Amy Cahill of More Than Milk is Giving Back to Chicago–A Few Hundred Moms & Kids at a Time

Amy and Logan at a recent More Than Milk volunteer event for seniors

By Lela Nargi

Amy Cahill remembers the afternoon last December when she was shopping with sons Max, age four, and Logan, age 2, at the Target near their Lincoln Park high rise. Spotting two sparkly plastic princess crowns, Max turned to his mother and insisted, “We’ve gotta get those!” They were a perfect match for the princess slippers that had been donated in a toy drive to Cahill’s non-profit organization, More Than Milk—a fact that struck hockey-loving Max with a certain amount of urgency. Says Cahill, “It was one of those times when you begin to see your kids are getting it—that little twinkle of understanding about being kind and helping others.”

Cahill conceived of More Than Milk, which teams up moms and their tots with kid-friendly volunteering opportunities around Chicago, almost four years ago, during a 2:00 am breastfeeding. It’s a grown-up witching hour of sorts, when many new moms feel so acutely alone and disconnected from their pre-mom lives. Rather than give in to those feelings, Cahill used them as fuel for an organization that would give her precisely the opposite—community and connection—with other new moms looking to do something more than just mom, looking for a way to give more than just the milk they were producing for their newborns. She typed up notes and designed the website for More Than Milk right on her iPhone, over the course of several more 2:00 am feedings. “It was kind of crazy,” she admits. “But I wanted an opportunity for continued personal growth, and also felt very motivated to make the world a better place for my son.”

Growing up in suburban Michigan, Cahill had a powerful do-gooder role model in her mom, a school counselor. “She connected with the wild kids and the troublemakers, and impacted their lives with kindness and firm expectations,” says Cahill. “I wanted to emulate her commitment to others.” She began to do just that in 10th grade, when a new homeless shelter opened in her town. She raised the money to furnish one of the rooms and organized weekly events where local high schoolers would come in to play with the shelter kids.

“I wanted an opportunity for continued personal growth, and also felt very motivated to make the world a better place for my son.”



Cahill graduated from the University of Michigan in 2003 and moved to Lincoln Park, where she’s lived ever since. Initially, she worked at a sales and marketing consulting firm, and volunteered on weekends at a public school in Englewood, reading and making art with the students as part of an enrichment program. “I came home from those Saturdays excited and energized,” she remembers. She got her teaching certification through Northwestern University and began teaching 6th grade, then high school math, in the Chicago public school system. The experience was rewarding but grueling and made her realize, “We really need to come together as a community to help each child thrive,” she says. “Teachers can’t do it all; parents can’t do it all.”

Around this time, she met her financier husband-to-be, Gabe, at Midway airport. “We were in line at Potbelly’s to get sandwiches and he thought, ‘If she walks over to my terminal, I’ll talk to her.’” They discovered they were not only on the same flight—both back home to Michigan—but that they lived on the same street in Chicago. They were married in 2008, and Max came along two years later. Shortly after his birth, Cahill made the decision not to go back to teaching. “I knew I couldn’t balance those 60 kids, plus my one,” she says. But it didn’t take long in her new role as a stay-at-home mom for her to realize that her life was out of balance, in a different way. Being active in the community had been a huge guiding force in her life, and now she felt a strong need to get back to it. She hoped she could convince other moms to join her.

The More Than Milk soft launch happened on a muggy Thursday in August of 2011. Thirty-three moms and their babies turned out at the Lincoln Park Bubbles Academy playspace for a Mommy & Me Health Fest, in support of the breast and ovarian health organization, Bright Pink. They raised $500. More crucially, they started spreading the word about More Than Milk to the local mom community. “So many amazing, smart women are choosing to stay home and they started coming to us saying, ‘I love being home but I miss doing stuff that involves my previous career.’” The moms who turn out now—staffing two or three events a month, sometimes in numbers in the hundreds—are “completely dedicated,” says Cahill.

Just some of the volunteers, big and small, who turn out for More Than Milk events

To date, More Than Milk has hosted over more than 100 events, teaming up with women’s and domestic violence shelters, NICUs, and senior centers—places where mothers in particular feel a sense of purpose and connection. Cahill and her six-mom board of directors work with a handful of carefully-selected “Featured Organizations” (FOs) to come up with “fun, easy ways for moms and kids to get involved.” Sometimes the kids are actively engaged in singing, or handing out holiday cards to septuagenarians; sometimes they’re just “cooing in their strollers,” says Cahill. Whichever way, “They’re experiencing philanthropy with you first hand. My thinking is, if you have them volunteering with you before they know what it is, it becomes part of their life.” Volunteers sign up on a per-project basis, which keeps the organization flexible and doesn’t scare off moms who are afraid to promise more than they can deliver. Plenty of dads help, too, especially with weekend projects and anything that requires a lot of heavy lifting.

Participation has been growing in leaps and bounds. The 2013 toy drive for a pregnant teen shelter yielded about 300 gifts, which More Than Milk Volunteers also wrapped and delivered. In 2014, “I got to 1,062 toys and I couldn’t count anymore, because I had to get busy and wrap,” Cahill says. “We more than tripled contributions in one year.”With the success come challenges. Toddler Logan looks at the gifts for the More Than Milk drive and “thinks it’s all for him,” laughs Cahill. Not to mention, “Our greatest asset—namely, our kids—makes everything we do unpredictable. So it can be hard to find projects that are truly beneficial to our FOs, and that can take place in a kid-friendly environment and window of time.”

But both on a community level and within the much smaller nest of her family, Cahill says the challenges are well worth the effort—even if the results in her boys are not immediately or consistently apparent. “As moms, we worry so much: Are we doing the right things?” says Cahill. “When you volunteer, you realize it’s simple: You give them love and you teach them kindness. I want my kids to take time to understand how fortunate they are. I want them to think of other people.”

