Eating Out with Kids in Cleveland

Continuing on the theme from the last post… Never underestimate the power of a good meal that you didn’t cook or have to clean up after. We usually eat out on Friday or Saturday night when Mark and I are just too tired to think about preparing a meal. While it might not burn energy, it burns daylight which can be just as important if you’re counting the minutes until bedtime. We are lucky to have lots of fantastic, kid-friendly local restaurants in Cleveland. No need to subject yourself to Olive Garden or Red Robin to get a good meal out with the kids. Yes, I am a straight-up food snob and refuse to eat at Applebee’s and the like…not when there are literally dozens of wonderful local joints to choose from.

Note: I always keep crayons and paper in my purse, I also sometimes have stickers (these are fantastic, too), and those little mini play dough containers are easy to keep stashed for long waits. I’m thinking of getting a Tegu pocket set based on a recommendation from Ashley. We try to keep the kids device-free at dinner but know that waiting can be a pain for them so having a couple of distractions is key to a somewhat peaceful outing.

Here are our Cleveland-area, kid-tested favorites:

NoodleCat
What kid doesn’t love noodles? The kids portions here are just $4 plus they offer some diversity in addition to just plain noodles and broth that even the pickiest kids will enjoy. This is usually Matilda’s first choice for a good reason. Delicious, local food, great music, easy-going staff. Our kids are 100% NoodleKids. Matilda even tried my octopus last time we went!

No kid portions for this kid! A full order of College Ramen is her “usual”

Geraci’s
Our kids are hungry at 5:00 so getting a table isn’t hard. Come later and you will wait. When we are there it’s usually a crowd of AARP members, most of which are pretty tolerant of kids. The staff is very nice to families but this is a place where the distractions in my purse help a lot since the pizza can take a while. Matilda and Mark LOVE their meatballs while Madman and I love their pizza. We do take out from Geraci’s pretty often, too. It’s cash only, so be prepared.

Superior Pho
Again with the noodles. We are all pho fans and there is nothing in town that beats Superior Pho. The staff is good with kids and the no-frills dining room takes away the worry about dining with kids. It’s a great place to warm up on a sub-zero winter evening. One down-side: the bathrooms are communal with the rest of the building and kid of gross. Not a reason to avoid, just know before you go!

Matilda couldn’t wait to introduce her cousin to pho when he visited this summer!

Liquid Planet
A healthy “fast food” place with smoothies and kid-approved PB&J pitas. I love their rice bowls and we all love their quick service. It can get pricy but overall it’s worth it if you just want a good, healthy(ish) meal fast. We do sometimes get looks from the CWRU students studying at the Cleveland Heights location but whatever, you’re in a restaurant, not a library!

B Spot
$5 dollar burgers during happy hour are a beautiful thing. Add a beer for $3 for mom and dad and Friday night is perfect. Both kids love it here, especially the pickle bar. Everyone is loud and messy in here so your kid won’t be any different from the 20-something at the next table. East-side bonus: let the kids run around the inside of Eaton mall or check out the kids section of B&N to burn some energy before heading home.

mmmmmm…..Lola burger

The Tavern Company
I don’t know why, but this place was a surprise find for us. Perhaps because I didn’t think a pub would be family-friendly, but they are. The food here is quite good, much more upscale than we expected for a pub. It is also extremely kid friendly with crayons and coloring books; TVs help, too. Their mac & cheese (Madman’s favorite) is delicious and Matilda is a fan of their burger.

Vero Pizza
We’re big fans of Vero and we usually get a seat upstairs which provides fun views of the pizza oven. Again, due to our early-bird dining status we typically have the place pretty much to ourselves. Matilda is a huge fan of the bruschetta and the beet salad here while Madman will gobble up slices of the delicious pizza. Mark and I are fans of everything and we’ve never been let down by their specials. Of course, bribing the kids with gelato helps with good behavior.

Madman can polish off 1/2 a Vero pie – extra mushrooms, please!

What are your favorite family-friendly non-chains in the the Cleveland area? This list is obviously eastside-heavy but we’re always willing to venture out to try a new place!

