Following a Yellow Brick Road

Hello Friends,

This is another family adventure from our weekend. With such a beautiful late summer day on Saturday, we had to get out. Wife Googled parks in the city and found “Oz Park ” in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Who knew?

The main draw was statues of the main Oz characters. Obviuosly, here the girls are sitting on Dorothy’s pedestal. Arranged around two sides of the park, these statues help set a playful tone.

Nick Chopper, a.k.a the Tin Woodman guards the northeast entrance of the park.

Just inside that entrance stands the scarecrow. He is near the “quiet area”, his gentle nature an appropriate reflection of this calm patch. Filled with flowers and decorative plants, it stands apart from the playground and greenspace of the park.

The Cowardly Lion stands at the southeast corner of the park. He has the bonus of being app-enabled and can call you and talk with you. More importantly, he defends the pickle ball court. And yes, the people who play there too.

The playground at Oz Park is amazing. Shade is abundant and kids climb all over multiple ornate wooden structures. There’s tennis courts, pickleball courts, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, open space, the playground- really something for everyone.

We broke for lunch and headed down the street to Chicago Halal. Not much more than counter tops, this place has some kind of magic to their food prep. The gyro meat was cut small and had a delicious searing on the edges.

The girls ate well on their cheeseburgers too. So overall, our family dug Chicago Halal. I know that’s a weak review, but maybe some of you foodies out there can drop them a visit and do a proper one.

So here’s a weird thing about the afternoon: the lack bathrooms. Despite the beauty and playground amenities, Oz Park does not have any bathroom facilities. Chicago Halal also lacks bathrooms facilities. We tried to pitstop at a Starbucks near the park, but no, no toilet. What?!? Bit of a downer on a our day, but we salvaged it. You know who had a bathroom? Same people who have old-school soft serve. Oh yeah, Dairy Queen.

If you haven’t been to Oz Park yet, just follow Webster east, about to Halsted. Visit with the friends from L. Frank Baum’s Oz series, or maybe get in on some wooden paddle and wiffle ball action. Lincoln Park holds plenty of restaurants, both new and fresh as well as tried and true. So food is easy to find around Oz Park. Just be sure you plan your adventure ahead, so you don’t make your own yellow brick road.

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Thank You Dead Presidents

So today was President’s Day, which of course means no school! How did you spend your day? Did you talk to your kids about our country’s Presidents? Did you discuss the current state of affairs in Washington? Did you discuss “civic duty” and the importance of voting? We neither!

The girls both woke up with smiles and lots of energy today. Blame it on some late nights over the weekend, or maybe the 60º+ temperature in Chicago right now. So civics lessons were not on the agenda, but going to the park was item number 2! (There where a couple of things around the apartment that HAD to happen first).

We're off!

We’re off!

I tried to get us out as quickly as possible. The girls were ransacking rooms while I did silly things like dishes and laundry. We were rollin’ by mid-morning, with the day steadily warming up. It was a bit bizarre to head to the playground; 1.) It’s February and most playgrounds and parks are usually buried in snow, 2.) The entire park smelled like wet dog poop, and 3.) There was garbage everywhere (clearly a busy weekend at the playground). We didn’t let any of these things hold us back though, and the girls loved running all over the playground. They had the run of the place right until we were ready to leave.

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Swings-always a favorite

We wrapped up playtime and enjoyed a much-needed snack. Then back to the apartment for a quick Paw Patrol episode (not a school day!) while I swapped car seats and laundry, then out again. We headed to the Buyos’ house for some lunch and a quick visit. The girls did well, until the lack of sleep turned them into drunken sailors whose ears stopped working. Time to leave.

When we got back to the apartment Wife was already home. This seemed like a bonus except that she was not feeling so well. That made for a quiet afternoon, yet still no napping. So after a solid dinner and bath both girls fell asleep without much drama. Overall, I fell way behind on my Monday routine when I usually put the apartment back together. But playing at the park, in February, was great (albeit spooky). And spending the days with my girls is always fun, even with a lack of sleep. I’ll add “making time for families to play together” to the list of great things that our past presidents accomplished. And Happy (early) Birthday President Washington.

Springing back; a growth story

Chicago weather is getting steadily warmer. Yeah, the start of this week looks rainy, but I think we are past the 40º days. The detour is headed for the spring transition! Now is the time of year when everyone starts posting their outdoor pictures. Flowers, yard work, local eateries with outdoor patios, spring adventures, etc. And for us parents that means pictures from the playground.

 

Back at it..

Back at it..

For Sweetie this is a return to familiar territory – the park. We headed over to our local park and she was right back in the mix. With her being older she blasted over things that she was creeping over last year. Despite her advancement, she is still preferring the full-seat swing. Fun stuff.

This ride is just fine

This ride is just fine

For the Cricket this is like a whole new world. I figure her eyesight and awareness of the world came into focus during the grey winter days. I think her world was the size of our house until just recently. So going to the park for her is a Columbus-like experience. While she is still too young to crawl around on the equipment, she is completely entertained trying to find the thing that is making that chirping sound or watching the kids run around playing. And she will learn all about those swings soon enough.

 

HELLO SPRING!

HELLO SPRING!

The social calendar is filling up fast, especially with two of them filling the days. So we’re off! I hope it’s warming up wherever you are. Get out there and enjoy.

Winter Chicagoland

Last week we found ourselves once again home bound by frigid temperatures and winter weather. I am sure many of you dealt with the same conditions. This post came from my last-minute decision to buck the current attitude in Chicago. I caught myself trying to jump on the anti-winter bandwagon with the majority of the city (and country?) and lament the things that we have not been able to do because of the persistent cold. But I stopped in time and decided instead to celebrate a couple of the things that we have done during this snowy and cold winter.

Truth be told, I enjoy the winter. I was born in December, so of course I am biased. I have long been a fan of sledding and used to snowboard as well. And I am one of those people who do not mind shoveling snow, particularly on a quiet evening. I learned years ago in a Denver blizzard that good gear, i.e. boots, coat and gloves, makes a world of difference. So I am prepared for cold, snowy weather and enjoy it.

Now dealing with a toddler during the winter has been another story. But this year has been a great introduction to all things winter. Sweetie thinks snow is very funny stuff. She does not quiet get what it is, but smashes it around anyway. She too has all of her gear so she can go out to play. (Well, if she could move in the gear she could play – we have had Christmas Story flashbacks all winter!) We found some toddler sleds, so one day Sweetie and Wife and I met up with Big Daddy B, Momma Z and Linda for some sledding.

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As you can see, the dads were definitely the power-sources for the sledding. The new snow was so thick that downhill wasn’t so great, but the sleds went along the flats just fine. So we all enjoyed an afternoon at the park. Of course this was different from summer time at the park, but it was still a fun time spent with friends.

We have taken Sweetie and Linda to some indoor play areas as well. Momma Z and I figured that as long as we can get them in and out of the car safely, then it’s a go! This is the Little Beans Cafe in Chicago.

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It’s an open layout, loft-style play space with five “playhouses” and all sorts of pushing/riding toys. The girls ran around for hours. If you have a place like this near you, check it out. It is a must when playing outside is not an option.

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Another great thing about staying inside for days on end is the cooking (and/or baking )! We have said “Bah!” to plain chicken breast dinners and rice side dishes. I have been tearing through Wife’s cookbook collection trying all sorts of seasonal dishes. Hey, it helps break up the monotony! And don’t forget the sweets!

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Yes, those are Star Wars cookies. There is a funny story about those cookies that you can expect to read later. In all honesty, Momma Z bakes circles around us and has taken full advantage to her time inside. Thankfully, she likes to share and is quick to offer freshly baked cookies and cakes with her play date invitations!

All in all, it has seemed like a Chicago winter to me. I keep telling people, “This is how I remember Chicago winters.” I heard a great report on NPR where they interviewed a woman living and working in California. Her response to all of the winter animosity was simple, she said, “If people aren’t happy living in the cold and snow, tell ‘em to move here.” I agree with her philosophy. Chicago has always had strong winters with cold and snow and wind. I say prepare for it, dress for it and enjoy it. And if you don’t like it…move to California.

1 degree out, can you believe it?

1 degree out, can you believe it?

Meet ups and First Friends

Chicago spring is in full effect and charging right in to summer – now is the time to get out and enjoy the local parks. At the end of last summer and through fall, Sweetie and I took many walks around the park nearest to our house. So far this spring we had also stopped in at the organic greenhouse to check that out. But we had not explored the playground areas, not tried out the swings. I decided it was time to step up our park trips to the next level. No more solitary walks, it was time for park meet-ups. Meet-ups meant that Sweetie would have a chance to play in a new environment and I would have a chance for conversation.

Role call for the main family that we “meet up” with is Big Daddy B, Momma Z and their daughter Linda. We met these friends in music class at the beginning of the year. Among their fellow 6-12 month olds, Sweetie and Linda demonstrated superior musicality and quickly rose to the top of the class. We watched the girls interact well together, sharing toys and instruments. Big Daddy, Momma Z and I talked after class a few times and figured out that we lived a short distance from one another. And we worked out that Linda is about two weeks older than Sweetie. With so many things aligning we decided to get together outside of class.

Our first meet-up was at a park just down the road from us, in their neighborhood. This park is nice for the girls. There are swings and slides and small obstacles for smaller kids and larger equipment for the older ones. There is plenty of space so I don’t spend the whole time worrying about some rogue 5-year-old blasting into my daughter. They installed cushy rubber flooring everywhere so it is comfortable for crawling (our park is all wood chips). Sweetie definitely enjoys the swings but prefers cruising around the grounds while Linda enjoys the rhythm of the swings. Perfect – no fighting over playground equipment with these two.

Good times

Good times

Watching the girls at play got me thinking about first friends. My parents lived next door to the couple that birthed Captain Jack (see Gratitude for a bit more). Through their connection he and I became first friends. The 37 year ebb and flow of that friendship is an interesting slice of life. We moved out of the neighborhood when I was 1, but the families stayed in touch. We would see each other a couple of times a year, definitely around the holidays. Ten years later when we were in the fourth grade, he moved to my neighborhood. Over these years there were times when we were not the best of friends but thankfully we were never enemies. Historically, when we met up with one another we picked right back up where we left off. Since I moved back to Chicago five years ago we have enjoyed a great reconnection. We’ve seen each other get married and buy houses and grow careers – and he is totally into Sweetie. And once again we live right down the street from one another.

So maybe this is what Sweetie and Linda are growing. Obviously no one can predict the future, and kids are all over the place so you don’t really know what’s next. Wife and I aren’t really the types to force a friendship, and Big Daddy and Momma Z don’t seem like the type either. But so far the girls play great together and it is neat to watch them think of the potential. And technically speaking, whatever direction their relationship goes, they are still first friends.

All the gushy friendship stuff aside, these meet-ups are a great chance to get out of the house and interact with other parents. Grown up conversation is refreshing. I imagine many of you are like me and you speak to your child all day long. Sweetie listens attentively and sometimes responds, but it’s really a 12 hour monologue. So it’s nice to shift to a give-and-take conversation for a couple of hours. There is also the idea sharing and note comparing. Talking with Big Daddy and Momma Z has been a chance to talk through feeding routines and sleep habits and most recently, teething. And sharing our stories empowers us to support each other as parents. Overall it’s just been good to meet and get to know these guys.  We share many interests and they have some great stories as well. It’s also a nice reminder to Wife and me that there are, in fact, other people outside our home.

Same time next week?

Same time next week?

So park meet ups are a winner and we are big fans. I appreciate the grown up conversation and the chance to interact with other parents. Sweetie loves getting out, the change of scenery and new places to play. She has some nice new sod in the backyard and some fun toys, but not swings! I know she benefits from the playground socialization and the introduction to those life lessons she won’t necessarily learn from Wife and I. And she has made her first friend.

Bet!

Bet!