Things To Do In Chicago On A Rainy Day

Rainy Day In Chicago

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

There are so many outdoor things to do in Chicago during the warm spring and summer months (that are coming eventually…I promise!) but I wanted to share some things you can do on a rainy day in Chicago. Whether you live in the city or are traveling to Chicago when rainy weather is expected, keep this list handy in case of bad weather in Chicago.

Challenge yourself in an escape room.

For a fun activity off the beaten path, grab some friends and try an escape room at Chicago’s Escape Reality (located at 158 W Erie St. 60654). Choose from six games, with different themes and levels of difficulty. Teams of 2-6 only have 60 minutes to solve the puzzles and escape the room! Time’s ticking! (Cost: $32/player – fun for all ages but over reading age recommended.)

Visit a museum.

Chicago has a number of amazing museums, from well-known ones like the Museum of Science & Industry and the Field Museum to lesser known ones like the Money Museum and the Fire Museum of Greater Chicago. Whatever your family is interested in you can probably find a museum that will capture their attention!

Try out a new pizza place.

One can’t visit Chicago without trying the pizza that our city is famous for! A rainy afternoon is the perfect time to taste test the many deep-dish pizzas that Chicago offers in order to pick your favorite.

Go shopping at Water Tower Place.

Chicago has plenty of stores on Michigan Avenue but our favorite place to shop in downtown Chicago is Water Tower Place. This eight-story mall has plenty to explore including kid favorites, the LEGO store and the American Girl doll store.

Go to a bookstore or coffee shop and read.

There’s nothing like curling up with a good book on a dreary day. Check out the assortment of books and magazines at a bookstore, buy one and then take it to a nearby coffee shop and read while you enjoy a cup of coffee.

Explore the underwater world.

The Shedd Aquarium is one of our favorite places to go downtown. Make sure to catch a dolphin show and pet the stingrays while you are there. Here are some of my other favorite things to do at the aquarium.

See a play at the theater.

Chicago may not have as many shows as Broadway in New York does but don’t count us out! Chicago has a hopping theater scene and a little culture might just be the cure to rainy day blues. And speaking of blue….try to catch a Blue Man Group performance while you are here, too!

Take a tour of the city.

Take a bus, trolley or boat tour of the city- just make sure you sit in the indoor section or wear a poncho to keep you dry. It’s always interesting to hear about the city from the tour guide and you learn a lot of history you never knew before.

Knock down some pins at the bowling alley.

A game or two of bowling is a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon and it’s something a whole family can do together. You may even be able to find a bowling alley with glow-in-the-dark bowling!

Enjoy your hotel’s indoor amenities.

If you are visiting, make sure to stay at a hotel with plenty of fun indoor amenities. We love this one that has an indoor basketball court!

What do you like. to do on rainy days in Chicago?

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Developmental Differences Resource Fair In Chicago

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Thanks to the Neighborhood Parents Network for sponsoring this post.

As a special needs parent I feel like resources that are available for my child, or our family, are generally not promoted that well. I typically find out about things from other parents or after a lot of research. I always wished there was an easier way to learn about resources so I didn’t have to spend hours searching for them and, luckily for Chicago parents, there is! The Developmental Differences Resource Fair on March 11 will provide Chicago families with one-stop access to school programs, service providers and other resources that serve children with developmental differences.

The fair, hosted by the Neighborhood Parents Network (NPN), takes place Sunday, March 11, 2018, from 9am–1pm. Parents of children with a range of developmental differences—including, but not limited to, developmental delays, Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism, ADHD, PDD-NOS, Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder, Down Syndrome, physical disabilities, and more—are welcome to attend this free event. They will have the opportunity to connect with other special needs parents as well as with more than 80 exhibitors located in the Chicago-area, from the neighborhoods in the city to the Chicago suburbs. The fair also offers free, expert-led workshops on subjects such as bullying, Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), and how developmental pediatricians and neuropsychologists can help your child.

This Developmental Differences Resource Fair, geared towards families with children up through 8th grade, is held at DePaul College Prep, 3633 N. California Ave., Chicago. The resource fair is free and open to the public, however NPN does request that those interested in coming RSVP for the event. Also, while children are welcome in the exhibit hall, workshops are for adults only.

You can view a list of exhibitors and workshops, along with RSVP for the resource fair here.

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Teaching Teens To Make Smart Money Choices

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This article was sponsored by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001. www.MassMutual.com. All opinions are those of the author.

Earlier this week I had the privilege of attending Chicago’s FutureSmart event. This event, part of a series of events in cities across the country, was hosted by MassMutual in partnership with local NBA teams and actor/author Hill Harper to help bring financial education to middle school and high school students. Chicago’s event was held at the iconic United Center and, as I stood in the middle of the court waiting for students to fill the seats, I thought about my own money journey.

I had been raised in an upper middle class family in the Chicago suburbs and, for the most part, had a great childhood. But, while I had a good childhood, there was one thing that wasn’t really discussed as I was growing up and that was money.Yes, I was taught basic concepts like saving money, but it didn’t go beyond that. We could afford to attend sporting events, take vacations, and had all our needs and most of our wants taken care of. I saw my dad making the money and my mom spending it and it often seemed like money was unlimited. There was never a time when I heard “we can’t afford that” and, though as a kid that seemed great, I’d learn years later that things weren’t always as financially easy on my parents as it looked.

But before that giant money secret was learned I continued the patterns of spending I had seen modeled growing up and ruined my credit before I even turned 25. I was left with an empty bank account and nothing to show for it but a wardrobe filled with the latest fashions that would soon be out of date. My mindset about money had to change and I had to learn how to handle the little I had in a more mature way. It has taken almost a decade to shift my mindset and become a better steward of the money I make and I feel like talking about money growing up may have saved me from making some of these mistakes and given me the skills to handle money as a young adult. (Not to say my parents were to blame because they aren’t- I was an adult. However I think having more knowledge about financial issues may have been beneficial.)

Because of my history with money, I am an advocate of financial education for kids so when MassMutual asked me to partner with them it was an enthusiastic “yes!”. Though I believe financial education has to start in the home, just 43 percent of parents describe themselves as ‘well prepared’ for money conversations (and some might be struggling to make smart money choices themselves). That is why it is vital that schools and the community take a role in this teaching as well. By the time adolescents reach middle school, they have already developed the capacity to understand complex economic concepts, make financial judgments, and assign value to purchases and brands. Yet the majority of today’s schoolchildren are not receiving the personal finance education they need to navigate the modern financial world. According to MassMutual, only 1 in 4 millennials in the US can correctly answer basic financial wellness questions. This is a problem.

I love the FutureSmart program because it gets kids excited to learn financial concepts. Hill Harper (most well-known for his roles in CSI: NY and The Good Doctor) spent about an hour talking with students from Chicago Public Schools. I could immediately tell that he was passionate about teaching financial literacy to these kids. Along with sharing his story, teens were also given five money smart challenges which were: to learn about financial concepts, create a blueprint and plan their life, talk with their family about money, think before they spend, and to open a student savings account.

In addition to Harper, kids heard from Bill Wennington, a retired Bulls basketball player. The two talked about saving money and the importance of education. They also spoke about the many dreams of teens wanting to be ball players when they grow up and the realities of professional sports. To encourage continued education, they pointed out that most basketball players are bankrupt within five years of retiring and that the top CEOs in our country make a lot more than basketball players do.

