American Girl Place: The Experience

This past weekend Elena and I went to Chicago.  The only set plan was to go to the big American Girl doll store.  Elena is not a huge American Girl doll fan – she has Kit Kittridge, along with a few of the off-brand dolls from Target, and while she has a fair amount of doll swag, none of it is actually American Girl brand.  When I asked her where she wanted to go for vacation and presented this as an option, she was excited about it generally, because it was an ENORMOUS STORE FOR DOLLS.  I did not have an American Girl doll; I was a little older than doll-age when they became a thing, although I remember reading the books.

A few months ahead of time, I made a reservation for Saturday brunch (at 9:30) and found out sort of generally what sort of things we could do at the store, which included: doll hair salon and spa, create your own matching girl and doll t-shirts, design doll outfits, and, of course, shopping for every doll accessory that exists.  I wasn’t sure what Elena would want to do, but I told her she could have as much time in the store as she wanted, but that she had a budget and we couldn’t just buy everything that she saw.

We arrived in Chicago on Friday and did a run-through to get an idea of what all was there and where it was located. Saturday AM we woke up fairly early and started making our way to the store, which opened at 9, with plenty of time to spare.

8:50AM we are not the only early people.  About 10 girls and their parents are milling around the entrance waiting for the store to open.

8:54AM I notice that all the girls waiting are blonde.

8:59AM we are permitted to enter!

9:01AM we make a beeline for the hair salon.  This turned out to be a good choice because we didn’t have to wait in line.  To get a doll’s hair done.  Elena selects one of the few styles available for her short-haired doll.  She decides against doll ear piercing and doll manicure.  I’m proud.


9:08AM I wonder if one tips a doll hair stylist?  What is the etiquette?

9:10AM I wonder how the doll hair stylist explains her job to other people, or describes it on a resume.  “I braid doll hair.  That’s my job.”


The finished product.  (Yes, we have a cast for the doll.  She fell while ice skating.)  Her hair is cute.  It should be, as it cost the same amount as a haircut for my actual child.

9:12AM we check in for brunch and receive a number.  As is my habit, I eye up the crowd to assess how many elbows I’m going to have to throw to get seated.  My assessment of “zero” turns out to be accurate.

9:16AM the bathroom is pink and purple.  The stalls include doll-holders, which is both ingenious and ridiculous.  Actually, much of the American Girl store is both ingenious and ridiculous.



9:20AM Elena claims she is not hungry.  I explain that not being hungry is not an option.

9:26AM The doors open for brunch.  When the hostess comes to seat us, she asks, “how many dolls are with you?” and provides a chair for the doll that hooks on to the table.  The doll also receives her own tea cup, which we “get” to keep.  We do not get to keep the chair.


9:29AM Because these people are geniuses, champagne is on the menu.


9:32AM on the table is a box of questions for discussion, things like “what is your favorite day of the year?” and “what is your favorite dream?”  This box of questions is nice – it gives us something to do that involves talking to each other instead of playing video games while we wait for food.  (Take a hint, Chili’s.)  We order food (heart-shaped pancakes for her, quiche for me), talk about the questions, and eat our cinnamon roll appetizer.

9:41AM A Joni Mitchell song starts to play (something from Blue but I can’t remember what).  I feel like Joni would disapprove of this experience.

9:54AM Elena does not like heart shaped pancakes.  We request and receive more bacon for her.

9:59AM I text some coworkers a few pictures from the morning, which naturally leads to a discussion of capitalism and the rise of working class.  We pick at dessert; it’s beautiful and tasty but the humidity in Chicago has stolen our appetites.


10:04AM At this restaurant, the waitress walks around with a pitcher of milk rather than water or iced tea.


10:07AM We leave brunch and Elena does some American Girl shopping.  She decides Kit needs some glasses.  We look at a few clothes options but she’s not sold on actually purchasing any of them.  I look at books that describe things like ways to make your very own doll cereal.


