Friday, October 2, 2009

A few weeks back, I posted a Friday Free for All about a Kids Eat Free deal at iHop. Well, I'm here today to show you the motherload of all free dining deals...

The website is a collection of listings of child-friendly places and activities in the Chicagoland area but the highlight of the website is their Kids Eat Free calendar. Simply click on a date on the calendar and a listing of area restaurants that offer free or greatly reduced children's meals on that particular date. No longer planning nights out around the deals, now, you can choose the deal for your night out!

I'd suggest you call the restaurant ahead of time to make sure that the deal is still valid and then go out and ENJOY!

Now, readers, I'd like to apologize for being absent for the past couple of days. We've had some changes at my job and that, combined with a bit of a cold, has thrown my schedule for a loop. So, as a way to pay you back for your patience, I've lined up some crafty posts for next week. Be sure to check back and find out what fun I have in store for you!

Sunday, September 20, 2009


This is Bear Necessities.

He is Morgan's constant companion. Her best friend. Her cuddle buddy. Her "brother" as she calls him (Which, if Vito and I have anything to say about it...which we DO... will be the only brother she ever has). Named after the song from Jungle Book because, when Morgan was a baby, it was the go-to song whenever she was crying. Worked every time. Thankfully for our vocal cords, he now comforts her when the song used to.

The other night, after putting the girls to bed, Vito and I settled in to watch So You Think You Can Dance and have a few adult beverages. As she is wont to do, Morgan waited until lights out to decide that she needed to go potty. Vito lifted her over the baby gate at her door and she scurried off to the bathroom. Suddenly, we hear a scream that would peel paint off of the walls. Thinking that someone was hurt, we both leaped off of our chairs and ran into the kitchen where we encountered a sobbing Morgan clutching a soaking wet Bear Necessities. "I dropped him in the potty! I dropped him in the potty!" she wailed. "Now I have NO ONE! I have no one to cuddle! No one to sleep with!" Her sobs were coming fast and furious so Vito stepped in to comfort and distract her while I took the bear, established that he had fallen in post-flush and proceeded to pretend to wash him in the sink and dry him with the hair dryer all the while getting another bear out of the closet.

You read that right. We have a Spare Necessities. When Morgan chose Necessities (with a little encouragement from Mom and Dad) as her comfort object, I scoured the internet to find a place where I could purchase two more. We rotate them out every few weeks to be washed and ensure an even wear.

Back to the night in question, I gave Spare Necessities a few blasts of heat from the dryer for authenticity and a tragedy was averted. Morgan snuggled up with her cuddle buddy and all was right with the world.

So, if you take nothing else from this blog, remember this story. The moment your child shows a preference for one item or another, get a spare. Heck, get two! Our Spare Necessities and Extra Bella (Sophie's cuddle buddy) have helped us deal with leaky diapers, stomach flu and, now, toilet diving. Don't be caught without one!

Friday, September 18, 2009

"One man's trash is another man's treasure"
Nowhere is this cliché more true than on The Freecycle Network.

I was first introduced to Freecycle by a friend of mine from high school. Every year, she hosts a multi-family garage sale and this was the first year we participated. Once the sale was finished, everything left over was either donated to charity or, if the item was not of interest to the charity, listed on Freecycle.

Curious, I had to check it out. Now, I'm hooked!

The Freecycle Network is a movement of people dedicated to keeping the amount of usable items from ending up in landfills. There are over 4000 groups located all over the world.

The way it works is simple: A person searches the Freecycle website for a local group. Once one is found in the user's area, they apply to join the Yahoo group and the moderator (a volunteer) will okay membership and send a list of rules (basic etiquette, list of forbidden items, safety hints). Then, simply start listing!

There are four self-explanatory types of posts: OFFER, PROMISED, TAKEN and WANTED. If you have something you want to get rid of, you post an "OFFER". Once someone has contacted you about your item, you post a "PROMISED" and, when the item is picked up, post that it is "TAKEN". Also, if there is something that you desire and are hoping another member has sitting in their garage, you can post a "WANTED" message.

