The Silent Journey

Nora says, "Shhh!"
Nora says, “Shhh!”

Last week we were invited to The Silent Journey at Nora’s Montessori school, by way of the adorable invitation pictured above.

She’s been at the school for about a month and a half, and while KP and I hear snippets of her day — when she feels like sharing — we don’t have the intel that we were accustomed to at her old school. That’s because we don’t go into the classroom to drop her off or pick her up. There’s no daily chit chat with the teachers, no observation of her and her classmates. They operate that way for a variety of reasons, but mainly the classroom is the children’s space and it’s easier for parents to say their goodbyes outside or better yet, in the car line. (Side note: I was a combination of shocked, pleasantly surprised and mildly saddened at how quickly Nora opted for us to drop her off and pick her up via car line, versus walk her up the path to her class’s “cottage.”)

So an opportunity to explore the classrooms and learn more about what goes on day in and day out for our little Montessorian was a welcome one. And they were serving wine! No-brainer.

The evening was split into two parts: the journey through the environments and the discovery of the materials. The journey was the silent part. The school’s guides (aka teachers) led the silent tour of primary through upper elementary classrooms, the silence intended to keep us free from distractions. I had been in Nora’s classroom twice before, but it was eye-opening to get up close and personal with the works it includes. Some things were expected, like the letters and the scissors and paper (because every Friday she comes home with teeny, tiny scraps she’s cut throughout the week), but there were other works that I had no idea they did — like polishing metal!

Week 1 Friday bag contents
Week 1 Friday bag contents

Coming from a traditional public school background, the lower elementary and upper elementary classrooms were even more intriguing to me — no desks, no textbooks, nothing traditional about it. But it was easy to see why kids take to the environment and excel.

Lower elementary

Our welcome to the upper elementary classroom was a math puzzle. KP’s night was made while my anxiety set in. It left a lot of folks (me, included!) scratching our heads. Those kids, as we said in Boston, are wicked smaht!

Math

After the journey, the parents and guides reconvened for a brief discussion and Q and A before moving into the “discovery” portion of the evening. Discovery was hands-on; parents could choose which classroom(s) to revisit and choose from select work(s) or “ask for a lesson,” meaning, asking a guide for help with the work.

KP and I made our way through all three levels — primary, lower elementary and upper elementary. Each environment was so different from what I’m used to in a classroom, but in a way that made me feel like I wish I had gone to a Montessori school. Sitting comfortably on a rug on a floor and feeling shapes of triangles to learn a math lesson? Yes, please! It seems like a simpler, more obvious way to learn. In upper elementary, we had a lesson on how to calculate the surface area of a triangle (did I just type that?) and I actually got it!

Getting a glimpse of what Nora experiences every morning of the week was awesome. We’re lucky to have found such a great little place for her to learn.

Harvard, it’s me, Nora

Yesterday Nora wrote her name. By herself. As a reminder, she’s three-years-old.

Last week I was giddy because she wrote part of the word “Halloween” by herself on a card she made for her friends. In that case, I gave her a little direction and she copied some of the letters I wrote for “Happy.”

Happy Halloween

Yesterday, though, she was innocently chalking on the deck while I was playing on my phone instead of paying attention to her like the doting mother that I am. Then she said, “I made an N!” She did, in fact, make an “N.” And then she kept chalking. And before I knew it, she had spelled N-O-R-A. I couldn’t believe it. Now, I’m not submitting it to the Palmer Method, but it’s definitely obvious that the letters spell her name.

N-O-R-A

Clearly, the child is a genius and we should get crackin’ on her Harvard application ASAP. Proud mama right here.

In the spirit of keeping it real, I should also share that just after writing her name, she cut a piece of chalk’s “hair” with a shovel.