Photographs by Thomas Kubik, TK Photography

Meet the Silickis of Tenleytown, Washington, DC

Pleasance and Mel Silicki with kids Milo and Saylor at Lil Omm Yoga in Washington DC’s Tenleytown

By Dawn Van Osdell

On a recent brisk, snowy day in Tenleytown, Pleasance Silicki was watching out her window as her 3-year-old son, Milo, played in the newly fallen snow.  Preschool had been called off due to the weather. And since Milo’s big sister, Saylor’s, first grade class at Janney Elementary School was enjoying no such luck, Pleasance had only one kid and the family dog to keep her eye on as she chatted about the life she and husband Mel have built for themselves in this historic neighborhood on Washington, DC’s Red Line.

“We’re a real-life, modern day Dharma and Greg,” says Pleasance, born Pleasance Chyna Lowengard Darling, referring to the ‘90s sitcom about a married couple who’s a perfect match despite their night-and-day personalities and pursuits. She’s a self-described liberal, Jewish, sometimes-vegetarian who runs a family yoga studio. Mel is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican from Delaware, a CrossFit fanatic, and a builder by trade.

“Our home is the community, really. It’s our extended family.”

— Pleasance Silicki

The two lived for more than a decade in a modern townhouse Mel built for Pleasance in Grover Park. She used to call it her dream house, but once kids and a dog entered the picture, she realized they needed to swap sleek for homey. It took an unexpected business upheaval, self-reflection, and a stroke of luck to find just the right spot in family-friendly Tenleytown, which is just a short walk from the Lil Omm yoga studio Pleasance opened in 2010.

Originally, Pleasance, a former kindergarten and first grade teacher who also taught prenatal and Mommy & Me yoga in the Georgetown Lululemon store, opened her own studio in Palisades. The impetus was the frustration she’d experienced as a new mom to Saylor, on finding no integration between yoga and family in DC. “Yoga and spiritual connection are all about family, and kids and family are not parts I could leave out,” she says.

Pleasance lost the lease on her studio when she was weeks away from giving birth to Milo. “I was really pregnant and one hot mess!” she remembers, explaining how her “itsy-bitsy” yoga classes were deemed “too loud, too vibrant” for the upper-level office building space she was renting. She suddenly found herself with a community of dedicated families—a sort of broad family in its own right—and nowhere to teach them. The silver lining was a welcome four-month maternity leave and a chance to land a more kid-friendly space in Tenleytown, which turned out to be more accessible to her core community, anyway.

Saylor feels right at home at Lil Omm

Three and a half years after Lil Omm found a home in Tenleytown, the Silickis did, too. Pleasance wanted to be able to walk to the studio she had so painstakingly built. “I felt less vibrant, less connected when I was away,” she says. “It feeds my soul.” And Mel was more than game for a move. “I’m a builder,” he says. “I knew there’d be a time when we’d leave the home we built and find another.”

After journaling and creating her own vision boards about a house that would provide her family with a better mind and body connection, Pleasance says she wasn’t surprised when she found it— three bedrooms in a well-loved rental house—on Craig’s List.  “When you have faith and trust and you align it all with your values, it manifests. It all works out,” she says. The house also has the fenced-in yard they coveted for their Staffordshire bull terrier, Miller; an office and meditation space for Pleasance; and an open, flowing downstairs where the kids can play and run around circles, and everyone gathers around a big table in the kitchen for family dinners and “a lot of art projects,” says Mel.

“Our home is the community, really. It’s our extended family,” Pleasance says. The kids go to school with friends they know from Lil Omm, and spending time together at the studio is the life they know. “Yoga is their language,” Pleasance says. She recently heard Milo squeal, “Oh, I love that pose!” when he spotted a dog lifting a leg to do his business in the park.

Just as she’d once hoped, Pleasance can now throw on her shoes and run down to the studio to fill in for her instructors at a moment’s notice. Saylor often comes along to help moms with their babies. Pleasance and Mel rely on a nanny to help with their own childcare, but Mel happily ducks home from his nearby office whenever he’s needed. “I’m so proud of the business and community Plez has grown,” he boasts.


Having home, work and play in close proximity allows both Pleasance and Mel to be more flexible with their schedules. When Milo was repeatedly asking if tonight was family dinner night, they shuffled class schedules, work meetings, and personal workouts to add a second family dinner to the weekly calendar. Wednesdays are date night—usually dinner out—a ritual Pleasance and Mel have carefully guarded for the past two years. On weekends, they divide and conquer for morning workouts, meeting up in the afternoons for a swim at nearby Wilson High School, an outing at adjacent American University Park, or a movie. They often eat out as a family at neighborhood Mexican mainstay, Guapo’s, or at Masala Art for the kids’ favorite Indian dinner.

The family has two years left on their house lease and no plans to leave the neighborhood when it expires. “Everything happens for a reason,” says Pleasance. “Sometimes it just takes some time to get where you’re supposed to be.”

Photos by Jeffrey Morris

Max Ventilla of AltSchool is Taking Tech–and More–to the Classroom

by Lela Nargi

What makes a career tech guy chomp at the bit to open his own elementary school? The “disheartening” experience of applying for preschool on behalf of his own daughter. “It’s insane,” says Max Ventilla, founder of AltSchool, a four-location network of independent micro-schools in San Francisco, the first of which he opened in September of 2013. “There’s this notion that the preschool you apply to is a feeder for the elementary school, which is a feeder for the high school, which is a feeder for college, and that if you don’t choose right from the beginning, your kid is going to be a drop-out and have no job prospects.”

Insanity notwithstanding, that mindset was strong enough to set Ventilla to thinking strongly about the future of his daughter, Sabine’s, education, and how he might alter its course. And that included diving headlong into the fractious and fraught arena that is American education in the 21st century—in which the efforts of like-minded predecessors to corral it (Bill Gates, for notable example) have been handily defeated.

Ventilla is himself the beneficiary of elite schooling. The son of Hungarian immigrants, he received a scholarship to attend Manhattan’s Buckley School—all boys, blazers and ties, lacrosse—then Phillips Academy boarding school (known simply as Andover for the town in Massachusetts where it’s situated), then Yale. In 2012, contemplating would-be elementary options for Sabine, Ventilla says that it was actually “disturbing” for him to find schools that resembled so strongly the ones he attended, “because the world has changed enormously since then. And the most selective schools have changed the least.” What he wanted for Sabine was an environment that would get her ready to function and thrive in the future—a future that’s being greatly impacted by globalization and the internet. Says Ventilla, “The fundamental purpose of school is to prepare children for the world they’ll experience”—in Sabine’s case, when she eventually goes off to college around 2030. For it to be out of date “is a fundamental flaw.”

