Making a Splash

There are some summer activities that the girls may never outgrow. One of those, is playing in splash pads. We did this one a little differently this year. In years past, we have gone to splash pads at playgrounds, specifically at Maggie Daley Playground. The girls love that playground (although, it stresses me out – there are so many entrances and exits to that playground and kids are running everywhere!) but when we went last summer, several of the splash pad areas were under construction. So, this year, we made the decision to just do two locations that we love….even if they aren’t specifically splash pads.

We hit up Crown Fountain in Millennium Park and the Polk Brothers Fountain at Navy Pier.

 

 

The list:

  • Go to Disney World.
  • Pick blueberries.
  • Go bowling.
  • Bake some treats.
  • See outdoor movies.
  • Go to the museums.
  • Go to LEGO Discovery Center.
  • Visit Brookfield Zoo.
  • Go to Morton Arboretum to see the Lego sculptures.
  • Visit the Art Institute.
  • Eat ice cream.
  • Play on the playground.
  • Go on a hike.
  • Go to the library.
  • Go to a festival.
  • Have a slumber party.
  • Have a pajama day.
  • Watch movies at home.
  • Visit Granny and Pa.
  • Visit Mimi and Pa.
  • Have a beach day.
  • Pick dandelions out of the yard.
  • See fireworks.
  • Go to the splash pads.
  • Visit Chinatown.
  • Play outside.
  • Have tea at American Girl.
  • Play in our house.
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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?

 

 

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?

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.)

 

 

The Simple Joy of the Train at the Mall

We go to the mall frequently. We have two malls near us and they both offer different stores and restaurants. But, both malls are also really good about offering different activities that are available to members of the community (outdoor movies, musical performances, etc.).

Some of our girls’ favorite activities are riding the rides at the mall. Do you have a train ride at your mall? Our mall offers free rides on the train on Tuesdays for Toot-Toot-Tuesdays. (Although it’s not very expensive to ride any day of the week.)

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Our summer list thus far:

Love Your Library!

When I was a kid, going to the library was a weekly event during the summer. Not only did we check out books and movies, but it was a great escape from the heat. (At that time, we did not have central air conditioning in the house.)

Now, I take my girls to the library. We don’t necessarily need to go there to escape the heat but we do go to check out new books, borrow new puzzles or games, play on the iPad and update the girls’ summer reading challenge books.

We are usually pretty good about reading every day. But, reading can be pushed to the side when you get really busy. That is why I love summer reading programs so much. The program helps to keep us on track to ensure that we are keeping up with our reading even when we get busy with other activities.

This is the final week of the summer reading program and, although we have gone to the library a lot, we haven’t spent as much time in the library as we have during years past. The reason?

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Our library is going through a major renovation! Not all of the books and materials are easy to find because they have had to move due to the construction. Yes, it’s a bit annoying right now to not be able to find some things as easily as we have in the past and there isn’t as much space to play but, it’s mostly exciting because these renovations are going to make our library even better than it was.

 

Our list thus far: