Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Biggest Water Polluters

Here’s a link to an interesting, lengthy article from Sunday’s Chicago Tribune about the nation’s worst factories on health threats to neighbors from water pollution. If nothing else, check out the graph to see who’s polluting near you.

On a related note, there is a meeting today about the new water permit U.S. Steel’s Gary Works is seeking. It’s this afternoon from 3-5pm and tonight from 6-8:30pm in the Savannah Auditorium on the campus of Indiana University Northwest (3400 Broadway, in Gary, IN). If you can’t make the meeting, public comments can be filed online through December 28, 2007.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

There's the Snow

I knew it wouldn't take long. Alas, it's all been shoveled away. . . .

And I broke my windshield wipers today. Don't ask.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Happy Fall

Here’s something I haven’t seen in a long time. In Chicago, cars are often buried in snow—not leaves.

Dropping my daughters off at school on Friday, I just loved seeing whole lawns and sidewalks covered in golden leaves. This is how Fall is supposed to be! I think all the leaves fell from these trees in a matter of hours. Later that day, one of my daughters got off the school bus talking excitedly about how great school was, because “all the leaves fell off the big tree, and everyone was playing in them!” She even confessed she made a boy “scream like a girl” when she threw an armful of leaves at him.

Yet by 8 a.m. on Saturday, I heard the leaf-blowers going full blast, waking up the neighborhood.

Aww. . . can’t we just let nature be for a while?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Attention NYC Bloggers

The three moms who started up the Silicon Valley Moms Blog, Chicago Moms Blog (see button, left), and D.C. Metro Moms Blog are seeking a few more mommy bloggers in NYC so they can launch their latest collaborative mommy blog—New York City Moms Blog. If you’re interested in joining this project, or know someone who might be, click here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pressing Question

Which of the following will win the dubious honor of being the last piece of Halloween candy left in our house?

1. A peppermint hard candy
2. Gummy Foot
3. Bite-sized Snickers with green Shrek filling

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

CPL Love

I’ve been a heavy user of the Chicago Public Library for years. The 30-book-per-card limit sure has come in handy at our house, ever since the toddler days when our daughters couldn’t get enough picture books in their diets. Hubby and I can’t afford our own reading habits, let alone two more voracious readers. CPL helped us through the girls’ easy readers phase and now the series fiction phase. I’ve never minded paying library fines (or library taxes). I just figure it’s my way of supporting this venerable institution.

But CPL sent me a present anyway. Over the summer, I entered a contest at my branch and ended up winning the beautiful Encyclopedia of Chicago. Just in time for History Fair!

Monday, November 12, 2007

November Is the New October

Hey, it’s November 12th, and it’s 65 degrees outside here in Chicago. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and I’m actually heading outside to water my shrubs and trees. Bizarre. . . . but not the most bizarre. One year I picked the last bouquet of bachelor’s buttons from my garden on Dec. 5th. And another year it hit 70 degrees in February, so I took my daughters to the beach!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Three Questions & One Cool Techie Toy

At a recent Staples-sponsored tech workshop led by a blogger I’ve come to know, I discovered that not only am I the only blogger without a business card, I’m also the only blogger without a laptop. So I’ve had to ask my luddite* self:

1. Do I want a blogger business card? Not really. I’m not doing this to earn a living, and I’m not that interested in forcing my thoughts on anyone. Heck, most of my friends don’t blog, don’t read blogs, and barely know what a blog is. Honestly, I blog because I’m actually kind of fascinated by the idea of my random thoughts floating out there in the blogosphere for anyone to catch. And I like catching other people’s random thoughts, too. It’s good weird fun. Plus, I can always remember the blogs that truly intrigue me. For instance, at the Staples event, I met a lesbian evangelical Christian blogger with a lot to say.

2. Do I want a laptop? No, no, no and no. I mean, I can pretty much assure you that I will never be live-blogging anything. I would be so very bad at that, and other people do it so well. And, for the record, I have a miserable history of note-taking in school and videotaping any live event.

3. Could I be a better blogger? Not right now, and that’s the beauty of it all. I am the blogger I am! Getting a business card and a laptop would definitely put pressure on me to blog more frequently. But I already have enough pressure in my life. The appeal of the blog to me, in the end, is “No Pressure.”

*Full disclosure: I do covet a certain GPS device.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Easy, Healthy Dinners

Because of my mommy blogging, I was invited to a National Dairy Council event at Super Suppers in Northbrook. I like dairy and I like suppers, so on a Wednesday night I dropped my daughters off at my sister’s house and drove to the burbs during rush hour. It wasn’t so bad. I avoided construction on the Edens Expressway by taking Waukegan Rd., and when I arrived at my destination, I was welcomed into a cozy little party with wine and dairy-friendly appetizers and fun food people.

When I first heard about these dinner prep businesses, I was skeptical. Kind of like when I saw those frozen pb & j sandwiches at the grocery store. “Come on!” I thought to myself. “Where are we heading as a society?” But, I don’t know—maybe because of my 4-H roots—the dairy angle hooked me. I’m always trying to work more dairy into my daughters’ diet.

Well, it was a great event. A nutritionist was on hand to answer our questions, a cooking demonstration got us in the mood to cook, and then we all did the Super Supper thing. Which is to move from station to station following easy recipes using pre-chopped ingredients and foil pans. No cleaning, no shopping for ingredients, no reading of labels, and no thinking involved. Cover the pan, stick heating instructions on top, and walk out the door with six meals ($125 value) in two hours. I put all but one of the dinners in my freezer. I left the pan-fried ravioli in my fridge, so I could make it the next evening.

Today—three weeks later—there is one dinner left in the freezer. These meals helped me get through a very busy month, with numerous evening meetings. They freed me up once a week (or even twice, because of leftovers) from the dinner hassle.

Super Suppers sells gift cards. If you don’t want to or can’t afford to splurge on your family, do it for your parents or grandparents. I was talking to my 76-year-old father recently, giving him some hints about cooking dinners. We were commiserating about what a drag it is making dinner night after night after night. Even if you like to cook. The owner of Super Suppers told me 27% of Northbrook’s population is made up of seniors. If those seniors are anything like my dad (widowed, losing interest in cooking, flush with cash), then they would welcome this service.

So thanks, Dairy Council & Super Suppers. I left with lots of new ideas and recipes. In fact, here’s a good, fast one I’ve made for my daughters twice already. I think I'll send it to my dad, too.

Peanut Butter Banana Breakfast Shake
Makes 1 serving

1 c. fat-free or low-fat milk*
½ c. frozen banana slices (about ½ banana)
1 T. peanut butter*
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. vanilla extract
sprinkle of sweet cocoa powder (optional)

*Substitute soy/rice milk or soy butter. Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth and creamy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Opposite of School

My friend and I took our daughters to the Chicago Botanic Garden on Monday, since it was Columbus Day, and that means Chicago public schools have the day off. It’s so gorgeous up there in Glencoe. My friend is a talented gardener and I keep trying to be one, so an afternoon among the gardens was inspirational for the two of us. But it was therapeutic for our three six-graders. It was better than a field trip. They could move at their own pace.

We didn’t arrive until noon—my girls were outside playing and riding their scooters all morning (while they waited for their friend to wake up). We arrived hungry, with the intention of eating at the café, but it was packed, so we had to come up with Plan B. No problem! On the way to the Railroad Garden, the girls plotted out an efficient, ambitious route on the map.

They guided us to the Circle Garden, where they ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the water lilies and threw some pennies in the water. When it got too hot, they stomped in a fountain. Then they led us through the “awesome” bonsai garden (and it is awesome), before deciding it was time to eat. We grabbed sandwiches, and ate outside on the deck; and they loved hanging over the edge, looking into the water. They gathered up their crusts and ran off to feed the huge fish. For 45 minutes. Then we walked to the Waterfall Garden, and at the bottom, they sat and watched a mallard duck dip halfway under water—with his butt up in the air—as he searched for food. The girls smelled every different colored rose in the Rose Garden. In the Japanese Garden, they jumped up and down and waved their arms wildly to signal to us to come see the heron—10 feet away.

Of all the flowers in the garden, those three girls were the most beautiful.

Originally posted on Chicago Moms Blog.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards Meets Some Bloggers

Yesterday afternoon I had the unique experience of listening in on a conversation with Elizabeth Edwards (yes, that Elizabeth Edwards). She was meeting in person with about 20 contributors to Silicon Valley Moms Blog, and some of us from Chicago Moms Blog and DC Metro Moms Blog were able to link in remotely by telephone. And it was clear as soon as she walked into the room that you can’t not like this woman. She’s a strong, appealing person with much still to give in her life. Hell, she doesn’t have to meet with people like us. But she did.

And I’m glad she did, because I’ve been feeling like I want to know more about all the candidates this time around. And because of her I do. You know, it takes a lot of time to be informed. You have to read a lot of articles and listen to a lot of debates and read a lot of websites and platforms. And because she accepted an invitation to talk with our group, I did all those things, and I feel much more informed than I was last week. For example, I didn’t know that John Edwards has a plan to pay for one year of public college for students willing to work a part time job. He woud finance it by restructuring the student loan programs we’ve been hearing about in the news lately.