The items being given away can range from the sublime (exercise equipment, computers, baby items, furniture) to the ridiculous (broken appliances, used lathe, 1/2 dozen promotional frisbees). I even saw someone offer a trash bag full of empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls. Funny thing was that it was posted as TAKEN by the end of the day I'm sure that some daycare of homeschooling Mom found a great craft use for them!

Two of my best "scores" have been for the girls.

Needless to say, they think Freecycle is pretty cool too!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In getting out and about with the girls, I always have my trusty aluminum water bottle with me. I also try to remember to bring snacks with me. It helps to battle the demon of low blood-sugar crankiness WITHOUT spending oodles of money at the snack bar. It is easier to do when you keep a bunch of quick and easy snacks on hand to grab as you head out the door.

Here is a recipe for a favorite in our family...

Seasoned Oyster Crackers
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. lemon pepper
1 Tbsp dill
2 (12 oz) boxes oyster crackers

Combine all ingredients in large freezer bag. Shake well. Refrigerate overnight. Package in airtight containers and dispense into smaller sandwich bags as needed.

Simple. Tasty. Great for kicking back on a park bench and snacking on in between turns on the swings!

Thursday, September 10, 2009


This is a wordle (word cloud) created here from Mommy and Me (and Me!). You can input any body of text or URL. Try it! It's fun!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

One of the many things I wish I were better at is keeping a journal. Throughout our house are beautiful bound books with the evidence of my good intentions: a couple of entries, a week or two absence, a few more stops and starts and, then, nothing. Two of my most treasured possessions are a "note" book that Caryn, my best-friend in high school, and I would write in and pass back and forth in between class and a gingham covered book which is the only journal that I kept for an extended period of time. The former is a silly back and forth between two teenage girls obsessed with boys and trying to wend our way through puberty. The latter details Vito and my struggle with infertiliy and subsequent pregnancy with Morgan. Paging through the two is like stepping into a time machine. I'm instantly transported back, laughing and crying as I remember the person I was back then.

Our family took a trip recently to San Franciso to attend the christening of my nephew, Sullivan. I began with the girls what I hope to be a continuing tradition... the travel diary. Armed with books, stickers, glue sticks and crayons provided by Nana, the girls and I would sit in the hotel after a day of sightseeing and discuss our adventures. Since they are still learning to write, I'd jot down a few of their quotes or a memory that I had from the day (ie "Sophie slept her way down Lombard Street" or Morgan says "I'm going to move to San Francisco when I'm in 8th grade.") Then, the girls would draw, color and decorate the pages however they felt. I highly recommend you try this with your kids next family trip as it is a great way to unwind (and keep the kids quiet) in the hotel room and will help all of your relive the fun of the vacation for years to come.

A few tips:
1. Be sure to grab brochures, business cards and area travel magazines wherever you go. They are great items to paste into the books. (And be sure to get enough for each child to have their own. You don't want any arguments over that ONE particular picture of the Golden Gate Bridge!)
2. Look for a book that is small enough to stick in a bag or purse as the travel journals are also a good pastime for antsy kids in a restaurant.
3. When you get home, print out a few pictures of your child on the trip and add them to the book.
4. Remember, there is no "right" way to make a travel journal. Try not to influence their creativity too much. If your 2 year old wants to put EVERY San Francisco sticker layered on top of each other on one page and not space them out evenly so there are enough for each page, let them! You will look at that page and chuckle once you are home.

Friday, September 4, 2009

One of the upsides (actually, the only upside) of having a 45 minute commute to/from work is the time allows me to read in peace. If by "in peace" I mean "while being jostled by shoppers with large bags and having errant cups of coffee spilled on me all while trying to determine the source of that funky smell" which, as a parent of two young children, I do!

Some of my most recent favorite reads have been the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, Roma by Steven Saylor and Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant. Often, my selections are courtesy of our local library but, recently, I've discovered a new way to feed my book habit....

This free online service is a way for people around the country to clear out some of their old reads off the shelf and get some new ones. How it works is easy: After signing up for membership, you list the books you are offering for trade by typing in the ISBN number on the back cover of the book. (Don't let the name of the site fool you! You can list hardcover books and audio books as well!) Then, if a person is interested in one of your books, they request it and, if you accept the request, you ship it via media mail. (Usual cost is $2-4 depending on weight of book). You can even print out shipping labels and postage on your computer. It couldn't be any easier! Once the book is marked received by the requestor, you are awarded one credit to your account with which you are free to request whatever book you want from another member.

There are all sorts of books available: fiction, non-fiction, how-to books, textbooks, children's literature. If you don't see a particular book you want, you can add it to your wish list and are alerted once someone lists it.

To get you started swapping books right away, PBS offers two free book credits when you list ten! It is almost the season to curl up under a blanket with a cup of hot cocoa (or brandy) and a good book. So, this weekend, clear off your shelves, go to and start swapping!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

As I've mentioned before, Vito and I are fans of the roadtrip. Prior to getting married and having children, we both worked for touring children's theatre companies where we would routinely load up the extended cargo van with sets, props and puppets, drive for hours upon end to get to the school or theater where we would be scheduled to perform, unload the van, do the show and start all over again. (Yes, I know, how on EARTH could I have left behind me the glamorous life of an actor?)
In Vito's "bachelor pad", there was a giant map of the US hanging on the wall. We would stare at it for hours, picking the places we'd like to go and plotting out the most interesting routes. When Morgan and Sophie were born, we both hoped that they would be good travelers and, for the most part, they are. (Of course, I am erasing from my memory the emergency pitstop at the side of the road in the middle of the desert when a recently potty-trained daughter-who-shall-remain-nameless simultaneously puked and peed on herself and her carseat. Mommy went through an entire pack of wipes, a roll of paper towels and two bottles of water trying to clean up the mess by herself since her other half is a "social vomiter". But I digress...)

Obviously, road-trips nowadays require more preparation than a full tank of gas and a venti coffee but they can be even more fun. One of the biggest lifesaver that I've found is the Mystery Grab Bag. For a few weeks leading up to the trip, I troll the $1 aisle at Target and visit the local Dollar Tree picking up little doodads and toys. (Be sure to stay away from the ones that make noise or you will be sorry!) I search out sales on DVDs and CDs or borrow some from the library. A few nights before the trip, I pull out all the remnant rolls of wrapping paper left over from Christmas, birthdays, weddings, etc., wrap each thing individually and divide them equally between two grab bags (one for each girl). When the day arrives and the initial thrill of the road trip has worn off, out come the grab bags. Each child gets to pull a treat from their bag and tries to guess what it could be before tearing into the paper. Crayons and a coloring book! A DVD! A princess doll! A new book! Whatever it is elicits shouts of glee before lulling them into blessed silence as they play with their new toy. Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

I find that estimating a treat per hour of driving (plus a few extras in case of emergencies) works well. Just remember to plan for the drive home as well! The grab bag can be even MORE important when the kids are over-tired, overwhelmed and everyone just wants to be home.
Have a great trip!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

This Museum is Just My Size!

The other day, the girls and I went to one of our favorite places to play... Kohl Children's Museum. Now, in the interest of "Blogging with Integrity", I have to let you all know that my husband works at the museum so I may be a little biased but, frankly, I think that Kohl is head and shoulders above other area children's museums when it comes to the younger set. Smaller and less chaotic than Chicago Children's Museum, Kohl's is organized into ten exhibits and a main street section. The simple and open floor plan provides good sight-lines that allow a parent to keep an eye on their excited and ever moving children.

It seems that WE always begin in Potbelly's on Main Street. Since both girls have informed me recently that they are going to be actresses, maybe they are just getting some training in waiting tables. They love making sandwiches with the various play breads, meats and vegetables and pretending to pay at the cash register.
Another "must visit" is the Veterinarian's Office (So there IS hope for the girls, yet!). Cute cuddly stuffed animals can be bathed, brushed, have their hearts listened to with stethoscopes and, in what seems to be the most popular activity, be wrapped in multitudes of ace bandages. A "working" xray viewer adds an air of authenticity.

A relatively new addition to the Museum is Habitat Park. An outdoor area with climbing structures, a sensory garden and an open area set up for organized group activities, it is a fun way to get out, explore nature and run off some of that excess energy.