It appears possible to recreate the spa experience in your own home.  This spa chair costs $110 dollars.  I’m not kidding.


10:23AM Elena decides she wants to go to the Lego store without buying anything else at the American Girl store.  I consider whether this may be my proudest moment as a parent.


After some browsing at the Lego store, we head back to the American Girl doll store, where Elena designs a bathing suit for Kit (which I approve of, because Art, and Creativity).  Her favorite toy purchase of the day may have been a set of Lego people, which she plays with for pretty much the rest of the day.  We are about shopped out by 12:30.

So this was a fun experience, and we were lucky and fortunate to be able to do it.  We had a good time in Chicago generally.  I’m also glad we did not spend five straight hours in the American Girl store, because as Elena pointed out, I might have gone “cray-cray.”


Best Ever Muffins

Some years ago, when Elena was young, my friend Catherine gave me this easy recipe for making muffins that is good for when your kids want to help you cook.  Zoe is REALLY into helping/doing it herself at the moment.  Elena was playing Lego Princess Relay Race or something similar on Sunday afternoon, so I thought Zoe might enjoy helping me make these muffins after her nap.

Here is the recipe.  Note the stained paper.  That’s how you know it’s a good recipe!


Zoe’s first job was putting the muffin papers in the tray.  I counted out 12 papers and THEN gave them to her, because it’s hard enough for grown-ups to avoid doubling up papers, let alone a 2 1/2 year old, and I didn’t think we needed to use 35 papers for this endeavor.


You can tell she just woke up from her nap because her hair looks a little rough.

Next I measured out the ingredients and let her dump them into the bowl.  She helped me count out how many cups/spoons of everything we needed (astute cooks will have noted that 3 teaspoons equals 1 tablespoon, but THAT’S NOT A VERY GOOD WAY TO LEARN COUNTING).


Mixing is next.  A surprisingly small amount of flour ended up on the table this time.  Gentle mixing.

I wanted to make chocolate chip muffins, but unfortunately we had like 1/3 cup chocolate chips.  My solution involved some candy bars and a hammer.  This is why we keep a hammer in our kitchen, obviously.  We also put in some M&Ms to bulk up the chocolate content a bit more.


Taste-testing the chocolate is very important.


The muffins turned out well!  Zoe didn’t actually like them, but that didn’t seem to detract from the overall experience for her.  Elena and I ate one each.


Going to a wedding when you’re almost 40

This is the first in a series on attending a wedding when you are almost 40.  Most people go to a ton of weddings when they are in the 28-32 age range.  This year we’ve randomly been invited to several weddings.  The wedding attending experience is a bit different when you are 10 years older!

6:45AM: wake up to your 2 1/2 year old telling your husband that she’s “poopied.”  Pretend to be asleep until the diaper is changed.

7:15AM: breakfast, coffee, Wild Kratts.

8:15AM: converse by text with your friend in Cleveland.  She advises that it snowed three inches there.  Worry about the roads. Text husband and ask him to remind you about the Lake Effect.

9:45AM: run to Kohl’s to purchase wedding appropriate clothes for your husband, who hasn’t gone shopping for clothes for himself since Obama’s first term.  While you’re there, consider picking up a replacement wedding card because the cat knocked water over the first one but ultimately decide it’s “not too warped.”  Also purchase a weird cape thing that’s on sale and may or may not make you look like Joan Crawford, along with an assortment of lip glosses, thinking “this might keep them entertained.”  Take children to the liquor store to purchase wine for the friend who will be watching them tonight; yell continually at the younger one to “NOT TOUCH ANYTHING NOT EVEN THE PINK ONE.”

11AM: ballet for the older one. Speak to husband about transportation options, realize you don’t actually know where the wedding is.  Permit the younger one to select three of the lip glosses and watch her entertain herself with them for FORTY FIVE MINUTES.  Determine this is the best purchase you have ever made.


Lip gloss forever

12:15PM: take the children to a brewery for lunch.  Order a beer and the cheese plate, pretend you are British.  Children continue to apply lip gloss at will.  Ultimately stop paying attention to what or whether they are eating.


Sure, put on some more lip gloss.

1:15PM: return home, make the older one read to the younger one to get her ready for nap.  Learn that Outlander is available On Demand; consider watching it all afternoon.

1:40PM: after a Herculean 25 minutes of self-control, decide to watch the first episode of Outlander.  The older one joins you; you explain the concept of time-travel what “Scotland” is.


Don’t get too attached to Frank, Claire.

2:45PM: playing, cleaning, packing.

3:35PM: start to put on Spanx.

3:45PM: finish putting on Spanx.  Assemble the rest of your outfit.  Ask children for their opinion.  They have no opinion. The younger one applies lip gloss to your leg.  You are fine with this. Put lipstick in purse to apply after the children are gone so they don’t ask to use your lipstick to make themselves look like clowns.


I decided against the cape thing though.

4PM: husband arrives home from work. Yell at everyone to put their shoes on.  Confirm he likes his new outfit; feverishly iron it. Yell again about the shoes.

5PM: Drop the children off with a friend for a sleepover.

5:30PM: arrive at wedding, which actually occurred at 4:30.  Greet bride; fail to mention your lack of attendance at the actual wedding.  She looks gorgeous.

5:45PM: ask for white wine and feel morally superior when the bartender asks if you want chardonnay or white zinfandel.  Chat with friends.

6PM: talk to two people with whom you played sports during the period of 2004-2009 but have not seen since then.  At your table, discuss how long everyone has known each other. Feel old.


Friends since 2003!

6:30PM: toasts, dinner, cookie table, special dances.


This cookie table is on point n’at.

7:15PM: have a conversation with your friends at the table about the social etiquette of vaping at a table full of strangers.


8PM: dance with people you sort of know to the songs that are played at weddings.

8:30PM: slow dance with husband.  Realize you may be the only person at the wedding other than the bride and groom who is familiar with the Pogues’ “Love You Till The End.”  Feel morally superior.

8:45PM: during the “a little bit softer now” part of “Shout,” have an actual conversation with people squatting five inches off the floor about how everyone’s knees are going to give out. Feel proud that you were able to keep your shoes on the whole evening, but also like your knees might give out.

9:45PM: notice husband is falling asleep.  Decide to leave.

10:20PM: arrive home

10:20PM and one second: remove Spanx.

10:30PM: bedtime!


#pghGBE April Fool Guest Blogger!

Today’s post comes from Becky of lil Burghers, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers. You can see my post over on Ya Jagoff!!!, where I talk about jagoffs.

Thoughts from another Orange Chair

Hey, there. It’s so refreshing to get a few moments and sit in my orange chair (credited to my parents’ love for auction bargains) and share my thoughts with a whole new set of people. Like Sandy, I am also a working mom who tries to take care of myself and feels like I deserve it from time to time! (wink) So, taking a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of four kids to chat with you all is one of those ways I plan on spoiling myself this weekend.


Becky and her son Evan in their orange chair, 2014 (miss them baby cheeks!)

You see, my babies are turning one tomorrow. I know. Those of you who follow my blog are all in disbelief, right? The ‘lil Burgher twins are turning one, and basically that means I have about six years to rebrand my blog because they are not going to be little much longer (and their older siblings are going to be 11 and 13 at that point). That clock is ticking.


There’s NO WAY this was a year ago, right?

When your kids hit major milestones like this, it’s a privilege to spoil yourself, yes? Especially since I’ve “sacrificed” my body for them since July 2014 – a whole 22 months? For sure. Don’t you agree that that first birthday celebration is really for mom and dad? YOU made it!