You might suppose that for a man who helped launch Google+ and now-defunct, then-revolutionary search engine Aardvark, inserting technology into the school day might be Ventilla’s primary focus. But the truth is a little more nuanced. Ventilla says that AltSchool is based on the notion of a one-room schoolhouse. Unlike that arguably outmoded model, though, which clustered together all children of all ages and abilities, at AltSchool students are grouped in small classes largely according to their interests and personalities. Tech in their midst opens up possibilities, rather than functioning as the sole learning tool. “The thing about technology is that it lowers the marginal cost of anything,” Ventilla says—watching a movie, having a car made, and eating a meal, as much as facilitating the running of a school (AltSchool has no central administrator). “The idea is not for everything to become digital, but to have a digital layer that allows experiences to happen more satisfyingly and easily. That gives you more choice, more intimacy, more personalization; every classroom can be more nuanced but still exist as part of an overarching network.”

Ventilla and his team—comprised of professional educators as well as technologists—have been working to hone those nuances one school at a time (four more are set to open in 2015, in two other SF locations, plus Palo Alto and Brooklyn, NY). “It’s not intelligent to design schools that are totally perfect,” Ventilla says breezily, as if such a thing were actually plausible. “They must always evolve and change.” The latest outpost, opening just this past year in South of Market, is a combined-use space that also houses AltSchool’s offices. “It’s literally a tech company in the back of the school, and it’s amazing for us and the kids to be part of a shared space,” he says. “It’s an incredibly different experience from when I went to school, where we were so disembodied from the adult world, especially the entrepreneurial world. Here, kids have mentors who are employees of the company.”

“The idea is not for everything to become digital, but to have a digital layer that allows experiences to happen more satisfyingly and easily.”



They also have a generous amount of flexibility in terms of how their school day unfolds. Ventilla explains that there’s a 60-minute window when children arrive in the morning. By 9:00 a.m., most of them are settled in to a two-hour open “playlist” block that can include what Ventilla calls a “curated” experience of whole-class experiences, or individual or small group activities, tailored to meet the needs of each child. Lunch is followed by athletics, then another playlist time, then extended day activities that can include everything from foreign languages to tutoring in the art of DJing. “We don’t really get behind any one model of education,” says Ventilla of AltSchool’s curriculum. “We’re creating something that can change in many different ways, but have building tools that are stable.”

Early embracers of the AltSchool philosophy include Ventilla’s 8-year-old niece and 6-year-old nephew, who attend the Fort Mason location. “My sister actually moved back to San Francisco in large part because our school was the right fit for her family,” says Ventilla. They began as transfer students, which allowed Ventilla’s team to be thoughtful about which classroom experience would be most beneficial to them, “right down to who in the class might be a friend or a good influence,” says Ventilla. His own daughter—with wife, Jenny, who works at the Stanford Design School—will probably start kindergarten in 2016; son Leo, who’s not yet two, has a few years to wait before he can matriculate.

Which is not to say that all Ventilla’s goals for AltSchool are personal. “We want to impact as many kids as we can in a positive way, even indirectly, by adding things to the educational ecosystem that other people can draw from and react to,” he says. He sees AltSchool as acting as a platform to benefit a wide array of educators, not unlike Amazon Marketplace, which has a strict infrastructure set in place by Amazon, that nevertheless allows a diverse group of (non-Amazon) functionaries to use it. “That’s the model for us for 10 years down the line,” says Ventilla. “In the long term, many students will be impacted by being sent to a school that uses pieces of the technology and content we’re creating for a broader network.”

Photographs by Bonnie Rae Mills

Corinne Cannon of the DC Diaper Bank is Making a Difference from the Botton Up

By Dawn Van Osdell

Corinne Cannon, an expert on the effects of care on infant brain development, is more skilled in handling babies than most people. But back in 2009, awake in the dead of night with her inconsolable, colicky first child, Jack, she felt as helpless and alone as every other mother in that desperate situation. She woke up her husband, Jay, asleep in the next room of their Capital Hill home, and handed over the wailing infant to get some relief. “The physical reality of parenthood is brutal, and that’s when it’s going absolutely perfectly,” says Cannon, now also mom to two-year-old Callie. But what happens to the women who have no one to wake when they’ve had enough, she wondered. And what happens to fussy babies when their mothers have reached their breaking point?

As a result of all those late-night, stress-induced thoughts and feelings, for the last five years Cannon has presided over a cinderblock warehouse in an industrial park in Silver Spring, Maryland, that’s marked with a small sign that reads DC Diaper Bank.  Despite the fact that Silver Spring is Cannon’s hometown, this is an unlikely workplace for a woman who graduated from London’s esteemed School of Economics with an advanced degree in cognitive anthropology. The entrance is crammed with donated packs of disposable diapers waiting to be sorted into piles beside ceiling-high stacks inside the 3,000 square foot space. Next to it, trucks pull up to the large dock, where volunteers load bundles of diapers that will be delivered all across the greater Washington area.

“The physical reality of parenthood is brutal, and that’s when it’s going absolutely perfectly”

— Corinne Cannon
Corinne Cannon is getting diapers to families who need them

For a mom who studied and rallied to make a difference in the lives of moms less fortunate than herself, the place is unlikely for another reason. Says Cannon, “I was surprised to hear, again and again, that diapers are the thing that mothers most need, not food or formula.”  This is because Safety Net programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), don’t cover the cost of diapers. And as any family knows, diapers are expensive. The estimated daily need for infants adds up to about $100 a month—more for families living in poor areas, who have no access to big box stores like Costco. That means that low-income families often have to make a choice between diapers and food. “There are families making do with one or two diapers a day, or worse yet, they are wiping out [disposable] diapers and reusing them,” says Cannon.

So, getting diapers into the hands of families that need them provides greatly reduced stress levels for both mother and child, and proper hygiene and care for the infant. The former, explains Cannon, is especially critical during a baby’s first three years of life, when his brain develops at its most rapid pace. “It’s during this very short and very crucial timeframe when you literally build your brain,” she says.  “We know that the brains of babies who experience prolonged periods of stress, and who have caregivers who are under stress, do not grow in the same way.”

Diapers also open the door to getting even greater aid to families, from health and legal services they may have been previously unwilling to accept. “When a social worker shows up at a house and says, ‘I have diapers and formula,’ doors open ten times faster” than if a social services provider shows up empty handed; in the latter case, the perception can be that she’s come to judge and assess, rather than to help, says Cannon.

Cannon spent years dealing with similar maternal and family issues when she worked in health communications, helping to spread the word about HIV/AIDS prevention and programs and creating curriculum around environmental health for children, for management and policy consulting firm ICF International. She admits that as a working mom with a rewarding career, she had no intention of starting a non-profit. But, “There was a such a need for a region-wide solution for getting bare necessities to those who need them the most,” she says, that she couldn’t ignore the fact that her knowledge and expertise in infant development and family care could help affect a significant change.

She started DC Diaper Bank on Jack’s first birthday, in 2010, without any outside funding. She was still working full-time at ICF, piling cases of diapers in her basement that had been donated by families who had leftovers, or through diaper drives; or that she’d purchased wholesale with donations that typically came in $25 to $50 increments. “It was, and remains, a shoestring affair,” Cannon says. In 2011, she secured a corporate donation commitment from Huggies and became a member of the National Diaper Bank Network, a non-profit organization that provides local diaper banks with hundreds of thousands of diapers, in addition to support, technical assistance, and connections to similar non-profits all over the country. She also partnered with Capital Area Food Bank, one of the largest distributors of food and aid in the DC area, which agreed to store the diapers and distribute them to social service organizations and food banks that already helped families in need. She started out distributing about 5,000 diapers a month and within two and a half years, that number rose to 50,000. In 2013, DC Diaper Bank moved to Silver Spring and Cannon quit her job to fully commit to the work, pro bono.

Corinne Cannon and her kids at the DC Diaper Bank

Today, the DC Diaper Bank space is more than a warehouse. It’s a welcoming community hub of do-gooding for families throughout the DC area and beyond. Families, mothers’ groups, scouting troops, meet regularly to bundle and sort diapers, organize and clean the space. Toddlers whizz down the aisles between the stacks on ride-along toys while their mothers volunteer. There’s a colorful play space, too, where kids can spread out with snacks and juice boxes, scribble on an easel, chase balls down the aisles of diapers, and maybe even lend a hand.

“Families are hungry to volunteer and to talk about issues like poverty and need, but it’s a hard conversation to start with a child and there’s nowhere to comfortably do it,” says Cannon. The Diaper Bank provides a forum for that conversation, and a gentle place where children can begin to understand the meaning of need. “Kids remember when they wore diapers, they see their siblings wearing them, and they can understand how all babies need them,” says Cannon. “They just get it.”

Last summer, the Diaper Bank added a baby pantry to their space, to collect other non-essential baby care items that are not covered by federal aid, like baby wipes and diaper rash cream, as well as formula and baby food. In a star-studded ceremony, Cannon was named a 2014 a L’Oreal Paris Woman of Worth and honored with $10,000 for her charity for her remarkable—and growing—legacy: To date, the DC Diaper Bank has distributed more than 1.5 million diapers and helped an estimated 2,600 families per month.

For more information about how you can help with the DC Diaper Bank or find a local diaper bank in your area, check out

Photographs by Jeffrey Morris

Meet Andrew Alford, Jeffrey Norberg, & Kate, Wicker Park, Chicago

by Lela Nargi

When hotel designer Andrew Alford got an offer to pack up shop in hometown San Francisco and become chief creative officer for boutique chain Graduate Hotels, based in Chicago, he knew it would be a big transition (not least of all because of the weather). “It was definitely a change for our family,” says Alford’s husband, Jeffrey Norberg, an intellectual property lawyer. “But Chicago is a great city to raise a kid in!”

Married in 2008 just two weeks before Prop 8 passed in California, the two have spent the last year settling in to the funky Wicker Park neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side with 3-year-old daughter, Kate, a sandwich maven. While Kate munched on peanut butter and jelly and the family’s Boston terrier, Squeaker, waited patiently underfoot for crumbs to drop, they talked to us about their new life in the Windy City.

“We try hard to maintain the interesting aspects of ourselves, so Kate can grow up knowing about those.”








What’s it like to be a Chicago family, now?

Andrew Alford: Lifestyle-wise, Chicago is more focused than some other cities on families—families with kids of all ages, not just in the 0 to 4 range. There are kids everywhere, in all parts of the city, and we take Kate out with us all the time.

Jeffrey Norberg: When we first moved, I started my own law practice and worked remotely for a bit, out of the back bedroom. I’m really busy now; it’s so easy to get to know people in Chicago. And it’s truly a city of invention: the avant garde, molecular gastronomy. People are willing to take a lot more risks in business endeavors, because the cost of entry into any given market is a lot lower than elsewhere. There’s a real pioneering spirit here.

Was there something about Wicker Park in particular that appealed to you?
Andrew: There are a lot of families in our neighborhood, but there’s still graffiti, a hip-hop scene, underground art. Even though we’re parents, we didn’t stop being interesting people. A couple of weeks ago, a local bar was having drag queen night in the basement, dedicated to John Waters. Kate would have loved it; she’s so social and music-focused. But they won’t let her in till she’s 21.

Jeff: We could get her a fake ID. That’s quality parenting advice! There’s a cool mix in our neighborhood. We’ve got all these galleries, bars, vintage and designer shops. But in the warmer months we can go to the amazing playground in Wicker Park, and to the farmers market on the weekends.

Andrew: We both work intensely so we don’t always want to have to load Kate into the car and put the effort into driving somewhere. Living here, we haven’t had to sacrifice our adult lives. We try hard to maintain the interesting aspects of ourselves, so she can grow up knowing about those.

