Happy Halloween!

Well, the parties are over, the candy bowl is empty, the plastic pumpkins are full of treats and the girls are passed out. I call this a successful Halloween for our crew.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Despite being out of our neighborhood, Wife and I found a bunch of stuff to do this Halloween. So we already started laying the plans out for next year – not too shabby. The girls seemed to enjoy it all: parties with friends (see above) and bonfires and pumpkins and trick-or-treating – oh boy! So I hope you and yours also had a safe and fun Halloween, time for me to sort and hide the candy.

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Gone fishin’

Chilly rain and overcast skies made a perfect day for…the aquarium! Sweetie and I spent today down at the John G. Shedd Aquarium.

Uh, Dad, there are no fish out here.

Uh, Dad, there are no fish out here.

Today the admission was waived for Illinois residents, so free day at the Shedd! The plan was to have a group meet together to enjoy the day, but illness struck two of the households and another two canceled. The result was a Dad-Sweetie adventure day!

A detour favorite

A detour favorite

Sweetie got a kick out of all of the fish. Of course it was entertaining watching her point and talk to all of the fish. It was pretty fun listening to her call the smaller fish “babies” and make shushing noises for the fish that were sleeping (those not actively swimming). Many of the exhibits have water levels above three feet, so she could enjoy the fish even while sitting in her stroller. We both enjoyed checking out the crowds as well. With a full aquarium the people watching was great!

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I have been going to the Shedd since I was a child. I was reminded of this by all of the day camp and school group students that surrounded us today. The last time I went was two years ago for wife’s birthday (she was actually pregnant with Sweetie). We took part in the “Trainer for a Day” program that the aquarium hosts. We spent that afternoon behind-the-scenes with an actual trainer and got hands-on with the beluga whales. So to all of the adults out there: When was the last time you went to the Shedd?

"carp" a diem!

“carp” a diem!

The Shedd Aquarium will be free for Illinois residents again on Monday, June 16 and Tuesday, June 17. They open at 9:00 am. and it was much more enjoyable early in the day (when we left the ticket line was long). There is still parking to contend with, which will set you back $22. And they frown on “outside” food, so we dropped about $20 on lunch. I will forgo the the cliché from the credit card commercial here, and just say a day at the aquarium with my daughter was pretty great.

So much to see

So much to see

As is customary with so many experiences here on the detour, I found myself grateful for many things today. It starts with the friends who called to say they couldn’t make it. Given that they could have just blown me off, I appreciated the heads-up that they weren’t coming. That way I could just focus on Sweetie. Overall, I was thankful for the free day. The Shedd and all of Chicago’s museums have free days. It is just a matter of getting out and taking advantage of them. Lastly, I am thankful to a pair of students who found my lost cell phone and brought it to the Guest Services desk. That’s right, just after snapping some shots at the Caribbean Tank I lost my phone. Not realizing this, we went for a diaper change and headed toward the cafeteria. So I noticed my phone’s absence about fifteen minutes later and scuttled among the free-day crowds re-tracing my steps. It was then I spotted the Guest Services desk and decided to ask if it had been found. After I properly identified my phone I was informed by the man at the desk that “two elementary school girls” had brought the phone to him. Even he was surprised. I asked if he knew their school and he said no, so I just want to put my gratitude out there to the universe. And if this scenario sounds familiar to anyone out there, please let me know so I can thank those two students! They saved our good day!

Good times!

Good times!

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?

Day’s Detour: the zoo

Momma Z’s early morning text read “Are you guys up for hanging out today?? We’re tired of cleaning and running errands!” The message was perfect, because we were also sick of running errands. For those of you who don’t live here, Chicago is experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures. Temperatures have been in the low-to-mid 70’s all week and perfect for adventuring.

After some quick decisions we headed down to the Lincoln Park neighborhood to the city zoo…the Lincoln Park Zoo! The zoo is free and perfect for walking around to enjoy a great Chicago fall day. Momma Z and Linda picked us up and had us at the gates by 10:30AM. With the perfect temperature and full sun, the lions were much more active than usual. In fact, I think they were the most active I have ever seen.

Whoa...check it out

Whoa…check it out

After that good start, we headed to the reptile house to catch a live animal presentation. The critter of the day: “Meatball” the three-ring armadillo! So the girls got to check out Meatball rootin’ around some woodchips. And while they couldn’t appreciate the educational stuff, it was still cool. The entrance room of the reptile house is all carpeted, so the girls safely toddled around from exhibit to exhibit. And a bunch of the exhibits have “pods” at kid height, so they could actually see the animals.

We were able to enjoy a packed lunch in a clean, shaded pavilion and wandered through most of the zoo. As a random sidenote, the bathrooms by the pavilion were new and clean, and there was a clean changing table in the Men’s Bathroom. Good job LP Zoo! Overall they are doing a bunch of renovation to the zoo, making it even better.

The girls’ interest level varied by the animals. Obviously, they were more into the active animals and barely noticed the ones that were snoozing. Most of the animals were active like the lions so there was a good show overall…definitely worth the entrance fee (Free, remember?!). We had a special treat watching feeding time in the vulture cage. It was morbidly fascinating and Momma Z and I were stuck – it was better than the Discovery Channel. I decided not to post any of the rat lunch pictures (yes, I took more than one).

What do you think those are?

What do you think those are?

So the day was a great adventure overall. Many thanks to Momma Z and Linda for helpin’ us get out and enjoy the day…and for driving. Random note #2: Momma Z rocked a great Lincoln Park parallel parking job, sticking their Subaru Wagon in a spot just big enough. Good thing I kept my mouth shut! Random note #3: we wandered past the cast for an upcoming TV show, “Sirens”, as they were eating lunch. No offers to be extras though, oh well. And the day’s main lesson; always check the signs on the exhibit before you search the foliage for critters.

Everyone needs a break sometime

Everyone needs a break sometime

Today you wish you were me

I don’t normally say this; especially on days with missed naps, poop-splosions, and toy tornadoes. And bragging is not usually my style. But today was different. And today you wish you were me. Today you were probably stuck in an office, working the day away. But today was around 75 degrees with a lake breeze, mostly sunny and beautiful. So today we went on an adventure downtown.

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Big Daddy B, Momma Z, Linda, Sweetie and I piled in the ride and headed to the heart of the city. The adventure started down at Millennium Park with a music class for the girls. It was an English version of the class they take at the Old Town School of Folk Music. There is a giant tent set up there with music classes, book readings, arts and crafts, giant checkers and giant tinker toys. Overall the activities are for older children but the girls had a blast and definitely got down.

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After music class we scoped out a spot for lunch. While we were hunting around we noticed the Chicago Symphony Orchestra warming up in the Pritzker Pavilion. They were getting ready to practice for the night’s concert. So we found a great spot on the south side of the park among some shade trees and sat to enjoy our picnic lunch. All the while the symphony played in the background.

Hello city

Hello city

Next stop was the Chicago Cultural Center, just a short walk across the street and we wandered in to explore.  The girls both fell asleep after lunch so the adults could do as we pleased. As always, the Tiffany Dome was impressive to see. We also caught two art exhibits; the first was Modernism’s Messengers: the Art of Alfonso and Margaret Iannellitone. They were a couple who worked together on various marketing and architectural projects. Many of the works were designed, built and displayed in Chicago. The second exhibit was by Stefan Sagmeister, called The Happy Show. It focused on the topic of happiness, explored through selected entries from the artist’s journal. The Happy Show was a particularly good find that we stumbled on. It was wonderfully bizarre but got you thinking.

Tiffany Dome - the photo doesn't do it justice

Tiffany Dome – the photo doesn’t do it justice

We wrapped up at a perfect time in the middle of the afternoon. For treats we hit Dunkin’ Donuts for a road coffee before hopping back in the ride. Traffic was clear heading north so we ended the day on a good note with an easy cruise home. Today was a great day in Chicago; a great day on the detour. So yeah, today you wish you were me. Now I hope you can go and have such a day so you can write the same back to me.

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!