capturing my imagination lately (although the sight of my kids dressed as Sparkly Dorothy and a Construction Foreman, getting all worked up about collecting candy that they oddly have little interest in eating, is a memory to be treasured forever). I think it’s that we -collectively – have lost touch with the soul of Halloween. When have we ever known it to be about anything more than random spooks and candy? FWIW, History.com has a nice, succinct little write-up on the celebration’s history. Turns out the Irish and Romans were key to its origin, but the Americans turned it into a party. Go figure.

Halloween has some loose ties to All Soul’s Day (another name for Day of the Dead) but, as I said in an earlier post, I’ve yet to find a book for pre-school-aged children that makes that connection (if you know of one, please share). Halloween books are all about playing up (or dispelling) the spooky factor, without giving it much of a source. Day of the Dead books, on the other hand, very clearly focus the celebration on the remembrance of  (or, if you really buy in, reunion with) loved ones who have gone before. There are cemetery parties, traditional foods (e.g. sugar skulls), and, my favorite, the creation of altars to honor and remember ancestors.

My aunt, whose birthday is on November 2, has collected hundreds of Day of the Dead art pieces and altar-ettes, displayed in cabinets and diorama frames all around her house, which she has promised to leave to me in her will as long as I promise not to set them up in a haunted doll house (which I thought was a REALLY cool idea, but whatever – c’mon, it would have been a hacienda)! Anyway, our discussions of this led me to daydream about the altars I would create for our family. Given my aunt’s blank, slightly wide-eyed stare, I must have gotten a little too excited when describing the altar I’d make for her (“…and there would be a bed and a giant TV showing vampire movies and little skeleton daschunds and…”). I believe it is not a good idea to fantasize about a person’s death right in front of them. But, when the time comes, I’m gonna build it.

I think the increased appeal of this celebration is that I see the clock ticking for several of our beloved elders and a) it would be nice to have a positive way to frame their inevitable passing to my children and b) it would be equally nice to maintain my own hope that the end we see isn’t really THE END.

One of my favorite memories of my mom, who died when I was 5, is a time when she let me stay up late to watch The Wizard Of Oz on TV. We had “a party” with popcorn and soda, and watched it together on our family room couch. It was the beginning of a lifelong love of the film and its anthem, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” which we’d both sing around the house. When I was getting my hair/makeup done on my wedding day, I didn’t pay attention to the radio background music until I heard Judy Garland’s voice. When in your LIFE have you ever heard Judy Garland sing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” on the RADIO?? I desperately want to believe that it was my mom signaling that she’d gotten some kind of furlough from the afterlife to be there. On a similar note, my late grandfather told my grandmother in a dream that he was coming to the wedding, so we set a place card for him.

So what do you  think? Do our loved ones really pop in for Halloween/Day of the Dead and other special occasions, or do they just live on in our hearts (which is not all bad either)? How do you/would you talk to your kids about it?

SparklyDorothy

Sparkly Dorothy

ConstructionForeman

Construction Foreman

Not every family has grandparents who can babysit. In our case, my husband’s parents are up in years and not in good health, and mine  – how shall we say? OK –  you know how you always leave your number on the counter when you leave your kids with a sitter? My parents sat for us twice, and both times, THEY CALLED IT and we had to come home (once on New Year’s Eve, when we had just gotten our badly-needed cocktails). No disrespect – they meant well and we appreciated the effort. Babies are tough duty. I would literally give years of my own life to make MY grandmother young enough to sit. At 88, the spirit is still willing, but the flesh, as they say…

So what do you do, especially when you have a baby or two and don’t feel comfortable leaving them with a teenage neighbor?  CHRIS, the Salon 117 in Arlington Heights, IL pedicure goddess – remember pedicures? Remember having time/money to get them? I’m lucky to get one a year these days, BUT I DIGRESS! Anyway, Chris told me about Sittercity.com, and it has given us a portion of our life back.

SitterCity is not an agency. It’s a searchable clearinghouse of resumes, references, background checks, and other background information on child care/elder care/pet care/other care providers. Your membership fee (sliding scale – $30/1 month; $60/3 months; $120/year) gives you unlimited searching, job posting, etc. You can start with a 7-day free trial to get a taste.

We found our current nanny (lovely Monika, part of our family for 14 months), fill-in sitters for her vacation days, and our #1 A-List evening sitter with this service. The profiles include personal statements (I’m biased toward smart sitters, so I pay attention to language skills), references, parent reviews, certifications (CPR, First Aid…), background checks and location information (I’m also biased toward local sitters, because Midwest winters do not favor long commutes). When I’ve posted a job looking for substitute sitters, I’ve typically gotten 25+ responses, most from applicants with terrific and varied backgrounds (teachers, artists, athletes, therapists, nurses), college age to grandma age.

That said, nothing’s perfect. SitterCity does not screen its applicants (again, not an agency), so we’ve had a few hiccups. I interviewed one woman who proceeded to discuss her current employer’s hysterectomy and her previous employer’s financial issues (she thought she saw their dining room set on Craig’s List!) at a level of detail that compelled me to permanently block her profile.