You can read here how she answered all our questions, and she did so with humor and grace. But it was her final comments that hit me. As a country, she said, “We are on a bad path now.” I couldn’t agree more with that statement. She went on to say that to change directions we need people to engage. Writing a check isn’t enough anymore. “It’s really easy to get more of the same, but no so easy to change things.”

But I think we do have to change things, and we can do that if we all just try a bit harder. She made me see that I can do that.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Recess & CPS: Will the Cartoon Network Rescue Recess?

My two daughters attend different CPS elementary schools (K-8), one with recess, the other with a “closed campus” (meaning no recess and a 20-minute lunch period). I believe that closed campuses in Chicago started back in the late 1970s in an effort to keep schoolchildren safe from street crime and violence.

Back in the late 1970s, I was in elementary school myself, and that means a generation (or two) of Chicagoans has grown up without recess. My daughter has not had recess in more than five years.

But people are working on it. For example:

1. The Cartoon Network sponsors something called “Rescuing Recess”. This movement might be working for some people, but the Cartoon Network doesn’t inspire a lot confidence in me, what with its siren call to children to waste away in front of the boob tube in physical inactivity.

2. Parents United for Healthy Schools has organized more than 30 parent organizations to bring a “Recess” bill before the Illinois state legislature. The bill, which requires a 10-minute recess for all elementary schools in Chicago, passed the House in May of this year. As far as I can tell, it’s languishing in the Senate. And this doesn’t inspire confidence in me, either. Check the Illinois General Assembly Bill Status page for updates, though!

And while I may recognize the absurdity in situations #1 and #2 above, I do think recess will come back in this city. It’s time. And I would very much like to see—just once—a program that was cut from public education reinstated.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Who’s Worthy of a Police Escort?

Someone important was driving through my neighborhood yesterday, because the Kennedy was cleared to make way for a motorcade and police escort. I witness this occasionally, but this time I was the first car allowed on the highway afterward, and I thought about following them (hah!) Could have been Barack Obama or John Edwards, both in town speaking at the Change to Win conference. Or maybe it was the Polish President Lech Kaczynski, in town speaking to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

I always wonder, though, who’s heading in from O’Hare. . . .

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Recess & CPS: How Much Is Recess Worth?

So, Jordan—a mother with a second-grade son enrolled in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system—was blogging about the lack of recess. It pained me to read her words, because they are so familiar. After six years in CPS, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these same sentiments expressed by other parents. I’ve expressed them myself.

Usually, the talk begins with some parent mumblings on the school grounds. Then, concerns about the physical and mental health of small children get brought up at a local school council (LSC) or PTA meeting. But nothing ever happens.

Except that good people leave the system. One of my favorite school moms transferred her son from our recess-less school to a private school with recess. She stuck it out for two years, though, before she made the switch. I saw her, after the move, and asked her how the new school was working out.

“It’s fine,” she said. “But I’m basically spending 8K a year for recess.”

Monday, September 24, 2007

Another Great Free Lecture

Yesterday afternoon I drove down to Hyde Park to catch Wangari Maathai’s speech at The University of Chicago. It took me a long time to get there via Lake Shore Drive, but I found a perfect parking spot near the Robie House, and a great seat inside the Rockefeller Chapel. I was delighted to make it; thrilled to take in a bit of the “college town” feeling again.

Ms. Maathai had just one hour to share before she hopped on a plane to her next destination. One hour in which to make us laugh, persuade us to plant trees, educate the educated, and sum up her life’s work. She did that, of course, and I don’t know how she was able to pack so much into such a short time. It seems she packs a lot into her life every, single day. She practices this way of living—models it—and in doing so makes me believe that we could all do that if we wanted.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Farm in Trouble

Instead of our box of organic vegetables, on Friday we received this letter from Farmer Renee. It’s filled with bad news, and to me, it’s very sad on a number of levels. Please take the time to read it, as it provides insight into the small farmer’s precarious situation.

Also, this article from the business section of a Madison, Wisconsin, newspaper The Capital Times discusses the surprisingly large role small southwestern Wisconsin farms play in the huge organic foods economy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

For Chip Chan, 1978-2001

On September 11, 2001, my daughters had been in kindergarten for one week. I had just returned home from dropping them at school, when my sister called and told me to turn on the television. Immediately I called the schools to see if I should pick up my daughters (which is what I wanted to do). I felt that we should be together. But I was persuaded not to do this. The professional educators did not want to scare the children, and they promised to help the children understand what was happening in the world.

One of my twins was enrolled at a public K-8 school with a dream principal. She brought all the children in grades 1-8 into the gymnasium for an assembly at which she spoke. She did not feel the kindergartners would be ready for this, so she talked with the kindergarten class separately, with their teacher. I cannot imagine a better person to talk to these children. (She has now retired from the system). My other daughter was enrolled in our local parish school (also K-8), also with a dream principal. She gathered all the grades together and they prayed as a community. I cannot imagine a better person to pray with these children. (Sister Sarah, the principal, left that school, as well).

I believe the schools were right to keep the children that dark day. I would have scared them, surely, had I brought them home. Because I sat in front of the television, crying, trying to understand, worried about my friends, worried about the world, worried about my children, and so angry that we seem destined to live this way.

When my daughters did come home that afternoon, my husband and I tried to answer their questions. Such questions as, “If they saw the building right in front of them, why didn’t they just steer the plane around it?” Five-year-olds, generally, don’t understand suicide or terrorism, and my five-year-olds certainly didn’t understand the magnitude of this event. There was no context for them. I don’t remember if they even knew much about New York City at the time.

Of course now, at age 11 and in 6th grade, they know all about those things. They've got nothin' but context. They’ve spent time in New York City, and they've been hearing bad news in the background of their lives for as long as they can remember. And yet, today, my husband and I still have difficulty answering their questions. Such questions as, “When is this war going to end?”

I still cry, still try to understand. I still worry about my friends, the world, my children, all children. I am still so angry that we seem destined to live this way.

Fatigue has set in, for myself. And, as I suspect, our youth.

Cross-posted at Chicago Moms Blog.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Shareholders Social

Our neighborhood escaped those heavy rains at the end of August, but the farm we subscribed to this summer got hit. Crawford County in southwestern Wisconsin, where our farm is located, was declared a disaster zone after days of unrelenting rains. Farmer Renee suspended delivery for one week so she could assess crop loss. In the meantime, a social was scheduled at our pick up site.

So we dropped by on Saturday to meet a few of the other shareholders—one of whom organized the whole site and has been communicating with us about deliveries—compared CSA experiences, sampled fair trade coffee, and tasted a watermelon from this week’s box of produce. Halfway through the 2007 growing season, I’m happy to have met some like-minded food people, and they psyched me up for more chopping/grilling of vegetables! (But no more tomatoes—they were all lost in the storms.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Mothers & Politics

Over at Chicago Moms Blog, Kim Moldofsky extended an open invitation to Barack and Michelle Obama to meet with some local mommy bloggers and talk politics (but not the politics of breastfeeding). This is an interesting request on behalf of the 25 mothers who contribute to Chicago Moms Blog (and not just because I'm one of them).

It's interesting to me because it's within the realm of possibility. After all, last October, Elizabeth Edwards met with moms from our sister site, Silicon Valley Moms Blog. Kim's request is most interesting, to me, because she's asking mothers to engage more fully in the political process.

I can do that. Even if I don't get to meet the Obamas.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Katrina 2nd Anniversary

I heard both these authors speak eloquently on TV recently and jotted the book titles down. Today seems like a good day to pick up the books and start reading:

Down in New Orleans: Reflections from a Drowned City by Billy Sothern.

1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose, a Times-Picayune columnist.

Friday, August 24, 2007

At the Farmer's Market

I took our girls to a farmer’s market yesterday morning, for the first time this summer. We haven’t been to any yet because our CSA is supplying us with more than enough fresh produce. But I wanted to hit a few markets this season to see what they offer (specifically in terms of meat and dairy).

We purchased a small box of raspberries and four nectarines for a total of $7 (pricey, yes, but the best I’ve tasted in many, many months). The CSA is a much better deal, at $20/week (though this is for organic vegetables). Economics aside, I have forgotten how fun it is to roam around the market, buy non-food items, and learn about other local organizations.

I discovered Urban Meadows, a Chicago-based nonprofit florist that provides jobs and job training for people with mental illness. And
The Enterprising Kitchen
is a Chicago-based nonprofit natural products business providing employment and life skills to low-income women working toward self-sufficiency and independence.

Monday, August 20, 2007

I Wonder, Will This Happen?

I met Rahm Emanuel once at the grocery store. He was near the door, campaigning, and I recognized him.

“Rahm Emanuel!” I said. He smiled, talked with me for a few minutes about my issues, shook hands with my daughters and engaged them in a little small talk. I saw him again a few years later at a schools event called “Rahm’s Readers.” He was there with his family and young children. I didn’t feel the need to bother him then, but I was pleased to see him in the community setting—and working for our children.

So, I always read his mailings. In the most recent brochure, I learned about federal money ($2.8 million) he’s secured for a new urban park on the North Side. With additional state and city money, the 20-acre West Ridge Nature Preserve will be created out of unused land purchased from the Rosehill Cemetery.

Haven’t heard about this anywhere else.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Winding down in the Windy City

School starts two weeks from Monday, and I’ve yet to buy school supplies, backpacks, new clothes. My next-door neighbor told me that Target was down to nothing on the school supply front. Hmm. . . . I could get started on that.

But we’re not done with summer. We haven’t gone blueberry picking yet (and I’m sure it’s too late now). We still haven’t biked to the ice cream parlor with my daughter’s classmate. In fact, we haven’t done our long bike ride on the trail that picks up in Edgebrook. We haven’t made it out to Moraine Hills State Park for a long, family hike. We haven’t even been to the zoo.

We could do any of those things today. Or, we could hit North Avenue Beach to watch the practice for this weekend’s Air & Water Show. We could hit a certain farmer’s market that sells local, “naturally raised” beef (does that mean cattle grazing in a pasture? I have to find out.)

But I think what we will do is spend one more 5-hour chunk of a sunny city day at our favorite pool, before it closes for the season. To say goodbye to our favorite lifeguard/neighbor/friend/babysitter before she drives off to grad school in another city far away.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Chicago Wedding

Driving back into Chicago after touring a beautiful part of the country was a bit of a let down. It’s so flat here—and humid—and Chicago’s “blue” sky, tinted with visible brown pollution, pales against the bright blue sky out West. It made me wonder why I continue to live here. At a wedding on Saturday, an acquaintance of mine (our children attend school together) scooted into the pew next to me, and while waiting for the ceremony to begin, we caught up on each other’s summer plans. I talked about out West and my disenchanted state of mind.

“I ask myself why I live in Chicago all the time,” she said with disgust. (She relocated from NYC a few years ago.) “It’s boring, the schools aren’t great, it’s expensive. . . .”

“Well, it’s not that bad,” I said. “There’s tons to do here, and New York is way more expensive.”

“Well, yeah, it’s expensive there—but you get to live in New York City! Here all you get for your money is Chicago.”

Then the music started, so we all turned to watch the procession begin. The church was packed. I’ve never seen so many people at a wedding. My daughter and my pew mate’s son took the end seats to ensure they would get a glimpse of the bride—their beloved teacher. All around me I could see other parents and children and teachers and staff from the school. During Holy Communion, I saw even more parents and children, and afterward, teachers who retired or had moved to other schools as well as a recently graduated eighth-grader. At the end of the service, we exited our pew in a way that, luckily, brought us right to the bride, and she hugged my daughter in her huge joy. A bunch of us stood around after the ceremony, basking in the extraordinary energy of this shining star of a teacher. We would not be going to the reception; would not see her until school started up after Labor Day.

The Chicago public elementary school where this teacher works, and my daughter attends, enrolls more than 1,000 children from preschool through eighth grade. This gifted and inspirational teacher—a native Chicagoan—invited the entire school community to the church for her wedding. She actually listed the date, time and place in the school newsletter. And the school community turned out. Yet, in the bigness of this day, there was a small-town intimacy and warmth. And in her generous way, this beautiful teacher gave me a gift on her wedding day. She helped me to see all the awesome people I’ve met in the Chicago Public School system and citywide.

I’m pretty sure those people are what keep me living in this town. And I hope my friend from NYC will come to value this part of life in Chicago, as well.

Cross-posted on Chicago Moms Blog.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

"D" for Dams

I’m only posting two photographs from our vacation.

The collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis and subsequent reporting on the state of our infrastructure got me thinking about the thousands of dams all over this country. Of course I'm worried about bridges, especially some specific Chicago bridges, but I can't get rivers and dams off my mind. There are so many out West! We didn’t make it to Hoover Dam on our journey, but we did drive by the Flaming Gorge Dam in Utah, seen in the top photo, below. (That's not water flowing, there; it's sunlight on concrete. Behind the dam is a reservoir extending for miles.) For perspective’s sake, it’s 500 feet high, quite a bit higher than Yellowstone’s Lower Falls (302 ft.), captured in the bottom photo. Because of our road trip, I can kind of imagine what would happen if a dam like Flaming Gorge was compromised. But to torment myself further, I Googled that 2005 report card so much in the news this last week. Here are the grades: “D” for dams.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Scale of Things

Just back from our trip out West—a trip that, to me, was both humbling and inspiring. We spent time camping, hiking and whitewater rafting in Dinosaur National Monument followed by wildlife watching and hiking in Yellowstone National Park, two huge protected areas within an unimaginable vastness and brilliance. We put more than 3,000 miles on the van. We listened to all 21 hours of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (12 cassettes).

Until now Chicago seemed west enough for me, and I have loved the big beauty of this city since childhood. The way the skyline appears on the horizon as you approach from any direction (but especially when approaching from the south on Lakeshore Drive). The way the city sparkles on sunny days . . . and winter nights. The accessibility of the beachfront and the lake. The food, the art, the music, the neighborhoods, the people, the fascinating history of this place, and even certain buildings.

Now I see that Chicago is a speck.

Here’s some perspective. Thanks to hubby for the graphic.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Hey Loyal Readers -

Click here (Chicago Moms Blog) for a chance at a free video cam. . . .

Friday, July 20, 2007

Lake Michigan and BP

This morning, both the Sun-Times and the Tribune print editorials against BP’s new plan to dump additional waste into Lake Michigan, via its Whiting, Indiana, refinery. I guess BP rules the world. . . .

Earlier this week I expressed my disappointment with the Illinois EPA. Now I can express the same for the Indiana EPA. I’m going to the lakefront to sign the petition.

I drive through Indiana every time I visit my family in Michigan, and I usually fill up my tank there because gas is cheaper. I’m not going to do that anymore. The Michigan economy is really in trouble, so I’ll spend more there, instead. I want to see Indiana make a big effort creating jobs/industries that clean up the environment.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

When Friends Book a Room Downtown

I’ll probably never be able to eat at Frontera Grill again. My friend and I tried to eat there on Tuesday night. Neither of us was especially hungry, so we thought we could handle a long wait at the bar. Except there were about 60 people queued up there. My friend, from Manhattan, said, “I don't think so.” Then we tried Heaven on Seven. Same thing. Finally, we ditched the whole mad scene and went to Greek Town—no waiting, free parking, and an exceptionally pleasant waiter who didn’t want to interrupt our conversation.

On Sunday, the wait for lunch at Bistro 110 was also two hours. I like to see and experience a booming, summertime Chicago as much as the next person, and I like to revisit my favorite eating establishments. Looks like I have to find some new ones. . . .

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Chicago Water

This morning I learned that Chicago doesn’t disinfect its wastewater for viruses, bacteria, and pathogens. An Alliance for the Great Lakes report “Protecting Public Health, Caring for Chicago’s Waters: An Agenda for Action” released yesterday notes that only four major U.S. cities do not disinfect.

The other three cities falling down on the job are Memphis, Tenn., St. Louis, Mo., and Kansas City, Mo. But those cities are expected to disinfect in the near future.

The Alliance report recommends disinfecting through UV technology at a cost of $8.52 per person, and the Alliance President throws the Olympics out there as one of many reasons for investing in the city’s waterways.

I’m not excited about the possiblitiy of a Chicago Olympics, but if that would help this city fix public trans and clean up the water, maybe I should be.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Draw of the City

I'm only 100 pages into this book, but I like the way McNally describes Chicago. And Jainey—a modern, alternative, suburban high schooler:

“Jainey had always thought of Burbank as the center of her universe, a kind of mother ship upon which she sailed through life, but what Jainey saw now was that the real mother ship was Chicago and that Burbank was nothing more than a tiny moss-covered barnacle desperately clinging to the ship’s hull.” —from America’s Report Card: A Novel by John McNally

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Science Literacy (Or, What $288 Can Buy)

I have a long list of books I’d like to read before I leave this world. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is on it, and I took great satisfaction recently in checking it off.

Five years ago, when my daughters were newly enrolled in Chicago Public Schools, I chose to become involved in that system through volunteering. I’m not really a School Picture Day kind of mom or a Lunch Duty mom (though I have been, on occasion). As a reader, I’m more interested in the books my children bring home, and the kind of work my children are asked to do.

The curriculum—the exposure to various subjects—is the thing.

So I got involved in the school’s Barnes & Noble Book Fair for a few years. This is an advertised shopping day, when members of our school community spend money at Barnes & Noble with a percentage of sales coming back to our school. We typically earn about $900. I would then divvy up that money (through book purchases) between all the teachers who provided me with a wish list of books for their classrooms.

The science teacher’s list was incredible, and eyeballing it, I guessed the cost of providing it would extend beyond our tiny budget. The list included classroom sets (30 copies) of various Golden Field Guides (tree, fish identification) and a set of Silent Spring for an eighth-grade environmental science unit. I suggested the teacher prioritize the list, and Rachel Carson came out on top. Nevertheless, that year I went a little heavy in the science department, and spent $288 on 30 paperback copies of Silent Spring. I went to our Parent-Teacher organization to request additional monies for the purchase. Parents voted and agreed to give me a bit more money for book-buying. In the school newsletter I listed every book title I purchased for the teachers and how much I spent. No one complained how the money was spent. Some people even thanked me for keeping them informed.

I suspect, though, that there are parents in these United States that would complain about spending PTO funds on books by Rachel Carson. I hope I'm wrong about that, for the children's sake.

On the most recent Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISATs), my daughter’s school vastly out-performed the city and the state averages on their basic science assessments. I’m not surprised. One teacher can have quite a ripple effect.

And even though many years will pass before my daughter is asked to read Silent Spring for class, her teacher generously loaned me out a copy of the book for the summer.

That’s how I came to read Silent Spring and how I came to blog about Rachel Carson and science literacy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Put This Woman in Charge

My mover-and-shaker friends from NYC will be in Chicago next week for business. During a telephone conversation about when and where we could hook up, we talked about the TED conferences and some of the amazing people invited to speak. Here's Majora Carter making her case in the 18 minutes TED allots each presenter. Stay ‘til the end of the video. . . she won't disappoint.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Veggie Drop-Off #1

Here’s our first delivery of vegetables from the organic farm we subscribed to this year. Aren’t they beautiful? Farmer Renee dropped them off today at a church behind our local Starbucks.

What I'm able to identify is the red-leafed lettuce, the bunch of turnips (in the center of the photo), and the cucumbers. I can’t competently i.d. the other two lettuce varieties. The bag of what we first thought were green beans turned out to be long, curvy green onions (not like any I’d ever seen before). We chopped off a piece to taste. Wow—so fresh.

The challenge, of course, is how to prepare all this lovely produce during the next seven days (before the next delivery). And to get our daughters to partake!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Sun Farmer

A friend of mine went to a local bookstore to hear Michael McCarthy read from and talk about his new book The Sun Farmer (Ivan R. Dee, 2007). The book tells the story of an Illinois farmer’s devastating accident—while pulling a propane tank with his tractor—resulting in third degree burns covering 93% of his body. McCarthy documents the 45-year-old farmer’s 14-month-stay in the burn unit at The University of Wisconsin in Madison and his subsequent attempts at rehabilitating back into the farming life.

In another time and place my friend knew the wife of the injured farmer in McCarthy’s book. They attended high school together, and after listening to the author speak here in Chicago, my friend made the touching gesture of purchasing six copies of this book to give to the members of our book club. We will be meeting in two weeks to discuss it. I would not have known about this book were it not for my friend. But I am moved by it. I learned much about the science of artificial skin; advancements in burn treatments; the small, family farm; and the farming community.

I learned much about my friend, too.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Big F

That’s how my children refer to the flood that demolished our basement in August of 1999. The basement where we had relocated most of the toys that had taken over the main level of our house. The girls’ river of toys had flowed out of their bedroom, into our living room and kitchen and had even taken over our “office.” Hubby and I had had enough of the mess.

We had never experienced Chicago flooding, though. And that long-ago storm was a doozy. We lost many treasures, including my childhood collection of Christmas tree ornaments and Hubby’s childhood comic book collection. We carried out furniture and rugs and greeted our neighbors in the alley doing the same. We filled garbage bag after garbage bag of wet toys (mostly stuffed animals, including hard-to-replace Pound Puppies) and hauled those out, too. Not even five years old, our daughters bawled real tears as they picked up each soaked animal friend and cried out, “Not Teabag!” or “NO! Not Christopher!” It was a learning experience for all of us, and it traumatized our daughters.

Floods come every few years now, so we have learned to live with them. I have awakened many times in the middle of the night to the sound of heavy rain, and rushed downstairs to put in the standpipe. The girls always keep their most beloved toys upstairs, and have learned to keep the basement reasonably tidy. But an impending storm is just about the only thing that motivates our daughters to get everything up off the basement floor (and they can really hustle when they need to).

Anyway, yesterday’s microburst caused flooding, all over Chicago, and once again our neighborhood cleaned up. We didn’t lose too much. My daughters are eleven years old and very helpful in a crisis—still, one of them fought back tears when she realized we couldn’t save a stuffed pig she’s had since birth.

I’m philosophical about Chicago weather, and now just view flooding as an efficient way to purge our house of junk. But the girls still curse the gods. And rue The Big F.

Hope you all survived. . . .

Cross posted at Chicago Moms Blog.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Left-of-Center Gal in a Right-of-Center Family

Sometimes when I’m talking with my brothers and sisters, I think I might have been adopted. At a family birthday party this weekend I was teased about my “personal farmer” (Farmer Renee, who runs the organic farm we subscribed to this year) and my vegetarian book club (we eat narrowly, but read broadly). Certain members of my family find vegetables hysterically funny and politically threatening. I like the way they taste, and I think they’re good for my body. Oh well.

Later on, when Rachel Carson’s name came up, I knew we wouldn’t be discussing her groundbreaking book Silent Spring (1962). Fairly certain I was the only one in the room who had actually read the book, I wasn’t surprised to find myself arguing that Rachel Carson was not responsible for the malarial deaths of millions of Africans. And as usually happens in family conversations, nobody was backing me up! So I said I’d pass on some information to consider:

1. The history of pesticide use is a complex and difficult topic (I’m still working my way through this document). Blaming an on-going travesty on Rachel Carson is undoubtedly easier (not to mention the shock value of such statements) than understanding the long-term effects of chemicals on our environment.

2. Here’s what the EPA and CDC currently say about mosquito control, pointing to a considered, well-rounded approach (which is what Rachel Carson would have preferred).

3. Here’s the political motivation (and IMHO, it must be political since it distracts us from other bad news of the day—Why her? Why now?) for tearing down Rachel Carson, according to an interesting science blogger.

To me, Rachel Carson was a gifted writer who could explain science to the non-scientist. She gave people compelling evidence for watching and questioning the chemical industry and the government. People like that don’t come around very often. But I sure wish they would.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Another One Bites the Dust

First Toot’s, and now this. In our local paper, I just read a story about yet another condo development in the works in our neighborhood. This news item hit home because friends of ours are the current owners of the property in question. They recently moved to the suburbs, so we knew the property was for sale. We just didn’t realize the house would be razed. Our children played in that house and went to school together.

Interesting, that our 11-year-olds have now lived in a Chicago neighborhood long enough to know its history—and the stories behind certain buildings and street corners.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sparkle Fingers

Here’s a follow-up to my earlier post (June 6, 2007) about cultural differences in raising boys and girls.

At Montrose Harbor two Saturdays ago our family participated in the WonderGirl 5K Run, the culminating event of the year for Girls on the Run Chicago (GOTR). This program works with small groups of girls in schools around Chicagoland. At my daughter’s school, GOTR met twice a week for 10 weeks training for the 5K and completing activities promoting discipline, healthy eating, Girl Power, teamwork, and friendship building. I am impressed with this program, and watched over the weeks as the girls got to know each other better and built up their physical endurance. But both my girls and I reacted negatively to the girlie-princess-talk aspect of the program. For example, “sparkle fingers” to show support and enthusiasm for each other. And tiaras were given out on race day.

Who honestly believes that sparkle fingers are going to motivate anyone at the end of a 5K run?

Why—as a culture— do we talk to our daughters this way?

Friday, June 8, 2007

News from the Great Lakes Conference

I drove down to UIC yesterday morning to catch a little of the “Sustainable Cities, Healthy Watersheds” Great Lakes Conference. The kids were in school, and the day’s programming was free to the public, but I was only able to catch one session. Still, I learned a lot, and I came home with a pile of literature.

Here, for example, is where the public can comment on the Great Lake Water Quality Agreement, which is currently under review. Comments will be accepted through July 14, 2007.

I also learned about the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory Program, where citizens can type in their zip codes and get a list of who’s releasing what into the local environment. Check it out (scroll down for the zip code thing).

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Casual Kindergarten

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a kindergarten graduation—one that did not involve my children. They, in fact, were still in school. So I didn’t have to film the event, or take pictures or even arrive early for optimal seating. I just showed up, stood against the wall, and basked in all the sweetness.

Now, I was raised to dress up for special occasions, and I insist my daughters do the same. But I’m not a fashionista, by any means. I’m against school uniforms. I’m for the Casual Work Place.

So I couldn’t help noticing that all the kindergarten girls looked like American Girl models in their skirts/dresses with matching dress shoes and hair accessories. But after a while I started to wonder what happened to all the American Boys. I counted four boys who were dressed up—wearing belted khaki pants and a tucked in shirt and dress shoes. I smiled deeply at the one boy actually wearing a tie. A large number of boys wore tennis shoes, khaki pants and dress shirts, but the shirts weren’t tucked in, and they weren’t wearing belts. The rest of the boys were wearing play clothes. Call me old-fashioned, but the Camouflage-Bermudas-&-Crocs look didn’t do it for me. Don’t get me wrong; these were all beautiful, well-behaved boys.