What to do with Kids in a Cleveland Winter

As a parent, January in Cleveland is hard…  you’re staring down about 3 more months of being shut inside due to cold, snow, rain or sleet. Of course we sled, we ski, we play in the snow but we can’t always be outside. Even if it gets up into the 50s, it’s likely to be pouring rain (like this week) and you can’t really enjoy it. So, as we are all wistfully dreaming of the days we can chase our kids back outside into the yard again, here are some of our favorite cabin-fever busters:

Rockefeller Greenhouse
I feel like I might be breaking some sort of Cleveland-Parent code by sharing this, but oh well! The greenhouse is owned by the city and is part of the long, narrow park which is on the land donated by John Rockefeller. Best of all, it’s free! And, it’s never crowded, which leads me to believe it’s a closely guarded secret. In fact, in the many times we’ve been there we are usually the only ones there. This means the kids can get a little crazy without bothering anyone. Our last visit was on MLK day because I knew the museums in University Circle would be packed. There was a film crew shooting a commercial there but we stayed out of their way. The kids burned energy, played games and had fun and I didn’t once have to say “stop climbing on the furniture!”

Cleveland Art Museum
As I mentioned, it’s 600,000 square feet of very kid friendly, free space.

Cleveland Botanical Garden
While visiting the magical Hershey Children’s Garden and the 10 acres of lush outdoor gardens is a natural activity in the spring and summer, the CBG is one also one of our favorite winter activities, too. The 2 large glasshouses and as well as the toys & books (now located upstairs) they have out for kids makes this a good place to blow off some steam. And, if it’s dry outside it’s still a fantastic place to run around without getting muddy. Their café serves fresh, seasonal food that the kids love. Kids are just $4 (under 3 is free) but the $73 family membership is well worth it for how often we visit.

Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Some people with toddlers and young kids overlook this museum as a place to burn daylight. We love it because there are dinosaurs, lots of buttons to push, and space to move around. Yes, the entire facility can seem a bit dusty and old so the planned renovation is much needed. However little kids don’t care, they just see polar bears, alligators and moon rocks.  Hidden in the basement is the Smead Discovery Center, a hands-on area with animal pelts, puzzles, books, toys, a few lizards and other cool stuff. Unless it’s pouring rain we always take a walk through the Perkins Wildlife Center outside to say hi to the owls, deer and fox that make it their home. Get there at 10, outside snacks are allowed (but you can only eat them in the café), leave by naptime…perfect morning. Again, the $75 family membership is a great deal and pays for itself in 2-3 trips. Bonus: you can use your membership for free entry at other science centers and museums like the Field Museum in Chicago or COSI in Columbus.

Bowling
We did this for the first time recently and had a fun evening. It was surprisingly expensive for the 4 of us ($50+!) but was a fun night out. Both kids did well – each got a strike! It was an activity we’ll save for when we’re desperate due to the price, but I was pleased with how much a 2.5 year old and 6 year old enjoyed it.

JumpYard
Matilda’s winter break was longer than Madman’s so we had a couple of days where he went to daycare but she was home. One of those days I took her to the JumpYard in North Royalton on a tip from Amelia. It was a blast. Weekdays are only $7 and for that she jumped out all her energy for nearly 3 hours. We sunk another $5 into the arcade games. The free wifi meant I got some work done while she romped. The toddler area was nice and big and looked like the kids there were having fun. The morning was pretty open but when we left (around 1:00) it was packed…plan accordingly. This was worth the drive from the eastside and I’ll take Madman when we go back.

Great Big Home + Garden Show
I know, it sounds silly to take kids to a home and garden expo. But think about it: a giant indoor space in which your kid can run around and be a goofball to his heart’s content. We went last year and the kids spent hours exploring all the landscapes set up, checking out the houses and climbing on play structures. At $14 per adult plus parking it’s not cheap, but sometimes spending $30 to spend the entire afternoon out of the house is so worth it.

Rapid + Tower City = Tired Preschooler
We haven’t done this recently but both kids love to ride the Rapid so this is a nice one to keep in your back pocket for when you really need to get out of the house for the afternoon. Kids 6 and under ride free with a paying adult ($5). Mark has a monthly pass for his commute so for $5 we can ride downtown, burn off some energy running around Tower City, and then ride home. Now, I know Tower City doesn’t offer much in shopping, but it’s a beautiful space in which the kids can get some exercise. If it’s not below zero or sleeting we might walk over to grab a bite at Noodlecat, too.

