Timber Ridge Visit

Did anyone realize I didn’t post the last night of Hanukkah Bears?

The Jelly Belly Tour was just a detour from something much, much bigger.


Last Wednesday we woke up, hastily packed our bags and after a brief stop at Jelly Belly, drove to Lake Geneva to spend four days at Timber Ridge Resort.

It was a perfect vacation for all the kids.


This picture looks so happy and carefree, but you have no idea how long it took Adam to orchestrate it.

We couldn’t take it on the first day because Ben wouldn’t go down any of the slides. It made me very sad, since we’ve been to this park before and Ben did all the slides and was fearless. How could getting older develop MORE fear?

If Ben is the model of determination, Adam is the mold. He kept gently but firmly bugging him, asking him, joking him into these slides. It took him 2 days, but eventually he got Ben to ride 4 slides with Adam, then he got Ben to ride them by himself.

I always joke that Adam negotiates for a living and that is why we never fight but I saw him first hand in action this holiday. He never gave up, never got frustrated. It was amazing.

Adam also treated us to many, many other treats this holiday.

One morning we had Breakfast with Thomas.


It was very kid friendly. They let us keep our food during the show and the kids were encouraged to get up and interact with the show many times.

Front Row Seats to the Show.

Front Row Seats to the Show.

Decorating 'Cookies' during the Show.

Decorating ‘Cookies’ during the Show.

Dancing under the 'Snow' during the show.

Dancing under the ‘Snow’ during the show.

We also did a trolley ride one night to see the holiday lights. DSC_0463

We ended up at the sister hotel, the The Grand Geneva, for gelato.


One night we went downstairs and enjoyed story time with milk and cookies in our PJs.


Bruce the Moose made an appearance after story time.

Bruce the Moose made an appearance after story time.

Another night, BINGO! Jack won us three free pretzels by answering many questions right and afterwards everyone got a voucher for a free cookie for participating.


Adam took the boys to the game room during nap time so the twins and I could sleep.


And the older boys sweetly brought back toys and candy for the twins from their winnings.

Besides the luxury of a nap, I thoroughly enjoyed not having to plan, shop and cook three meals a day.

We ate through the entire children's menu and more!

We ate through the entire children’s menu and more!

Even just being in a hotel room with the kids and having no distractions made me less cranky and more able to pay attention and spend quality time with them.

Twins playing with their new sticker books from Hanukkah while the older boys do a new puzzle with Adam.

Twins playing with their new sticker books from Hanukkah while the older boys do a new puzzle with Adam.

It was a really nice holiday. I highly suggesting it for families with kids our age!

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Winter’s Coming

Winter’s Coming.

Adam and I working our way through Game of Thrones right now and they keep saying it… Winter’s Coming. It’s always said with ominous dread and every time we hear it I can’t help but think that winter is coming for us as well.

In fact it’s hard to believe it’s NOT winter. Did you ever notice that 365 days is just long enough for you to completely forget everything that happened the year before?

Every year Adam and I have the same conversation.

I wonder that it’s already November and we still haven’t really suffered harsh cold yet. Adam’s answer is always the same.

“Nikki, winter doesn’t start until December 20th.”

And even though I do dread the cold, I also start preparing for all the wonderful things Chicago has to offer this time of year.

Here is my ambitious list of things to see before winter is over this year…

1. Zoo Lights. There are two different zoo lights you can see in and around Chicago. If I could only choose one I’d pick the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights. It’s closer to us and I feel like they do a bang up job covering the entire zoo. But if we get the time, I’d stop by and see the Brookfield Zoo Holiday Magic. It’s a trek, but in addition to lights they have a laser light show reminiscent of your single days attending concerts in the 80s.

Jack holding hands with the Piercy boys.

Zoo Lights 2 years ago

2. Chicago Botanical Garden’s Wonderland Express. The kids love the trains but I love to see the intricately detailed structures all hand crafted from natural materials.DSC_0741

3. Gnome Hunting at the Morton Arboretum. If we plan it right, we can search for the gnomes while it’s still light out then stay on to see Illumination. This is an interactive light show through the trees that is a delight for the eyes.

4. Ice Skating. I hear Wrigley Field has a rink in their parking lot I’ve always wanted to check out. I find Millennium Park Ice Rink too crowded. If that doesn’t work there is always McFetridge Sports Center.

