Seems like whoever I run into nowadays is very curious about my newly acquired free time.

During the day I now have 6 hours free, five days a week to do what I want.

In the past two weeks, most days have fallen into a pattern.

After the crazy morning rush, I come home, drink a coffee and read some of my New Yorker Magazine. It was one of the things I had to give up when we had kids. There simply was no time to read for pleasure. Right before school started, I happily renewed my subscription.

Then, I’m off for a run. Last year my friend Jennie sent me my first podcast. It was a life changing listen. Not only because it altered my eating habits but also it opened my eyes to the wide world of podcasts.

Jennie is a friend of mine from my college days. She is a mother of two, an occupational therapist, grows her own organic veggies, and is in the processing of publishing her first book. She has become my guru on all of these things. She is always on the lookout for ways to help Ben with his sensory processing disorder.

When she heard this podcast on the Rich Roll Show, interviewing Rhonda Patrick, LONGEVITY, EPIGENETICS, MICROBIOME HEALTH & THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EATING FOR LONG-TERM WELLNESS VERSUS PERFORMANCE, she thought of me. You can read all about Rhonda Patrick on her website, Found My Fitness.

I think I’ve sent this podcast to about 12 people. It’s really worth a listen.

Then, once I figured out how podcasting worked, I started listening to them every time I ran. So far, these are my top 5 podcasts:

  1. Radiolab. They describe themselves as, “A show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.”
  2. This American Life. On their ‘about us’ page they seem to have trouble deciding what they are about. But it’s interesting and entertaining journalism, which is proven by the fact that they are the most popular podcast in the country.
  3. Serial. An American Life spin off, there are two seasons of Serial. This first one, on Adnan Syed, a man accused of murder, goes through the evidence to see if he is innocent or guilty. The second is about Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier held captive by the Taliban for 5 years.
  4. S-Town. A spin off of Serial about the life of John B. McLemore.
  5. Rough Translation. It’s about how the issues we talk about in America are talked about abroad.

After this, I shower up, and head out for a nice lunch. I’m trying to eat my way across the globe, without leaving the city of Chicago. Don’t worry, that blog is coming soon.

Finally I have an hour or two which I have so far spent mostly running errands, at the grocery store, the hair salon, at the kids school volunteering.

My house is still a mess, but every time I open a cabinet and everything falls out on top of me I take a deep breath and remind myself I can do it when winter comes. As Adam says, “What’s the rush? You have 10 years to organize this stuff.”

It may take me that long.

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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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Five Places Kids Eat Free in Chicago

Who doesn’t love to save money? I know I have an erroneous love of free food. I realized it should be quality over quantity, but that doesn’t stop my bargain hunting genes from dancing a two step every time get something for free. Over time my mom friends and I have managed to check out a few places that kids eat free. And here they are…

1. The Barn and Company. I met a few friends here with my older kids on Wednesday night as was shocked when my bill came to $10 without tip! I ordered a salad, which was 1/2 off and the kids ate free. In fact they eat free Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesdays. I didn’t think the salad was that tasty, but perhaps it was because I was at a smoke house which focused on meat. Next time I’ll be naughty and try the ribs…

2. Bakin and Eggs. I haven’t been back to this place in a while. The food was good, but the service was lacking last time we went. I saw a review on ‘Check Please’ that was positive so I’m thinking of trying it out again some day. They are only open for breakfast and lunch. Kids eat free all day on Thursday, limit 2 per family.

3. Frasca. Good Italian pizzeria. Thin crust pizza and nice salads as well. Kids eat free from 4:30 until 6pm every night. I think there is a 2 kid limit per family here too. Also, if you are doing the free kids promotion, you can not partake in the other specials that evening, like 1/2 price wine bottles. We found that out the hard way.

4. The Brown Trout. Unlike most places where kids eat free, this place has amazing food. We liked it so much we went on a date there without the kids! Their motto is “Casual, Comfortable, Sustainable Cuisine”. Kids eat free from 5-7, Wednesday through Sunday. One adult entree must be purchased per child.

5. Lulu Belle’s Pancake House. Pam introduced me to this place one Tuesday but we enjoyed it so much we went back with the kids a few times for breakfast on the weekends. It was tasty enough to dine there even if we had to pay for the kids meals. Kids eat free on Tuesdays from 7am until 3pm. Must order one adult meal per kid.

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Top Five Foreign Reads

I know what you are thinking, where do I find the time to read with four small kids around? The answer? While breastfeeding. My mother in law bought me a Nook reader and it stays right next to my boppy. You’d be surprised how many minutes you breast feed twins during the day, each time I read a few pages.

My favorite genre these days is foreignness. If it’s true foreignness it’s even better. Perhaps it’s because travel has always been a thrill for me. I love nothing more than to submerse myself into another culture completely.

With four kids, that’s not happening anytime soon. If you are in the same boat as me, then please take your pick from the list below. You too can take a vicarious travel around the world. Some I read years ago, some just recently.

1. Shantaram. An epic novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. An escaped convict flees a maximum security prison in Australia and starts life anew. (Thanks for the suggestion Emma.)

2. The Power of One. A fictional account of a boy named Peekay who grows up in 1939, during apartheid in South Africa. A motivating and feel good piece of work. (Suggestion from Rob Hart, my South African buddy)

3. Cutting for Stone. Twin brothers born of a secret union between an Indian nun and a  British surgeon. The twins grow up with Ethiopia on the brink of revolution as a backdrop. (Great one, Lottie)

4. River Town. Peter Hessler, a Peace Corps volunteer, teaches English in this remote town of Fuling. Loved the way he saw differences in the two cultures. (Jane Lee, thank you.)

5. Life and Death in Shanghai. A haunting, inspirational account of Nien Cheng’s six-and-a-half years as a political prisoner during Communist China’s Cultural Revolution. (Jennie Lui! This one if from you!)

Anyway, I’m currently looking for more good reads. Doesn’t have to be foreign. Just enthralling. A few minutes ago I finished Gone Girl, another book recommended to me by my friend Lottie. A psychological thriller that was totally addicting. I ate it like it was a batch of fresh baked brownies, it took me less than a week to complete. Suggestions anyone?

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More iPhone Games

Technology is unavoidable nowadays. What a different world our children live in than the one we grew up in!

Recently I answered a survey about touch screen devices for kids under three. My friend Kelly’s friend who was doing a research project. I answered as best I could, but Ben at 2 and 1/2 is still to young to grasp the concept.

Adam and I were discussing getting Jack an iPad for his 5th birthday. Right now he uses our iPhones to watch shows and play games. So much so that we’ve kept an old iPhone around just for him to use.

In the end we decided a bike would be a better purchase, especially after seeing how well his friend Grant rode his.

But technology is here. It’s not going away. And I’m not particularly bothered how much time my kids spend trying to master it. In a lot of ways I think it’s a good thing. I’m sure most jobs in the future will need good technological skills.

Perhaps this is how I justify the fact that we’ve moved on from buying just “educational” games (see previous blog – First Five Iphone Apps for your 4 Year Old) to buying fun games that are sometimes questionably violent.

I’m always searching for new games to entertain him, which probably means other moms are too. Here are another 5 that we’ve downloaded recently.

1. Where is my Water? I enjoyed this one even more than Jack did. Couldn’t put it down until I finished all the levels. It’s a simple concept, just get the water to the alligator in the tub. But amazing how hard they can make it!

2. Jelly Car. I think Jack enjoys all the different cars he can make even more than playing the game. Considering how wonky these cars drive, he’s got considerable control over them.

3. Ninja Town. Mostly jumping from tree to tree as high as you can while picking up points. Adam and Jack seem to have taken a liking to this game. I’m still not sure what makes it so exciting.

4. Team Umizoomi. Look! I can buy educational stuff for my kids! Jack is at an age where counting is fun.

5. Angry Birds. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know this game already?

On an adult note, my friend Lottie recently introduced me to “Words with Friends“. I’m addicted. If anyone out there reading this is playing as well, look me up!

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Five Chicago Holiday Activities for Kids

Seeing the Zoo Lights a few weeks ago made me wonder what other winter wonders I should seek out for the kids. I did a little thinking about holidays in the past, and a lot of research, and here is what I’m going to try to see before all the magic ends…

1. Brookfield Zoo. They also have Holiday Magic, another spectatular zoo light exhibit. In addition to the lights there are over 400 decorated Christmas trees, ice sculptures, magicians, and jugglers.  Many exhibits are also open, like the Hamill Family Play Zoo which has lots of holiday kid friendly activities. The lights run from 4pm – 9pm for three weekends. December 3rd and 4th, the 10th and 11th, and the 17th and 18th. Also open from December 26th until the 31st. Regular admission fees are $13.50 for adults and $9.50 for children over 3. Parking is $9.00 per car/van.

2. Train Exhibits at the Chicago Botanical Gardens Wonderland, open November 25th – January 1st from 10am – 6pm and the Morton Arboretum Enchanted Railroad open November 25th to January 8th, 9am – 4pm. While at the Arboretum, search for the Hidden Gnomes in the Children’s Museum and join in on their Winter Outdoor Play.

3. Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier. Open December 2nd – January 8th, exclusive of holiday hours. Most days they open by 10am. Closing times vary. Admission is free but you’ll need to buy an activity wristband to ride the rides. They go for around $15 – $20 depending on the package you decide on. If you are at Navy Pier, you can also visit the Childrens Museum. They have a fake snowball and fort exhibit as well as a ‘ice skate with your socks’ rink for kids this winter.

4. CTA Holiday Train. The train is decorated with lights and more. Santa and his elves ride the train passing out candy canes. It’s a great little afternoon activity. Normal CTA rates apply.

5. Ice Skating at Millennium Park. The rink is open on Friday, November 18, 2011 through Sunday, March 11, 2012, weather permitting. The rink is free and open to the public. Skate rental is available for $10. Hours vary so check the website.

This is posted and more on my growing group of lists for Chicago at Hidden Little Gems.

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Top Five Chicago Must Sees for Tourists

Last week I posted some winter, kid friendly stuff to do in Chicago on Hidden Little Gems. It’s a facebook app which provides lists to “discover places to eat, drink, stay & play from your friends”. Hidden Little Gems was started by an old friend of mine from my days in Asia.

As a result, a few of my old buddies saw the list and contacted me. I guess I never realized that, even though I moved out of that life and started a new one, most of them stayed there and still see each other.

A lot of them now have kids, so I’m hopeful that my list will be useful to them. But not all. So, I decided a needed to post a few more lists to represent the lone Chicagoan of the group!

This next post, Uniquely Chicago Experiences. If you are looking for touristy stuff to do when people are in town, these five things are a must.

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Hidden Little Gems

Vacationing in Boracay, Phillipines

An old friend of mine from Hong Kong, Philip Hofmeyr, recently started a facebook app called Hidden Little Gems. The tag line is “discover places to eat, drink, stay & play from your friends”. I love this idea of having people ‘in the know’ telling you the great little secrets of their cities. Since I know first hand how fun and adventurous Phil and his buddies are, I completely trust the content. To give you some idea of the Asia crazy I lived through in my 8 years abroad, check out the picture above. A group of us went vacationing in Boracay, Phillipines. For some reason we all decided to dress alike. The boys chose bikinis! They were a real hit at all the bars that night. If this picture isn’t an endorsement for how fun loving Phil and his friends are, then maybe stick something traditional like Fodor’s.

I posted my first list last week. Unfortunately, my stay at home pregnant mom status doesn’t quite match the party animal person I was back in Asia. I’m not looking for the latest hot spots anymore! I noticed my old roommate from Hong Kong’s list was titled ‘Best Places to Kiss in Paris‘. My how we’ve gone in different directions in life!

I was trying to think of something I searched for in the past on the internet that isn’t really there for the city of Chicago. I decided on Best Museums for Kids in Chicago. As the weather gets colder and colder, I’m constantly racking my brains for places to take the kids in the winter. Last year we had almost every single museum membership available. This year we paired it down to the ones most friendly for kids. Hope you enjoy them (you can click on the link “Best Museums for Kids in Chicago” to view.)

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Twin Trivia

Seems like every time we talk to someone about the fact that we are carrying twins, we discover a new and exciting fact about twins. It occurred to me that I must still be in shock, otherwise I would be out there reading and researching our current situation instead of walking around in an ignorant haze.

So I did some research.

Here is what I found.

1. Are we having identical or fraternal twins?

The likelihood of identical twins is uniformly distributed in all populations around the world. The exact cause for the splitting of an embryo is unknown. It is spontaneous and not effected by family history or fertility drugs. They occur in 1 out of 250 births on average worldwide. Our twins have two separate sacs and two separate placentas but this does not rule them out as identical. 

