Our Gurus

To learn more about FITL’s President, Wendy Widom, click here!

We’re beyond fortunate to have Chicago’s best and brightest lend their talents, expertise and resources to the Chicago family community.  Sleep, nutrition, parties, wine, culture, and so much more, these pros are making Chicago the greatest place to raise a family!

Anne Book, Lifestyle Maven

If elite, amazing events are on the agenda, a consult with Anne Book and her Chicago-based firm, Signature Style, is a necessity. Anne has more than 14 years of experience in lifestyle, entertaining and event-planning services. She also boasts a client list that includes political elite, ambassadors, celebrities and professional athletes. Anne’s work has been featured in media outlets including Martha Stewart Weddings, Grace Ormond Wedding Style, Oxygen Network, Chicago Social Brides, Washingtonian, Biz Bash, Engaged!, and Modern Bride Washington. Anne lives in Lincoln Park with her son, Jack.

Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green Mama

Going green is no longer a trendy catch phrase; it’s a way of life for us parents.  No one knows that better than Manda Aufoch Gillespie, a.k.a. The Green Mama, who provides green consulting, education, and inspiration to families and businesses in Chicago.  With over a decade of experience as a community planner, project manager, consultant, and writer, Manda established Chicago’s first green daycare and served as a consultant on a multi-million dollar eco-village project.  Currently, The Green Mama works directly with families, fusing a passion for research, a keen eye toward sustainability, and a deep understanding of what parents and kids realistically need to go green.  Manda’s work has been showcased on ABC’s Save My Planet, HBO’s The Lazy Environmentalist, and shares current research and ideas on The Green Mama blog (http://www.thegreenmama.com/blog).  She travels internationally and virtually to offer workshops and classes on the many aspects of green living.

Valerie Bolon, Our Top Chef

Some people live to eat – personal chef and former Top Chef contestant Valerie Bolon lives to cook. Born and raised in the Chicago area, Chef Valerie developed a passion for food at a young age, helping her mother prepare family dinners. Fast forward a few dozen years and find that Val has spent 10 years cooking in the kitchens of Chicago-based restaurants including Gordon, Spring, MK, and Hot Chocolate. Broadening both her palate and her technique, Valerie spent one year mastering French Creole cuisine in the world-renowned Emeril’s Restaurant in New Orleans. In addition to her personal-chef business, Valerie cooks for a variety of charitable organizations and events such as Paul Newman’s Painted Turtle, Common Threads, and Meals on Wheels.  Recently, she formed an underground dinner club, the Culinary Speakeasy. In this newest endeavor, Valerie creates gourmet meals for club members who crave quality cuisine, good company, and the comforts of home.

Steve Breden & Brooks Watson, The Safety Squad

Chicago firefighters Brooks Watson and Steve Breden are in the business of saving lives, literally. In 2005, the 14-year veterans launched Safety Squad with the mission of empowering parents to keep their kids safe while attacking the country’s outrageous car seat misuse rate (which hovers at 80%). They understand the importance of child safety, because they have seen the sometimes tragic results when prevention efforts fall short.  Their passion, coupled with their unique perspective on safety, has carved a niche into the new parent, baby services and juvenile products markets. Always seeking to partner with the brightest minds in the fields of safety, the company has expanded its reach into CPR, home and fire safety and consulting for major children’s products companies. Today, Safety Squad partners with premier children’s and birthing hospitals as well as private enterprise to deliver their brand of safety. They offer parents simple, practical changes to their everyday lifestyle that can prevent childhood injury and increase the family’s preparedness when emergencies occur. Visit safetysquad.com for more information.

Stefanie Coslow, Yoga Mama

Yoga instructor and super-mama of two Stefanie Coslow began yoga as a skeptic, believing she possessed neither the flexibility nor the strength to practice it.  But after a few fun and sweat-filled classes, she was hooked.  Why?  She had unlocked a powerful secret: Yoga is not only an incredible form of exercise, but one that keeps busy parents with young kids grounded and emotionally centered.  Now, as a teacher, Stefanie helps inspire others to find both their inner and outer strength and flexibility.  A native New Yorker but lover of all things Chicago, Stefanie teaches at CorePower Yoga all over the city.