5. Sledding. We are lucky to have a hill right next to your house at Oz Park but I hear Soldier Field has a sledding hill that is kept snowy thanks to the park district no matter what the conditions.

6. Holiday Train. A great winter staple, kids love to ride the specially decorated, lit up train, get the free candy canes.


7. Hanukkah Teddies. It’s time to start our new tradition up again. I hope I can think of eight new ideas!

Day 8. Finally Captured.

8. Winter Wonderfest. A great event for the older boys, with jumpy houses, train rides and other more adventurous rides for Jack. Plus, my weakness – funnel cakes!

9. Ringling Barnum & Bailey. The kids really seemed to enjoy it in the past and I’d love to fit it again this year.

10. Museums. So many! I’m sure we’ll hit our favorite, the Museum of Science and Industry at least once, and hopefully many more.

Did I forget anything?

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Lionel Train Adventure

Yesterday We decided to take the boys down to the Lincoln Park Zoo to see the new Lionel Train attraction.

Convoy of Blue Heading to the Zoo

Convoy of Blue Heading to the Zoo

It was a gorgeous fall day and we practically had the place to ourselves.DSC_0604

We have learned from the past few months that Ben does not like crowded places, so we were very pleased to see everything so wide open. And if you remember, last time I had to climb up this structure and pull Ben out after he refused to move. Later we ascertained he didn’t like getting crowded out by the other kids, that he felt rushed and as a result he would either push back or freeze in his spot.


Yesterday he was all smiles. He climbed through easily and when we explained he could not go through the exit he didn’t throw a fit, but instead nicely climbed down and started at the entrance. Later, when a few other kids joined he was able to keep his cool and share the structure.

We also saw a black bear in this same area, the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, for the first time ever.DSC_0609

In fact, perhaps because of the cooler weather, we got to see lots of animals!

Tiger exhibit

Tiger exhibit

Seal Exhibit

Seal Exhibit

At the gorilla exhibit, we even had an ape climb over to a tree right in front of us and pee. Jack and Ben laughed about that for ages.

Finally we made it to the new train exhibit…


It’s much better than the last train. They built a track for it to run on, unlike the old one which just went in a circle in a roped off corner of the zoo. And it’s the same price as the old one, $3 a ride.

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Kookaburra Cafe

A week into the 2014 school year finds me back on the ‘pay to play’ circuit.

Climbing structures.

Climbing structures.

It’s feels odd to be back. I have mixed emotions about it. Going to Kookaburra Play Cafe this morning meant doing something I had done a hundred times before, like starting a project again from the beginning with all the confidence experience brings but with none of the thrill that it had the first time around.

Infant area

Infant area

Still it was something I could never do with Ben. His sensory processing disorder would have made it impossible to watch all the kids without getting dirty looks from other moms. I was anonymous for the time in ages. And unlike when I used to frequent these places with Jack and Ben the first time around, nowadays I don’t feel the need to connect with the other moms. Being nobody never felt so good.

As far as ‘pay to play’ spaces go, I was pretty impressed with this one. They all charge pretty similar prices but some can be quite run down. Kookaburra was modern and clean.

It had enough space so that the twins barely entered two of the areas but the space was laid out well. At Little Beans Cafe, the open space is central with all the play areas on the periphery. The result is a lot of kids running into each other with little cars or body to body. Kookaburra’s open spaces meandered so you could still ride little cars around in a natural path.

Reading area

Reading area

They had lots of really cool things to ride too. You can see a motorcycle above but there were caterpillars, cars, Lightning McQueen and more.

There were also random things I didn’t capture like a structure with 3 hoops and a ton of balls, a bin of food to put in grocery carts, a small puppet theatre, a dress up corner and loads of huge stuffed animals. Aaron spent quite some time carrying a Scooby Doo around that was larger than he was singing, “Where are you?”.

Music Room

Music Room

We had a lot of fun in the music room. The keyboards played songs and the twins danced and shimmed around the room for a good 30 minutes. It was a magical moment.

Chalkboards and crayons also in the music room.

Chalkboards and crayons also in the music room.

Kitchen Area

Kitchen Area

Later we discovered the kitchen area. The twins loved feeding the dolls, something we have NONE of at home. I loved that the woman in charge let them clear this table and eat lunch on it later.