 

Libraries
While we love living a couple of blocks from our local library sometimes it can be fun to explore other libraries. We like the ones in Cleveland Heights Lee Road branch and South Euclid branch in the Telling Mansion both for architecture and their children’s sections. We don’t usually get books (because we don’t want them to get mixed up with other library books at home) but spending an afternoon in a new-to-us space can be enough to keep the winter blahs away.

There are other standbys, too (swimming, GLSC, Farm Park, Aquarium) but these were some of our new favorites or hidden gems. So – what are your favorite winter blow-off-steam/burn-daylight activities for the kids?

Sunday at the Cleveland Museum of Art

As you know, my main goal every weekend is to get the kids out of the house. On Saturday it was warm enough to shoo them into the backyard for a bit, but Sunday dawned bitter cold so an inside activity was needed. I texted Mark at 9:20 this morning “CMA today? they open @ 10” and he replied with a “sure” (what? you don’t text your spouse who is in the same house as you?). By 9:58 we had parked in front of the Cleveland Museum of Art and were on our way inside. Mark had taken Matilda on a daddy/daughter date a few weeks back so they had seen the new atrium but this was Madman and my first time. Matilda couldn’t wait to show us.

Doing her best Vanna White impression to show me the huge expanse of the atrium

We are so incredibly lucky to have such an amazing art museum less than 10 minutes from our house. And it’s free. The new addition of the atrium and Gallery One is just breathtaking. After romping around the atrium and sneaking a peak the interactive wall of all the CMA works, we headed to the galleries.

Matilda taking in Monet’s Water Lilies (Agapanthus)

Like most women my age, the Impressionist galleries are my favorites. It seems Matilda likes them, too. But she declared this piece her favorite (for this trip, anyway. Every CMA visit leads to a new favorite):

A Rothko in the Contemporary Collection. She wants Mark to paint one like it for our living room

Madman was the wild-card of the day and he was a real trooper as we strolled the galleries. He likes the ancient art galleries and especially the Morton Mandel Armor Court. But today his favorite thing was not inside the CMA… it was the view of the “diggers” across the street at CWRU as seen from the Glass Box.

We had lunch from the new Provenance Café, which was amazing. We had 3 entrees split between the 4 of us and we were all beyond happy.

Post-peanut butter and banana sandwich happiness

It was nearly noon so we decided to go back to Gallery One to get a chance to play with the touch-screen wall of all the museum’s works. It’s pretty amazing (and apparently we were some of the first to use it! It doesn’t officially open until tomorrow). Next visit, we’ll borrow one of their iPads, too. Such fantastic technology coupled with the art!

After that we headed for the doors but stumbled onto the most perfect play area for the kids. I wish we had known about it sooner because we could have spent an hour in just that spot. It had sketching seats and frames to hang your artwork, Tegu blocks for sculptures and mobiles to build. There were books, and tents and art to touch, even some touch-screen displays. We had to drag the kids away. They can’t wait to go back.

While certainly not our first or last trip, this was one of our more memorable trips… perhaps because of all the new things to see and do. Or maybe because it was our first time as a family to be there while not under construction. I know some people shy away from taking younger kids to the CMA but you shouldn’t. They are extremely patient with kids, have tons of amenities (changing tables, stroller rental, high chairs). I do recommend getting there early, it was starting to get crowded by noon.

We frequent University Circle but for some reason the CMA has always been the last on our list from all the places to visit. I think we’ll be re-thinking that strategy over the next few months as we look for ways to keep the kids entertained and out of the house.

non-disclosure: nothing to disclose. I just wanted to share our family fun day at the CMA!

Splish Splash Swim Bash at Goldfish Swim School (Free!)

I’ve been a swimmer from before I could remember. Seriously… I don’t remember learning how to swim, I just remember always swimming. We lived at the pool in the summers (bonus of a mom who was a teacher and had her summers off), and I was on a swim team from age 6 until high school graduation. I think swimming is beyond a sport, it’s a life skill. As you can imagine, I want to pass this love of the water to my kids.

