Turns out, we're not alone.  Elmhust Patch is saying that the City of Elmhurst is going around quite a few neighborhoods - and in a pro-active attempt to keep the Ash Borer from finding a home in our city - chopping down as many Ash trees as they can find regardless of their size.  Just one block from our house - at the southeast corner of Third and Indiana Streets sits this massive stump.

I put the Babe's stroller in the photo to give you some perspective.  I tried to count the rings, but lost track somewhere north of 100.

I can understand the issue behind the elimination of these Ash trees, but it seems like a pretty significant waste in my mind.  More sad than anything else I suppose. 

On the bright side, it seems that not only is the City replacing the trees with something else, they're willing to work with the homeowner if the Ash tree is *really* special to the homeowner and they don't want it chopped down.

But, I have to ask:  Can't they be treated some other way besides just chopping them down?  I have tried to find the answer on the web and it isn't clear.  Other places like St. Paul have the Borer present and are cutting down AND treating trees.  But, maybe that treatment is only to kill the Borer?  Is there a way to treat these Ash trees without cutting them down to make them a lot less inviting to the Borer?
While I wish they were the HUGE ones, these little green shoots are our Allium bulbs that rise up in front of our porch in the front yard.

Nat had been talking for a few years about how she *wanted* Alliums, so late in the fall of 2009, I secured a handful of the bulbs and planted them without telling her.  I hoped that I had done everything right - the depth, spacing, watering, etc.  I crossed my fingers.  Then, waited.

Come Spring of 2010, they sprung to life and with a big smile on my face, I took Nat out to see her new Alliums.  I may not be the most romantic guy on the planet, but I have to say that my Allium adventure turned out great. 
Although the thermometer this weekend said the exact opposite, Spring appears to be right around the corner as our Hyacinths are peeking out of the mulch in our front yard.
I planted these back in the fall of 2009 and they came to life for the first time last spring.  They're my favorite color - orange - and while they don't stick around too terribly long, they make a nice impression right next to our front stairs.
I know this may be hard to believe, but Nat doesn't like pizza as much as I do. Because of that fact, we (unfortunately) have to go to restaurants OTHER than pizza joints. One of those was Tom & Eddie's in Lombard.

Tom & Eddies is an upscale burger place that was developed by two long-time McDonald's execs.  Their story has been covered elsewhere and it, indeed, is an interesting story line.  These two guys are going after the fast, upscale casual restaurant dollar.  Fancier than Chipotle, but as fast and casual as Panera.

The burgers were good, but not extraordinarily memorable - as noted because I can't quite remember what I had to eat.  Nat had a Turkey burger and loved it.  We'll go back, but the burgers are only a small reason why.

The place is sleek, welcoming, and bright.  And the folks who work there (Who I think(?) were actually Tom and Eddie) were great and warm.

The pieces of the place that are the most fun (for me, at least) were how they made your visit so very customizable.  Starting with the burgers and sides (sweet potato fries, FTW!) and leading right into the soda machine.  Look at those options!  Sure, there's the Coca-Cola products, but they also have a bunch of Boylan natural sodas.  Nice!
And the options to customize your experience didn't end there.  Right next to the soda machine is this amazing rack of sauces, mustards and ketchups.  Organic ketchup!
They also have this weird contraption on your table that we didn't utilize, but I think you can alert a waitstaff member to come over if you press a button. 

All in all - a solid experience and a place that is kid friendly with good chow.  Anyone else experienced this place? 

The Babe's Uncle Charlie gave us these block by Fred back at Christmastime and we really haven't begun to play with them just yet.  She's not quite to the stacking things stage, rather whenever Nat or I stack something up, the Babe storms over like Godzilla and brings the whole operation crashing down.  At some point, she'll be into stacking blocks and when she does, she'll be the coolest hipster baby on the block.  Instead of the typical letter/object connections like A=Apple, B=Boy, C=Cat, D=Dog, these are a bit more fun.  M=Mustache, U=Underpants, W=Werewolf.
Pretty fun stuff that I'm sure will be fun to laugh about as she grows up.  Thanks, Uncle Charlie!

I'm learning very quickly that time moves very fast with little kids.  One day they can't hold their own head up and the next they're rifling through the cupboards below the sink.  My little girl just crossed the 15 month mark and on pretty regular occasions, I'm seeing her do some very grown up like things.  They're small little actions or body language, but they're definitely there.  Or at least, in my head, they are there. 

Take for example this photo.  We were at the Country House eating burgers this week when I caught her lounging in her high chair.  She looks so at ease and comfortable and the way she's carrying herself just seems so NOT like an infant/toddler.
Every time I look at her I rediscover how adorable she really is.  I couldn't love her more than I do and am so fortunate to have her in my life.  Nat has been doing an amazing job with her and each and every day we're both learning something together!

For those of you friends and family who know where the Babe's own website is, you can wander over there for a few recent updates. 
A few days ago, my favorite news outlet on the entire web, Slice, put up their Chicago pizza map.

Green = recommended.  Yellow = recommended with reservations.  Red = not recommended.  While I'll quibble with the dearth of true Western Suburban or Southwestern Suburban pie joints, I have to love the hard work they put in on this.  Not to mention the mapping product they chose to use!

View Pizza - Chicago in a larger map
For the better part of the past 18 months (starting a few months before the Babe was born), I've pretty much had a beard.  And I've liked the beard.  But I woke up a few days ago and figured it was time to go.  To mark the occasion, we went to Barnaby's.  (yummers!)  Actually, we don't need a reason to go to Barnaby's to eat the delicious cornmeal-laden pizza pie. 

For those of you keeping track of my looks at home and for Parrillo Family archives record keeping purposes, here's an updated photo for the end of March 2011.  

For a long time there, I figured that I'd just become a "beard guy".  In fact, I would tell anyone that listens that I'm a "beard guy".   Not this week.  Anymore.  The good news is that stubble is back already.  And, I have a feeling that I'll grow it completely back because I already miss it.  Spring and Summer temperatures may convince me otherwise, though.
Move over vegetable garden and garage pavillion, there's potentially a new entrant into the currently crowded backyard at the Parrillo household.  Behold:  this beauty.  The Cedar Summit Panorama Playset from Costco.   Comes with 3 swings and a tube slide.  Nat spotted this behemoth at Costco and after doing a bit of comparison shopping at a place like Menards (more expensive, I think) and Wannemaker's (don't sell these type of things any more), it appears to be a fair deal.

It is a kit - so I'd be putting it together myself, but I'm up for that challenge.  The real issue is getting it home.  I'm going to head back to Costco to take a look to see if it will fit in Nat's car with the back seats folded down.  If not, it seems like I'll be renting a truck from Home Depot. 

Yes, the Babe is likely too small for a lot of this, but certainly NOT the swings.  We take her to the park on a regular basis and she gets a kick out of the swings.  The whole fort thing - yes - that will take some growing to use.  

My sister bought her set from Costco and is happy with it.  Anyone else bought from Costco?  Want to warn me before I pull the trigger?
Pardon the smudgy fingerprints, but look what landed on my desk yesterday.  Site looks pretty good - and blogger knows that I don't want the mobile template and serves up the full site on the Motorola Xoom. 
We don't have a single square foot of installed carpet in our house.  Wood floors everywhere.  We do have a few area rugs in our family room and living room, but that all changed this morning.  After one last slip coming down the stairs, it was time to try to make them a bit more grip-tight.  Especially with the Babe being carried up/down multiple times a day. 
The guys from Luna are here putting in a runner that will cover the stairs.  Nat picked the color and I think it turned out nice.  Suppose, we'll find out when she comes home, though!
I spent a part of past week up in Minneapolis where - in addition to reminiscing about my days of selling drywall screws in the Twin Cities - I also spent some time with reporters teaching a "Google 101 for Journalists" at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  Like other papers (Hello, Chicago Sun-Times!), the Star Tribune started as two independent Newspapers called the Minneapolis Star and Minneapolis Tribune.  Interestingly enough, their building reflects those independent roots.  Notice the "and".
Still not as cool as the Columbus Dispatch sign, though.
Thanks to Equation Boy/Man I was able to get into the "Second Round"* games of the Mens 2011 NCAA Basketball Tournament at the United Center.  We saw some great names/teams like Notre Dame, Purdue, Georgetown, Florida State and Texas A&M.  And some not so great games.  (Have to love the VCU upset, right?)  Grabbed a grilled cheese at the Billy Goat to top the night off.  (Yes....no Cheezeboorger for me.
A few days ago, we celebrated my dad's birthday (along with my beautiful niece's birthday!) and unlike last year, ALL of the grandkids were able to be there.  Nice hat, dad!
Here's the 2010 version with photo.  The birthday girl (in pink) wasn't even born yet! 
After spotting (and documenting) the new Walgreens house brand of beer called Big Flats 1901 Lager and the Jewel brand Buck Range Light, I figured I should share a photo of another house-brand that I spotted:  Kirkland Signature Handcrafted Ales.  This is a 24 pack - of four different six packs including a Pale Ale, Amber Ale, India Pale Ale and a Belgian White all for $18.99. 

The guy in front of us in line was raving about this stuff - and said that it is all he serves at parties and drinks at home.  If Nat doesn't like it when we serve Miller High Life at our get-togethers, I doubt she'll get behind a house-brand, right? 

Anyone tried this stuff? 
In lieu of keeping a gardening journal on paper, you've probably noticed that I've been using this space as a running entry of what is working and what isn't with my seedling experiments.  With Nat's encouragement, I've mentioned that I've taken on some flower seed growing (Amaranthus, Cosmos) including one of her favorites:  Zinnias.

One of 3 varieties of Zinnias I've sown is called the Purple Prince.  I'll find time/space to show you the other two soon.

After just a week and a half in the ground, the seeds have sprouted and seedling have begun to emerge.  None of those "Luminous Blooms" yet, but I'm now more hopeful and knowledgeable about how these things work.  Once again, I put too many seeds in each little compartment - not knowing that so many of them would emerge.  Will be such a shame to have to thin these guys out.
A week or so ago, my sister sent me an article (like this one - but I don't think that was actually the one she sent) that had all these alarming stats about the air quality in our homes during the winter and how these things called VOCs get built up.  I had never even heard of VOCs, let alone knew that they were doing so much damage to our lungs.  VOCs are Volatile Organic Compounds that come from a wide range of things in our homes like paint and furniture and cleaning supplies. 

Turns out, because of these VOCs, the air quality *in* our home may be worse than the quality *out* of our home.

This note she sent me said that all is not lost; that there was something you could do to help clean the air in your home:  buy one of these five plants.  Armed with the list of the five plants, I went off to Home Depot to see what I could turn up in the garden center.  On the list was something called an Asparagus Fern and after some digging and Google Image searching (the plants at Home Depot aren't labeled well), I found what I was looking for.  Just $2.98, too.

I replanted the fern into a pot that we had in the garage and now this guy is now (hopefully?) cleaning our air every day.  Here's to a healthier household.
Allow me to let you in on a little secret:  After a life-long search for the tastiest, best cheese for pizza, I am happy to tell you that the journey is over.  Here it is:  Chellino Brand Scamorza Cheese.

I've been using Chellino Scamorza for 2 or 3 years after first reading about it on PizzaMaking.com and then seeking it out and finally finding it at Zeppe's Italian Market in Naperville.  It is NOT cheap - a few more bucks per pound than your run-of-the-mill mozzarella, but that few dollar expense is more than worth it.

This particular brand of Scamorza - which is, as I'm told by the guy who answers the phone at Chellino Cheese Co in Joliet, IL, is the only Scamorza made this way (the rest it sounds like are a bit more like fresh mozzarella).  It is the perfect blend of creamy and salty. 

And the key part?  It looks, grates, and smells just like mozzarella.  But it tastes a bit different (better) and it must have a different (higher?) burning point because it browns differently, usually taking longer for the "top" of the pie to get done.  This means that your crust and bottom of the skin have time to catch up and you don't, as I used to, end up having a bunch of pies made at home that have well-done tops and under-cooked skins. 

I don't get back to Zeppe's any longer, but I've found that they carry this cheese at my local Angelo Caputo's in Addison.  It is a must-buy whenever we go there. 
The second part of my Black & Decker Leafhog arrived this week via Amazon.   Billed as a Leaf Collection System, this is an 8' hose with a garbage can attachment that takes the sucked/chopped leaves and deposits them right in your garbage can.  I need a few moisture-free days to get everything to dry out before I can give it a shot, but as you can imagine, I'm chomping at the bit to get started this spring. 
Well....that didn't take long.  Just late last week, I shared the news that in addition to trying some vegetable plants from seeds, I was also trying my green thumb at sowing flower seeds.  One of them that Nat picked out (she's the flower expert) was heirloom Amaranthus that I showed last week. 

