Hazelnuts: a Universal Language

When I was in college, I studied abroad in Luxembourg. I know.  This seems obscure.  And some of you may need to google a map of Europe.  Just be sure to also put on your glasses.  It’s the teeny tiny country squished in between Germany, France and Belgium that while small in square footage, is by no means small in history or charm.

I had the opportunity to live with Marie, a delightful, elderly woman whose sons forced her to board college students so that she would not be on her own. I think, in all honesty, Marie would have been just fine on her own. Marie read. Marie loved watching Oprah. Marie could cut up a chicken with a few simple snips of the kitchen scissors, and once I observed her dismantle and repair the pipes underneath the bathroom sink as if she were a licensed plumber. Marie painted her nails a new shade every night before she went to bed, and when I returned home, I sent her a box of the trendiest colors OPI had to offer. Marie was independent and “old school” self-reliant, and I suspect that somewhere inside her head she pitied her female college boarders who were helpless in the world by comparison.

Despite her many American boarders, Marie spoke no English. I of course was double majoring in Marketing and Spanish – not much help in the “communicate with Marie” department. And yet somehow we got by. She loved to show me the flowers in her garden, where there was always common ground to be had: tulip- tulipe, rose-rose, gardenia-gardenia – a ha! We understand each other!

shutterstock_61418674We also managed to limp through conversations in the kitchen. Yogurt-yaourt, croissant-croissant, chocolate-chocolat – a ha! Now we really understand each other, especially on this last one! Marie always placed a small square of chocolate next to my plate – with tea, with lunch, with dinner…and breakfast of course was nutella spread on croissants, toast and even crackers. I’ve never met a hazlenut I didn’t like since, and though I’m older now and have to eat healthier breakfasts if I want to fit into my jeans, every once in a while I’ll still buy a jar of Nutella out of nostagia.  It’s certainly cheaper than a ticket to Luxembourg, but for the record, it’s also far less enjoyable than a lovely European woman who can paint her nails and snake a drain with equal aplomb.

Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda

My 6th grader is going to 6th grade camp.  Does that bring back grade school memories or what?  When I went, I was also in sixth grade, and we went for a whole week (god bless those teachers).  I still remember some of the songs I learned, and I love to geek out and sing them for my girls: “Here’s a story, doo doo, doo do, about Jaws, doo doo, doo do…”  They always respond the same way: “Oh mommmmm….”

At any rate, my daughter is only going for a quick overnight, but the packing list is a little daunting.  We tackled it last night, and this is pretty much how it unfolded.

Sleeping bag?  Check.

Pillow? Check.

Socks?  Check.

Jeans?  Check.

Sunscreen?  Hmmm….don’t you have to replace sunscreen every season?  Does Fall count as a new season?  Okay.  That goes on the grocery list.

Bugspray? From my daughter: “What kind of bugs?  Big bugs?  Like spiders?”  Yeah…good luck with this one, Mrs. Johnson.

Pajamas?  Check.

Raingear?  Check.  Oh wait a minute.  We should try that on.  Your arms are like a foot longer than they were last Spring.  Yep.  As I suspected.  You could use a new raincoat.  From my middle child: “I’m not wearing any hand-me-downs that are pink!”  From me: “Grrrrrrrrrr…..”

So mission number one this morning was to quickly locate a raincoat sturdy enough to withstand three go-rounds in our closets, in a shade other than pink (now watch, next year my middle child will be obsessed with all hues in the rose, blush and coral families).  And lo and behold, I think search success is mine! (Now if I could just do the same for my own raingear!)

Anyone else out there love Uncle Dan’s?  They always come through in a camping emergency for me (because I have so many…).  Here are my options this morning:


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(also comes in pink for those of you who do not have children who have declared a ban on the shade!)


Girls Printed Resolve Jacket


(mad for plaid!)


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(also comes in blue, pink and black…but I think the yellow is super cute!)

Now that makes for a happy camper!

Tune-Up Before You Travel

Labor Day weekend is ahead, and like millions of individuals across the country, I will be road tripping with my girls to go visit family.  It’s funny how you can almost mark your family’s growth by your road trip habits.  Initially, we would have to make a pit stop so that I could nurse a baby.  A couple of years later, we would have to make a pit stop because we were potty training.  Then we would have to make a pit stop because I needed an excuse to break up the “Are we there yets?” with some sort of small activity.  Now?  We only make a pit stop for gas.  My girls read.  Sometimes they’ll watch a DVD or even just listen to a CD they enjoy.  They rarely ask me, “Are we there yet?” and if our destination isn’t further than an entire tank of gas, we can actually make it from point A to point B without stopping at all.  Who would’ve thunk it possible?  What has not changed since baby #1 are my road trip safety habits.  Parents.com offers the following seven safety tips before car travel, and I diligently follow all of them:

1. Go for a tune-up.  Make sure your car is in good working order. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends you have your tires, battery, belts, fluids, and air conditioner checked by a qualified mechanic.

2. Get a good night’s sleep. According to the NHTSA, driving while drowsy is a contributing factor in 100,000 accidents annually. Drive only when well rested, and switch off with another adult every few hours, if possible.

3. Give your car seat or booster seat a boost. Not sure if your car seats are installed 100 percent correctly? Eight out of 10 aren’t. Call 866-SEAT-CHECK to find a nearby location for a free safety seat inspection.  FYI – Lots of times the fire department will do this for you, the added benefit of which is the yummy eye candy (aka firemen)!

4. Gear up for safety. The NHTSA recommends packing an emergency kit that includes:

  • Water
  • Warm blankets
  • A flashlight
  • Jumper cables
  • Flares
  • Tools to change a tire
  • A fully charged cell phone
  • A first-aid kit

It’s also wise to subscribe to a roadside assistance plan — just make sure you know where to call in an emergency and what kind of assistance your policy includes.

5. Be sun smart. Equip all family members with sunblock and sunglasses — you may even want to pop hats on your little ones’ heads and invest in a sunshade for your backseat. When you leave the car, cover car seats with blankets so they don’t get too hot and burn a baby’s tender skin, and do a touch test before letting pint-size passengers pile in.

6. Scour the backseat. Make sure child safety locks are activated on windows and doors within reach of curious hands. You’ll also need to remove any poisonous substances, such as washer fluid, from your backseat. Next, look around for choking hazards — knobs that pop off easily, loose change between the seat cushions — and remove potential projectiles (hard books, toys etc.).

7. Keep the weight down. Store heavy items low in the seat wells so they won’t become projectiles during a sudden stop. For the same reason, suitcases, strollers and anything else stowed in an open cargo area should be battened down.

Safe travels, and happy Labor Day!

Sweet Ride!

Okay folks, it’s confession time. Today’s sin?  Squalor. Are you squeamish?

You can settle down a little bit, the squalor in my home isn’t too bad. Truth be told, I’m sort of OCD about the kitchen and the bathrooms. The squalor is in my car, and at the risk of being a foregone conclusion, yes, it’s a mini van (What did you expect? I have three busy kids and am an active participant in half a dozen carpools). I really don’t know where to begin…the outside of my ride is D-I-R-T-Y, and I’m semi-shocked no one has yet written “Wash Me” on the trunk. But the inside of my mommy bus is just plain filthy. If there were such a thing as a “Messy Car Checklist,” I would hit each point without any margin for error. Smelly sports equipment? Check. Yesterday’s coffee cup? Check. Assorted water bottles? Check. Empty juice boxes, zip-lock snack bags and tupperware? Check, check, check!

Some how, some way, a clean car falls into the “unattainable goal” category for me. I’ll wake up and think, “Car wash today!” And boom, it rains. I’ll drag the troops into the garage, equip them with trash bags and inform them we are not coming within ten miles of a soccer field until we can effectively picnic on the floor of the car without ever having the word “botulism” pop into our heads. And yeah, that works…for about two days. Then we’re right back to where we started: vehicle slumdom.

But fear not for me and mine. Guess what I have in my neighborhood? Nothing less than the car wash of my dreams: NorthShore Auto Spa.  It’s the ultimate mani/pedi for the family truckster and my favorite way to spend a lunch hour.  I pick up a salad to go, head to “The Spa,” and enjoy my daily dose of veggies while the very friendly staff erase all traces of the Mini Me’s…And then I’m off, with a cappuccino in hand, no less! And did I mention this is all for $20 (not including the salad)?

So for those of you standing on Michigan Avenue this afternoon admiring the sleek Nissan Quest emanating Armor All as it passes by, wave hello to this gal pal!

Wax on wax off!