Teens also enjoyed the antics of Benny the Bull, a DJ playing the hottest tracks, and performances from the IncrediBulls and the Bulls Flippers Trampoline Team. Learning about money was never this fun when I was younger!

What I love most of all about this FutureSmart program though, is that this wasn’t just a one time thing for these students. The FutureSmart program is continued in the classrooms for the rest of the year so the teens that attended the event can continue to learn money smart skills.

The program is bigger than just these live events, too. MassMutual has a goal to reach 2 million students and their families by 2020. Along with these live events they host, they offer FutureSmart classroom and digital curriculums along with the FutureSmart app for today’s busy student.The digital course is available for FREE to teachers and school staff and makes learning about money fun for youth.

You can learn more about the FutureSmart program here. If you have a middle school student I encourage you to talk to your child’s school about this program. Financial literacy is so important and this program makes it easy to teach kids money smart concepts!

Do you discuss money topics in your home?

 

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Why You Should Visit Medieval Times This Winter (Even If You’ve Been There Before)

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Thanks to Medieval Times for hosting my family for an evening of fun.

Whether you’ve been to Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament before or not, you are definitely going to want to visit this winter. For the folks that have visited the castle previously, you’ll discover some fun new changes in regards to the storyline. And, for those that have never visited, it’s just as magical and exciting an experience for a newbie as it’s always been! I took my family to the Medieval dinner tournament and we all had a great time so I wanted to share some reasons why I think you should visit soon (other than to escape the cold, of course).

First, let’s start with the most exciting news…the Queen is now in charge and sole ruler of the land. Medieval Times made a major break from its 34-year tradition of casting a king in the show’s lead role when they put the Queen in charge. Girl power!

Since a Queen is now in charge it only makes sense that the storyline changed as well, making it the first time the storyline has changed since 2012. Guests of the castle will enjoy a 2 hour medieval jousting tournament where six knights compete using real weapons. This is the most exciting part of the show and it’s fun to cheer on the knight for the section you are sitting in.

While watching the show unfold in the arena before you, you get to enjoy a meal fit for a King (or Queen!). A 4 course meal is served consisting of soup, bread, chicken, potato, corn on the cob, and a pastry. The meal is served with a bevarage and enjoyed without utensils to keep with the authentic feel of life in medieval Spain. The food is amazing and we always end up bringing leftovers home.

Like I said, whether you’ve visited half a dozen times like I have or are going for the first time (like Sinisa was) it’s a great experience for everyone. So if you want to escape the cold, and enjoy an evening of fun, you can purchase tickets for Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament here.

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Our Experience At Big Blue Swim School

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This post is sponsored by Big Blue Swim School and The Motherhood.

One thing that is really important to me is that my boys learn how to swim, so they’ve taken years of swim lessons. I’ve tried out at least a dozen different places, from park districts to swim schools to gym pools to highschools that hire student teachers, so I feel we have kind of tried it all and have discovered what works, and what doesn’t work, when it comes to swim lessons for my family. Recently we tried swim lessons at Big Blue Swim School and I was really happy with our experience there so I wanted to share about it because it checks so many of my boxes when it comes to what I want a swim school to have.

Big Blue Swim School operates four year-round swim schools in the Chicago suburbs: Niles, Hoffman Estates, Wilmette, and Buffalo Grove. We visited the Hoffman Estates location for our swim lesson and a tour of the facility. There are three main things that set Big Blue apart from other swim schools- their teachers, the flexibility they offer, and the quality of their facilities.

Big Blue Swim School is the only swim-lesson provider that exclusively hires and trains full-time teachers. They also have weekly training which I thought was a great idea because a more consistent and better-trained teacher will always give a better experience. What I liked most about their staff was how they all interacted with the students. It wasn’t just the swim teacher in the water with the child but I felt like the staff worked as a team to teach the children. Throughout the lesson the pool supervisor would come and offer tips to the child based on what he was seeing from the pool deck because it’s a different angle than their swim instructor sees. They also all seemed to encourage the kids and they would call out with words of encouragement when a child was doing a great job which I loved. Overall, the whole team seemed to enjoy their job and it showed through their interactions with each other and with the children.

As a mom, I think my favorite thing about Big Blue is how convenient scheduling is for busy families. They offer more lesson times than any other swim school and they have built their own proprietary software platform that allows families to choose a lesson time that works for all their kids with one click. This means families don’t have to make multiple trips to the pool just because siblings were unable to find a time where they could both swim. The software also allows families to log into their account from any device and track their kid’s progress, move their lesson times, schedule FREE make-up lessons, add additional lessons, and update personal information in just a few easy clicks.

Best of all, you aren’t locked in to a certain day and time which is great when children’s sports and activity schedules change with the seasons. This has been the biggest problem I’ve had with other swim lessons because it was so hard to move to a different schedule when baseball season turned to basketball season and what worked for the previous schedule did not for our new one. Big Blue Swim School really goes above and beyond to make things as convenient as possible for parents!

In addition to a great staff and convenient scheduling, Big Blue Swim School has nice facilities that are clean and family-friendly. They have spacious individual changing rooms which parents of multiple little children will appreciate. The floors are carpeted with a special fall-proof, anti-microbial carpet to keep kids from slipping on wet floors. They also have a viewing area where parents can sit in a comortable atmosphere and watch the lesson. Big Blue provides free WIFI for parents, plus toys and activities for siblings waiting with their parents.

The swimming pool area is nice as well. The pools are shallow and have an open design, allowing swimmers to get in and out with ease. Kids will enjoy the warm, 90-degree water that is gentle on their skin. Big Blue pools also have saline systems and ultra-violet filtration which provide a state-of-the-art defense against waterborne illnesses and harsh chemicals.

Overall, my kids and I loved our experience at Big Blue Swim School. If you are near one of their locations I encourage you to go in for a free trial lesson and check it out. There is no registration fee for swim lessons and, if you sign up now, Big Blue is offering six swim lessons for $60 when you sign up for weekly lessons – a discount of more than 50% on standard prices. You can learn more and sign up for your free trial lesson here.

Do your children take swim lessons?

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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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3 Benefits Of Some Spa Time

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Thanks to Groupon for sponsoring this post.

As moms I think many of us tend to put others before ourselves. Whether it’s our kids, our spouses or other commitments, it’s hard to prioritize time for ourselves and our needs- especially during this busy holiday season. I recently got out of the house for a couple hours and enjoyed a mani/pedi and that two hours completely changed my week and revitalized me. I want to encourage you all to get out and enjoy a bit of pampering, even if it’s just for an hour or two! Whether it’s a manicure, a massage or even just getting a haircut, I wanted to share three benefits a spa day (or hour) can do for you. (I’m sharing a giveaway below for a $600 Groupon gift card that should be enough to pay for spa services for a year so no excuses ladies! Plus use promo code MTFM10 to receive $10 off your first booked appointment.)

3 benefits of a little me time at the spa or salon:

Time to relax

Finding time to relax in a houseful of people is tough. Many times as moms we can’t even get some time alone in the bathroom without little fingers poking under the door or knocking. Each morning, without fail, when I’m going to the bathroom one of my boys always has a question they need answered (and of course it’s nothing ever important or time-sensitive that can’t wait a minute). Spa or salon time gives you time to relax.