Interestingly, every father in the place was dressed in a suit and tie, or belted pants, tucked in shirt, and dress shoes.

Stores still sell boys belts and dress shoes, right? Are parents of boys so busy they can’t track these items down? Someone mentioned that Crocs Boy was a fourth child. Do mothers of large families eventually just stop trying on the fourth kindergarten graduation?

Maybe this “boy casual” uniform means nothing, but it seems like it means something—like it’s a metaphor for different standards for the sexes. I mean, mothers of girls are never too busy to run around putting together nice outfits for their daughters, right? And none of those girls up on the stage could be a third or fourth child, right?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Right Bite

At the grocery store today, I stood staring at my fish options—everything looked good, and some of that fish was reasonably priced. But I couldn’t remember which fish was the "right" fish to buy. And I didn’t have that little card from the Shedd Aquarium to help me support a sustainable fishing industry. I left without buying any fish.

Here’s a copy for downloading and keeping in the wallet, from the Shedd’s website.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Thinking Blogger Award

The other day Johnny Yen—a loyal reader of this blog—complimented me with a Thinking Blogger Award. I’m much appreciative of this gesture, and as I (so new to the blogosphere) understand it, now it’s my turn to pick five other thinking bloggers. One of those would certainly have to go back to Johnny, but he’s already won it, deservedly, a couple of times. He posts about politics and history and music and being a CPS teacher and a father, husband, and friend. He’s also funny, and this cicada post, gave me a good, good laugh.

Thanks Johnny. I’m finally starting a blog roll.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More Blogging

I’ve joined a group of mothers who blog over at Chicago Moms Blog, and my posts are here. I will put most of my parenting comments over there, but I’ll cross post here occasionally, too.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Chicago Beaches

It’s officially beach season in Chicago (which means lifeguards on duty, daily testing for e. coli levels in Lake Michigan, and open bathrooms).

In years past I recall checking a website for beach closings, but I can’t find it on the City of Chicago website or the Chicago Park District website. I did find, however, the number for the Beach Hotline: 312-74-BEACH. I called. The message wasn't updated for today, but yesterday all beaches were safe for swimming.

I read a couple of news stories about BigBelly solar powered trash compactors, corn oil on sea gull eggs, and an improved test for e. coli concentrations that gives results in 4-6 hours instead of 24.

I’ll be curious to see if this new arsenal helps our beaches stay healthy this season.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The DIA Today

Since our family was visiting Michigan this weekend, I braced myself at breakfast for reading the Detroit Free Press. I grew up reading this Motor City paper, and I expected to see most of its pages devoted to the Cerberus purchase of Daimler Chrysler. I was surprised to see a huge article about the massive makeover of the Detroit Institute of Arts in a last ditch effort to rescue it from debilitating financial problems.

According to the article, “The DIA, which once received $16 million a year in state funding, now gets just more than $1 million and hasn’t received anything this year because of a moratorium on arts grants. The museum has raised more than $300 million since 1997 in capital funds, but tens of millions of dollars—that otherwise could have generated income as part of the endowment—were needed to plug holes in the annual budget.” (The holes in the budget run between $12 million and $14 million per year, according to the article.)

On the drive home from Michigan, I read an article in The New York Times, mentioning the bestselling Dangerous Book for Boys and tying it to the concern over a decline in traditional play by today’s kids. We’ve heard all this before, ad nauseum. Of course kids need idle time—time to let their imagination wander and time with their families.

This article doesn’t make me feel guilty, because my children are consummate imaginative players. And when we go to Michigan, they disappear for hours with their cousins, inventing new games or climbing trees or just hanging out. However, in the eleven years that my children have been visiting the Detroit area, we have never visited the DIA. Even though we are museum supporters. Even though we are frequent visitors and members of Chicago’s museums.

There’s no excuse for never having taken our daughters to the DIA. Except laziness. And I suspect that’s why attendance is low at the DIA and the museum finds itself in such a precarious situation. Families are just too busy, and going to the museum is just another trip to make.

But I can vividly remember my first visit to the DIA and the impact it had on me. As a young girl, I went with my friend’s family, and on that lovely visit I saw the work of Diego Rivera for the first time—his huge fresco murals Detroit Industry rocked my world. It makes me sick that I haven’t brought my daughters to see this stunning room (zoom in for maximum effect).

So, it is the article about the DIA that makes me feel guilty. Wouldn’t it be nice, parents, if all we have to do to raise our parenting game is unplug the technology and kick the kids outside?

That’s too easy, I’m afraid. Please, get out there and take the kids to the museums. Have them invite a friend to come along. Field trips and vacations aren’t enough exposure. Kids need to go to their local museums, explore them, and get to know the treasures they house. That takes time and effort, and it’s not easy.

It's not just about our children. It's about our culture.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The 27

This is unacceptable.

And now I have to figure out what I can do about it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Body Image

Back in my 20s, I was very conscious of being one of the youngest staff members at my place of employment. I didn’t feel bad or insecure about that, I just noticed my age made me different from everybody else in one obvious way. At “coffee,” our editorial group gathered to talk industry news or pop culture for 20 minutes or so most mornings. I thoroughly enjoyed my co-workers' personalities and insights and collective knowledge. But I couldn’t figure out why everyone was so obsessed with their bodies. Bunions, bad backs, migraines, fatigue, exhaustion, and on and on and on (“sheez,” I thought. “What’s wrong with these people?”)

What was wrong with these people was that they were in their 40s. It only took me 20 years to figure that out, and now that I have, I hear similar complaints coming from the mouths of my peers and my siblings (and sometimes myself) whenever we gather.

So it tickles me when I encounter people in their 60s and 70s providing me new information about health and fitness. Today my 70-plus friend was describing a “Pump & Run” 5K event that her 61-year-old brother won this weekend in Wisconsin. I've never heard the term before today, but this is an event in which participants bench press an amount of weight based on their own body weight, and then they run a 5K. My friend had no idea how much weight participants were pressing, just that her brother completed 79 repetitions. And that he came in first out of more than 100 racers.

Now that’s what I want to hear! I’m “running” my first 5K next month. But I hope in another 20 years or so, my generation will be leading the way in strong, healthy living.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What's So Controversial about Chocolate?

I thought I’d learn more about that catchy “Don’t Mess With Our Chocolate” campaign.

Mostly because I adore chocolate. As a matter of fact, I’m eating a small bag of Raisinets as I write, and sure enough, even on this unremarkable candy, cocoa butter and milk are still on the ingredient list. But I’m also curious because, as a parent, I know a lot about the manufacture of chocolate. (All those field trips and educational television shows have left their mark on me!) Back in 2002, for example, our family visited the Field Museum to see its exhibition on chocolate, which takes a visitor through all the steps in the process. This past February we hit the Chocolate Fest at Garfield Park. (This is the event where you learn about making chocolate while you weave slowly through the conservatory on your way to free chocolate samples.)

So I started surfing the Net, and here’s what I found out. I need Michael Pollan to translate for me. This is a classic game of Big Industry v. Big Government, and I don't see how consumers can make any sense of it at all. Maybe this is about trans fats. Or new technologies. Or protecting the public.

My overwhelming sense, though, is it's not the latter.

I’d be curious to know what you think.

So give it a go. Start anywhere, and make sure to check out the docket page!

FAQs from the CMA (representing 90% of America’s chocolate manufacturers and including World’s Finest Chocolate, Inc. and The Blommer Chocolate Co. here in Chicago).

Also from the CMA website, this letter to its membership.

Grocery Manufacturers Association/Food Products Association website (original petition filer).

And, the FDA docket of legal documents surrounding the issue.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Times They Are a Changin'

Last night I watched an interview with chef Rick Bayless, in connection with Monday’s big news that his Frontera Grill won the James Beard Award for Best Restaurant in the United States. I’ve always been a fan of Bayless, and in this interview I learned that his Frontera Farmer Foundation awards capital development grants to small sustainable farms serving the Chicago area. Cool. Another reason to like him.

I’ve been following his career for years. In the early ‘90s, I met a friend of Rick Bayless’ who took me to his (then) new restaurant Topolobampo. In the late ‘90s, I volunteered for a few years at an organic garden. The person who ran it went on to become, incredibly, Rick Bayless’ personal gardener. I once saw her on his PBS television show, Mexico—One Plate at a Time. Many an evening our family sat drooling over his recipes featured on what was, at the time, our daughters’ favorite show.

“Look girls, you can see her in the background,” I shouted to my girls, pointing out my friend.

“I can’t believe she goes to Rick Bayless’ dinner parties,” I said to my husband, pointing out my jealousy.

A couple of years ago I wrote an essay for Chicago Parent, in which I talked about feeding my children. In it, I mentioned the significance of Rick Bayless to my daughters developing taste buds. Yet despite all these connections, I’ve never met the man.

But my daughters have.

