Fall Bucket List

Although summer is my favorite time of year, there are so many fun activities to do during the fall. Most of these things we have already done. One will hopefully be done in the next couple weeks……before all of the leaves fall off of the trees.

Our Fall Bucket List:

Scarecrow Fest  – We love this fest! I previously wrote about Scarecrow Fest and how we celebrate it in a blog post that you can find here. Scarecrows. Pumpkins. Food. Carnival rides. And a yearly staycation at a resort? Yes, please!

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Apple picking – There are so many great orchards in the Chicago suburbs. We’ve been to several different ones. But, our favorite place for apple picking is Jonamac Orchard. This orchard has lots of activities in the farm, great apple picking, and a cider house – with tastings of their ciders and wines!

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Pumpkin picking – Just like apple picking, there are several fun pumpkin patches to check out in the Chicago suburbs. However, just like with the apple orchards, we have a favorite pumpkin farm. We love________.

Boo at the Zoo at Brookfield Zoo – This is a yearly must-do for us. Our family membership at Brookfield Zoo was one of the first things that we purchased after we moved to the suburbs. And for a family of four, a membership is a great deal. It basically pays for itself after just a few trips. Boo at the Zoo has trick-or-treating, pumpkin smashing, lots of fun decor, and many fall-themed animal encounters.

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Go on a walk/hike in the woods – This one we haven’t done yet. We’ve had something every single weekend and most evenings. And, our bathroom renovation (which I’ll be blogging about soon) is altering our regular schedule in a huge way. But, we all love hitting the trails in the Forest Preserves.  There are so many great trails and the forest preserves are free. Stay tuned for some upcoming hiking.

 

 

So now I want to know, what’s on your fall bucket list? What do you try to do every fall?

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A Scarecrow Filled Staycation

I am a big fan of using Groupon to find deals on places to eat, things to do, places to stay – essentially everything. We’ve lucked out that there has been a Groupon two years in a row during a staycation weekend for us. Every year, St. Charles hosts a Scarecrow Fest. We’ve gone every year since we moved into our house but last year we changed it up a bit by staying overnight and we returned to that same resort this year as well.

That resort? Pheasant Run Resort.

After we checked out of the hotel, both Ryan and I recognized that we just didn’t have a lot of time to really explore the resort itself. We spent a lot of time in downtown St. Charles at Scarecrow Fest, which honestly is the point of this staycation weekend, however we both acknowledged that there were enough activities in the resort itself that you could stay busy for a weekend. Perhaps this is something that we will look into during another weekend?

The Room

This year, we had an accessible room. That meant more space in the aisles and a much more spacious bathroom. I’m guessing that this won’t happen again but last year’s room was just fine. The beds are cozy and the bathroom is nice.

Side note: I’m guessing that the reason that we were given one of the accessible rooms is because the resort was packed during this weekend! There were several wedding groups throughout the hotel. And, members of the Doberman Club of America were also staying at the resort. There were so many dogs. !!!!!!

The Pools

There are two pools. One is an indoor/outdoor combination pool. We did not venture into that one this year. Last year, I got out of the pool because the indoor pool is just too cold (because it is actually attached to the outdoor pool, you can swim from one to the other). So, this year, we only went to the indoor-only pool. It was a bit funny to hear from other families as they joined us in the pool as they commented about how much warmer the indoor pool was.

When you check in, each member of your party gets a bracelet that gives you access to the pools. I’m guessing that the indoor/outdoor pool may be in high demand during the summer….but at not time were our wristbands checked by anyone at the pool.

There is a hot tub in the same area as the indoor pool which I was looking forward to using on the day that we checked out. However, that morning, the hot tub was filled with bubbles. Absolutely filled with bubbles. The woman that replenished the pool towels saw the water and quickly called for service. Yep. Those bubbles are not supposed to be there. Did someone add something? No idea. But, yea…no hot tub for me.

The Gym Facility

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The workout facility is really nice for a hotel gym. There are multiples of each machine. When I went down to the gym, there were four other people working on and no one had to wait for the machine that they wanted. Treadmills, ellipticals, steppers, stationery bikes, and several weight machines and some free weights. Lots of options and, when I was there, enough machines so there was absolutely no wait.

