30 December 2008

Gifts Unwrapped

Like last year, we decided to continue the tradition of making charitable donations instead of buying more stuff. Thankfully our closest family members agree to play along. There is nothing more satisfying than putting some money toward something so meaningful. And it's really fun to shop around.

We pooled our close-to-home family member into two groups. That way, we thought, we would be able to buy some bigger ticket items and choose items that suited each group better. The only downside is that we only got one card per purchase to give to the recipients so we weren't able to use them really.

1. First, through OXFAM, we bought a WATER PUMP and BOOKS FOR KIDS. This is what they say: "A manual water pump allows people to access fresh drinking water in their own communities, rather than having to walk for miles to access it. This simple pump alone can save an entire village from hours of labor and keep people healthy" and "Children's books on a wide range of practical topics from agriculture to peace-building. By helping someone open a book, you can open a mind, too."

These two gifts seemed best suited to Spud's Nana and great aunt.

2. Second, we paid for IMMUNIZING A COMMUNITY IN BOLIVIA PLAN CANADA. This is their blurb: "Immunizing a Community in Bolivia = A good start to a long life for children. One in 15 children will die from preventable illnesses before the age of five due to lack of access to routine immunizations. This gift supports community immunization campaigns targeting typhoid, polio, measles and diphtheria across communities in Bolivia."

This gift seemed best suited for Spud's Grandad, Grandee and two aunties.

27 December 2008

Children's Museum Attempt

We really wanted to see the Dupage Children's Museum. We had heard such great things about it that we were determined to drag our little 4 year old guy on an hour-long train ride to a neighbouring community to see it.

After a 4.5 hour round trip, though, we only saw the outside of the highly acclaimed Museum. And all due to bad planning. Coupled with bad weather.

First we should've checked to see how often the trains to Naperville left Union Station. Next, we should've called the Museum to make sure they were business as usual after the snow fall the evening before. Dumb.

How we got to the Children's Museum

301 N Washington Street | Naperville, IL | 630 637 8000

1. We took the 151 bus to Union Station across from the old Water Tower on Michigan.

2. At Union Station we bought our tickets at Metra. Our train was leaving in an hour. During rush hour they run more often. At off times they can run every 2 hours.

3. After about an hour on the train we reached Naperville. We crossed under the rail in the pedestrian tunnel to the other side, walked away from Chicago toward a large parking lot until we saw the museum. It was pretty empty. Except for snow. And turned out to be completely locked up. There was no sign or indication as to why it would be closed at noon on a Friday but one can assume that it had something to do with the wintery weather.

So sad. Oh well. The train ride was an experience. And I guess that just gives us another excuse to come again some day.

26 December 2008

Decorating the Hotel?

OK. I didn't even think about this ahead of time but my 4 year old pointed out pretty quickly that we needed to decorate our hotel room. I don't know how I missed that! We spent most of the week leading up to Christmas in a hotel in Chicago and it lacked a certain festiveness, for sure. I knew we would stumble across all kinds of Christmassiness as we explored the city. And soon enough we would be in Toronto spending the holidays with family and loads of holiday goodness. But he was right, the room was nice but a little barren.

Well, I did happen to bring the latest green envelope that the Craft Caravan sent us. Luckily it had two little xmassy projects.

First, it was sticker time. Putting all these sticker ornaments and lights on this 3D tree kept Spud busy for quite awhile ...

... and the second project produced a nice little string of beads ornament that we'll keep for our tree next year.

But Spud insisted on more. So we improvised, big time. Dental floss. Paper pad from the hotel desk drawer. And the few felts and crayons we brought.

Spud had the funnest time hanging them around the room while Hubs was out on an errand so he could surprise him when he got back.

25 December 2008

21 December 2008

Chicago: Skylines

1. Billy Goat Tavern
2. Sears Tower
3. Millennium Park
4. Gino's East of Chicago Pizza

After a lazy morning in the hotel, giving Spud some necessary down time from all the touristing, we trundled down Michigan Avenue for lunch.

1. Billy Goat Tavern
430 North Michigan Avenue [at Lower Level] · 312 222 1525

Made famous by SNL's Belushi skit "Cheezborger, Cheezborger, no Pepsi" this place is just dripping with character.

To give you an idea of the type of service watch this ...

I understand there are other locations but finding the original is worth the trouble. Once you find 430 North Michigan, look for these stairs.

At the bottom, turn right.

and you'll see the restaurant right away.

The cheezborger was a big hit with Spud.

The surreal character of the place plus the nod to the memory of Belushi was a hit for the parents.

2. Sears Tower
233 South Wacker Drive · 312 474 0090

Needless to say going up 103 floors gives killer views.

The kid-friendly Chicago history installation on the inside wall of the observation deck is an added bonus.

3. Millennium Park
55 North Michigan Avenue · 312 742 1168

Three of my favourite things in Millennium Park:

Jay Pritzker Pavilion; another Frank Gehry masterpiece.

Cloud Gate AKA "The Bean".

"What I wanted to do in Millennium Park is make something that would engage the Chicago skyline…so that one will see the clouds kind of floating in, with those very tall buildings reflected in the work. And then, since it is in the form of a gate, the participant, the viewer, will be able to enter into this very deep chamber that does, in a way, the same thing to one's reflection as the exterior of the piece is doing to the reflection of the city around."
-Anish Kapoor, sculptor

Crown Fountain

Two towers features two of 1000 Chicago faces at any given time, each with varying facial expressions.

In the summer it's a fountain/water park area.

Check out Millennium Park's site to find out what special events are going on. We took in a little skate at the outdoor McCormick Tribune Ice Rink [which is open until March this year], beside the Bean. If you have your own skates, bring 'em, and you will avoid long skate rental line-ups.

We also took in a little carolling and hot chocolate.

4. Gino's East of Chicago Pizza
162 East Superior Street · 312 266 3337

Every visit to Chicago should include a traditional deep dish pizza. We were a little skeptical as to how much we would enjoy such fare but were pleasantly surprised with Gino's. The crust, not at all greasy, is like a corn biscuit. Very nice.

20 December 2008

Chicago: Science + Heaven

1. Museum of Science + Industry
2. Heaven on Seven

1. Museum of Science + Industry
Spud's favourite areas were the Idea Factory and the submarine tour. But we barely scratched the surface of this almost overwhelmingly large museum that will certainly appeal to any child.

For a small extra fee we opted for a tour on the U-505 submarine.

Check out the site to get a customized itinerary.

The #10 bus actually goes back and forth between the museum and the Water Tower [a couple of blocks from our hotel, [The Avenue] on Michigan Avenue [Magnificent Mile].

This very extensive museum can fill up the better part of a day and so we didn't schedule anything else in. Except for a taking some dreamy cajun cuisine back to the hotel when it was all over.

2. Heaven On Seven
600 North Michigan · 312 280 8884

Touted as the "Best Louisiana Cookin' Outside of New Orleans". Having never been to New Orleans, I have to believe 'em. No carb jumbalaya. Collard greens and cheese grits. Po Boy sandwiches. They have good kid hamburgers too, albeit huge. And brunch on weekends.

When you find the building on Michigan, go around to the back and then you'll see the signs on the doors at the back corner. Go up the escalator.

19 December 2008

Chicago: Creative Day

1. Art Institute of Chicago
2. Lego Store on the Magnificent Mile
3. Gold Coast Dogs
4. Garrett Popcorn

1. Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue · 312 443 3600

The Art Institute of Chicago is considered America's premier fine art museum, especially known for its extensive collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and American art.

Some of the gems I found in the museum. Many of the lesser known and equally amazing didn't have postcards in the gift shop so they are not represented here.

In addition, Child Magazine named The Art Institute the most kid friendly museum. The wee ones' section is downstairs from the main entrance. We enjoyed the Touch Gallery, the BIGsmall exhibition and the Miniature rooms very much.

There is also extensive children programming. Little Studio and Story Time for the 3-5 set. And Drop-in Drawing for 6 and up. Check out the Art Institute's family programming site for times and days.

They also offer workshops called Mini Masters [3-5] and Family Workshop [6-12] but these ones need to be booked. Simply email familyprograms@artic.edu or call 312 857 7161 to secure your spot at no additional cost.

2. Lego Store
520 North Michigan Avenue · #300 in Westfield Shoppingtown Mall · 312 494 0760

Loads of creating to be done here too.

Spud spent the better part of an hour making a Lego garden.

3. Gold Coast Dogs
159 North Wabash · 312 917 1677
Classic Chicago hot dog restaurant. Get 'em charred. Or doubled. That's right, two dogs in one bun. Or just straight up. A kid favourite for sure.

4. Garrett Popcorn
26 West Randolph · 312 201 0455

"The Mix" is where it's at. Half caramel and half cheddar. Trust me. It's heaven.

This itinerary was heavily inspired by Delicious Baby. Check out her 4 great half-day itineraries in Chicago for more great ideas.