Making Old Memories New Again

It is one of the many memories that I had as a child.

Each family has it’s own little world that it lives in together, imprinting each other every day, shaping and molding who we are and what we are to become in the future.

This memory was the kind of memory that I would never repeat to my high school peers for fear of shame and humiliation. But thank goodness I no longer live in fear of being judged. In fact, I’ve learned a memory like this can be seen as funny, and now I can share it with you with pride. At the very least, after what happened today, I can no longer make fun of my parents and sister for it.

It was 1983. Maybe it was 1984. There we were, our entire Devensky Family. Mother, Father, Older Sister and I, breathing heavily and contorting our bodies to Jane Fonda’s workout video. You know the one? Where she is wearing that signature 80s workout leotard that cuts up on either side to her rib cage. I think she also wore a belt. And leg warmers.

We were in old t-shirts and shorts, sitting on fraying beach towels. My mom was yelling back at the VHS tape, “It burning, Ai Ooman, it burning you see!”

My dad was laughing at himself because Jane was telling him to stretch his body over his legs and he couldn’t even sit up straight in that position, much less bend.

It was one of those great family memories that probably would have been completely forgotten if I didn’t find myself in a very similar situation recently.

I’ve been working my way through Shaun T’s T25 lately. Any day I can’t make it to the gym I drag myself into the spare room at nap time or after the kids are in bed and force myself to do it.

After hiding it from the kids, you can imagine my shock and surprise when, over Thanksgiving break naps for the twins, Jack and Ben showed quite an interest in doing them with me.


Oh yeah, I got a visual. I hope my sister and parents are laughing as hard as I am right now. There is me and Jack, the next generation on, making it burn.

I’d like to say it was a perfect memory. But unlike the stuff I remember from my own childhood, I’m not as patient or forgiving as my predecessors. At one point Jack was bumping into Ben repeatedly and after a few warnings I yelled at him. He was so hurt that he left after a few minutes of doing the video. So Ben and I completed it. Well, Ben laid on the floor for most of it, but he stayed with me.

The whole time I felt terrible. I went all Orange Rhino on him when there were so many better ways to handle it. I ruin a perfectly good memory and had no idea how to fix it.

Luckily, Jack did.

When it was over he came in with a piece of paper and pen asked me how to spell ‘circle’. I spelled it for him and he gave me this note. (I wrote my reply under it.)

t25 again note

We both giggled a bit nervously and I started the video AGAIN from the beginning. I figured 50 grueling minutes contorting with Shaun T was the least I could do to punish myself for yelling at Jack!

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Happy Thanksgiving 2014!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and family checking in today!

It was a low key day for us.

Board games, indoor races from one side of the house to the other, lots of reading to the twins and older boys, a few tickle torture sessions, iPad playing, some proactive housework (Adam cleaned out and moved the kids books around), some football, a hilarious hour with a few workout videos which the older boys were surprisingly interested in doing with me, and some traditional Thanksgiving dinner.DSC_0063

Scarily I spent about as much time on dinner as I normally do. It seemed so ordinary that I actually felt the need to put the table cloth on the table so the kids might feel a difference from other nights!

Since we didn’t have any guests half of us are still in our jammies, which I considered a real luxury.

Hope everyone reading had as many things to be thankful for as we did.

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Fresh Picks (Nov 5 & 19)

For November 5th we received carola potatoes, bunched carrots, baby bok choi, dried beans, arugula, parsley, crimini mushrooms and tomato puree.


Right away I used the tomato puree, carrots, some of the beans, potatoes and parsley in a big pot of soup.


I just chopped and chucked it all in along with whatever else looked interesting in the fridge like cauliflower and celery, added water to cover it, a parmesan rind, some salt and pepper, and simmered it uncovered for about an hour.

I missed out on the bok choy and arugula but managed to stick the mushrooms in Ellie Krieger’s Quesadilla Recipe.

For the past few orders I’ve not focused on using all the ingredients in my order. Sometimes it’s just too hard to be creative! But I came back with a vengeance on November 19th….

DSC_0022Pumpkin, Carrots, Brussels Sprouts, Onions, Celery Root, Potatoes and Spinach above.

The onions got diced up and put into Ina Garten’s Turkey Meatloaf recipe, it’s one of the staple meals that the entire family will eat.

I used some of the pumpkin, brussels sprouts, celery root and potatoes together for a roast vegetable dish. Tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted on high heat until they are both crispy and soft. Delish!


But I still have more of almost everything left over, besides the celery root. And I was determined to stop wasting!

