Make Your Own Spring

Spring has arrived! But, we live in the Midwest which means that spring won’t really feel like it’s here for several more weeks. It’s not uncommon for Illinois to get snow in April. This week we may have 70 degree temperatures….and then the forecast has mentioned a chance of snow for the weekend. It’s hard to keep waiting when you are really really ready for sunshine, warmer temperatures, and gardens. I have some suggestions of things that you can do to make your own spring when spring seems so very far away…..

Check out an Indoor Garden!

The spring show at Garfield Park Conservatory is always a great way to gear up for spring sights and smells. This year’s theme “Understory”, has the visitor viewing the plants and flowers that grow beneath the forest canopy. The entire Conservatory has long been a favorite place for our family to escape the cold, rain and/or snow (all of which we might have on the same day in Illinois spring). You can check out the spring show until it closes May 12th.

Start Planning Your Garden!

So many different home improvement stores are full of flowers and plants right now. Lily and I went to Home Depot over the weekend and checked out the many annuals that they have in stock right now. They also had a few perennials. I already have some ideas for my container gardens.

Get outside as often as you can!

When those really nice days arrive, take full advantage of them! Get outside. Go to a playground. The weather can change very quickly so it’s important to take advantage of the sunshine while it’s here. I feel the same way during the summer months. If it’s nice out, we should get outside (for at least some of the day). Save the movie marathons for the rainy days!

Eat Warm Weather Foods!

Sure, I’ll eat ice cream year round. But once the snow has melted, it just seems to taste better. Do you agree? Being able to eat an ice cream cone without my fingers freezing…yea…the ice cream just tastes better. And once the temperatures start to inch above freezing and stay there, that’s when I want one of my favorite warmer weather meals – a Superdawg with everything, onion chips, and a strawberry soda. Yummmmm! Just thinking about it makes me feel a little bit warmer. 🙂

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Check out a professional garden!

The Chicago Botanic Garden has a useful chart here that lets you know what will be in bloom and when. Yes, this one is really more for days when it’s a little warmer….and hopefully not snowing. But, this lets you plan for what dates you want  to try to check out their gardens. (Especially if you know you really want to see the tulips in bloom!)

If you were lucky enough to check out the orchid show (which sadly has closed already) you were treated to some absolutely beautiful flowers and arrangements. I loved it! It was like a mini tropical vacation! I mean, just look at these flowers! Beautiful!

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What to do at Home on this Cold, Cold Day

Looking for some ideas of ways to keep your kiddos entertained during the polar vortex?

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We’re going to be doing a few of these today……and tomorrow……

  • Do a scavenger hunt indoors.
  • Make hot cocoa. Add marshmallows, whipped cream, and sprinkles to make it extra fancy.
  • Bake something!
  • Color in a coloring book.
  • Have a picnic inside.
  • Make a blanket fort.
  • Make a painting – water color or finger paints are both fun!
  • Read, read, and read some more.
  • Write a story.
  • Play board games.
  • Watch movies.
  • Listen to music.
  • Have a dance party!
  • Write a letter to a relative or friend.
  • Play hide-n-seek.
  • Read some more.
  • Have a “camp out” in the living room.
  • Make a big pot of soup.

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This pile of boxes has already become a house, a fort, a boat, another kind of boat, and a store. Who knows what it’ll become later today….and tomorrow.

Right now, the girls are resting and reading books in bed. As soon as they get up, I think we’ll do some baking.

Have you done any of these activities today?

 

Get Those Kids out of the House

Winter can be tough. It’s cold. It’s icy. There’s snow, or my least favorite, freezing rain! (Gross. I hate freezing rain.) And it can be tough when the kids need to burn off some energy but you can’t really get outside. (Ugh! Freezing rain!).

Through several winters, we have developed our own list of things to do when the weather is not cooperating. All of these are great whenever you need something to do but the weather isn’t great and that happens during every season in Illinois. However, I think that these are especially great in the winter when you can’t get outside as often as you might like.

Free museum days!

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I’ve posted about managing the free museum days before. You can read that here. Many of the Chicago-area museums have free admission days during the winter months, especially after the holidays have passed. Adler, MSI, Field, and Shedd offer lots of opportunities to explore and get outside and if you can do it without having to pay admission, well, that’s even better. The Chicago Children’s Museum has free admission for kids the first Sunday of every month. The Art Institute has free admission for kids every day.

