Christmas Fun In The Chicago Suburbs {8 Places To Take Your Family}

Do you live in a Chicago suburb and are looking for places to take your kids to do some fun Christmas things? I have some ideas:

BASS PRO SHOPS (Bolingbrook and Gurnee)

BOLINGBROOK PROMENADE (Bolingbrook)

Symphony in light shows every evening from 5-9pm until December 31st. Find more information on the Bolingbrook Promenade here.

BROOKFIELD ZOO (Brookfield)

Chicagoland’s largest light festival takes place at Brookfield Zoo. There are lots of lights, animated light displays, a laser light show, music and entertainment. Find out more information here.

CHICAGO BOTANIC GARDENS (Glencoe)

Take a magical adventure to a winter wonderland of twinkling lights and holiday beauty at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Outside, 750,000 lights sparkle and welcome you and your family to the Garden’s wonderland. Inside the Regenstein Center, a 10,000-square-foot exhibition of miniature trains winds through more than 80 miniature Chicago-area landmarks. In addition to the Wonderland Express exhibition there will be decorated trees, a gingerbread village display, and a wreath display and sale. Find out more information here.

MORTON ARBORETUM (Lisle)

A holiday favorite returns! The “Enchanted Railroad” rolls through with model trains of different colors and styles. One train even has a tiny camera on board so visitors can see what it would be like to ride along! Nine trains operate via remote-controlled interlocked signals, allowing them to cross tracks safely, and two trolleys that reverse direction automatically. Bring the kids and spend 30 minutes or more “ooo-ing” and “ahh-ing” at the toy trains. Find out more details here.

LEGOLAND DISCOVERY CENTER (Schaumburg)

LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago invites you to celebrate the season during Holly Jolly Holidays. Festive decorations will deck the halls of the Center throughout the month of December. Guests will also enjoy special seasonal games, group builds and plenty or LEGO-tastic holiday fun! Find out more information here.

CUNEO MANSION & GARDENS (Vernon Hills)

The Drive Thru Holiday Light Show presented by the Village of Vernon Hills in cooperation with the Cuneo Mansion and Gardens is held annually on the magnificent grounds of the Cuneo Mansion and Gardens.  The event opens Friday November 25, 2011 and runs thru December 31, 2011. Find out more information here.  

COSLEY ZOO (Wheaton)

20,000 twinkling lights and spectacular displays transform Cosley Zoo into a fairy tale winter wonderland from Thanksgiving Friday through the end of December. The lights come on at 3p.m. and the zoo closes at 9p.m. Visit the animals and purchase your Christmas tree, wreath, and holiday gifts! FREE to the public! Find out more information here.

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Make sure to visit Kidgrade to get more ideas of where to head for family fun in the Chicago area!

Best Toys For Kids {2011}

Looking for some gift ideas?

Here’s the “Best Toys For Kids” list from the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association:


Active Play

Freestyle Spooner Board
by Spooner Inc.
For ages 3+
Using the Spooner Board, riders of all abilities can pretend they are catching a wave, riding the slopes, or burning up the asphalt without leaving the comfort of the family room. Designed for beginners, kids 3 can simulate spins, twists, slides, and wobbles, while getting a workout, stabilizing their core and improving their balance and coordination.


Z-Curve Bow
by Zing
For ages 8+
The ultimate foam arrow shooter for high tech archery, Zing’s Z-Curve Bow uses safe, soft arrows that can soar 100 feet! Set includes bow, two long-range arrows with holder, and a stick-anywhere Zartz-tip dart for accurate target practice.



Classic Play (0-7 Yrs)

Teaching Cash Register
by Learning Resources
For ages 3+
Cha-ching!! Playing store comes to life with this talking, interactive cash register that rewards transactions with lights, sounds and voice messages. Holds actual-size money and includes a built-in scanner, scale, coin slot and volume control. Engaging play helps kids practice basic math skills and recognition of coins and bills. Requires 3 C batteries, not included.



Classic Play (8 Yrs+)

Potholder Kit
by Harrisville Designs
For ages 6+
Children love to weave, especially with this easy metal loom from Harrisville that helps kids understand spatial relationships while developing fine motor control and builds self esteem. It’s a great way to produce something useful. Make handmade items to sell at fundraising events or to give as gifts!



Constructive Play

nanoblock
by Ohio Art/Kawada
For ages 8+
You don’t have to be an engineer to build with nanoblock from Ohio Art! Watch in amazement as 3-D buildings are erected with micro-sized building blocks. With assorted size and colored pieces, create a detailed replica of France’s Eiffel Tower, India’s Taj Mahal and others that fit perfectly in the palm of your hand.



Tegu Blocks
by Tegu
Tegu angle blocks from Tegu allow geometric building possibilities for gravity-defying play! Constructive play reaches new heights with the Explorer Set, which includes 40 blocks in seven shapes and a booklet of building ideas—all packaged in a beautifully designed box large and rigid enough to store the blocks for many years to come.



Creative Arts Play

Happily Ever After Jewelry Box
by The Orb Factory
For ages 5+
Bring a little Happily Ever After to any girls’ room with this beautiful new jewelry box from The Orb Factory. The whimsical tale of a Princess and her Frog Prince is illustrated all around this sparkling box. Follow the numbered legend and mosaic over 750 sparkling tiles and jewels… and watch this magical story spring to life!


Safety Pin Bracelets
by Klutz
For ages 8+
Super-simple, fully illustrated step-by-step directions by Klutz for Safety Pin Bracelets shows how anyone can craft an entire collection of brilliantly sparkling jewelry out of garden-variety safety pins. The book includes 12 unique bracelet designs. You pick the colors and patterns so each bracelet is uniquely you.



Early Play 0-3 Year

Early Melodies Pound and Tap Bench
by Hape
For ages 12 months and up
This sturdy wooden toy from Hape gives babies lots of ways to have fun with sounds. They can pound the balls with the hammer to make them roll down the xylophone, making a beautiful scale of musical sounds or pull out the xylophone and tap directly on the keys to make an original tune!


Pic ‘N’ Pop
by International Playthings
For ages 18 months and up
Pic N Pop by Tomy gets children moving! With the click of the button, kids launch a ball from the chute, then roll over the ball and magically pick it up! With five balls, you can use this indoors and outdoors.



Game Play (3-7 Years)

Fast Track
by Blue Orange Games
For ages 3 to 7
Ready, aim, score! With Fastrack from Blue Orange Games, the action is non-stop and the fun is plentiful. Using the elastic cord, be quick and aim well. Be the first to send all of the disks zooming across the other side. WARNING: you may find it difficult to stop playing!


Perplexus Rookie
by Plasmart
For ages 4+
6.5 Inches in diameter, the Perplexus Rookie by Plasmart is filled with layers of detailed maze structures. It’s a brainteaser puzzle with facets kids and adults find both fascinating and mind-bending. Flip, twist and turn the sphere to solve the puzzle. Easy to play but challenging to complete. Great for improving eye-hand coordination and spatial relationships.



Game Play (8 Years+)

Pathwords
by Thinkfun Inc.
For ages 12+
Exercise your brain with PathWords from ThinkFun, the exciting new game that combines the best of Tetris® and Word Search! Place the puzzle pieces onto the selected challenge so the letters under each piece spell a word. With 40 challenges from beginner to expert, PathWords appeals to word game lovers AND puzzle game fanatics.


Trigger
by Blue Orange Games
For ages 8+
You won’t believe how many laughs are packed into the game of Trigger Blue Orange Games. Players answer “true” or “false” to statements as quickly as possible by slapping the target. Right hand is true and left hand is false. With humorous statements in a fast pace atmosphere, the game is always full of surprises.



Pretend (Doll Play)

Tidoo Raspberry
by Corolle
For ages 18 months and up
Designed for bathtime fun, Corolle’s 12-inch Tidoo Raspberry doll is soft, posable and so light it floats! Filled with polystyrene “beads” that dry quickly, Tidoo is a favorite playmate out of the tub, too. Tidoo’s eyes open and close so Tidoo can take a nap — just like a real baby!


Baby Stella Playtime Potty (doll not included)
by Manhattan Toy
For ages 12 months and up
Teach Baby Stella how to use the big potty with the Manhattan Toy Playtime Potty chair! This charming little toilet can be a helpful tool in the potty training process. It encourages your little one to be a “big kid” and encourages social and emotional development through nurturing the Baby Stella doll. (Doll sold separately.)



Pretend (Fantasy Play)

Falcon Knights’ Castle
by Playmobil
For ages 4 to 10
Activate traps and prepare the knights to guard the Falcon Knights’ Castle from intruders. The castle comes with a drawbridge, breakout wall, drop-down ladder, and a trap door. The set also includes four Falcon Knights, horse, functional cannon, and many other accessories to provide hours of entertainment.


Shrinky Dinks Fairy Garden
by Creativity for Kids
For ages 7+
Color and bake these Shrinky Dinks from Creativity for Kids and transform a pop-up garden into a fun fairy hide-away. 50 pre-cut Shrinky Dinks come ready to color and shrink. Decorate the playscape with 3-D fairies, flowers, forest friends and sparkling glitter glue accents. Includes Faber-Castell Colored EcoPencils and a sharpener.



Pretend (Role Play)

Calico Critter Caravan Family Camper
by International Playthings
For ages 3+
Calico Critter families can spend happy vacations together travelling in their very own Caravan Camper from International Playthings! Includes over 35 accessories: round table, plates, cups, utensils, pots, pan, sleeping bags, maps, “board games”, iron, soap, towel & much more!


Healthy Gourmet Salad for Green Eaters
by Hape
For ages 3+
Imaginative play gets nourished when children create a tasty salad with these vibrant wood vegetables. This 36-piece set from Hape includes the bowl, the vegetables, and dressing—oil, vinegar, and pepper—plus utensils for tossing up some healthy play.



Scientific Play

Big Bag of Science
by Be Amazing
For ages 8+
This giant kit by Be Amazing whets the appetites of budding young scientists. With more than 70 hands-on science activities, it guarantees hours and hours of science fun. Make water disappear or flow uphill! Create a soda geyser or grow fake snow! Science is fun with activities using chemistry, physic, magnetism, weather, biology, geology, and flight.


Remote Control Machines
by Thames and Kosmos
For ages 8+
Use this exciting Thames & Kosmos kit to build your own motorized machines, then control them with a unique six-button infrared remote. Control three different motors simultaneously, moving each of them forward or in reverse, with easy-to-activate touch sensors. Includes 3 motors, remote control unit, battery holder, and building blocks.
                                                  


(Disclosure: I received many of these toys at an event I went to at Building Blocks Toy Store but was not compensated or asked to post this list.)

Tips For Buying A New Smartphone

Last week I went to a fun blogging event at T-Mobile put on by one of my fabulous tech blogger friends, Kris. T-Mobile shared some Holiday shopping tips with us and I wanted to share them with you because they are good tips for buying a phone from any carrier, not just T-Mobile.

1) Think about what you will use the phone for. Don’t just get a phone because it’s “the best”, get a phone because it fits your lifestyle and your needs.

2) Figure out how much data you will need. The T-Mobile associates shared that most people do not need to purchase the largest data package because they don’t use all that data. T-Mobile has a nifty calculator on their site to check out which package you would need from them.

3) If you make calls outside the country consider getting a prepaid plan to control your costs.

4) Check to see if there is strong coverage at places you will be using the phone the most. This is important. What good is a phone if you can’t use it where you live, work, or spend a majority of your time? I used to get horrible phone service in my own home and would have to sit in a spot that was “just right” to talk on my phone. It was such a pain.

5) Don’t forget the accessories. Sinisa got a Bluetooth headset as an early Christmas gift and he LOVES it!

6) Understand return policies.

T-MOBILE’S APPLICATIONS FOR FAMILIES:

I am not a T-Mobile customer but if I had a child who was old enough for a smartphone I would probably switch because T-Mobile has some awesome safety and control applications that parents can get:

-DriveSmart Plus- Distracted driving is dangerous, especially with new drivers. DriveSmart manages distractions by silencing incoming notifications, sending callers to voicemail and auto responding to incoming text messages. With DriveSmart Plus, you get automatic driving detection, parental controls and notification of cell phone activity while driving, providing additional peace of mind.

FamilyWhere– If you’ve ever wondered where your kids are, this feature is for you. It allows parents to track the location of any phone on their family plan. You can even schedule  alerts as a reminder to check where your kids are during the day and view up  to 7 days of location history.

-You can also block calls during certain times (like during the school day and after “lights out”) and you can block certain numbers if you don’t want them calling your child.

T-Mobile's myTouch

We got to try out the myTouch phones by T-Mobile at the event. They are pretty cool. I liked that they are so lightweight! My phone feels like a brick compared to this one. {Oh…and I WON one of these in a raffle! yippeee!}

(Disclosure: I attended this event and won a phone but all thoughts are my own.)

Bertolli’s Fresh Tasting Soups {Event Recap And A Giveaway}


Earlier this month I was invited to a “Soups and Sips” event by Bertolli. I enjoyed learning more about the soups and trying them while talking with other Chicago area bloggers. It was fun because I got a chance to meet local “foodies” who normally don’t attend the other blogging events I go to.

I was familiar with Bertolli frozen meals for two but had never heard of their soups before I was invited to the event. I had never had soup from the freezer aisle so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wondered if they would taste like canned soups which often have mushy vegetables and noodles. Bertolli’s four varieties of soup include: Chicken and Rotini Pasta, Tomato Florentine, Chicken Minestrone, and Tuscan Beef and Vegetables.

I was pleasantly surprised. The soups were delicious, the vegetables were crunchy and the chunks of meat were plentiful and sizeable. I don’t typically think of soups as filling but I could see one package of soup with a side salad and bread making a great date night dinner . My favorite flavor was the Tomato Florentine.

Yum!

In addition to the soups and bread we had appetizers and wine (which I didn’t drink) and some awesome desserts (which I ate plenty of). We also enjoyed eating all of this while listening to a wonderful opera singer. Thanks to Bertolli for a wonderful event!

GIVEAWAY

One reader will win a coupon for a FREE Bertolli Meal Soup or Frozen Meal

HOW TO ENTER

Leave a comment telling me which flavor you want to try!

Giveaway ends December  10, 2011 at 11:59pm Central time. US Only.

(Disclosure: I received free products and was invited to this event but all thoughts are my own.)

Neighborhood Toy Store Day

Tomorrow, November 12, is Neighborhood Toy Store Day! Small toy stores across the country will be celebrating the joy of play to launch the Holiday shopping season. Shopping at local owned toy stores is wonderful because you get great customer service and knowledgeable staff, special services (some have free gift wrapping!), and best of all you are keeping your hard earned money in your community.

Many stores will be having special events to celebrate this special day. You can see a list of stores participating here. If you live in the Chicago area, Building Blocks Toy Store will be having costumed characters, giveaways, entertainment, and more at their events.

Check back tomorrow when I will share the 2011 “Best Toys For Kids” list from ASTRA, The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association.

(Disclosure: I recently went to an event at my local toy store but all thoughts are my own and I was not compensated for posting this information.)

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus {In Chicago}

Don’t miss Fully Charged, the all-new surge of circus entertainment from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey where megawatts of thrills explode off of the arena floor with breathtaking dare-devilry, superhuman stunts and never-before-seen performances that energize Children of All Ages! Playing Allstate Arena November 3-13 and United Center November 16-27.  Get your tickets today at www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 1-800-745-3000, or at either arena box office.

A Special Offer Just For You:

Use code MOMMY to receive 4 tickets for just $44 for all weekday shows
(Monday-Friday, excluding Friday evenings and holidays)
OR
Use code MOMMY to save $4 for all weekend performances (Friday evening-Sunday)
Code expires: 11/27/2011
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(Disclosure: I was given a family pack of tickets to the circus but all opinions are my own.)

Day Out With Thomas

Jacob’s favorite thing to play with is his collection of Thomas trains so it came as no surprise that he LOVED the trip to Union, IL for Day Out With Thomas. Our family had a great time and the weather was beautiful. Want to see if the tour is headed towards you? Go here to view the 2011 Thomas Leader of The Track Tour schedule.

Activities during the Day Out With Thomas event:

  • 20-minute ride with Thomas the Tank Engine™
  • Meet Sir Topham Hatt™
  • Clowns
  • Puppet Shows
  • Magic Shows
  • Live Music
  • Thomas & Friends™ Storytelling and Video Viewing
  • Thomas & Friends Playtable
  • Balloon Animals
  • Thomas & Friends Coloring
  • Temporary Tattoos of Island of Sodor Friends
  • Thomas and Friends Store

Here are ten of my favorite pictures from the day:

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And I love the shirts we got them:

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You can find out more information and order tickets here.

Have you ever been to Day Out With Thomas? What did you think of it?

Interested in going? Have questions about the tour? I’ll try to answer them :)

(Disclosure: I received tickets as a blog reporter for Day Out With Thomas 2011 but all opinions are my own.)


Carson & Barnes Circus

Last night Jacob and I, along with my nephew and my Sister-In-Law, went to the Carson & Barnes Circus. We had a really great time! We got there early which was good because they have a small carnival area.

Jacob and Camden had fun going on a train ride and a huge inflatable slide.

They also had camels and elephants available to ride. The highlight of my evening (and probably my week) was taking a ride on an elephant!

After the fun outside we headed into the big tent. It was much smaller than I had expected it to be but a lot bigger than it looked from the outside. We found seats up high where we had a good view of everything. The seating was in bleachers which became uncomfortable after a while but they also had more comfortable seating areas for a few dollars more which I recommend investing in.

After we found our seats we took turns getting food. The food was decently priced. We got a hot dog and some cotton candy. I also got the boys light up toys to wave in the dark tent.

Once we started eating the show started. The performer called the “King of Comedy” at the circus, Alex, was pretty funny in his antics. The acts came from all around the world and we really enjoyed watching their amazing stunts. I tried to get pictures but they all came out blurry or badly lit so I grabbed some pictures from the circus website to share:

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If you would like more information on the Carson & Barnes Circus you can visit their website. A worker at the circus said that they travel the United States for 8 months out of the year. You can see a list of their stops here (though it only shows about a month at a time).

(Disclosure: I received tickets to the circus for my family to go but all thoughts are my own.)

Sensory Friendly Films at AMC

I was so excited to find this that I just had to share… AMC Entertainment is partnering with The Autism Society to bring Sensory Friendly Films to select communities on a monthly basis. According to their website, “the program provides a special opportunity for families to enjoy their favorite films in a safe and accepting environment. The auditoriums dedicated to the program have their lights up, the sound turned down and audience members are invited to get up and dance, walk, shout or sing!”

The tentative upcoming Sensory Friendly Films are:

(Updated Movie Schedule 9/23/11)

October 1 – Dolphin Tale

November 5 – Puss in Boots

 

*The site says that all shows are scheduled for 10am on these days but that dates and movies are tentative so be sure to call ahead.

(Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.)

Zhu-niverse Tour 2010

The Zhu-niverse Tour 2010

May 27th- October 10th

Jacob and his Zhu-Zhu pet

The Zhu-niverse Tour (sponsored by ToysRUs) stopped at Ribfest in Naperville, IL over the Fourth of July weekend.

I went because I was asked to get a group of children together to demonstrate the Zhu-Zhu Flow Dance on stage.

The Zhu-Zhu Tour

There were lots of things for children to do while at the Zhu-niverse Tour area.

The Zhu Character Generator tells you which Zhu Zhu Pet or Kung Zhu hamster you are most like.

Children can go in the life size hamster habitat trail and hamster wheel.

Children can race each other in the obstacle course.

Children can play with Zhu-Zhu pets.

They have a DS gaming station set up to play the new Zhu-Zhu Pets game.

Here are children from our group doing the Zhu-Zhu Flow Dance on stage.

Wondering if the Zhu-niverse tour is coming to your town? Here is a list of the tour dates and locations.

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(Disclosure: I was provided tickets for entrance to the Ribfest for my group, a Zhu-Zhu pet, and a Pizza Hut giftcard from BSM Media on behalf of the Zhu-niverse Tour. As always, all thoughts and opinions in this post are my own.)