We’ve had Matilda in lessons on and off in the past. But, either the instructor was not good, the water was cold or the times were just so inconvenient that we stopped the lessons. Madman – poor 2nd child that he is – had never been in lessons. That is until Sonali Morris (whom I knew only on Twitter) along with some others said they were opening a Goldfish Swim School nearby. After reading about it we signed up as soon as we could and we were there the week it opened.

Madman and Mark in the Mini2 class

Why is Goldfish different? First of all they are all about lessons. You’re not jockeying for space with water aerobics classes or fitness swimmers. Unlike other indoor pools which are kept cold for competitive swimmers, Goldfish keeps their water a a tepid 90 degrees. Their classes are small since they keep their ratio at 4 to 1 (so far my kids have been in classes with only 1 other kid!). They have a great area for parents to watch the lessons (and free wifi!). Best of all their program works. After 4 weeks of lessons, Matilda has moved up a level because she can do freestyle and circle breathing! She is so excited.

Look at that freestyle! Perhaps we should start planning for the 2020 Olympics?

Movin’ on up to the next class!

We’ve also been to their family swim times because – why not? It’s great fun and they have a ton of awesome pool toys for the kids to play with. 90 minutes in the pool guarantees an easy bedtime. Their facility is built with kids in mind – clean changing rooms and bathrooms, lots of places to stash their stuff, a turtle tank, chalkboard and books galore make any downtime easy to handle. Plus they do parties (which reminds me, I need to get Matidla’s next birthday party scheduled at Goldfish ASAP!).

Are you sold yet? Want to chance to check it out yourself? Perfect! Because Goldfish Swim School is holding a community open house. Come to the Splish Splash Swim Bash on Saturday, January 26 from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. It will have a free four-hour open swim session, scavenger hunt, kid-friendly entertainment, photo station, prizes, giveaways, facility tours, snacks and more. You’ll get to met the funny dynamo that is Sonali and the whole Goldfish team. And you’ve got nothing to loose – it’s free and likely to be about 33 degrees outside. Doesn’t a 90 degree pool sound much better?

We’ll be there and we hope to see you too.

Goldfish Swim School
4670 Richmond Road, Suite 100
Warrensville Heights, OH 44128

Disclaimer: I was thrilled to help out with some marketing when Goldfish starting working on their facility because it was a group of local parents starting their own business. I’m again thrilled to help them promote their free community event because we LOVE our time in the Goldfish pool. We’ve been a paying customer since they opened but we are receiving a month of free lessons in exchange for this post. As always, my thoughts are 100% my own. I only share events that my family plans to attend or has attended in the past, so I know they are worth the visit. 

Kindergarten

This past August my oldest started Kindergarten and we were thrown into the realm of having a “school-aged child”. It’s no secret that due to her late birthday – 7 days before cut off in our district – that we struggled with the decision of when she would start. In the end, we elected to wait a year and, oh…that was so the right decision for our Matilda. She is far from the oldest in her class (there are several kids 3-4 months older) and she really needed last year to work out some of her anxiety.

Because of that anxiety we spent a lot of time with school staff over the summer (has an a IEP) working out the best environment for her. We visited her classroom a couple of times and she had some one on one time with her teacher in the weeks leading up to the first day.

First official 1st day of school photo 

She was “really excited and a little nervous” on her first day (well, half-day …they have a short 3-day week of half days when K starts. It’s a total PITA for parents).

A bit hesitant now that she’s at school with the other kids

She walked to school with her daddy and I met them there (I had to leave quickly for work). She walked in ready to conquer the world.

She’s got this!

I’m so incredibly grateful for our amazing school system. We actively picked a strong public school district with lots of support and resources when we moved to Cleveland and all those taxes are starting to pay off. I’m happy to say, after 2 months, that she is doing splendidly in school. She loves school days (recess and lunch are her favorites) and is growing in ways I never imagined. She picks up on new things quickly and is eager to share about her day. Thankfully, her anxiety is starting to lessen and, thanks to the support at school, she’s learning to cope with changes much better.

