Making Memories in Madison – Weekend Getaway

This summer we stayed close to home. Sometimes playing tourist is a great way to learn more about the area around us and we can appreciate new discoveries. We have spent most of our time in Illinois, so a Wisconsin getaway was a new idea for us.  A quick drive up from the Chicago area, we met up with family in the suburbs of Madison and went out for a quick bite for dinner. Our hotel was situated outside of the city. We chose it because it made it easier to wander around and never have a long drive.

Here are the highlights:

Day 1

Troll at Mount Horeb

We decided to explore the town of Mount Horeb. It’s a must-stop place to look around and take pictures of their trolls. Yes, you read that correctly, trolls. If nothing else, there is no place like it! It’s cute and quaint and funny. We got a pastry at a small café, wandered over to the Duluth Trading Post, and checked out the trolls. Mt. Horeb provided us with a scenic way to ease into the day.

Then we went to downtown Madison. Date night for the parents was started by a walk by the lake and then we made our way through the beer garden. We wandered through an eclectic neighborhood, past the Capitol, up to Naples 15 for dinner. This location may seem small at first, but most noteworthy is a menu with so many options! We selected a seafood appetizer and two individual pizzas. There were plenty of choices so that most guests probably will be satisfied. We continued to Eno-Vino bistro for drinks and a view. Located on the 10th floor of the AC Hotel, it features a spectacular view of the capitol as we sat near a window and watched the sunset. I highly recommend it!

Day 2

The next day, we visited the Henry Vilas Zoo. It is free to the public and it offers a nice range of animals. It was clearly a hit with families. Then there was a return trip to the center of the city so we could visit the Capitol up close. I’ll offer a tip that the Capitol was open on a Sunday. Traffic was light, we could park easily and the crowd was also pretty small. We wandered upstairs for a closer view of the dome.

We also ventured over to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. This stop offered a very interesting, educational experience for my family. You can choose to focus on a specific war or travel through history and see the evolution of guns, equipment, and even planes are on exhibit. Well worth the visit with multiple generations.

An Old Fashioned

We closed out the day at the Old Fashioned. It’s a fixture in the square and we all enjoyed it. Madison as a worthwhile weekend adventure for your family.





Family Adventures Creating Fun Memories

This blog was started 7 years ago. Time has gone by so quickly! Happily, my family has been busy and healthy. My son is now 10 years old and his interests range from history to video games so we do a lot of exploring and try a range of activities. A few will be recurring so you have a chance to try them for yourself!

The Collings Foundation brought a collection of vintage planes including a B-17 that took groups out over the Chicagoland area. Among the visitors at the airport were a number of veterans. This organization travels all over the country and offers a unique experience.

We got to take a walk back in time when we attended a World War II re-enactment in Rockford, Illinois. There is a little village built there with camps and battle fields nearby. You can meet up with civilians, as well as soldiers.

Tall ships came to Navy Pier in 2016. Navy Pier is a beautiful destination on a summer day and it has a calendar of events throughout the year. Ships’ crews brought people together from all over the world and it was an interesting mix of cultures.

More modern activity came into Chicago’s McCormack Place with the C2E2 convention. We met Supergirl, we saw every other super hero and many Star Wars characters there. If you cannot get there, you will have another opportunity when the Wizard World Comic Con comes to the Rosemont Center.

The Renaissance Faire provides yet another backdrop for fantasy. All outdoors, the family gets more active here while also watching knights joust and various performers (comedy, music, juggling and more) entertain. There is good food to try here and plenty of shops to explore.I’m looking forward to sharing more travels in 2017.








Letter to my son as he turns 10

My son turned 10 and I just found the letter I wrote here when he turned 5. I cannot believe time has passed so quickly! (Yes, friends did warn me.) I am drawing, once more, from the inspiration that prompted me previously. My friend, Nevin Adams, wrote a letter to his son as he graduated from high school. I cherry-picked a few of his messages because, really, a 5-year old can only follow so much! 

Never miss a chance to tell someone “thank you.” This can be a friend, a teacher or anyone who you see helping others.

“What do you think?” is a great response when you don’t know the answer. We often do not have all the answers! AND, more importantly, asking questions is the smartest thing you can do to keep learning. Life will always be your classroom.

The hardest thing to do is quit while you’re ahead. 

The second hardest thing to do is to keep your mouth shut. Listening is much more important than speaking. Unfortunately, some people want more attention and make a bit of noise. That’s ok. Be well informed before you decide to take center stage.

If you don’t speak up, people will assume you’re happy with the way things are. It is acceptable to question authority and propose new ideas.

If you don’t love yourself, nobody else will.

Not everyone will become your friend, but be kind to everyone.