The Food

This time, since we were not in the resort itself for very long, we did not eat in any of the food options. However, there are restaurants, bars, and room service is also available. We ate most of our meals downtown St. Charles.

And, of course, we had my favorite snack: “Chewy Chips Ahoy in a hotel bed while watching Food Network.”

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The main reason to go, of course, is Scarecrow Festival.

The Festival

This is one of our favorite fall activities. The scarecrows are very cool to see, there’s a craft fair (which we did not get to at all this year but has been lots of fun in the past), you can make your own scarecrow, there is lots of food in the festival and, of course, lots of restaurants in St. Charles. There are lots of carnival rides, which the girls love. All in all, it’s a great weekend and a great way to kick start fall.

Great Wolf Lodge – A Great Family Lodge!

OK. It’s been several, several weeks since we had our trip to Great Wolf Lodge but I keep seeing Groupon deals for stays at the Wisconsin Dells location and the newer Gurnee, IL location.

So, I figured I might as well finally write up that blog post that I’ve been delaying.


The Decor

The decor, at least at the Wisconsin Dells location, has a very strong log cabin feel. The exterior looks like a giant log cabin. The lobby has antler lighting and animals throughout. Lots of antlers. Lots of animals.

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The Room

Our room was really nice and was able to hold a lot of people. The room had a lofted space with a second bedroom which is really great if you have a large group staying with you. Remember, everyone staying in the room has access to the hotel’s amenities (water parks!!). Downside, the loft had a sink but no true bathroom so if you have a lot of people staying with you, there will probably be a line for the bathroom at some point. Other downside, the loft was significantly warmer than the downstairs space but the entire room was controlled with one thermostat. So, the downstairs space was usually fairly cold so that the upstairs was an ok temp.

There was a fireplace in the downstairs space. We didn’t use it but would be super fun and cozy during the fall or winter. The couch also folds out into a bed. Again, you can fit a lot of people in this room.


The Food

We actually ate most of our meals out and about in the Wisconsin Dells area. However, we began each morning with breakfast at the hotel. We had an option to do a family style breakfast each morning. It was delicious and all-you-can-eat. The options for the menu didn’t change (there is a different menu that you can order from if you don’t do the family style all-you-can-eat option), but it was all very family friendly. And whatever you wanted more of, well, they would bring for you. We ate so many cinnamon rolls…..

We did eat dinner in the restaurant one night while we were there. There was also an ice cream shop with some snacks. And there are snack shops in the water park section. You can also order a pizza and have it delivered to you in the water park.


Stuff to Do – Outside of the Water Park

The water park sections are, of course, the main attraction at the hotel. But there are a lot of other activities to do throughout the day. There are lots of craft activities throughout the day. Be sure to check the board in the lobby for times.

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We did the “Jammie Jamboree” which was pretty fun. We also did a “Storytime” with a meet-and-greet with a character. It was funny to see how excited the kids were to see the character from the “Great Wolf Lodge Story”.

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We also did the “Great Clocktower Show” which, well, I thought was pretty weird but the kids loved. Warning: The song from this show will get stuck in your head. Seriously.

The activities in the lobby area might be different from day to day so be sure to check the schedule. There were also craft activities in the lobby (these cost a fee.) One of our favorite hotel activities is to hit up the arcade. We did that on our last day at the hotel.

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The Water Park – The Main Attraction

There are several different sections with something for everyone (well, everyone who likes water parks.) There are big slides, small slides, wave pools, lazy rivers, and several splash pad sections. We spent most of our time in the splash pad areas. And, over the course of our trip, big girl got more and more brave and went on more and more water slides.

For your peace of mind, life jackets are available to borrow for free. You can also bring one, if you like.

Every person staying in the hotel room has access to the water park each day of your stay. So, plan on getting a locker and leaving most of your luggage in the car while you start your day in the water park while waiting for your hotel room to be ready for check-in. And do the same on your last day! Load up the car, bring a backpack with the necessities and spend some more time in the water after you check out of your room.


The Dells

If you stay at the Wisconsin Dells location, there are lots of activities away from the hotel that you can try. The Dells is packed with super-touristy and not-so-super-touristy activities.

We went on a beautiful hike.

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We explored some of the riverwalk area.

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We also checked out one of the most touristy activities: Tommy Bartlett Show! We had the option to purchase tickets to many of the most classic Dells activities by visiting the concierge in the hotel lobby.

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Honestly, we had a blast. As soon as we left, the girls were already planning our next trip. And since the water park section is indoors (there is a section outdoors, as well) this can be a great family trip year-round.

We will be back!

Costco – Our Necessities

Shopping at Costco can be an overwhelming experience. There is just so much to see! And so many foods to sample! (Seriously…sample everything). Honestly, the only time that we were in and out of Costco in less than an hour was when we were ordering tires. Yep. You can order tires. (Seriously….they have everything!).

When shopping at Costco, keep in mind the following tips:

  1. Make a list. Do your best to stick to that list but be willing to purchase the yummy new food that you just sampled.
  2. Remember that not everything that you want will be there. Sometimes, they stop carrying items for a short time. Sometimes, they stop carrying items for a very long time.
  3. Understand that it will seem as though 90% of the suburbs are in Costco with you. Everyone is frustrated. Try to keep calm.
  4. Park your cart as far over to the side as you can. (See number 3).

We have several things that we always buy while there. Feel free to use this list as a starting point if you are new to the wonderful world of Costco. 🙂

Paper products: toilet paper, paper towels. You know that you will need these items so if you have the means to store them, stock up.

Beauty products: We buy deodorant, body wash, and razors! And there are frequently Oil of Olay products if you use any of those.

Baby products: I love the baby wipes! They are very soft and are so cheap! We never really purchased diapers because they never carried the brand that we liked for our girls. However, if you are in the diaper-buying stage, check what they are currently carrying.

Snack foods: We buy a lot of the lunchbox ready snacks like popcorn, veggie straws, string cheese, crackers, etc. They have it all.

Dairy: Cheese! We go through a lot of cheese in our house. And if you go through a lot of yogurt or Danimals, you can find those here too. Honestly, I am not a fan of the milk but give it a try because you might like it.

Grains: Buying cereal can be a great deal if you go through a lot of cereal. Not a great deal if you aren’t – the cereal will be stale before you get to the end of the box. Bread can be a good deal but you might need to freeze some.

Fruits and veggies: There can be great deals to be had, if you have the ability to freeze the fruits or veggies. The produce, in our experience, tends to go bad pretty quickly and there’s a lot of of it. So, buy it and throw it in the freezer. However, if you are planning a party, the large bags of salad are a great buy!

Freezer foods: This is so much better now that we have a chest freezer. Frozen pizzas? Throw them in the freezer. Frozen treats or desserts? Yep. In the freezer. If you do not have a chest freezer, I recommend being careful how much you buy. Remember, it will all have to fit somewhere.

Canned foods: You will almost always find cans of chicken stock and chickpeas and jars of peaches in our cart.

Bakery goods: The muffins are some of my favorites. I like them even more than muffins from the grocery stores that we buy from. They also have great croissants. Although we’ve never purchased a cake, you can get sheet cakes of almost any size if you need that.

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Throughout, you may seem us stocking up on seasonal items as well. It’s back-to-school so I purchased a new set of Sharpie markers. 🙂 You can also frequently pick up construction paper or pens. Right now, you can purchase Christmas decorations. (Yes, it’s a little early and there will probably be more selection in the coming weeks so you don’t need to rush in for this one.)

After all of that shopping, you’re hungry, right? Time to pick up a super cheap hot dog or a slice of pizza. You can also pick up a whole pizza  but that takes some time to prepare (so, start at the counter, place an order for your pizza, do your shopping, and pick up your pizza!).

So now I want to know, what are your Costco necessities?

A Weekend at Mimi and Pa’s House

Usually, when we have a weekend at Mimi and Pa’s house (my hometown) we don’t have too much planned. This summer, however, we had an epic weekend because it was the weekend of my 20th high school reunion (20 years?!?!?!?!?) and it was also the weekend of the county fair.

So……..we did a lot. 🙂

Ryan and I went to my high school reunion.