Then there was the recent conversation with a sitter’s reference, in which the reference (very nice woman) said that she had referred this sitter to another family, who reported that the sitter had gotten caught stealing from them. Still hoping that was just a misunderstanding – the sitter denied it – but, needless to say, we did not bring that sitter into our home. Just sayin’ – always do your due diligence (SitterCity puts a checklist on the profile page – handy)!

They’re nationwide, so if you’re new to an area and don’t have family around or another support system, it’s definitely worth a look. SitterCity has done very well by our family. Hope they come through for you, if you need it.

Now you can go to the movies!! Or get a pedicure!!

Ever get stuck with an hour (or day) to fill, but you don’t want to overload on TV and the favorite toys are not cutting it?

One of my Pre-School Moms’ Mom (PSMM? Pre-School Grandma? PSG? ) babysits for the two girls a few days per week. Oh – let me stop here and say, on the record, that grandparents who babysit have a special place at the VIP table in heaven.

ANYWAY, this grandma is a former pre-school teacher, who builds an apparently endless list of fun and educational activities around a theme of the week (dinosaurs, fairies, whatever). So we’re trying it. We’re not great at it yet, but we’ve managed to squeeze in a couple of  cool outings or activities each week that we wouldn’t have tried otherwise, so I’m calling it a success.

It’s actually amazing how many fun things you can cook up when you wrap your mind around a simple topic. Try it and, within 5 minutes, you’ll probably come up with a great list that might include:

– cooking/baking
– crafts
– books
– tracing words and pictures
– dramatic play (how fun to walk like an astronaut for a day!)
– music
– simple science projects
– outings (to stores, parks, local events)

The trick is to not let it become another thing that’s overcrowding your life. Just doing 1-2 things and working the theme into your conversations is great!

For example, our first theme was birds. By the end of the week,  we hadn’t done much more than pick out some library books and look for birds with our “binoculars” (made from toilet paper tubes taped together – incredibly popular at our house). Then, Friday evening, I got inspired to take the two kids  to Wild Birds Unlimited, a small shop devoted to wild bird supplies (don’t even ask how stores like that stay in business, but how great that it’s there -and there are franchises all over the country). I had gone gift shopping there once before, and remembered the owner to be very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about all things bird.

OMG – what a great time! The kids (Geoffrey’s 4, Allison’s just turned 3) pinged the wind chimes, marveled at the feeder shapes and size, and laughed their heads off at a promo video of a bird feeder that sends unwanted squirrels flying into oblivion. They also listened attentively as the owner told them about the different birds we could expect to see in our yard (BRAG ALERT – he was impressed by their morning dove imitations). The feeders were pretty spendy, but we did walk out with a bag of safflower (cardinals, finches, doves and others like it but squirrels DON’T, so it’s good for feeders – AND it leaves no shell mess on the ground). Another great find was the “Thistle Sock,” an inexpensive little mesh bag that holds thistle seed and offers good gripping space for birdy feet. We saw our first ever goldfinches on that sock (through our TP binocs), and it’s holding up pretty well, despite our relentless fall weather.

So Bird Week turned out OK. Since then, we’ve had Truck Week (if it were up to Geoffrey, EVERY week would be Truck Week), Prince and Princess Week, and we’re on Week 2 of Halloween because we slacked a bit last week and – let’s face it – Halloween is EPIC!

So if you’re inspired to try Theme of the Week, please share your stories and favorite activities. I’d like to ask my friend’s mom to be my first guest on Cool People I Know – and then see if she’ll come babysit OUR kids!!!

I’ve started this blog to expand upon one of my life’s current bright spots  – a great connection with a group that I affectionately call “The Pre-School Moms.”

For many of us, sending our children “out into the world” (pre-school) was a little sad, a little nerve-wracking, but also liberating. In addition to gaining 2-3 little chunks of free time each week, we were regularly in the company of people our own age – having actual adult conversations (mostly about our kids, but still)!

A key takeaway from those conversations: we love to compare notes on just about everything.

So while I hope and expect to be comparing notes with my Pre-School Moms for years to come (there’s been some light talk of arranging marriages), I would really love to share some thoughts and see what the wider circle of moms has to say about things like:

– how to keep kids entertained in restaurants

– what inspires kids to help others (and how to light that spark)

– cool holiday activities and traditions

– favorite music

– mom-friendly work options

– how to introduce kids to computers

So many things! Also, being a journalist at heart, my vision for this includes an interview segment, tentatively titled “Cool People I Know.” Because, as it turns out, I know a LOT of cool people  – as we all do! One thing I’ve learned – if you spend a few hours with ANYONE, you will learn something fascinating about them.

So share your fascinating self, OK? Thanks for reading…

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  • hi2mommy: Thanks, Laura - I'll never give up! YOU post some of the most exquisite recipes I've ever seen. You are going to be featured here very soon.
  • susie: well im not really sure what the 2nd reply post was all about, but i reckon this is still a classic game, whatever way you look at it.
  • Laura: Yum! I love a fruit smoothie - especially on a hot summer day. I'm with you on the fruit - mango or raspberries. Picking up where you left off is a

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