DSC_0527It was very enjoyable morning. If you’ve ever been to my house you know I probably have just as many toys as this place. But sometimes you just need to shell out the money and go somewhere else where there is no laundry, or computer, or dishes so that you can remember to spend some time enjoying your kids undistracted.

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Mary Bartemle Park

Now that summer is closer to over than beginning, I’m starting to have a freak out about lots of things.

Ben starts school in less than a month and still has no IEP. I know for sure that they will not be able to handle him and it is something I worry about daily. I’ve started to call the Office of Diverse Learners daily, leaving messages that go unanswered hoping to find out when he will be tested.

I’m also freaking out about sillier things, things that I put on myself that is completely unnecessary, like the fact that I haven’t taken the kids to do enough fun, new, exciting things this summer.

So this week we started to hit some new parks. Or ones we hadn’t been to in ages. I’ve been using my handy app that my friend Mistie created, Playground Pointers.

Tuesday we tried Holstein Park in Logan Square. It was empty. It was also littered with trash. The wading pool wasn’t open and the water spray feature that looked so enticing in the pictures was a mere trickle. Jack climbed a bit then decided it was too buggy and wanted to leave.IMG_7249


So we headed over to Pulaski Park. It has a cool water playground I thought the kids would love. We got there around 10am and it was empty. I couldn’t believe our luck. But it turns out it was empty because it didn’t open until 11am.

We got back in the car and Jack told me I was fired. We headed home after a failed morning of exploring.

The next day we decided to try Mary Bartelme Park. Jack’s friend from school was with us and I’m pleased to say it was a much better experience.

Ben spent a ton of time climbing this.

Ben spent a ton of time climbing this.

Although the promised water spray feature again wasn’t working. Jack and Jaiden fixed that by using the water fountain to refill.

Water spray in the background.

Water spray in the background.

IMG_7289IMG_7283It is a very cool park, if you get a chance to check it out I highly suggest you check it out.

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The Relief Team Arrives


This morning my father and aunt arrived for a weekend full of kiddy torture.

Jack was so excited he asked if he could stay home from school. (The answer was no, in case you were wondering.)

Which was fine because Jack managed to tire Grandpa out within an hour of them meeting up.


Here they are playing tag. Can you believe my father had a hip replacement in September last year?



I wasted absolutely no time getting a mani/pedi AND going on an evening run with my husband.

Why can’t we live closer?!

Grandpa helping Jack with his homework while Aaron tries to steal his glasses.

Grandpa helping Jack with his homework while Aaron tries to steal his glasses.

After the run we heard those glasses are now broken. The first of undoubtedly many causalities this coming weekend.

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Today we attempted what some parents would consider the impossible. We did Disney. Four kids, three of them pre-school age, to a super crowded, hot place and asked them to wait in long lines. All day long.

At least we had some help…image

We actually had enough adults that we were almost not outnumbered for once.

And when I say we did Disney, we DID Disney. We arrived shortly after the gates opened and stayed for over 12 hours.

Since our last trip to Disney a short 16 months ago, the agenda has totally changed. Jack has finally reached an age where the kiddie rides bore him. He was ready to ride all the scariest roller coasters they had. Luckily he had his cousins there to ride with him.

Since Ben’s diagnoses for a sensory processing disorder, we have learned that things like roller coasters, which he suffers a lot of anxiety about, are actually good for him. If your balance is all messed up, exercising it is key. Last time we avoided it because we didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. So he rode Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain with us while Bubbie and Grandpa Bill napped the twins in the stroller.

By far the favorite ride was Autopia. Jack hit it four times!image

If this blog has taught you anything about me, it’s that I’m obsessed with food. Disney does everything amazing, it almost always exceeds my expectations, except when it comes to food.

I guess when you have a captive audience it doesn’t matter. And the truth is that the kid food is great for the kids. When you are a kid, what more do you need besides pizza, burgers, soda, ice cream and CANDY!?


So much for the food dye ban!

I also felt guilty that we promised the kids fireworks and we left before but in the end it all worked out. It took so long to leave that we were able to see it fear free, with a thousand car alarms going off (did you know fireworks did that to car alarms?), in the comfort of our own car.image

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Ice Skating

Lately I’ve been worried that Jack is getting to an age where he should be experiencing a lot more things. Skiing, Travel, Tennis, Golf.

However, all the younger kids keep us from traveling or going to a bunch of classes where Jack learns something but I have to juggle three other kids in an unsuitable environment.

So I was very pleased when Jack replied ‘yes’ for a classmate’s ice skating party.

IMG_5777Adam normally takes Jack to most things, but this time around I finagled my way into his position. I love to ice skate!!!

At first I was worried that, after all that effort, Jack would not skate. He almost refused to get his hand stamped.

But I forgot how athletically adept he is. While most first time skaters clung to the wall, Jack stepped out onto the ring without fear.

I could not believe his incredible balance, or his lack of apprehension of falling!

Within 30 minutes we were skating side by side, holding hands and staying on our feet.

It was so great I felt compelled to take him again, so we asked our sitter to come early the next date night. We’ll skate with the older boys first then have time to ourselves after.

For you Chicago readers, skating is not expensive or far away. The party was held at McFetridge Sports Center. Sautrday and Sundays from 4:30 – 6pm is open skate. Adults are $5, Kids $4 and ice skates are $3 for rental.

It’s a great afternoon activity, especially in the winter when you can’t get outside to run around.

Mom tip: Don’t forget to pack the gloves and ski pants if you plan on doing a lot of falling.

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Kid City

On my quest to check out new pay-to-play spaces, I met my friend Lindsay at Kid City this morning.

After texting back and forth with possible options for 2 moms to take 6 kids (soon to be seven, Lindsay is very pregnant) and actually have a chance at some conversation, we settled here.

I was very pleased with the results.

Do you want to see it? Because the website doesn’t really do it justice.


This is the picture I took from the back of the main room. You can see the pet corner, all the cars lined up, the slide and the little house which contains a mini kitchen. Behind the little house is a tiny tot area.


There is Lindsay with her twins in the tot corner. Lots of little toys to manipulate!

The main area also has a little space to the side for drawing and puzzle solving…


They also have a grocery store room with half walls on two sides…


A dress up, doll house room…


A kids theatre which apparently causes lots of friction between moms if it is running and their kids are watching instead of playing…


And a parents lounge! I used it for a few time outs. For the kids, not myself.


The back side of this lounge is set up with a large buffet table for kid parties.

And the kitchen…DSC_0982

You can bring your own food but they provide plates and utensils. The kitchen has a fridge and microwave you can use and they even have fresh brewed coffee and tea for the moms. They also have a few snacks for sale just in case.

It’s a big space, so you can’t see all your kids at all times but you can pretty much cover everyone without feeling stressed out.

And there is lots of free street parking.

Jack was a bit old for it, and unlike Kid’s Island, there was no one there to entertain him. But these sorts of spaces are really geared to anyone who is under school age so I was just pleased he put up with it for the sake of the other kids.

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Explore and Much More, Again

Everything old is new again!

Today I registered my other two kids at Explore and Much More. It’s always been one of my favorite pay-to-play spaces in the city. And even though it has two floors, it is still manageable to watch three kids here.IMG_5706

In fact, it’s more like three floors with the loft upstairs. The ingenious loft creates many more play spaces for the kids and keeps it a lot more interesting.

Upstairs in the loft they have legos, gears, and foam blocks.

Upstairs in the loft they have legos, gears, and foam blocks.

Under the loft, a kitchen area.

Under the loft, a kitchen area.

I’ve decided to revisit some of the old indoor playgrounds I used to haunt, only to find most of them have shut down. I guess it’s hard to make a buck in this sort of business.

Today the space was not crowded at all. I was pleased, but also worried. I don’t want it to close like all the other spaces I used to frequent!

On Wednesdays they have a singer at 10:30.

With the singer, Sharon.

With the singer, Sharon.

Again Ben surprised me by being the only kids who remembered the singer’s name and sitting nicely and participating on his own will. The twins participated too, but I think their 4:45am wake up time made them a bit glassy eyed by the time we got to singing.

Afterwards we went to Lulu Belle’s Pancake House for lunch. They are now owned by the same person. Any day of the week you eat there and go to Explore and Much More, you get a 15% discount. AND if you go on Tuesdays, kids eat free (one kid meal per one adult meal.)

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