Civil discussions are important. People will have differing opinions but discuss your viewpoints without being disrespectful.

I just shared this with my son. He read both out loud to me. After going out and playing Pokémon Go this morning, I enjoy having a moment where we just talk. The next five years might fly by just as fast, so I will hold onto this day.


Summer Vacation: Explore Chicago

Summer is officially here and I am continuing with a collection of trip recommendations. We often overlook opportunities to explore in our backyard, at least I do. Last summer I embarked on hitting some sites that were obvious to tourists but I had yet to do them. Here is a quick recap of some options to try next time you visit Chicago. I am not suggesting these can be done in one day—they are highlights of a few trips.

I have one son, who was 9, and sometimes the adventure was for him to have a first-time experience downtown.

We did breakfast at Margie’s, which is an ice cream parlor located in the Bucktown neighborhood. Now that I am thinking about it, another breakfast there may be in order!

Water Taxi Ride

Let’s be clear: the weather in Chicago is not great for about six months out of the year. Summer is really the most reliable time to venture around. And it is also the best time to be on the water/Lake Michigan. A ride on the Chicago Water Taxi is a fun way to skip traffic and take a look at the architecture that makes the city unique. You can board at Union Station and take it to Michigan Avenue. A walk down the “Magnificent Mile” provides a terrific mix of retailers and history. The views are spectacular day or night.

Navy Pier offers visiting exhibits, places to eat and rides. The giant

Fun at Navy Pier

ferris wheel is new this year (replacing one that was here) so that’s worth a visit. Live music and an IMAX theatre provide other options to keep everyone occupied. And fireworks shows occur on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer, from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

The museum campus has a cluster of wonderful options to explore. If you are prepared to do some walking, venture through Millennium Park, over to Buckingham Fountain, then back to the Art Institute to take in an array of sites. The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers tours to maximize your experience.

Visit Chicago this summer and make some new memories with your family!


Summer Vacation – Destination NYC

Summer is officially here. You have probably already made your plans but I will share some tips from our last vacation that just could not have been better. I have one son, who was 9, and neither he nor my husband had been in New York City. I lived there once upon a time, so I love to visit and explore. It was fun to plan for that first experience and fill three days with a wide range of sites.

I had never used a City Pass but found it really helpful. One purchase, many options to try (a few I might not have considered on my own), and a quicker line to enter (occasionally) even during a holiday.

Our first stop was the American Museum of Natural History. My son

loves dinosaurs and this place had a showcase of bones. We began the day here and then walked across Central Park. The park is huge and there are so many corners, ponds and statues to see. We happened upon Belvedere Castle. Aside from the unusual building there were musicians playing live for us to pause and enjoy. We continued onto the Metropolitan Museum. As a family, we had looked over the map and there were so many exhibits it was hard to narrow our options. Depending on how many days you can spend there, I would suggest picking 2-3 to fill an afternoon. History continued to be the theme for the day, so we took in the Arms and Armor, The Temple of Dendu and The American Wing.

If you have a major holiday fall during the trip, it is good to know that the Empire State Building is open 365 days a year. We went there on Christmas Day.

Using my PC and smartphone to plan and navigate was key to a successful vacation. I used Trip Advisor for assistance when picking a hotel and could not have been happier with our choice. We stayed at the Warwick. It is located Midtown, which made it convenient to walk to a number of places. It was smaller than many bigger named chains, which was nice after a hectic day. We also found the 2nd Avenue Deli and while there are tons of delis you can try, our meal and service were great. I also used the app TodayTix to check availability and prices of Broadway shows. You can get some terrific deals on short notice.

A few more days and the mix of options in NYC might be endless, but definitely make time to go to New York.

Bedtime Reading: Sharing My Love of Reading

I enjoyed reading to my son since before he could speak. I thought that we would begin that tradition and he would instantly love to read, too. However, in school they were assigned a reading log and have had to do it every night for a certain length of time.  When it was forced, he did not love reading so much. Our last teacher did not require the logs and the struggles ended. His tastes are definitely maturing and unique to him. At age 9, here is what keeps his attention:

“Captain UCaptain Underpantsnderpants” by Dav Pilkey – is done in comic book style. They have been illustrated in black and white but “The Attack of the Talking Toilets” was in Full Color! The main characters, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, came up with the super hero comics. I won’t try to come up with any educational value here—the stories make my son laugh.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney details the daily adventures of a boy named Greg Heffley. He has two brothers and a best friend named Rowley. Life can be a challenge both at school and at home and he tells it like it is. Funny and awkward, kids can relate to his frustrations and the movies based on the books have been fun to watch, too! We have seven installments of the Diaries.