6 Must-Haves for a Road Trip With Your Toddler

I vividly remember summer road trips when I was a kid. The first one I can recall was when I was four years old. My mom and grandma drove my two sisters and me to visit our great-aunt in Miami, Florida. It was just a wee 18-hour drive from Illinois, which was thankfully spread across two days. My two sisters and I piled into the backseat of Mom’s Ford Granada and had to keep ourselves busy. One vacation treat we always got was a new Barbie doll, but of course the novelty quickly wore off. So we would color in Barbie coloring books, play travel Connect Four, play a version of I spy, catalog other cars’ license plates in hopes of seeing one from each of the 50 states and gesture at truckers to get them to honk their horns.

I like to think Nora will do some of those same things on our road trips in years to come. We already attempted I spy on our last road trip, and that lasted for about three minutes. Luckily I had plenty of other ways for her to pass the time in my arsenal of Mom goodies.

Before we take a road trip with Nora, I pack up one reusable shopping bag full of stuff that I think might entertain her for some period of time. A trip down the dollar aisle at Target is a great place to find cheap things for road trips, but a lot of those items are geared towards older kids, and Nora’s only two. On our recent 14-hour road trip to Illinois, I was very thankful to have packed these six road trip must-haves in my Mom bag:

  1. Crayola’s Color Wonder Color & Go set is recommended for ages three and up, but Nora did just fine with it. If you’re unfamiliar with Color Wonder, the magic is that the markers only color on Color Wonder paper. So no biggie if the uncapped marker falls on the car seat, or your child is like Nora and likes to color all over herself/himself. The yellow case is perfect for travel, as it fits perfectly on little laps and has two clips to hold the paper in place.
  2. The iPad is reserved for long road trips, otherwise Nora would want to watch The Wiggles every time we drove to the grocery store. We make sure it’s loaded with plenty of videos — namely, The Wiggles and Sesame Street — and fully charged, then we pop it into this iPad headrest mount holder. Although the holder is designed to be mounted on the back of the front seat headrest, we used to jimmy it on the backseat headrest when Nora was still facing backwards in her infant car seat.
  3. Find the least offensive children’s music that you’ll be able to stomach for hours on end, and load up the iPod with tunes. Do yourself a favor and steer clear of Nora’s current favorite, Music Together’s Triangle Song Collection. Surprisingly, there is some children’s music out there that doesn’t make me want to jab my eyes out with a hot poker.
  4. … and when your kiddo’s tunes are just too much for you to take any longer without steering the car right off the road, pop these Kidz Gear headphones on her/his little head and enjoy the silence, or your own tunes. I found them at Target and we just used them for the first time. KP was skeptical but Nora thought she was pretty cool. Plus, there’s a volume control switch so you don’t have to worry about your child going deaf.
  5. It seems like a no-brainer to pack snacks, but I’m always surprised at the parents I see on airplanes who haven’t packed snacks for their kids. We try to be healthy, but rules get bent greatly for road trips. Nora is partial to these Earth’s Best Sunny Days Snack Bars.
  6. Stickers are the ultimate two-year-old treat, I’m learning. And they’re harmless, mostly. We learned that the stickers from Nora’s Sesame Street coloring book could essentially double as duct tape. We learned this after she covered her legs with them.
Do not try this at home, kids.
Do not try this at home, kids.

You don’t have to do or buy anything elaborate to keep your toddler entertained while on the road. Have options so that she/he can mix it up every so often, and if all else fails, a stop to stretch the legs and breathe some fresh air always seems to help everyone in the car.

Favorite Songs for Kids

Before we had Nora, I envisioned her listening to our music. I was so sure she’d like regular music and we wouldn’t be stuck listening to awful kid songs while cruising along in our minivan. One of those wishes came true: we do not own a minivan. However, our iPod is chock-full of kids music and while some of it is terribly annoying, there are some surprisingly decent options.

Still, you can only listen to “Wheels on the Bus” so many times… And thankfully Nora has a few open-minded moments now and again. It’s in those moments that I try to sneak in some non-kid music that I think she’ll enjoy — and sometimes I win.

Here are some of Nora’s favorite artists that I find least offensive (to adults!), as well as some favorite songs that Nora and I both love.