So, I used up the rest of the pumpkin, carrots and potatoes in this gorgeous Pumpkin, Carrot and Potato Soup from Nigella Lawson.DSC_0051

I also had left over brussels sprouts. I found a tasty Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad that even Ben ate!


Brussels sprouts shaved in the food processor with hard boiled egg, pine nuts and grated parmesan doused in a lemon mustard vinaigrette.

And spinach, simply sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Sometimes simple is the best way…


I’m always amazed how much it cooks down!


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Acts of Kindness

Have you even noticed how often complete strangers can make or break your entire day?

Like if someone stops their car on a busy street to let you in. That can really make my day. On the flip side, someone honking at me because I’m not driving quick enough can stay with me for hours, a black cloud over my head.

Often I wonder why people are so aggressive and angry, especially when driving. That is probably for another blog though.

However, when I see anger and aggression towards me in any form I try not to take it personally. I try to reason that it has nothing to do with me. That person is having a bad moment in time and to try to be empathetic instead of angry back.

I know it’s not the normal way to think. I’ve been very blessed in my life to have been raised by parents who have instilled these life lessons onto me.

I remember doing a long haul drive once with my father. I was still in high school and new to driving but my father trusted me enough to dose off while I drove. When he woke he found me in a stand off position. We were on a two lane highway and there was a car on our tail driving madly. I was holding steady right next to another car, not letting them pass as a punishment for their rude tail gating. My father assessed the situation and said, “Pull to the side.”

I started to complain how they were rushing me and that I was in the right, that they should not follow that closely.

He said, “If someone wants to pass you, just let them. You have no idea what’s going on. What if they are angry and have a gun? Is it worth it to be right?”

My mother was the same. She was the kind of person that gave rides after school to kids who lived in the projects because their parents couldn’t.

As many of you know, the Calisoff clan has been sitting around the dinner table for months now saying what we are grateful for. Often there are repeats. Ben is always grateful for the special treats his teachers give him and for the dessert he hasn’t eaten yet. Jack is grateful for outdoor play and in the winter he’s started to be grateful for school! The twins often name things we did on other days or repeat the older boys. They still need prompting to remember the nice things that happened that day but I don’t think it’s too early for them to start.

In fact I’ve realized it’s time to up the life lessons in the Calisoff household to the next level.

Acts of Kindness.

Last night I introduced the second level of my home schooling efforts to make my kids into little mensches. When I mentioned it, they had no idea what an act of kindness was.

“Jack, it’s like when we were in Target tonight and you found a penny and gave it to Ben instead of keeping it yourself. It made him so happy. That was an act of kindness.”

Jack got it right away and started to try to do nice things for the twins as well.

Ben still didn’t get it.

So I continued, “Ben, if you share that is an act of kindness. Let’s say someone in school lost their scissors and you give them yours to use. That is an act of kindness.”

“I’m not sharing!” Ben said.

“Well Ben, if don’t want to share, there are plenty of other ways to do acts of kindness. You do something you don’t want to do that your aide asks to make her happy, that can be act of kindness to.” (Might as well try to get some good behavior out of this exercise as well!)

I also told the kids I would tell them my own act of kindness, so I’d better get cracking myself! Anyone reading this need any help with anything?

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Peggy Notebaert Museum Visit

With the temperatures dropping into the teens this week it was time to sift through my mommy wallet (you know the one that is the size of a small purse and has enough card slots to paper a small country?) and see what museum memberships we had that had not yet expired.

Today we picked the Peggy Notebaert Museum. It had been long enough since our last visit that the room for temporary displays was new again. This time we got to see the “Rainforest Adventure”.

DSC_1003It was full of interactive things to see and do for the kids like the treehouse above.

Live Blue Macaw

Live Blue Macaw 

Family of stuffed animal Apes in a tree stump.

Family of stuffed animal Apes in a tree stump.

I forgot how perfect this museum was for little toddlers. It’s small enough that you can see all of it in a morning and still make it home in time for naps, it hardly ever gets overcrowded, there is a small gated playroom for when you just need to corral your kid/kids for a bit, and all the exhibits are friendly for really young kids.


Riverworks Exhibit

Extreme Green House

Extreme Green House Exhibit

Butterfly Exhibit

Butterfly Exhibit

I must admit we also had another ulterior motive for picking this particular museum today.


Surprise! Jack had a field trip here this morning as well. There is his look of shock when he realized the person calling his name from the balcony was his mother.

The twins thought it was super cool to crash Jack’s field trip and get to eat lunch with their big brother.

DSC_0021 - Version 2

Luckily Jack still thinks getting surprised by his mom and little brothers is kind of cool too. For now…


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Winter’s Coming

Winter’s Coming.

