Seven women strolled into House Red on Madison Street for a wine tasting last Wednesday night to the soothing sounds of soft jazz and the welcoming sight of an old wood table displaying two choices of palate-pleasing wines, a white zinfandel from Australia and a Malbec from Alta Vista of Argentina.
While the ladies settled into a comfortable circle of friends, conversations on relationships, careers and fashion were noticeably absent from their chatter. Instead, led by their host, Kathy Grzelak, the primary topic was much less cosmopolitan – toilet training for their young children.
The idea for a wine tasting and diaper discussion collaborative evolved from the friendship of Tara Nemeth, who co-owns House Red with Ned Mrvaljevic, and Grzelak, an executive director of Swellbeing, which operates as a seminar-based business that offers complete parenting resources. Though the unusual alliance of interests may prompt some sideways glances, Grzelak, Nemeth and their guests collectively enjoyed a fun and informative experience between young moms.
“It’s a little bit different, but it’s a great idea,” Cindy Alanis said with a slight chuckle. “I have twins [Alexis and Marcos] that are close to being potty trained. Some of the moms [at House Red] have already trained their kids, while others are in the same boat as me. I found a lot of good advice, and there’s nothing like talking with other moms and learning from their experiences.”
Grzelak talked to the moms about various aspects of toilet training, including behavioral and cognitive signs of children, parental roles and helpful hints for training. Founded by Janeen Hayward in New York, Swellbeing offers support to parents via workshops, seminars and individual consultations, all focused on providing helpful information on child development.
“When Janeen and I started our own families, we were amazed to find out there’s just not a lot of good information out there for parents,” Grzelak said. “Swellbeing is about getting good information to parents. I feel like we are making a difference in helping parents raise their children in a developmentally-sound way.”
Since its inception in 2006, Swellbeing often hosts gatherings at community-based, convenient locations in both Chicago and New York.
“House Red is a perfect venue for our seminars,” Grzelak said. “It offers a nice, casual atmosphere where people can lay back and enjoy some good wine. I never really thought of it as weird. I see it as an opportunity for people to get together and share parenting experiences.”
Several of the ladies who attended the House Red gathering are part of a Westchester-LaGrange based mothers group that found out about Swellbeing online. The organization’s Web site is www.swellbeing.com.
“I came in open-minded just hoping to learn more about potty training because I know all kids are different,” Jill Abraham said. “For moms, going out to relax and have a glass of wine is something we don’t get to do very often. If you can include something like a potty training discussion with a glass of wine, that’s what moms need.”
Swellbeing has hosted multiple parenting seminars at House Red, and Grzelak appreciated the group’s enthusiasm, while also noticing their affinity for tasty varietals.
“It’s funny because our first time [at House Red] not as many people drank wine,” Grzelak noted. “This time, they all came in and they were like, ‘Give me a glass of wine.'”
The cozy confines of the wine shop not only offer a worldwide selection of wines, but also an unpretentious potpourri of music and cultural events intended to draw in an array of visitors.
“We try to emphasize the social aspect of wine, so we really try to do a collaborative effort of cultural interests,” Nemeth said. “We want people to feel comfortable and feel at home at House Red. Our name kind of reflects that attitude. It’s about making a person’s visit [here] an overall experience and not just a place to come in, buy wine and leave.”
Whether it’s a piano recital, a night of sushi and sake, wine classes or its popular free wine tasting held on Fridays and Saturdays, House Red’s great taste is chosen by its staff who sample everything in the store. Many of the wines also fall into the affordable $12 to $25 range.
“I definitely enjoy wine,” Grzelak, a Forest Park resident, said. “I prefer white wine over red. House Red is awesome. Forest Park needed a place like this, which has such a great décor and selection of wine.”
Whether it’s merlot, pinot noir, zinfandel or a Bordeaux blend, House Red offers assorted varietals from around the world. Selections from Italy, France, Spain, Australia, along with vinous-rich states like Washington, Oregon and California, fill the store’s well-stocked walls.
Another wine tasting and “sibling preparation” seminar is slated for June 10.
“I thought it was done perfectly,” Lisa Goodluck said. “The wine tasting was fun and the seminar was immensely helpful. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”