Go to the mall

Several malls have great indoor play areas. Yes, these can get pretty busy during peak hours so if possible, aim for lunch time or early afternoon to run around in the play areas to avoid some of the crowds. Also, be aware of cleaning times. Some play areas actually shut down for a half hour or hour every day so they can be cleaned. But, really, wouldn’t you rather the play areas are clean?

Bouncy houses, bouncy houses, and more bouncy houses

There are many businesses that make their money by being an indoor bouncy house extravaganza. We have gone to Funflatables several times for birthday parties or just to let the girls burn off some energy. It’s a fairly decent price, especially considering that location is an all-day fee. Go before lunch. Jump around. Leave and get some food. Come back and jump around some more.

Read a book….somewhere else

True, your kiddos aren’t going to burn off a lot of energy reading a book. And, yes, reading is something that you can (and should) do at home, too. But, there is something fun about reading a book that you don’t have at home. Or, reading a book in a different space from where you normally read. Head to your library. Go to a bookstore. Libraries and many bookstores often have storytime programs or crafting projects that will get your kids’ creativity going.

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Find an indoor tropical oasis!

Is there a botanic garden near you? Or a greenhouse that stays open year round? These are great places to visit during the winter. They stay nice and warm year round and it’s nice to see plants that are actually growing, not dormant and covered in inches of snow. One of our favorites is the Garfield Park Conservatory. It’s like a topical getaway!

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Where do you like to go to get the kids out of the house during the winter months?

 

 

How to do the Free Admission Museum Days – And Still Have Fun

If you’ve been reading the blog for awhile now, you know that our family are big fans of the museums in Chicago. These amazing institutions are some of the biggest perks of living in or near the city! But this is not new information. Lots of people know that already and are ready to take advantage of all that they have to offer. The museums are not cheap, though. A family of four could easily drop close to $100 just to get in to the museum. That’s why the free admission days are such a big deal!

On the free admission days (for Illinois residents) you get free general admission at the museum. Each museum is different and the free days are different for each one (be sure to look up that information on each museum’s website!). And, although we generally take advantage of the ones during the summer months, there are days offered throughout the entire year so, if you are an Illinois resident, definitely check these out!

Since so many people want to, and should, take advantage of this money-saving perk, it can get a bit crazy. We’ve done it many, many times and in that time I’ve picked up some tips.

  1. Try to arrive as close to the museum opening as you can. If there are exhibits that you know that you want to check out, head there first. The crowds definitely build after 11:00am. Most museums open at either 9:00am or 9:30am. Generally, if you arrive at 10:00am, you won’t have to wait in much of a line and can walk right in.
  2. If possible, take public transportation. But, if you have to drive, as long as you arrive close to opening you can probably get street parking. This is usually cheaper than parking in the museum parking lots or the lot at Soldier Field. Plus, you can pay for what you will use. Just planning on being in the museum for a couple hours? Just pay for a couple hours of parking!
  3. Bring snacks! But, pay attention to where you can actually eat your snacks in the museum.
  4. Food is pricey at the museums, especially if you are buying for a family of four. I usually buy a lunch for myself at the museum, brings snacks for the girls, and will purchase a cheese plate or fruit cup for the girls to share. Many of the museums do not want you to bring in your own food to eat in their restaurants, but since I’ve also purchased something each time no one has said anything. But, most museums also have an area for use by those who brought lunches. If you are not purchasing anything, I recommend scouting out one of those spots. If you can’t find a spot to eat, ask an employee for assistance.
  5. If you can, eat a late or early lunch. The lunch areas are usually less busy after 1:30pm or right at 11:00am (or whenever they start serving lunch). There are usually many schools, camps, and daycare groups at the museums, but they tend to eat their lunch before 1:30pm since they need to return to their camp, daycare, or school.
  6. Some of the Illinois resident day admissions include almost everything (the Shedd Aquarium is great for this – you get general admission, Stingray Touch, and can get into Wild Reef and Polar Playzone – this all had at one time been an extra add on on the Illinois resident days. So glad that that’s changed!!!) but most of the admissions only include the basic admission. So, if there is a special or traveling exhibit that you want to see be sure to calculate the price of that into your visit.
  7. Do you have younger kids and will plan on spending some time in the areas designated for kids? (Like Polar Play Zone at Shedd, Play Lab at Field Museum, Idea Factory at Museum of Science and Industry, and Planet Explorers at Adler) These tend to be less busy during peak lunch time hours. So, again, if you can, try to do a later or early lunch.
  8. Do your research! Some exhibits, although free and included in your admission, still require a timed ticket. Idea Factory at MSI is one of those. Get your ticket as soon as you arrive because you might not be able to get in to the exhibit for several hours. Some exhibits are not open every day. The Play Lab at Field is only open Thursday – Monday.
  9. After 12:00noon, the museums tend to get really packed. Keep this in mind when trying to plan bathroom breaks. It’s no fun for anyone when a bathroom break is necessary and the bathroom has a line out the door.
  10. Remember – have fun! It can get chaotic and when you start to feel the chaos, take a break. Have a snack. Step outside. (Many of the museums have an outdoor spot where you can eat, and take in a beautiful view of Lake Michigan and/or the skyline.)