Bonus: another new kindergartner moved onto to street just a few days before school started. They’ve become fast friends.  

 

 

Halloween 2012

So! OhMommy left and apparently she took my will to blog with her to Chicago. Back in July. Oof. It’s been awhile, eh? No real reason… I’ve got 59.7 blog posts formulated in my head but I never found the time to commit them to paper (screen?). I’ve lot’s to catch up on…little stuff like my oldest starting kindergarten, you know, NBD. But, let’s ease back into this with a photo heavy post, shall we? (if you follow me on twitter/instagram you’ve seen them all, sorry!)

Thanks to the frankenstorm that gave us hurricane-style 70mph winds and waves on a Great Lake of 20 feet, our neighborhood’s trick-or-treat was postponed until yesterday. Let’s not even talk about how fast a post-vacation high can be harshed by losing power for 3 days and having roof/chimney damage that leads to plaster/fireplace/mantel damage.

Tip: a waterproof crib topper under your leak buckets will help to protect your floors (something I wish I didn’t have to learn)

Huge shout out to Emily for opening her home to us while she traveled for work. We had warm beds, hot showers and homemade meals in her adorable house rather than suffering at our 45-degree house. Thanks, Em! (and to Emily’s mom!)

The story of how we got these pumpkins to come. This photo is pre-storm when they were freshly cut. Last night they were 75% moldy goo.

Back to the point… 2012: the year Halloween was in November. Matilda knew she wanted to be an equestrian since probably last Christmas. Since she’s been taking riding lessons anyway she had most of the gear. I did finally give in and bought her a (deeply discounted) real riding coat after I looked for a boys jacket at a few thrift stores with no luck. She also scored real leather riding gloves out of the deal which I justified with the fact that she actually uses them at her lessons. She looked pretty darn cute, even with 2 layers of long johns under her costume.

And lord help the person who called her a horse rider… she would correct you with a quick “I’m an equestrian!”

Madman, my sweet opinionated 2.5 year old, was a monkey. Stuffed into the same size 24 month costume his sister wore just a month after she turned 2. I want to make clear that I didn’t not force this costume on him. He had a choice between a bee (which would have fit him much better) and this monkey (which I didn’t realize was so small until after I showed it to him) and he picked the monkey. Luckily, the coat fit him fine, but the pants were about 5 inches too short so the little feet were just below his knees.

Of course, since I can’t help myself when it comes to making these comparisons, I dug up photos from Halloween 2008 to see my two monkeys side-by-side.

Much to Matilda’s delight, Mark decided to dress up at the last minute by donning his Army fatigues. Let’s pause for a moment  and consider that these were issued to him when he was 18 years old and he still fits into them.

And, even though these really have nothing to do with Halloween, I have to post these photos to show how delightfully weird my kids are right now. Matilda is so into horses that EVERYTHING is about horses. Everything. Her scooter is really a horse named Scarlet and yesterday she found a snow brush which she then used to groom her “horse” for about 20 minutes. She even picked over the horseshoes like a proper equestrian would.

As for Madman, he’s at the age that it’s just a heck of a lot easier to give into his demands to wear what he wants than to fight him. This is why he’s frequently seen out and about in costume:

A walk to the neighbor’s house requires his sister’s riding helmet.

The man of steel enjoys pancakes for breakfast.

Buzz prefers to shop Trader Joe’s in the early morning on Saturdays.

I think I may have my blog mojo back… hopefully there will be more updates soon!

 

 

Camp

Matilda just finished with 3 weeks of day camp, and while that seems like no big deal, I’m so very proud of my girl. I’ve been talking about her kindergarten readiness for over 2 years for good reason…she has some emotional issues around new situations (that’s to say she doesn’t handle them well). It’s a big enough issue that we decided her on the cusp birthday warranted another year of preschool. When I heard from Pauline about a small day camp that focuses on outdoor fun along our favorite river it sounded perfect and I signed her up for a 3-week session. We thought she’d know another kid or 2 at camp but that didn’t work out. She was going to camp without knowing anyone. We braced ourselves for the worst…

Day one came and she was SO! EXCITED! for camp. She bounded out the of the car and into the area for her group like it was something she had always done. I watched, as my usually-timid girl introduced herself to another girl and started chatting away. My fears subsided a bit and I headed to work half-expecting a mid-day call. Although she’s been in daycare most of her life, my girl just does not adapt to new situations all that easily. When left in the care of an experienced daycare teacher with only 8 other kids that’s one thing, when leaving her with 3 teenagers responsible for 16 other kids I was a bit worried. No call came that day and when I picked her up she was so happy with her day that she wouldn’t stop talking. There had been bouncy houses, science experiments, baking and a river walk (well, a river SWIM for my waterbug). The fear of the unknown was no where to be seen.

Camp day one: before and after

As one day tumbled into the next she did great. There was fishing and bike riding, hiking and t-shirt decorating. More baking, a photography workshop (all of her photos are of things like spiderwebs and trees), exploding coke bottles, crayfish hunting and fort building. One of the kids in her group got bit by a water snake in the river and Matilda was mad she didn’t get to see it. A day trip to a local amusement park was the highlight of week one and she got to wear her official camp t-shirt.

 A chilly morning start, field-trip day, by day 3 camp caught up with the camper

The end of week 2 was the main attraction – a camp out in tents. We prepped her all week with what to expect and when we returned to camp on Friday night to drop her off she barely noticed us leaving. My baby would be spending her night away from family for the first time ever. In a tent in the woods. Neither Mark nor I slept much that night, always on alert for a phone call to pick her up (the camp has a strict “no forcing” policy – if a kid utters that they want to go home they call the parents for pick-up). It never came. We picked her up Saturday morning, clad in pink and full of grins. Her favorite part of the camp out? “Sleeping on the ground”.

Week 3 was more classes and sessions: fencing, karate, a visit from the bubble lady, a carnival and a fashion show. Frogs were found, more crayfish uncovered and each day she came home in her spare outfit because her 1st one was so dirty. This is also when she learned that camp was continuing on for another 3-week session that we hadn’t signed her up for; she wasn’t too happy with us. But now we know that not only can she handle camp, she rocked it. Next year she’ll be an old pro and attending for all 6 weeks.

With her beloved counselors on the last day

And for me, those three weeks of camp helped prepare me for this fall when I send my first born into the abyss of school with 25 classmates. If she can handle a camp with snakes I think she can handle kindergarten.

Festivals and Tribe Games and Carousels, oh my!

Like other CLE bloggers I thought I’d do a weekend wrap-up. It has a lot less brunching and drinking, but it was busy and fun just the same. Here’s my weekend recap, parent-style.

Friday night, as soon as Matilda got home from school, I whisked her downtown to Playhouse Square for a performance at the International Children’s Festival. I’m so in awe of our theater district. It was humming with activity on Friday and Matilda was just SO! EXCITED! to go into the buildings with the lit-up marquees over them. We saw World of Rhythm in the glorious State Theater. She LOVED the show and was dancing in the aisle by the end. She’s been talking about it non-stop and drumming on everything in sight. After the show, we walked around the theater and she posed “like a princess” on one of the grand staircases. Then we walked down to Noodlecat, her favorite CLE restaurant, for some ramen and steam buns. The kid loves her ramen.

Our date continued with a long walk back to the car as we admired the buildings (as-seen in The Avengers), laughed at our matching silver shoes and imagined that a bank was actually a giant robot.

Saturday had us at a friend’s First Communion where Matilda peppered me with questions throughout the Mass. She asked everything from why the girls were in veils and the priests were in robes to asking me if they were talking about zombies after John 6:53 was read. Oy, I think it’s time to start looking for a church. She has so many questions. After the ceremony we headed to the party where there was photo booth – BEST IDEA EVER. We had a great time hamming it up for the camera.


