Families on the Go for the Holidays

If you’re a family on the go that likesphotos old computer 10362 holiday activities that are educational, cost effective and where you don’t have to fight crowds, you may enjoy my next few posts!

I confess– we haven’t been “on the go” lately. We’ve sorta been lying low. Resting during this season… Although the weather has been pretty good here in the Chicago area, Our family seems to be sick every year starting on Halloween and that’s just the way it is for us. It was that way for me when I was young. So, we avoided all the candy, and caught up on much needed rest and our bodies healed much more quickly this year than ever! A few walks outside on nice days has been about all our energy level could sustain. I’ve even taken time away from blogging, but believe me, it has been to a good cause! Now we can get on to bigger and better things!

Though there’s plenty to do during this season, I’ve decided to share a few events that are local to the Chicago/Milwaukee area that have been meaningful to our family. If you like activities that are educational, cost effective and where you don’t have to fight crowds, you may enjoy my next few posts.

The Quentin Road Christmas Musical, Bethlehem’s Tower is outstanding! We have gone to it for two years in a row. Written by Linda Scudder and arranged and orchestrated by GRAMMY and Dove Award winner David T. Clydesdale, the timeless message of this production goes much deeper than a typical Christmas pageant and reveals significant details that tradition has overlooked… until now. I strongly encourage you to…

“Take a special journey with Quentin Road this Christmas as we unlock secrets from Christmas Past. With a 300-voice children-and-adult choir, dramatic lighting, and live animals (including an 8ft camel), we will present what really happened on that first Christmas night long ago.”

If you’re not from the Chicago area, I’ve heard that it’s broadcast around the world online. Tickets for the live performance are as low as $10, so its very affordable!

  • Performance dates: Saturday, December 12th – 2:00pm
  • Saturday, December 12th – 6:00pm
  • Sunday, December 13th – 2:00pm
  • Friday, December 18th – 7:30pm
  • Saturday, December 19th – 2:00pm
  • Saturday, December 19th – 6:00pm
  • Sunday, December 20th – 2:00pm

Tickets available at http://www.qrchristmas.com or by calling the Ticket Office at 847-438-4494. Address:

  • 60 Quentin Road
    Lake Zurich, IL 60047

Another event we have enjoyed in years past is the Holiday Folk Fair International– a glorious celebration of culture. Our family often enjoys cultural festivals at Milwaukee Summerfest, but this one has dances, music, food and crafts from a wide array of different countries and cultures. More details from website:

http://www.folkfair.org/ Nov 20-22

Enjoy the closing day of Holiday Folk Fair International for free as the Greater Milwaukee Foundation presents its centennial Gift to the Community for November. Free admission on Nov. 22 provides access to a unique and compelling celebration of cultures, including traditional music and dance performances; food and shopping vendors with global wares; arts, crafts and demonstrations.

Fall Camping: Places to Go

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Take a deep breath and get ready to welcome fall! Less bugs, cooler evenings, changing colors– the perfect time for a camping trip! If your little ones are not in school yet, what a great time for a family trip. If they have started school, then take advantage of a long weekend, like Columbus Day, for family bonding.

Where to Go:

If you’ve had a busy summer, it might be nice to pick somewhere within three hours of home. Depending on whether you have children in school, this might make a difference too. It’s nice to slow down a little during the fall season, and pick peaceful places in which to enjoy the changing seasons. You may want to have some warmer clothes, rain gear, and hardier food choices, but I’ll go over what to bring in my next post.

Places to See:

Here is a list of the best places we’ve been camping in autumn:

  • Traverse City, Michigan: Beautiful colors, lakes, fishing, boats, vineyards, rolling hills, rustic scenery. Jim and I got up at dawn to photograph the sunrise over the lake filled with fishing boats.
  • Door County, Wisconsin: scenic lighthouses, and lots of activities to do here!
  • Galena, Illinois: a river town with historic sites such as Ulysses S. Grant’s home, and ghost tours of the city in late October
  • Cheekwood near Nashville, Tennessee: Leaves turn color later in October to November, so take advantage of the warmer weather! Cheekwood has a scarecrow contest, outdoor sculptures, historic buildings and beautiful gardens. Although you can’t camp at Cheekwood itself, there are many state parks and outdoor activities nearby.
  • Multnomah Falls, Oregon: cascading waterfalls, October still has the feel of summer, except that the salmon are running! (fascinating to watch these fish wrestle their way North into the hatcheries!) Scenic harbors, lots of hiking.
  • Leavenworth, Washington: Bavarian style renovated village in the mountains. We stayed in Wenatchee State Park and hiked in that area, then ejoyed the boutiques and restaurants, on authentic Oktoberfest weekend!
  • Amana Colonies, Iowa: historic German village built by settlers. Has art galleries, boating, cave tours, shops and authentic German food; really comes to life for Oktoberfest weekend!
  • Multnomah Falls, Oregon: beautiful all year and still warm in October, we camped nearby, hiked up above Multnomah Falls (shown in picture) and got to see the salmon running (when they return North to spawn in the fall.) Scenic waterways, hiking, good restaurants, and only two hours inland from the Oregon Coast.

