Visiting Chicago this summer? Or do you live here, like me, and need a good “staycation” idea? A day (or half day) exploring Millennium Park is a great choice for a laid-back, free-to-cheap, kid-friendly excursion. If you haven’t taken your kids to explore this downtown oasis, now is the time. Millennium Park is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and the city is planning plenty of extra activities. The giant “head” sculpture below (one of four) is part of a new art installation by Jaume Plensa commemorating the anniversary. It’s so serene; I loved it. The free public art—from the stunning Pritzker Pavillion to the iconic Cloud Gate—as well as free cultural activities, are what make Millennium Park such a community jewel.

There’s plenty to do, from strolling the Lurie Gardens to cooling off in Crown Fountain. You can snag a free guided tour or simply wander.  Catch a concert at the pavillion; take your picture reflected in “the Bean.” Pack a picnic lunch or just grab a Lemon Chill on the Chase Promenade. It’s all good. Get the specifics on all these suggestions in my “Do Millennium Park” list on Raved Mobile!  I’d love to hear your suggestions as well.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Millennium Park? Tell me in the comments!

May 5

Spring is showing up in fits and starts here in Chicagoland. I captured this wind-splayed tulip over the weekend. I do not know the variety, but I purchased the bulb last summer in Holland, Michigan, one of my “happy places!” When closed, the tulip petals make a nice flame shape to complement their blazing color.

Please follow me on instagram! You’ll see very few (if any) selfies as a I try to find beautiful in the everyday.

Apr 11

It’s finally warm enough to venture outside here in Chicago! Trying to find something photo-worthy in the newly thawed yard is a challenge. This chair was made by a lumberjack in northern Wisconsin. When it started to disintegrate, I put it out in the garden. I tried to cover it with moss milkshake, thinking a moss-covered seat would be cute, but it didn’t take. The neighboring tree is more friendly to moss, it seems.

Are you following me on instagram?

Mar 12

This winter just keeps on going. It’s a pretty snow this time, but it’s worn out its welcome. Spring, where are you?

Just testing out the embed functionality of Instagram with these photos from a banner winter in Chicago. Follow me on Instagram here.

20131118-090546.jpg I have not always been big on board games. “Monopoly” and “Pictionary” were the extent of my game repertoire prior to having children. But during my kids’ early grade school years, their teachers encouraged us to play board games for the many educational benefits, and as a result, we’ve become a game-playing family. We add new board games to our collection each Christmas, and games are a highlight of our New Year’s Eve with friends. We take board games on vacation with us, and Family Game Night happens several times a year around here. Though we always come back to our favorites, we also like to try new games regularly. To see the very latest in board games, I’ll be checking out the Chicago Toy and Game (ChiTAG) Fair this weekend. I can’t wait! For more details on the ChiTAG fair, and a discount on admission, see the end of this post.

Why Play Board Games?

It shows you care.  Whatever their age, kids love to get parents’ undivided attention. Setting aside a night to unplug and just play games is the definition of quality time. It shows you have made family time—and play—priorities in your busy lives, and that is a valuable message. Even though my kids are in the tween and teen years, when we say it’s game night, we don’t get any complaints.

It’s good for your kids. Board games pack so much learning into a (flimsy) cardboard box! (As an aside – why can’t game manufacturers make stronger game boxes? They are not built to withstand children. Does anyone still have Candyland in the original box? If you do, my hat’s off to you.) Playing age-appropriate games can build skills such as hand-eye coordination, number recognition, money management and more; reinforce social skills; increase attention span; deliver life lessons, and teach healthy competition. If you’d like to learn more about how this all happens, this article from Scholastic is a good starting point.

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20131101-140130.jpgThis time of year, the calendar seems to pick up speed for busy families. Halloween is over; before you know it, “THE HOLIDAYS” and all their craziness will be upon us. Retailers and advertisers are already pushing their holiday must-haves in the stores and in the media. Before the kid start making their holiday wish lists, let’s help them remember what gratitude is all about! Thanksgiving is the next major holiday on the American calendar, and November 1 is a good time to consciously slow things down and be thankful.

In our family, we’ve had a “Thankful Tree” tradition for at least 10 years now. Super-simple to make, it gives us a focal point for dinner-table discussions about gratitude during the month of November. It’s an easy way to help kids develop the ability to show gratitude, an important skill that can lead to a happier life.

How to make a Thankful Tree

1. Find a flower pot or other container for your Thankful Tree (we used one from a flower arrangement we received).
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Aaaahhhh…screen shot from White Noise App

What do you do to relieve stress? I, for one, have a tendency to blow off the fact that I’m stressed, thinking it’s not a big deal, until it becomes a problem. Or I do something dumb, like drink more coffee, to get myself through the day. (Getting even more wired—not a good idea!) So lately, I’ve been looking for some healthier (and easy) ways to get my stress level under control. Technology to the rescue! Did you know that the App Store is well-stocked with relaxation apps? And, there’s no need to get stressed trying to figure out which app to download. I’ve done some research and some testing so you don’t have to! My top five stress-busting apps for iOS are listed below.