Increased confidence

Whether it’s a new do or a fresh coat of nail polish on my finger nails, I’ve found that my confidence goes up. Though it’s just a small change in my look I always feel much better with freshly painted nails!

Leave in a good mood

I’ve found that whenever I leave the nail salon I’m always in a good mood. No matter what happened previously in the day or how stressed I am, I always feel refreshed and in a good mood when I leave.

Do you get spa or salon time often? Admittedly, I don’t go as often as I’d like to. When I went to get my nails done the other day I realized it had been almost five months since my last pedicure. (Yikes!) I found this new salon on Groupon called Elite Nail Care and easily was able to book my appointment and had a great experience there, too.

I wrote in depth about how Groupon’s beauty salon and spa booking works here but basically I used the app to find a salon I wanted to try, picked a time convenient for me, and then Groupon scheduled it and sent me a text letting me know I was all set. It was so easy. What I found most convenient of all though was that at my appointment I didn’t have to dig through my purse with my freshly painted nails looking for my wallet to pay. Payments are done through the app and set up ahead of time (even the tip) so I could just leave when my nails were done and then Groupon sent my payment for me and emailed me my receipt.

If you want to try out Groupon’s new service, and live in the Chicago area, you can use the code “MTFM10″ to receive $10 off your first booked service. Just download the Groupon app or, if you already have it on your phone, go here to book your appointment! And, as mentioned before, I’m sharing an awesome giveaway below for a $600 Groupon gift card so make sure to enter! Good luck :)

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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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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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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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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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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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Ideas To Beat Winter Boredom

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

Now that the holiday season is over I’m ready for winter to be done. Anyone else feel that way? Unfortunately, most of us still have two to three months of cold weather ahead so I figured we might as well embrace this cold, snowy season and figure out how to get the most fun out of it that we can. Here are some of my favorite ways that families can beat winter boredom:

Have a family fun night

Our family loves family fun night! We watch a movie and play some of our favorite games. Bonus points if there’s pizza and popcorn involved! Personally, I like to do theme nights that go with the movie or game we are playing. We’ve had an Angry Birds themed night and a FISHtastic movie night before, too!

Play in the snow

From building snowmen and forts to having snowball fights to sledding, there are so many ways to play outside in the pretty white fluff that falls from the sky. If you live near a good skiing or tubing place that would be a fun way to spend the day. We’ve even gone to a playground before and let the boys climb and slide down snow covered slides and they had a blast. Too cold to head outside? Bring the snow inside! Put it in the sink or bathtub, put gloves on the kids and give them sand toys to play in it.

 

Go to a museum or aquarium

During the winter months here in Chicago many of our museums have free days. Residents of the state can get in free certain days in January and February at the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum, and the Shedd Aquarium among other places. If you don’t live in the Chicago area check your local museum or aquarium to see if they have deals, too!

Get crafty

When I was a preschool teacher, it was rough when we couldn’t go outside and play. On those days I’d pull out every craft supply I had in my closet and let the kids create all afternoon long. They loved it and I loved seeing all of their creations. Crafting kept them occupied while we were stuck inside. Whether you set out craft supplies and let children create whatever they can imagine, help them make a special craft (like this heart shaped “love you to pieces” one) or get a craft kit, crafting is always fun to do.

Work on a STEM project 

For Christmas my boys got some STEM sets and these cold days give them the chance to pull them out and work on them. You can find sets for every interest, from Bloxels which lets kids create their own video games to circuit sets that let kids explore electricity to building sets like Roominate. I share some other great STEM toys here.

 

Learn a new skill

Winter is a great time to learn a new skill. Jacob recently started learning how to play the guitar but my boys have also taken art lessons and participated in sports camps as well. Ask your child what they’d like to learn, whether an instrument, dancing or an art, and find a place that offers to teach that skill. Don’t have money for lessons or classes? Consider bartering with a friend who may have the skills you are looking for, exchanging a service you can offer (like babysitting, cleaning, or accounting) for classes or lessons from them.

Cook or bake together

Lucas loves helping in the kitchen, whether it’s baking cookies or helping with dinner. It’s fun to get kids involved in the whole cooking process, from the menu planning to the grocery shopping to putting the meal together. These apple pie flavored yogurt parfaits are an easy snack to make together.

 

Find fun indoors at an indoor entertainment center

Our favorite way to beat winter boredom is to head to an indoor entertainment center. In the Chicago area, we love Gizmo’s Fun Factory, the new family fun center in Orland Park, a Southwest Suburb of Chicago. This place has it all including laser tag, zip lines, go-karts, bumper cars and climbing walls. They have 75+ arcade games and redemption-style games as well. Out of all the activities there are to do at Gizmo’s, my boys enjoyed the toyland area the most. Designed for guests under 54 inches tall, their Toyland “Ballocity” area boasts climbing tubes, slides, foam ball launchers, and more. This area is four-stories of fun and my boys loved chasing each other through it and playing hide and seek. They spent the most time in this one area and they were having so much fun that they didn’t want to leave!

While kids play parents can enjoy enjoy an upscale cuisine, craft beers and wine. Gizmo’s Fun Factory is open seven days a week. They even open early on school breaks and holidays. All this fun can be enjoyed at one price with purchase of their wristbands. The Gizmos Basic WristBand allows four hours of unlimited play on everything except Laser Tag and Sky Trail, plus a $5 game card for $22.99 (Monday-Thursday), $27.99 (Friday-Sunday). The Plus Band allows unlimited play on everything, plus a $10 game card for $29.99 (Monday-Thursday), $34.99 (Friday-Sunday). Originally I thought this sounded a bit pricey but when I think about our trips to pay as you go places, I realized I probably spent more than double for just a couple hours of fun at those other places. This money is well spent for four hours of unlimited fun, whether it’s spent raising each other in Go Karts, braving heights as you zoom down the zip line or playing your favorite arcade games.

What does your family do to beat boredom during the winter months?

 

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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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Support Teachers This Back-To-School Season

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Thanks to Staples for sponsoring this post and supporting teachers in our community.

With the new school year around the corner many parents are busy buying school supplies. I know sometimes as a parent I look at the list of supplies needed and wonder why we have to purchase so many things and I know many other parents have the same thoughts. The truth is though, as much as we spend on supplies, most teachers spend even more. In fact, according to the Education Market Association, an estimated 99.5 percent of all public school teachers’ use their own money to equip their classrooms- to the tune of over $400 per year out of their own pocket.

Staples and Katy Perry teamed up to help teachers across the country this back-to-school season as part of the Staples for Students program. They’ve been funding projects posted on DonorsChoose.org as part of Staples’ $1 million donation to support teachers and schools. Donors Choose is a charity that has funded more than 700,000 classroom projects for teachers and has positively affected more than 18 million U.S. students.

I’m excited to share that they’ve funded a large number of programs right here in Chicago! Staples announced this morning that it is funding all middle school and high school literacy projects, and all career & college prep projects listed on DonorsChoose.org by Chicago teachers. This donation, worth a total of $134,733, will fund projects in 86 schools, impacting 106 teachers and over 13,000 students. For example, Mrs. Shippy from Dawes Elementary School received over 90 books for her classroom library, so that her 7th grade students have ample reading options. Her school does not have a school library, so Mrs. Shippy’s classroom is the only place for her students to get books.

If you want to get involved, use the Staples for Students Snapchat Geofilter. Through August 10th, every use of the Geofilter will trigger a $1 donation (up to $5,000) from Staples to be used towards Chicago classroom projects on DonorsChoose.org. The Geofilter is available for use in the Staples store at 111 North Wabash Ave., and in the surrounding area.

I hope this news has inspired you to support teachers by helping give them the tools they need to create enriching learning experiences for the students in their classrooms. You can make a $1 donation either in Staples stores or online at www.StaplesForStudents.com, with proceeds funding DonorsChoose.org projects. As a thank you, every customer who donates in-store will receive a free, exclusive Katy Perry pencil, while supplies last.

There is also a fun sweepstakes going on. Now through September 10, 2016, fans who spend $25 or more in any Staples store will receive a unique entry code on their receipt to enter the sweepstakes online at www.StaplesForStudents.com. One grand prize winner will win a $50,000 scholarship plus a trip for two to Los Angeles to meet global pop music star, Katy Perry. Four first prize winners and one guest each will also win air travel to Los Angeles and accommodations for two nights to meet Katy Perry at the VIP Winners Celebration.

Entries must be submitted before September 10, 2016 at 11:59 PM ET. Entrants must be 13 years or older. Visit www.StaplesForStudents.com for official rules.

To learn more about all of Staples’ initiatives please join me at the #StaplesForStudents Twitter Party on Tuesday, August 30, from 7-8PM EST.

 

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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! :)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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 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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BabyGap Mr Men Little Miss Events This Weekend

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I am so excited to share that I am working with Milk & Bookies and Gap to help celebrate the launch of BabyGap’s Mr. Men Little Miss clothing line collection! I will be at the Chicago event at Water Tower Place this Saturday morning as the guest reader at their special event.

BabyGap is collaborating with Mr. Men Little Miss this Spring to create a limited edition collection featuring beloved characters from the iconic children’s books created by British author Roger Hargreaves. The collection includes onesies, bibs, blankets, socks and hats all designed with Mr. Men Little Miss’ signature bright colors and bold lines.

In conjunction with the collaboration, 20 Gap stores across the country will host a celebration of reading on Saturday, February 6th in partnership with Milk + Bookies, a charitable organization that celebrates reading and provides books to under-resourced families. Guests will enjoy a Mr. Men Little Miss book reading by a local parenting blogger, refreshments and activities for children and the opportunity to take part in a book drive benefitting a local Boys & Girls Club.

See the invite below for the Chicago Water Tower event, RSVP here and please make sure to introduce yourself if you attend the reading! I’d love to meet you :)

Not in Chicago? Here are the rest of the events:

• 17th & 5th 122 5th Ave. (New York)
• 59th & Lexington 734 Lexington Ave. (New York)
• Chestnut St. 2159 Chestnut St. (San Francisco)
• Chinook Centre 6455 McCloud Trail SW (Calgary)
• Copley Place 100 Huntington Ave. (Boston)
• Garden State Plaza 290 Garden State Plaza (Paramus)
• The Grove 189 The Grove Dr. (Los Angeles)
• Hoboken & Washington St. 222 Washington St. (Hoboken)
• Houston Galleria 5085 Westheimer Rd. (Houston)
• Court King Prussia 160 N. Gulph Rd. (King of Prussia)
• Lenox Square 3393 Peachtree Rd. NE (Atlanta)
• Lincoln Rd.1001 Lincoln Rd. (Miami Beach)
• Michigan Ave 555 N Michigan Ave. – Chicago
• The Mall at Millenia 4200 Conroy Rd. (Orlando)
• NorthPark Center 728 N. Park Center (Dallas)
• South Coast Plaza 3333 Bristol St. (Costa Mesa)
• Stanford Shopping Center 228 Stanford Shopping Center (Palo Alto)
• Eaton Centre 260 Yonge St. (Toronto)
• Tysons Corner Center 7906 Tysons Corner Center (McLean)
• Water Tower Place 835 N. Michigan Ave. (Chicago)

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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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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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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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Free Chicago Museum Days This Month {February 2015}

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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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Pizza Making And Fun At Four Seasons Hotel Chicago

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(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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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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Travel Back In Time At Medieval Times

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

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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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“The Dump” Luxury Discount Home Furnishing Store Opening In Chicago Area {Giveaway}

the dump

The Dump, America’s fastest-growing furniture outlet which features famous name furniture at dramatic discounts, is coming to the Chicago area! It will officially open its new location in Lombard on August 30th. 

The Dump, which is located at S. Highland Ave and Butterfield Road, in the former Great Indoors space, will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday every week. Totaling a massive 134,000 square feet, The Dump is the largest high-end furniture outlet in the Chicago marketplace. 

“The secret of our success is based on our unique retail business model, which is focused on delivering the best savings for our customers,” E.J. Strelitz continued.  “For example, at The Dump, we are only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, which allows us to keep the cost of doing business down as well as refresh and replenish the entire inventory before the weekend rush. This demonstrates our intuitive understanding of our customer, who prefers to buy furnishings with other family members or friends, making the weekend an ideal time to shop.  Plus, shoppers can expect to find something new every weekend at The Dump, which attracts a high level of increased traffic among our loyal customer base.”

 “At The Dump, we have always been completely transparent with our buying model,” says Randi Strelitz, Executive Vice President, Haynes Furniture/TheDump.  “Our customers know we don’t pay full price, which means they don’t pay full price.  We accomplish this by purchasing overstocks, one-of-a-kinds, factory sell-outs, showroom models, and design prototypes – all brand-new, top-quality merchandise at highly discounted prices.  This creates the ultimate shopping experience for our customers every weekend of the year.”

“The Lombard store will feature the latest furnishings at 30 to 80 percent discounted prices for all areas of your home, including modern living and dining room furniture, chic rugs, and much more,” added Randi Strelitz.

GIVEAWAY:

One reader will win a $134 gift card to The Dump

HOW TO ENTER:

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

1) Leave a comment telling me what piece of furniture you’d like to get for your home

2) Follow The Dump on Twitter

3) Follow me on Twitter

4) Share this giveaway on a social network

5) Leave a comment on another blog post

Giveaway ends August 30, 2013 at 11:59pm Central time. Must be 18 or older and a US resident to win.

(Disclosure: I was not compensated for posting this. I was invited to the Chicago grand opening and can’t attend but I wanted to post because I thought you all would enjoy this.)

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Family Friendly Events at Chicago Botanic Garden

garden

It’s July and the time of the year that many parents start to hear “I’m bored”. With over a month still left of summer and plenty of nice weather days left it’s the perfect time to go visit the Chicago Botanic Garden.

This summer, the Garden has a variety of activities for families to enjoy together. From the new Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden and Kleinman Family Cove to the Model Railroad Garden and Butterflies & Blooms exhibitions, there are many engaging destinations to discover. A full calendar of events is designed specifically for families throughout the summer.

Image courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden

Model Railroad Garden: Landmarks of America – runs through Sunday, October 27

The Model Railroad Garden returns for a 14th season with new features such as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and a refurbished White House. Eighteen model G-scale trains will run on 17 tracks, winding over bridges and trestles, and around nearly 50 models of American landmarks. The 7,500-square-foot exhibition is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (weather permitting). Special evening hours on Wednesdays, June 5 – August 28, until 8 p.m. Cost is $6 for adults; $5 seniors; $4 children (3-12). Members receive $1 discount off these rates; Garden Plus members are free on Wednesdays. The Model Railroad Garden is generously sponsored by Bank Of America. Visit www.chicagobotanic.org/railroad for more information.

Plant Giveaways – Wednesdays through October 6

Visitors are invited to stop by the Fruit & Vegetable Garden between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday to pick up a free seedling. Plant giveaways vary by month and include a care sheet and recipe to help you enjoy your new plant.

Butterflies & Blooms Exhibition – runs through Monday, September 2

The popular Butterflies & Blooms exhibition returns for its second season. Visitors are immersed in a tropical habitat full of hundreds of colorful butterflies interacting with plant life. Butterflies & Blooms features butterflies from around the world, including South America, Asia, North America, and Africa, as well as those native to Illinois. Volunteers are also on hand to answer questions. The 2,800-square-foot white mesh enclosure is located on the lawn of the Learning Campus. Cost is $6 for adults; $5 seniors; $4 children (3-12). Members receive $1 discount off these rates; Garden Plus members are free on Wednesdays. Visit www.chicagobotanic.org/butterflies for more information.

Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden Family Drop-in Activities – Daily, through September 2

Get close to nature and discover where food comes from and how plants grow. Pollinate flowers, dissect seeds, see roots growing, compost with worms, create a rainbow for healthy eating, and more. Activities vary from week to week and all feature books and puzzles. Weekend hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Weekday hours are noon to 4 p.m. Visit www.chicagobotanic.org/forfamilies for more information.

Kleinman Family Cove Family Drop-in Activities – Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, through September 1

Explore the plants and animals in aquatic habitats. Use scientific tools to look at tiny critters living under water, find out what makes water plants different from land plants, and more. Activities may vary from week to week. Program hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitwww.chicagobotanic.org/forfamilies for more information.

Malott Japanese Garden Family Sundays – Sundays, July 7 and 21, August 6 and September 1 and 15

Drop by the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden for hands-on activities related to Japanese arts and culture. Practice using chopsticks, rake miniature dry gardens, make Japanese kites, and more. The free activities vary each time, and are subject to change. 

Family Campout – July 27 (rain date August 2)

Families can come pitch a tent in our Outdoor Classroom for a low-stress camping experience with flushing toilets and running water! We’ll go for a scavenger hunt and evening hike through the prairie and cook s’mores around a campfire. Please plan to spend the night, as the Garden is unable to accommodate “under-night” or evening-only participants. Activities are geared for participants ages 5 and 6, but younger campers are welcome. Please note the rain date when registering for the campout. Campout fees will only be refunded if both the original date and the rain date are cancelled by the Garden. Program runs 5 p.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Sunday. Cost is $50 per child; $20 per adult. Garden Plus members receive a 20 percent discount. Adult must accompany children. Limit of three children per adult. Campers should bring a sack lunch for dinner. S’mores and breakfast is provided. Visit www.chicagobotanic.org/afterschool/campouts or call (847) 835-8239 for more information.

Herb Garden Weekend – Saturday, July 27, and Sunday, July 28

Learn about a variety of kitchen garden herbs in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden at Herb Garden Weekend. Staff, volunteers and outside experts will talk about their top ten herbs, how to grow herbs in containers, herbs in the kitchen and more. Herb Discovery Carts will introduce visitors to the herbs and edible flowers they can grow in their own gardens. Marcia Carmichael, herbal expert and historical gardener at Old World Wisconsin, will answer herb gardening questions throughout the weekend. Select vendors will offer plants and herbal products for sale. Visitors can take part in a number of family-friendly activities, including a sniff guess game, planting an herb seed and making a dried herb mix for herb butter. As part of the Plant Giveaway Program, visitors can take a marjoram seedling home (while supplies last). Hours are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Nature Nights: NEW! Abounding Butterflies – Saturdays, July 6 or 20

Bring a picnic dinner and spend an evening in the Garden! Children ages 4-10 and their families will explore different areas of the Garden and enjoy a variety of discovery-based activities. You’ll learn how butterflies sense the world around them, find out about the butterfly life cycle, and discover how to attract butterflies to your garden. Each Nature Nights also includes a tram ride, a planting project, and s’mores around the campfire. Hours are from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Registration is $25 for nonmembers. Garden Plus members receive a 20 percent discount. Visitwww.chicagobotanic.org/naturenights/ for more information.

Nature Nights: Aquatic Adventure – Saturday, August 3 or 17

Bring a picnic dinner and spend an evening in the Garden! Children ages 4-10 and their families will explore different areas of the garden and enjoy a variety of discovery-based activities. You’ll gather your own water sample and look at plants, insects, and animals that live in the water at the Kleinman Family Cove using scientific tools. Each Nature Nights also includes a tram ride, a planting project, and s’mores around the campfire. Hours are from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Registration is $25 for nonmembers. Garden Plus members receive a 20 percent discount. Visitwww.chicagobotanic.org/naturenights for more information.

Kite Festival – Saturday, August 10, and Sunday, August 11

Enjoy a day at the Garden as colorful kites decorate the sky above the meadow west of Evening Island. Members of the award-winning Chicago Fire Kite Team perform sport kite ballet and precision flying demonstrations, and experts will offer kite-flying tips. Kids are encouraged to join in the fun by making their own kite during the kite-making workshops between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. There’ll also be a ‘Kids Mad Dash’ in which participants will compete to see who can get their kite built and soaring the fastest. Registration is free and available at the Gift of Wings tent between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The first 30 children to register will receive a free kite to build and fly in the competition. Participants may bring and fly their own kites in the designated “Kite Festival” area between performances. Kites will also be available for purchase through Gift of Wings, a Milwaukee, WI-based retailer which will set up shop during the festival. Gift of Wings along with the Kite Society of Wisconsin and Illinois make this festival possible.

Festival hours are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., weather permitting. Visit www.chicagobotanic.org/specialevent/kite or call (847) 835-5440 for more information.

Malott Japanese Garden Summer Festival – Saturday, August 17, and Sunday, August 18

Learn about the summer festivals (matsura) celebrated in Japan during this special weekend of activities. Listen to taiko drum and koto harp music, enjoy traditional folktales, and watch a tea ceremony. Kids of all ages can make projects to celebrate summer—fold origami, create a paper fan, make a kite, and more at family-friendly, hands-on stations. Program hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Malott Japanese Garden will be staffed with volunteers in the Shoin House and around the Garden from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Also stop by the Mid-America Bonsai Society Show & Sale. Visit www.chicagobotanic.org/familyprograms/dropin for more information.

Heirloom Tomato Weekend – Saturday, August 24, and Sunday, August 25

Get new ideas about everyone’s garden-favorite, tomatoes, with programs focused on growing and using heirloom varieties. Volunteers and staff will provide tips on growing and using tomatoes. “Tomato Discovery Carts” will explore many types of tomatoes you can grow at home and trace the history of tomatoes as they’ve traveled the world. Visitors can ask experts tomato questions and shop for tomato-related items in the Wheelbarrow Shop and from select vendors. Family activities include a creating an herb mix for pasta sauce, a tomato toss, a tomato test, “sorting supper,” “rainbows of tomatoes,” and “indicator art.” As part of the Plant Giveaway Program, visitors can take a Crimson King basil seedling home (while supplies last). Hours are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors will be able to tour the tomatoes growing in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden with the horticulturist at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Seed saving demonstrations will be offered on the half hour throughout the weekend.

Find out more at www.chicagobotanic.org

(Disclosure: This post is not sponsored.)

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View Chicago’s Skyline From A Seadog Cruise

seadog

(Disclosure: I will be going on a Fireworks Seadog cruise in July during BlogHer but thoughts are my own.)

I love living near Chicago. It’s such an exciting place to be and an absolutely beautiful city. I don’t get to the city to explore as much as I’d like but the BlogHer conference is in my hometown this year so this July I will be spending a lot of time doing “touristy” things. One of the things I can’t wait to do is go on a Seadog cruise along Chicago’s scenic lakefront.

Seadog offers four exciting ways to see and experience Chicago from the water:

Lakefront Speedboat Tour

This 30-minute cruise along the shoreline offers a descriptive tour of Chicago’s famous skyline, while playing your favorite music.

Extreme Thrill Ride

This cruise is perfect for the dare-devil in you! This 30-minute ride features splash down stops, 180-degree turns, slalom runs and more.

River and Lake Architectural Tour

Enjoy historic views of Chicago’s famous landmarks and neighborhoods during this 75-minute cruise on both Lake Michigan and the Chicago River.

Lakefront Fireworks Cruise

Enjoy front-row seats to the spectacular fireworks display aboard the Lakefront Fireworks Cruise! Cruise along Lake Michigan with an exciting speedboat ride paired with an informative tour of the Chicago skyline, then end the evening with a dazzling fireworks show and top-40 hits playing in the background! The open aired vessel allows for panoramic views, providing a perfect view. The Seadog Fireworks Cruise is available on Wednesdays and Saturdays, running from Memorial Day – Labor Day.

Seadog is great for both individuals and groups and they offer customizable group events for up to 450 people. Seadog also features specific holiday cruises, such as Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Halloween.

For more information, please visit www.seadogcruises.com/chicago/ or call 888-636-7737.

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Girls Night Out: Be Bold. Go Red. {Ticket Giveaway}

gno logo

Be Bold. Go Red and join B96, 104.3 K-HITS and Bath & Body Works to celebrate the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement on Thursday, February 28, from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm at Alhambra Palace Restaurant, located at 1240 West Randolph Street in Chicago.

Treat yourself to a Girls Night Out! Get the red carpet treatment, with complimentary hors d’oeuvres, beauty services, consultations and more when you Go Red!

Plus, VIP Attendees will receive a beverage ticket and a Girls Night Out Swag Bag packed full of fun goodies including Bath & Body Works Forever Red fragrance mist, Garrett Popcorn, cosmetic and hair care samples, sweets, treats and more!

Top off the night with a high style Spring fashion show, previewing collections from Chicago Fashion Incubator’s top designers.

You can purchase VIP and general tickets on Eventbrite here.

GIVEAWAY

One winner will receive 2 VIP tickets to the Be Bold. Go Red. event

HOW TO ENTER

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

1) Leave a comment telling me why you want to attend this event

2) Share this giveaway on a social network

3) Follow @aliciamarie112 on Twitter

4) Follow @SassyMomChicago on Twitter

Giveaway ends February 17, 2013 at 11:59pm Central time. Winners must be 18 or over. This giveaway only includes tickets to the event. Transportation, parking, and any other fees will not be covered. Since this is a dated event, the winner will have only 24 hours to respond to my email or I will have to choose another winner.

(Disclosure: Be Bold. Go Red and join B96, 104.3 K-HITS and Bath & Body Works for a fun and charitable event on Thursday, February 28th, at the “Girls Night Out Benefiting Go Red for Women” at Alhambra Palace Restaurant. I was selected to host this giveaway by Sassy Moms in the City. This is not a compensated post…just sharing for a great cause!)

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iPad Mini {Giveaway}

evzdrop

I’m back with a new site design and an amazing giveaway to start your Holiday season! I’ve told you all about Evzdrop before but if you missed the post I’ll give you a refresher… Evzdrop is a location-based interest network that lets people stay connected to what’s happening at places in real time. Sinisa and I tried it earlier in the month and we loved being able to get suggestions about places we were at or were going to.

Evzdrop is currently hosting a Holiday contest on their blog. Between November 23rd and December 21st, they are asking users to “drop” at all their shopping, dining and holiday preparation locations. Using the Holiday Drop Quest list (found on their blog) users will need to mention one of the items in their Drop and then they will be entered to win a number of great prizes. Each Drop, every uploaded picture, and every Drop shared on Facebook and Twitter will earn people another entry. You can find all of the details on their blog.

In addition to the great prizes available from their Holiday contest they are offering an iPad Mini as a special prize for my readers and the readers of a few other local Chicago blogs. You can enter that giveaway on the Rafflecopter form below. This giveaway ends on December 29, 2012 and is open to US readers only. Good luck!

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Introducing Evzdrop, A Location-Based Interest Network

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Sinisa and I have spent the past couple days trying out a new iPhone app for a location-based interest network called Evzdrop. Evzdrop lets people stay connected to what’s happening at places in real time. The free mobile app and Web platform allow users to “evzdrop” to get an inside look at any place they’re interested in through the people who are present and posting about what’s going on at any given moment.

Here’s what makes Evzdrop different from other location-based networks:

Evzdrop lets users “listen in” from nearby or afar. Was the referee correct on that controversial call? Use Evzdrop to see what people at the game have to say. How does the band sound from the front row? Check out the comments and photos on Evzdrop, either via the mobile app or Web platform. Thinking about visiting a certain bar on your business trip next month? See what people at the venue right now are saying about their experience on Evzdrop.

Evzdrop gives consumers a voice. Even if you have 10,000 Twitter followers, chances are they are only interested in a small portion of your tweets because the content can vary so widely. Evzdrop gives people a large network with a targeted following by providing them a microphone through which to broadcast their experience at that point in time. The platform allows you to be heard where and when it matters most: in the moment

Evzdrop’s geo-fencing technology allows users to Drop anonymously while still maintaining credibility. Mobile users often want to be heard but don’t necessarily want to be found, and Evzdrop’s Stealth mode lets users contribute while still protecting individual privacy. By design, all Drops are location-verified, but consumers are able to use the Stealth function to post anonymously if they choose, and location makes their insights valid.

Evzdrop allows consumers to influence change. When a user Drops, it sends a ripple effect through the app, reaching other users who are tuned in to Radar or that particular place. Evzdrop’s common connection – location – means that users are able to reach a constantly changing set of people who share similar interests. But consumers aren’t the only people listening; businesses are too. In many ways, Evzdrop serves as a digital comment box that’s open to the public.

Evzdrop brings focus and relevance to the overwhelming amount of content being created on social media. Evzdrop employs the interest graph as the thread that ties its network together, letting you listen in to the places you care about. The app provides a collective snapshot of a location at any given time and opens up a lens of insight well beyond one’s social network.

We’ve been asked to use the app as we go about the week so we can give my readers and followers and the members of the Chicago Blogger Network a peek into the lives of a busy mom and dad on the go. You can follow us as we “drop” our locations around the suburbs of Chicago by following us on Twitter. My handle is @aliciamarie112 and Sinisa’s is @DADofJAKEnLUKE :)

We will be back this weekend with a full review of the app and the network!

(Disclosure: I am being compensated for being an Evzdrop Ambassador for the week.)

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Supporting Hesed House, A Chicago Area Ministry To The Poor & Homeless

Jacob in front of the Hesed House

As you all know, I have been sharing about making this an “others” focused holiday season instead of a “gift” focused season. I’ve shared about many issues lately that are focused on other countries but I wanted to show Jacob that there are people near us that need help, too. We talked about how some people in our town and towns around us don’t have any homes and sometimes stay at a place called a homeless shelter. We found one near us, called Hesed House, and looked at the list of items they were in need of.

Knowing that we could easily provide some needed items, Jacob, Lucas, and I headed to our local Walmart and shopped the health and beauty aisles.

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We bought soap, shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and deodorant to donate to the shelter.

We put everything into bags and headed to the shelter. Once there I told Jacob to hop out of the car and help me with the bags. It wasn’t until we were standing outside in front of the shelter that I had noticed Jacob hadn’t put his shoes on and was standing in his socks outside the homeless shelter office.

Once we were let inside we dropped off our bags full of toiletries and briefly learned more about the mission.

Hesed House’s mission is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless and give people the chance to hope again. Today, Hesed House is a national model for ending homelessness – one person, one family at a time. It is the culmination of nearly three decades of strategic evolution from a formerly acceptable model of “eats and sheets” to a Comprehensive Homeless Resource Center – a campus of centralized highly skilled professionals collaborating to provide the tools necessary to help individuals and families break free of the shackles binding them to homelessness.

I think it’s a great ministry and one that I plan to be more involved with in the future as a volunteer. We’ve also already started a donation basket for our next visit to the shelter and will be shopping off of their Christmas wish list as well.

If you live in the Chicago area and would like to donate to this shelter please leave a comment and I’d be happy to meet and pick up donation items from you. :)

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This post is part of a #DialCFK Simple Service Project with Champions For Kids. They believe that no child should ever go to school hungry, cold or without the resources they need to thrive and as a mother I am thrilled to support them. You can connect with them on Twitter and on Facebook.

See my Google+ story for more pictures!

(Disclosure: I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community.  This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and Dial Soaps  #DialCFK  #CBias #SocialFabric )

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Chicago Toy & Game Fair {Giveaway}

ChiTagLogo_Hi_Res

The North Pole might as well be in Chicago the week before Thanksgiving, as over 25,000 visitors will head to Navy Pier to shop and play with thousands of toys and games on display from over 250 exhibitors. The 10th anniversary Chicago Toy & Game Fair, the largest public toy and game show in the nation, features the holiday season’s newest offerings from some of the bestselling brands in the world, as well as critically acclaimed, award-winning games from independent retailers.

The Chicago Toy & Game Fair will be held at Navy Pier in Festival Hall A on Saturday, November 17th and Sunday, November 18th.

Highlights include:

All Weekend:

- Giant-sized games such as: Bananagrams, Perplexus, Doggie Doo, Word on the Street, Pajaggle, and more
- Settlers of Catan North American Catan Championship
- Meet the Moshi Monsters
- Autographs from renowned toy and game inventors
- Free contests and game tournaments
- Speed Stacks sport stacking demonstrations and tournaments

Saturday:

-Young Inventor Challenge
-Stars Wars Lunch (Additional Cost)
-Official Illinois State Yo-Yo Contest
-Top Trumps Guinness Book of World Records Attempt

Sunday:

-Stage Performances from Radio Disney, Blues Clues LIVE! presented by Naperville’s Center Stage Players, Elan Dance
Company, Ben’s Bubble Show, Lil’ Buds Theater and more.
-Boy Scouts Top Trump Tournament ((Boy Scouts are admitted into the Fair an hour early)
-Pony Royale Princess Party (Free pony to each girl, while supplies last.)

Tickets:

FREE ADMISSION FOR: Teachers, librarians, members of the military, Boy/Girl Scouts in uniform, children under 3 years of age. On Sunday, grandparents accompanied by kids admitted free of charge.
$10: ages 14+
$5: ages 3-13
(Click here for ticket info and a $2 off coupon)

Win Tickets!!

I will be giving one weekend Family pack away each week!

Winners Chosen: 11/1, 11/8, 11/15

How To Enter:

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

1) Tell me what your favorite game or toy was as a child

2) Share this giveaway on a social network

3) Like Making Time For Mommy on Facebook

4) Follow @aliciamarie112 on Twitter

5) Follow me on Pinterest

6) Comment on another one of my posts

Giveaway ends November 15, 2012 at 11:59pm Central time.

(Disclosure: I was not compensated for posting this information. I received tickets last year and it was a lot of fun so I wanted to offer tickets to my readers this year even though I can’t attend. This giveaway is only for tickets to get into the fair and doesn’t include travel, parking, or any other expenses. This giveaway is not associated with Facebook in any way.)

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My On The Field Experience With The Chicago Cubs {And How YOU Can Have A “Priceless” Experience Too!}

priceless mastercard

As a blogger in a big city I get to do a lot of fun things but there is nothing I like more than being able to involve my friends and loved ones in my blogging events. When I was invited to enjoy a day at Wrigley Field with the Chicago Cubs courtesy of MasterCard and allowed to bring a guest I knew exactly who I wanted to bring. My little brother is a huge Cubs fan and I knew he’d really have a lot of fun during this once in a lifetime experience. {Make sure to read below to find out how YOU can have a unique experience in Chicago, too!}

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the day:

Love that they promote their social media channels here!

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My little brother, Brock, right after he stepped onto the field :)

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Brock playing catch on the field.

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Brock standing in front of the ivy wall at Wrigley Field.

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ME! Enjoying a relaxing morning on the field

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Hope of Digital Megaphone {she’s the one who invited us along!}

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Me and my little bro :)

During this experience we also enjoyed batting practice in the Chicago Cubs batting cages, got to take souvenir balls, and went to a private party at the Captain Morgan’s Club where we had lunch.

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Do you want to have a once in a lifetime experience like this? YOU CAN!!

This event was part of MasterCard’s Priceless Chicago promotion. MasterCard offers priceless experiences to their cardholders. You can find out more details on MasterCard’s website but here are a few experiences that may interest you or your family members:

Pre-Game VIP Party at Wrigley Field

Brunch at the American Girl Doll Place with Author Valerie Tripp

A day of beauty at Neiman Marcus’s Michigan Avenue store

Private 15 Course Meal with Top Chef Richie Farina

(Disclosure: I attended this event courtesy of MasterCard and Digital Megaphone free of charge. All thoughts are my own.)

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How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular {Discount Code}

dragon1

DREAMWORKS HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON LIVE SPECTACULAR is coming to Chicago! It will be at the United Center this weekend. The first show is on Thursday, July 26 at 7:00 PM. Other showtimes are Friday, July 27 at 7:00 PM; Saturday, July 28 at 11:00 AM, 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM; and Sunday, July 29 at 1:00 PM and 5:00 PM. All shows have free parking at official United Center parking lots for all performances.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON LIVE SPECTACULAR was created by DreamWorks Animation, producers of the Academy Award®-nominated film, How to Train Your Dragon, which opened as the #1 film in more than 30 countries, and Global Creatures, the masterminds behind the international phenomenon Walking with Dinosaurs, the #1-grossing world tour of 2010. 

The live production rolls fire-breathing action, epic adventure and heartfelt laughter into an original captivating story set in the mythical world of Vikings and wild dragons.  Based on the book by Cressida Cowell, it centers on Hiccup, a Viking teenager who doesn’t fit in with his tribe’s longstanding tradition of heroic dragon slayers.  Hiccup’s world is turned upside down when he encounters a dragon that challenges him and his fellow Vikings to see the world from an entirely different point of view.

Find more information about the show at www.dreamworksdragonslive.com.

Ticket Prices:

Tickets are on sale now and start at $26.50 plus applicable facility fees and service charges.

Discount Code:

Save 25% nationwide on select seats for weekday performances (including Fridays)

with code MOM on ticketmaster.com

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(Disclosure: I received a family pack of tickets to attend the show in exchange for posting about the show and sharing my honest opinions afterwards.)

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Free Vision Screenings At The Taste Of Chicago

chicago new

Chicago is a beautiful city. I love walking along the lake and staring out into the water and watching as the boats bob up and down. I love walking down the streets and seeing all of the intricate details of the buildings as I peer up into the sky and see buildings disappear into the clouds. I love seeing nature in the city and walking among flowers in the various gardens that offer green space in between all of the brick and concrete. I love learning about history, science, and more at our many museums. If parking costs weren’t an issue I’d be bringing my children into the city every weekend to introduce them to everything Chicago has to offer. The few times they have been downtown they just stand in awe of the city, especially when they stand next to the skyscrapers!

Transitions Optical is hosting a sightseeing tour and will be listing the 10 top sightseeing spots in Chicago. You can check out their website in the coming weeks as they unveil their list. I’m interested to see if some of my favorites made the list. If I were making it I would include the Sears Tower {yes I know it has a new name but I refuse to call it anything other than it’s “real” name}, Navy Pier, the Shedd Aquarium, Michigan Avenue, and the lakefront.

The Taste of Chicago is in town through the 15th and that brings a whole new variety of things to see. I love going to the Taste and trying new foods. I also love “people watching”. So many people crowded into one area makes for an interesting experience but it’s a lot of fun regardless of the crowds.

If you are headed to the Taste of Chicago make sure to look for the tent to get your vision screened compliments of Vision Works. I think it’s great that these screenings are being offered because I know that when we are all busy it’s not something we think to get done but getting your vision, and your children’s vision, tested is so important. You wouldn’t want to walk around the city of Chicago and not be able to see it’s beauty clearly!

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Learn more about Transitions Optical, the official sponsor of sightseeing at http://seemoresights.com/

Connect with Transitions Lenses on Facebook

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Ways to give back:

I wanted to share about My Eye Promise. According to Transitions Lenses, nearly 50 percent of vision loss can be prevented with an eye exam. If you make a promise to take care of your eyes, Transitions Optical will donate a brand new book to a mobile literacy initiative. Sounds like a win-win for everyone! Find out more details at myeyepromise.com.

There is also a  “Sight of the Day” photo contestwhere people can enter to win an amazing getaway. For every photo uploaded a quarter will be donated to Optometry Giving Sight.

(Disclosure: I received compensation to participate in a SocialMoms and Transitions Optical blogging program. The opinions and ideas expressed here are my own. To read more posts on this topic, click here.)

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My Experience At Ribfest {With Ty Pennington & Sears}

Ty & I

I posted back in June about the Sears “Grilling Is Happiness” live event and how I was so excited because Ty Pennington was going to be there. I wanted to follow up and update you all about my experience and share lots of pictures, too!

Friday night I went to a media/blogger event at a beautiful hotel. There were about 10 bloggers, people from Sears, and then the cooking and lifestyle experts. The experts that attended the event were Ty Pennington {best known for Extreme Makeover Home Edition}, Robyn Lindars of Grill Grrrl, Perry Perkins of Burnin’ Love BBQ, and George Hirsch {a cooking and lifestyle expert}. We ate delicious food while chatting about grilling and blogging. It was also a great chance to get some pictures taken:

Ty & I

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Robyn & I

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Some of the Collective Bias Social Fabric bloggers at the event: myself, Laura, Kelly, and Michelle

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The dessert- yum!

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Saturday I attended the Ribfest in Naperville, IL. This is an annual event with many barbeque restaurants participating. This year Sears participated and hosted a “Grilling Is Happiness” event with live grilling demonstrations, pictures opportunities, and a chance to enter their sweepstakes to win some great prizes. Here are some pictures I took at the Ribfest:

George Hirsch showing off the Kenmore Grill he is using

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Shrimp that George Hirsch made with the help of Ty Pennington {I tasted it and it was delicious! He paired it with asian style noodles.}

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Ty being interviewed by ABC News

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Trying to stay cool on a hot day

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Perry showing what he uses to grill

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I learned a lot watching the experts grill and think it’s great that Sears included a woman in their panel of experts. I don’t know a lot about grilling but seeing that a girl could grill just as well as the men could made me want to go outside and figure out how to use the grill I just bought last month. I also loved how she made a variety of things on the grill that I’d never think to make. She even makes dessert on the grill! {Check out her grilled pound cake recipe}

I had so much fun at the event and took over 60 pictures! You can view the rest of my pictures in my Google+ photo album. I also took two videos at the Ribfest. The first is of Robyn giving a couple of her grilling tips and the second is of Ty sharing a grilling story with the crowd.

If you are in the Chicago area I encourage you to attend the Naperville Ribfest next year! You will not be disappointed. The food is amazing, they have live bands playing throughout the fest, and they even have a fun family area with lots of things to keep the kids busy.

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Connect with Sears:

Sears on Facebook, Sears on Twitter, Shop Your Way on Twitter, Sears Local Ad

Connect with Ribfest:

Ribfest on Facebook, Ribfest on Twitter

(Disclosure: I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community. This content has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and Sears. #CBias #SocialFabric #GrillingIsHappiness All thoughts are my own.)

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Spring Fun In Chicago

kidgrade ambassador

My family has enjoyed a lot of outside time these past couple weeks. It’s been wonderful but as much fun as we’ve had in the backyard, I am already looking forward to getting out and about around Chicago. I headed to Kidgrade.com for some ideas of places we could go that are family friendly. I like the site because there are ratings from other parents on how kid-friendly places are. Here are a few of the places I want to take the boys this Spring:

Places we have never been to before:

Blackberry Historical Farm (Aurora, IL)

Chicago Botanic Garden (Glencoe, IL)

Exploritorium (Skokie, IL)

Kaitlin’s Hideout- A Play Center For Children With Autism (Glen Ellyn, IL)

Places we have been to before and can’t wait to return to:

Brookfield Zoo (Brookfield, IL)

DuPage Children’s Museum (Naperville, IL)

Morton Arboretum (Lisle, IL)

Wilderness Falls (Bolingbrook, IL)

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If you live in the Chicago area what fun places are you looking forward to taking your family?

(Disclosure: I am a Kidgrade Ambassador but all thoughts are my own. I was not asked to write this post and am not being compensated for it but I do receive “perks” as an ambassador.)

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