Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lowering our weather standards

It snowed this week. We received another 2 inches of snow on April 15. This is now officially the third snowiest winter on record. We call this the winter that will never end, which seems more and more appropriate each day.

We're all feeling really beaten down by the never-ending cold and snow.

The upside is our weather standard are really low now. While we were on vacation, it was colder than we had hoped. Our mantra became, "Well, at least it's not snowing." Daddy's sisters had rain on a recent trip and he said, "It rained, but it didn't snow."

It's our new standard. As long as it's not snowing, it's a good weather day. It's a pretty low standard, but after this winter we're just looking for the silver lining in our winter clouds. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The power of positive thinking

We were getting ready to leave this morning when the girls discovered a second pair of my favorite mittens. These are heavy, with the flip top mittens so I can still use my fingers if needed.

Why were they looking at mittens? It's cold this morning. When we left the house it wasn't even freezing outside. Yes, it's April. It's really the continuation of the winter that will never end.

As the girls were discussing who would wear which pair of my mittens, I said, "Hey, just a reminder. Both pairs are mine. I'll share them, but these are my mittens."

The girls smiled at each other. The blond twin looked quite amused and said, "Sure, you can think that Mom." The brunette twin just laughed.

I think I need new mittens.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nine and counting

I went to the store looking for Easter shoes. The blond twin has a pair of really cute, white sandals to wear. The brunette twin needs shoes. The problem we have is that the brunette twin wears a women's size 8 shoe. It's hard to find the cute, girly shoes she covets.

Rather than drag her through a bunch of stores, I try to scout possibilities. It's not very fun to wander through aisles telling her she can't wear this pair or that pair. Most size 8 women's shoes aren't appropriate for a ten-year-old girl.

I was wandering the shoe clearance racks when I spotted a pair of size 9 purple satin ballet flats. These had hot pink edging. I immediately grabbed them.

When I came home with the shoes I proudly presented them to the brunette twin. She was very excited to see the pretty, purple shoes. She couldn't believe I actually found such cute shoes.  I suggested she put away the shoes for a bit until they fit her.

The brunette twin dropped the shoes to the floor and slipped her feet into them. She said, "Oh, I can wear them now. They fit fine." I smiled because she was so happy. When she walked away I said to Daddy, "I can't keep up with her."

Friday, April 11, 2014

Parents gone wild

We've always been the parents who go out without our children. We never hid the fact that we enjoy being away from them, even if just for a few hours. We just never thought it was a good idea to raise our girls to believe that we can't live without them for a little while. We always tell them that it's good for them to be away from us for a while too.

The girls often ask what we do when they go to bed. I tell them we do things like clean up, plan for the next day, read the paper and watch TV. Tonight, the brunette twin came running down the stairs for some reason she never explained. She turned the corner into the kitchen and said, "REALLY?"

I stood there with the ice cream scoop in my hand. I was putting ice cream on the apple pie I baked earlier. I looked at the brunette twin and said, "We always tell you that we have fun without you and your sister."

She ran upstairs to tell her sister what I was doing. The two of them were not happy with their parents. Of course, we didn't care. Knowing that we didn't have to hide our after-hours treats made us laugh. The best part was realizing that they now think we eat ice cream every night after they go to bed. I thought about leaving the ice cream scoop in the sink, but that seemed mean. Instead I'll make sure it's all cleaned up so the girls don't see the evidence. You know, just like all the other nights we enjoyed a treat while they slept.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Windy City Live a new Chicago treasure

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms.

We were at the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation benefit when I saw a silent auction item I knew my mother would love — a V.I.P. pass for me and two guests to attend a Windy City Live taping. I bid and held my breath. I really wanted to win this item so I could take Mom to the show.  When I won, I was very excited.
As soon as I started telling people that we were attending the show everyone – and I mean everyone – had a story about how nice the show’s stars were in real life. Ryan was at this benefit and talked to everyone with a smile on his face. Val was at lunch and stopped to talk to people who waved to her as she left the restaurant. The stories went on and on.

From the moment we arrived at the ABC studios on State Street, the experience was lovely. You’d think that the staff would be routine with their interactions at this point. The show has been on the air for three years now. Every person we spoke with — from the woman checking IDs at the front desk to the security guard screening us to the people in the studio doing a whole bunch of jobs I can’t name — was genuinely nice and professional. There were a lot of smiles and laughs.