If you feel stressed at times, you’re not alone. According to the 2013 American Psychological Association Stress in America study, approximately seven in 10 Americans report experiencing symptoms of stress such as irritability or anger, fatigue, feeling overwhelmed and changes in sleeping habits. And, women consistently report higher stress levels than men.

Left unchecked, stress—from your job (even if your job is “just” parenting), your thoughts, life events or your living environment—can build up and cause health problems over time. But you can prevent stress from becoming a big deal if you do a little bit to manage it every day. Creating a regular stress management routine can really improve your health and happiness. By putting stress relief tools right on your phone or iPad, stress-busting apps let you de-stress anywhere and anytime. No excuses!

Here are those five apps I promised. Check them out. They can put relief, literally, right into your hands.

BellyBio Interactive Breathing App (by Relaxline, FREE). Deep breathing is a great starting point for stress relief. Many of us go around holding our breath when we’re stressed. If you have never practiced deep breathing, you’ll be amazed at how it helps relax your entire body. This “biofeedback” app is fun to use. You place your phone on your belly and the app gives you visual and/or sound feedback as you breathe, helping you to slow your respiration into a deep belly breath. (more…)

Some of the laying hens at Nature’s Choice Farm.

This past weekend, my hometown held its first-ever, local-food Harvest Festival. All the food and drink was grown, raised or created within about 250 miles of our town, with most of it from within a 30-mile radius. Guess what? The festival sold out of food within the first 90 minutes. Local food is hot.

In restaurants and in home kitchens, more and more people are turning toward locally produced food because it is fresher, has less impact on the environment and is good for local economies. It seems that many people, given the choice, would rather spend their dollars locally and help small farmers in their communities. Eating local—and involving kids in the process—is also a great way to connect kids with their food and promote healthy eating.

Over the summer, my daughter and I paid a visit to Nature’s Choice Farm in Grant Park, Illinois, about an hour from downtown Chicago. We’ve been buying our meat and eggs from Nature’s Choice Farm for about a year now. The pasture-raised (grass-fed) beef, pork, chicken and turkey is not only delicious, and healthful, it is locally and sustainably raised on a small farm within a short drive from our home. The meat is also processed within the state of Illinois. We normally pick up our meat and eggs at the farmer’s market or at a local delivery site, and we’ve had the chance to meet the farmers, Eric and Samantha Sexton, on many occasions. But visiting the farm in person gave us an even greater appreciation for the work they do and the quality of the food they produce.

Our beef comes from this small herd of grass-fed cattle raised about an hour from downtown Chicago.

On our farm visit, we rode behind the tractor for a tour, indulged in a pig roast, and gathered our own eggs from the hen house. For city and suburban kids, who may have never seen an egg outside of a grocery store, the chance to pick up an egg still warm from the chicken’s (ahem) bottom was truly an “a-ha” moment! For me, it was gratifying to see the pigs, cattle and chickens out in the open, free to roam and graze, in a peaceful, pastoral setting. The contrast to large “factory farms” was pleasantly apparent. Yes, this is a small operation. Even with a dedicated customer base, Nature’s Choice raises a herd of fewer than 40 cattle in any given season. (more…)

IN THE CHICAGO AREA? Rosalind Wiseman will speak Thursday, September 19 at Glenbard North High School  and Friday, September 20 at New Trier High School. For her other book tour dates, click here.

m&WcoverBoys are MUCH easier to raise than girls, right? That’s the prevailing wisdom among parents: Boys are simple. They play sports or they play video games, they don’t stay mad at their friends for long, and they don’t talk much about their social lives. There’s none of the “drama” we associate with girls and their friendships. Because boys are so “easy,” parents tend to shrug their shoulders and “let boys be boys.”

And then, something like the Steubenville High School rape case happens, and we collectively wonder how our boys got to this point. Or, on an individual level, the phone rings with what author Rosalind Wiseman calls a “bad news bomb” about something your son did, and you suddenly realize that “what you thought was easiness turns out to be your own own cluelessness.”

Yes, parents are clueless about what’s going on in “Boy World,” if Wiseman’s new book is accurate. And, that cluelessness is harming our relationships with our sons and their chances of growing up into decent human beings.

Schoolyard Power Structures

Do you really want or need to know what’s really going on in the locker room or on the playground? Well, you probably don’t want to, but you do need to. Because no matter how great of a parent you are, how good your intentions are, how solid your family values or your faith, you cannot prepare your son to make good choices without an understanding of the social environment he deals with every day. Because “when a moment of conflict [such as Steubenville] arises,” Wiseman says, “boys’ power structures rise to the forefront. They will not confront each other. They are paralyzed.”

Lucky for us, Wiseman, the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes (the basis of the movie Mean Girls,) which gave us a glimpse into “Girl World,” now gives us a hall pass into the real world of boys. Masterminds & Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope With Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World is her new book, written with the input of more than 160 middle-school and high-school boys. (more…)