Adam and I working our way through Game of Thrones right now and they keep saying it… Winter’s Coming. It’s always said with ominous dread and every time we hear it I can’t help but think that winter is coming for us as well.

In fact it’s hard to believe it’s NOT winter. Did you ever notice that 365 days is just long enough for you to completely forget everything that happened the year before?

Every year Adam and I have the same conversation.

I wonder that it’s already November and we still haven’t really suffered harsh cold yet. Adam’s answer is always the same.

“Nikki, winter doesn’t start until December 20th.”

And even though I do dread the cold, I also start preparing for all the wonderful things Chicago has to offer this time of year.

Here is my ambitious list of things to see before winter is over this year…

1. Zoo Lights. There are two different zoo lights you can see in and around Chicago. If I could only choose one I’d pick the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights. It’s closer to us and I feel like they do a bang up job covering the entire zoo. But if we get the time, I’d stop by and see the Brookfield Zoo Holiday Magic. It’s a trek, but in addition to lights they have a laser light show reminiscent of your single days attending concerts in the 80s.

Jack holding hands with the Piercy boys.

Zoo Lights 2 years ago

2. Chicago Botanical Garden’s Wonderland Express. The kids love the trains but I love to see the intricately detailed structures all hand crafted from natural materials.DSC_0741

3. Gnome Hunting at the Morton Arboretum. If we plan it right, we can search for the gnomes while it’s still light out then stay on to see Illumination. This is an interactive light show through the trees that is a delight for the eyes.

4. Ice Skating. I hear Wrigley Field has a rink in their parking lot I’ve always wanted to check out. I find Millennium Park Ice Rink too crowded. If that doesn’t work there is always McFetridge Sports Center.

5. Sledding. We are lucky to have a hill right next to your house at Oz Park but I hear Soldier Field has a sledding hill that is kept snowy thanks to the park district no matter what the conditions.

6. Holiday Train. A great winter staple, kids love to ride the specially decorated, lit up train, get the free candy canes.


7. Hanukkah Teddies. It’s time to start our new tradition up again. I hope I can think of eight new ideas!

Day 8. Finally Captured.

8. Winter Wonderfest. A great event for the older boys, with jumpy houses, train rides and other more adventurous rides for Jack. Plus, my weakness – funnel cakes!

9. Ringling Barnum & Bailey. The kids really seemed to enjoy it in the past and I’d love to fit it again this year.

10. Museums. So many! I’m sure we’ll hit our favorite, the Museum of Science and Industry at least once, and hopefully many more.

Did I forget anything?

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Irv and Shelly’s Cooking Party

DSC_0956I must say when my friend Hedy suggested we take our husbands to a cooking party for Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks, I was not sure if it was a good idea.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of appealing things about it.

I love Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks. They are the mostly local and organic veggie selection I get every other week and blog about cooking up. They keep me on my toes, alleviating me from the cooking doldrums. Otherwise I might fall into the trap of cooking up the same three meals every week.

I also love cooking. But cooking is something I do all the time. All the time. Three meals a day for between 3 to 6 people, seven days a week. We do often eat out on the weekends, but never THREE meals a day. I also love my kids but if someone asked me to get a sitter for my own kids to hang out with other kids my answer would be NO THANK YOU.

Finally, I love the Smiths. They are one of those cool couples that fit into a rare category for us. I like the wife. Adam likes the husband. They have a kid the same age as one of ours.

After weighing all the positive and negatives, we said yes and pushed the send button on the email.

And I’m glad we did.

Salmon Salad on Crostini

Salmon Salad on Crostini

Because taking some time away from the kids to hang out with friends and your husband is a lot of fun.


Cooking with Irv from Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks.


Hedy and I

And cooking without two two year olds pulling on each leg asking to be picked up AND with a glass of wine is a whole ‘nother kind of experience.

And so often Adam and I get into a rut where we never do anything that doesn’t revolve around the kids and once we are pulled out of it, we realize that we need to do it more often.

And we learned to cook samosas!

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New Winter Ritual

We have started an elaborate new winter ritual that works wonders for everyone on the weekends.

Stick with me, it’s a bit involved…

First we drop the twins off at the playroom at our club. Then Adam takes Jack to play racquetball while I take Ben swimming.IMG_7700

Adam has been waiting seven years to play racquetball so this is quite a big deal for him. I’m pleased to see that Jack is finding it a big deal too.