Andrew & Kate in her art filled bedroom

How old was Kate when you adopted her?
Jeffrey: We had her a few hours after she was born, adopted from Colorado. It actually happened very quickly. Just over three years ago we had gone through the process of getting our household approved to adopt. The agency suggested that we send out letters talking about why we wanted to have a child to clinics and pregnancy crisis centers, and they said we had to hand-address every envelope. We had three big parties for friends who helped us address 3,000 letters. A few days later, we were contacted by Kate’s mother, then three weeks later, we were flying out to meet her.

Andrew: She’s one of the most open-minded, kind-hearted people we’ve ever met. We stay in touch with her, and she keeps track of us on social media. She visited us twice in San Francisco, and she’s due to visit again. We have no secrets from Kate about her—we’ve been reading her books on all kinds of families since before she could even understand.

What’s your family routine like?
Jeffrey: Every weekday Kate goes to daycare from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. and we have dinner together, as long as Andy’s not traveling. In which case, Kate and I will have dinner—steak, because Andy’s not a huge fan. On weekends, we spend both entire days together. December through March can be difficult in Chicago. But there’s the Shedd Aquarium, which has Beluga whales and a submarine with buttons and knobs for Kate to turn. Or we go out to eat. Dove’s Luncheonette has a potato hash that’s on the spicy side, which Kate loves.

Andrew: Kate also loves Vietnamese pho—actually, any incarnation of soup. We have to drive to Argyle Street on the North Side to get it, but then there are eight places to choose from, including Tank Noodle.

Jeffrey: In San Francisco, Kate would be the only child eating out in a restaurant. Here, she never is. I think that’s a good influence on her.

Photographs by Thomas Kubik, TK Photography

Stephanie Morales & The Mother Nurture Center Offer a Respite Along the Parenting Path

By Dawn Van Osdell

Stephanie Morales can peek out her living room window and get a good look at the old wood-shingled courthouse building on the South Bay’s Redondo Beach Pier. Inside its blue doors lies the Mother Nurture Center, which Morales founded in June 2014. The center is her dream come true. If you live in the area and happen to fit into one of Morales’s four “P” categories—Planning a Pregnancy, Pregnant, Postpartum, or Parenting—it might be your dream, too. As Morales explains, “It’s a place for prevention and support for all things related to perinatal health, and a welcoming community and resource for all growing families.”

An airy, light-filled space with warm, paneled walls, whitewashed floors, and a front row view of the Pacific Ocean, the Mother Nurture Center houses more than three dozen health and wellness providers, as well as myriad experts dedicated to the care and support of mothers and mothers-to-be. It’s a no-judgment zone, open to any woman “regardless of her birthing method, parenting style, or how she arrived at motherhood,” says Morales. Expectant moms come to attend expert-led classes, prenatal massage, yoga, and acupuncture; or for lesser-known services designed to alleviate certain discomforts and complications of pregnancy, such as a breech baby and “trapped emotions.” As new moms, they return, often with dads in tow, for parenting support groups, Dads Huddle, Mommy & Me infant development workshops, and the center’s popular lactation services.

Surrounding the central open space that is dedicated to group classes, and a well-curated baby boutique lined with designer onesies, teething rings, and lactation aids for nursing moms, is a series of private rooms where body work and mental health services are offered—led by Morales, a marriage and family therapist specializing in maternal mental health issues. She helps individuals and couples grappling with issues more complicated, and less discussed, than mere car seat safety and swaddling. “There are so many women struggling with the mental and emotional aspects of pregnancy and parenting,” says Morales. In fact, an estimated one in 5 women suffer with maternal mental health issues, many of them in silence. “They need a place to go where the providers are well-informed. A place where there’s no stigma and no shame,” she says.

Stephanie Morales peeks in on a Mommy & Me Class as the Mother Nurture Center in Redondo Beach, CA

Morales first hit on the idea for the center after she and her husband, Alfonso, became first-time parents to daughter Paloma in 2003. The young family was residing in San Francisco and like many new moms, Morales craved the support and assistance she imagined would be hers if she lived closer to her extended family, nearly 400 miles away in her native Southern California. Morales had moved north to pursue a graduate degree in psychology in San Francisco. She met and married Alfonso, a business owner, while attending classes and managing a 60-bed psychiatric unit in the San Francisco County Jails’ Mental Health Department. “The complexity of it was intellectually stimulating,” says Morales, but emotionally it was too much to handle once she became a mother. Within a month of Paloma’s birth, the couple quit their jobs and headed back to LA’s South Bay.

Although they were in close proximity to Paloma’s grandparents, who often helped out, settling into Redondo Beach was not as easy as Morales had imagined it. She battled postpartum depression, which she remembers as a truly horrific experience. “We are told that this is the most joyous time in our lives and that we will naturally fall into our roles,” says Morales. Yet, as a new mom, she battled teariness, anxiety, a sense of low self-worth, hopelessness, and, she says, “a real concern that I was not a good enough mother.” She was trained in mental health and yet couldn’t find anyone in town who knew what to do to help her. “There was a complete void of resources. I vowed to myself that I’d somehow, some day, create a one-stop wellness center for families in my community. Someplace where mental health was the crown jewel.”

In 2005, the Morales’ welcomed their second daughter, Reina, into their family and along with her came a stroke of bad luck: Stephanie developed peripartum cardiac myopathy, a life-threatening heart condition that can strike in the months immediately following birth. Struggling once again to manage motherhood and her own well-being, Morales began her journey in earnest to create awareness around the issues that afflict so many expectant and new moms. “I knew it would become my life’s work,” she says. She volunteered with Postpartum Support International, a global web of resources for new moms; and became a founding member of the Los Angeles County Perinatal Mental Health Task Force, a legislative policy think tank responsible for increasing awareness, enhancing services, and providing education for providers throughout Los Angeles County.