 

 

Girls Day Downtown

There is nothing quite like a girls days with my little girls. They love being downtown and going on adventures, and now that they are older, it’s easier for me to do the adventures by myself. Diapers? Don’t need them. Snacks? Still needed but they can open them by themselves. And, although their legs get tired after walking all day, we no longer need to haul a stroller around town.

We recently had a girls day downtown doing two of their favorite things: eating and shopping at American Girl Place and shopping at Disney Store (this is a big deal mostly because there are so few locations of Disney Store, now…..there had been a location very near us but that closed a couple years ago).

Part of the fun of shopping at Disney Store is finding all of the buttons to press and then see what noises or actions those buttons make happen.

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And, of course, watching all of the cartoons and movie previews on the big screen.

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Now, going to American Girl Place and eating there requires a little more planning. You can, of course, just go to shop. However, there is a lot of do while you are there.

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Some things to remember:

  • Tea is fun but is served later in the afternoon so it may not a good option if you haven’t already eaten lunch. Your kids will be hangry. (Trust me. I know.) The lunch is very filling. If you’ve already eaten lunch before arriving, go ahead and do tea!
  • In addition to tea and lunch, there are also brunch and dinner options depending on the time of day that you are going.
  • If you only have a small group with you and you are already there to celebrate a birthday, go ahead and go in for the birthday package. It’s a set price, you get a full meal including a starter and your main course, you get a cake (we always go home with extra), and the kids get a goody bag. Definitely a good deal when you look at the the prices of the meals. (The basic package is $37 for kids and $27 for adults.)
  • If you are planning on taking a doll to the salon, book that as soon as you arrive. The salon can get very busy!
  • Plan on at least 45 minutes to just browse and shop. (Even if you aren’t planning on making any purchases.) The store is set up so that girls can play with almost every item that’s for sale. And, from experience, this takes awhile.

 

Our list thus far:

Family Fun Festival – Lots of Family, Smaller Space for Fun

The Family Fun Festival has always been one of our favorite summertime activities. We go for songs, storytime, crafts and lots of gross motor activities. Well, this year we went and had songs, storytime, crafts…..and that’s pretty much it. There is a huge white tent that holds the Family Fun Festival in Millennium Park and that had been, in the past, the only main activity that it held during the summer. However, now the majority of the space has been given to Afterschool Matters programming. I am certainly not saying that the teenagers involved in this amazing program (seriously, look up all that Afterschool Matters programming does! It’s amazing!) should not have use of this space. It was awesome to see so many teens working on different projects in the tent. However, it was a little strange to see how little space the younger kids had when we’ve been going to this programming for years and there would be lots of gross motor activities – blocks, hula hoops, lots of space for dancing and playing. There would be enough there to keep kiddos occupied for several hours.

We still had fun!

We sang songs, listened to stories and made puppets with the Hyde Park Arts Center. (Be sure to look at the schedule online to see what organization will be leading the crafts each week.)

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Have you been to the Family Fun Festival this year? Did you go in past years?

 

Our summer list thus far:

I Scream…You Scream…We All Scream

For ice cream!

We eat a  lot of ice cream throughout the entire year but we really hit peak ice cream time during summer. No wonder it’s always one of the items on the bucket list that we do much more than once.

Some of our favorite places for ice cream are:

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Kimmer’s

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Kilwins

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Bombobar

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Bodega Imports

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At Munchies

Where are your favorite places for ice cream?

Our bucket list thus far: