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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Free Movies in Chicago Parks

Along with kayaking the Chicago River and bike riding along the lake front path, I can cross Movies in the Parks off my bucket list!

For five months through the summer and fall, the Chicago Park District screens current and classic movies in parks around the city, for FREE! I love any opportunity to lay out on a blanket with my toes in the grass while taking in the breeze. When I went for the first time with girl friends, we saw Grease.  It was fun to hear the whole crowd singing along to "summer lovin, had me a blaaaast..."

The second time, I took Mia to see Happy Feet 2. With movies starting at dusk (after 8pm), it was a bit late for a 2 year old.

Even though we only stayed to see 40 minutes of the movie, it was a wonderful evening where we could take a walk, play at the playground, grab some ice cream and balloon animals while picnicking with neighbors on a warm summer night.

And who doesn't love taking in a free movie?! Showings go through October, check out the full listing here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Beachy Pinwheel 1st Birthday Party: Inspiration Board

Yesterday I photographed a sweet baby girl's 1st birthday party. Mom's been hard at work for the past month and a half pulling together her daughter's party with the help of my detailed party plan and ideas. Here's the inspiration board behind a colorful beachy pinwheel 1st birthday party that was held outside at a forest preserve.
image sources: Tiny Prints invite | Frog Prince Paperie beachy pinwheel party | wooden silverware |  IKEA buckets
{DIY save the date}

For more beachy pinwheel party ideas, check out my pinterest board here. Full birthday party reveal to come soon!

Also this weekend, we took Mia to the Shedd Aquarium to cross off another page from her DIY Good Night Chicago book! How about your weekend? Sheeesh! Where did July go?!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

BurgerFest 2012

After Jenelle's 1 year photo session, we headed out to one of Chicago's many neighborhood summer festivals - BurgerFest 2012! The vendors at this festival are getting better and better each year, so I have to write down what we had this year, so we know what to get next year! But first, here's a year over year over year comparison of how Mia's grown at this Fest!

What we ate:
Cortland's Garage - Their slider with the crispy bacon, fried onion strings and avocado was one of my favorites! It was also the critics' choice and with the longest line, everyone else must've agreed.
Goose Island - They tied for critics' second choice (with Butcher & the Burger). They offer a few good ones every year, but as you can see below, there's a bit too much bun for the meat on the little sliders. I like my meat and carb ratio to be 50/50. I didn't like the dark bun on their first burger (not pictured). I always love the pork slider with sriracha slaw (right). And I forget what the other one had (left), but I liked it!

Butcher & The Burger - Why didn't they melt the cheddar cheese on their House Prime Blend Burger (with griddled onions and truffle mayo)?!? They lost major points for that alone. However, Doug wanted seconds of the Bison Burger with bacon, blue cheese and BBQ sauce. I thought it was a bit salty with the bacon, but the burger was SO juicy!
Hamburger Mary's - In past years, I don't think I cared for their Mary sliders with "Mary sauce." But this year, their burger stuffed with chorizo, topped with pepper jack cheese, chipotle ranch and fresh pico de gallo was SO tasty!
Rockit - Truffle Mushroom slider, yum!
Reggie's - The chorizo burger was ok, but with just a bun and patty, it was too plain. They had standard condiments to add on your own whereas every other vendor had very customized burgers and toppings. Definitely not a contender if you make me put ketchup and mustard on my burger.
Select Cut - Pretty standard, nothing outstanding.
John's Place - From past years, I don't recall their burgers being anything noteworthy.  So this year, I just opted for their sweet potato fries, which were decent.

Next year, I'll have to take pictures of each vendors' sign for better descriptions! And I'm too busy with a drink in hand and toddler at my side to take a picture of the actual burgers before I stuff my face!

How much it cost:
Sliders were $4-5 and full size burgers were $8-9. It's best to buddy up and split a few burgers with friends so you can sample as many burgers as possible without busting your belly. Mia ate corn, of course. Which will set you back $4 on the cob, or $5 in a cup. Considering I can buy 12 ears at the grocery store for that much, it hurts my heart a little. But, it is a festival after all. And they did have an array of toppings so you can make your own "elote." 

Also noteworthy:
It's most crowded on Saturday for dinner, so definitely avoid that time if you hate being surrounded by herds of sweaty people on hot summer nights. Throughout the weekend, bands fill two stages to give you plenty to sing and dance to. They had a lot more tables and chairs than in the past, so you don't always have to sit on the curb. I definitely favor BurgerFest over other Chicago festivals simply for the focus on good food. You're not stuck with standard festival fried foods that make you question what you just ate.

