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!"