A playful, peaceful space for moms and babies at the mother nurture center

A year later, Morales made the leap from her full-time position as a therapist at a community-based mental health facility into private practice. She focused on helping women suffering with pre- and postnatal mental disorders, and challenges such as the loss of a pregnancy, postpartum psychosis, and fertility and third party reproduction issues. With the help of others interested in building what she deemed a “mommy super-center,” she was able to expand her practice and welcome other practitioners. She took a leap of faith and secured the open, light-filled space she had long imagined for a wellness center. Over the course of three months, she had the old courthouse redesigned to provide private and group services, and hung a sign—the Mother Nurture Center.

Despite the seriousness of the issues she treats, Morales jokes (sort of) about creating a parenting franchise. What’s no joke: says Morales, “We all need someplace to go to feel supported and nurtured in this parenting journey, no matter which stage we are at.”

For more information on the Mother Nurture Center, visit

Are You Afraid? A Message to Daughters, From a Daughter

By Eliza Reynolds

Are you afraid? I know that I am sometimes. There are moments when I have been so afraid of life beginning —like becoming-a-grown-up beginning—because then I might discover that I’m a failure, or a total disappointment, or maybe (whispers an especially dark part of my brain) never truly, fully lovable, except by my parents (and they have to love me).

When I was about thirteen or fourteen, something began to creep up on me—like an itch on my back that I couldn’t quite scratch—and my parents started to drive me crazy (plain bonkers, red in the face with frustration, irrationally ticked off, justifiably loony, and the like). Frankly, most of the time it was for dumb reasons (“MOM, did you have to move the pans so loudly??”) or for reasons I couldn’t understand (“DAD, I don’t want you to ask me about my day. No, I just don’t feel like talking about it!”). My reactions to them, and the way I began to judge them through every millisecond of every day, were new. And I found that after the first flush of anger or frustration passed (and I huffed out of the room or screamed in the confines of my bedroom closet), it scared me. These new changes made me feel, well, lonely.

It began to dawn on me that my parents weren’t the perfect people I had imagined them to be. I wondered: if they weren’t always consistent and on top of it, then what is consistent—always steady and reliable—in life? And if my life is beginning, like I-am-not-a-little-kid-anymore beginning, like in-a-few-years-I-will-be-leaving-home beginning, then what and who can I depend on? What won’t change? What is safe?…

Now, if you met me, walked up to me, and shook my hand for the first time (or even hugged me for the hundredth time), you couldn’t tell on the outside that I was afraid. No, you’d still see a tall, cheery nineteen-year-old, with hair twice the size of her head and feet that defy semi coordinated brain commands. But I’m telling you now what’s on the inside: the fears that line the innermost layers of my thoughts, my heart, and maybe even, if you believe in such things, my soul. These are the fears that aren’t cute enough to whisper under the blankets at a sleepover. I’m not always afraid but sometimes—often first thing in the morning, before I’ve seen anyone’s face, and the alarm is buzzing me into a new day—I feel empty, alone, like the bed is a bit too big, and yes, I feel somewhat overwhelmed by it all. Nah, I’m not an emotional train wreck or a “basket case” either, I’m just being brutally honest. I know you’ll get it, because here’s the secret I think we all know: I think, deep down, we are all afraid.

I don’t mean we are afraid all the time—not every moment. But sometimes in bed at night alone, or staring dismally at another English test, or looking around the dinner table, or scanning Facebook late at night, you and I are afraid. And I don’t think it’s a light passing fear, like that anxiety you get when you pass by that certain dodgy street in town. No, it is a deep question that seems to echo in our very soul, in the very heart of our bodies. And I know I don’t have the answers to the questions that keep bubbling up inside and you may not either (most people don’t). Questions like:

  • Who am I?
  • What am I going to make of my life?
  • What happens when I die?
  • What is the meaning of life? Why am I here, literally, on this earth? Do I matter any more than the ant on the hot pavement?
  • What is love? Does marriage mean you love each other forever? Do I have a soul mate?
  • Why is my mom the way she is?
  • Does God exist? Or “goddess”? Or any other kinds of higher power?
  • What do others think of me? Is this important? Why?
  • What will make me happy? Is happiness the most important thing in life? What is the most important thing in life?…

We will, all of us, have many “dark nights” in our lives—those moments, weeks, or months when we feel utterly lost and afraid in the change, chaos, or darkness that seems to be all around…[They] help me see my lonely or scared or overwhelmed feelings as meaningful. They are there for a reason: these questions, fears, obsessions, frustrations, and the oh-so-human pain all help me grow.

Excerpted from Mothering and Daughtering: Keeping Your Bond Strong Through the Teen Years by Eliza Reynolds & Sil Reynolds, RN. Copyright © 2013 by Eliza Reynolds & Sil Reynolds. Reprinted with permission of Sounds True.

Photograph via Creative Commons

Meet the Music-Loving Solares Family, Bucktown, Chicago

By Lela Nargi

Jessica Solares and her husband, Luis, don’t just teach music in Chicago’s creative epicenter; they live music, too. Parents to 3-1/2-year-old Lucia, who attends preschool at Bucktown Academy, near the Solares’ Bucktown Music studio, the two met at Elmhurst College, where they both studied Music Business —a major Jessica describes as “odd” and also uninspiring when put to real-life practice—before they decided instilling a love of all things musical in tots, teens, and even adults was their ultimate calling.

Although they and their staff teach voice and pretty much every instrument imaginable to school kids as well as the occasional grownup, they describe Kindermusik, an early-childhood-development curriculum for infants as young as, well, 0, as the real lynchpin of their operation— and their first love. Read on to find out why! And how important music is for them, their daughter, and families throughout Chicago.

Why is the Bucktown neighborhood such a great location for a music studio that caters mainly to kids—and that your own kid spends so much time in?
Jessica Solares: There are a lot of other cool businesses here: an art school called Easel Art Studio, a dance place where they teach ballroom—Dance SPA Chicago— a playspace around the corner called Purple Monkey Playroom. We were one of the first businesses on this corner, and just a few blocks down from us there’s a hub with fancy shops, restaurants, and bars: we love Irazu Costa Rican restaurant and Red & White Wines. There’s also a doggie day care, and an auto repair shop, so it’s kind of strange. But there’s always plenty of parking on the block!