The show taping was more fun than I expected. If you’ve ever been to a show taping you know there’s a lot of running around. I’ve attended several tapings in LA and Chicago. None was as relaxed at the Windy City Live taping. Everyone walked around doing their jobs, but no one was scowling or barking or snapping as I had heard at other tapings.

Our group had a funny moment when WIT Chef Evan Percoco was doing his kitchen segment. As the servers passed out sample desserts, my Aunt Bert said, “Oh, no thank you. My sugar was really high today.” And, she said it while the camera was on us. I leaned over and said, “Just take it.” She said, “Oh, I can’t waste it.” She shook her head and smiled at the server.  I just smiled and took my sample. It was wonderful. I thought about how much our daughters would like the desserts.

After the show we took a picture with Val and Ryan and Ji. It was an extra perk for winning the silent auction item. They asked about the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation and the benefit. They chatted with Mom and Aunt Bert. I just hung back and let them chat. Within moments, both ladies were in official “mom” mode. They asked Ryan why he moved from sports. Mom and Ji discussed being cold, which continued a conversation from when Ji was in the audience taking a photo. Val asked about the benefit. It was lovely to see how much fun Mom and Aunt Bert were having.

As we left the studio Rafer Weigel came in to tape some promos. I don’t quite know how it happened, but when I turned around, Mom and Aunt Bert were chatting with Rafer and Ryan. Rafer laughed that Mom and Aunt Bert were both named “Bert” since they were cousins. He and Ryan just charmed both of them.
I’ve been in public relations and marketing for a long time. What was refreshing about Windy City Live was that the entire experience from check-in to the post-show audience group picture was fun. You know this is their job, but they genuinely seem to enjoy it.

We attended Windy City Live because I won the silent auction item. The good news is that Windy City Live tapings tickets are free to anyone. If you’re looking for a unique experience filled with fun moments and endless stories, be sure to check out the available tickets. I’m sure you’ll have as much fun as we did with a staff that’s as genuine and charming as what you see on TV.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Charleston offers vacation beach living for families

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms


When we planned our recent Spring Break trip to Charleston, we wanted to really experience the ocean from sunrise to sunset. After a few days exploring the city, we moved from the city to Kiawah Island for a few days of ocean living.

It was a leap of faith when we made our hotel reservation. The Andell Inn, a Marriott property, was under construction when we made our reservation. The hotel opened just a few days before we arrived. One of the best parts of staying at the Andell Inn was that it anchored the Freshfields Village development. We had plenty of casual, family-friendly restaurants and cute shops to explore. We could walk outside the hotel and find everything we needed.

One of our favorite things was to rent bicycles and ride to Beachwalker Park, which is at the top of everyone’s “best beaches in the United States” lists. We spent many hours riding on the beach, playing in the surf and collecting sea shells. It wasn’t really warm enough to swim, but that didn’t stop us from having fun. We spent part of every day on Beachwalker Park.

We spent several hours at the Charles Towne Landing State Historical Site. We rented bikes and took in all the sites from the animal forest to the replica ship to the archeological digs. Our girls learned to swab the deck, spotted alligators near our bike path and absorbed details about how families lived back in the early settlements.

I dragged the family to the Charleston Tea Plantation. The plantation wasn’t a museum, but an active tea farm. There were tour opportunities giving visitors an opportunity to learn all about tea. We opted to take the 20 minute factory tour. It was interesting to learn that black, oolong and green teas came from same tea leaves.

One day we ventured to Folley Beach to walk to pier and watch the surfers. Folley Beach was a very traditional beach town with charming shops, casual restaurants and tourist shopping. It was like we walked into a postcard. There were a lot of families on the beach. People were playing volleyball, racing remote control cars and fishing off the pier.

A highlight of our island hopping came at the James Island County Park.  We stopped at the park because our girls wanted to play at a park. We stayed because they discovered the rock climbing wall. When our daughters said they wanted to climbing wall we decided to give it a chance. One of our girls started climbing immediately. It took a while before the other girl went for her harness. Once they were both climbing I tried not to show my fear. They quickly learned the basics and started scaling the 20 foot practice wall. It didn’t take too long before they were climbing the 50 foot competition wall.

We adored both parts of our Charleston vacation. The balance between history and modern restaurants and beaches created opportunities for everyone in our family to find something to enjoy. Charleston is a special place, which should be on everyone’s vacation list.

Disclosure:  We paid for everything, with some discount coupons for some attractions. Be sure to visit the visitor’s center to find discount coupons when you visit.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Charleston charms for a family vacation

This was originally published on The Chicago Moms.