No doubt that at one point during your visit, your children will drag you into Water Works. While the aprons provided do little to protect the kids from getting wet, they are having so much fun they don't notice. And, thankfully, there are dryers hung on the wall outside the exhibit.
Right next to Water Works is my OWN personal favorite, Music Makers. Yes, the noise level can get a little high but playing with how music is made and how it makes a person feel is well worth it! Be sure not to miss the hidden gem in this exhibit... tucked in the corner is a room with music playing and a colorful video screen. Grab a ribbon and watch how your movements change the patterns on screen!

There is too much to explore at the museum for me to fit in here. We've gone many, many time and I still find new discoveries each trip.
Overall what I appreciate most about the museum is that it is well-designed with a family in mind. There are nursing stations positioned throughout the museum. In almost every exhibit, there is a designated infant/toddler safe play area. The bathrooms are clean and have diaper dispensers in case you run out. (Although they also feature automatic flushing toilets so be sure to bring your Post-Its!). I was also very impressed with the food offerings at Kim and Scott's Pretzel Twisting Cafe. In addition to their delicious pretzels, their children's offerings were appropriate and very reasonably priced. Unfortunately, they are closing on September 3 to be replaced later in the month by Cosi. We'll have to wait and see if their "expanded children's menu" lives up to it's promise.
If you happen to get down there to try out their fare before I do, send me a comment and let me know what you think. And if you see this guy... be sure to say "Hello!"

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Free for All- August 28, 2009

Another week has come and gone. Perhaps the kids went back to school? Maybe you spent your week soaking up the last rays of summer? Either way, the family could use a dinner out.
Last week, the girls and I went to the Kohl Children's Museum. It is one of our favorite places to spend an afternoon. (Check back this weekend and I'll tell you why!) Anyways, we were there until closing and, while our imaginations were full, our tummies were empty. Looking for a place where we could grab a quick bite without breaking the bank, we stumbled upon IHOP. Now, I haven't been to an IHOP in years but I remember their menu being mostly breakfast fare. While I was surprised to see that it has expanded to include some tasty salads, burgers and sandwiches (I had the new Tuscan Chicken Griller sandwich which was great!), I was thrilled to see their latest campaign is that Kids Eat Free 4pm-10pm DAILY!

Yes, with the purchase of an adult entree, your 12 and under child can pick anything off of their Just for Kids menu and it's free. Morgan chose the Create a Face Pancake (complete with a tube of Go-Gurt to make the pancake's hair) while Sophie chowed down on the Mac 'n Cheese.

There are a couple of caveats to this offer. It is for a limited time and drinks are not included. (I tried to convince the girls to have water with their dinner but they looked at me like I was crazy!) But, considering we knocked about $10 off of our bill, I think it was a great deal!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Travel Tip Tuesday - August 25, 2009

The bane of every potty-training parent is a public restroom with automatic flushing toilets. An extra-sensitive seeing eye and a wriggly, moving child do not work well together. A chance meeting between the two usually ends up with the flusher going off prematurely and a child refusing to sit on one of those toilets

Thanks to a friend of mine, I now have a solution...


Yes, those little yellow (pink/blue/purple) sticky sheets of paper can be the solution to your child's potty problems!

Whenever we spy one of those ubiquitous sensors on the back of a toilet, I pull my handy dandy Post-It pad out of the diaper bag and, with Morgan shouting "No Peeking!", we cover the toilet's eye and are able to potty in peace. Just don't forget to take the "blindfold" off when you are done!

So, tell me, what are your favorite uses for Post-it notes? Love notes in in your child's lunchbox? Reminders for your honey on the bathroom mirror? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Free for All - August 21, 2009

With the economic downturn...recession... generally stinky economy wreaking havoc on everyone's lives, moms have had to show even more ingenuity when it comes to saving money. For many, that means cutting back on entertainment costs and non-essential purchases and for good reason! The cost of a day's outing for a family of four can easily top $150 and that is BEFORE you cave in to the never ending cries to visit the gift shop.

Never fear! Along comes the Friday Free for All! Every week, I'll feature something fun and free (or very nearly so) for families. Sometimes it will be an event. Other times, a great deal. The possibilities are endless!

And, dear readers, if you come across a fantastic freebee happening in your area, I encourage you to share the details in the comments section. After all, the more the merrier!