Saturday night the Indians had invited us to check out their new Kids Clubhouse. Since it was an evening game, I stayed home with the Madman while Mark took Matilda and her buddy and his dad to to check it out. Mark was floored with how well the Clubhouse was done and of all the amenities they thought of. Biggest bonus points goes to the wealth of family bathrooms available in the space. Matilda is just starting to use the public bathrooms on her own and I was worried about her in the often crowed and chaotic restrooms at the ballpark. Problem solved. They also have cheaper food options (think Uncrustables and organic milk) and, hooray! nice, private, clean nursing rooms for moms of infants. Mark even took a snapshot of the nursing room to text me, knowing how grateful I was when I found nursing rooms when I was still breastfeeding. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a quiet place to nurse and I want to give the Indians a big high-five for thinking of that. Both kids (ages 5 & 6) love the outing – the Kids Clubhouse is perfect for little kids who just can’t sit through 9 innings. Parents can watch the game while the kids play. Kudos to the Indians for adding this area, they really did their homework. Matilda has already asked when she can go to another game.

Playing in the new space, private nursing room,
view of the filed, Mark and Matilda after the game

On Sunday we had our traditional breakfast of buttermilk pancakes. We take our pancakes seriously around here and I’ve perfected the perfect fluffy pancake using this recipe (my tips: beat the egg whites to almost soft peaks. Then fold everything very gently, don’t over mix).

That afternoon I took both kids with me to Mansfield (my hometown) to meet up with my parents for the afternoon. They have been “snow birding” in South Carolina for 4 months and we haven’t seen them since Christmas. We meet them at Kingwood Center, a beautiful garden estate, were the kids could run around and feed the ducks. Then we went over to the Mansfield Carousel for a few spins. It was the Madman’s first time on a merry-go-round and he seemed suspicious of the whole endeavor. Later rides on a bench were enjoyed a bit more. Matilda, the girl who rides actual horses, assumed a stance of holding on for dear life as she rode. My kids are weird.

We got home just in time for bedtime. While we were gone Mark mowed the yard, did ALL the laundry, did dishes and went grocery shopping. Color me impressed.

This week is busy with work stuff and planning for next weekend. How was your weekend?

Cujo in the ’Hood

Ahhhh – life in the suburbs: Tree-lined streets, kids playing in the yards, people waving as they take their evening stroll, dogs attacking your car as you drive home from work….

First up – I LOVE dogs, adore them and when it comes to dogs I think that bigger is better. We have a dog – a large, old mutt named Mac. I’m also a fastidious dog-owner. Even though he hardly ever leaves our yard I keep him leashed when we’re not in the backyard because that’s the right thing to do (my husband – notsomuch. We argue over this all the time). Mac hardly barks and if he does when he’s outside we are quick to shush him. We are never caught without a waste bag when we are out on walks.

However, we have this neighbor on our street who is a terrible dog owner… let’s call her Miss Cray. She has a large lab and we have suffered many, many nights of Blackie  (the dog’s real name) barking non-stop for hours. Some of these nights have been bitterly cold and my heart breaks for him out there in the cold at 2AM. I have, on one occasion, called the non-emergency police line to report a noise disturbance. About a year ago Blackie started getting out of his fenced yard to roam (and crap in) the yards on our street. Tensions on the street escalated last summer when Blackie got loose then charged and bit a neighbor. He was quarantined and his owner was cited but he was given back.

A normal, responsible dog-owner would have worked on this issue…training classes, no unsupervised yard-time, etc. But not this lady. Miss Cray did nothing and Blackie continued to escape; he also got more aggressive. About a month ago I noticed a neighbor walking down our street while I was out front with Mac. He and his kid crossed to the other side before they got to our house – in talking to him he thought Mac was the aggressive dog! Mac, the 14 year old lazy mutt who has barely every growled at anyone in his life, was getting a bad rap because of Miss Cray and her lack of dog owning skills!

Fast forward to last night. I was driving down the street and noticed that Blackie was out in his front yard and Miss Cray was there, too. When I got near their house Blackie ran out into the street and I slammed on my breaks – coming inches from hitting him. Miss Cray was standing in her yard, watching and picking up sticks, and had no reaction. Blackie was at my front bumper barking and snarling so I rolled down my window and shouted at her to come get her dog. She stayed in her yard, calmly calling “Blackie, come here”. When the dog saw my window down he came towards it, still growling and barking. I tried to go forward and he lunged towards my wheel. I slammed on my breaks and shouted “Come get your dog! I don’t want to hit it!” She stayed in her yard, continued to pick up sticks and casually told me to just go “he’ll be fine!”. Every time I tried to move, Blackie would either lunge at my tire or jump in front of the car. Miss Cray did nothing…NOTHING! She stood 20 feet away from my car, watching her dog aggressively try to attack my car and kept telling me to “just go…he’s fine!” I shouted “I’m not going to hit your dog! Come get him out of the street!” This back and forth went on for about 6 minutes when a car came from the other direction and Blackie turned his aggressions on it.