Along with a bunch of other flower seeds, these have really taken off.  The Amaranthus are the light purple ones in the foreground.  Right behind them are a variety of Cosmos - but that is for another post.  As often happens (I'm learning), it is now time to thin all of them out to allow the healthiest and strongest seedlings to flourish, but I hate to just throw the extra seedlings in the trash.  I'm going to try to make it to Menards soon to pick up more non-peat pods and maybe grow some of these to give away.  Maybe they'll find a home in some yards on our block or in Frankfort or Naperville.
I've never attended a seed swap, but after hearing about them, I was wondering how people had "extra seeds".  The instructions that I found about seeds said to sow A LOT of seeds in each pod because "many" of them will not germinate.  After seeing this tray of seedlings, I know understand that the "A LOT" approach is probably not the right one - as you end up throwing a lot of seedlings away.  And...now the whole idea of a seed swap - and having extra seeds is making a lot more sense.
I *think* I've found a new carwash spot.  During the warm weather months, I use the DIY Sparkle Car Wash on North Avenue, but with the freezing temperatures, they've mostly closed up their bays - not to mention that I don't really want to be using a hose and soap wand in sub-freezing temperatures. 

So I was left to use the Delta Sonic - which does a decent job.  One day last weekend, Nat was set to take my car (the small one) but she didn't want to use it because, as she said, "it is gross inside".  So, I had to find a place that could do the interior.  Using Google Maps on my phone, I found the Addison Car Wash, located just a bit north of North Avenue not to far from our house.

View Larger Map

The prices are great ($7.50 for a interior clean with vacuum and wipe down along with a nice exterior wash), but the place is a little grimey.  Actually, it is pretty close to being a dump.  But with a $7.50 wash, who was I to complain. 

After entering the building, you pay and then you walk down the hallway watching your car go through the process like you do at most car washes.  But, this place had something that I had never seen before:  a DIY Undercarriage Wash button.  See it there?  It really is a big red button that you have to push as your car goes by to get an undercarriage rinse going. 

This added a little bit of game mechanics to the wash and I kind of liked it.  Not sure why other places don't do this as I could see it being A LOT of fun for kids and adults alike.

Anyone ever been to a wash with a DIY button like this before?
In addition to the Amaranthus seeds, I also planted a set of Cosmos called the Sensation Mix seeds.  These are billed as "superb cut flowers" and (unbelievably) list their height at four feet tall.  That can't be, right?
I'd be VERY surprised if they achieved 4 feet tall, but they *are* clearly the tallest and most lively of all the flower seeds I planted.  That is them in the photo below.  See how much taller they are than everything else?  But four feet tall?
Over the weekend, we took the Babe out in her stroller and went for a walk to get some air.  Somehow, we ended up checking out a new place on York Street named Rosalia's Deli.

Rosalia's is an annex Angelo's Ristorante - a long time fixture in Elmhurst which recently underwent a facelift.  The exterior of the place looks great and I, for one, welcome the addition of an Italian deli literally in my backyard.

When you walk in, you have a pretty standard Italian deli with breads, cheeses, a big counter full of meats and prepared items as well as a handful of oils and other Italian specialty items.  I wasn't all that impressed with the breadth of their offerings, but it is a small place AND it is just getting started.  I suppose just about everything will pale in comparison to Angelo Caputo's, right?

But...when you look to the left - to the part of the store that is connected to Angelo's Ristorante - what do you see?

This beauty.  A custom-built wood-fired pizza oven.
I spent a good five minutes watching the pizziola put together pies, and while I wasn't all that impressed by his skills, the investment in the oven alone makes me think that they're going to be serious about their pizzas - even if the employee on the stick on the day we went wasn't perfect.

They offer a handful of pies - just 5 - but it seems there's something there for everyone. 
We didn't eat a pie while we were there, but I'll be back.  There isn't a lot of seating - just two little cafe tables, so it might end up being just me and the Babe for another pizza date like we had at Pizza Palace.
With the election less than 30 days away, it is time for everyone in Elmhurst to get focused on the upcoming votes we're all facing.  Like it or hate it, EVERYONE in Elmhurst needs to care about what the City Council will choose to do in the coming years.  Raising our taxes, solving the flooding issues, keeping us safe, and getting rid of the skunks are all concerns we have.  On April 5th, 2011, we can start to make choices about our representatives at City Hall who are willing to listen to our concerns and bring our values to the City Council.

Fortunately for me (and...for you, too!) , Dannee Polomsky, one of my neighbors is running for Alderman of the 3rd Ward in Elmhurst.  I've decided to support her and her campaign because I believe she'd do a great job for our neighborhood.  I recently wrote a letter to the editor supporting her campaign and sent it around to various publications including Elmhurst Patch - who ran it on Friday.  (Thanks Patch team!)  I think I have a pretty good perspective on local government - having served in two roles over the course of 8 years in Frankfort.  Here's the full letter - and if you live in the northern part of Elmhurst, you should join me by getting involved in Dannee's campaign here.
Like many of you, I love Elmhurst.  I’m actually fairly new to the city having moved here in late 2008.  What drew me here were all the things that make Elmhurst a great place to live and raise a family:  the location, the charming downtown, the neighborhoods and most importantly, the welcoming nature of the people of Elmhurst.  Elmhurst is a city at a crossroads.  In just a few short weeks, many of us will have the opportunity to go to our polling places and cast our votes to make the changes necessary to keep Elmhurst that great place to live. 

You see, I moved here from Frankfort, a southwest suburb in Will County, where I was a two-time elected village trustee.  From that experience, I know what it takes to make local government work, and being a resident of the 3rd Ward, I’m fortunate to have a candidate running for alderman who understands our concerns. On April 5, I’m voting for Dannee Polomsky for 3rd Ward Alderman, and I urge you to join me.  

Municipal government is the closest form of government to our everyday lives:  from our garbage pickup to snow plowing to stop signs. But more often than not, it is also the most distant and difficult to understand and navigate. Dannee Polomsky has a plan to bring a new level of openness and accessiblity to the office of alderman and has pledged to solicit ideas and feedback from residents of not just the 3rd Ward, but across the city.   

After all, isn’t that all that we want in our elected officials, someone who will honestly listen to our concerns, be open to feedback, is tough and will represent our issues at City Hall?

They say you can’t fight City Hall, but with Dannee Polomsky as our alderman in the 3rd Ward, City Hall will be fighting for us.
The first time I had pizza in our new house in Elmhurst, we ordered from Pizza Palace.  We were having a painting party with our relatives and had to order something on the spot.  One way or the other, I ended up with getting a few pies delivered and I was happy.

I've subsequently started to order from Mama Maria's, but recently decided to head back to give an in-person try to Pizza Palace.  Nat was going out for the night and it was going to be me and the Babe alone for dinner.  What better thing to eat than sausage and pepperoni, right?

Pizza Palace is on Addison Street - right behind the main drag called York in Downtown Elmhurst.  The place is a pretty unassuming bar with a dining room bolted on the side.  We sat in the bar in a booth and waited to see if someone would join us in this fun 70's era table.

Since my dining companion is 14 months old, we chose to eat at 5:30 pm on a Wednesday.  Aside from one older lady by herself at the bar, we were all alone.  By the time we left close to 6:30, there were a few more folks streaming in, but this place certainly wasn't packed.  I ordered my standard pie:  Sausage and Pepperoni, Well Done.  Me and the Babe shared a small and we had to bring some home. 

The pizza - when cooked well done - comes out crisp, hot and delicious.  Tavern cut, of course, Pizza Palace isn't doing anything particularly fancy, but my experience has been that they're fairly consistent.  What you order is what you get - time and again. 

The crust has a nice bit of char on the bottom edge - as viewed here via the usual pizza upskirt.  These are greasy pies, but I think if you are eating tavern-cut pizza, in a bar.....you're expecting that, right?

While, for the most part there aren't any surprises, there was one big one:  their Parmesan cheese on the table in the shakers.  This stopped me in my tracks.  It seems that they don't use run-of-the-mill dry Parm that every pizza joint uses.  Take a look at the photo below.  See the odd chunks and strands?  I *think* they might actually grate their own.  Or at least use a pretty high-quality variety of cheese.  Seems out of place in this place, but maybe *this* is why it is, indeed, called the Pizza Palace?
All in all, I might have a new go-to place for dine-in pizza.  Not sure I'll stray from Mama Maria's for take-out, but who knows.  All pizza bets are on the table.

Oh....And...what would a palace be without a proper Queen?  
You know you've reached a certain station in life when you start to think about how well you've secured your basement door with an "out of reach" locking mechanism.  Not quite sure what station exactly, but it seems to be somewhere between [mowing your own lawn] and [minivans]. 
I was picking up our pie at the local Lou Malnati's last week when I can across this note in the window of Choi's nails on Park Avenue.  Seems they're moving across the tracks to a new location.
Choi's nails is moving into the opening that was created when Aisle Style bridal salon closed recently and will fit in a spot right between Armand's and a Dry Cleaner and Fontanos.

The 114 W Park Ave location is looking for tenants and has billed the location as being on the "coming home" side of the tracks.  but with all the openings in downtown, I'm not sure what will open here.   I guess that we should be happy that Choi's nails is staying here, but to be perfectly honest with you, I'm not all that excited by having another nail salon show up in what could be considered a prime location - right across from the train station.

I know the economy is still lumbering along, but with the factors that make Downtown Elmhurst so promising:  the theatre crowd, proximity to Elmhurst College and that untapped crowd, and the tax incentives the city is offering, I have to believe that we can do better than more nail salons.  The recent opening of both Pints Elmhurst and Charlie's are good starts, but what about retail?
Yes...I can positively confirm that things just got weird at the Parrillo homestead:  I bought a mini greenhouse.  This kit came from Menards (where else?) and was just $19.00.  It certainly is NOT heavy-duty but will do the job for my seeds.  At some point, this will move outside and will help me harden-off the seedlings.  It currently is in our dining room - as the plants need southern exposure - but Nat can't stand the looks of it.  I'm thinking in thenot too distant future, when I go into the office, I'll find out that she's pushed it back into my office - far away from the eyes of our visitors.
The greenhouse has 4 shelves each capable of holding 2 seedling trays.  I've begun to transplant some of the bigger seedlings from the trays into their own non-peat pots, which you can see on the left-hand side.

I know I have a compulsive/obsessive personality and need a hobby or project to focus on, but this purchase and this actual post are confirmation of that.  I suppose gardening is a harmless vice, right?  At least it is manly.

UPDATE:  That day (when it would end up in my office - has already arrived.  Heh.  That didn't take long.
Things just went a little nuts over here at the Parrillo household.  I'm afraid I've become a seed-aholic and with Nat joining me at the store when I was there to pick out a few more vegetables, we've ended up bringing home a large number of flowering plant seeds including this one above: Amaranthus.  This is an heirloom variety, but some of the other ones are hybrid mixes which I'll document at some point.

And the best part?  They're now in a greenhouse of sorts.  Yes.  A greenhouse.  (Don't tell Nat.)
Look what just showed up on our front porch courtesy of the Amazon.com delivery fairy:
Last fall, I did the best I could do raking and mowing up the leaves, but with the snow melting in the past week or so, I've come to realize that there are A LOT of leaves left.  I used our mower - with the bag on - to try to chop up most of them last fall, because I wanted to compost them.  This particular blower/vacuum is pretty well rated and comes with an option attachment that has an 8-foot long tube and garbage can attachment that takes the leaves (that part hasn't arrived just yet).  When I bought, it was on a screaming deal and priced right.  As soon as it dries out a bit and warms up, I'll be out in the yard cleaning up.  Can't wait to get started.
Just one week later, and the butternut squash seedlings are going crazy.  I'm on my way to Menards to buy some larger pots for these guys - as it seems they're on the verge of outgrowing their current home.  One of my concerns is the roots becoming entangled and leggy. 

As an aside, I'm learning - a little too late - that I think I started these things a bit early.  I'm fearful that by having to wait until after the last frost (May 1-ish), these may end up spending too much time in their pots.  The book I just picked up from the library is telling me that in Region/Zone 5 (which Northern Illinois is in), I should be planting my seeds closer to mid-March.  NOT mid-February.  Oh well.  At least I can call this a learning experience.