The Best Place To See Santa This Season

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This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

Seeing Santa is a yearly holiday tradition that many families partake in. The first couple years of my boys’ lives I enjoyed taking them to see the jolly man in the red suit but then, as the years went on, it was one holiday task I started to dread. Seeing Santa meant standing in a long line, especially if you went on a weekend, and by the time you got to the front of the line the kids were always cranky. The folks at HGTV and Macerich saw this problem and came up with a better experience for families. This year I took my boys to Santa HQ and I can honestly say that I enjoyed the experience and now will actually look forward to this little ritual every holiday season.

Located inside Macerich Shopping Centers in California, Arizona, Chicago, Metro New York, and the Washington, D.C. corridor, Santa HQ is different than other places where you can see Santa. The biggest difference was that there was no line to wait in even though we went mid-day on a Saturday. They offer reservation times but also accept walkups (which is what we did). Guests can register online and select and pre-pay for their photo package which gives them the opportunity to upgrade their package by making their family photo session days or even weeks in advance. The online reservation systems even has an opt-in text functionality to provide reminders about their Santa photo session reservation.

The other big difference is that HGTV’s Santa HQ adds a whole new dimension to the traditional family Santa Claus visit by guiding visitors through an immersive, interactive holiday extravaganza that uses state-of-the-art digital technology. Each Santa HQ location is set with a dazzling array of holiday experiences, including:

  • The traditional photo-op with Santa Claus
  • Elfie Selfie: Where visitors take a selfie and star in their own holiday video
  • Elf-Ray Vision: Guests can explore Santa’s Observatory through the use of special goggles that trigger a series of augmented reality experiences at multiple locations throughout Santa HQ
  • Naughty or Nice Meters: Where visitors can stand next to an interactive board to find out which list of Santa’s they made
  • Light Show: With more than 10,000 individual holiday lights synchronized to the tune of “Carol of the Bells” to create an illuminated orchestra

My boys loved the Naughty or Nice O’Meter the most I think. It was funny to watch their faces as they waited to see if they were on the “naughty” or “nice” list. Luckily both of them made the nice list this year ;)

Once we enjoyed all of the interactive experiences we got to see Santa. The boys took a picture with him and then told him what they wanted for Christmas. Jacob asked for a video game and Lucas asked for LOL surprise balls.

At the end of their visit, Santa let them each pick out a coloring book and crayons. Overall we had an awesome experience at HGTV’s Santa HQ. It really is the best place to see Santa this holiday season!

Have your kids visited Santa yet this year?

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Kinzie Hotel Brings The Holidays To Their Guests With The Holiday North Pole Express Package

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Disclosure: My family enjoyed a complimentary stay at the Kinzie Hotel but all thoughts are my own.

The holidays are here! It’s a magical time of year and Kinzie Hotel, located in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, wants to help their guests celebrate the holidays when they are away from home. To embrace the spirit of the season, the boutique hotel is offering the new Holiday North Pole Express Package featuring the North Pole Sweet Express delivering treats to guest rooms, passes to ice skating at Millennium Park, festive activities and more.

Guests who order the Holiday North Pole Express Package will enjoy the North Pole Sweet Express, a festively decorated vintage bar cart with treats galore! The cart includes a hot cocoa station featuring marshmallows, peppermint, and other toppings, boozy hot apple cider and hot cocoa, holiday-themed cookies, and Christmas candies. (For those traveling with fur-family members, dog-friendly holiday cookies are also available upon request.)

After a long day, including an auto accident on our way to the city, the North Pole Sweet Express was just what we needed to get our weekend back on track! Though there are so many things to do in the city during the holidays, I was content to just curl up in the comfy bed and spend an evening relaxing with my mug of hot apple cider while I watched my favorite college football team play on tv….

Along with treats and drinks, the North Pole Sweet Express also had ornaments we could take and decorate in our room. Once done we could hang them on the community Christmas tree in the lobby of the hotel or take them home to hang on our own tree.

For guests who want to get out and explore Chicago’s festive atmosphere, Kinzie Hotel offers guests maps of the city’s top holiday activities and attractions along with skating passes to Millennium Park. (Hopefully you all would have a less comical experience on the ice than we did this past weekend, with my boys trying out ice skates for the first time lol).

Kinzie Hotel’s Holiday North Pole Express Package is truly a holiday experience guests will not forget and such a great option for those who are away from home over the holidays. In addition to all the great offerings of this special package, Kinzie Hotel guests enjoy the many other perks that guests do year-round including deluxe continental breakfast served on every floor, a nightly manager’s reception with complimentary drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and a staff that is there to make sure their guests enjoy nothing but the best their entire stay.

Best of all, prices for this fabulous boutique hotel are really affordable which makes it the perfect holiday getaway your family will talk about for years to come! Ready to book your stay? Make reservations here.

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How To Easily Book Spa & Salon Services In The Chicago Area With The Groupon App

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Thanks to Groupon for sponsoring this post.

In the past when I’ve wanted to get my nails done I’ve had two options. I could call during business hours and try to book the appointment or I could walk in and hope the wait wasn’t too long. Neither of these options is very convenient for me because when I’m thinking about doing something for myself it’s either early in the morning or late at night (when salons or spas are closed) or when I have a bit of downtime and want to head out right away (which generally results in waiting around for an open chair).

Luckily I’ve discovered that I can book salon and spa appointments right in the Groupon app which means I can request my appointment any time that’s convenient for me and Groupon will do all the work of scheduling it. (Available only in Chicago and the Chicago suburbs at the moment.)

It was super easy to set up my appointment. I went into the Groupon app (available for both Android and iPhone) and clicked “salon and spa booking”.

Then I chose the service I wanted and searched all locations near me using my current location.

I found a nail place that looked nice and had reasonable prices and chose my service and picked the appointment time that worked for me.

All the terms of service are clear in the Groupon app before you book the service, like the cancellation policy if you need to cancel ahead of time if you can’t make it.

When you book your service you provide your credit card number but payment is not collected until after your service is complete. It’s nice to arrange everything, including the tip, ahead of time! My favorite part of using Groupon to book my spa and salon services though, other than the convenience factor, is that I know exactly how much I’m going to spend before I get there. In the past I’ve been surprised at the upcharges for nail services after my nails are done, so I really like that.

Once you click “request appointment” Groupon goes to work scheduling your appointment for you. The other day I requested an appointment for myself before the salon opened at 11am and half an hour later I had a text confirmation that my appointment was set.

Do you like to get your nails or hair done? Or maybe you need to relax with a massage or a facial. Whatever salon or spa service you need, if you are located in the Chicago area, book it on Groupon to save time! If you have the Groupon app on your phone, click here to go straight to the experience. Use code “MTFM10″ and receive $10 off your first booked service.

Enter to win a $600 Groupon gift card below!
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Chicago Staycation With The Family At Radisson Blu Aqua

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Thanks to Radisson Blu Aqua for hosting my family for a complimentary stay at their hotel.

I’m always on the lookout for getaways close to where we live in the Chicago suburbs and our recent stay at the Radisson Blu Aqua did not dissapoint. I was happy to find so much to do inside the hotel which makes it perfect for winter staycations. Best of all, it’s located right in the heart of Chicago, close to Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park and other popular tourist attractions.

When we first arrived at the Radisson Blu Aqua I was thrilled to be able to see bits of the lake from my room. A water view is always top of my list anytime I travel! I also had a nice view of the hotel’s rooftop courtyard along with Millennium Park’s concert shelter.

While a water view is at the top of my list, so is a nice room. When we travel we often have to take breaks in our room in between activities to give Lucas downtime, so we spend a lot more time in our room than the typical family might. The rooms at the hotel were nicely furnished with comfortable beds and a fabulous rain shower in the bathroom.

Once we relax a bit in the room the boys typically want to go to the pool. We discovered the Radisson Blu Aqua has two pools, a large outdoor pool and a smaller indoor lap pool. Since it was too cold for an outoor swim, the boys played in the indoor one. There is also a hot tub which is nice for relaxing after a long day.

After swimming we went to explore the other ammeneties the hotel offered. My sports playing boy immediately fell in love with the indoor basketball court and probably could have spent all evening practicing for the upcoming basketball season. The hotel also had a large workout room and a game room. We didn’t use the workout room but the boys did enjoy playing a game of pool in the game room.

After a busy weekend of enjoying the hotel amenities and exploring all that Chicago has to offer we ended the weekend with brunch at Filini, the hotel’s restaurant. There was such a great variety and all of our favorite foods, from made-to-order omelets to delicious pastries, all beautifully displayed.

If you are looking for a winter getaway, look no further than the “wavy hotel” as my kids like to call it. The Radisson Blu Aqua is a wonderful place to stay no matter the season! You can learn more and make reservations online here.

Does your family enjoy staycations?

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Bach To Rock Makes Learning Music Fun

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Thanks to Bach to Rock for sponsoring this post.

Make learning fun and kids will want to learn. That’s what led my teaching decisions when it came to academics and that’s the philosophy of music school, Bach to Rock.

Located in Northbrook, IL, Bach to Rock (B2R) provides Music Lessons, Birthday Parties, Toddler and Preschool Music Classes and Summer Camps for all ages and skill levels. They base their method of instruction on the fact that students learn best when they play the music they enjoy most. Students develop their skills by working alongside a highly qualified instructor through B2R’s finely developed curriculum which includes special arrangements of today’s popular music. (As a parent, I’ve seen that this method of learning popular music works better than learning one note at a time because Jacob has tried both in his efforts to learn guitar. He has learned more playing songs he enjoys than he ever did going through a music book and mastering one chord or note at a time while he tried to play pieces of songs he’d never heard of.)

Bach to Rock offers private and group lessons and classes for all ages and ability levels for those interested in learning guitar, piano, drums, voice, and more. Using B2R’s unique teaching method, kids and adults learn to play their favorite songs in no time! What I think is really unique about B2R though, is all of the extra things they offer in addition to music lessons.

At B2R, kids who love music can immerse themselves in it. There are Early Childhood programs that give young kids a head-start in music. Kids can keep busy over the summer by enrolling in B2R’s Summer Camp. They can even join Glee Club, become part of a band and perform at cool venues or learn how to become a DJ in the Beat Refinery DJ school!

Bach to Rock also offers multiple birthday party options for young musicians. Kids can play & learn music with their friends while celebrating their birthday! They can rock it out on instruments, spin jams like a DJ, or sing karaoke together. I love these unique birthday party ideas!

To learn more and sign your child up for any of the amazing things Bach to Rock offers, you can call 224-904-3190 or visit Northbrook.BachtoRock.com

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Chicago Toy & Game Fair (Giveaway)

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Thanks to the Chicago Toy & Game Fair for sponsoring this post.

The Chicago Toy & Game Fair (ChiTAG) is coming back to Chicago next month! This is, by far, one of my boys’ favorite events of the year. Imagine an expo hall full of fun games and toys to check out. As a parent, I love it because I can get some ideas for Christmas presents and buy them at wholesale prices while we are at the fair.

The 15th annual ChiTAG is being held November 18th – 19th, 2017. It’s the same weekend as the Festival of Lights Parade downtown so my family loves to make a day of it on Saturday! Here are some of the exciting things this year’s fair features:

  • Giant Soggy Doggy will be at the fair Saturday and Sunday! Come join and see if you get soaked!
  • U.S. National Rummikub Championship Tournament {Register here | must be 18 or older} Winner gets all expense paid for 2 to Israel for World Rummikub Tournament.
  • Young Inventor Challenge (deadline October 28th)! Amazing Prizes & Meet Toy and Game Executives and Inventors + Meet the Last Year’s Winners of Ship of Treasures!
  • Meet Inventors! Come say “hello”, take your photo and get inside knowledge on what it takes to invent a game or toy! You’ll be able to say you knew them before they were hot!
  • National Yo-Yo Championship: Over 50+ Professional YoYo Competitors from Coast to Coast Saturday, November 18th!
  • Play for Peace Art Sculpture by Chicago toy inventor turned sculptor Jeffrey Beslow
  • Photo Ops: Snap a photo with some of your favorite characters from Star Wars!
  • Demo Areas: Play and test the hottest toys and games with your family, friends, and other attendees like Legos playsets, Build or Boom, Shark Bite, Catch the Fox, Rummikub Twist, Fish Food, all new Doggie Doo, Greedy Granny, Ultra Dash, Marbleocity, Automoblox, Magformers, Tileblox, Clicformers, Ice Cool, King Frog, Reef Route, Woo-Hoo, Flower Fairies, Peter Rabbit Secret Garden, 8-Bit Art Mario and many more!
  • LIVE Unboxing: Check out live unboxings from our Play Influencer team!
  • Holiday Shopping: Shop for the Hottest New and Classic Toys for the Holidays and take advantage of the many “ChiTAG exclusive” discounts.
  • Local Entertainment: Interact with Chicago’s local play celebs – Ben’s Bubble Show, Mercy Magic, meet Princess Etch, and many more!
  • Stage Performances: Kids LIVE Brush-A-Thon, The Good Time Kids, Young Inventor Challenge, Élan Dance Company, Improv by Kevin Reader and Chicago Kids Media are live on stage Saturday and Sunday!
  • Interactive Exhibits: Experience a fun filled day with hands-on displays encouraging and promoting the world of play! There are fun crafts like Make your Own Fairy Garden, Ultra Dash Challenge, Marbleocity Marble Coaster and Automoblox Build and Race!
  • Giveaways! Many exhibitors will be giving away toys and games throughout the day.

I love how family-friendly this event is and that includes being inclusive of those who have special needs. Super Power Sensory Hour is a free event that allows families of children with special needs to navigate, acclimate and easily access the fun of the fair with less crowds and less wait time. (More details on Super Power Sensory Hour and tickets for special needs families can be found here.)

General admission tickets for children and adults can be purchased here. Use the code ChiTAGPLAY for 50% off the ticket price. (Teachers and Scouts in uniform get in free!)

TICKET GIVEAWAY!! I’m giving away 4 family weekend passes for ChiTAG. Each free family pass is good for 2 adults + 4 kids (max). Enter to win below!
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Minecraft City Champs Tournament Coming To Chicago And Other Cities

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

Does your child love Minecraft as much as my boys do? If so, you’ll want to read on to learn more about Super League Gaming and their Minecraft City Champs tournament! Starting this weekend on Saturday morning, instead of just playing at home, they can enjoy the game while meeting new friends by being part of a local team representing Chicago in the Minecraft City Champs tournament. Run in partnership with Nickelodeon, City League Gaming is like little league for Minecraft players! Fun, positive and a special opportunity to get out and play with other kids their age.

And one skilled player will win a HUGE prize for their family – 4 tickets to Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards 2018, inclusive of round trip airfare to LA, 2 nights in a hotel and a $500 spending allowance. (I know my kids love watching the Kids Choice Awards so can you imagine their excitement if they actually got to go and be  there live to see all the slime-tastic fun?!) There will be other giveaways for all players, including an official Chicago Force team jersey.

While you may find it challenging to pull your little ones away from their iPad or Xbox, the truth is that playing Minecraft (and video games in general) can be beneficial for your kids on many levels, including problem solving, building self-confidence, enhancing creativity, understanding teamwork and improving academic performance.

Super League’s Minecraft City Champs tournament is in its 3rd season, so the company knows how to provide a well-organized experience for your Minecrafter. It’s ideal for kids 6-14, who will play alongside their peers and have the chance to compete against teams in cities across the country. The tournament takes place in a movie theater, which means they also get to see their favorite game on the big screen! Parents attend for free, although Super League provides full coverage if you need to drop off. Of course if you’re there, you can cheer on your Minecrafter to victory!

The Tournament comes to 12 different cities and, for those of us here in the Chicago area, the event is in the suburb of Woodridge. Day one is this Saturday, October 14th! On the first day players will meet their teammates and get a chance to practice the custom game modes designed by Super League. The tournament then begins on Sat. the 21st and continues on the following three Saturdays.

To learn more, and get tickets while spots are available, visit Super League’s Minecraft City Champs Chicago Event Details Page. (I’m pretty sure your Minecraft obsessed kids will think you are the best mom ever if you surprised them with tickets to this!)

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Mom Groups Provide A Lifeline For New Mothers

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Thanks to Neighborhood Parents Network for sponsoring this post.

The best thing that I did when my boys were younger was join a mom’s group. Though my oldest was just a few months old at the time, I still made it a point to go to every playdate that I could. The reason wasn’t so that he could play with other babies but because I, as a mom, needed that connection with other moms. I discovered that motherhood, especially in the early years, can be an extremely lonely time if you try to go on the journey alone!

Over the years since starting this blog I’ve heard from dozens of other moms who have felt the same way. Motherhood is isolating and developing mom friendships is so important! One mom, Sarah Dyer (founder of Shine On) shares how the mom’s group she joined was a lifeline when she needed it most.

(Pictured above: Sarah and her children)

Here is Sarah’s story:

 

I found out about Neighborhood Parents Network’s New Moms Groups from a girlfriend just before the birth of my first son in 2007, and it became my lifeline in the early days of parenting. I underestimated the value of having friends who have babies who are at the same age and stage as your own. Even though everyone has unique experiences and babies who go through different things, you relate on a level that no one else around you is experiencing. My New Moms Group met once a week, sometimes more. Sometimes it was the whole group, sometimes not. It was always whoever could make it and we all understood that.

Being a new mom can feel overwhelming, and it was nice to know that this was a group that wouldn’t care if I had showered that day or if my baby was still wearing his pajamas. Just showing up was a huge accomplishment! We shared the fun stuff, we shared the hard stuff, we shared our frustrations and the things we loved, and we supported each other. We talked about what worked and what didn’t work with our babies and which pediatricians we recommended, what classes people were taking, who had read what, who was trying what. Everyone had different ideas and you could take or leave whatever information you wanted to without judgment. 

Soon we had first birthdays, we were going out at night as mom friends, our husbands met each other, people had second babies and third babies, and we all still kept on with our friendships. It has been 10 years since those early days, and in the last month alone I have gone to a dinner party with two of my NPN friends and our spouses, I have gone for lunch with third mom from the New Moms Group, and have run into another while out running errands and we’ve made plans to get the group together for drinks. These are people I truly enjoy seeing and with whom I am thrilled to be sharing life experiences.

Early parenting can be a rough go, or it can be super-easy—sometimes it just depends on the day. Having people along for the ride can help get you through your day, and sometimes you’ll be the one helping someone get through theirs.

(Pictured above: An NPN New Moms Group)

If you aren’t in a mom’s group yet I encourage you to join one. This parenting thing is hard but mom friends who can lend a listening ear, offer advice, and just be there during the hard times, are priceless. If you live in the Chicago area you should look into the new moms groups that Neighborhood Parents Network offers. Join NPN today to take advantage of all they offer new moms, including free playdates, childcare resources, online and in-person parenting workshops, and, of course, New Moms Groups. Now through Sept. 23, use promo code NPN15 to save $15 on a year-long NPN membership! Click here to learn more.

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The Best Meal Delivery Service In The Chicago Area

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Thanks to Chef Inside the Box for sponsoring this post.

As a busy mom, dinner is one of my least favorite tasks. I am lucky because Sinisa enjoys cooking and is really good at it so he often used to make dinner when he’d come home from work. It was perfect because it was one last thing I had to do but, nowadays, that arrival home time has become later and later and I just can’t justify having the boys eat at 9pm every day so it’s back on my to-do list.

When I think about it, I really dislike having to make dinner mainly because it comes right during one of the craziest times of day for us. I often find myself trying to finish up my work day and trying to help the kids get ready to leave for sports while trying to get dinner on the table. Sure I can make meals in the slow cooker but that requires that I think about dinner in the morning and that doesn’t really happen. I don’t usually think about what’s for dinner until it’s actually time to eat and by then using the slow cooker is no longer an option.

Another thing I need? Something easy. As much as I love the thought of making a fancy meal for my family, complicated meals with a lot of steps to follow just aren’t for me. This is sadly why I’m not a huge fan of traditional meal delivery services. Yes, the ingredients are portioned out and ready to go but I still have to spend thirty minutes or so in the kitchen following a recipe.

Then I discovered Chef Inside the Box, a Chicagoland meal delivery service that not only takes the hassle out of planning and grocery shopping, but also handles the tough prep and cook so you can just heat and enjoy! Most Chef Inside meals contain a few extra servings you can eat for lunch the next day so you are saving time there as well. Even better though? All this extra prep they do doesn’t mean it costs extra. In fact, from what I’ve seen, their cost per serving ($6.95) is less than the other services and shipping is free!

Let’s talk meal options. They currently have a small selection but they just started less than a month ago so I’m sure more will be available soon. Right now they only have seven meal options but they don’t require a subscription or commitment so you could just use them during your busiest weeks until the menu grows. They have 10-minute express meals which you only have to heat up in the microwave and then combine (no fresh meal could be simpler!) or regular meals which are ready in about 20 minutes.

Each time you order you are required to pick four meals so I chose two regular meals (Braised Beef Fettuccini & Slow Cooked Turkey Risotto) and two express meals (Seared Bourbon and Sweet Onion Chicken & Seared Prime Rib Stroganoff). All of the meals were delicious! The risotto dish was my favorite and the boys loved the stroganoff the best. I felt the portions were large and each meal fed two adults and two kids along with providing at least three or four more servings for lunches or leftover night.

Overall, I love this service because it’s cheap and makes meal time so easy. With Chef Inside the Box, I no longer dread making dinner! You can learn more about this Chicagoland meal delivery service here.

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Why You Need To Visit The Shedd Aquarium This Fall

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Thanks to the Shedd Aquarium for sponsoring this post.

I know it’s not officially fall yet but Labor Day has just passed, the kids are back in school, and the weather is getting cooler so I consider this time the unofficial fall season :) If you are looking for something to do indoors and are in the Chicago area you’ll want to visit the Shedd Aquarium before life gets too busy with school events, sports and the holidays.

The Shedd is encouraging families to clear their “Sheddule” and find some time to unwind with family and friends at the aquarium. To make this even easier for cash strapped families they are offering 24 consecutive FREE days for Illinois residents starting tomorrow September 6th and going through September 30th. Illinoisans can enjoy free general admission with full access to the aquarium’s permanent and special exhibits, including Waters of the WorldCaribbean ReefAmazon RisingWild ReefAbbott OceanariumAmphibians special exhibit, the aquatic show and Stingray Touch experience. Admission can be upgraded to include 4-D Experience for $4.95 per guest- which is well worth it in my opinion.

In addition to free days for all Illinois residents, the Shedd will honor all senior guests with free admission Tuesdays and Wednesdays (from 9am to 2pm) in September. (Seniors will receive complementary admission for themselves plus one accompanying adult partner.)

When you visit the Shedd Aquarium this fall make sure these things are on your to-do list:

1) Touch the Stingrays. This outdoor exhibit, open until October, was the highlight of my trip to the Shedd. It was fascinating watching them glide through the water and I loved being able to touch them to see what they felt like.

2) View the whales, dolphins and sea otters underwater. Get a unique view of them in the underwater viewing galleries.

3) Enjoy a 4-D experience. The Shedd’s new experience- Splash and Bubbles is filled with music, fun, and everyone’s favorite citizens of the sea! The 4-D Experience combines the visual drama of a 3-D film with a variety of sensory effects built into the seats and the theater environment. Families with children will love this! (Note to sensory families: If your child is a sensory avoider or easily overwhelmed you may want to skip this experience. Mine are seekers so they loved it! Make sure to check out the Shedd’s Sensory Friendly App, too!)

4) Visit the Polar Play Zone. Let kids play in the polar playscape and explore a child sized submarine.

5) Find Nemo. Have your children look for a percula clownfish. Children will love seeing a real life version of one of their favorite Disney characters.

6) Touch a sea star. They may be called starfish but did you know that sea stars are not fish? In the sea star touch exhibit you can dip your hand into the water and touch their strong skin and examine the hundreds of tiny tube feet that help these extraordinary animals feel, feed and move around their environment.

7) Check out an aquatic presentation. The Shedd Aquarium’s show is unlike others you may find. Not only do you see animals like beluga whales, sea lions and dolphins performing but you’ll learn how they are cared for every day by their trainers and how the Shedd way of training highlights their incredible natural behaviors. It was interesting to watch!

8) Go to a shark animal chat. Learn about sharks during a daily shark animal chat in the Wild Reef exhibit. One question they’ll answer is why sharks don’t eat the fish they swim with.

Also, the Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea exhibit is opening September 23rd. This traveling exhibit will feature massive, colorful sculptures of familiar ocean animals including reef fishes, sharks, octopus, penguins, sea lions and more made entirely of plastic marine debris removed from West Coast beaches. It sounds really interesting and looks like a beautiful exhibit from the photos I’ve seen!

What will you discover when you #ClearYourSheddule and visit the Shedd Aquarium this fall? 

 

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Beyond The Backpack Event In Chicago This Weekend {Gift Card Giveaway}

Nick Jr. Beyond the Backpack event

Thanks to Kmart for sponsoring this post.

Hey Chicago parents! Looking for a fun back to school event to get your kids excited for the first day of school? If so, you’ll want to head to the Nick Jr. Beyond the Backpack event at the Addison Kmart location this Saturday!

This free, kid-friendly back-to-school event will be filled with awesome activities, games, crafts and even a dance party for everyone to enjoy. Plus, big news for the littlest shoppers, there will be surprise appearances from Shimmer and Shine as well as Dora the Explorer. There will also be kindergarten readiness resources from Nick Jr. Beyond the Backpack, a nationwide initiative to promote overall kindergarten readiness for preschoolers.