“And then what happened, Paul Revere?” by Jean Fritz was a gift from his third grade teacher. This started us on a string of biographies. This one, in particular, came from Scholastic Books and it provides a balance of reading, with illustrations and plenty of historical material. It was the launching point for a book report and he foWonderund additional books to round out the source material.

“Wonder” is a book by R.J. Palacio about a boy in the fifth grade that begins at a new school. The twist is that he has a facial difference that had kept him from attending a mainstream school. So he is dealing both with entering a new situation but also being different from the others and tells how he copes. My son wanted to get it (and the accompanying “365 Days of Wonder”) because they were reading it in class. I’m going to read it myself.Civil War Soldier

“You Wouldn’t Want to be a Civil War Soldier!” by Thomas Ratliff has been a favorite because my son really loves history. There are more in the series—about being a colonist, a pioneer, and a pirate’s prisoner—but they look a bit grim. I will share that this is not for younger kids—there are some realistic details about medical treatment included along with battle information. That being said, it contains a glossary of terms so vocabulary development will definitely be a bonus.

Time Passing…

Background: I started writing this a year ago, then I did not post it. I came upon it and another draft that now I’ll be posting so it has been two years since my last published post.
My son just turned 8. I had intended to write in time for his birthday. Being slightly compulsive, I thought the deadline would help me get back to writing. That did not happen but as we are now into his 8th year, it does provide me an opportunity to reflect.
He has made me proud so many times this year.
We had a parent-teacher conference and his teacher shared that she relies on him to help new students ease into the class. He has good leadership skills but also has a nice manner with younger kids (it was a first and second grade split class).
We watched a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen and he heard some language for the first time which prompted us to talk about racism. As we explained it, he said it made his “heart hurt.”
He actively decides on items to donate to a local domestic violence shelter. We’ve taken clothes, toys and books of his that he has outgrown. I also have given them furniture and other household goods. Recently he asked if he could give some money that had been given to him, too. He has learned to share and he realizes that he has been blessed with quite a bit.
He also makes me smile a lot. For Mother’s Day he filled out a form in school about my traits and among them he said “She always knows what to say when I’m sad.” And, he listed a hobby of mine was shopping for clothes. For the record, I tend to shop for him! He also thinks I “know his every move.” I hope he believes that for a while.
He turns his head when couples kiss on tv. He lets me cover his eyes if something violent happens in a show.
A fun area of connection for us is music. We seem to have similar tastes, which are mixed: The Fray, Maroon 5, OneRepublic, Bruno Marz all have had recent songs that we both enjoy.
I have them saved to a playlist, so that makes things easier. We listen to music mostly as we are in the car. And, we gave him a record player so a visit to a store selling vinyl makes for a good afternoon. He’s gotten a decent mix of old and new, including Michael Jackson and KISS. He’ll have interesting tastes when he gets older.

In Real Life

Riding the Camel057Several years ago, I lived in Sonoma, California and worked in a small business. I hired a marketing assistant who became a friend. I was single and Trish was married but we connected. She made plans to travel to Tunisia to visit her husband’s family and she invited me to accompany them. It was a unique offer. I had never actually considered a vacation to Tunisia. It turned out that we would need to fly through Paris, so that was going to be a few days’ visit. I decided to do it. It was an interesting trip. I had not thought through the language challenges. Her husband was tri-lingual and I had assumed his family might also be but they were not. So while he spoke English, no one else did. He sometimes would translate into French for Trish (she was bi-lingual) and she could turn around and let me know in English what was happening. Sometimes I could not follow. Perhaps the funniest episode was we were driving and I got excited as we spotted a man walking with a camel. A camel! Live, in person, just walking along the road. I wanted to take a picture, so we stopped the car. Then, Trish’s husband approached the man and said something to him in Arabic, so he stopped to pose for me. It got better! He invited me to jump on the camel. OK—I reacted without hesitation! Perhaps I should have paused to consider it more. As I sat on the camel and it stood, I was almost pitched off its back. You don’t think about it but how a camel is built, with long legs and neck, means it is a bit awkward in its movement. As it stood, it rocked forward and I did not expect to go in that direction. So I squeezed with my legs with all my might because I immediately thought of flying to the ground and having to go to a hospital where no one spoke English and then calling my mother to tell her I was hurt and thousands of miles away. This could not happen. It did not.
Well, Trish ended up quitting, then getting divorced, and she moved to Chicago. Then she returned home to Tennessee. Years passed and I moved to Chicago. I got married and had a son. She became an artist and produced theatre work. We have sent each other Christmas cards and Facebook came into existence, so we have watched as we posted random notes or photos. We have visited each other twice since I moved to the Midwest.
A week ago, I had a business trip to Nashville and she came to get me. We realized very quickly that it had been TEN YEARS since we actually had seen each other in person. TEN YEARS! I’m not sure how that much time had passed. She’s never met my son. I never met her second husband. We ate lunch, we drove to the airport, and we chatted non-stop. It was so much fun and it reminded me that I need to get to Nashville more often. I cherish the friendships I’ve developed over the years and I rely on social networks to keep in touch. For the most part, it feels like it works. After all, we can’t jump on planes and travel all over the country every year. But seeing someone live, in person, really is so much better. That short visit covered so much territory.
I have other friends, who live in California, who I’ve seen more than once in ten years. Like my friend since junior high, Susy, who was in my wedding and has come out to Chicago multiple times. Or, Aileen, who I have known for more than two decades. I saw her son as a newborn and her second son just had his Bar Mitzvah. Their kids have grown up mostly in pictures, so it is nice when you can see them in real life. Status updates or tweets only provide a limited amount of information. It is good to be reminded how to connect the old fashioned way.