Another thing we like to do in fall is to find Pioneer festivals and reenactments, to show the kids how people used to live. Some festivals can be quite elaborate and make a great learning experience. These tend to be hosted in or near state parks, and usually have camping and fishing opportunities nearby.

Catching Up, On the Road; Denver

Wow! Summer is flying by! I apologize for my “blog lag,” as I have just returned from a trip to Denver for my brother’s wedding reception! I am still catching up, and this short post is just meant to share what we’ve been doing as I catch up from our trip. Though I did some writing, it was nearly impossible to post anything on this trip due to the late hours we kept and the technical issues I continually had with my laptop. I was forced to slow down, but it was worth it for spending quality time with relatives… I will be sharing some pictures soon since they are so much more exciting.

We had a great time and got to do some sightseeing: The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo– built into a mountainside, is a beautiful hilly walk, with great experiences for the kids with animals in very natural habitats. The views over the city of Colorado Springs alone are worth the hike. I’ve never seen so many giraffes in one place, and we were there at the right time to see three new baby lion cubs! Coming from the Chicago area, we’ve had many zoo experiences, but I’d have to say this is the best one. I recommend bringing water, as this is all outdoors and they charge a steep price for water bottles.

The Denver Aquarium too, is amazing. I really marvel at the design of the exhibits, and the interactive kid friendly atmosphere. Not being a very urban type of person, I felt more comfortable in the more laid back Denver than in Chicago. The way the sea creatures are displayed is a work of art in itself. Everywhere, there is something to look, even above your head! Everything had a natural feel, and drew us in.

The Denver Art Museum was very exciting. Every floor had projects that gave kids a chance to create. At the entrance, kids could get one backpack per family and the backpacks contained projects and scavenger hunt activities corresponding a a floor of the museum. Each floor had a little reading room/ play area decorated with different types of art corresponding to the theme of that floor. It gave us a chance to relax and read the art books, and let the children play. I really admired the variety of exhibits in the museum, the interior design meant to feel homey, and the activities to keep children busy and let them learn.

Restaurants: We had dinner at the Irish Snug on Colfax Street and heard Irish singer Brian Clancy, who is there almost every Saturday. Luckily we had a baby sitter that night, as a we celebrated with my bro and his wife, to the tune of good old Irish drinking, fighting and love songs amidst the chorus of audience participants. Brian Clancy is a great singer, and a lively local legend.

Another fun, eclectic place we tried was Buenos Aires Pizzeria on 1319 22nd St, Denver 80205. Surprisingly great pizza and Italian food, sandwiches and Argentinian food with many choices. The bread and pesto sauce were amazing! And real, freshly made gelato ice cream for desert!

Kids in Flight!

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balloon_moonI know what you’re thinking– Where are the kids? Next time! Some things take a little planning, and maybe parents want to go up first to assess the flight for their kids. Found out hot air balloon pilots do take children on board. Nostalgia Ballooning is the only balloon company in the Chicago area. According to Nostalgia Ballooning in Hampshire, Illinois, children under five squirm too much, but provided there is parental help, children above five are generally able to see out of the basket and follow directions– which is all that is necessary for them to be involved in this lovely adventure! So when our son turns five, then he and  his sister might go with us!

This time I went with my father for his birthday and we had a wonderful time. He is standing next to me and the guy to the far right is Art Moller, a pilot from New Mexico, where hot air ballooning is big! We drove through New Mexico last spring, and perhaps next year we will try it out there! Just looking at his website with pictures of balloons flying over the red desert is absolutely amazing: www.albuquerquehotair.com

We arrived at 5:30 a.m. (You can see the moon still out when we were up in the air in the picture above.) Morning is when the winds are most still. Evenings are the second best time. The crew helped the pilots spread out the balloons on the ground and hold them while they were filled with cool air. You can see the size of the balloon in my new header picture where it is still being filled behind the truck. Once the balloons were full, the pilots started blasting the propane and a little hot air made the balloons start to pull away. We climbed into the basket, which felt like an over sized picnic basket. Five adults fit comfortably, considering everyone had a beautiful panoramic view. If you like watching out a plane window as you ascend, think of how it would be to feel embraced by the sky and fresh air from a basket! Planes hit turbulence in the clouds as they ascend more than 4,000 feet. Hot air balloons stay below that airspace. It is still possible to distinguish houses and trees.