  • Event Date: Saturday, August 19 from 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • Event Location: Kmart Addison – 3443 W. Addison Street, Chicago, IL 60618

While you are at the event, make sure to check out Kmart’s great selection of back to school necessities and get everything else you need to make the first day of school a success. From a cute outfit for picture day to stylish shoes to a cool backpack, they have everything your family needs for the school year.

To make shopping for back to school gear a little easier, Making Time For Mommy is partnering with Kmart to offer a $50 Kmart gift card to one lucky winner. Just enter via the form below and the winner will be chosen Saturday and receive their gift card via email.

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7 Unique Ways To See Chicago

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

Whether you are visiting Chicago for the first time, rediscovering “the windy city” you fell in love with years ago, or call Chicago home, you’ll discover new and exciting things every time you explore it. Since I live in the suburbs I’ve been to Chicago dozens of times and each time I visit I have a different experience. There are some ways to get unique views of the city that will help you see it in a new way that both Chicago tourists and locals would enjoy.

Take a trolley ride.

While you could drive around the city on your own, taking a trolley is such a better way to explore the city because the tour guide shares interesting facts along the way. Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. offers four distinct tours this summer that highlight the best sites Chicago has to offer: Chicago Trolley’s iconic Downtown Tour, the Wrigley Field/Lincoln Park Zoo Route, the Museum of Science & Industry/Chinatown Route and the Night Tour. For those wanting to experience Chicago by water, Chicago Trolley also offers the Land, Lake and River Package combining the best of the Downtown Tour together with Mercury Skyline Cruises boat tour. 

The Downtown Tour stops at 13 distinct locations around the city. Beginning at the Sheraton Hotel, tours will venture south over the Michigan Avenue Bridge to Skydeck at the Willis Tower, then over to Millennium Park, stopping by the Art Institute, Hilton Chicago, Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Maggie Daley Park. Looping north, the tour continues to Navy Pier, Magnificent Mile, Water Tower Place, the Hancock Tower featuring 360 Chicago and ending at the Hard Rock Café. The full Downtown Tour departs from downtown Chicago Trolley kiosks with all day access to hop-on and hop-off. Tours operate daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., and are approximately two hours in duration.

The Wrigley Field/Lincoln Park Zoo Route (approx. 90 minutes) departs from the Sheraton Hotel and heads to the Chicago History Museum, Chicago’s oldest cultural institution. Passengers then visit Lincoln Park Zoo before the tour ends with a trip to Wrigley Field.

The Museum of Science & Industry/Chinatown Route (approx. 90 minutes) departs from Sheraton Hotel and travels south directly to the Museum of Science & Industry. The tour then explores one of the richest cultural communities in the Midwest, Chicago’s Chinatown.

The Night Tour showcases Chicago’s dazzling skyline and illuminated landmarks after the sun goes down. Beginning at Sheraton Hotel the Night Tour makes stops at the Skydeck, Hilton Chicago, Navy Pier and the Hancock Tower featuring 360 Chicago, allowing passengers to hop-on or hop-off throughout the evening. The Night Tour operates daily from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., and is approximately 90 minutes in duration.

Take a tour by boat. 

There are a number of companies that offer architecture river cruises because Chicago’s rich history can be told through the beautiful buildings in our city. The breeze as you travel down the river feels nice on a hot, sticky day, too!

Get a birds eye view of the city from Skydeck Chicago’s Ledge. 

The Ledge is located at the top of the Sears Tower (yes, I called it the Sears tower because Chicagoans don’t call it by it’s new name of “Willis Tower”….) Skydeck Chicago’s Ledge offers spectacular views of up to 50 miles and four states from the 103rd floor. Their glass boxes with glass floors extend out the side of the building and let you stand 1,353 feet up in the air looking down.

Go on a carriage ride.

There’s no more relaxing way to explore the city than from the comforts of a horse-drawn carriage. The carriage ride is a memorable way to explore the city at a slower pace.

Get a beautiful view of the skyline from the lake.

Whether you go out on a friend’s boat or a chartered ride, there’s nothing like seeing Chicago’s skyline from the lake. I’d recommend going later in the day on a Wednesday or Saturday so you can watch the sunset and then stay for the firework show over Navy Pier.

Go out in a kayak on the river.

Want to explore Chicago at your own pace on the water? Rent a kayak and travel down the river for a unique view of the city while you get some exercise.

Take a ride on the new ferris wheel at Navy Pier. 

Navy Pier’s Centennial Wheel is an iconic part of the Chicago skyline. At nearly 200 feet tall, the wheel offers visitors unparalleled, 360-degree views of Chicago and Lake Michigan. The Centennial Wheel’s enclosed gondolas provide a comfortable experience year-round.

Have you ever been to Chicago? If so, I’d love to hear about your visit, and if not, what are you waiting for!?

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KIDZ BOP “Best Time Ever” Tour Coming To Chicago {Giveaway}

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

I am happy to be working with Live Nation again this year to share about their KIDZ BOP “Best Time Ever” tour coming to Chicago. KIDZ BOP records kid-friendly versions of today’s biggest pop music hits sung by kids, for kids. They have created the #1 music brand for kids, selling more than 17 million albums.

Both my boys love KIDZ BOP and look forward to each new album that comes out. My youngest, Lucas, constantly plays their music while dancing and singing along and he can tell you every song on each of their most recent albums. We didn’t make last year’s concert but when I told Lucas that we were going to the concert this year he literally ran around screaming with excitement for about 10 minutes.

The fun happens next Sunday, July 30th, at 3pm! The concert is at Huntington Bank Pavilion (located at Northerly Island which is by the museum campuses in Chicago). It will be a great music-filled afternoon for the whole family.

Want to surprise your child with tickets to this year’s KIDZ BOP Chicago concert? Buy tickets here. I’m also giving away a 4-pack of tickets! It’s easy to enter to win, just complete one or more of the entry options in the form below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Live Music And More At Brookfield Zoo’s Summer Nights

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Thanks to Brookfield Zoo for sponsoring this post.

Brookfield Zoo has always been a place I’ve enjoyed taking my family to but now there are even more reasons to visit with the return of their Summer Nights outdoor concert series. From 4:00 to 9:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays through August 12, guests of all ages can enjoy a variety of live music acts. From popular local acts to national bands, all genres are represented throughout the summer so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Zoogoers can bring lawn chairs or blankets and relax on the East Mall while taking in the sounds. After a fun day walking around looking at all of the animals it’s nice to sit and relax while enjoying the music.

Future acts include:

  • Friday, July 21 – American English (Beatles tribute band)
  • Saturday, July 22 – The Main Squeeze (Rock n Roll Funky Soul)
  • Friday, July 28 – Brass Buckle Band is (Country-rock band)
  • Saturday, July 29 – One Moment From Glory (Top 40 cover band)
  • Friday, August 4 – Hello Weekend (Pop cover band)
  • Saturday, August 5 – House Party (DJs)
  • Friday, August 11 – Hi Infidelity (Hits from ’80s and today)
  • Saturday, August 12 – Dishwalla (Alternative Rock)

Along with live music on the main stage, there is also a kid’s stage with family-friendly acts including music, juggling and acrobatics, magic shows, and puppet and clown performances. There are roaming kids’ entertainers like jugglers and costumed animal characters, too. Best of all (according to my kids at least), is the fact that the playground is right next to the concert area. This is great because parents can let kids play and still be able to enjoy the music while they watch them.

Those who didn’t get a chance to see all the animals during the day can enjoy extended hours at some of their favorite exhibits. Several animal exhibits and other in-park attractions (some require separate admission) are open until 8:30 pm during Summer Nights. These include Butterflies!, The Carousel, Clouded Leopard Rain Forest, Dolphin Underwater Viewing, The Fragile Desert, Hamill Family Wild Encounters, Pinniped Point, The Swamp, and the zoo’s summer exhibit, Dinos & Dragons.

During Summer Nights, there are enhanced dining experiences along with a beer and wine garden. I enjoyed a Mai Tai and some fried pickles- both of which were delicious! Those who want to bring their own food and non-alcoholic drinks can do that as well.

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If you go to Brookfield Zoo’s Summer Nights make sure to stay until the very end because you will not want to miss the spectacular laser light show closing out each evening. Hands-down this is the best light show that I’ve ever seen!

Summer Nights is free with zoo admission. Get more details about Brookfield Zoo’s Summer Nights here.

 

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White Sox Family Sundays

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Thanks to the Chicago White Sox for hosting my family at a game.

Looking for something family-friendly to do in the Chicago area? White Sox fans can spend a Sunday afternoon at the Sox field enjoying the baseball game and many fun kid-friendly activities.

Family Sundays, presented by Coca-Cola, cover all Sunday home games in 2017 and feature tickets as low as $5 in the upper level and $15 in the lower level. Plus, parking is available for only $10. The White Sox ballpark experience for kids on Sundays in 2017 also features special kid-focused activities throughout the concourse and the opportunity to run the bases after games (weather permitting).

If your child knows every Sox player’s name then an autograph session is a must-attend! Prior to select games listed here, the first 100 kids (age 13 and under) to enter the ballpark through the Chicago Sports Depot entrance (located near Parking Lot B and Gate 5) at 11:15 a.m. will be given a wristband and directed to the special area where four Chicago White Sox players will sign one item per child. (A regular game ticket is required for entrance but the autograph session is free with purchase of a ticket.) 

Don’t forget to sign your child up for the kid’s club, if they aren’t already a member, for special perks like ball park tours, tickets and more! (There is a paid membership with extra perks but the basic Slugger membership is FREE!)

We had such a fun time at the game last Sunday! It was hot and sunny but the boys enjoyed eating snacks from the concession stand while watching the game and hoping for a foul ball to come their way. They also loved getting some of the players to sign their autograph ball. At the end of the game they even got their own Sox ball and bat which was a special giveaway for the game. (Other theme nights are coming up which you can find on the schedule here.)

Have you ever been to a Chicago White Sox game? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

 

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Sensory-Friendly Fun For Families At LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago

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As a parent of a child on the Autism Spectrum, I am so excited to share about the newest sensory-friendly event in the Chicago area for families affected by autism and other sensory sensitive disorders! LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago is teaming up with Autism Speaks, a non-profit dedicated to autism advocacy, to host Play Well Days – a series of sensory-friendly mornings of fun for all children.

Beginning this June, Chicagoland’s ultimate indoor LEGO playground will open early at 8:30 a.m. on the first Saturday of every month with activities and attractions specially-designed for children, families and groups with disabilities. Staff specially trained by Autism Speaks, as well as LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago’s Master Model Builder, will help facilitate fun throughout the Center’s 12 attractions until the center opens to the greater public at 10 a.m.

Special accommodations will be made during Play Well Days including:

  • Reduction of sound and light levels
  • Designated quiet areas
  • A reduced center capacity
  • Staff training by Autism Speaks
  • Special $5 Ticket price
  • Earplugs will be provided at request
Here’s a great video you can watch with your child to help prepare them for the event:

Admission for Play Well Days is $5 per person, and tickets are available online or at the door. You can register online for the sensory-friendly mornings here.

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Afterschoolz: An Activity Finder For Chicago Area Families

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Thanks to Afterschoolz for sponsoring this post.

At the beginning of this year I shared about a helpful resource called Afterschoolz, a website that helped caregivers find activities for their kids in the Chicago area. The site was pretty new at the time but had such a great variety of activities listed and new ones being added frequently. I really liked the variety of activities provided, from sports to STEM classes to unique things like anime club. There seemed to be something for everyone.

Since the site was fairly new, they were looking for feedback and asked Making Time For Mommy readers what else you’d love to see available on the site. I know many of you asked for better search functions and I’m happy to say that the folks at Afterschoolz heard your request and made updates to make the search options even better.

This is great news for those of us still looking for summer activities! Personally, I have been wanting to find a gymnastics class for Lucas because the one he goes to at our local park district was cancelled this session and he was really disappointed. When I searched Afterschoolz I was excited to see many options, including gymnastics studios nearby that I never knew existed.

Searching the site to find local activities your children would enjoy is so easy using their new search feature with adjustable filters. You can pick the kind of activities you’d like by main category (academics, arts, athletics, camps or preschool) or search by specific activity keyword like “crafts” or “hockey”. You can look at all activities in your area or narrow the activities to only show ones within 5 miles of you. You can narrow the search even more by adding in more specifics about your child like age and gender and price limits if you are on a budget.

My favorite feature though, is the date and time filter. With a busy schedule I like being able to put in the hours that we have open and be able to see classes and lessons that are during those time periods. It’s great not having to search through dozens of activities looking for ones that work for our family’s schedule because this filter does all that work for us.

So whether you are looking for a summer camp for your tween, an art class for your preschooler or a dance class for your budding ballerina, Afterschoolz is the website Chicago area parents will want to check out. In addition to the great search function, the site shows detailed descriptions along with ratings and parent feedback on activities. There is even the option to sign up for the activities right on the site making this an easy to use resource parents will refer to for years to come!

What summer activities will you be searching the site for?

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Make A Wish In The BMO200 Fountain

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I am proud to be partnering with BMO Harris Bank again and happy to share about their new #BMO200 fountain in this sponsored post.

BMO Harris Bank is celebrating their 200th year by granting some wishes made in their interactive wishing fountain, continuing the bank’s legacy of giving back to the communities in which it does business. People across North America are invited to join BMO in marking its bicentennial by making a wish at the BMO200 fountain, located in Chicago. Those who are unable to visit in person can still make a wish by visiting www.bmo200.com.

The BMO200 fountain is a modern twist on a wishing fountain, but instead of making a wish by tossing a coin into a fountain, the wishes are virtual. The fountain stands 17 feet high and has no water, but instead uses thousands of flip dots – the traditional technology used in destination boards at train stations – to create a unique ripple effect every time a wish is made. BMO will be fulfilling a number of the wishes, both big and small, across a number of categories, including Green, Togetherness, Legacy and Community.

My BMO200 fountain wish is for community and togetherness for our Autism community and a place in the Chicago suburbs where families who have children with special needs can go to relax. I imagine a place where the parents can drink coffee and let their children be themselves and play without having to worry about anything.

The sweet video above shares someone else’s wish. What would you wish for? Make a wish for a better tomorrow, today in the BMO200 fountain, and it just might come true!

If you are in Chicago make sure to visit the BMO200 fountain that’s being unveiled tomorrow, April 12th, outside The Shops at North Bridge (520 N. Michigan Avenue, on level 1 nearest the Nordstrom mall entrance). If you aren’t in the Chicago area, make your wish online at bmo200.com!

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Chicago Bulls Basketball Game Ticket Giveaway

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Thanks to the Chicago Bulls for sponsoring this post and giveaway.

Calling all basketball fans! You’ll want to check out this kid-friendly event.

Chicagoland families are invited to “Kids Day” at the Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks game (April 1st at 4 pm) at the United Center. There will be a pre-game Kids Zone in the United Center atrium featuring a face painter and games. During the game there will be kid entertainment and other fun surprises.

Want to attend? Purchase tickets here or enter to win 2 tickets, courtesy of the Chicago Bulls, following the directions below!

GIVEAWAY PRIZE

2 tickets to the Chicago Bulls game on April 1st

HOW TO ENTER

Leave a comment on this blog post telling me why you want to win

FOR AN EXTRA ENTRY

Share this giveaway on social media and leave the link in a separate comment below

Giveaway ends March 29, 2017 at 11:59pm CST.

Rules: Must be 21 or older and a US resident to enter. Giveaway consists of two (2) tickets valid for the Chicago Bulls game on April 1, 2017. Winner is responsible for all other costs associated with attending the game, including travel and parking. Winner will be chosen at random, notified via email, and will have 24 hours to respond to claim tickets. The Chicago Bulls are responsible for ticket fulfillment.

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A Magical Evening To Start The Holiday Season

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Disclosure: This post is sponsored by BMO Harris Bank but all thoughts are my own. I got to attend the event to see what it’s like to be at Lights Fest as a BMO customer.

I shared a couple weeks ago about one of our favorite winter Chicago events, the BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Lights Festival. My family had a chance to attend this year’s parade, as guests of BMO Harris Bank, and had some of the best seats in the house!

We sat in the Grandstand which was right behind the performances. My favorite performances were Drew Lachey and Blue Man Group. The boys enjoyed the groups that came out and performed songs.

They also loved all of the balloons that were in the parade. We had never been that close to them all but they are huge! I never realized how many people it took to hold on to them. Most of the people walking along the parade route were handing out goodies which the boys enjoyed receiving. Thankfully BMO Harris Bank gave use some things as well like hand warmers and blankets because it was cold out there!

The parade featured floats with performers, some of our favorite Chicago sports mascots, Luke’s favorite Toy Story characters and Mickey & Minnie Mouse.

Of course, Santa was there, too!

It was such a magical way to start the Christmas season! Thanks again to BMO Harris Bank for inviting my family to this fun event.

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Chicago Toy & Game Fair 2016

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

The Chicago Toy & Game Fair (ChiTAG) is coming back to Navy Pier for another weekend of fun, November 19th and 20th. This is the only toy and game fair that gives the public a chance to learn about (and play!) with the hottest new toys and games. Last year my boys were excited to see Shopkins and Skylanders there and can’t wait to see what fun new things will be at the fair this year! Many of the game and toy inventors will be there as well and I always enjoy meeting them and finding out how they came up with their ideas.

Here are some of the fun things you’ll find at the fair this year:

  • Walk inside the World’s Largest PomPomWow!
  • Inventor Meet and Greet throughout both days!! Want to meet the inventor of BopIt? Operation? Jenga? Nerf? Twister? You can say “hello” and get inside knowledge from all – they’ll at the Fair. Also meet upcoming inventors and try their products out. You’ll be able to say you knew them before they were hot!
  • Yo-Yo Championship - Contestants from Coast to Coast
  • Attend the Star Wars Lunch
  • Enter the Young Inventor Challenge & Young Tech Challenge (free!) Amazing Prizes & Meet Toy and Game Executives and Inventors
  • Test drive vehicles from RazorPeg Perego and RadioFlyer Mini Tesla!!
  • Mommy & Gracie Show Unboxing! Did you catch last year’s unboxing?? https://youtu.be/wslvGlPjDQs
  • IllumiCraft STEM-based Craft Party with Gift
  • Upon A Craft Line Holiday Project
  • Be entertained by Ben’s Giant Bubble Show
  • Test out New Products Before They Hit Retail Shelves
  • Shop for the Hottest New and Classic Toys for the Holidays
  • Interactive Exhibits
  • Giveaways, Stage Events, Magic Shows, Contests, Laser Tag, Crafts, Characters, GameTruck, Knockerball and much more!

For those families who have children with special needs you’ll want to check out the Super Power Sensory Hour hosted by The National Lekotek Center! ChiTAG will open its doors one hour early for these children and their families, providing them with free admission and an exclusive experience from 9-10am, before the fair opens up to the general public, allowing kids with special needs to navigate, acclimate and easily access the fun of the fair. As a mother of a child on the Autism Spectrum I love that they are doing this!

For $3 off of admission to the fair you can register here and use the promo code CHITAG3.

Hope to see you there :)

 

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Chicago’s BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Lights Festival Returns

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Disclosure: This post is sponsored by BMO Harris Bank but all thoughts are my own.

One of the most magical times here in Chicago is the Christmas season. The kickoff to the holidays starts with a fun event called the BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Lights Festival which includes a parade downtown Chicago along the Magnificent Mile, a tree lighting of a giant Christmas tree and a fireworks display along with other family-friendly activities. It’s an event we’ve had the pleasure of attending a few times and always enjoy. It’s nice to spend the day shopping downtown and then getting hot cocoa before we find a spot along the parade route.

Over a million lights are lit during the festival and the parade, led by Disney’s Mickey & Minnie, features spectacular floats, helium-filled balloons, marching bands, top musical performers and well-known Chicago mascots. Santa and his reindeer can be found in the parade, too!

This year’s event is on Saturday, November 19th. For the fifth consecutive year, BMO Harris Bank is the title sponsor of the festival and they are working with a few local businesses in Chicago to make the parade day even more special for their customers. BMO Harris Bank customers will enjoy discounts, perks and offers including:

  • 15% off at Dylan’s Candy Bar
  • Discounted holiday beverages at Dylan’s Candy Bar
  • Discounted parking with Spot Hero
  • 20% off a single item at the BlackHawks store on Michigan Ave

Some customers will also get to enjoy one of the best views of the parade from a special seating area! BMO will select 100 customers on parade day to enjoy the parade from grandstand viewing in the broadcast zone. Find out more details here.

Have you ever attended this festival in Chicago? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below :)

 

 

 

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20 Gifts For Chicago Cubs Fans

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As a Chicagoan I am so excited that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series last night! Jacob, my 8 year old, is a big fan of the Cubs so I thought I’d put together some great gift ideas for all those who love the Chicago Cubs. Click on the images for details/pricing. (This post contains affiliate links.)

Chicago Cubs White Sweatshirt

Warm Chicago Cubs Blanket

Chicago Cubs Earrings

Chicago Cubs Garden Flag

Chicago Cubs Subway Art

Chicago Cubs Winter Hat

Chicago Cubs Jacket

Chicago Cubs Pajamas For Kids

Chicago Cubs Santa Ornament

Chicago Cubbies T-Shirt

Chicago Cubs Alex & Ani Bracelet

Chicago Cubs/Skyline Blanket

Chicago Cubs Girl’s Bow

Chicago Cubs Socks

Chicago Cubs Baseball Tee For Girls

Chicago Cubs Sweatpants 

Blue Chicago Cubs Hoodie

Chicago Cubs Hat

Chicago Cubs Thermos

Chicago Cubs Baby Bib

What other gift ideas do you have for Chicago Cubs fans?

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Making Memories At Brookfield Zoo

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

One of the great things about the Chicago area is that there are so many fun family-friendly things to do. One of the places we enjoy going as a family is the Brookfield Zoo. Some of my favorite zoo memories are pictured below, from the hot summer days to the cooler days at their ‘Boo at the Zoo’.

This summer, Brookfield Zoo is encouraging families to make even more memories inside their gates. On Friday and Saturday evenings, through August 13th, they are hosting Summer Nights.

The zoo stays open until 9pm these nights so people can enjoy Brookfield Zoo in a new light with cooler evening weather, enhanced dining, a beer and wine garden, live music, roaming performers, kid’s entertainment, and a new laser light show, all surrounded by wildlife and nature.

The summer fun isn’t limited to night time though. During the days families can find all the great exhibits they’ve grown to love, along with other exciting attractions like Dolphins in Action, Festival of Flight, Hamill Family Wild Encounters and Hamill Family Play Zoo. This summer the boys went to their first dolphin show and to Hamill Family Wild Encounters for the first time.

In the “Wild Encounters” area, visitors get a number of hands-on experiences including opportunities to touch and feed animals, including parakeets and goats. Lucas enjoyed brushing the goats and sitting with them in the goat area. We also got to see reindeer up close which is any Santa loving child’s dream!

Visiting the zoo with young children? Then you’ll want to visit the Hamill Family Play Zoo. Children will have fun touching, exploring, building, and playing while connecting with nature. They can pretend to be a zoo keeper, dress up like a lemur, or make some crafts.

Imaginative fun isn’t limited to the Hamill Family Play Zoo. My boys found it all over the park!

We loved checking out all the animals, too. The dolphins and penguins were my favorite. Lions and tigers and bears were a must-see on Luke’s list and Jake wanted to checkout the reptiles. I loved this guy (pictured below) who slowly came over and stood as still as could be just looking at me, letting me snap his photo.

Love birds? Now through Labor Day the zoo has ‘Festival of Flight’ which is a 20-minute presentation offered a few times through the day, that features more than 20 species of birds.

Have you visited Brookfield Zoo yet this summer? It’s not too late to make some more wonderful family memories!

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Summer Festival Must-Haves {Giveaway}

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Festival season is in full gear and here in Chicago we are gearing up for one of the biggest music festivals of the summer season- Lollapalooza (more affectionately known as Lolla). I’m not going to be able to make it this year but I thought I’d put together a list of some festival must-haves so those of you that are going to Lolla (or any other festival) have the best experience possible.

Sun protection

There is nothing more unfashionable (and painful!) than a sunburn so make sure to pack some sunscreen, a floppy hat and your favorite sunglasses to protect you from the hot summer sun.

Oil blotting sheets

One of my favorite products for the summer months, oil blotting sheets will keep your face looking fresh.

Refillable water bottles

It’s essential to drink plenty of water while you are outside all day, especially with this heat wave we’ve been having here in Chicago!

Gum

Keep your breath minty fresh with some gum.

Portable phone charger

You’ll want to send snaps and share ‘grams of your favorite moments but won’t be able to do so when your phone dies.

Toilet paper or flushable wipes

Let’s face it… you are going to have to use the bathroom while you are at the festival and port-a-potties are not the cleanest places in the world. And am I the only one that always picks the one that’s out of toilet paper? If you bring your own flushable wipes, like Cottonelle® Flushable Cleansing Cloths with CleanRipple® Texture, or toilet paper you don’t have to worry because you are all set. Cottonelle® with CleanRipple® Texture is a proprietary innovation on all Cottonelle® toilet paper and flushable cleansing cloths that is designed to clean better (than the leading national value brand) so you’re clean & confident enough to go commando if you want to!

Pain reliever

It’s always good to have a pain killer on hand in case you have a headache or are in pain from walking so much.

Hair tie

Whether it’s to tie your hair back to get some air on your neck or for another use, I always make sure to have a hair tie with me.

Light sweater

When the sun goes down it can get a little chilly, even during the summer months, so having a light sweater in your bag will come in handy during those times.

Makeup setting spray

To make sure you look just as good after hours in the heat as you did when you first started the day make sure to spray some makeup setting spray on your face. ‘Melted’ is not a good look for anyone ;)

Lip balm

Just like you want to keep your body hydrated you will want to keep your lips hydrated so they don’t crack as you are singing along to your favorite song.

Now that I’ve shared my must-have list I’m wondering, what items are on your list? Guiliana Rancic shares her top must haves (pictured below) and we are giving them away to a lucky winner!

Enter via the form (or link) below. Good luck! :)
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Giveaway Entry Details:

The Cottonelle® “Festival Must Haves” Reader Giveaway (“Sweepstakes”) starts at 12:01 a.m. EST on July 25, 2016 and ends at 11:59 p.m. on August 8, 2016 (the “Entry Period”)

Prizes:

Cottonelle® Festival Must Haves Kit ($50 ARV). Each kit will include a selection of fabulous festival “must haves” — Cottonelle® Flushable Cleansing Cloths with CleanRipple® Texture (for your bum!), a floppy hat, makeup setting spray, tinted moisturizer and moleskin.

Also, click here to learn how to enter the Cottonelle® sweepstakes for a chance to win an all-inclusive trip to Wanderlust 108 Festival in Miami (October 22)

 

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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Brunch At Grand Lux Cafe In Downtown Chicago

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When we aren’t at an early morning game there is nothing I love more than enjoying a good breakfast (well, okay, maybe sleeping in is more enjoyable but that doesn’t happen anymore with kids so a delicious breakfast- that I don’t have to clean up- is the next best thing). A couple weekends ago we spent a Sunday in the city and started it all with brunch at the Grand Lux Cafe. Thanks to the restaurant for hosting my family and I.

Perfectly situated on Michigan Avenue, this restaurant is lined with windows so diners can enjoy the views of the city while they eat. Inside, the views are just as nice, with high ceilings and ornate decor.

The perfect brunch in my mind starts with a morning cocktail. I remember my mom and dad always getting Mimosas at Sunday brunch. I was debating between a Mimosa, a Strawberry Bellini and a Bloody Mary but finally decided to try their Strawberry Bellini made with fresh strawberries. It was a wonderfully refreshing bubbly drink and perfect for the start of our day outside in the sunshine.

As a family we decided to try the breakfast beignets while we waited for our breakfasts. They came out warm and covered with powdered sugar along with four dipping sauces.

Sinisa ordered the Eggs Benedict with ham and hollandaise. He loved their take on this classic breakfast staple.

I waivered between the french toast and an omelet, my typical breakfast fare. I loved the variety of omelets they had and chose to order the Crab and Asparagus Omelette. Full of Lump Crab, Fresh Asparagus, Oven-Roasted Tomato and Fontina Cheese and topped with Hollandaise Sauce it was as delicious as it sounded.

The kids split an order of “Churro” French Toast. This Grand Lux Original is made with thick, crispy pieces of custardy french toast and smothered with cinnamon-sugar, chocolate and Dulce de Leche caramel sauce. My boys have huge sweet tooths!

Overall, we had a really great experience at the Grand Lux Cafe and look forward to brunching there again next time we are downtown! If you’d like to try their brunch, they offer it on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 2pm.

 

 

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The KIDZ BOP Concert Is Coming To Chicago {Giveaway}

kidz bop

Thanks to Live Nation Chicago for sponsoring this post and giveaway for my readers.

The boys are both huge fans of KIDZ BOP and are really excited that their ‘The Life Of The Party Tour’ concert is coming to the Chicago area this Summer. They have never been to a concert other than when they were younger and went to one for a preschool show. Now that my oldest is almost a tween (seriously, how did that happen!?) I think they are going to be wanting to go to concerts more often and I think this one would be the perfect one to start with because it’s aimed towards their demographic and I know they won’t be hearing any bad words.

KIDZ BOP, the number one music brand for kids, is bringing The Life Of The Party Tour to FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island on August 7, 2016. The KIDZ BOP Kids – Ashlynn Chong, Sela Hack, Matt Martinez and Grant Knoche – are headlining the tour. The ALL-NEW live show features the biggest pop songs of the year, awesome choreography, and more fun surprises from The KIDZ BOP Kids. The Life Of The Party Tour is the ultimate pop star experience, and the perfect concert event for the entire family!

If your child loves Kidz Bop you are in luck because I’m giving away 20 tickets to the Chicago concert! FIVE winners will each win FOUR tickets. I thought four packs were a good idea because then you can go as a family or you can take your child and a couple of their friends. Enter below. Good luck!

(Please note: You do NOT have to do all of the entry options below to be elgible to win. You just need to do at least ONE of them. The more options you do, the better your chances of winning.) 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Party For The Planet At Brookfield Zoo

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Every day is Earth Day at Brookfield Zoo, but on April 24th they will be showcasing some of the steps you can commit to that will truly make a difference for animals across the globe at their Party for the Planet! Visit the Eco Expo featuring over 40 Earth friendly vendors, drop off recycling, enjoy live entertainment, plant a tree, and enjoy green activities and crafts. Party for the Planet will be filled with educational, engaging, and fun activities for the entire family and I’m excited to be attending with my family courtesy of Brookfield Zoo.

During the event, Nature Cat will be in the Discovery Center to greet all of his fans and Chicago’s own WTTW will be engaging kids in an eco-friendly activity. NATURE CAT is the hit new PBS KIDS series that was recently nominated for a Daytime Emmy® Award for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program.  NATURE CAT follows Fred, a house cat who dreams of exploring the great outdoors. In each episode, once his family leaves for the day, Fred transforms into Nature Cat, “backyard explorer extraordinaire.” Nature Cat can’t wait to get outside for a day of backyard nature excursions and bravery, but there’s one problem: He’s still a house cat with no instincts for nature. With the help of his animal friends, Nature Cat embarks on action-packed adventures that include exciting missions full of nature investigation, “aha” discovery moments and humor, all while inspiring children to go outside and “play the show.”

List of special events during Party For The Planet:

9:30am – 3:30pm – FREE PARKING in the North Parking Lot if you donate recyclables (see website for items they accept)
10am – 4pm – Eco Expo – Pavilions
10am – 3pm – Meet Nature Cat from WTTW’s new public television series.
11am – Tree Planting – Butterflies!
11:30am, 3pm – Giraffe Zoo Chat
12:00pm, 1:30pm – Green Thirteen Performance – Bison Pavilion
1:15pm – Bilingual Zoo Chat – Bison Pavilion

*Update 4/25: It was such a fun event! The boys liked meeting Nature Cat and our family enjoyed the beautiful day at the zoo!

***

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The Birthday Party Debacle Avoided

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This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

My kid’s birthdays are in June but that doesn’t stop them from starting the birthday party planning as soon as Christmas is over. They have been in almost daily debates about where their party should be and still haven’t come to a decision. Having already been to a few parties this Spring they are sick of the typical party places and want to try somewhere new.

Thankfully I’ve recently discovered BirthdayMasters, a new website designed to help parents find birthday party venues, talented entertainers and great party rentals. The site currently focuses on San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas and the Chicago area. BirthdayMasters makes choosing a party venue or party entertainment for your child’s party a lot easier. Each party place or entertainer has their own profile listing with party package descriptions, pricing, photos, and additional party information including party add-ons, and other customizable options which makes it easy to search, compare, and book parties.

I’ve started researching Chicago birthday party places and was amazed at how much variety I found on the BirthdayMasters site. This easy to use site features locations for all interests. There were some locations I had never heard of before and others that our family had been to that I didn’t realize were open for birthday parties. Party goers in the Chicago area can get a thrill racing go karts, splash around at an indoor pool party or learn how to ride a horse.

The BirthdayMasters site provides all the contact information I need along with details about the location and the party packages they offer. They even tell you everything you need to know about any guidelines they have for outside food, party deposits and things like that. This is really helpful for busy moms who are trying to plan a birthday party in between conference calls and baseball games.

Right now I’m considering hosting a party for the boys at one of the places I found on the site called Adventure Realm. This place has laser tag, live action role playing and an arcade. It’s completely different from any of the other places they’ve been lately and offers a unique experience for all.

BirthdayMasters also offers birthday party ideas for those planning home parties as well which I thought was nice. Check them out and let me know what you think!

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Get Paid To Participate In Focus Groups Or Test Products

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The following is a sponsored post from Focus Pointe Global that I’m sharing in hopes that it can help someone :)

For moms, it can be tough to make extra money and, as expenses pile up, opportunities can be really hard to come by. One way to earn extra money is by registering to participate in focus groups. One of the top companies conducting opinion research is Focus Pointe Global, a national company with 2 locations in the Chicago area – Downtown, and in Oak Brook, IL. They have an interactive website for their panel members at www.focusgroup.com, where you can quickly register and fill out your profile. Participating in a focus group or product test is a fun and easy way to earn some extra spending money – from $75 to $250 for only a couple of hours of your time talking about topics such as children, pets, food products, and more!

See below for upcoming studies and check out focusgroup.com or add them on Facebook at Focus Pointe Chicago for more upcoming studies!

Week of September 21st:

* Topic: Skin Care. Respondents: Nurses and others working in the Medical Field. Incentive: $250. Duration: 2 Hours. Link: http://bit.ly/87026CG

* Topic: Education. Respondents: Parents of Students in 11th/12th grade, Students in 11th/12th grade. Incentive: $100. Duration: 2 Hours. Link: http://bit.ly/87062CG

 

Week of September 28th:

* Topic: Beverages. Respondents: Men and Women ages 25-55. Incentive: $100. Duration: 90 Minutes. Link: http://bit.ly/87059CG

* Topic: Pet Food. Respondents: Pet owners Ages 21-65. Incentive: $70. Duration: 1 Hour. Link: http://bit.ly/87085CG

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Finding Relaxation In The Chicago Suburbs

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(Disclosure: I received a free stay and spa service but all thoughts are my own.)

Now that school is back in full swing I find myself wishing I had a break from the craziness to relax and take time for myself. While I don’t have time for a vacation right now I definitely think that it’s important to find other ways to take a mental break and get away. Le Méridien Chicago, located in Oakbrook, provides just what a mom needs.

I recently stayed over night there and enjoyed a spa service. Unfortunately, Sinisa was out of town so I had to bring the boys with on my little getaway but I left feeling relaxed so I can only imagine how much more tranquil it would have been sans kids.

When we first got to the hotel we checked out the room which was beautiful and then headed to Oakbrook mall which is right next door. It’s the perfect location for those who enjoy shopping and the hotel even offers complimentary rides between the mall and hotel. After I got coffee we went to a few stores I wanted to visit and then a couple the boys insisted we go to. Once it started raining we were ready to head back to the hotel. One thing I will note here is that it’s best to give the car service notice of when you will need to be picked up so you don’t have to wait. If you have your own vehicle it’s probably just easiest to drive yourself over there.

Once we got back to the hotel we enjoyed their VIP lounge which had a delicious selection of snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. They had some prepackaged choices and some freshly made options from their kitchen. We enjoyed our view of town as we ate.

When it was time for my spa treatment someone came to my room to get me and the boys. I wasn’t sure how it would go with them in the room while I was getting a facial but I was pleasantly surprised to walk into a hotel room that was set up to entertain my boys while I enjoyed some relaxation. There were snacks and water for the boys, a small building set for each and a television they could watch. They were excited to see all of that and I loved the thought that went into making sure everyone was taken care of.

My massage therapist was friendly and explained everything that she was doing. She gave me tips on taking care of my combination skin and what I should be looking for in products which I really appreciated. After a nice facial I planned to head back to the room with my boys but she told me that everyone who has a spa service gets to stay in the room for an hour after their facial or massage. Half the room was a serene bathroom so I was more than happy to soak in a big tub while my boys built their LEGO sets outside of the bathroom.

Afterwards we headed back to the room where the boys quickly claimed their bed. We ordered room service for dinner and watched television before we fell asleep in the comfort of our hotel beds. It was such a great day and the perfect way to relax when you only have a day to escape reality.

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Exploring Glenview, Illinois With Kids

Glenview fun

Thanks to Go Roma for sponsoring this post.

I love taking road trips and one of the best things about living in the Chicago area is the amount of fun things there are for families to do within just an hour or two of where we live. A few weeks ago we headed to a town I’d never been to before called Glenview which is about 14 miles North of the city.

The boys and I spent a whole day exploring the town and didn’t even get to do everything on my list. Here are the things I’d recommend doing on your next trip to Glenview.

Play: Little Bear Garden Park

My boys spent hours playing at Little Bear Garden Park. It was a wonderful area with something for everyone. There was a playground, splash pad, huge sand pit, and plenty of grassy area and seating. There was also a path that went around the park with storybook pages every so often which would be perfect for families with preschoolers to walk around and read a book as they went along the path. The park was busy but large enough that it did not feel overcrowded.

Eat: Go Roma

I enjoyed eating at Go Roma when I was pregnant with Jacob so I was excited to see that a new location opened in Glenview. Go Roma features quick and delicious Italian foods. Their pizza is my favorite. Go Roma was affordable which I appreciated when I was working retail and on a very tight budget and I still appreciate.

When we tried out their new location for lunch I got the BBQ Chicken Pizza which I really enjoyed. I loved that the chicken was very prevalent on the pizza instead of diced up really tiny and barely there like at some other places.

Jacob got the kid’s cheese pizza and Lucas got the kid’s macaroni and cheese. They were so excited to see that their kid’s meal came with a cookie and they happily gobbled up their entree to get to their dessert.

Shop: The Glen Town Center

If you love shopping you will enjoy spending time at The Glen Town Center. It’s a beautiful, outdoor shopping area with stores, restaurants, and even a movie theater. I found Fourth of July shirts for the boys at Carter’s and looked around a few other clothing stores. We stopped by The Book Market and then stepped out of the sun for a bit and spent time reading our books while I enjoyed a coffee. We checked out the local candy store, Rocket Fizz, and ended with a trip to GameStop so the boys could look at Skylanders.

Some other places located in Glenview that we didn’t get to visit are Wagner Farm, the Grove and Kohl Children’s Museum. There really is enough to keep families busy for a day or two and it’s so close to the city for those who want to visit Chicago but then escape the hustle and bustle (and parking fees) of the city!

Have you been to Glenview? What other fun places should we check out next time we visit?

 

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List Of Free Things To Do In Chicago This Summer

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Traveling to Chicago this summer? It’s possible to make the trip on a budget! Here is a list of FREE things to do in the city and the suburbs.

1) Walk around Navy Pier. Don’t miss the stained glass display!

2) Take a picture in front of “The Bean”

3) Enjoy the weekly fireworks display (every Wednesday and Saturday evening in summer)

4) Head to the Lincoln Park Zoo to see animals

5) Spend a day at one of the beaches and swim in the lake

6) Enjoy a free movie or concert in the park

7) Walk along the lakefront

8) Window shop on Michigan Avenue

9) Walk around the city and look at the amazing architecture

10) Take the kids to Bear Garden Park in Glenview to play on the playground, build sandcastles and splash around

11) Go to a museum on a free day.

12) Go to a playground (try Maggie Daley in Millennium Park)

13) Walk around a Farmer’s Market

14) Splash around in Crown Fountain

15) Check out the Skokie North Shore Sculpture Park

16) Watch the water display at Buckingham Fountain

17) Go to story time at a library in the city or suburbs

18) Enjoy the beauty at the Chicago Botanic Garden

19) Check out the Children’s Garden at Garfield Park Conservatory

20) Attend a Vacation Bible School

21) Learn to dance at the Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park

22) Explore nature at Emily Oaks Nature Center

23) Visit a farm (like Wagner Farm in Glenview)

24) Phillip’s Park Zoo and Playground (Aurora)

25) Build with legos at the Lego Store in Water Tower Plaza

26) Visit Chinatown

27) Go to a parade

28) Enjoy the sights and sounds at Taste of Chicago

29) Go bowling (check out the Kid’s Bowl Free program)

30) Walk around Downtown Naperville

 

 

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2015 Summer Bucket List (And Tips To Get The Most Out Of Summer)

Palmetto

I am so excited to share this year’s summer bucket list with you all! I have a general bucket list for kids and also am sharing some of my favorite Chicago area bucket list ideas as well. Before I share those though, I wanted to share some of my tips for getting the most out of summer!

First of all, extend your summer! Who says “summer” needs to start in June and end in August or whenever the kids go back to school? I declared May 1st as the start of our summer and we are going to enjoy fun times as long as the weather will let us (which will hopefully be into September!)

Make sure to plan it. We’ve had many Saturdays that were filled with errands and before we knew it, we’d wasted a gorgeous day off with things that can be done in little chunks of time elsewhere throughout the week. Schedule the fun in! I have our summer bucket list in a notebook that I carry around so that if bad weather cancels Jake’s baseball game I can come up with an indoor activity to do.

Lastly, don’t forget to record it! Take lots of pictures of the memory making. Another thing we are doing this summer is having the kids write in journals daily. They’ll practice their writing skills but also record all the fun times they had.

When planning my bucket list I thought of all the fun things I’ve enjoyed in the past, either as a child or with my own kids. I also looked into events going on in my community and found many free ones. I discovered many places have free activities and events including ToysRUs, Home Depot, Walmart, bowling alleys and more so make sure to look at stores in your town as well! Anything we definitely wanted to do I added to my calendar as an event. I then made a list of all the passes we had along with free or discount days at places, open gyms, story times, farmer’s markets and anything else that happened on a semi-regular basis or had certain hours.

Creating my bucket list took almost a whole day but if you don’t have much time I encourage you to start one and add to it as you think of things. I found splitting my list into categories helped me so I have it split by: places I want to travel to, day trips, Chicago city fun (since I live in the suburbs), neighboring towns, my town, home- outside, home- inside, and things to learn/practice. I also made a bucket list for myself since mom needs a bucket list, too!

Now to the fun! :)

Our Family Bucket List

 

Home- Outdoors:

  • Fly a kite
  • Have a water balloon fight
  • Draw with chalk
  • Make smores over the fire pit
  • Play in a bounce house
  • Ride bikes and scootes
  • Blow bubbles
  • Play on the slip n’ slide
  • Get ice cream from the ice cream truck
  • Play in the rain
  • Host a BBQ
  • Play water balloon baseball
  • Race remote control cars
  • Paint with water
  • Catch lightning bugs
  • Wash the car by hand with soapy water
  • Treasure hunt in the sandbox
  • Play in the water table
  • Build a sandcastle
  • Have a water gun fight
  • Watch a sunset
  • Play catch

Home- Indoors:

  • Make homemade pizza
  • Have a cousin sleepover
  • PJ/Movie day
  • Make lemonade
  • Have a family game night
  • Bake cookies
  • Make rootbeer floats
  • Do science experiments
  • Make homemade popsicles
  • Build a fort in the TV room
  • Eat watermelon
  • Have an indoor scavenger hunt
  • Enjoy breakfast for dinner
  • Make ice cream sundaes
  • Cook dinner together

Things to do in our town or neighboring towns:

  • Go to garage sales
  • Visit at least 5 different playgrounds
  • Have a picnic in a local park
  • Visit the local Farmer’s Market
  • Go to ChuckECheese
  • Attend library storytime
  • Have a family walk around the neighborhood
  • Go to a kid’s workshop at Home Depot or Lowe’s
  • Spend a day at the local pool
  • Go paddleboating
  • Play mini-golf
  • Go fishing
  • Ride horses
  • Go to the local arcade
  • Go out for ice cream
  • Make your own pottery
  • Feed ducks at the lake
  • Star gaze
  • Eat a sno cone
  • Go geocatching
  • Attend a craft class at Michaels
  • Go on a nature walk
  • Enjoy a movie or concert in the park
  • Go for a train ride
  • Pick fruit
  • Go to a parade
  • Watch fireworks
  • Ride go karts
  • Play laser tag
  • Go to a drive in movie
  • Go to an amusement park
  • Go to a baseball game
  • Go to the movies
  • Volunteer together
  • Go to a waterpark
  • Attend an art class
  • Go bowling

To learn or practice:

  • Learn: how to ride a bike without training wheels
  • Learn: how to tie shoes with laces
  • Learn: a magic trick
  • Learn: how to dribble a basketball (Luke)
  • Learn: site words (Luke)
  • Learn: how to swim
  • Learn: to skip rocks
  • Practice: reading
  • Practice: writing
  • Practice: sports

Mom’s to do list:

  • Have a spa day
  • Clean out and organize garage
  • Create travel display
  • Complete a puzzle
  • Have a date night in Chicago
  • Spend an afternoon reading in the hammock
  • Travel somewhere at least a few times a month
  • Enjoy a pina colada
  • Go to lunch with family
  • Go to Sunday brunch
  • Eat a meal by the water

Our Chicago Bucket List

 

City:

  • Navy Pier
  • Hard Rock Cafe
  • Taste of Chicago
  • China Town
  • Millenium Park
  • Michigan Avenue
  • Water Tower
  • Visit “the bean”
  • Museum of Science and Industry
  • Shedd Aquarium
  • Donut Vault
  • River tour via boat
  • Get a lobster roll
  • See Chicago from Montrose Point
  • Walk along the lake
  • Get popcorn from Garrett’s
  • Stay overnight in the city
  • Splash in Crown Fountain

Suburbs:

  • Great America
  • LegoLand in Schaumburg
  • Downtown Naperville and the riverwalk
  • Air show in Bolingbrook
  • Sky Zone
  • SciTech
  • Morton Arboretum
  • Blackberry Farms
  • Outlet mall
  • Phillips Park Zoo
  • Ravinia Fest
  • County Fair
  • Ribfest in Naperville
  • Wolfe Wildlife Refuge in Oak Lawn
  • Children’s Museum in Naperville
  • Red Oak Nature Center
  • Brookfield Zoo
  • All Aboard Diner

Day Trips:

  • Diecke Discover Zone- Huntley
  • Indiana Dunes
  • Starved Rock
  • Bourbonnais- Bears training camp, Strickler Planetarium, Perry Farm Park
  • Long Grove
  • Valporaiso- Valplayso park

Weekend Trips:

  • Camping
  • Wisconsin Dells
  • Michigan- Beach and Saugatuck
  • Mackinac Island
See our past bucket list here.

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ROBOTS-4-U And Art & Design Summer Camps Now Enrolling

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

Planning your summer fun? I have two new camps to share with you today that are all about S.T.E.A.M. education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math)! The first camp is ROBOTS-4-U - where fun, thinking and learning comes to life!  Campers will be learning about Robotics and Science, in an independent and exciting way! The other camp is the DYNAMIC ART & DESIGN Summer Camp – where technology meets creativity. Campers will have a BLAST, while learning and playing in a dynamic environment.

The camps are for girls and boys ages 7 to 14 and offer hands on learning that is self-paced for beginners to experts with a ratio of 1 instructor to 16 participants. Each Camper Individually uses a ROBOTICS or DYNAMIC ART Kit. Robot kits do not go home with campers but are available for purchase!

Camps are offered in one week sessions during June, July and August. Each camp is 1 week (5 days) long. They are Monday to Friday from 9-11:30am and 12:30-3pm. Visit the web sites www.ROBOTS-4-U.com and www.dynamic-art-design.com to see dates and locations for these Chicago-area day camps.

Register early as camps do fill up quickly! Get 60% Off Robotics Science Summer Camps using the code: “USF1550r”.

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Free Kid’s Clubs For Chicago Sports Fans

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Have a child who loves sports? I’ve rounded up all of the FREE kid’s clubs for Chicago teams. Most of these teams also have kid’s clubs with membership fees that offer more options. Know of another free one? Leave it in the comments below!

Chicago Bears: http://www.chicagobears.com/kid-zone/kids-club.html

  • Membership card
  • Welcome letter and Staley autograph card
  • Periodic newsletters and contests throughout the year
  • Invitations to Kids Club events
  • Pro Shop discount
  • Birthday postcard

Chicago White Sox: http://chicago.whitesox.mlb.com/cws/fan_forum/kidsclub_index.jsp

  • Pack of White Sox Baseball Player Cards
  • Two (2) Upper Level game tickets (to be redeemed online with a promotional code)
  • Membership certificate
  • Two (2) Digital Newsletters
  • Other special ticket and merchandise discounts

Chicago Wolves: http://chicagowolves.com/fans-den/gameday/skates-mates-kids-club

  • One (1) free ticket to one (1) home game
  • Autographed photo of Skates
  • Autographed photo of a player
  • Birthday E-Card from Skates
  • Wolves games & prizes
  • Discounts on Wolves merchandise

Chicago Fire: http://www.chicago-fire.com/club/jsc

  • Membership Card
  • Welcome Gift
  • Special Ticket Offers
  • Monthly E-Newsletter
  • Access to Exclusive Contests
  • Invite to exclusive player autograph session

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Jewel-Osco’s New Savings App: MyMixx

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Jewel-Osco. The opinions and text are all mine.

I am a full time working parent and always short on time to do my grocery shopping. Recently I have discovered a brand new mobile app by Jewel- Osco called MyMixx that will revolutionize my shopping experience. Jewel-Osco is a staple grocery store in our neighborhood and the app will make Jewel our top grocer.

MyMixx is a free app available for apple and droid products. Very user friendly. Once downloaded you will want to choose your neighborhood Jewel-Osco for the updated ad of the week. Once you are signed up MyMixx will do all the work for you beside push the cart. MyMixx sends paperless receipts via email, lets you create a shopping list and discover recipes, and the best exciting part is the electronic coupons directly at your fingertip. It was always hard to find time to clip the coupons and remember to bring them and now I do not have to anymore.

Jewel has absolutely created a very unique personalized shopping app. In a blink of an eye I was hooked. I constantly look for something to do on my phone so now I can do something useful and creative. But most importantly MyMixx saves me time and money.

Looking up recipes and then creating a shopping list is easy and fun. MyMixx remembers your purchases and promptly finds savings on selected items. Redeeming the coupons and savings is easy as pie at the checkout. All someone has to do is enter their phone number they used for signing up. I found this very useful especially at the self checkout.

Over the next few weeks there are several exciting occasions happening such as Valentines Day and beginning of Lent so I will be looking for special recipes and deals to share with everyone. Try the app and let me know what you think and if their shelves are stocked with Sobe let me know.

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Free Chicago Museum Days This Month {February 2015}

FREE-DAYS-CHICAGO-MUSEUMS-FEBRUARY-2015

One of my favorite things to do when I head to the city is visit the many fabulous museums we have. Every month some of the museums have free days but this month, two of the best are free for the whole month of February. It’s the perfect thing to do on a cold day here in the windy city.

MUSEUM OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY

From February 1 through February 28, 2015 the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago is offering FREE MUSEUM ENTRY to kids, ages 3-11. (Two free kids tickets permitted per presented voucher with purchase of one paying adult)

To claim this special offer and receive your voucher, visit msichicago.org.  Vouchers for Free Kids Museum Entry must be printed in advance and redeemed on-site at the Museum ticket counter; they cannot be used for online ticketing.

FIELD MUSEUM

All Illinois residents enjoy free entrance to the Field Museum during the month of February which gives them access to most of the permanent exhibits at the museum. Want to check out some special exhibits? Illinois residents have the opportunity to see ticketed exhibitions and 3D films at a special price throughout the month.

OTHER FREE DAYS:
Chicago Children’s Museum: Thursday Evenings 5pm – 8pm
Shedd Aquarium: February 2, 3, 9, 10, 13, 14 , 15, 16, 17, 23, 24

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Art Exhibit Encourages Parents To Talk About Tough Topics

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As a mom of young kids, the hardest topics I have to talk to my children about these days are sharing, being kind to others and taking turns. In a few years though, I know I will have to tackle tougher topics like drinking, drugs, and physical intimacy. I’m actually very nervous about those talks so I’m happy to be partnering with Rosecrance, a private not-for-profit organization offering behavioral health services for children, adolescents, adults and families, and learning more on how to approach these conversations.

I participated in a Twitter party earlier this week and loved hearing from parents that have teens now, women that I admire in business who are also amazing moms. I also got some tips on talking about difficult subjects from Dr. Wright, the Chief Medical Officer at Rosecrance. Though my oldest is only six, I’m already in the process of figuring out how I am going to approach hard topics.

If you are a parent of tweens or teens and live in the Chicago area I’d highly recommend checking out the “In My Shoes” art exhibit at the Robert Crown Center in Hinsdale, IL during National Drug Facts Week. The exhibit was created to help parents understand teenagers’ points of view about the pressures they face and how they are confronted with the potential to use and abuse substances.

Developed by teen patients at Rosecrance’s adolescent campus in Rockford, “In My Shoes” displays shoes that have been painted and decorated by teens to tell their stories about substance use. From shoe selection to showcase, the process of creating shoe art is a meaningful experience because each shoe is unique and tells a teen’s story about addiction, recovery, and most important, their hopes and dreams for the future.

Here are all the details:

  • WHERE: Robert Crown Center, 21 Salt Creek Ln, Hinsdale, IL 60521 (SEE MAP)
  • WHEN:  Monday, Jan. 26 – Friday, Feb. 6, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.  Open house: Jan. 31, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
  • WHAT: During the open house there will be activities, presentations and screenings to raise awareness about substance use and prevention.
  • WHO:   Jennifer Thammavong, art therapist, will be onsite during the community open house on Saturday, Jan. 31
If you don’t live in Chicago, see if the exhibit is coming to a town near you here. They also have other resources on their site like this ebook about teens and weed.
Join in the conversation online using the hashtag #InMyShoes.

 

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Pizza Making And Fun At Four Seasons Hotel Chicago

kid-friendly four seasons hotel chicago

(Disclosure: My family and I received accommodations courtesy of the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago but all thoughts are my own.)

What’s more fun than eating pizza? Making it! My boys stepped into the kitchen at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago during our recent stay there and had a lot of fun creating their very own pizzas.

The kids donned their chef’s hats and were greeted with an assortment of pizza ingredients on a table and a cook who was there to help them create the perfect pizza pies. First they slathered sauce on the dough, then they sprinkled cheese on and finally they started adding the ingredients.

Jake tried making his as colorful as he could by adding lots of peppers and ingredients by the handful. Lucas on the other hand was very specific in placement and put each ingredient down in just the right place, as if he was creating an artistic masterpiece.

The boys really loved creating their own pizzas and still talk about the fun they had. They were very proud of what they made.

After we made the pizzas we headed upstairs to our room for the next surprise- dessert before dinner! The “Ice Cream Man” (who was actually the ice cream lady) arrived at our room so we could create our own personalized sundaes.

Jacob and Lucas liked the assortment of toppings available and loaded their sundaes with whipped cream, sprinkles and chocolate sauce.

Even mommy got her own ice cream sundae! So delicious!

After our ice cream we decided to checkout the indoor pool area. The 50 foot long pool is in a gorgeous domed room and there is a hot tub for adults, a swimming lap lane, and plenty of lounge chairs.

Pool image courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Chicago website

The kids worked up an appetite while playing in the pool so we called down to the kitchen to have the pizzas made. They were quickly brought up to our room on a room service cart. The boys were excited to see that their doughy creations had turned into our dinner.

While the boys had fun making the pizzas I don’t think they realized that whatever they added would be on the pizzas we were going to be later eating. If your children are picky eaters you may want to remind them of this fact. Jacob likes peppers so he was okay but Lucas added a little of everything to his and then wanted everything picked off his slice when it was time to eat.

After dinner we decided to check out another area of the hotel- their kid’s clubroom. Seriously, the fun at Four Seasons Hotel Chicago doesn’t end! We went up to the room, opened the door, and discovered a room full of toys and games. The room also had a great view of the city to enjoy while playing.

When we were done playing it was time for some family cuddle time while we watched a movie. The hotel had a nice selection of family friendly movies that you can borrow to watch in your room.

They also provided us with popcorn and coke that we could enjoy while watching the movie.

Once the kids were fast asleep it was mommy’s time to relax and I got to pretend I was at a spa and take an {uninterrupted} bubble bath in the extra large tub. It was heavenly.

The perfect ending to our day in Chicago was being able to sleep in a nice bed.

The next morning I got to lounge around and enjoy the view a bit since the bedroom had a door to separate it from the sitting area.

Want to enjoy a little family getaway to Chicago? When you book your stay at Four Seasons Hotel Chicago just request the Let’s Get Away package. It includes:

  • A visit from the Hotel’s Ice Cream Man or Martini Man, or Pizza Making Class with a chef
  • A USD 50.00 Spa credit or overnight valet parking for one vehicle
  • Age-appropriate in-room amenities
  • Luxurious accommodations in an Executive Suite

Always available to guests of Four Seasons Hotel Chicago:

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Gurnee Mills: Great Deals & Fun For Everyone {Giveaway}

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(Disclosure: I received a gift card from Gurnee Mills but all thoughts are my own.)

A couple weekends ago the boys and I headed to Gurnee Mills Outlet Mall to do some shopping. What I love about Gurnee Mills is the great selection of stores with many of them having deep discounts on items. Being on a budget I really appreciate being able to keep my kids in the same brands they typically wear while being able to save money.

Shopping with kids is an experience as we always tend to get sidetracked. The first store we went into was The Disney Store and my little Toy Story lover found the Lotso bear that he’d been hunting for. I liked the price which was over $30 less than the only other Lotso bear I had previously found at a toy store. He also found a bunch of other little friends and with the buy 3 or more discounts (and armed with a gift card) we went a little crazy…. 

Lucas had the biggest smile on his face and kept thanking me and hugging his stuffed friends. Jacob on the other hand kept asking where the LEGO store was. I promised him we’d stop there after mommy got some clothes for them.

I shopped at Carter’s, Gymboree Outlet, OshKosh B’gosh and The Children’s Place Outlet which are all the stores I typically go to for kid’s clothes. I found so many great deals it was unbelievable. I typically find good prices at outlets but there seemed to be even more sales than normal. Here are a few of my favorite finds:

Apparently yellow and gray are popular colors this season :) I swear I bought plenty of colorful items including a few matching shirts for the boys. Don’t they look handsome in these blue shirts?

When we were done looking at clothes, I fulfilled my promise of stopping at the LEGO store so Jacob could pick something out. Both boys made a few custom minifigures which they loved doing. Jacob has really been into LEGOs recently and has told me that when he is an adult he is going to collect all the minifigures. They each picked out an Advent Calendar also which is something I had my eye on last year but never bought. When we went to check out we got four free gifts. Four! Each boy got a LEGO magazine and then we got a little LEGO Chima set and a LEGO Astronaut set.

After a busy afternoon of shopping we enjoyed an early dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. I’ve been to three locations and I have to say that their Gurnee Mills location was the nicest one. It wasn’t too busy which was nice. Lucas loved the kid’s macaroni and cheese which he said was “Heaven”. I’d never heard him describe food like that so you know it was good :)

As we were walking around we discovered there was a lot more to do at Gurnee Mills than shop. There was a movie theater, an arcade, golfing and even an ice skating rink! Though I’d been to Gurnee Mills before I’d never noticed all the fun things there were to do there.

After a long afternoon carrying numerous bags I was exhausted (note to moms everywhere: pull out the stroller…trust me….). We headed home and I listened to the boys talk about how much fun they had. Lucas played with Lotso and the Peas in a Pod and Jacob looked through his LEGO magazine and talked about minifigures. Before they drifted off to sleep Jacob asked me when we’d be going back again. Considering we’d spent most of our time in clothing stores I’d consider this a win :)

GIVEAWAY:

Enter to win a $50 American Express Gift Card

(Please note: If you win you will have to pick it up at Gurnee Mills Outlet Mall)

HOW TO ENTER:

Comment on this giveaway telling me why you want to win

For an extra entry, share this giveaway and leave the link in the comments below

Giveaway ends October 1, 2014 at 11:59pm CST.

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Walking Around Chicago {$50 Aerosoles Gift Card Giveaway}

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Sinisa and I got to go on a date this past weekend which was so nice because quality one-on-one time is so rare. AEROSOLES sent me a pair of shoes and gave me some spending money to go out so we headed to Chicago to enjoy the warm, sunny weather before Chicago turns into “Chiberia” again. There are so many things to do in the city and most of them we don’t get to experience with the kids so we took full advantage of the day and tried to cram as much as we could into our afternoon.

First we stopped for lunch at Da Lobsta. I had my first Lobster Roll in Boston back in July and I’ve been craving one ever since. If you love lobster this is a must-stop lunch place! We then decided to head over to Navy Pier.

Navy Pier seemed more crowded than normal since it’s under construction but I love how lively it is. You get a beautiful view of the city from the Pier and an even better view from the 150-foot high Ferris Wheel. I hadn’t been on the Ferris Wheel in years since I was nervous to take the kids on it but it’s a nice activity to do without the kids. It should be noted though, that if you have less than 4 people in your group they make you sit with other people which is a little uncomfortable at times (like if you are with a couple who seems to be getting engagement photos like we were!)

After we walked along the Pier we took a taxi over to Millenium Park. We walked along the path that went by the garden area, watched families splash in the huge fountain area and stopped at “the bean”. The park was pretty busy because there was a festival going on.

We ended up at The Park Grill’s outdoor patio where we enjoyed drinks and an appetizer. I had almost forgotten how nice it was to sit and just talk without being interrupted! It started getting late so we headed back to the Pier and home to pick up our babies. It’s amazing what half a day can do for a person and a relationship! I felt calmer and more connected.

All this walking and relationship building wouldn’t have happened without my AEROSOLES shoes! AEROSOLES designs women’s footwear featuring exclusive technologies that deliver the most comfortable shoes possible. They feature unique “Diamond-Flex” soles that absorb impact and disperse friction with every step and “Stitch ‘N’ Turn” technology which creates the MOST flexible and comfortable shoes possible; with no break-in time required. I really loved how comfortable they were. Many times when I wear flats, the bottoms of my feet hurt after a few hours, almost as if I’d been hitting the pavement barefoot. I didn’t feel like that at all with these shoes. My feet were well cushioned.

Want to try AEROSOLES yourself? Enter to win a $50 AEROSOLES gift card below!

 HOW TO ENTER:

{Do any or all of the following, leave a separate comment for each you do}

1) Comment on this giveaway with your favorite city to walk around in

2) Share this giveaway on a social network

3) Follow Aerosoles on Twitter

4) Follow me on Twitter

Giveaway ends September 20, 2014 at 11:59pm CST. Must be a US resident and 21 or over to enter.

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Celebrate Play in the Windy City this Saturday with Let’s Play!

#LetsPlayChicago

As many of you know, I’ve been working to help share the importance of play in the lives of children as a Play Ambassador for Let’s Play, a community partnership led by Dr Pepper Snapple to get kids and families active by providing them with the tools, places and inspiration to make physical activity a daily priority

Play is important to children’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual development. It is more important than ever for kids and families to get outside and play, especially in Chicago, where playgrounds are often lacking at public elementary and middle schools, according to research shared by the Chicago Tribune.

That’s why I’m so excited to announce that Let’s Play is helping bring play to Chicago this Saturday, August 9 and we want you and your family to join the fun! In the morning, Let’s Play will be working with its partners KaBOOM! and Good Sports and a team of volunteers to build a playground from the ground up at O.A. Thorp Scholastic Academy and donate nearly 2,000 pieces of new sports equipment valued at $68,000 to eight youth organizations in Chicago.

In the afternoon, you can come on down to #LetsPlayChicago, a FREE community event for families and kids of all ages, featuring fun play activities like bouncy houses, obstacle courses, face painting and snacks. The #LetsPlayChicago community event is from 12:30 p.m. 4:00 p.m. at O.A. Thorp Scholastic Academy (6024 W Warwick Ave., Chicago, IL 60634). It will be a fun time for all and a great way to get active with your family!

For more information and to register to join the fun, visit LetsPlay.com.

Disclosure: I am currently serving as a “Play Ambassador” for Let’s Play. This is a sponsored post, however, the opinions expressed are my own.

 

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Travel Back In Time At Medieval Times

medieval times 4

Looking for something fun to do inside where it’s nice and cool? If you live near a Medieval Times this would be a great time to visit a castle! My family had the chance to go to a complimentary show a couple weeks ago as part of a blogger event and enjoyed our evening there.

As soon as you step into the castle you are transported back into time. From the knights on horses to the way employees are dressed to the dishes you eat upon- everything is similar to how it would have been back in the Medieval time period. It’s fun to getaway from life for a bit.

Before the show starts everyone is given a paper crown to represent the knight that they will be cheering for during the show. We cheered on the black & white knight, Don Iofre Santa Creu – defender of the ancient shrine at Santiago de Compostela. Our section of seats was pretty loud but then again it was full of bloggers and our kids– we can be a rowdy bunch ;)

During the show we enjoyed a large feast. Included in the meal is garlic bread, tomato bisque soup, oven roasted chicken, a spare rib, herb-roasted potato and an apple pastry. There is so much food that I always have leftovers to bring home! (Parent tip) Keeping with the themed time period there are no utensils so if you have kids make sure to put a couple spoons in your bag if they are too little to sip their soup from the bowl.

We enjoyed the show and the story of the Knights and the Princess. The sword fighting got the boys attention and I loved all of the beautiful horses that were part of the show. The castle is pretty amazing as well.

Want to learn more about Medieval Times? Visit their website. While you are there sign up for their birthday mailing list and get free admission on your special day!

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Brighten The Day With A Colorful Snack

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Chicago is gearing up for the Color Vibe race tomorrow and, to celebrate, I’m partnering with Tum-E Yummies for this sponsored post.

The Color Vibe event is a fun event where you’ll get blasted with color while you run the 5k. To go along with the theme, I thought I’d share a quick, colorful snack with you all that my kids love. This would be the perfect thing to snack on during the race or really anytime!

I made a snack mix with cheerios, fruit loops, peanuts, m&m’s, and raisins. The fruit loops cereal and m&m’s made it a very colorful treat! For more fun we paired it with the Tum-E Yummies fruit flavored drinks. Luke’s favorite was the red fruit punch flavor. I liked the green apple one.

You’ll notice Luke wearing a colorful wiggly headband and ribbon as well. We found those at Target by the party favors (along with some rainbow colored necklaces). We are ready for a day of colorful fun!

Want to join in? Check out the race schedule below to find one of these colorful races near you!

 

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Energizer Night Race For A Brighter World {Giveaway For Chicago Race Registration}

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(Disclosure: I am a Blogger Ambassador for the Energizer Night Race but all thoughts are my own.)

Did you know that 1.3 billion people lack access to clean lighting, forcing them to rely on kerosene lamps? It sounds innocent, but kerosene is actually responsible for 1.5 million deaths annually. Without adequate lighting, children in these rural communities can’t study effectively. Physicians can’t provide proper medical attention after daylight hours. And, kerosene is so expensive that it ends up costing these families half of their income.

Energizer has decided to help by donating 14 million hours of light to families around the world through their partner, One Million Lights – a non-profit that provides clean, safe, affordable solar lighting to rural communities globally.

 

Energizer is hosting a series of races this year where participants race at night, with the light of an Energizer® headlight to guide them, letting them unite to raise awareness for the global need for safe, affordable solar light for the 1.3 billion people in the world living without electricity. This year’s Chicago Energizer Night Race is on June 7th.

GIVEAWAY:

Two readers will each win registration for the Chicago 2014 race

HOW TO ENTER:

 Tell me why you want to win

FOR AN EXTRA ENTRY:

Share this giveaway on a social network

Giveaway ends June 1, 2014 at 11:59pm CST. Must be a US resident to enter. Giveaway includes registration only and does not cover any other costs including travel, parking, etc…

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Family-Friendly Event: Run Or Dye Chicago {Giveaway}

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(Disclosure: I will receive compensation and admission to this event in exchange for this promotional post.)

Run or Dye, the world’s most colorful 5K, is headed to Toyota Park on May 24, 2014!  Bring all your friends and run a color-blasted 5K, where you get showered in safe, eco-friendly, plant-based cornstarch dye every kilometer. Then enjoy the world-famous Dye Festival afterward, where you can Tie-Dye the Sky (not to mention all your friends!) in this ultimate celebration of life, friendship, fitness, and fun.

Run or Dye is for everyone! Whether you’re a recovering couch potato or an avid marathon runner, you’ll love the atmosphere and experience at Run or Dye. You’re welcome to walk, run, dance, or skip your way to the finish line. And Run or Dye is family-friendly — kids 6 and under participate for FREE and do not require registration!

Use the code: BLOGCHICAGO to save $10. CODE EXPIRES MAY 17th!  If you join a team you can save another $5!

GIVEAWAY:

Enter below for your chance to win two codes for free admission to Run or Dye in Chicago on May 24th, 2014. Giveaway ends 5/10/2014 at 11:59pm. Winner will be send the codes via email within 48 hours of the end of the giveaway.

 

So who wants to join in on the fun with me?!

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The Ritz-Carlton Chicago: A Kid-Friendly Luxury Hotel

Ritz baking collage

Despite living only about an hour away from Chicago, we don’t really go downtown that often. I wanted to go somewhere over President’s Day since the boys were out of school and I had the day off from work, so our family headed to Chicago for a couple days of fun in the big city. I was really excited about this trip because I would be reviewing The Ritz-Carlton Chicago hotel. I had heard of this hotel, and assumed it would be too “fancy” for me to bring the boys to, but when they invited us for a “family sleepover” we decided to go and I’m so glad we did.

When I checked out the website I noticed a few things immediately that keyed me in to how great it would be for kids. Room-wise they offered childproof rooms which I think is great for people with young children. They also had a bunch of amenities just for the kids. To keep children occupied they also had a pool, cookie baking, and a candy cart that you could have come to your room.

When we first walked into the suite I was amazed at how large it was. We were staying in their Deluxe Lake-View Suite. It was about the size of my first apartment. Here is a video walk-through of the suite:

This suite was located on the 24th floor and was on the corner so we had lake views from every room. I even got to wake up to the lake outside of my window as I laid in bed! That to me is a dream!

The boys were so excited to see a little tent in the room. One of the maids also came before bedtime for “turn down” service and made the pullout couch into a bed for the boys. Some of my other favorite kid-friendly features in the room were the bathrobes and kid-toiletries. 

We didn’t make it to the pool but the boys loved baking cookies in the kitchen. They were then delivered to our room about an hour later with whipped cream and sprinkles so the boys could decorate them and then eat them.

There were delicious treats for mommy and daddy, too!

Along with the fun inside the hotel, guests of The Ritz-Carlton can take an elevator down to the Water Tower mall. This was perfect for our winter visit to the city because we could enjoy the mall and it’s restaurants without having to put on our coats and walk in the slush and snow outside. The boys enjoyed playing at the LEGO store and Luke and I walked through the American Girl store. We also went up every escalator in the mall and then took the elevator down.

Another thing I liked was that the check-in and check-out times were really generous. Check-out was at noon so we were able to walk down Michigan Avenue and relax in our room a bit before we had to leave. We wanted to avoid this wintery weather for as long as we could….

Are you looking to enjoy an evening in Chicago? While the $785/night suites are a little pricier than my family would normally stay in, I think it’s worth splurging a bit to experience the luxury that we did! When I checked there were also hotel rooms priced at $295/night. Along with the beautiful hotel located in the perfect spot on Michigan Avenue, the staff was excellent and the beds were really comfortable. I think both couples and families would enjoy staying at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago. It is definitely a hotel we will go back to!

(Disclosure: My family received a free stay at the hotel but all thoughts are my own.)

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Chicago’s Favorite Chocolates

Fannie May gift ideas

(Disclosure: I received a box of chocolates for review but all thoughts are my own.)

You all know I love chocolate. As a Chicagoan, I am lucky to have one of the very best chocolate companies based right here in my area- Fannie May! I can’t remember a Christmas without a box of Fannie May chocolates. My favorites include their pixies and their mint meltaways. I also enjoy their boxes of assorted chocolates.

I’ll tell you a funny story that I am extremely embarrassed to share…. when I was younger (a long time ago) we had a box of assorted chocolates in the fridge. I don’t remember how old I was but I was young enough that I couldn’t just eat as many chocolates as I wanted because they were limited to a dessert item. Well I had my favorites and then flavors I had never tried. I was in the fridge one day when I decided that I wanted to try the other flavors but didn’t want to be selfish and eat the whole piece of chocolate so I took a bite of a few of them and left the other halves in the fridge.

At the time it made sense in my head to share the other half with someone else but, as you can imagine, my dad was not very happy that I had left half-eaten chocolate in the fridge. He probably would have preferred that I just ate the whole piece. Looking back I realize now that a knife would have been a better cutting choice than my teeth. I think about that story every time I have a box of chocolates from Fannie May and it brings back memories of my childhood every time I bite into a piece of chocolate. 

Along with the special memories I have of Fannie May chocolates, I think the chocolate is delicious. I took a look at their website and chose some of the gifts I think *someone* would like if you haven’t bought me them a gift yet ;)

Sea Salt Caramels

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Milk Chocolate Pixies

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Artisan Holiday Bark

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Mint Meltaways

I checked and it’s not too late to place your order for Christmas. There is a 20% off sale and free 2nd day shipping promotion as well. Head on over to their website for full details!

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How To Make Perfect Sugar Cookies

sugar cookies

With baking season in full-swing I wanted to share these 9 tips from Country Woman magazine to help you make the perfect sugar cookie. I’ll be baking with the boys tomorrow so these tips came just in time!

1.    Don’t Be Too Touchy: Use a light touch when handling the dough. Over-handling will result in tough cookies.

2.    Stay Cool: Refrigerate the dough before rolling for easier handling.

3.    Avoid Sticky Situations: Prevent sticking by lightly dusting with flour both the rolling pin and work surface. Be careful—working     too much extra flour into the dough will make the cookies tough.

4.    Start Small: Roll out a portion of the dough at a time; keep remaining dough in the fridge so it stays easy to work with.

5.    Create An Even Playing Field: Roll from the center to the edge, keeping a uniform thickness. Check thickness with a ruler. Uneven dough means cookies will bake unevenly, and thinner cookies may burn before thicker ones are done.

6.    Get a Clean Cut: Dip your cutter in flour or use nonstick cooking spray to keep dough from sticking to the cookie cutter.

7.    Take Out the Tools: Keep cutouts intact before and after baking by transferring them to and from the baking sheet with a large    metal spatula or pancake turner that supports the entire cutout.

8.    Keep it Simple: Limit designs and colors when decorating. Too many colors and shapes can be overwhelming.

9.    Leave Them Out to Dry: Let decorated cookies dry overnight before packaging them for gift giving or freezing.

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