Alright, then. If I had a magic switch and could pause time and enjoy a few things going on in Pittsburgh during this special weekend of ours’, here’s what I’d do with my amazing partner in this crazy journey of life:

  • Score tickets to the Pirates Home Opener.
  • FINALLY get breakfast at Pamela’s. Yes, I went to college in Shadyside and the glory of those sweet pancakes has yet to cross my lips.
  • Get a massage. The last one I had was when I was six months pregnant, and it had to be entirely too gentle.
  • Run the Race for Grace. Frankly, the only reason I didn’t do it was because it’s the girls’ birthday. My “comeback” 5K is going to be next weekend though! (I was on a running hiatus from September 2014 – February 2016, aka, pure torture to someone who became addicted to running.)
  • Sleep. I’m running on an average of 4-5 hours a night right now (according to my FitBit). The kids aren’t even to blame. I simply can’t shut my mind off.
  • Float at Levity. The tears I have to shed can just float away into the salty water.

Instead, I’m going to get up off this here chair and start to hang all things pink and gold in preparation for family and friends joining us tomorrow. I’ll find some tissues because there’s sure to be tears (of joy). Admittedly, I’ve got food to pick up (thank goodness for online grocery ordering – all moms deserved this recent pleasure), floors to sweep, and toys to put away. Tomorrow is going to be bittersweet, yinz.

Becky is the blogger behind – a blog about raising her four kids in the (far northern) suburbs of Pittsburgh with the help of her husband, Greg. 

Participating Bloggers:

Harvest + Bloom // Yes, Wear That! // jelly jars // Glam and Graffiti // To The Streets // In Pursuit // Pittsburgh & Pearls // Beezus Kiddo // Goodness Madness // Last Minute Panic // Steel City Intrigue // Crank Crank Revolution // Amanda Narcisi // Pittsburgh is Beautiful // From Cats to Cooking // Yum Yum PGH // Breelicious Bites // Parmesan Princess // Coffee & A Blonde // The Steel Trap // Wavy Alabaster // everybody loves you… // Eat with Emily // Don’t Forget to Eat // Sloping in the Sky // From Farm to Turntable // Secrets in the Wall // Red Pen Mama // Feedback Soup // The AP Collection // Blog Or Die PGH // Pittsburgh Happy Hour // Friendly Fitness Foodie // Small Town Dad // Josh’s World // Geeky Sweetie // Sean’s Ramblings // Lunges, Long Runs and Lattes // Try it and You May! // lil Burghers // Orange Chair Blog // Ya Jagoff // Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents // Melissa Firman

Thanks to Alex at everybody loves you… for organizing and for including me!

Nakama North

As the parent of two children under the age of 6 who enjoys spending some time with them, a person who works outside the home full-time, and a woman who has interests other than work and family, my days – especially my weekend days – are kind of all over the place.

This weekend we were supposed to go to Cleveland to visit friends, but our hosts had some stomach flu concerns, so I made the bummer/smart decision to stay home. Today, Sunday, I spent some time this morning practicing dek hockey with some women who are generally pretty awesome at dek hockey, and then I came home and took Elena to a gymnastics party with her school friends.  The sound track to today was, weirdly, the Barbie’s Fab Christmas CD which Zoe just found in a drawer (dammit).

Although there were some moms on the dek hockey team, their kids are a bit older (as in, they are either old enough to be allowed to wander the facility, or they are so old that they’re like in college or something).  I don’t know the school moms that well, although they are all very nice, but I do know them well enough to know they all think I’m slightly batshit for playing dek hockey (perhaps mostly it’s the 11PM games that they think are batshit – and they are not wrong).

There was a kids’ soccer practice in the area next to where we practiced hockey today, and at one point a little family came over to watch us.  You know, a family, like the one I left at home, so I could play hockey, while my kids sit around in their pajamas and color their hair with hair chalk or whatever.

This makes it sound like it’s a bad thing that I try to diversify, but of course it’s not.  I like having these different experiences, and as soon as my kids are old enough to sympathize with the fact that “yeah, practice was frustrating because everyone crawled up my butt about my shitty-ass stick handling” I think it will add a nice element to our relationship.

