Spring has Sprung

When I lived in Florida, I never understood the word seasons. In Florida there are only two seasons, hot and hotter. Every day is green, everyday the sun warms your skin like a kiss from above. Every day is a uniform of flip flops and bare arms.

Growing up I wondered why they used pumpkins to decorate during Halloween. I had never seen a pumpkin patch until I moved to the midwest. Maybe they had them in Florida somewhere, but I’m sure if they did, they are on a completely different time schedule. The only orange fruit I ever saw growing with any regularity were orange trees. Rows and rows of them wafting their strong, sweet scent through the air conditioning vents of our car as it sped by on the highway.

I was sure the snow I saw on the “Frosty the Snowman” special that aired every December was a consistency similar to cotton candy. I was sorely disappointed when, at the age of 12, I saw snow for the first time. I flopped myself down and immediately put some in my mouth. I was shocked and disgusted by it’s cold, bland taste.

It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago that I realized the brilliance of summer vacation. Summer vacation in Florida is the worst time of year to be out and about. It didn’t stop us from slathering our bodies in baby oil and iodine and baking our bodies crisp in the unrelenting sun every single day of the summer, though. Back then SPF 8 was for sissies. We wore socks to keep our feet from burning on the scorching summer sand. We ducked in for some air-conditioning at the local surf shop when it got too hot. And we periodically dipped ourself in the warm, salty water to cool down.

But now that I live here, seasons make sense. Every year I marvel at how much change happens here. Leaves and flowers start growing out of the barrenness, everything thawing out and slowly turning vibrant colors, then days of endless sun, revealing your pasty white legs, burning your pasty white legs, tanning those legs again and finally getting a nice healthy color on them just in time to cover the tan you worked so hard for with pants to combat the cold. Leaves and flowers dying, cold seeping into every crevasse of your being, everything going white, including your legs. Then the long, harsh cold and dark of winter follow.

Finally the leaves start to grow again. The renewal is probably the most exciting part of the year. It feels like the moment the movie “The Wizard of Oz” changes from black and white to color. The anticipation of wonderful weather, of another fun filled, whimsical summer lays almost at your finger tips.

I felt this today for the first time when we visited the Chicago Botanical Gardens.

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Our recent observations from our St Louis trip made us realize that wide open spaces are the best places to take out kids. Lots of room to run without getting lost is our new number one factor in picking a destination these days.

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Even the big ‘kid’ in our family needs space to run around.

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Also lots of things to do and see! It was also nice to slow down and notice nature around you.

Two male Mallards fighting over a female. Probably something our own boys will experience with each other one day...

Two male Mallards fighting over a female. Probably something our own boys will experience with each other one day…

Viewing the Japanese Gardens leads to talk about Bonsai Plants.

Viewing the Japanese Gardens leads to talk about Bonsai Plants.

Feeling and Smelling leaves and trees in the sensory garden.

Feeling and Smelling leaves and trees in the sensory garden.

It’s a great activity for kids of all ages, and something that many different age groups can enjoy together. Definitely a destination we will visit many more times in these increasingly warm coming months.

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Passover 2016

After our trip to St Louis, we came to the realization that less is more for our kids.

And we used that knowledge for Passover this year.

With no family in the area, we were free to decide whatever tradition we wanted for our young household.

We didn’t ask them to sit still, starving, while we read a lengthy prayer book.

We didn’t eat a drawn out, multiple course dinner.

Dieting sucks - not matzoh ball soup for me!

Dieting sucks – no matzoh ball soup for me!

I didn’t even set out a seder plate.

let-my-people-goInstead Adam read the boys a story from one of the books we got from the PJ Library, a program that sends free Jewish educational books to our home every month. (Thank you Jennifer for the tip!) The book was titled, “Let My People Go” and describes the 10 plagues in a much more kid friendly kind of way.

I made a delicious  Date and Apple Charoset (which I ended up smearing all over my turkey), matzoh ball soup, and roast veggies with turkey breast.

IMG_3675Then we let the kids eat as much matzoh as they wanted without telling them it would ruin their appetite. We finished almost the entire box, Aaron ate FOUR pieces. I’m pretty sure if you lined them up on top of each other they would be taller than him.

We also kept the tradition of hiding the Afikoman, which is basically hiding a piece of matzoh for the kids to find. Ben found it but Adam doled out money to all of them anyway.

The kids loved the meal.

After tonight I decided to change another family tradition. Matzoh isn’t just for passover anymore…

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St Louis

As a last minute decision, Adam decided to book a few nights stay in St Louis for Jack’s spring break.

It was last minute because Adam didn’t know if he would be too busy with work to go or not. But in the end he thought he could swing it.

Of course, once it was booked and the kids were told, he got busy, In fact, I’m pretty sure anytime Adam decides to book a trip, it gets busy. Hmm, I think I’m onto something here. Next time he is worried he’s not busy enough, I’m going to suggest he book a trip.

Still, it’s Adam, so he managed to juggle it all like the superman that he is.

The kids got to see Lincoln’s cabin on the way over to St. Louis.

Museum at Lincoln's Cabin in Lerna, IL

Museum at Lincoln’s Cabin in Lerna, IL

Walking the grounds at Lincoln's Cabin

Walking the grounds at Lincoln’s Cabin

The boys spent precious few minutes walking around the museum and log cabin, complaining about the bugs. We are definitely raising city kids. Half of them didn’t want to get out of the car for the picnic!

Finally we got them all out and they actually spent a lot of time throwing sticks into the lake (Aaron was in stick heaven) and blowing dandelions. We could have just stopped at the side of the road instead of driving the extra hour to Lincoln’s cabin! Still, it was cool to see them settle in and be boys. DSC_0033

To destroy the dandelions, throw things, get sweaty and play in the mud. The city is too restrictive for that kind of fun.

Next, on a tip from my friend Debbie, we headed to Laumeier Sculpture Park. Really cool sculptures that the kids were disappointed they couldn’t climb all over.IMG_0525DSC_0047

Instead they spent a huge part of the time throwing rocks at this tree. Aaron collected rocks instead. Raising boys is nothing like my childhood and a constant amazement to me. DSC_0068

The next day I took the boys swimming at the pool while Adam worked.DSC_0097

Waving to Adam while he works downstairs

Waving to Adam while he works downstairs

Then after the work calls were over, we took in the Gateway Arch.

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If you haven’t been, let me warn you – you get to the top by taking a very small, 5 seater tram. All the kids were completely freaked out by it. I thought we were going to be stuck up there but Adam managed to convince them to get back in the little tram to get down.

That afternoon we visited City Garden. This time we climbed the sculptures with abandonment. DSC_0129

The kids seemed to really enjoy this park. It was small but lately I’m realizing less is more with the kids. A small new park can make for much more fun than a busy museum.

But still we tried the busy museum anyway. We heard from many people not to miss City Museum.DSC_0139

People were right. This place was amazing. Unfortunately, we were short staffed by at least one adult. Ben needed Adam’s complete attention, which left me with the other three. Jack’s interests were vastly different from the twins and he is still to young to feel comfortable exploring alone.

No maps at this museum!

No maps at this museum!

Ball pit fun

Ball pit fun

Ben and Adam on the slide

Ben and Adam on one of the many slides

I think I’d like to come back to this museum when the kids are older and less scared heights and see through floors. And bugs. Besides we ran out of time before checking out Forest Park. Which means we were already talking about returning even as we were driving home…

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Report Card Pick Up Day

Jack had another day off school today, this time it was for report card pick ups.

It is still cold out but not so cold that we were stuck indoors. So we decided to head down to the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Lion exhibit

Lion exhibit

Regenstein African Journey

Regenstein African Journey

Black Bear at the Pritzker Family Zoo

Black Bear at the Pritzker Family Zoo

Otter at the Pritzker Family Zoo

Otter at the Pritzker Family Zoo

Now that the twins aren’t napping, we had the whole day to explore!

Climbing Structure at the Pritzker Family Zoo

Climbing Structure at the Pritzker Family Zoo

We even had time to stop by the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Jack likes to count the plastic dinosaurs hiding in the fern room.

Time to stop and smell the flowers.

Time to stop and smell the flowers.

Frame exhibit at the Conservatory

Frame exhibit at the Conservatory

But the fun didn’t end there! Still we had more time to picnic in the gardens in front of the zoo.

Why walk when you can run everywhere?

Why walk when you can run everywhere?

The flowers haven’t been planted for the year, and the fountain hasn’t been filled yet. It gave us an opportunity to play in the empty fountain. Did you know the mermen in the fountain were naked?!

Aaron inappropriately touching the statues and laughing hysterically.

Aaron inappropriately touching the statues and laughing hysterically.

And still there was MORE time. We went to the Cummings Playground, located right in front of the zoo, next.DSC_1041

By the end Jack was so tired he was leaning against the stroller from exhaustion. I think everyone will sleep well tonight, including me!

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Brick by Brick

We recently renewed our membership to the Museum of Science and Industry. I love this museum. It’s so large that you can go 20 times and have a different experience each time you enter.

This week (and when I say week, I mean it) I took the twins on Thursday morning to see the new Brick by Brick Lego exhibit. Then, on Friday I returned with Jack and 3 of his buddies from school.

Thursday with the twins.

Thursday with the twins.

Friday with Jack and his friends.

Friday with Jack and his friends.

The twins spent about 40 minutes exploring exhibit but the older boys were dragged out after two hours of fun, only because their bladders demanded it.

There were many amazing creations by Master Architect Adam Reed Tucker. But the most time was spent in the hands-on exhibits.

The twins preferred to work in the duplo section of the exhibit.

Hope that nose picker isn't fondling my kid's legos later...

Hope that nose picker isn’t fondling my kid’s legos later…

The older boys took to the more traditional legos.IMG_3534

The older boys also spend a long time at the car building site.IMG_3558

Still there was overlap, exhibits that made sense for any age, like this one where you have 1 and 1/2 minutes to build a structure then see if it can withstand an earthquake.IMG_3458 IMG_3509

I’d have to say it is a great exhibit for any age and it’s definitely worth the drive down to Hyde Park to see. So worth it that Ben and Adam are going back tomorrow so Ben can see it too!

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7th Annual Easter Egg Hunt

As our schedules get busier and busier, it gets harder and harder to have large group gatherings. There were quite a few emails going around trying to find a time we would all be available. But in the end, I was pleased to see so many regular participants were able to attend the annual easter egg hunt.

Sadly we couldn’t get it perfect, so Kelly and her kids were dearly missed. Hopefully next year she won’t be bound by naps. Also Karen and her kids, who have recently moved to Spain were noticeably absent.

Even though the extra testosterone those moms throw off was missing, there was still more than enough to go around.

No one will mess with this gang in the playground.

No one will mess with this gang in the playground.

Wrestling for fun. I'll never understand boys.

Wrestling for fun. I’ll never understand boys.

Actually, there was a precise 20 minute time period where all the kids who could attend were present.

We quickly put the eggs out and lined them up.DSC_0899

And then they were off!

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Like most activities with kids (meals and laundry to name a few) we parents spend so much time preparing – buying eggs and candy, stuffing them, placing them out for the hunt and then the kids plow through it all in 10 minutes or less.

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Time to eat the spoils.

Time to eat the spoils.

It turned from a windy, wintery morning to a sunny, warm (for Chicago) afternoon and I was glad in the end to have made such an effort again. Nice for the kids to frolic in the fresh air and open spaces together.

Nice for the adults too.

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Ben’s Spring Break

Ben’s Spring Break did not coincide with Jack’s this year. I think it was probably for the best, since our 4 kids need 2 adults to supervise, but any three is okay to handle alone.

We tried very hard to plan something fun for Ben each day of his spring break.

There were surprise sweet treats like unexpected donut stops, a visit to the new Nothing Bundt Cakes shop that just opened, and chocolate from Papa.

Special visit to Papa’s office

 

Surprise Donut Stop

Nothing Bundt Cake

Nothing Bundt Cake

Also other treats, like his favorite meals, Potbelly’s, Wendy’s, Shine, and McDonald’s.

Shine for Shirley Temple's and Pot Stickers.

Shine for Shirley Temple’s and Pot Stickers.

Potbelly's Pizza Sandwich and Milkshakes.

Potbelly’s Pizza Sandwich and Milkshakes.

 

And there were fun activities like a playdate with his classmate, visits to a few parks, a special visit with his father to the Art Institute, and a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry.

Oz Park

Oz Park

Oz Park

Oz Park

Art Institute

Art Institute

Museum of Science and Industry

Museum of Science and Industry

Playdate at Jump Zone

Playdate at Jump Zone

After school at Jack's school.

After school at Jack’s school.

Montgomery Ward Park

Montgomery Ward Park

It was tougher than I remember to add an extra kid to the mix and for Ben, I’m not sure having a week off of his normal schedule was particularly relaxing for him. Still, we tried our best to make this a great week for him. I just hope he remembers it that way…

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21 Day Fix

Remember my clean eating post?

Clean Eating

I was pretty happy with the results and decided to start another program with my coach, called the 21 Day Fix. This program consists of daily 30 minute workouts and a bunch of plastic containers for you to measure your daily intake of food in.