4 Favorite Kids Artists

  1. Music from the Old Town School of Folk Music’s Wiggleworms class is my favorite kids music. We had the good fortune of attending Wiggleworms for a year and I’m not sure who misses it more, Nora or me! The songs are folksy and fun and I promise you’ll be singing them to yourself — and not cringing.
  2. My sister turned us onto The Laurie Berkner Band when Nora was just a tiny baby. I still have the video of Nora rocking from side to side while jamming to “Victor Vito” when she was less than a year old. Laurie Berkner is pretty goofy and admittedly, I sometimes cringe when I get one of her tunes stuck in my head, but not bad overall.
  3. I stumbled upon The Z Brothers when I was scouring iTunes for music for Nora’s second birthday party. These guys are lively and they cover non-kid songs, too.
  4. Raffi has been around forever. He’s our go-to for “Wheels on the Bus,” and we also like “Down By the Bay.”

10 Favorite Non-Kid Songs for Kids

  1. “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
  2. “A Bushel and a Peck” by Doris Day
  3. “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers
  4. “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens
  5. “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles
  6. “Cecilia” by Simon & Garfunkel
  7. “If I Had Eyes” by Jack Johnson
  8. “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley & The Wailers
  9. “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
  10. “Sweetest Thing” by U2

Girlfriend Getaway in Los Angeles

California Dreamin'

After I gave birth to Nora, KP suggested that I sign up for this motherhood class offered by the hospital. It sounded like an awful idea to me. I have no idea why I thought that — maybe the hormones? I was certain it was going to be some stereotypical new-mom gathering where we held hands and sang “Kumbaya,” and/or a husband-bashing session. Begrudgingly, I signed up for it.

I think it was called Transition to Motherhood, and it was specifically for first-time moms. And yeah, there were some Kumbaya-ish moments, but not many. There were more husband-bashing moments (see above regarding hormones). It was more so about connecting new moms who were going through this new journey in their lives and giving them a sounding board. We were all hormonal. And we did our fair share of bitching. And maybe even a little crying.

After only a few weeks, I had to do what I hate doing — admit KP was right about something. The group was awesome. But more so, the little group that I kept in touch with after the class ended now consists of three dear girlfriends that I’m so lucky to have in my life. I can’t imagine going through Nora’s first (or second) year of life without them. Their kids are all the same age as Nora so we’ve all gone through a lot of the same things — often at the same time. Now I’m the stereotypical mom, but they seriously are my mama tribe — and then some.

Post-motherhood class, the tribe and I got together on a regular basis and our mom talk turned into more just regular friend talk. Of course we talked about our kids a ton, but these ladies went from being my “mom friends” to just being my friends. It wasn’t long before two of us left Chicago, though, breaking up the tribe. Shortly before I moved to Austin, another friend moved to Los Angeles.

Sure, we’re all still just a text or email away, but it just isn’t the same. So we’ve vowed to get together in person as much as possible, and our first trip was to Los Angeles in March. Two and a half baby-free and husband-free days, and three wild and crazy nights. Ha! Who am I kidding? “Wild and crazy” barely fit into my vocabulary anymore. Now it’s all about being home by 11 and in comfy pants!

It’s funny how my priorities have changed since having a child. Girlfriend getaways used to mean lots of booze, late nights and sleeping in, then rehashing it all the next day over brunch. Now I’m too tired for that! And I wasn’t alone. I feel confident speaking for all of us by saying that we mostly wanted to relax, soak up some California sunshine and eat some yummy food. And that’s exactly what we did on this blissful girlfriend getaway in sunny Los Angeles.

Where I Ate, Drank and Slept in Los Angeles

Pump

Vander Pump Restaurant (or simply, Pump)

Touristy, yes. But with three of the four of us being fans of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, we felt obligated to at least have a cocktail at Pump. Plus, I love Lisa’s decorating style and wanted to see one of her places in person! It’s as gorgeous as it looks on TV. Loved these chandeliers over the bar on the lush patio. Pump was just a quick stop for a cocktail before dinner, but we were all a bit nippish so we ordered the hummus and pita. And then we laughed. The dish consisted of a normal portion of hummus, but with just four sad looking pieces of hummus. And this is how Hollywood stays thin. We had our first celebrity sighting, although we debated if we should even count it since we were in his restaurant… but Ken was there with Giggy. I gave him a little pet on the head (Giggy, not Ken), which Ken didn’t seem to appreciate.