Little Moments

002I recently read a blog post by a friend, Tina Seitzinger; she shared some memories of her childhood. Then she shifted to wondering what her boys might remember from their family life. It got me to thinking about how motherhood is full of surprises and lots of small moments. There were times from when my son was really little that he will not likely remember. I used to dance with him in my arms to music videos. Mary J. Blige was an early favorite of his. Now he enjoys LMFAO and Maroon 5, among others.

The Tooth Fairy visits have been good. We’ve done brunch with the Easter Bunny and Santa and have taken photos, so those events should stick.

I have randomly taken him for donuts before school where we’ve sat together enjoying breakfast dates.

Sunday mornings our family often goes out for breakfast and his order is always Fruity Pebble pancakes.

“Movie nights” happen spontaneously—all it takes it some popcorn and dimming the lights in the living room. We have amassed a huge library of movies. Someday I hope to be able to get back to my regular viewing habits but I mostly get to all the G-rated and some PG-rated family entertainment these days. I think my son appreciates it.

My husband has been responsible for us venturing to places like the farm that our park district runs, or the Renaissance Faire that is open every summer. Our son’s fascination with knights and swords ensures we’ll be doing this for a while. We also caught a Civil War reenactment recently. It was complete with a battle and cannons.

My husband has also been good about getting involved in the t-ball practices while I was more into his one attempt at soccer. All in all, I like the balance that 001we’ve had in our participation. We’ve both volunteered at his school for some events, most recently, helping with a community garden.

Then, there have been ‘firsts’ like the first outing on a beach. It was Half Moon Bay, California.

What are some of your favorite family moments?

More Bedtime Stories I Enjoy Reading

Charlie Cook coverI am constantly looking for new books for my son. We’ve made the transition from me doing all the reading to now he reads to me (mostly). Since he is in school, he is supposed to complete a “reading log” to show he has spent at least ten minutes per night reading. Does anyone else have this to do daily? His tastes run toward Star Wars. I like more variety. I decided to share a list of books (in alphabetical order) that I don’t mind reading over and over again, that have captured his imagination, too. I have included some that are holiday-oriented. I figure we can all use new suggestions, so please use the comments section to provide titles you enjoy, too.

“Charlie Cook’s Favorite Book” by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler details the adventures of a boy named Charlie Cook who likes to sit in a big armchair reading his favorite books. There are pirates, a knight and a dragon, a crocodile, and a ghost, among others, who also enjoy books. I’m not too subtle as I try to instill a love of reading in my son!

“The Duckling Gets a Cookie” by Mo Willems is really simple and yet it gets some big laughs from my son. A duckling has a cookie and the pigeon wants it. He gets it. Turns out the duckling prefers them without nuts.

“I Can Read with My Eyes Shut” by Dr. Seuss is one of a number of Seuss books we read. It contains a rather obvious lesson: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

“Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree” by Robert Barry shows how Mr. Willowby shares his huge tree with his neighbors, including the Bear, Fox, Rabbit and Mouse families. Nothing goes to waste and everyone’s homes are made more festive with their new trees.  Mr-Willowby

“Room on a Broom” The pair of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler again offer some fun illustrations along with poetic language: “Over the reeds and the rivers they flew, the bird shrieked with glee and the stormy wind blew. They shot through the sky to the back of beyond. The witch clutched her bow—but let go of her wand.” And we are taken on an adventure with an unlucky witch and her passengers. We have 6 books written and illustrated by this duo and all are very entertaining.

“We Are in A Book,” I think we have more than half a dozen of Mo Willems’ works involving Piggie and Gerald as the main characters. They live life and tackle problems together. At some point, they come to the realization that they are being read. It is funny when they start to address the audience directly.