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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48 Hours in Minnesota – What we did….

We recently were in the Minneapolis area for a wedding. We arrived late in the afternoon on a  Friday, the wedding was going to be late Saturday afternoon/early evening, and we were driving back home on Sunday. We needed a plan to fill in that open time. Here’s what we did….

The first thing that I like to do when we arrive at a hotel is just get situated. Figure out where the suitcases will go on the room. Get the sleeping arrangements figured out. Find out where the pool is. (Yea….we realized too late that this hotel did not have an indoor pool – just an outdoor one. So, even though we brought out swimming stuff, there was not going to be any swimming done, in Minneapolis, in March.)

Find a local spot to get dinner.

A quick yelp search gave us several options and the hotel had some recommendations, too. A quick search can usually give you several options of places to catch a quick dinner. And if not, always ask the hotel staff. Where do they recommend? Where are their favorite spots?

We were staying in the downtown area and much of it is very walkable. I definitely recommend hitting up somewhere local for dinner!

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Find a way to work off some excess energy!

Our original plan had been to let the girls spend several hours in the pool Saturday morning. Well, that didn’t happen. Once again, yelp gave us some great ideas of things to do with kids. (Remember, it was March in Minnesota – so spending several hours outside wasn’t really going to happen.)

Our solution? A quick drive to the Minnesota Children’s Museum. If you’ve been following the blog for awhile you know that we are big fans of hanging out in children’s museums and this one is a lot of fun! There’s currently a Wild Kratts exhibit so that made it even more fun. (And a great way to get rid of some of the excess energy!)

The wedding was Saturday evening. Sunday morning, we went to a brunch with several guests from the wedding. Before we got back in the car to begin the drive back home, I thought that it would be a good idea to do something to get some fresh air. (Keep in mind, the temperatures were still chilly but definitely above freezing.)

Get some fresh air!

We went on a walk through the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. I can definitely imagine that this spot would be absolutely beautiful in the spring, summer, and fall. It’s beautiful in the winter, too…but it’s a different kind of beautiful. A cold beautiful. lol.

 

We definitely need to get back to Minneapolis for a longer trip….and a longer trip when there isn’t snow on the ground! And in a hotel that has an indoor pool.

Where are your favorite spots for a Minnesota weekend?

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?

 

 

It’s Time to Give Back

It’s #GivingTuesday, a day set aside to give to organizations that can use your help. If you don’t regularly give to organizations or haven’t participated in Giving Tuesday before, it can be difficult to narrow down all of the choices.

In the past, I would feel overwhelmed by just how much need there is in the world. I’m only one person, right? But, it’s important to remember that even a small donation can mean a lot and can do a lot of good.

Need some ideas of places to donate to? In the last few years, I’ve tried to give back to organizations that I believe in.

ACLU – American Civil Liberties Union does so much every single day. I believe in this organization so much that we walked with them in this past summer’s Pride Parade. (Which was a whole lot of fun!). Their website is also full of information about what they are currently working on, what your rights are, and you can purchase gifts for others (or for yourself.)

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Amnesty International – Amnesty International works tirelessly around the world to protect human rights. On their site, you can learn more about their important work, you can make donations, and you can learn about opportunities to help by volunteering your time in your own area.

Center for Responsive Politics – On their site – OpenSecrets.org – they work to “follow the money.” There is a lot of talk about campaign donations, dark money, and how money affects our political landscape. Center for Responsive Politics follows the money so that we can be informed about what is truly going on.

Committee to Protect Journalists – Journalism is vital. Facts are important. And CPJ works to protect those journalists as they do their jobs.

International Rescue Committee – Around the world, families have been torn apart by violence, war, and natural disasters. The IRC works to protect these families in need.

Sierra Club – Sierra Club works to protect the great outdoors and preserve it for generations to come. Their website lists lots of different ways to donate or help in other ways. There are several topics that Sierra Club is taking action on, that you can easily help out with by writing your congressperson. Also, if you become a member, you can get a super useful bag. 🙂

Southern Poverty Law Center – SPLC works to fight hate across America. On their site, you can find more specific information about the causes that they are fighting for. And, of course, make a donation.

And…..

Even though the Walk to End Alzheimer’s already happened this year, you can still donate to my fundraising efforts by clicking here! The Walk is over for the year, but the fundraising continues. Together, we can End Alzheimer’s.

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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?

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!