Most twins are fraternal.  Fraternal twins develop from two separate eggs. Fraternal twins are conceived when two eggs are released during ovulation. Because of fertility drugs, the birth rate for twins has gone up 65 percent since 1980. Before it was one in 89. These days, about one in 32 births are twin births.

2. Are there any factors that may have increased my chances of having twins?

If fraternal twins run in a female’s family, her odds of conceiving twins are much greater. It is passed down from mother to mother. Or if the mother carries the twin gene and has a son, he may pass it down to one of his daughters who will then be more likely to have twins. My mother is not a twin. Nor is my husband’s mother.

Decreasing our chances even more is my Asian ethnicity. China has the lowest rate of twins with the chance for multiple births averaging only one in 300.

Another factor that increase twins that doesn’t fit us – we did not previously have a multiple pregnancy. 

Also, we did not take any fertility drugs. Fertility drugs increase your chance of having multiples from one in 89 to one in 4.

With each pregnancy you are more likely to conceive twins. Perhaps having two other children previously is a factor for us.

More twins are conceived in July, and the least in January. We conceived July.

More multiple births occur if the mother is obese. I was not obese when I conceived. Maybe soon I will be, though.

Older mother’s have an increased chance of conceiving twins. I’m 38 years old. That’s old.

3. I also read that twin have a 50% chance of delivering before 37 weeks. Maybe I won’t have Taurus babies after all.

4. I am more likely to have a boy/girl combo. Between 30-39 you are more like to have opposite sex. Older women are more likely to produce more than one egg at a time. Between 20-29, same sex is more likely.

5. Finally, I found it interesting that once they are born I am even less likely to understand them than my other kids. Twins have been known to develop their own language that only they understand. 


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Top Five Toddler Books

For the past year or so, I’ve felt I need more help. I’m completely uneducated in kid speak, kid behavor. Half the time I have no idea why my kids are crying. And even if I understand what made them cry, it still doesn’t make sense to my why they are crying.

I remember leaving the hospital with my first born in a sense of panic. Are they really going to just let me leave with this complete stranger? Who can’t talk?! Where is the instruction manual?

Those who now me know I’m a ferocious reader. Some parents would have taken parenting classes. Or hired nannies. I read. Ferociously.

Now I’m going to share with you my top five toddler books. I hope they help you like they helped me.

1. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.  Also, Between Parent and Child has very similar views and advice. The author of ‘How to Talk’ is a protege of ‘Between Parent and Child’. These books give you the vocabulary you need to express yourself. Like how to advise without criticism. Or how to teach values not punish misbehavior.

2. The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee. Again this teaches kind parenting. The best thing I took away from this book was the chapter which explained that your child’s worst trait is also their best. Example: Your obsessive child is detail-oriented.

3. Potty Training. Technically there is no book here. But I felt it needed a mention as it’s such an important and confusing part of being a toddler. I read two or three on potty training. All were pretty strict, or overkill. In the end what I learned is that your child will not learn before he is ready. If you think they are and you want to try, or need to get it done before school starts, I’ll save you the money. Here is all you need to know. a) Let them walk around naked for a while. Like two or three days. Summer in your backyard with a kiddie potty is ideal. b) Ask them often if they need to potty. c) patience, patience, patience.

4. NurtureShock. Rethinking everything you believed was normal and true. The first chapter, which explained that I was praising my kid the wrong way was a real eye opener.

5. 1-2-3 Magic. Amazing that they could write an entire book on such a simple concept. How many pages does it take to tell you to tell your kid to stop, then count to 3, then punish? For my kid, very effective. We still do time outs but it quelches a lot of them and more importantly I can give fair warning then punish before I get all red in the face and screamy.

Want more? I read other books that were helpful but didn’t make it to the top five for one reason or another. Mind in the Making was a great read. But high level. I kept falling asleep. Still I took some important lessons away from it, like the importance of putting yourself in another person’s shoes (perspective taking). Also Happiest Toddler on the Block. His ‘Toddler-ese’ was kind of annoying, but effective.

These books helped me get through the very difficult ‘terrible twos’, which started when my first born turned three and lasted about 1 and 1/2 years.

I won’t say I don’t yell anymore. I’m human. This is the hardest challenge I’ve ever had in my life. It’s a job with hours so long that if the department of labor regulated it, it would be illegal. Still it is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

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