Traci Danielson Mitchell, Wellness Expert

Traci Danielson Mitchell is a freelance writer, blogger, fitness junkie and nutrition know-it-all. She skews to the conservative side of how-to-eat with a “if we only ate the way they did back in the day” attitude, and is a die-hard proponent of the 80% rule. Don’t know what that is? Her blog says it all. Treat your body good 80% off the time, and it will forgive you the other 20%. Bottom line, stay in the good books with your body and you can safely indulge every now and then.

Sarah Davis, The Modern Day Mary Poppins

Mom to three, check. Nanny for many years, check.  Sarah Davis, the owner of Olive.You.Nanny agency, is on a mission to help moms and dads find the perfect nanny for their families. And she does the job extremely well: her service has been helping clients find, keep and build successful relationships with their childcare providers since 2004! Olive.You.Nanny matches families with a variety of needs: full-time, part-time and summer nannies and even occasional sitters.  (The gorgeous photo comes from Oz Images Photography.)

Lara Field, MS, RD, CSP, LDN, Picky Eater Problem Solver

Lara Field is a pediatric dietitian who owns a private nutrition-consulting practice in Chicago. Her practice, FEED – Forming Early Eating Decisions (www.feedkids.com), specializes in pediatric nutrition and digestive diseases, including celiac disease and food allergies. Lara has more than nine years of experience in clinical practice at two of the top ranked pediatric hospitals in the country, Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago and University of Chicago Medical Center.  In addition to her work at FEED, Lara is a board certified specialist in pediatric nutrition (CSP) and has completed the requirements of the Food Allergy & Intolerance Management & PAC Registered Dietitian Consultant Training Program. She is interviewed frequently from various nationwide media, including WGN, WCIU, Fitness, Men’s Health, Runner’s World, and Kiwi magazine. Lara received her Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She completed her Master’s of Science degree and dietetic internship from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois.

Kerrie Grow McLean, Psy.D., Sex Therapist

Kerrie Grow McLean is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who specializes in sexual therapy. After graduating from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology with her PsyD, Kerrie pursued further training to fine-tune her specialization in treating sexual health issues. Kerrie’s private practice is dedicated to helping clients better understand their own sexual needs as well as their partner’s. In working with both individuals and couples, Kerrie focuses on improving communication, trust and intimacy in relationships. She is committed to teaching couples how to keep the passion alive in their post-baby marriage. Kerrie is also active in the education and training of other mental health professionals, sharing her expertise in sexual health issues, treatment, and therapy. Kerrie lives in Chicago with her family.

Janeen Hayward, Parent Specialist

After giving birth to her first daughter in 2006, Janeen Hayward founded swellbeing, a parenting consultancy that helps new parents navigate the difficult terrain around raising and rearing happy, healthy children. As a child development expert with a Master’s Degree in clinical psychology, Janeen offers support and advice for popular concerns, including healthy sleep habits, toilet training, discipline issues and sibling preparation. Janeen provides private consultations to families in Chicago and New York City. For those outside the areas, she offers phone or Skype services, and frequently hosts webinars on a range of topics.

Denise Henderson, Kid Super Foodie

When Denise Henderson’s twins became allergic to certain foods, she saw a true void in the arena of organic, healthful, superfoods for children. Now, as the founder and managing member of Square One Organics, she’s successfully filled that space. Prior to owning Square One Organics, Denise had a successful career in the financial futures industry at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Denise earned her Bachelor of Arts in Economics from The University of Illinois at Champaign. She lives in River Forest, Illinois with her husband, Jeff, and the twins.