21dayfixSounds complicated but it was actually a lot easier than a calorie counting app and as a bonus you learn to eat in the right food groups, not just count calories. At the same time, you also have the flexibility to pick what you want to eat.

I really, really enjoyed it. And I had A LOT of success with it.

I lost a total of 4 pounds but more importantly, I lost 1 and 1/2 inches off my waist.

So where is my gratuitous “before and after” photo? Well, as it turns out, 1 and 1/2 inches off my waist and four pounds light isn’t exactly where I want to be.

But don’t fear, the picture is coming.

Right after I do just one more program. Or after I do however many programs it takes to get my freakin gratuitous “before and after” shot!

Now that I’m seeing some results, I’m jazzed to keep going, to push myself to see if you really can get your body back (without surgery) after birthing four children.

This time Coach Megan is starting a 22 Minute Hard Corps group. It’s 8 weeks and I’m hopeful if I stick to the rules, which means eat right and complete a 22 minute workout a day, I will be “Beachbody” ready, as the company is so aptly named.

Want to shape up before it’s time to bare it all at the beach this summer? Would love to have some friends join me in the group, it’s a great way to be healthy and social all at the same time.

(I’m not a coach, and do not get paid or compensated in any way if you join. It’s just more fun with friends.)

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Gluten Free/Casein Free Diet

In another desperate attempt to help Ben’s anxiety and issues at school, we started a gluten free, dairy free, low refined sugar diet.

Home made lactose free yogurt

Home made lactose free yogurt

This time around we gave it a full month and instead of buying store bought gluten free flour mixes, I went to the ultimate source for recipe perfection – American Test Kitchen.

I spent a lot of time changing to rice flours and paleo recipes with cashew, almond meal and coconut flour.

Sam helps mix the America's Test Kitchen Gluten Free All Purpose Flour

Sam helps mix the America’s Test Kitchen Gluten Free All Purpose Flour

If this is something you are thinking about doing, I highly recommend trying both thier How Can it be Gluten Free and Paleo Perfected. I swear you’ll never miss gluten or dairy again!

Paleo pie crust

Paleo pie crust

Most websites that I stumbled across while researching this said you will see results within 3 or 4 days, if there are any to be had.

The first week we tried it, both Sam and Jack were the same. We noticed Ben was slightly calmer. Aaron surprisingly had a perfect week.

Minimalist Baker's 3 ingredient Peanut Butter Granola Bar

Minimalist Baker’s 3 ingredient Peanut Butter Granola Bar

Then we went over to Nando’s Peri Peri, where the kids menu had an unlimited bowl of frozen yogurt for dessert.

For the next 4 days, Aaron was back to his usual whiny, tantrumy self and Ben became combative and argumentative.

Paleo Omelette

Paleo Omelette

I had no idea if I was projecting or if the diet had any real effect, so I decided we were back on the strict diet the following week.

I was cooking and baking so much I started running my dishwasher 3 times a day.

During that time Ben showed little to no improvement and after a month I’m sad (and a little relieved) to say that diet is not a factor in his Sensory Processing Disorder.

I was secretly hoping such an easy fix would be the answer but unfortunately it is not.

In fact, last night we had a few friends over and let Ben eat as much gluten and diary as he pleased. We noticed he was playing hide and seek in the dark along with the other kids, acting just like all the other kids. In the past he could never hide, and certainly couldn’t play a game of tag. He has learned how to do this with his occupational therapy through many, many sessons of hard work, and no amount of gluten, dairy, or sugar could undo that.

Just one of the gang.

Just one of the gang.

It wasn’t a total waste of time, though. Besides finding some great new recipes, we realized we had let too many processed foods with refined sugars creep back into our house.

When the ban was lifted, we decided to leave Nutella, a morning staple before the experiment, off our diet. Today at the grocery store I walked by the shelf stable cheese and crackers and decided if they want cheese and crackers, they can eat real cheese on real crackers from now on. I didn’t pick up the package fruit bars, granola bars and pop tarts either.

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Cousin Visit

One of the unexpected perks of going to Jackie’s wedding in Costa Rica was reconnecting with Adam’s west coast cousins.

Jackie’s oldest brother, Brett, actually has a place here and comes for work every so often.

This time he gave us the pleasure of his company for the evening.

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I got the chance to hear some of the stories from before my time with Adam, it’s always fascinating to hear other people’s perception about what life was like for your spouse before you came into the picture.

And just like all the other Baumgarten’s who have come to visit our kids, the kids were instantly charmed by him.

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Ben sitting on Brett’s lap

It was a delightful evening, one of hopefully many more in the future.

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