When I was little, my family lived just outside of Manhattan. It seemed like once a week, my mom would pack up my brother and me and schlep us into the city to visit this museum or that. (This lead to a particularly interesting discussion that my parents had with my first grade teacher when I had to draw something that began with the letter "N" and I drew NUDES!)

Now that I have children of my own, I am hoping to provide them with the same kind of experiences (Not the drawing nudes part... the museum part!) and the Chicago Public Library has made it easier (and cheaper).

As part of the Kraft Great Kids Museum Passport program, every branch of the Chicago Public Library has family museum passes available for one week loans. While the rules vary by location, the pass entitles four family members general admission to that particular museum. Available passes include biggies (The Adler Planetarium, The Art Institute, Brookfield Zoo, Chicago Children's Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Notebaert Nature Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry) and some off the beaten path (Chicago History Museum, DuSable Museum of African American History and the National Museum of Mexican Art).

You do need to show some flexibility in your plans as each branch has a limited number of passes and it is first come, first served. Also, these passes are only for general admission so any special exhibits will require a fee. More information can be found on the Chicago Public Library website.

Not from Chicago? Check with your local library to see if they have a similar program. Boston does! The Twin Cities do! Detroit as well!

Added 09/03/09- Want to visit Chicago museums but are from the suburbs! You aren't left out! Just this week, it was announced that through 2010, the Museum Adventure Pass is available.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Travel Tip Tuesday - August 18, 2009

Welcome to Travel Tip Tuesday. The first of what I hope are many fun changes in store for Mommy and Me (and Me!)

Vito and I love to travel. Love it. Sadly we are broke not independently wealthy so we don't get to do it as much as we would like. The most ambitious trip we've taken was to drive with both girls from our home in Chicago to visit Vito's parents in Arizona and we've done it TWICE. No, we're not gluttons for punishment. Prior to being married, Vito and I both toured as actors with children's theatres and developed a love for the road-trip.

When not traveling the length of Route 66, I enjoy taking the girls out and about on day trips. It is not always easy getting out of the house alone with two young kids but with a little practice and some tips garnered from other moms, I manage and enjoy it in the process.

That is where Travel Tip Tuesday fits in. Every Tuesday, I'll share with you some of the tips that I found (or have been shared with me) so that we can all get out and about and have a good time.


This past Friday, the girls and I went to Oak Street beach with Nana. It was the practice day for the Chicago Air and Water Show so we got to watch the Thunderbirds roar overhead while enjoying some sun and sand.

Yes, sand. So much fun to build castles with. Bury our feet in. Dump on our sister's heads... Which leads us to our first Tuesday Travel Tip... How to remove that pesky sand that sticks to your body and hair. Keep a bottle of talcum powder and an inexpensive soft-bristled paint brush in your beach bag. The powder helps to break the seal between the oils on your skin and the sand and the paint brush flicks the sand off of your body.

P.S. While we were at the beach, there was a fundraiser going on for Honor Flight Chicago. Their mission "is to honor and thank veterans - especially now our WWII veterans by bringing them to Washington DC, at no cost to them, for a day of honor." It is a great idea and a great cause. Be sure to check them out!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'm baaaaack!

Forgive me, readers, for I have been a bad blogger.
It has been 10 months since my last entry...

"Why?" you may ask. Well, things were crazy around here for a while. My husband was searching for a new job. Morgan was in school. Our "Manny" left for a full-time position. I was scrambling trying to keep too many balls in the air and blogging got dropped. Besides, I could keep everyone in the family updated about the girls through Facebook (while playing addictive games like Bejeweled Blitz and FarmVille).

I actually considered scrapping the whole thing and starting over but I just love the name and design of this blog so much that I couldn't bear to do it.

So the question became "In what direction do I want this blog to go?"

The blogs that I visit are mostly Mommy-blogs with a few special interest blogs (celebrity gossip, news, crafts and design) thrown in for balance. Why do I keep going back to certain ones and not others? It's not that they have cuter kids or especially interesting lives. It's that they offer something MORE. A different perspective on parenting. Some good ideas. Regular features. A few laughs.

And that is what I hope to do.

So look for big changes coming!