The balloon lifted off gently and moved at only about eight miles an hour upward. We reached 3,828 feet high, and could glimpse Lake Michigan and Chicago on the horizon, with the sun shining almost right out of it, meaning we were due West of Chicago. We traveled 8.02 miles and the trip lasted 1.07 hours. About half way through the trip we came to a lower altitude. We crossed over familiar roads, the I 90 expressway, and drifted East. There is no control over the destination– but the countryside is full of decent landing spaces. Since the fuel lasts only a little over an hour, the pilot begins scanning for good spots well before then. We touched some tree tops as we flew over! When the pilot found a good spot, we landed, but waited for the ground crew to get permission from the property owner. Permission granted; the ride was over but the excitement lasted. The entire crew helped push the air out of the balloon and it was crazy to see such a glorious and gigantic item stuffed into a seemingly small, plain bag!

I want to look into this National Balloon Museum more. Have any readers been there? Let me know about your experiences with hot air balloons!

Another opportunity I’ve been looking into and planning for is the Young Eagles Program. Kids over eight years old can ride for free with a pilot as an introductory flight. This happens at airports all over the country. Check for events in your area. Lake in the Hills, Illinois, and the Dekalb-Sycamore Airport of Illinois sponsor a Young Eagles Flight event every year.

Birthday Book Bash: Travel and Camping Theme

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Our birthday book bash was great fun! Thanks to all those who came out to celebrate our son’s birthday! Our little guy was so excited about his party, it took a while for him to fall asleep afterwards! He kept hugging me and thanking me for the great party! Although shy at first, he warmed up to all his friends and was thrilled about all the beautiful books! I will give some tips about camping with kids in this blog series. But first, I thought I would share a few birthday party ideas we tried.

How to Incorporate Books Into Your Child’s Party:

1. Put books on your wishlist to show you are seriously fun!

2. Scope out your spot. We picked a great outdoor location ahead of time. A beautiful park with big shade trees over us, a playground nearby, bathrooms nearby. The park wanted to charge us $230 to rent a picnic shelter (which is usually full of flies and bugs.) No thanks! Natural shade from the oak  trees was exactly what we needed! Besides, no one can gather around to hear good books at a shelter with rows of tables.

3. Bring picnic blankets, a tarp, and ask adults to bring chairs. In case it rains before you arrive, you don’t really want to sit on wet ground. We thought it best to bring a tarp and put the picnic blankets on top. (We also planned a back up indoor location.)

4. We read books that had to do with camping, outdoors, and adventure. The What If Monster story from Usborne, and the Shine a Light Books by Usborne– which have to do with learning about nature- we read inside our tent.

5. For older kids, you could do a variation on the learning theme, using books about wilderness survival and outdoor skills; even having one of the dads– or moms– demonstrate some outdoor skills.

6. We ate a s’more cake! Marshmallows were toasted on a propane camp stove. Read on for more information!

Which Usborne Books to Choose:

So at our party we read some great Usborne books! In the What If Monster story they pass around a little green What If monster. The book goes through all the bad scenarios that could happen. Each time the kids hear “what if” they pass the monster to the next person. Then the child in the story begins to change his thinking to good thoughts– What if I am successful? What if I meet my very best friend? The child who ends up with the monster at the end of the story wins a prize! What If’s can be a good thing– it just depends on your thinking! What a great concept for a real camping trip! Animally was another cute story we read. My son loved the pirate story

Why Make a S’more Cake?

Other than being just plain fun, it’s easy, cheap, and it all gets eaten! Think about it– you buy a really beautiful cake from Jewel or somewhere. It’s good for two minutes and then you have little paper plates with gobs of icing stuck to cake left over everywhere and you throw half the cake away. Adults don’t want to eat it for fear of gaining weight. Most kids are smart enough to know the icing is bad for them– they leave it behind. Our family can’t tolerate sugar very well and the kids are gluten intolerant. But we decided to have a little fun with s’mores. I arranged the Chocolate (which of course was left on ice until the right time), graham crackers, gluten-free snicker doodles, and marshmallows on a large tray in sections. The compartment in the middle of the tray had a bunch of marshmallows, and we stuck the four candles in the top marshmallows! It created a lot of excitement!

Safety tip:

A campfire was out of the question as this was in a public park. A big BBQ grill wouldn’t be worth the effort, and too hard for kids to reach. So we just brought a little propane camp stove and placed it on the picnic table. We formed three lines of kids and had adults to supervise while they toasted marshmallows. We had a hibachi charcoal grill too, but it took too long. The propane stove was easy to set up, and cooked the marshmallows quickly!

Flash Light Books:

After the s’more cake, kids came back to read the Shine a Light Books from Usborne. I only wish I had gone to the effort to set up a bigger tent. But the books work even in sunlight, just hold the flashlight close! Camping and good books just go together!