During Winter Break, we wanted to take our girls out of the cold for a few days. We talked about heading to Charleston, South Carolina, as we had heard it was just beautiful at Christmas. We didn’t end up in Charleston for the holidays, but we did make it there for Spring Break.

In many ways, Charleston is both a sophisticated city and a beach town. Our trip lasted six nights, but we planned it as if we had two long weekends – a city weekend and a beach weekend. For the first three nights, we stayed just outside Charleston so we’d be close to the city. There were many events going on, including Fashion Week, so the hotels were packed. What was interesting was that for all the activity, Charleston didn’t seem crowded. We easily found restaurant tables and tour availability. Some of our favorite, family-friendly, activities included:

Fort Sumter combined a water tour with an island tour.  When we arrived the National Park Service tour guide laughed at us and said, “We warned you about the bugs.” Well, I’d say they sort of warned us about the bugs. A bunch of gnats was one things. These bugs were biting machines.  The fort was an interesting look at how wars were fought before airplanes and drones. The museum had so much information we barely finished reading before we had to leave. We recommended the tour to others, with a reminder to bring  the bug spray.

The Hunley tour of the world’s first successful combat submarine was fascinating for all ages. The conservation center where the Hunley is being studied doesn’t look like much as you drive up to it. Once you’re in, you could stay for hours. The docents were simply walking encyclopedias on all things related to the Hunley from military history to conservation to archeology. Our girls weren’t thrilled about going, but then they didn’t want to leave. You can only tour the Hunley on weekends, so this was the only tour reservation we made before arriving in Charleston.

The Old City Market was a magnet for our girls. The three sheds span several blocks with a mix of handmade items, jewelry, clothing, souvenirs and snacks. We wandered the market the first day picking up charms, spice mixes, a Christmas ornament and snacks. We walked through it again just because our girls were certain they missed something during the first visit.

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon was high on our girls’ to do list. They really wanted to go down into the dungeon. The docent provided a tour with just the right amount of information for families. There were some adults who asked about specific points, and he happily answered those questions. The girls were a bit disappointed by the dungeon because it was clean, well-lit and completely presentable. I didn’t realize until we were in the dungeon that they were hoping it would be dark and dank, like the dungeons in books. Of course, if it had been dark and dank, they wouldn’t have wanted to really be there.

There were several carriage tours, but we found Palmetto Carriage Works and were able to purchase tickets for the next tour. We learned that carriage tours functioned under a lottery system. Each carriage received a random destination at the main checkpoint before heading out. This meant we couldn’t request a specific tour, but we didn’t care. Our horse-loving daughters couldn’t stop talking to the tour guide about the mules carrying us through Charleston. The rest of us were enchanted by his charm and knowledge.

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church was probably not on everyone else’s list, but it was on mine. As we packed, I made sure we had appropriate clothes to wear to church as worship was a bit more formal in the South. I chose St. Michael’s because it hosted so many dignitaries through its history, including President George Washington. The church was a great example of something we learned on our carriage tour. Families in the old South used to purchase a box where they worshipped every week. St. Michael’s still had those boxes. We sat in Box 43, which was the dignitary’s box. The usher told us it was the same box President Washington used. Our girls were happy to have that story to tell after the service ended.

The South Carolina Aquarium made our list, even though we have an amazing aquarium in Chicago. We really liked the way the South Carolina Aquarium focused on native water systems. You started at the top of the museum and worked your way through all the different water forms from rain forests to swamps to oceans. Shortly after we watched the divers in the big tank, an aquarium employee came up and asked us if we wanted to see the big tank from the top. He said the employees randomly asked families if they’d like a behind the scenes tour. We immediately followed him to the top of the tank where he patiently answered our questions and told us about the animals. Our daughters thought it was funny that the big turtle had to go on “time-out” when the staff fed the sharks. It turns out the turtle liked to eat the sharks’ food. It was so interesting to find out what happened back stage. As we left we stopped on the aquarium deck where we saw dolphins playing in the bay.

We spent three full days in Charleston, but we could have spent several more.  One of the great things about Charleston was that it was so easy to get there. The plane made it from Midway to Charleston in fewer than two hours. We picked up a rental car and started our Charleston experience before lunch. 

Charleston is a great option for families seeking a summer getaway. You can spend a long weekend or a longer time enjoying the local charms. We’re planning to go back soon. It’s so close and so charming that once you visit, you can’t wait to return.

Disclosure:  We paid for everything, with some discount coupons for some attractions. Be sure to visit the visitor’s center to find discount coupons when you visit.