Thursday, May 31, 2012

Go with your gut

I have a confession. I have not been to the dentist for at least a year and a half, but probably closer to two years. I know I should go every six months. I want to go every six months. But I didn't like my dentist, and I was afraid.

So I finally faced my fear. I got on Angie's List and researched my previous dentist as well as Steve's dentist. I then made an appointment with Steve's dentist, James Street Dental. The office had excellent reviews in addition to Steve's raving about them.

Today, I went to the dentist. And it awesome.

Growing up, I had a great dentist, Dr. Raak. Many of my family still go to him. But he's in Arlington Heights, and the drive was getting inconvenient. So four or five years ago, I looked for a new dentist closer to home. I found one, and I made my appointment.

I had never had trouble with my teeth (other than orthodontic work). At my first appointment at the new dentist, I was told my gums were not in good shape and I should come in for a cleaning every three months. Over the course of the next two years, my gums never got any better. In fact, they supposedly got worse. At my last appointment, I was told I needed a "deep cleaning."

In addition to the gum issues, I also had a crown put in. I don't remember exactly why anymore, but I did have trouble with the crown once it was done. It's still sensitive to cold. I didn't feel good about that treatment either.

Throughout the course of my treatment there, I always felt uneasy. I was afraid of what was happening in my mouth, and I was afraid of what would be wrong next. And I didn't understand why my teeth and gums were so bad.

It turns out my previous dentist office wasn't such an ethical practice. When I got on Angie's list, I found out that the "deep cleaning" was recommended to lots of other people who hadn't had issues before either. Several of those people got second opinions and found out the cleaning wasn't necessary. I also read about others having issues with crowns they had done there.

Today, at James Street Dental, I found out my teeth and gums are healthy. Other than the buildup  from not having a professional cleaning in almost two years, everything looked good. Even the crown looked good except for what seems to be a little cement left that might be irritating the gums there. They are going to help me fix that.

The receptionist, hygienist, and dentist all were incredibly kind to me and my boys. With Steve in Switzerland, I had to bring the boys with me. Jack played with toys and got to look around the exam room at the equipment and even my x-rays. Reid smiled at everyone and laughed when the dentist used the suction on his toes. They didn't even flinch when I had to take a break to feed Reid. This office is amazing.

Jack gets to go for his first dental exam next week. And I am so glad that his first experience will be with Dr. Slavik and Dee at James Street Dental. Hopefully, he won't ever have the fear of the dentist that I did.

And the moral of this story - don't wait around; go with your gut about the people giving you care. That, and Angie's List is worth every penny!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Vacation Food

My love of food is no secret. And I've decided that my love of travel goes hand in hand with my love of food.

As we were driving to Michigan, Steve and I talked about his upcoming trip to Switzerland and the chocolate he would encounter. We also talked about how we both would like to go to Germany. Steve thought it would be fun to check out Octoberfest there. I thought it would be fun to find spaetzel. It was then that I realized one of the major things I love about traveling is eating yummy things in a new location.

Our trip to Ludington filled this bill as well. On our drive up, we needed to make a stop for dinner. As I tried to find restaurants using the map app on my iPhone, Steve read the billboards passing by. He saw a billboard for Crane's Pie Pantry. I found the "What-not Inn." We decided that Steve's find sounded much tastier, and we were well rewarded.

The place itself was cool. It was like a more authentic Cracker Barrel. We sat in a room that had all kinds of model airplanes hanging from the ceiling. The waitress offered Jack a "booster" seat. It was very similar to the high chair my grandmother had in her house when I was growing up - the wooden kind with beautifully carved spindles.

For dinner, I had a creamy tortilla soup that was awesome. It wasn't too spicy, but it was full of flavor. Steve and Jack had apple cider. After they started drinking it, Steve saw a sign that said the cider was unpasteurized and might not be safe to drink for children or adults with weakened immune systems. Jack was fine. They both enjoyed the cider. Steve also raved about Jack's grilled cheese.

We decided to take dessert to go since it was already getting late and we still had at least two more hours in our drive. We bought an apple pie, hot fudge, and blueberry preserves - all homemade. We have eaten the blueberry preserves every morning for breakfast since. I have also enjoyed the hot fudge every day since. The pie was nothing short of exactly what you would want in an iconic apple pie.


Luckily, Crane's offers online shopping and shipping. I might have to add a budget for this.

Once we got to Ludington, the eating options were mixed. Saturday's lunch was the bummer. We ate at Luciano's in town after someone had written nice things about it in the guest book at the house. We are not sure what those people ate at Luciano's because everything we were served would have made for a great episode of Kitchen Nightmare's with Chef Ramsey.

Luckily, dinner that night was pizza from the Chuck Wagon. While not Lou Malnati's, it certainly renewed our faith in the idea that Ludington can offer a decent restaurant.

Amanda and Kurt had gone shopping, so when we cooked out on Sunday night, we ate well. Hot dogs, bratwurst, corn on the cob, asparagus: it was all fantastic.

Breakfast was also a hit. Kurt and Amanda purchased sugar-cured bacon. So Steve cooked this bacon each morning, and then made eggs cooked in the bacon fat. It tasted as good as sugar-cured bacon sounds. Add toast with the blueberry preserves, and you can see why breakfast was amazing.

Unfortunately, we left the oft-recommended House of Flavors ice cream shop unvisited. Somehow, we did not have time to visit town again for dessert. It could be because we liked our pie so much we just kept eating it. House of Flavors will be on the list of must-dos next time.

So now we are home, and I am back to meal-planning and trying to eat healthy again. Jack and I had a cheese and fruit plate for dinner last night. Tonight was hot dogs and vegetables. Luckily, we still have a little of the preserves and hot fudge left to keep the vacation feeling lingering, but I doubt it will last past tomorrow!


The Ludington Beach was definitely the highlight of our trip. It's where we spent most of our time. For Jack, that time was spent running in and out of the lake to get water and up and down the beach to get sand. He spent a lot of time filling buckets and scraping the beach. Through this, we learned a little about building sandcastles. And now that we are back home, I learned a little more through some research.

We are just starting our foray into sandcastle building, so we are clearly novices. We fill buckets with wet sand, dump them over, try to remove the bucket, and admire our work. Then someone jumps on the tower and we all laugh. It's a good time, no question. But our creations are less than architectural wonders. It's also really hard to get the sand to come out of the bucket correctly.

Amanda, our vacation MVP, did try to help step up our game. She was an engineer, after all, in a former career. She got the boys to dig a moat around their buildings.

What I learned after we got home was that we were doing it all wrong. Apparently, even Martha Stewart knows how to build a sandcastle. She has an article on her website that goes through the techniques. Her techniques even include a melon baller. I would expect nothing less.

So the expert way of building a sandcastle is to mound up sand and then create a bowl in the mound that you fill with water. Then you get to jump around in the water and pound the sand and water together. This is the step that got me interested. I could see us having lots of fun jumping around in water and sand. And you are supposed to do this over and over until the bowl is filled with wet, packed sand. Once you have a stable base, then you get to add towers by using a bottomless mold. This is where we got it wrong. Our buckets for building towers had bottoms. And since there is no way for the water to escape, the bucket, sand and water create a vacuum that ruins your perfectly nice tower.

So now I feel prepared for our summer trip to Florida, where we will once again be on a beach. I wonder if it will be more fun to kick down a well-built sandcastle than it is to kick over our already-toppling ones?


Mike was the best at getting a nice tower out of the bucket

Monday, May 28, 2012

I love Ludington, MI!

Our friends Kurt and Amanda found a great vacation spot. They planned the Memorial Day Weekend trip and invited us and another family along. It was awesome. Ludington, Michigan, is a place we will definitely return to.

Ludington is a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan. It has a great little downtown area with lots of fun little shops and restaurants (although, avoid Luciano's). The beaches are amazing. The soft sand reminded me of Lauderdale, but the water was much colder in Michigan. The house we rented was within a short walk of a private beach for the neighborhood. There was plenty of room for the kids to run and build sandcastles without being run over by other people. We even had fires on the beach on Saturday and Sunday nights. A short drive away (no more than 5-10 minutes) is Hamlin Lake. We rented a boat there and found a great place to swim and play in the dunes. There was so much to do there, we didn't get it all done. We will have to go back.

I took over 100 photos. And that was just on the Nikon. I'll let the pictures tell the story. Although I might come back and fill in some fun anecdotes tomorrow.
























Monday, May 21, 2012

Lots of ideas, but not a real post

So I have all of these ideas for great blog posts to write, but I just can't seem to make it happen tonight. So instead, I thought I'd just start writing and see what happens.

First, I thought I'd write about Reid. Poor guy seems to be having serious nose issues. Reid fell asleep on the way home from picking up Jack at school today. As we pulled into the driveway, Jack announced very excitedly that Reid had learned how to snore. I tried very hard not to laugh because Jack was truly proud of his little brother. Poor Reid is really suffering though. He isn't sleeping well, and he's starting to hate the nasal aspirator.

Tonight, I did a little research on sinuses in infants. It was interesting, but also very complicated. In order to write about it, I need to interview some medical experts. I think I'll call my mom and sisters tomorrow.

Then I thought I'd write about my recent reflections on my teaching career. This is an idea I have had for a while now. Every once in a while I hear from a former student or find out about some awesome thing a former student is doing. This makes me feel very proud of said student, like when I'm proud of Jack for something amazing he has figured out. My pride in their accomplishments doesn't come from what I might have taught them or didn't teach them, but rather I am proud that people who were/are a part of my life are having success and doing such neat things.

So I have this idea to write an open letter to my students professing my appreciation for their updates and their accomplishments. It makes me feel like I did something worthwhile. I like to think of myself as a little signpost that might have been useful on their journey through life. You know, like the "Turn Left 20 feet ahead" announcement on a GPS. I am certainly not responsible for what they accomplish (or their destinations), but I think I like to share my former students' joy since they were such an important part of my life. I hope they keep sending me updates!

Part of this reflection makes me think I should also write to or call the amazing teachers I had throughout school. I think I keep the Tantillos in the loop pretty well, and I better considering how important they are to me and who I have become. But I also think about Jean VanderArk, Pete Fishbach, Pete Ogilvie, and so many others who were my amazing signposts.

Another idea I had was about Trader Joe's from yesterday's post. I really enjoy so much of their food, and I thought it would be fun to write about our favorites, like the mini ice cream cones (Hold the Cone) or the awesome Mango lemonade we just discovered. I also love the way they treat us. Jack always gets cool stickers. The current stickers are scratch and sniff. Let me tell you, they are awesome! Especially the chocolate one. One year they gave me free chocolates on my birthday. It's just fun to shop there.

I also had an idea to write about finances. Now that we are living on one income, I thought it might be fun to write about how we budget ourselves. It's like a game to me to try to make and keep a tight budget. We use the app and website The, so I can always see exactly where we are with our budgets in beautiful visuals. This week, I am attempting an at-home pedicure since I need one badly but it's just not in the hair/beauty budget this month. I was going to do it tonight, but I'm running out of time. Maybe that can be a post later in the week!

Tomorrow is library day for us, so that was another idea I had. I thought it might be fun to write about the really cool books we find at the library. Jack is amazing at picking out awesome books. I'm not sure if it's just luck, his skill, or if our librarians are really talented at putting the right books in front of us to pick. I'm going with the librarians.

This week, the hits were "Question Boy meets Little Miss Know-it-all" by Peter Catalanotto and "Over at the Castle" by Boni Ashburn and Kelly Murphy. Jack loved the superhero aspect of Question Boy. I loved how well the author captured the toddler/preschool personalities. "Over at the Castle" was definitely my favorite. It's a counting book that's beautifully written to the song "Over in the Meadow." I don't know that song, but the rhythm comes through easily. It was so fun to read. I also thought I could have easily turned that book into a week's worth of fun activities to do at home. I did not since Jack is still in school and we had plenty of fun activities to do anyway.

So you can see why I had trouble deciding on a topic, right? Maybe you can tell which one you think I should develop. In the meantime, I'm going to sleep.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

There's only so much time

I can't believe how much we packed into this weekend. I was looking back at the pictures that I took, and, well, you can probably see by the number of photos in this post, we did a lot!

Saturday started with lots of exercise. I made it to the morning Jazzercise class, which was a great way to start my day. Then, when I got home and cleaned up, we packed up and headed out to a park by the river and the bike path so Steve could run while Jack, Reid and I played at the park. All that before lunch!




After lunch, Steve took off for the Cub's game with Kurt, and Jack played in the sprinkler while Reid napped.

Saturday afternoon we had guests. It still cracks me up how much Jack loves guests. He was overjoyed as usual when my former students, Mikey and Jessie, showed up to play. He wanted to show them everything in the basement, which is Jack's usual MO when we have guests over. We did manage to make it outside to play too.

Then Auntie Bubbles showed up too. Luckily, Jack's head didn't explode! He was pretty wild though.  Jack finally tried the monkey bars on the play set. He was on Mikey's shoulders and guided by Auntie Bubbles. Reid got more swing time with Jessie.




Mikey and Jessie left after dinner. Auntie Bubbles stayed to help bathe and bed the boys. Well, she helped with that so we could get to sister-fun: sewing. Cathy is so patient with me. She brought over both of her sewing machines and lots of material. I've started my first quilt. I'm using a jelly roll and learning how to sew 1/4 inch seams. Cathy is making another awesome baby quilt for baby Nustra. We had so much fun sewing and chatting that I didn't get to bed until after 11. That's why there was no post yesterday :)


Breyer was in on girl time too

Today, we were all up bright and early to get started again. We have been so busy doing fun things that I have slacked on my housewife duties. We were in desperate need of groceries today, so after a stop at Panera for "brunch" (I tried to call it breakfast, but since we had oatmeal first thing in the morning, Jack corrected me), we made our trips to Target and Trader Joe's. I love Trader Joe's. I could probably do an entire post on shopping there. Maybe I will.

We finished our shopping just in time to have a quick lunch and head back out to the Touch a Truck event at Algonquin Commons. We met up with our new friends Kimmie, Jaydin, Jace, and Jeff. Jack and Jaydin loved the fire trucks, the little bobcat, and the school bus. It was 90 degrees out though, so we only lasted about an hour.




On such a hot day, we came home, watched Star Wars for rest time, and then headed out to the backyard for family sprinkler time. It was Reid's first time through the sprinkler. I think he liked it. He definitely liked chasing Jack around the yard with me. Since all four of us were getting wet, there are no pictures of that. Maybe next time.

So there we are, exhausted and fully entertained. This week marks the official start of summer since Jack finishes school on Tuesday and then we get ready for Memorial Day. Look out pool!

Brotherly Love

Fire Truck Comparison - Just for Fun

June 2010
Fire truck wee woo

Friday, May 18, 2012

Awesome weather, awesome day

The thermometer hit 82 degrees today. It felt like the perfect summer afternoon, too. The only thing missing was a trip to the pool. One more week, and that can happen too!

I was a little worried about how today would go, actually. Reid has not been sleeping well the last two nights. His sinuses have been very congested, and he wakes up very upset two or three times a night. Last night, Steve was up with him twice and I was up with him twice. I thought for sure today would be rough since so many of us were lacking sleep. But we rallied, and it was a fantastic day.

The moms group had a play date at the Randall Oaks Petting Zoo. We were a little late since we stopped to pick up lunch from Panera. But we had lots of fun playing with Jaydin, Carter, and Jasper. Steve was even able to come and have lunch with us before we went into the zoo.



One of the many fun things about Randall Oaks is getting to feed the animals. Jack is a little skittish about feeding the larger animals, but he was very happy to throw food at the ducks and fish. He and Jaydin had a great time running all over and laughing at the animals eating. It's so much fun to watch them play.


After our zoo play, we came home for a little rest time. Then we hit the backyard for a while. My mom found a Fisher Price baby swing for $10 last week, and we put that up on the playset yesterday with Pepere. Today, Reid got to try it out.


Yeah, he liked it. He was very content to swing for a good half an hour. He probably would have stayed longer, but it was dinner time.

Jack had fun in the backyard too. We brought out the bubbles, and he had fun using the giant bubble wand. He even kicked off his shoes and ran around in the grass. That's when I realized it was really a great summer day.


Bare feet in the grass is just an iconic summer experience. I can't wait to have more days like this.




We finished off our awesome day with dinner outside on the patio at Moretti's.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Exchanging cookies and a new stroller

I think we have a new tradition with Grandma Sue. Maybe tradition is the wrong word. I'll tell the story, and you can decide what to call it.

My mom makes cookies from cake mix, and they are fantastic. She got the idea and recipe from my Memere, my dad's mom. I'll include the basic recipe below. It's pretty awesome because the possibilities for different kinds of cookies are endless. You pick out a cake mix that sounds yummy, and then you get creative. The best part is that these cookies are ridiculously easy to make.

So my mom made a batch a while ago and brought them over in a little silver tin box. I don't even remember what kind she made the first time. In fact, I can't even remember "the first time" anymore. We ate and enjoyed them. Then we decided to make a batch for her to refill her tin when we returned it. I do remember what we made. We attempted chocolate chip cookies from a yellow cake mix. They turned out okay, but not like grandma's.

Our first success was with Funfetti cake mix. We didn't add anything to the mix. We boxed up what we had left after taste-testing and delivered them to Grandma at work. Then she returned the tin with another batch.

This week, we made chocolate cookies with peanut butter chips. Yum! It has officially turned into an event. When we receive the tin, we try to come up with a new yummy kind of cookie to make for Grandma Sue and Pepere.

So here's why we like making these cookies. First, the recipe:

1 box of cake mix
2 eggs
1/3 cup of oil
whatever else you what to mix in

Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes

The process of mixing the dough is a little hard, so after Jack cracks the eggs and pours in the oil, I do the stirring. I also make the dough into balls and place them on the cookie sheet. Jack gets to do the really fun part: smashing the balls into a circle with the palm of his hand. He loves it. Well, that and taste-testing.

Jack and I have a great time doing this together, and it keeps us busy for a good 45 minutes from start to finish (finish being taste-testing. Have I mentioned the taste-testing part?)

Here's a pic of the chocolate peanut butter chip cookies from this week.


So I also mentioned a stroller in the title of today's blog. Jack is technically big enough to walk everywhere, but that doesn't mean he likes it. And when we go places with the Chicco stroller, he would prefer to stand on the front or sit on the front and ride instead of walk. This isn't very safe, and it also makes pushing the stroller pretty tough for me. So I've been researching double strollers.

I found a sit and stand type stroller that I really liked a few weeks ago and started seriously pursuing it. I took the boys to try it out at the store. I kept an eye on Craigslist and tried to buy it there only to be told they were already sold... every time. I crunched the numbers to figure out a way to pay for it.

Today, we bought our new Joovy Caboose Ultralight stroller. With a 20 percent off coupon and a gift card I found lying around our office, I was able to fit it into our budget. Yeah! The boys both really seem to like it. And I really like how easy it is to push with both of them in their spots. Hooray! We took it for a test run around the neighborhood this afternoon. Tomorrow we will take it on its first adventure. We are going to Randall Oaks Petting Zoo with the Moms group. I'm excited!


Jack was telling me he didn't want to smile because his hand hurt

Finally, I have a few pictures from today. Pepere came over to play with us, and we took him to the cool park with the gigantic sand area. Everyone had a good time as you can see.