I took my opening and moved forward only for Blackie to chase down my car. I didn’t want to turn into my driveway, not knowing if the kids were in the backyard, I didn’t want this Cujo to follow me onto my property. After a few minutes of him lunging and barking at my door as I stayed on the street in front of our house, he finally got distracted and trotted off. This whole time Miss Cray watched from her yard across the street.

I went inside, shaking from the encounter, and told Mark what happened while I called the non-emergency police line to report a loose and aggressive dog. The dispatcher told me “we know that dog – I’ll send a patrol car over.”

I watched as Blackie went from yard to yard, up and down driveways and slipping into backyards across the street. I watched as he got right up to my neighbor’s window and barked at their cat inside. I watched as he crapped in someone’s yard. I lost sight of him so I went outside on our driveway– when the police got here I wanted to be able to tell them where he was. The second Blackie saw me he charged. Luckily he was far enough away for me to get inside before he got to our yard. Remember: Miss Cray is still in her front yard, witnessing all this and doing nothing to get Blackie under control.

I have never, ever been afraid of a dog in my life, but seeing that 70 lb. lab charge at me while snarling terrified me.

Fed up, Mark went outside to confront Miss Cray and help her catch Blackie. The kids were all riled up and watching from the front window. As he walked down the street calling for to get control of her dog Blackie shot down a neighboring driveway towards Mark. Miss Cray slowly walked over and told Mark to calm down because he was scaring her dog, that Blackie was being aggressive because Mark was shouting. Miss Cray, once again, didn’t make a single move to grab Blackie’s collar to get any control over him. He was growling and lunging towards Mark – cornering him against our neighbor’s house. Miss Cray refused to get within arms-reach of Blackie; she was afraid of her own dog! We were all watching as Blackie lashed out and bit Mark in the leg.

Mark kicked at the dog (he didn’t make contact) and Blackie ran off, away from their house; Miss Cray walked off after him. I called the police back to tell them that the loose dog had bitten Mark but he wasn’t injured (Blackie had gotten a mouthful of khaki; luckily he didn’t break Mark’s skin). A patrol car rolled up after Mark came in the house. I went out to tell them what happened and they said they had 5 calls about the dog just that evening. Other neighbors came pouring out of their houses to tell what they had experienced with Blackie.

Then a fire engine, lights on, pulled up. I looked at the cops “do you know what that’s here for?” I asked and they shrugged. Turns out they were there for Mark. Apparently, they had gotten the report of a dog bite. I was mortified! I felt awful as I watched those guys pile out of the truck with their medical gear and walk towards our house. I explained what happened, that the dog got Mark’s pants but not his skin…they were so nice as they took down the report, checked out Mark’s teeth-punctured and torn pants then graciously showed Madman their truck.

A moment later an ambulance rolled up. Again, I was horrified that all these 1st responders were on our street! They conferred with the firemen and decided not to take another report. We were chatting about all the craziness of the evening when one of them looked over my shoulder and said “is that the dog?” Miss Cray was strolling down the street with Blackie finally on a leash like nothing had happened.

As the cops talked with her she denied that Blackie ever got out,  saying that this was the 1st time and that it was only because her landscapers left the fence gate open. Too bad there are dozens of calls to the contrary. Oh yeah, and that bite last summer.

The cops cited her and called the Animal Warden. As of today, Blackie was still at the house (unsupervised in their back yard, of course). As a dog lover I’m torn about the idea that might be put down. I’m angry at Miss Cray for letting this happen. Dogs aren’t like that by nature, they get aggressive due to negligent dog-owners. But I also hate feeling trapped in my house because I’m worried about Blackie getting out and ending up in our back yard with my kids.