Two years ago, after seeing a performance of Slava’s Snowshow at the Chicago Theater, my sister and I and our four daughters headed over to Frontera Grill for dinner. The girls immediately recognized the famous chef, and the four cousins ran up and asked for his autograph.

Today I sit here thinking how extraordinary it is that these 11- and 12-year-olds have not only eaten in the best restaurant in the U.S., but that they know so much about the chef behind its success.

When I was their age, I was impressed that a microwave could thaw a donut in 30 seconds!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Support Your Local Theater

The touring musical version of “The Color Purple” opened in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theater on Thursday night. Oprah attended the premiere, as did Mayor Daley and Roger Ebert.

My husband and I were right there downtown on Sunday night, and we saw the fans on their way into this show that has Big Media behind it. We were headed, however, just across the street to the Allegro Hotel, to attend a benefit for the Lifeline Theatre.

The Lifeline Theatre, located in the Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park, is a lovely, tiny theater that puts on a remarkable series of performances for children, and another series for adults. Our family has attended many of the children’s shows, all of which are adapted from well-loved children’s books. Lifeline’s version of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type was one I’ll never forget, mostly because our daughters laughed huge, physical laughs at every single joke (but also because we were seated in the front row, just an arm’s length away from the actors). Afterwards, the actors autographed the girls’ programs with “Power to the cows!” I couldn’t envision a better theater-going experience for my young daughters.

So I was pleased to find that Alpana Singh, who recently moved to Rogers Park, decided to put her creative backing behind Lifeline. Alpana is a celebrity sommelier and television host, and I might add, a cool, young person with obvious smarts. She organized her wine contacts and writer husband to come together for a night of wine tasting, short theater and socializing. Alpana spoke simply and forcefully about wine and community, she signed her new book, and remained in attendance for the entire event. Based on ticket prices and silent auction bids, I’m guessing she helped raise more than 50K in 3 hours, a considerable amount for a theater of this size. In her remarks at the start of the evening, Alpana referred, philosophically, to life’s “unexpected gifts.”

Of course! Lifeline has always been that to me. And isn’t it wonderful how now Alpana can be considered one of Lifeline’s?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Now What in New Orleans?

Former Chicago Public Schools chief, who went on to head Philadelphia's public schools, is apparently heading to New Orleans to take over. I find this a fascinating story, as I've mentioned before. But it doesn't give me good vibes about the future of the New Orleans public school system. I thought Vallas wanted to come back to Chicago. . . ?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

From Inside the Medical Community

I took a walk today with a mom I know, as we waited for our daughters to finish up an after-school program. Somewhere on our third lap around the field, it dawned on me that between us we were mourning the recent losses of a sister, a brother, a mother, two grandmothers, and a friend. We were trying to come to terms with sudden illness and chronic illness and aging and senior living.

Then I came home and read Atul Gawande’s article "The Way We Age Now" in this week’s New Yorker. Here’s the online version. Gawande is an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School.

The implications of this report couldn't be more clear.

Blog revisited

One unintentional pattern that shows up in my blogging is how books and great food often point me in new directions. Books (and films and theater and all the arts) showcase ideas. And food. . . well, food provides the opportunity for people to sit around and discuss ideas. There doesn’t seem to be enough opportunities, though, for good discussion and conversation these days.

Which is why I’ve hardly missed—in more than five years—a gathering of my book club; and why our family chases down specific book titles; and why we’re rethinking our grocery-buying decisions and eating habits; and why we still don’t have cable TV or a game system, and why I keep posting snippets of actual conversations I have. I'm just trying to understand the world we're handing our children.

I believe the times we live in will continue on at a whirlwind pace.

And I also believe I will continue to place a huge value on the books and meals and conversations that keep us from getting caught up in it.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Blog Metaphor

As we await the publication of the seventh and last Harry Potter book this July, our family is re-reading the series. Here’s an interesting passage that carries more meaning for me the second time around:

“It is called a Pensieve,” said Dumbledore. “I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind . . . . At these times, . . . I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.”
—From Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

That’s kind of how I've come to view this blog.

But I'm no Dumbledore! So, please bear with me. . . .

Friday, April 27, 2007

More CSA

To follow up on last month’s post, our family has officially joined the CSA movement (at least for the 2007 growing season). Today we purchased a partial share in Sweet Earth Organic Farm. We will be picking up our box of fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables once a week from June to November.

This is a challenge we look forward to.

Executive Session

I also posted once before about public meetings, and because I attend so many, I often find myself in (or drawn to) conversations about how meetings are supposed to be run. Here’s a link to an interesting page about closed meetings on the website of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The website contains much more on this topic, of course—such as the text of the Illinois Open Meetings Act—but this page alone was enough to make me wonder who is or is not actually following these recommendations.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Mother Talk

I called a friend of mine at her office on Friday at 4pm, asking her if she would like to join me for an event I was planning on attending in just a few hours. I didn’t have a problem going by myself, but since it was kind of different, I wanted to share the experience with someone. With her usual cool flexibility, my friend answered, “I’m in.”

And so we found ourselves participating in a MotherTalk literary salon in Morton Grove, a suburb just north of Chicago. Our hostess—Kim Moldofsky—is a food blogger over at Chicago Parent, and she had gathered about 20 moms to meet and talk with Rachel Johnson, the charming, young British author of Notting Hell.

For a few hours this group of disparate moms (from the city, from the suburbs, from England) made themselves comfortable while discussing the writing life, working, staying home, raising kids, food, and recycling.

I met some lovely, interesting and competent women that night, and I listened to their views. But it struck me that with so much in common (as mothers), we tend to focus on our differences—how Americans and Europeans view the Green movement, how suburbanites and city dwellers view recycling, and how we view each other’s parent/work philosophy.

But it’s all about the dialog, so I applaud Kim and her extraordinary effort at building community.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Springfield, IL

I used to think the best part of going to Springfield, our state capital, was visiting the historic Lincoln Home. Our family has toured it twice, and it has a strong appeal to young and old. On Wednesday, though, my girls and I found ourselves in the Old State Capitol building, and lovin’ it.

A politically savvy mom I know, here in Chicago, organized and secured funding for this one-day road trip from the Illinois State Representative who serves our daughters’ school. About 10 families rearranged their schedules to join us for the day—meeting our representative, handing him our letters, viewing the assembled legislators at work from the balcony, and waving to them when our group was introduced. However, rushing from gathering place to gathering place, going through security, listening to the rattling off of House bills to be voted on, and registering all the details seemed to slightly confuse the students in our group. But you know, the way big government works these days is confusing. I doubt any of the kids came away thinking they would like to be a legislator when they grow up.

Afterward, we had a little free time, and decided by group consensus to walk over to the Old State Capitol, the seat of Illinois political life from 1839-1876. Government makes a lot more sense over there. Our children could see where Lincoln worked on his House Divided speech, where he stood to deliver it. They could see the quill pens and pots of ink at each desk in the Senate and the House, the little drawers where tax records where filed, the cozy quarters in which legislators worked together. It’s probably safe to say that our little crew enjoyed this part of the day the most. Why?

I’m convinced we were all feeling the huge sense of relief at having escaped the complexity of modern government.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

On a Clear Night

A number of years ago, my husband completed a telescope-building class at the Adler Planetarium. On those rare clear nights in Chicago when something interesting is happening in the heavens, he will set up the powerful scope in our backyard so that we may marvel at a part of the sky we’re not accustomed to seeing much anymore.

Tonight wasn’t one of those nights, however. Like most nights during the work and school week, there wasn’t time to set up the telescope. But there was time to for hubby to call us from the train station and alert us to a great view of Jupiter and a crescent Moon.

“Go out on the porch and look to the west,” he said.

Each of us dropped what we were doing and ran out to greet a perfect astrological pairing in a perfect sky. Clearly visible to the naked eye.

Seeing those two bright objects in the night sky is almost jarring, though. Chicago’s light pollution masks the thousands of stars we would be seeing in a less urban area. More often than not, airplanes are more visible than stars.

Curiously, the view tonight reminded me of a child’s drawing (or a Crockett Johnson drawing)—an overly large, twinkling star sitting just above the smile of a crescent moon, placed in the middle of a solid blue background.

Slightly unnatural and exposed.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Our daughters went to Girl Scout Camp this weekend, and because there wasn’t any school on Friday, they were gone from Friday at 10am to Sunday at 3pm. At age 11, that’s the longest camping trip for them yet (without us, that is).

In their previous scouting years (as Brownies) I always went along as a chaperone and driver. But now my daughters are Juniors, and they are in a troop that allows them much more independence and responsibility. None of the troop leaders asked me to go. Neither did my daughters.

“Bring hats,” I said to them as we loaded up the gear.

“We’re fine, Mom,” they said.

“Bring mittens,” I responded.

“We’re fine, Mom,” they said.

When we arrived at the drop-off site, I asked them if they needed any money for the gift shop.

“We’re fine, Mom.”

The troop leader said they would call me Sunday afternoon, when they got back into town.

So my husband and I had some lovely, quiet time together—Ann Sather’s for a leisurely breakfast, a couple ‘o cosmopolitans, a beautiful dinner party in Bridgeport, cleaning up the garden for a good long time, reading (uninterrupted) for a good long time, and pretty much avoiding meal prep like we often did in our life before children. But I suspect, at the same time, we were both secretly thinking the same thought:

We are becoming superfluous.

Well, they came back to us safe and sound—with dirty faces, carrying filthy laundry, smelling like a campfire, and happy.

I don’t think we can ask for more than that.

And in the end, it’s not that we are becoming superfluous. It’s that they are becoming young ladies.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Goodnight, Mr. Vonnegut

I’m off to read a little Vonnegut, now that I’ve added the 1972 film version of Slaughterhouse 5 to our Netflix queue. Christopher Buckley talked about Vonnegut's death on the news tonight, referring to the author's gift of commenting on a “wounded humanity” with a “wink”. I like that description, so I added Thank You for Smoking (based on Buckley’s book) to the queue, as well.

The Imus Antidote

In the children’s section of the library this afternoon with my daughters, I couldn’t help but notice a prominently displayed pair of picture books entitled Hoop Kings and Hoop Queens, by Charles R. Smith Jr. Because I posted earlier today about Imus, I decided to read Smith’s poetry books, especially the latter, which celebrates female basketball players. In it, I discovered the author’s tremendous respect for athleticism, photography, women and language.

I’d love to hear what he thinks about Imus.

Imus v. Coach Stringer

Oprah had the classy Rutger’s Women’s Basketball Team on her show (via satellite) this morning. Mary Mitchell talks about Don Imus’s comments in her column today, likening the use of “nappy-headed” to using the “n-word”. This reminds me, on April 25th the Chicago Public Library will host a free lecture by Jabari Asim, author of The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why.

"It doesn’t matter how you start, but how you finish." —C. Vivian Stringer, Head Coach, Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

News from Northwestern

In February, Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago began offering a twice-monthly live webcast called Patient Power. Hosted by Andrew Schorr, a ten-year leukemia survivor, the program features in-depth conversations with Northwestern physicians and takes listener questions via phone or email. Tonight's show (from 7-8pm) spotlights breast cancer screenings. I know too many friends with breast cancer.

In other Northwestern news, the renovation of Northwestern’s Prentice Women’s Hospital includes a huge rooftop garden visible from windows on the 12th floor and up. There is evidence to suggest that patients recover faster when they can view nature (although a view of the skyline is nice, too, IMHO). But this “greening” of the hospital continues the positive trend Chicago began years ago.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Depressed Children

Our children were sad going to bed last night and sad getting up this morning. I know this because they told me so, using the blunt English that fifth graders wield like a sword. I can hardly blame them, though, because today is the first day back to school after Spring Break. I asked them if sad was really the right word. Wasn’t disappointed a better choice? Or frustrated?

Sad is the right word, Mom,” my daughter reiterated.

To try to cheer them up, my husband and I used all our reliable tools—hot breakfast, upbeat music, Dad’s morning humor, and the reminder of Grandpa’s impending arrival today and tonight’s spaghetti dinner with their cousins. But we couldn’t get a smile out of the girls.

When I dropped them at school, it was snowing.

Snow has lost its luster. Hot cocoa has lost its luster.

School has definitely lost its luster.

Friday, April 6, 2007


I’ve been interested in TIFs for a while, so I’m linking to the TIF wikipedia entry. It’s a good place to start for anyone wanting to know more. . . .

The City of TIFs

I was searching the city of Chicago’s website for something specific (local farmer's markets), and I came across this map, which struck me as very funny. The link to this map states, “Tax Increment Financing is a special funding tool used by the City of Chicago to promote private investment in blighted sections of the city. Please click on the link above to display a map showing the TIF Districts in the City of Chicago.”

I don’t think it’s possible to be more officially vague. If I had a superficial question about TIFs, this map certainly wouldn’t answer it. In fact, it just forces me to ask other, serious questions (i.e., Is one-third to one-half of Chicago really "blighted?")

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Spring Break at Home

It's Spring Break at last, and our family isn’t traveling this time around. Instead, we’re hanging out in Chicago, hosting Easter dinner on Sunday, and then heading back to work and school on Monday.

It’s kind of nice sleeping in, eating out, reading, playing a long game of Monopoly. (And I still have all week to buy new gym shoes for my daughters!) Nevertheless, I do have to parcel out my requests for help from the girls, because they are in full vacation mode. So I just now asked them to clean out their backpacks and bring me their lunchboxes to fumigate. One child came to me with her lunchbox, and nothing else.

“No important papers?” I asked.

“Nope!” she said, hurrying back to what she was doing.

Hmm. . . .

My other daughter handed me the lunchbox and a two-inch-high pile of graded papers going back to early January. Homework assignments, tests, essays. It took me 15 minutes to unfold, de-wrinkle, and stack them right side up before I could even look at them closely. Also buried in the pile— four “Notices of Strep Throat”.

Is it any wonder parents rarely know what’s going on at school?

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Films I Never See

I must have missed a thousand film festivals since I’ve lived in the city, because they’re going on all the time. If it’s not the B-Fest—a 24-hour marathon of “B” movies—that my friend looks forward to every year, it’s the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival (CICFF)—the largest festival of films for children in North America.

Actually, I attended my first ever CICFF chaperoning a field trip last October with my daughter’s fifth-grade class. One of the films we saw and loved—The Danish Poet—won this year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

Just last weekend, my husband and I ran into some old friends and colleagues of mine at a vintage film series held in the auditorium of a LaSalle Bank on the Northwest side. We, and a whole lot of others, decided it was a night to see a 1937 Warner Bros. film called The Great Garrick.

And last night began a four-night documentary film series on hip-hop music. Though I tried my hardest to figure out a way to make the 7pm show time (I even contemplated bringing my daughters along), it just didn’t work out. But because I have an inexplicable urge to understand the hip-hop genre and culture, I told myself I would try to catch the next three nights.

But today was the beginning of Spring Break, and we had friends over at our house after school. We were drinking cappuccino, and later, wine. After a while, we decided to order Thai food, and open another bottle of wine. I’m afraid I forgot all about the hip-hop film fest.

But I like knowing the fest was running, and that I still have two more chances to catch it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Future of Fresh Water

I just finished reading Peter Annin’s The Great Lakes Water Wars (Island Press, 2006), which examines the stormy history of water management policy in the Great Lakes Basin— from the reversal of the Chicago River in the late 1890s to the landmark Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact of 2005. The author argues that this non-binding regional compact needs to be ratified by all eight states in the basin in order to keep stewardship of Great Lakes water in the region. Otherwise, he contends, the Federal government could step in as steward.

Over the decades these states have cobbled together a water management strategy, but it's starting to disintegrate. Each passing decade brings new legal and political challenges to this policy—challenges such as exporting bottled water out of the region, or the shift in U.S. demographics as people flock to the Southwest.

Minnesota was first to pass the compact, last month.

Illinois is expediting that process right now. Illinois state rep Harry Osterman, from Chicago, is sponsoring HB375 (you can read some testimony here), and Illinois state senator John Cullerton, also from Chicago, is sponsoring a similar measure (SB50) to move this legislation to a full chamber vote.

The author’s website contains a map that shows how other states are progressing.

This ratification process will takes years, and in the meantime, more legal maneuvering for Great Lakes water will occur. Development follows fresh water, after all.

But I love this story; I love following it's various threads backward through U.S. history and forward to. . . who knows where. I got hooked on it a few years ago after reading Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert, which examined the history of water management west of the Mississippi.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Spring Tease

There are two things that make me happy when warm weather finally hits Chicago (besides the warm weather, that is). One is the first crocus I see, which coincides with lots of people heading outdoors to work on their landscaping. While I can appreciate the new bloom, and I can feel the urge to garden, I have learned to resist. No sense planting flowers too early. After gazing on that little purple flower, I go inside and check the Farmer’s Almanac for the Last Frost Date. This year, it’s April 22. I have a whole month to dream about and plan my garden. . . .

The second thing that makes me smile is seeing someone 25-50 pounds lighter, and that happens every year. Just yesterday, for example, I saw my neighbor for the first time in five or six months, and she had lost 50 pounds. I like to imagine a magic parka that melts away the extra weight—you put it on in November, take it off in March, and voila! Anyway, these folks look healthier and happier, and that’s contagious!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

History Fair

Last week I served as a History Fair judge for a Chicago public elementary school. This was my second year judging, and I signed on again knowing I would probably be asked to read between 7 and 10 gigantic boards (or other media) on various historical topics related to Illinois/Chicago history.

The projects were impressive, I must say. Each of these students had enough research, documentation, and text to fill a children’s book. In my opinion, many of the projects could be repackaged as such and pitched to a publisher.

I thought I knew what to expect because of last year, but I guess every year the kids up the ante. For example, one of the first boards I looked at this year featured the student’s interview with the former Mayor of Chicago, Jane Byrne! There, staring me in the face, was a photograph of them together at a Chicago diner.

I awarded two perfect scores, for two completely different projects. They were beautiful projects. I’m so proud of these kids, and I don’t even know who they are.

In all my years of public schooling, I do not remember ever being asked to complete a History Fair project. So I can honestly say that I do not know if I could have done this level or quality of work at the age of 12-14. I wish someone cared enough to ask me to try.

What makes the History Fair so special, then, is not what the kids learn about history, but what they learn about themselves. These young kids know exactly what they can accomplish and exactly how much effort it takes to accomplish it.

And that is a rare gift.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Chicago and the Small Farm

Certain books are very special to me because they’ve changed the way I want to live. The most recent one I've read is The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. This is a book about where our food comes from today, where it used to come from, and why it matters. It’s a thought provoking, beautifully written book, and I think it’s remarkable that he pulled the whole idea off.

Here’s a review from the author’s website. I’ve chosen this link because after the review, you can read the introduction and first chapter from the book.

After I read what Pollan had to say, I became determined to back community supported agriculture (CSA)—even though I live in a huge city and have been waiting for years for our local Whole Foods to open. Belonging to a CSA farm is kind of like subscribing to your food. You find a local farm, purchase a share of its crop, and take home weekly deliveries grown on that farm. It’s not as convenient, obviously, as stopping by the grocery store, and that’s why our family hasn’t done it yet. You can’t predict what you will get in each delivery, and who knows if you’ll be able to eat it all before the next one arrives. And if the crop fails, guess what?

But I found the online version of the 2007 Chicago CSA Map, which just reminded me that I better start researching this topic if I want to sign up for this year's growing season. Pollan recommends visiting the farm beforehand.

So I guess our family has a little road trip to make—and I bet it will be much more exciting than going to Whole Foods.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Inside the Court Room

I’m a big advocate for going to school and community meetings. I figure it’s better to go to the source when making my own judgments about issues. Unfortunately this means sitting through hours of the Mundane before getting to the Good Stuff.

But sometimes the Good Stuff has little to do with the purpose of the meeting.

Take this week, for example. In the last six days I have attended four school meetings and one major school fundraiser. And while it may be true that during one of those meetings I gleaned some detail that may provide useful to my daughters’ education, by far the most interesting thing I learned is the following:

There is public access to ORAL ARGUMENT RECORDINGS on the United States Court of Appeals website. Check it out—just click on the map and follow the links. The database is searchable by case number or name. So if you're interested in a certain case . . . .

Monday, March 19, 2007

Chess Runs Amok

A thought-provoking movie I like to watch every once in a while is “Searching for Bobby Fischer.” I was thinking about it again after reading last week about the recently botched CPS citywide chess tournament.

Both the movie and this story show how adults often deflate children by ruining something they love.

I wish we could stop doing this.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The CPS You Don't Read about in the Papers

Recently I started reading a blog about Chicago Public Schools. It's "unofficial" and contains mostly anonymous (and occasionally venomouos) comments. But the education reporter who runs it keeps the dialogue moving. I read it because it's something to gauge our family's CPS experience against.

I've added it to my "favorites", at left, because there are many, many voices over there, and each brings passion to a topic of importance to this city.

I know other school districts (and even some principals) have blogs, too, and I encourage those who are interested in their local school districts to seek out these alternative viewpoints. Urban districts have their own special problems, of course, but they are not alone in dealing with the complex business of educating our youth.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

If I Were Alderwoman

When it hits 70 degrees in March in Chicago, like it did yesterday, the whole city comes out. When it happens during the week of ISAT testing in the public schools, even better. Kids can play outside for hours with impunity because teachers don’t assign homework during high-stakes testing. After school, my girls and I took the dog on a walk together, and the neighborhood was filled with that warm-weather energy. I saw a mom friend of mine sitting on her front steps adjusting her son’s bike helmet—kids were getting their gear out!

I was thinking it would be a great day to get an ice cream cone.

One of the first people we met upon buying our house 14 years ago was the 8-year-old daughter of our next-door neighbors. We asked her if there were any good places to eat close by.

“Toots!” she shouted down to us from her perch high in a tree.

A fast food establishment was not what our DINK sensibility was hunting, but who could resist her salesmanship? We walked on over to try it out.

I always think of that little girl (who is now a woman graduating from college) whenever I think of Toots. Over the years our family has eaten countless Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and milkshakes at this popular out-door establishment, and my daughters have been working their way through its surprising number of flavors of soft-serve ice cream. (The one that turns their mouths a neon blue seems to be the favorite.)

But Toots closed-up shop last October.

I think condos are going in on that corner.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Licorice Fix

My sister introduced me to the new licorice Altoids. They are curiously strong, and barely sweet. I cannot find them at my grocery store, and now I’m craving a product I can’t locate in my part of Chicago.

But while driving around with this craving I can’t shake, I remembered a conversation I had a year or two ago with a friend of mine who grew up in Sweden. She was eating a bag of Swedish-style licorice, and she offered me a piece—with some trepidation.

“I love licorice!” I said.

“This is salted licorice,” she replied. “Americans aren’t usually fans.”

It wasn’t like any licorice I’d ever sampled before—more intensely flavored. An acquired taste, I suppose. But I liked it enough to try it again at her house a few months later.

Last week after a Swedish lunch together, my friends wanted to walk across the street to visit The Sweden Store before they drove home. I had to rush to meet my daughter at the bus stop, and I was disappointed I couldn’t linger in the store and maybe pick up a bag of salted licorice if they had it in stock.

That’s when it occurred to me that I liked the Altoids so much because they reminded me of Swedish licorice.

This afternoon I looked up The Sweden Store in the phone book, gave them a call, and sure enough—they have exactly what I need.

I’ll happily pick some up tomorrow.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Shining Star

Here is a link to Chicago Catalyst, a magazine that published an interview I conducted with Nirupa Mathew—an outstanding teacher in the Chicago Public School system. Nirupa wasn’t feeling well the day we met, but even so, she devoted more than an hour to answering my questions about teaching kids to read. Any school district would be thrilled to hire Nirupa, but she’s staying in the city—where she can have maximum impact. She’s so cool!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Fondue for Who?

My three sisters and I celebrated a milestone birthday in Chicago last weekend. Two of us live here in the city, but the other two had to drive in from out of state. We booked a room in a four-star hotel downtown, and the idea was just to hang out, catch up, and re-energize. The birthday girl (from out of state) had two specific requests after her long trip. She wanted a manicure, and she wanted to eat fondue at Geja’s Café in Lincoln Park.

Manicure—no problem. Geja’s? Well. . . .

Geja’s Café is a popular and beloved restaurant that does not take reservations. Translation: a two-hour wait. And people do wait. It's a different dining experience; fun and very delicious. Geja’s turns up on lists of favorite Chicago restaurants, and it publicizes its “romantic fondue dining.” But since there are plenty of places to eat in Chicago that don't require standing in line forever, I’m not inclinded to wait very often.

One of my sisters had the idea to get to the restaurant early—before 6p.m.—so that we wouldn’t have to wait as long. We made it there by 6:11p.m. (the birthday girl checked her watch). Guess what? Eleven minutes after six isn’t early enough. So we moved to the bar, ordered our $10 drinks, had a birthday toast, and waited about an hour and a half.

When you’re waiting at the bar with your sisters for over an hour, it’s hard not to notice that everyone else in the place is on a date. But we didn't let a little romance cramp our style. We had pysched ourselves up for the wait—we’d do anything for our youngest sister—and we were getting closer to the deep-fried food by the minute.

Finally, we were seated. We spent the next hour or two dipping bread and fruits into melted cheese; shrimp, steak and vegetables into boiling oil; and more fruit and cake into melted chocolate. We snapped photos of each other and asked the waiter to take one of us as a group. We talked and laughed and celebrated. It wasn't romantic at all.

And while I can appreciate that Geja’s might be the best place for a romantic dinner, I know with certainty it is the best place for four sisters to share a precious meal together. Definitely worth the wait.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Midwinter Networking

A Chicago mom I know recently mailed me an invitation to a wine and cheese open house sponsored by Lincoln Square Women in Business. This friend of mine is an attorney with three young boys. She recently started her own law firm so that she could be more available to her children, and since then has become involved in this group.

In my years as a freelance writer I’ve often pushed my networking skills to the side, though I did meet with what I would loosely call a writers’ group consistently for a year. That group consisted of people focusing on a very specific kind of writing (children’s books), and I determined I needed a broader community with a broader voice—which is what I'm always seeking.

In Chicago, there are many networking groups of all types, including online communities. I have joined one of these, but its newsletter is a perfect example of information overload. It lists every group meeting in every part of the city and links to event after event after event. It’s too broad a community, and it’s intimidating.

But my friend’s invitation isn’t. Along with my lawyer friend, the other hosts of this event are a saleswoman, a realtor, a financial planner, an architect, a photographer, and a personal/professional coach.

I like that diversity. And I like the personal, playful voice of this group.

So I’m going to check it out—because I actually enjoy networking, when it feels right.