In addition to the four deliciously meaty meals over two days, it was a fun weekend with friends and family!
Look how big Erin is! And those adorable itty bitty pig tails!
The girls had fun being runners, just like Maya's track Coach Daddy! Even Jenelle was trying to keep up! We may have ended the day with tired cranky babies who needed naps, but it was still a good time with satisfied bellies J

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

{Jenelle} - 1 Year

Jenelle is one of my last babies that I've watched get SO big from 1 week old to 1 year old!
{click on the pictures below to go to each post}

Just like her past two sessions, we started at my place. She kept trying to get off the bed. Then when we finally took her off, she wanted to get back on! I think she just liked the thrill of {almost} falling off the edge!

This time around, Jenelle didn't have much interest in the camera.

Now that she can walk, baby girl is a fearless busy body, always on the move with things to see and places to be!
So glad you could spend the day at our place little lady! See you soon for your birthday party! I'm not sure if I can do it again, but I may accept another under $5 birthday party decorating challenge, just like I did for Jenelle's sister. I'll let you know what I come up with!
linked up here:

Live, Love, Travel

Monday, July 23, 2012

Backyard Swimming Pool

When Grandpa said he was getting a pool for Mia, I thought he meant a little plastic tub for her to splash around in, like this:
Mia’s only four months old here. Look at those chubby legs!

But instead, he redoes his patio and gets this!

Luckily it’s been a hot summer and Mia loves going to Grandpa’s house to swim! She also loves “being a cheerleader”. That’s mah girl! We're still working on her high V J

How'd you spend your weekend??

Friday, July 20, 2012

Disneyland Recap – Days 2 & 3

Being anal the planners that we are, weeks before our trip, we already had reservations for our big meals.  Food is very important to me when I travel (and I will get upset about a sucky meal).  Having seen all the menus and knowing where we were going to eat without having to wait took away one thing to be stressed about when traveling with a toddler. Let’s not forget when I made the mistake of not having reservations while traveling. I ended up with a very pissed off husband.

Here's what we ate:
- Dinner at the Deck in Laguna Beach on Day 1 of our trip.

- Lunch with the princesses at Ariel’s Grotto at California Adventure Park
Mia could NOT wait to meet the princesses. Literally from the time she woke up, to the minute we stepped into the park, up until lunchtime Mia was asking “Where’s Cinderella mom? Find her. Where could she be??? Where is she??” The $34/pp meal (under 3 is freeeee) will fill you up with the antipasti tower, choice of entrĂ©e (we had the pasta and tri-tip) and a huge assorted dessert plate. Throughout the meal, five princesses come out one by one to stop and talk with each table.

- Dinner at RB Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney
I loved how we sat upstairs outside which replicates French Quarter architecture found in New Orleans. I definitely sat back and enjoyed a glass of wine with the setting sun as we unwound for the day.  

- Character breakfast with Minnie & Friends at the Plaza Inn at Disneyland
This $24/pp (kids under 3 are freeee) breakfast buffet was full of smiles every few minutes as you saw numerous characters roaming about bouncing from table to table. The food was standard breakfast buffet fare with Mickey Mouse shaped waffles, scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, pastries, cereals and fruit. The highlight was definitely seeing Minnie Mouse and rocking our DIY ears.
For our other two breakfasts, we grabbed fruits, yogurts and pastries from the Starbucks/Marketplace in the hotel before we hopped on the shuttle to the Disney parks.

- Dinner at the Wine Country Trattoria at California Adventure Park
Despite the hustle and bustle of kids at a theme park on a Friday night during graduation season, the Wine Country Trattoria felt isolated from the busy-ness and was reminiscent of an evening in Napa. The warm setting sun, vine covered walls, glass of wine and Italian fare, complete with chocolatey Tiramisu was the perfect meal to end our trip.

What did we do besides eat, you ask? Working around our reserved meals, we spaced out our days and parks to hit up a good amount of attractions.

Disney's California Adventure Park
Mia’s favorite ride was the carousel and the Bug's Life Area had rides suited for toddlers as well.

Mickey's Fun Wheel had regular stationary gondolas in addition to ones that swing as the ferris wheel goes round! We opted for the stationary one, boo. We went on this ride while killing time before lunch at Ariel's Grotto.

We met Mickey at his house in Disneyland, but we also spotted him near Ariel's Grotto!

If I didn't have a baby with me (and I mean Mia), I'd go on this roller coaster!

We all had fun singing, dancing and waving at the parade. Mia was excited to see all the characters.

We also saw Aladdin – the musical, which was a wonderful 40 minute production! It was a bit of a wait, but the music, set, characters (especially Genie!) and an activity where you could sit indoors and cool off was definitely worth the wait. Mia enjoyed it too!


The Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride was really fun! The interactive ride has you shooting aliens throughout the ride where you compete for high scores with the person riding next to you. Of course, I beat Doug J

Even though Mia's itty bitty, she was still able to go on fun rides like this rocket spaceship!

At the Princess Fantasy Faire, Belle told us a story and Mia got to meet Cinderella again. I don't know what it is about Disney, but even I was enchanted by the princess's reading!

The Finding Nemo Submarine was really cool! I vaguely remember the submarine ride in Disney World as a kid, where silly stuffed fish were dangling from strings. This time around, the submarine ride was totally updated complete with graphics and sometimes I was confused whether what I was looking at was real or animated! Mia napped through it, which was good. She would've been scared since it's mostly dark throughout the "voyage".

The mandatory It's a Small World ride. Who hasn't been on this one!?

Skip the Storybook Land Canal Boats. It's kinda boring and really hot in the sun.

We did a lot in our two days at the two parks, but one more day would’ve been ideal. We didn’t get to ride Dumbo (40 minute wait in the heat with a child who only wanted to be carried. By mommy.) and many other attractions. Lines can get long in the afternoon, so get to the parks early. We didn't want to wait too long with a tired toddler, so opted for rides with waits of 20 minute or less (which there were plenty). Check out the attractions before you get to the park so you know what to hit first and take advantage of FASTPASSES. Also, with our two hour time difference, we couldn’t do anything after our 5pm dinners, which also meant no World of Color or fireworks shows.

Before we even left for California, Mia was starting to get sick. While we were away, she had very high fevers every night and didn't get any sleep. But she was a trooper and was happy most of the time during the day. Oddly, she also decided to potty train herself while on vacation. Works for me! Mia loves talking about her Disneyland vacation and can’t wait to go back!
What's your favorite at Disneyland or Disney World??

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Disneyland Recap – Day 1 Laguna Beach

At last, here’s the recap of our three night/four day vacation to California/Disneyland that we took in May. Yes, we just took Mia to Boston in March when it was cold, but we couldn’t pass up this Virgin America deal to LA. What I thought would be a warm beachy vacation turned out to be a Princess trip, thanks to Doug (who’s never been to Disneyland or Disney World). The fact that Mia is only 2 ½ years old and does not require a park ticket definitely helped in the decision to go on this trip. That’s a $188 dollar savings on park tickets and an additional savings on the character meals!

These two CPAs never travel without a deal, so here’s what the costs came down to:
$178/ticket for round trip airfare from ORD-LAX – Thank you very much Virgin America sale. We also are pack masters travel light and didn't incur any luggage fees. Mia called it the purple airplane. Doug on the other hand, thought the swanky music at the gate, purple uplights and black leather seats reminded him of sex.

$0 in hotel stays – For all three nights, we used points for both Marriott and Hilton hotels in Anaheim, which were near the Convention Center and not in the Disneyland Park. Both hotels looked updated and were right across from each other, so switching over and transporting our luggage one time was no biggie. Catching a $2/pp shuttle to the park was also easy peasy.

$40 shuttle – to take us from the hotel to the airport (LAX) on our last day.

$350 park tickets – for two adult 2 day park hopper tickets. Kids under 3 are freeee!

$75 1 day car rental – Since we wanted to make our first day a beach day, we rented a car from LAX, immediately found the nearest In N Out, drove down Pacific Coast Highway, stopped at Bristol Farms for a bathroom break and to pick up some picnic foods and made our way to Laguna Beach to hang out and have dinner. We then drove 30 minutes to our hotel in Anaheim where Doug returned the car nearby.   

Mia’s first encounter with sand. As expected, she was not a fan. I am so glad I took this picture. J

Nothing some juicy watermelon can't fix. And the fact that she did not move from my belly/the towel afterwards.

We didn’t get in the water since we didn’t have more than a few hours to play, but I did dip my toes in and basked in the warm California sun. There seemed to be a bit of seaweed washed up on the sand (which you can see here), so not the cleanest beach I’ve seen.

Mia enjoyed the nearby swings. She didn’t want to go on the actual playground though because it had sand.

Dinner at The Deck – We had a 5pm dinner reservation (given our two hour time difference with a 2 year old). They had a high chair for us, but if it were later in the evening, I probably wouldn't feel comfortable with a child here (not because it was rowdy, just because there were no other kids). I was craving a fruity beach drink to kick off my vacation, but the mango margarita was not good. To eat, we had mango shrimp ceviche, crispy mahi tacos and chorizo, shellfish, chicken paella which were all just ok. The main selling point here is their view, which really is right up against the water. At least there was also live music to improve my overall dining experience.

More on Disneyland tomorrow!