Chicago Plays!

Has anyone else noticed all the great new playgrounds sprouting up around the city?

It is all part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Plays! program, launched in 2013 that ambitiously aims at added or renovating over 300 parks.

Today we enjoyed the fruits of his labor at Morrie Mages park. dsc_0743

There were all kinds of different ropes to climb as well as new and unusual play structures.dsc_0723 dsc_0740

dsc_0734 dsc_0753The park is completely fenced off and includes a large open area to run and for Aaron, find sticks!dsc_0751 dsc_0750

There are also some great picnic benches!

Now I’m on a quest to try out the other 299ish parks that are getting a face lift…

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Tooth Fairy Lays an Egg

The last tooth Ben lost I tried a new tactic, a hunt of different colors. Under his pillow was an envelope with a square of color. He would have to find the color on the front of next the envelope somewhere in the house, open it to reveal a new color, then find that new color on a front of a new envelope.

It was a disaster. Ben has a lot of trouble locating the colors and sometimes he would find the wrong one and not realize it wasn’t a match.

So when he lost his tooth on Wednesday, I went back to what I knew was a favorite hunt of his, easter eggs.dsc_0652

Eggs were hidden in all kinds of nooks and crannies in our house, each one contained a picture of the place where the next egg was.

dsc_0655As usual, Ben has his trusted side kick, Jack there to help him navigate the hunt.

In the end, he got cold, hard cash.dsc_0642-1

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Little Beans in Evanston

On a tip from my friend Kelly, I signed up for a new service called Pearachute.

The service gives you options to drop in play at many different ‘pay to play’ spaces in the city and suburbs.

I really like the flexibility, and the fact that you can see so many different places, your kids never get bored.

But be warned, it is not a discount site, sometimes the price you pay to pearachute is more expensive than the general entry fee.

Having said that, because of the new service, we motivated to check out the Little Beans Cafe in Evanston.

It took us a mere 22 minutes to get there, which is just about how long it takes to get to the one in the city if you include trolling for parking, but this one had so much more.

With the suburbs comes extra space. Ample parking and a drive through were features you just can’t get in the city. And because they had so much space, there was a ton of different rooms to play in. We took advantage of them all.

The ‘Little Bean’s Village’ room was similar to the entire cafe in the city, except there was an extra crazy laser light room that we danced around in for a while in the back.img_5145

But in addition to that, they also had ‘Big Beans’ area with obstacle course.img_5131 img_5163 img_5164

And karaoke room! img_5136

There was also a full gym area where you could play hockey, soccer or basketball.img_5154 img_5146 img_5156

On the way out I saw a library with arts and crafts. They also hold kid classes.

I’d have to say, traveling an extra 10 minutes to have parking, four times as many things to do in a less crowded space for less money makes me wonder what else is in the nearby suburbs for the kids and I to explore.

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Montrose Beach

By accident this weekend we ended up at Montrose Beach instead of our normal haunt at Foster Avenue.DSC_0612

Normally I pick Foster Avenue Beach for it’s quiet, family friendly atmosphere. But the parking was full and we had to wing it.

Much as I prefer a family beach, I must say I found Montrose Beach highly entertaining.DSC_0619 DSC_0616

It is much more lively for sure! I think I passed three different speakers blaring anything from Hotel California to Mexican Pop.

Besides your standard ice cream cart, we saw vendors with long sticks of cotton candy attached and carts full of Duros.

We even saw a guy cart in his own drum stove and make tacos on the spot! DSC_0618

There was also a lively outdoor seating area with alcohol service and food. This was a nice addition to the beach, even if alcohol sales it meant there was a line for the woman’s bathroom.

I know America has a lot of problems, but one of our greatest successes is our diversity. While walking back to the car, pot smoking African American youths sat next to a chatty group of Korean grandmothers. Right behind them I spotted a bunch of headscarves huddled together sharing food.

The kids settled right in, doing their normal routine of running everywhere. I’m not sure they know how to walk…DSC_0601 DSC_0607

It was another lovely beach day, the last before Jack went back to school. Until next year, beach days!

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Mom and Sister visit

Three days after my father left, my mother and sister flew in to help me out for the rest of my month with 4 kids.

I often see the quote, “Family is everything.” Right now everything in my life is about my family, and I am so incredibly lucky to come from the kind of family who rallies around me to help me when I need it the most.IMG_4997

My first family (father, sister and mother) coming out to help tirelessly for the month of August with current family must feel like the guy who figured out peanut butter goes with jelly. The joy of watching everyone I love from different generations interact together makes my heart sing.

Friday was my mother’s birthday.

Her treat was for her to surprise me on a shopping trip by paying my bill.

Then Adam and I dumped the kids on her and my sister for the night and went to the Billy Joel concert.

Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field

We didn’t even come home afterwards, instead using our Hilton points to stay the Waldorf Astoria.IMG_5011

While we were relaxing and sleeping in, my sister and mom put up with many tantrums, fights, butt wipes (and butt cream!), and still managed the house so well that when Adam and I returned home it was much cleaner than I ever manage to make it.
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Lara turned all the kids into 'hot dogs'.

Lara turned all the kids into ‘hot dogs’.

Double Trouble

Double Trouble

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We also had a 1:1 ratio for the kids at our annual block party. Which mean Jack benefitted as well, he was allowed to invite some of his buddies to enjoy the fun as well.

We also got a chance to eat lots of Chinese food!

At Shine

Shine Restaurant

Shine Restaurant

And Dim Sum at Ming HinDSC_0585

And Cheng Du ImpressionIMG_5036 IMG_5037

This morning Lara left, but I still have mom to help me make it until both older kids are back in school.

If the saying “Family is Everything” is true, then I truly have everything.

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Block Party 2016

The annual bock party was scheduled for this weekend and despite a forecast of rain, it ended up a muggy and wonderfully sunny afternoon.

I was very lucky to have extra helpers in town!

Mom and Lara with my friend Laurie

Mom and my sister Lara with my friend Laurie

We let the kids enjoy all the festivities with abandon, even though it meant they conveniently forgot dinner.

There were so many treats, it was easy to forget something like dinner, even though Summer House Santa Monica catered again and there were quite a few grills on the street cooking hot dogs, hamburgers and brats.

The kids enjoyed MANY cones at the cotton candy machine.DSC_0445 DSC_0447DSC_0555

This year, not one but TWO ice cream trucks came to the street.DSC_0451 DSC_0527 DSC_0532

The regular band was there to keep the spirits high. So were the kegs. I saw a woman come by with trays of jello shots this year but I think I’ll have to wait until the kids are a lot older to enjoy those!

Walgreens came by and did face painting.DSC_0466

And one of the neighbors organized a craft table.DSC_0468

The Great Scott put on a fantastic magic show. This year Ben was called up as a helper!DSC_0504DSC_0497

Afterwards The Great Scott twisted balloons for all the kids.DSC_0538DSC_0550

The bouncy house area was expanded as well. After many complaints, they added a second one and split them according to age groups, under and over 5 years.DSC_0461 DSC_0463 DSC_0567

Finally it grew late and the glow stuff came out. DSC_0577

The kids came home sticky, exhausted and happy. Till next year!

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Chicago Air and Water Show

After our return from quiet Michigan towns, we wasted no time becoming Chicagoans again.

Sunday we found a field by the lake that wasn’t crowded at all and watched the Chicago Air and Water Show.

My Dad was still in town and it seemed like the perfect thing to bring an aviation wizard to.DSC_0419

DSC_0414Between the buzzing sights from the air, there was plenty of down time to play and picnic.

As usual, Grandpa Devensky spent the entire time making our kids laugh and feel special.DSC_0378 DSC_0388 DSC_0392 DSC_0405 DSC_0421

As usual, if there are sticks involved, Aaron is happy. DSC_0424

As usual, Chicago had another brilliant show.DSC_0426

Dad left the next day.

As usual, he will be sorely missed.

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Beach Trip to Michigan

A couple of days before we left for Michigan, this Onion article popped up on my facebook feed, “Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties In Closer Proximity to Ocean“.

Underneath was another article with yes or no questions to answer, letting you know if you are going on a trip or a vacation. Was there a laundry or kitchen were you were staying? That’s a trip, not a vacation.

I ticked most of the boxes and I think it really helped me realize that I was planning this beach house rental for the kids, and if I had any other expectation, I should swallow them before the trip so I didn’t ruin it for everyone.

This attitude went a long way towards making it a true vacation for them.

On Adam’s insistence, we chose a place right on the beach.

Evening Constitution

Evening Constitution

We were located conveniently between South Haven and Saugatuck, but for the first couple of days we didn’t bother taking the kids to either one, because there was a great beach a few steps from us.

On the first night we arrived, we took the kids to the beach around sunset to let them see it. They were so excited about the huge waves that they ran into the water fully dressed.DSC_0184IMG_1181

Our local beach was small but we practically had the place to ourselves so it was plenty big enough for us!IMG_1213

There were tons of rocks and sticks so the boys barely touched our plastic, store bought toys. DSC_0298

And there was also a creek that ran into the lake great for mucking around in.DSC_0208

The last two days of holiday the kids feet were pretty cut up from wearing their water shoes all the time, even in the water (our local beach was filled with rocks in the water too.) We decided to check out the other two beaches in the towns close to us.

First Oval Beach in Saugatuck.

Oval Beach

Oval Beach

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Going to the beach every day is exhausting

Then South Beach in South Haven.IMG_1417 DSC_0366 DSC_0348 IMG_1448

And there were other activities too.

One day we picked blueberries at Earl’s Blueberry Farm.IMG_1279

Another day we hiked Mount BaldheadIMG_1242

The kids liked running down the sandy dunes on the other side of these steps so much we decided to check out the Saugatuck Dunes State Park the next day.DSC_0289

It was very buggy and full of daddy long legs which freaked the kids out. Also it wasn’t well marked and we ended up going in a big circle. Kids were freaked out and crying. It felt like we were stuck in the Blair Witch Project. It rained on us and after over an hour of walking around, we never made it to the other side of the dunes to see the beach, instead we ate our picnic in the car ride home!

We also went to Saugatuck to visit the Teeny Tiny Toy Store, and eat at the Saugatuck Brewing Company. That night Aaron spilled a beer on my one side and Sam threw up on the other side. But hey, on the bright side, I didn’t have to cook!DSC_0262

We also ate ice cream at the local store, Kilwins.IMG_1465

We also spent a lot of time around the house, hanging out as a family. With so few toys, I loved how creative the kids got with the stuff I actually brought. Like these Pop Toobs. IMG_4874 IMG_4930IMG_1205

Hours of entertainment.

And roasting s’mores right in the front yard!DSC_0318

Even though I still assumed many of the household duties, having my father there was a godsend.

When Adam worked I still had another adult around. And not just any adult, one who spent lots of time entertaining all the kids.IMG_4852 DSC_0252 DSC_0237

He also took on laundry, kitchen clean up, and sweeping duties.

And he helped Jack with his summer homework packet most days.

Adam and I went out most nights, leaving my father with the sleeping kids. Many of the night we went to Mejier for groceries, but a few nights we were free to walk around the sleepy beach towns and eat more Kilwins ice cream.

South Haven Pier

South Haven Pier

Less toys, less scheduled events, and more free time left me more time to slow down. To be with the kids. To enjoy the sunset every night off our balcony. To sit and read a few pages in my book.

The kids came back from the trip very happy and so did I.

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Arboretum Renewal

We recently renewed our membership to the Morton Arboretum.

For the summer months, it has definitely been worth it. Especially since Jack is starting to get to the age where a city playground isn’t stimulating enough for him.

I was able to take all the kids today with the help of my father, who is retired (and made the mistake of telling me about it). DSC_0135

I leaned on him to help me for 2 or the 4 weeks Ben is out of school.

Just one of the kids.

Just one of the kids.

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Tadpole Pond

What I love best about this place is that it works for all ages. DSC_0137 DSC_0144 DSC_0146 DSC_0152

Getting lost in the Maze

Getting lost in the Maze

Ribbit Exhibit

Ribbit Exhibit

Right now we spend all our time time the Children’s Garden, but as they get older, I want to do some biking and hiking. It’s so big, I’ve only seen probably 1/10th of the place!

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Dumb it Down

My new motto for the kids this year has been, “Dumb it Down.”

Maybe it’s not the most flattering expression, but when I say it, Adam knows exactly what I mean.

Adam and I are both overachievers when it comes to making plans. We don’t just want to have fun, we want to pack as much fun as possible into every day as we can.

But this philosophy doesn’t leave time for the most important part of the equation for fun – down time.

So for the past two days, we dumbed our play down.

We spent an entire Saturday afternoon goofing around at one little park near our house.

It was the first time this summer we did it, and we noticed lots of changes from all of the kids.

Like the fact that a playground alone is no longer fun enough for Jack. But if you add a few balls to the equation and some open space, he is happy for hours.IMG_4769

Or that Ben can finally pedal a bike without having to get a starter push each time he stops.IMG_4748

And amazingly, if you show Sam how to do the monkey bars just one time, he can repeat it perfectly for you. IMG_4761

I thought we’d only be there an hour but we ended up playing for over three hours!

The next day, we scrapped our extensive plan to drive to the suburbs to our favorite breakfast spot, then spend the day at the Botanical gardens for a short walk to the Farm at the Zoo.

Feeding the cows

Feeding the cows

petting the goats

petting the goats

the kids put on the play for us.

the kids put on the play for us.

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petting a bunny

petting a bunny

In the afternoon we found a large grassy area just outside of the farm which was perfect for picnicking, playing ball, finding sticks and just enjoying the perfect weather.

picnic

picnic

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if there are sticks, Aaron is happy.

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Afterwards we stopped by Dairy Queen for an afternoon treat and Adam turned to me and said, “I feel like our weekend was so wholesome.” 

Maybe that’s what I should start saying instead. Keep it simple, keep it about connecting with the kids. Keep it wholesome.DSC_0049

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