Erica Bethe Levin & Jessica Zweig

Erica Bethe Levin and Jessica Zweig are the masterminds behind CheekyChicago, an online lifestyle magazine for urban women that serves up the hottest events, coolest weekly newsletters, and a sweet daily dose of all things fresh, feminine and fun. Cheeky gives back to the savvy community by offering fabulous perks and VIP status with its exclusive Cheeky Card Program. If you want to be in the loop for all things sexy in this town, look no further than CheekyChicago.

Cindy McCarthy, FITL Adventurer

In addition to raising her two daughters here in Chicago, Cindy McCarthy is an urban explorer of kid-sized Chicago and author of onthegoChicago.com, a blog that highlights where to go eat, shop, play and learn in Chicago. You can also follow Cindy on Twitter or on Facebook.

Mandee Polonsky, Education Superstar

If you have questions about Chicago public schools, Mandee Polonsky has the answers.  Having worked in the CPS system for almost a decade, she has collaborated with hundreds of principals, teachers, and parents to better meet the needs of students and to help our local schools.  Mandee was formerly the Manager of Enrichment Programs in the Office of Student Support and Engagement at Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and served as Executive Director of After-School All-Stars Chicago.  Currently, she is the Education Director at Right at School, an innovative organization that provides meaningful enrichment programs to students before and after school.  Mandee holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis and a Master of Arts in Public Policy from the University of Chicago. She is also the proud mother of two sons and is looking forward to the adventures of school with them.

Amy Robbins, Psy.D., Health and Well-Being Expert

Amy Robbins, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in downtown Chicago. She specializes in individuals and couples suffering from depression, anxiety, relationship struggles and life transitions. Amy earned her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She and her husband have two kids and one dog; as a family, they spend time together exploring and enjoying city living.

Aylin Sofu, Awesome Editing Intern

Aylin Sofu is a Families in the Loop editing intern and a part-time nanny for the most adorable four-year-old, where she gets to exercise her imagination daily. A Lincoln Park resident, Aylin can be spotted perpetually exploring Chicago and interacting with its enormously friendly inhabitants. In addition to writing poetry, Aylin is a lover of good literature, Indian food, and immature jokes. She is currently a second-year Creative Writing major at DePaul University.

Dave Thomas and Victoria Thomas, Wine Connoisseurs

Growing up with a French mother and gourmet father greatly influenced entrepreneur Dave Thomas, who spent much of his time trying to figure out how to start a business that would allow him to eat, drink and travel.  Wife and partner Victoria Thomas, an artist with an adventurous streak, spent her childhood in the Chicago suburbs and from an early age strove to cultivate her artistic talents.  In 2006 opportunity struck and, with co-founders Todd and Veronica Hess, H2Vino was born.  Fast forward four years, and H2Vino is now an importer and wholesale distributor of fine wines from around the world, many of which are biodynamic, sustainable, organic or organically farmed.  Dave and Victoria, who live in East Lakeview with their daughter Sophi, summarize their philosophy with the phrase “the circle of life” stating that “everything is centered around supporting restaurants and small businesses in the community.”

Ann Torralba, Little Miss Ann

Known as Little Miss Ann to most toddlers in the loop, Chicago’s Ann Torralba (and her drumming husband Patrick) are the masterminds behind two children’s CD’s, “Music for Tots” and “Clap for Love,” which are adored by children, parents, librarians, and teachers. Little Miss Ann’s songs are infectious; kids can’t get enough! Little Miss Ann uses her experiences as an Old Town School of Folk Music Wiggleworms instructor, former Chicago Public School Teacher, first-generation Filipina American and mom to promote fun and big messages of inner strength, individuality and love. www.littlemissann.com

Melissa Wiley, FITL Word Slinger


A tireless wordsmith, Melissa Wiley is a freelance writer and editor with a Master of Arts in writing from DePaul University. When not minding her Ps and Qs, she enjoys mining the Chicago arts scene for various opportunities to dance, draw, laugh, and gape. She also volunteers for Open Books as a literacy tutor and plies her pen writing narrative essays highlighting the haphazard beauty of quotidian life.