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The next day, as a family, we went to the county fair. We went to the demolition derby (one of my favorite fair memories), ate some fried food, and rode some rides.

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We ended our trip with a trip to the playground, lunch at Cracker Barrel, and my mom and I went to swim aerobics (p.s. I want to find a place with year-round swim aerobics! So fun!!!).

The list thus far:

 

 

 

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.)

 

 

Milwaukee – A Weekend Trip

We recently had a week long trip in Wisconsin. Some of that trip was in the Wisconsin Dells area (that will be a separate blog post) but the majority of the trip was in the Milwaukee area. My in-laws live there, Ryan grew up there, and there are some things that we always try to do/see/eat when we are there.

Milwaukee is so close to Chicago. If you have a free weekend, a quick Milwaukee trip is a great getaway!  It’s great for families! There are so many family friendly activities to do and places to go.

Places to go:

Head to Betty Brinn Children’s Museum – There are so many fun exhibits in this museum. One of our girls’ favorite sections is the Home Town section. This area is like a mini-Milwaukee and encourages lots of imaginative play. This whole museum is great for young kiddos!

Find a park – There are so many different outdoor areas that you can explore. Get outside and find an adventure!

Go to a beach – Milwaukee is right on Lake Michigan so there are lots of beaches. Atwater Beach is my favorite. As you can see in the pic above, it’s just beautiful. The beaches are generally clean, and actually fairly quiet. There are so many great family beaches. Definitely a great way to spend a summer afternoon.

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Visit Milwaukee Art Museum – This museum has a wonderful collection to explore and it’s not huge so spending some time here is not overwhelming for young travelers. They have, in my opinion, one of the best family programs. There is a studio space that is a lot of fun. When we went, there were two different art projects that you could participate in. One of the best parts of their family programing is that you can check out several different items to use in the museum for further exploration. We borrowed drawing materials to sketch art pieces that caught the girls’ eyes. We also borrowed fabric tubes that were so much fun! The instructions gave us the locations for a few pieces of art that matched and we got to just have fun! Seriously. So fun! And so different from any other museum experience that we have explored.

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Go to Discovery World – This is one of our favorite places to explore in Milwaukee. There are lots of cool science exhibits to engage with. Most of the exhibits are STEM related. There are a lot of activities that allow your child the change to learn about physics by doing hands-on experiences. There is also an aquarium! The aquarium is not as big as going to a stand-alone aquarium (like Shedd or someplace similar) but you can still see some interesting animals. You really can do a little bit of everything at this museum. One of the coolest things that you can do is to go for a trip on the tall ship S/V Denis Sullivan. What an amazing experience and a great way to get a different view of Milwaukee.

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Places to eat:

Cafe Corazon – This is one of our favorites. During one trip to Milwaukee, Ryan and I ate at Cafe Corazon three times in one week. That food is all good. The drinks are delicious!

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Cubanita’s – If you are in the mood for some classic Cuban food, this is your place in Milwaukee. My favorite? go on Monday for the daily special: arroz con pollo. Delicious comfort food.

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Kopp’s – If you are in the Milwaukee area during the summer and don’t go to Kopp’s, well, you’re not doing summer correctly! Go for the custard, of course. (And you can check in advance to check what the flavor of the day will be by looking at the website, or just driving by – it’s posted on the signage outside.) The custard and custard treats are all yummy, but their burgers are some of my favorite – anywhere.

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Sprecher’s – You can find Sprecher’s sodas at some stores outside of the Milwaukee area, but, there is just something about getting it from the source. There are several locations in Wisconsin (check the website). The drinks are good, there are sodas and beers! And the food is yummy and definitely family friendly. And, as you can see in the pic, for dessert you can get a flight…a float flight!

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Movida – One of my favorite types of meals is to get tapas. Yum yum yum. I was so happy to find a great place for tapas in Milwaukee. Not only does Movida have a great selection of tapas (seriously, look at that menu!), but they also have delicious churros for dessert!

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Have you been to Milwaukee? What are your favorite places to go? Where are your favorite places to eat?

 


Going to Granny and Pa’s house and having some Milwaukee adventures (going to the beach) were on our summer bucket list.

Our list thus far: