3 Things to Do Before Summer’s End

I can’t believe it’s August. It just seems like yesterday I wrote my last blog post talking about how summer break was off to an auspicious start. And now! It’s almost over. Isn’t that how it always goes?

Lucky for you, there is still time left to pack in all my favorite summer activities so far. Herewith, my favorite things to do before summer ends.

1) Sailing on Lake Michigan with Chicago Sailing

I cannot say enough good things about the sailing trip we were offered by Chicago Sail — a sailboat rental, charter, and lesson facility that runs out of Belmont Harbor. I never even knew the outfit existed, and only minutes from my house. We all had a blast with our captain Ben, and he showed us the ropes, literally of how to sail our sturdy Hunter 32 boat. Chicago Sailing has many ways to enjoy the city views from the water with lessons, (kids’ lessons, too… that’s next summer), charters, private instruction, certification and a guarantee of fun! A snapshot of our experience:

sailing

2) Canoeing on the North Branch from the WMS Boathouse

I’ve already spilled the beans on this one on Facebook and no less than 5 friends have already tried it out. It’s THAT fun. That’s right, canoeing on the North Branch of the Chicago River. I can’t recommend actually touching the water, but I can recommend cruising along with your family or friends for a relaxing, entertaining and nature-dense ride. Just in one afternoon we saw an otter (scared me), turtles, a heron, a kingfisher and myriad ducks and geese. I can canoe, can you?

canoe

3) Water Taxiing

Every summer (see how these all have to do with water?) I try to take my kids on the most cost-effective entertainment in the city: the $2 water taxi rides from downtown. You can cruise, for almost pennies, downtown on the river and hop on and off as you please. Some of my friends have had the brilliant idea to take the taxi all the way to Chinatown to eat. I’ll have to try that next time.

What is on your summer list? Maybe I will have time to try it next summer…

 

Best Books for Preschoolers According to Follett’s at Opening Minds Conference

swimLast week I got the chance to attend the Opening Minds Conference in Chicago. Opening Minds is the largest early-education conference in the U.S. that brings together the latest in trends and innovation in early childhood education. They had some amazing workshops and education seminars and I wish I could have attended them all, but one that I wanted to share with you all was Follett’s List of recommended books for preschoolers. Here’s what they are recommending – let me know if you have your favorites for your young ones!

 

Best New Workouts for Busy Moms 2014

Every year for Chicago Parent I have the fun assignment of testing out the newest workouts that moms can do efficiently and effectively. These classes are typically cutting edge and put me to the test. This year I checked out a bootcamp, yoga, cheerleading (yes I know) and a really oddly-named but effective class called Animal Flow. You can read the whole story on Chicago Parent’s website.

Happy New Year and happy working out for 2014!

My holiday gift picks featured on Groupon Chicago Guide!

Oh my poor neglected blog. Can you tell it was a busy fall? It was indeed because I haven’t posted here since September. I can tell you since my last post I’ve racked up 5 new clients for work, attended two bat/ bar mitzvahs, have been to 20+ hockey practices, swim lessons, soccer classes and Chanukah parties/ holiday dinners/ friend and family obligations.

We’ve all been busy and such is this freaky holiday fall life. But I did get to do something cool. Get interviewed by Groupon Chicago on my picks for kids’ gifts (and a couple for the parents) this holiday season. Still on the hunt for something cool, unique and useful? Here are my thoughts. Would love to hear what’s on your list, too! You can see the original article here.

Kids Hate Cheese Boards. Gift Them These Toys Instead.

 

Determined to buy the best holiday gifts of their lives, Groupon’s Style & Beauty writers sought shopping advice from local experts. Click here for guides to buying presents for the fitness lover, foodie, or coffee addict in your life.

For many people, being a parent is a full-time job with no paid overtime. But for Sara Fisher, co-founder of 2 Moms Media, parenthood has become a fruitful career. She shares the challenges and triumphs of raising kids on her blog, Self-Made Mom, and as a contributing writer for Chicago Parent magazine.

Naturally, when pressed for holiday gift advice, the busy mom was quick to recommend items that would benefit overworked parents. To be sure everyone’s getting enough sleep, she suggests this stoplight alarm clock with red, yellow, and green lights that let kids know when it’s an appropriate time to get out of bed. To spare parents hectic trips to the grocery store, she likes gift cards for Artizone, a grocery delivery service that specializes in artisanal and organic foods.

My own family has grown exponentially each year, and this holiday season I was staring down a list that included more than 30 children. Luckily, Sara wasn’t short on gift recommendations for the pickiest of all giftees.

Where to Shop

If you prefer small businesses to chains: One of Sara’s favorite kids’ boutiques is Twinkle Twinkle Little One (2007 W. Belmont), which she likes for its extensive selection of furniture, gifts, and accessories for children and babies. For toys (and great customer service—a bonus for frazzled shoppers) she recommends Building Blocks Toy Store (3306 N. Lincoln) “hands down,” and she swears by the boys’ clothing at Little Threads (2033 W. Roscoe), where parents will find cute graphic tees and sturdy playwear.

If you don’t have time to canvass the whole city: Sara likes the mix of stores in the Gold Coast, which is convenient for when you’re shopping for an entire family. “I can get toys from Galt, baby gifts at Preggers (both at 900 N. Michigan), and lots of shopping for the adults in my family around Oak Street and beyond.”

For great consignment pieces: If you need to buy practical items like winter coats and holiday outfits, but want to reserve most of your budget for toy shopping, Sara recommends hitting up secondhand stores such as The Second Child (954 W. Armitage) and Moxie Jean, an Arlington, Illinois–based company whose online shop has been featured on Today.

Once you realize a pony doesn’t fit in a stocking: Sara finds Matchbox cars and rubber-band bracelets to be classic stocking stuffers, and also likes the s’mores flavor of Jolly Oak Granola(available throughout the city) as “a fun treat for kids to open up in the morning and snack on while opening gifts.”

What to Buy for…

Family game night: A gift centered on an activity is a great way to cross a whole brood off the list in one fell swoop. Puzzle games such as Korner’D entertain different ages and, in Sara’s experience, “are good for special needs kids, too.” Sara’s kids love the magnet-based gameAttrAction, and she loves the Xbox with Kinect “because it gets the whole family playing and moving at the same time.”

Tots who are more interested in the wrapping than the gift: Sara suggests Baby Paper, a toy that looks and feels like a piece of cloth but sounds like paper. Babies are fascinated by the sound, and when they invariably put it in their mouth, parents can relax—it’s machine washable.

Kids too old for toys but too young to be into clothes: “I’m still a fan of Legos for any age kid,” Sara says, particularly the new Chima Lego sets for their alternative worlds and buildable figures. For a more action-packed gift, she recommends the battery-powered Ground Force go-cart by Razor.

Future Picassos, J.K. Rowlings, and Katy Perrys: When it comes to artsy kids, Sara says she loves giving experiences such as classes at the Art Institute. For something more tangible, she recommends the popular book series Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and says “you can’t beat those coolheadphones by Pottery Barn Kids.”

Those days it’s too cold to play outside: To help kids burn off some energy, Sara likes indoor Nerf hoops and these football action-figure toys by Kaskey Kids.

Kids who have nailed the whole sharing thing: Sara’s crazy about Magna-Tiles, which she says “are hands down my favorite gift for the 6-and-under set…really durable. Plus so many come in one set it’s easy to share.” The specially engineered design of Citiblocs makes it easy to build tall, sturdy designs, even if there’s a clumsy kid in the group.

Groupon’s Gift Shop has toys and other gift ideas for kids.

Photo: left, Heather Kingensmith; right,  courtesy of Twinkle Twinkle Little One.

A Vegan Rosh Hashanah Courtesy of Mariano’s

 

 

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Every day eating is hard for me, let alone Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah. Being vegan has its pluses and minuses. The vegan chopped liver my friend’s aunt makes every year is a joy and aside from missing out on the brisket and honey cake, I usually make do. This year I was asked by Mariano’s, (#MyMarianos) Roscoe Village’s most popular joint, to create and blog about a Rosh Hashanah dish that I could make using only the store’s ingredients.

I’m not the greatest cook, but I was up for the task. Because Mariano’s is in my ‘hood, and because I was making a vegan-friendly salad for my friend’s dinner this Thursday I wanted to try and practice a few sweet salad recipes I read about on Pinterest. Because Rosh Hashanah is all about sweet food.

I have shopped at Mariano’s before and I have always been impressed by their selection and service, even for a picky vegan eater like me. And as I set out to make a salad worthy of the holiday I was a little worried about finding all the specialized ingredients I would need:

  • Baby lettuce such as kale and arugula
  • Pomegranate seeds from half a pomegranate
  • Figs (2-3)
  • Pecans (about a cup)
  • Orange (1)
  • Red Onion (1)
  • Olive oil, red wine vinegar and dijon mustard for the dressing

I’ve shopped Mariano’s on price and convenience (I’m a rewards card member — it’s worth it), but not on specialty ingredients.

Good thing I was pleasantly surprised. I was welcomed by mountains of fresh produce and helpful staff members who even pointed out where to find ripened pomegranates. (Little did I know there is a big difference- the skin starts to crack at the top of ripe ones.)

And I found lots of other goodies including yellow figs. Who knew figs could be yellow…

 

fresh lettuce #shopMariano's produce #shopPomegranate #shop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beauty of Mariano’s produce is apparent!

Then I got started with the salad prep:

I caramelized the red onions:

onions #shop

I candied the pecans:

pecans #shop

And I figured out how to get pomegranate seeds out of a pomegranate. It’s not for the faint of heart, and do not wear a t-shirt you like. Just sayin’.

pomegranate seeds #shop

My salad required dressing, and I made some by squeezing half an orange into a bowl, adding 1/3 cup oil, 1/4 vinegar, tsp of dijon mustard and salt and pepper and whisking it with a fork until it got a little creamy. Yum…

dressing #shop

 

I cut the figs (had to read a tutorial on that), and spread the greens into a big bowl. Best part about the greens I got from Mariano’s is that they were pre-washed. Love that. I put the dressing on the salad and voila, my Rosh Hashanah Sweet Vegan Salad was done!

vegan rosh hashanah salad #shop

 

A big thank you to my local Chicago Mariano’s (#MyMarianos) and Collective Bias (#cbias) for this shoppertunity. I really enjoyed the process and found Mariano’s selection for my Rosh Hashanah dish to be superb. I encourage you all to Like Mariano’s on Facebook, Twitter or both!

And here’s a link to the recent Mariano’s Opera Flash Mob (did you know that Mariano’s has a piano player in the Roscoe Village store? Made waiting in the check out line a little more tolerable 🙂

Last minute Mother’s Day Must-Haves and Must-Dos…

I’m going on CBS 2 Chicago to discuss last minute Mother’s Day gift ideas. I was so bad this year, barely getting my mom’s present in time. (Luckily, this afternoon still counts for getting it in time).

But if you’re still looking for some good gift ideas, I have scouted out some of the best last-minute options for you. Now, go on and shop!!

I have couple ideas for last minute activities if this gorgeous weather holds up. Sometimes it’s fun to have a Mother’s Day experience that goes beyond brunch.

  • Odyssey Cruise Mother’s Day Brunch — I love seeing the Chicago skyline from the water and while my kids love the water taxi it lacks a little ambiance for 0789_Boat_Headermoms. The big Odyessy ship just underwent a $2 Million renovation and moms can have a choice of an early (10:30 am) or late (2:30 pm) meal aboard the ship starting at $64.90. Kids are 40% off adult price and moms will love the complimentary champagne, rose and rooftop lounge.
  • Susan G Komen Race for the Cure – What better way to spend Mother’s Day than for walking in support of breast cancer? This year, the race starts in Butler Field at Grant Park and includes a 10K or 5K race. Registration is still open tomorrow on site starting at 6:30 am. The Daley family will serve as Honorary Chairs of the race to celebrate the life of Chicago’s former first lady Maggie C. Daley and the passion and energy she displayed as a mom and breast cancer survivor. Registration starts at $35.

But if you want to sleep in or want to give something more tangible I have some cool ideas for last minute gifts, too.mom-wine-water-bottle