Ben is basically swimming, but I worry if he doesn’t go every week he’ll lose it. In a few weeks he’ll be amazing and it’s beautiful to watch. I never thought flaying like a shot chicken while half sinking and swallowing water could be a beautiful thing but you just have to see what it looked like before that to appreciate the beauty.

The twin like the playroom and after about an hour Adam retrieves them and brings them to the pool where all six of us swim together. Even with the shortened time frame, the twins are still the first to get out so it works out well.IMG_7706

Afterwards Adam will take us to lunch or dinner at the restaurant, not having to cook this meal and see all the kids pig out AND get to pick their own meal for once is the best feeling for me! A nice glass of pinot noir helps too. And for desserts we have convinced them that health smoothies are the only treat they need. Another bonus.IMG_7712

That evening all the kids are already showered up from the club and everyone always goes to sleep quickly, which gives Adam and I more time, another brilliant side effect of the day.

I won’t say that I love the cold weather in Chicago, but it’s nice to live in a place where the seasons change, where life is delineated by weather, and the rituals that go with it.

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Halloween 2014

Well Elsa the the Snow Queen struck us on Halloween. The power of all those Disney dresses must have been the reason that it HAILED buckets on us all day.

Not that it stopped us from enjoying every moment of Halloween.

Starting with a Halloween parade at Jack and Ben’s school…DSC_0869


Afterwards I stayed at school (we had a sitter for the twins) so I could volunteer for Jack’s Halloween party. I figured it was fair since I did Ben’s Pumpkin Patch field trip the week before.

It was a real eye opener to be in Jack’s class. I’ve done a few field trips but watching the kids in the classroom is completely different.

I was very pleased to see Jack was such a stellar student. I was in charge of the skeleton pasta project. Many kids couldn’t figure out the instructions, or their skeletons were messy, or they complained about the task. Jack figured it out quickly and without incident and his skeleton was perfect.


Afterwards he very sweetly helped me clean up the area. Helping his own mother without me asking! It melted my heart. He’s growing up so nicely.

DSC_0843Ben, on the other hand, still needs a few more years of growing I’m afraid. I got pulled out of Jack’s class and called into the office by Ben’s aide to discuss Ben’s behavior. It was not good. When I arrived he was complaining of being strangled and kicked by the authorities (which they assured me was not true – Ben often has trouble articulation what is actually happening when it happens, something we constantly work on, using words to describe things accurately) and the authorities were in a tizzy about his outrageous actions.

I took Ben on my lap and did the 3 step trick – 1. empathize 2. ask questions 3. problem solve. I asked what happened before he was getting manhandled. After a bit of empathy he was able to tell me he wanted more time at the candy corn guessing game. We decided, together, that next time he would use his words not his hands. Maybe his aide would give him more time if he asked, or tell him he could have more time after the other kids took a turn, or maybe she would say, Ben the longer you guess,  the longer you have to wait for a sample of that delicious candy corn.

The principal also said we should have a plan in place in case this happens at the next party. That is was too much stimulation for Ben. I agreed.

I also mentioned that the Special Ed teacher wrote me that Ben had 4 very good days in a row this week. That after 2 months he’s finally understanding and responding to the schedule. And that as soon as he got used to it, his aide arrived and a new schedule began where he spent more time in the regular classroom. And this new schedule would take time for him to adjust too as well.

I was glad I could be there to talk to him and the staff and hopefully we all understand each other a bit better now.

After school we picked up the kids and some ice and finished setting up for our annual Halloween party. I was a mess at organizing this year. Forgot to invite two dear friends until the last minute. We set up and shopped for the entire party the night before.


We emptied the back room and set up the pumpkin from last year. It sings and plays music. The kids managed to tear it to shreds about 1 hour into the party….

DSC_0854Here are the twins ‘helping’ us set up the drink station.

We trick or treated first with some of our friends….DSC_0906

Then we headed back to the house for the party.


People came bearing many gifts. Lots of alcohol, including a bottle of my beloved Patron and a big assortment of stuff from our upstairs neighbor who works for Diageo.  Also coffee from my friend Tami’s company, Cindy’s famous cookie cake and Jackie brought two huge trays of cupcakes…

Jackie and Aaron

Jackie and Aaron

Aaron really enjoyed the cupcakes. I don’t think either twin ate any dinner, but that happens on Halloween and you just gotta look the other way. Jack asked me how many pieces of candy he could have and I said, “Today just don’t ask me how many you can eat and I won’t tell you.”

I think he was confused and ended up eating none.

Here was our youngest attendee, Matthew….


And my favorite costume of the night from Alex…


Hope everyone had as much fun on Halloween as we did. Until next year….

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