Which brings me to Nakama North.  Nakama Original is a nice hibachi restaurant in an area of town where all the youths go.


Some time ago I was taking the girls to misguided swim lessons and I saw that they had opened a location in the northern suburbs, in the strip mall with the Whole Foods and the artisan bread shop and the Gymboree, and I thought to myself, oooh, that place is for us.

I was not wrong.  Nakama North is basically full of families of people where the parents used to go on dates to Nakama and now they have kids but still want to eat nice food that is cooked on a hibachi grill in front of them and they want to bring their children there and they don’t CARE HOW MUCH IT COSTS JUST BRING ME A GLASS OF WINE AND A PLATE OF STEAK AND SCALLOPS. Basically it’s perfect for me, and fortunately everyone else likes it too.  They have edamame and white rice and plain chicken, so, you know.  If only it didn’t cost eleventy billion dollars of money to go there.


Since we didn’t get to go to Cleveland this weekend, we took Rachel and went to Nakama North.  It was awesome.  Rachel loves fire, apparently!  And they went there for her dad’s birthday!  Rachel gets pretty excited.


Zoe’s still not a fan of fire, but she had fun getting daddy to comfort/pay attention to her during the fire parts.  Plus, she got a virgin strawberry daiquiri.

Now it’s now and I’m preparing to fight with Zoe to get her to sleep on time because BITCH THE LAST EPISODE OF DOWNTON IS ON TONIGHT.

Popular Music When You’re Six

We drive around listening to KidzBop a lot.  It doesn’t really bother me.  I don’t hear a lot of differences between the KidzBop versions of the songs and the regular versions of the songs.  I mean, I guess I’m old or have bad taste or whatever.

Whenever you have a certain birthday, the “when you were born” lists inevitably include the #1 song when you were born.  (Mine is “Silly Love Songs.”) I don’t remember hearing “Silly Love Songs” at ALL growing up.  What I do remember hearing are the songs that were popular when I was about Elena’s age, about 6.  These are the first popular songs I was really aware of (I mean, in addition to the Sesame Street records we had, and all the music my parents liked, and that sort of thing).

Google tells me that these are some of the songs that were really popular in 1982, when I was 6, and I think you’ll agree that this is a fairly awesome collection: Eye of the Tiger, You Should Hear How She Talks About You, Jack & Diane, Don’t Talk to Strangers, Up Where We Belong [which I remember VERY CLEARLY being an answer to a game of Hangman in first or second grade music class], Rosana, Eye in the Sky, Do You Really Want to Hurt Me, Pass the Dutchie, Come on Eileen, Hungry Like the Wolf, and Heat of the Moment.

So will Bad Blood be Elena’s Come On Eileen? Will she dance to this song at a club in London when she’s studying abroad? Will she figure out what’s really going on in Uma Thurman, like I did with Pass the Dutchie, years from now, and be like, “seriously?”



Resolution: February

I did relatively well with my January resolution.  I packed my lunch just about every day, I think I missed 1 day.  I did moderately OK with the “only getting regular coffee” at Starbucks.  I mostly drank regular coffee, with a couple of days off.  I did poorly with the “parking somewhere cheaper” option.  It is cold and I didn’t really want to park further away.  So I’ll try that one again in like May.

For February, I’m going to stop eating when Ben goes to bed (which is usually like 8:30/9 these days since he’s been starting really early).  What’s been happening is that he goes to bed and I stay up and drink, like, a half a bottle of wine and eat five cookies every night while watching like three shows on Netflix.  Then I feel like garbage about myself.  So I’m going to stop doing that this month.  And I’m going to continue with my lunch-packing and coffee-drinking (although today I had a free drink so I got a fancy drink because that doesn’t count).


One of these months my resolution will be to blog every day.  I thought about doing that this month (since it is only 29 days, haha) but I want to stop this nighttime eating thing.  So maybe it will be March.