  • Psychobaby Happy Hour Water Bottle, $18 – This is a great and practical gift for the mom who has a sense of humor – you can get a customized aluminum water bottle made for you at Psychobaby in Bucktown overnight to surprise and delight mom for a Sunday happy hour. Wine not included!
  • Lill Studio customized bags – Isabel Messenger bag in Blue Ikat Dots $92 and Lilli Tote in Baltic Blue, $169. I got the idea of Lill Studio bags from a friend who goes to the store every year with her mom to design a bag for Mother’s Day. I love the messenger, hands-free style for a busy mom on the go (who wants a shoulder bag at the park), and the carryall tote for those big outings. Plus, they have hundreds of fabrics and patterns to choose from. Also Lill is running a promotion that if you design a full price bag with your aunt/ sister/ mother/ daughter through tomorrow you get 30% off your purchase.
  • KLUTCHclub/KLUTCHmom – KLUTCHclub is a monthly subscription service that sends a hand-picked and “themed” box of holistic health, fitness and wellness products – organic protein bars, workout wear, skincare products, teas, etc. – right to your doorstep every month, making it a no brainer to incorporate healthier choices with ease. Price ranges around $17 per month; subscriptions are 1, 3 and 12 months.
  • Rachel Barton Pine – lullabies CD – Our editor at Chicago Parent loves this CD so much that I had to share it. Pine, who has released more than 20 albums, including CDs of heavy metal violin music, has added a softer selection to her collection — a CD of instrumental lullabies recorded with pianist Matthew Hagle. She ended up finding 150 classical lullabies from various parts of the world, then set about the task of narrowing it down to 25. You can download it on iTunes!
  • Me Smooth –  Perfect for the busy mom who doesn’t have time to get her beauty treatments, the me Smooth removes unwanted hair safely and effectively and is pain free! Costs husband a fraction of what it would in the doctor’s office… and makes the morning shaving routine so much easier and quicker.  Plus you can pick it up at Sephora, Ulta, Bloomies, Nordstrom and Nieman Marcus! Costs $395
  • Lush “Cream of the Crop” Flower Soaps a selection of innovative re-usable bubble bar wands especially for mom – all are on sticks, so they are easy to tuliopswish around the bathtub creating masses of skin softening, beautifully-scented bubbles.  Then place on the side of the tub and allow it to dry, so it’s ready to use again and again (you can get up to six baths out of each).  We suggest giving mom all three to make a gorgeous bubble bouquet. Some are vegan and start at $8.95 each.  Lush stores are at Macy’s, Bucktown, Lincoln Park, and Old Orchard.

My busy week… Cookbook party and children’s theater!

Sometimes having this blog has its perks. As much as I complain about blogging at times, this blog is part of me, and something that feels like an extension of my personality. So I chug along, blogging when I can. Somehow I still stay on people’s radars and they continue to invite me to some neat events. This week I got to go to two different blogging events which were right up my alley.

homemade-with-loveThe first was a luncheon for the launch of Jennifer Perillo’s new cookbook, “Homemade with Love,” about her devotion to food and family. I’ve been following Jennie’s blog for a little while and find her writing to be powerful and inspiring. She was the same in person. What a beautiful soul! So sweet and energized, and truly devoted to her craft. The food we tasted was delicious (I could sample a few of the items), and I really enjoyed listening to how the book came to be. I can’t wait to look through and hopefully try some of her work.

The second event I ended up at was Friday night at the Chicago Children’s Theatre to see the world premiere of the original play “The Elephant and the Whale.”  Written and created in association with Redmoon Theater, The Elephant and the Whale aptly tells a story of friendship between two proposed circus animals caught adrift in a 1900’s-era sideshow. The show, which differed greatly from other children’s theater experiences I’ve ever been too (no silly looking costumes, minimal slapstick humor), captured my kids’ attention from start to one hour finish. And mind you, my youngest is three. The visuals were stirring and creative and the story told not literally, but so imaginatively that you could feel the rush of water around the whale and the elephants footsteps. The water scenes were brilliant. I loved it and would highly recommend it.

What a week! What did you all do?

CCT RM E&W_5

Photo courtesy of Chicago Children’s Theatre.

Massive March Holidays… my latest for Chicago Parent

march2013The month is so packed with holidays it makes my head spin. Easter, Passover both the same week and well, we barely survived the traffic during St. Patrick’s Day over here. I did put together a few tips, though, on what to do in the city with your kiddos for these two major religious and celebratory holidays. For my latest Chicago Parent column and March holiday Madness click here!

Surviving my life, or, surviving spring break in Chicago – as seen on CBS 2 Chicago!

This year so far has been no short of hectic, intense and exhausting. All in a good way. Being busy is a good problem in my household. But being busy means finding a way to survive as well – not to be too dramatic, but I haven’t cooked a fresh meal in over a week in my house. In our first world reality here, how do we survive being so busy? I want tips.

I’m also here to give tips. (Can you believe people actually ask me to give tips on things??) I was shocked and flattered CBS asked me to appear on their morning show today to talk about how to survive Spring Break in Chicago if you aren’t going away. Many spring breaks are over the Easter and/ or Passover holiday this year and so some folks might choose to stay home. Also: it’s a pain in the butt to travel with little kids.

So, here are some tips to surviving spring break in Chicago! I’d love to hear your ideas as well.

Say you’re not lucky enough to jet out of town this month during spring break, Sara Fisher from Chicago Parent magazine and 2 Moms Media has lots of ideas to keep the kids and yourself busy and having fun during what can be an iffy month weather wise…
1) Indulge in a Staycation
If the budget doesn’t allow for a full on vacation somewhere out of town, there are plenty of options in the city to have a staycation – enjoy luxe accommodations and explore the sites of our very own lovely Chicago. You’d be shocked to know there is a lot to do here!
Pen. Kids 1Peninsula Hotel 
The Peninsula hotel, one of my favorites, and past winner of best 100 hotels in the United States by Travel and Leisure Magazine last year has really family friendly options and discounts for those who want to live in the lap of luxury and indulge, even for just a night! Their Peninsula family moments package includes:
* Daily American Breakfast for two persons served in The Lobby or Room Service
* Eligible to a 50% off the second room’s rate on respective connecting/adjoining room type.
*  Children (12 and under) dining together with parents can enjoy the complimentary kid’s menu, and enjoy an array of amenities and programs tailored for junior guests. Please contact the hotel for full details.
Pricing for a Deluxe King/Double starts at $445. Valid until 12/31/13
  • These other two luxurious bellwethers  have a lot to share for families. There’s third night free at the Ritz and Winter Escape which features 25 percent off the room rate and complimentary parking.
  • Also we have fun children’s amenities at the different hotels. At the Ritz, they have daily cookie baking with the pastry chef and The Candy Man is on call to roll up his cart of sweet treats to guest rooms. Both of these services are complimentary.
  • At Four Seasons, we have a complimentary Bedtimes Stories Butler, daily treats through room service, a new Kids Club Room
  • All these packages are good through the end of March.
2) Send your kids to camp! Yes, camp!
There are many options for you to maintain your “me” schedule during spring break, even if the kids are off. YMCAs around the Chicagoland area have a variety of kids’ camps for the spring, and I found two more that are fun and different than the typical school day to get your kid thinking and creating during the time off. My kids spring break is almost 10 days and I definitely want to make sure they’re using that brain a bit!
  • Wishcraft Workshop in Roscoe Village has a terrific spring break camp series March 25- April 4 – FUNOrdinary camp is a customized daily craft camp IMG_7861 - Version 2that takes the campers’ wishes into mind when they create the curriculum – each day features a craft, snack, outdoor play time and all materials included – $65 a day. They also offer another one called “Let’s Make Something” for the budding seamstress or embroiderer. That’s $75/ day. 
  • Kids Clayroom – Kids Clay Room is a clay studio for children where they teach our students how to create a ceramic piece from start to finish. During the Kids Clayroom’s Workshops, Camps and Birthday Parties, children get to work (and play) with squishy, wet clay and use a variety of techniques and tools to mold and sculpt clay into unique ceramic pieces.
    They have Spring Break Camps scheduled over a period of 2 weeks to accommodate CPS and non-CPS students. The Camps are 3 hours long-from 10 am to 1 pm. We will work on 2 clay handbuilding projects and take a lunch break before painting the pieces. Children are required to bring a nut-free lunch. Registration is required. The cost for the Camps are $40 per child and $35 per sibling. Call or e-mail to register.
3) Keep them home, but keep them busy with these brainy toys and games: 

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If you can’t quite motivate with the pocketbook or the driving to get your kids to a camp, then invest in a few toys that will be sure to keep them busy if our March weather doesn’t cooperate. Our friends at Marbles the Brain Store have just the perfect things to make you survive the madness of having the kids home!

Best New Workouts for Busy Moms

If your New Year’s Resolution is to go get in shape, and not gain 5 lbs. in the buffet line in Boca Raton, FL like I did last week, then you should read my latest story for Chicago Parent on the best workouts for busy moms… I need to heed my own advice here! I’d love to hear about your favorite workout…