The Church Key

The Church Key was on Bravo’s Best New Restaurant, a show that I somehow missed entirely, which is surprising given the amount of Bravo that I watch. That said, I don’t know if they won or lost, but I felt like a very hip mama hanging out there. Lots of pretty, edgy people. And while Pump left us hungry, The Church Key did not. They have these dim sum-style carts that came around very sporadically, but we fared better with the regular menu. My favorites were the Jidori chicken “tikka massala” and the brioche doughnuts for dessert. A perfect ending to the meal — and I’m not even a big dessert person.

Gjelina

More pretty, edgy people at Gjelina. Noticing a trend here? It’s LA, after all! Don’t ask how, but we managed to score patio seating for our big group (we had some more friends join our four-some) on a busy Saturday night. Even though it was so dark I could barely read the menu, I loved sitting outside. Our table ordered lots and lots of dishes to share. If memory serves, I glanced at the menu (squinted, rather), and decided to leave the ordering in the hands of my talented friends, all of whom have good taste buds.

The Farm of Beverly Hills

We spent Saturday afternoon hiking Runyon Canyon, then cruised around Beverly Hills. Naturally the Real Housewives fans had to see the Beverly Hills sign in person. We parked ourselves at The Farm for a late lunch. I loved this place, and not just because of the life-changing tea we drank. More on that in a sec. We weren’t able to score a table outside, but the front of the restaurant was open so it was light and airy inside, too. This is just one of those comfy, casual spots to grab a leisurely lunch with the girls. Yes, comfy and casual in Beverly Hills. Or maybe I just decided it was casual since the four of us were all in our workout pants and probably a tad bit sweaty post-hike. Regardless, we all had this tea that cooled us off and was so delicious it was addicting. We even got to-go cups. And because we were so obsessed with it, we had to ask… it’s Art of Tea Passionfruit Jasmine and according to the website, it’s award-winning… so don’t just take my word for it. The food was great, too. Think wraps and salads and such.

 

Pinkberry

Pinkberry

My Pinkberry obsession began with this trip to Los Angeles. I couldn’t get enough. And, the trip just so happened to be after I saw Still Alice, so I went with Alice’s go-to every time: original with coconut and blueberries. Thank god we have Pinkberry in Austin.  And thank god they aren’t as prevalent here as they are in Los Angeles.

Hotel Wilshire

Hotel Wilshire

Since we were in LA to visit a friend, we stayed with her. She and her family live in this adorable apartment in Brentwood, and I’m so jealous because she has so many great places that she can walk to in her neighborhood, including multiple coffee shops, nail salons, the farmer’s market, Whole Foods… I could go on and on… but I digress. We slept at her place two of the three nights.

We decided to splurge and stay at a hotel on Friday night. It was our treat for our hostess. I think we were all thinking we’d sleep in, forgetting that we’re now moms who are programmed to wake up early, regardless of whether or not there’s a screaming child in the next room. (Spoiler alert: we didn’t sleep in.) We booked Hotel Wilshire, and the Pretty Woman quotes began (“Reg. Bev. Wil.”), even though that’s a different hotel… Hotel Wilshire is what you’d expect from Kimpton, which is what I love about them. Although each hotel is a little different, you know what you’re gonna get. Hotel Wilshire is modern and trendy, a little CB2-ish. Our room was big enough for four women to have a bit of space, and there was a completely separate sitting area that we didn’t even use. But the best part of the hotel was the rooftop pool and restaurant. It was so nice to soak up a little sun at breakfast before we checked out of the hotel.

Los Angeles was the perfect spot for our girlfriend getaway. It was March, so the Chicagoans in the group got a much-needed reprieve from the cold. The weather was amazingly gorgeous the entire weekend — sunny and warm. And we got to do exactly what we wanted — hang out, catch up and eat delicious food. It’s my turn to host the ladies next spring, and I hope Austin can measure up to So Cal!

“You Are My Sunshine” Birthday Party

Nora Turns Two!

Nora turns two!

I’ll make the cliché statement right up front: I can’t believe Nora is two. You hear people say things like this all the time, and I remember when I was a kid, we’d see distant relatives once every few years and they’d act startled that I’d grown since the last time they saw me. “You were only this big,” they’d say, positioning their hand mid-thigh or wherever, indicating how tall I was the last time they saw me. As a kid, I found it so annoying. But it’s true. Time goes by so fast. Seems like I was just rocking my little newborn to sleep after fumbling through a feeding session, then I blinked and she was climbing up the ladder (by herself!) to her new swing set.

We had a small birthday party with family to celebrate Nora’s birthday. I landed on “You Are My Sunshine” for the theme, after a brief detour down the cowgirl theme path (we’re Texans now, after all). “You Are My Sunshine” is one of the two songs we sing to Nora at bedtime every night, and I’ve sang it to her for as long as I can remember. And when she sings it now — particularly when she stretches to reach the really high notes — it’s the best. Also, it’s an easy theme! Anything yellow = sunshine-themed.

“You Are My Sunshine” Birthday Party Décor

I thought it would be really easy to pull together the décor for Nora’s sunshine birthday party, but finding an invitation that I liked proved to be a bit of a hunt. There are a lot out there, but I couldn’t find any that were my taste (read: not cheesy looking). I found this adorable design from inBloom Studio in their Etsy shop.

You Are My Sunshine invitation

I kept the decorations simple, placing framed photos of Nora, a framed party invitation and fresh flowers on our entry table. I also bought one of those chalkboards from Michael’s to create a board of Nora facts. I thought it was a great idea that I could repeat for every birthday (or use for other parties and holidays). Nice idea, except for the fact that the chalkboard I bought isn’t technically a real chalkboard, I guess, and the chalk markers that I used won’t wash off. Guess Nora can hang onto that for posterity… The one thing that had me kicking myself was my brilliant idea to make sunshine photos of Nora from her second year, which I clipped onto the wreath above our entry table. I can think of many other useful ways to spend my time rather than cutting out twelve little sunshines.

You Are My Sunshine birthday party decor

Luckily, “You Are My Sunshine” must be a popular theme at the moment, because everywhere I go I see all kinds of canvas artwork — and they’re inexpensive. I picked up a couple at TJ Maxx and put one on our mantle along with a big framed photo of Nora from last fall. I also got wooden T – W – O letters from Target and painted them yellow. Voilà!

You Are My Sunshine birthday party decor

Much to Nora’s chagrin, I made her another party hat this year. And it was as well-received this year as it was last year. By that, I mean she only agreed to wear it for a few photo opps before demanding it be removed. The hot glue gun scar I’m now sporting on my left wrist wasn’t worth it!

Party hat

“You Are My Sunshine” Birthday Party Menu

Since Nora’s party was an afternoon soirée and not at lunchtime, I decided to just serve snacks. Originally I thought about doing all yellow foods, but that menu got a little odd… so I nixed the idea. Instead, the spread included: chips/salsa/guacamole, mac and cheese bites, meatballs, hummus and pita chips, lemon Jelly Belly beans and chocolate-covered Oreos (with a yellow drizzle!). The signature drink — because what two-year old’s birthday party doesn’t have a signature drink — was this delicious sunshine punch. I channeled the baker in me to whip up a lemon sunshine cake, which didn’t come out half bad!

You Are My Sunshine birthday cake

I have no doubt that our little sunshine felt the love on her second birthday. And I have no doubt that I really will have a scar from that hot glue gun mishap. Guess that’s what I’ll hang onto for posterity.