What is it that you guys love so much about Kindermusik?
Jessica: When I began teaching at other places, I had students who were excelling above and beyond in their lessons. I wondered, Why are they so smart? It turned out they had all taken Kindermusik classes. I looked into and I liked the concept. It’s not just singing and dancing; it helps with brain and language development, prepares kids for school, teaches them patterning, how to use their bodies. It also gives kids way to express things when they don’t otherwise have the language, because kids can start singing even if don’t know words. It helps their soul. And when we listen to music they can notice instruments: “I hear a piccolo!”

Jessica leading a Kindermusik class“Music helps reading, language, math, abstract concepts, spatial awareness, and teaches kids to work in groups.”




In my own experience as a parent, Lucia and I have a song for every activity, from mealtime and brushing teeth, to bathing and going to the grocery store, to the doctor, to the park, plus feelings and sounds. The songs have saved me countless times while waiting in line or at a restaurant with a restless child!  They are a great, easy, positive distraction that doesn’t need anything but your voice.

Luis Solares: Jessica brought Lucia to a Kindermusik class when she was 1 week old. We were running the business and had to be here, and Jessica was tired of being home. Lucia loves music. She’ll say, “Papa, lets play ‘No Woman No Cry,’ or ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight.’ That’s one of her favorites. She sings perfectly in tune and gets joy out of it. I don’t know if she’s going to be musician; she might be an accountant or a fitness instructor. But we’ve had this time together and music is part of her life.

Jessica: I don’t expect her to pursue a music career.  Our goal at Bucktown Music is the same for all children: that they can be musical children, not child musicians. I want her to understand how music can express feelings and give her a pleasurable activity to release stress. Music also helps reading, language, math, abstract concepts, spatial awareness, and teaches kids to work in groups if they are in an ensemble. So far, Lucia loves singing and playing all of the percussion instruments.

Does she like hanging out at the studio?
Jessica: Yes! She likes to chat with customers, color, play instruments, read books, and participate in whatever class she can!

Is Lucia also learning how to play an instrument?
Luis: Not yet, but we know she’s going to do piano for sure. It’s the most fundamental instrument, the instrument kids can be most successful at a young age. But if at 8 or 9 she wants to play guitar or violin, that’s fine, too.

Jessica: We’ll start her on piano when she is 5 or 6 years old, and it will be important to make it a positive experience for her so that she will want to continue.

What were your backgrounds in music growing up?
Luis: I was involved with the choir, a little band that did performances in church. That was my only association with music as a kid. I moved here for college 17 years ago; I’m originally from Guatemala. It was supposed to be temporary but I decided I loved music and wanted to continue being involved. I used to have bands that performed in local bars and restaurants a couple of times a week. It was a gratifying experience; and it also shows my students you don’t have to be famous to get rewards from music. In fact, I have a lot of adult students—doctors, lawyers, accountants, nurses. They play music to relax, it’s their hobby.

Jessica: My family has a musical background. I have three younger brothers and two of them are professional musicians; one works here now. My dad and brothers are also luthiers, so I grew up my whole life with music. It’s strange to me that not everybody does that. It was so great for me to always play music with my dad, violin, and he played guitar. And we had a family band, Wild Rice. We played hot rock/jazz type of stuff because my dad was big into the bluesy thing. And yes, we have been compared to the von Trapps.

What instruments do you each play and teach?
Luis: Jessica was the lead singer for a band, and when she went to college she played violin in the orchestra but was a voice major, and she’s also good piano player. I teach guitar.

Jessica: A good music teacher should have a variety of things they can do. Mostly, we want everyone to learn a love of music and get inspired.

Visit to learn more about Bucktown Music.

Photographs by Thomas Kubik, TK Photography.


Colette Linton-Meyer’s Cobble Hill Ballet is the Happiest Ballet School in Brooklyn

Linton-Meyer and some of her tween ballerinas

by Lela Nargi

There are some obvious differences between the rural Midlands of England, where Colette Linton-Meyer grew up, and brownstone Brooklyn, NY, where she and her family now make their home. Cows, for starters. Cowsheds, for another—including the converted cowshed in which, at age 3, she was introduced to dance by a beloved teacher who taught her students, above all, to love freedom of movement. There’s also at least one critical, but less overt, anomaly: “In Shropshire,” says Linton-Meyer, “there were more pubs per square foot. Here, there are more children.” For Linton-Meyer, more children could only mean: the necessity for a ballet school.

Cobble Hill Ballet, which Linton-Meyer founded in 2003, is a burgeoning business that employs 10 instructors to teach 79 classes comprised of some 800 kids—yes, mostly, but not only, girls—in two dedicated studio spaces within half a mile of each other. But its origins were significantly more diminutive. Linton-Meyer had recently given birth to her first son, Thomas, and was shuttling two hours round-trip every day to a ballet school in Rockland County to teach. “It was ridiculous,” she remembers. “I was pumping in the studio before teaching, and meanwhile, there was no place that taught ballet in Brooklyn. I knew I had to make a transition.”And not only because of the commute. Linton-Meyer, who graduated from the Royal Academy of Dance in London with a degree in Ballet Education, was unprepared for the intensity of the studio in Rockland. “It was competitive, and some kids went on to incredible things,” says Linton-Meyer. “But I thought it would be nice to have some sort of middle ground.”

With her musician husband, Ted, stepping in to help look after Thomas, Linton-Meyer started by teaching an afterschool class in a local public school. But, she says, “It was painful. We were in the middle of a very public auditorium, with loads of people walking through and talking.” In her off hours, she often took Thomas to a playroom at a neighborhood church. At some point, she hit on the idea of asking them if she could rent a space. “They showed me this room upstairs, which had had a fire, and holes in the floor. It was a disaster!” says Linton-Meyer. “But I could see it could be amazing.” The church renovated and indeed, the room did become amazing: a large, light-filled studio with painted pine floors and stained glass windows. All that was needed were pupils.

“I want to keep having this nurturing environment, so that ballet can be in these kids lives for a long time.”



“I used to tape up fliers along Court Street whenever I could,” laughs Linton-Meyer, recalling those renegade start-up days in the neighborhood. She’d had her second son, George, by the time she’d attracted her first three, tiny, students—including one current 8th grader who still dances with her. She started with one class; then before long was able to move up two classes; then hired her first teacher, known to every Cobble Hill Ballet student as Miss Alwyn; then began using the playroom downstairs at the church as a second studio, dragging toys and furniture out of the way, “Every day, for years,” says Linton-Meyer, the exhaustion still evident in her voice.

The school kept growing, and soon Linton-Meyer had hired several more teachers and was renting out space at three other locations around Brooklyn. “We’d be here one day a week, then two days a week there, and that was kind of tough.” Still, people kept finding her, mostly by that most Brooklyn of phenomena: word of mouth. By 2011, it became obvious that she needed a space to call her own.

What she found was a narrow, high-ceilinged storefront that had once housed a pie shop, along a block of Columbia Street, not far from the East River’s stevedore docks, that nevertheless has a family-friendly appeal, with a popular Mexican restaurant on the corner, a bakery just next door, and a ceramics studio several doors down. For the first time since she’d begun teaching, Linton-Meyer now had the chance to tailor a space to her own specifications. She soundproofed the room, put up a thick dividing wall between the studio and entryway—taking care to add a viewing window (“For the younger kids, it’s really important for their parents to be able to see them,” says Linton-Meyer, “even though the older kids don’t like it after a while.”). She also added an all-important sprung floor, which eases the trauma from leaps and hard landings on shins especially, topped with marley dance floor tiles. When a second space opened up several blocks south and east, in Carroll Gardens, Linton-Meyer did it all again.

Without having to worry any longer about shuffling classes from location to location, Linton-Meyer can now concentrate on the nitty-gritty of making Cobble Hill Ballet what she (and plenty of other local parents and kids) call the “happiest ballet school in Brooklyn.” She and her teachers adhere to a strict syllabus in order to allow her students the freedom to express themselves, but also to see a real progression in skills from year to year. “Dance gets harder as you get older, because of all the technical aspects,” says Linton-Meyer. “You have to constantly work to make it challenging and fun and not-boring, but also to get in all the good barre work, because I want to give my students real training.”

Although she has yet to see one of her ballerinas go on to a career in dance, Linton-Meyer concedes it’s not her primary focus. “In the ‘real’ ballet world, kids are going to class five days a week, and sometimes they hit age 16 and their bodies change and they’re just done,” she says. “But Brooklyn parents are more interested in their kids being well-rounded. And this place is a real community—the girls get to be good friends, and they have the year-end show, with the older kids helping out the younger kids. I want to keep having this nurturing environment, so that ballet can be in their lives for a long time.”

To learn more, visit Cobble Hill Ballet.

Photographs by Roy Beeson

Downtime for Dad?

By Julia Cameron

Today, as a father with two sons ages six and eight, Todd laments no longer having time to read as he pleases. “I haven’t opened a classic since I had kids,” he says. “I’m ashamed to admit it, but I resent that. I’m careful not to take my feelings out on my kids, but every time I look at the untouched book on my bedside table, it’s another little reminder that there’s no time for my interests anymore.”

Deciding that there’s “no time” for something we love is a though that is well worth examining. If we decide that there is no time to read for pleasure—because it isn’t important, because it would “only” make us happy—we are deciding that there is no time for ourselves, for our own spiritual balance, and we are making a dangerous decision indeed. Not only are we putting ourselves at being at risk of becoming resentful, we are modeling this behavior for our children.

“I come home from work and want to spend time with my kids,” says Todd. Of course he does. But all kids take naps when they are young, take movie breaks when they are older, become consumed in a project they are focusing on. The trick is to conserve our energy, grab the moments we can, and allow ourselves to spend them as we please.

The act of spending time doing something we want to do as opposed to something we have to do takes courage. Baby steps may be necessary here. Be gentle with yourself, and be willing to try something small.

Giving ourselves fifteen minutes a day that is our own can turn anxiety into optimism. Our children lie down for a nap, and we rush toward the dirty dishes, the unopened mail, the business calls that we haven’t returned. We push our desires away as we push ourselves toward the imaginary finish line of being “done” with our ongoing list of “things to do.” It has been said that the average person has two to three hundred hours of “things to do” to be “caught up.” We will never be caught up. But we can adjust our course in small, daily ways to bring more balance into our lives. When we allow space for our own desires, we discover the unexpected paradox: by taking a selfish moment, we actually become more productive—and more available to our children.

“What book do you crave to read right now? For pleasure?” I ask Todd. He looks away, guilty that he craves this luxury, wishing he hadn’t admitted it to me in the first place.

Moby Dick,” he says quietly. “But I’ve read it before. I don’t really need to read it again. I’m so behind on everything else—it’s ridiculous for me to waste time re-reading a book for no reason. My kids need me to be available to them.”

“What do you love about Moby Dick?” I prod. I myself have many favorite books that I have read over and over.

“Each time I read it, I see something new. The larger themes inspire me with their constant relevance. I feel connected somehow.” Todd’s eyes light up as he speaks.

“Great,” I say. “You have to find fifteen minutes a day to read Moby Dick. Giving yourself that gift is as important as anything else on your list. Just try it for a week and see what happens.”

When Todd phones me a week later, his optimism is palpable… “My younger son, Sam, was fascinated,” Todd [says]. “He wanted to know what I was reading, what the story was about. I told him I had read the book many times before, and that it gave me pleasure to read it again. I found myself being more patient and efficient at home and at work. I was excited to talk to Sam about the story, and it made me realize that when I was constantly running from one job to another, even when the job was something for my sons, I wasn’t really able to talk to them anyway. To my surprise, no one seemed to mind that I was taking a moment for myself every day. I almost thought no one even really noticed, until I discovered Sam last night, sitting in my leather chair, feet up on my ottoman, with a book in his lap. When I asked him what he was reading, he replied, ‘I’m reading a great book, Dad. It’s about a whale.’ He held up the book, showing me its cover: Pinocchio.”


Excerpted from The Artist’s Way for Parents by Julia Cameron,  Tarcher/Penguin, Penguin Group USA, Penguin Random House. © 2014.

Photograph via Creative Commons.