(Trying) to raise a reader

Some of my favorite summer memories consist of trips to the library, filling out library reading logs, and completing the library summer challenges. As a result, public libraries have a very special place in my heart.

My parents are first generation Vietnamese immigrants. Growing up they did everything they could to help me with school work. Despite their hardest efforts their little English put limits on how much they could help me. Instead, my resourceful parents took me to our neighborhood library to get homework help, to check out books, and to spend time exploring whatever interested me.

The library became the place you would often find me. I would be there after school completing homework with volunteers, reading the latest Nancy Drew books, or later in my jr. high years just meeting up with friends. On the weekends, my mom would pack my backpack with snacks and I along with my four (later five) younger siblings would spend our mornings at the library.

Now, as a mom I am excited to come back to the children’s section of the library. As I walked my son around the children’s section I found myself transported back to my childhood. I smiled as I remembered checking out books on tape as a way to ‘read’ books that were too hard for me. I happily sighed as I recalled reading the backs of books to decide which ones would make my weekly checkout list.

I hope my son will enjoy reading and find the library as familiar and safe a place as I always have. Last week, he became the youngest reader at our local library to participate in Rahm’s Reader: Full STEAM Ahead Chicago Public Library summer reading program. To participate in the program I have committed my little guy to 300 minutes of summer reading (about 20 minutes a day), at least one creative, one learning, and one discovery activity. We will log our reading and other experiences in the Full Steam Ahead booklet the library provided us. It’s already been a week since we have signed up and I am happy to report we are right on track.

My little guy and the library volunteer that helped sign us up.

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My little guy reading his first book at the library. At first he thought the book was a book about how to party but then quickly realized it was actually about how to potty. He liked it anyway and had me read it to him twice.

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Busy Bag Swap

I recently hosted a Busy Bag Swap with some local Chicago moms.  It was a hit.  For those of you unfamiliar with the busy bag concept, it is an activity for your little one that is usually contained in a single bag.  It is great for travel and easy to store.

If you are interested in hosting a Busy Bag Swap here is how I hosted mine.

I first started with my Busy Bag Swap invitation which read:

I have seen these great busy bag swaps and want in on the action. What I am proposing is each mom makes 15 of the same busy bags to swap and we will all have lunch together! Bring your little one(s), pack your lunches, and (if you would like) bring some food to share. We’ll have lunch, the kids will play and we’ll exchange our busy bags. That means you’ll leave with 15 busy bags for your toddler!

Here are some Busy Bag resources: 
http://pinterest.com/msmblog/busy-bags/

http://www.secondstorywindow.net/home/2011/10/toddler-time-busy-bag-series-part-2.html

http://planetoftheapels.blogspot.com/p/our-busy-bag-swap.html

http://unsolicitedadvice-n-such.blogspot.com/2011/07/preschool-young-k-adv-2s-young-ks-busy.html

You can also Google “Busy Bag Swap”.

Please comment and let us know what Busy Bag you’ll be bringing so we don’t have duplicates.

I then waited for local Chicago moms to sign up and share what they would bring.  I decided I contribute a color matching Paint Swatch game inspired by Shannon at Tot School.  (I will post some images about how I made mine in a later post.)

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Although I was hoping for 14 other parents to attend the swap, I got only 5.  I was disappointed and wondered if I had done something wrong in my invitation, date I decided to host it, or time of day I picked.  I decided not to dwell on that.  Instead, I changed my focus on the positive; some time with other moms, possible new friends for my little guy, and new busy bags. The moms I met were all so nice and despite the rain came.  Yay!  In the end, my little guy has a total of six new busy bags to play with.

One mom brought a Pool Noodle Lacing game that is excellent for color identification, number and counting, and motor skills.  We can thank Kirby from Planet of the Apels for this one.

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One crafty mom brought this great Popsicle Stick Color Matching game that can be found on Holli’s site Full Hands Full Hearts.

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This geometric busy bag that encourages color matching and learning about shapes was inspired by Modern Parent Messy Kid.

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Another mom, who happens to also be a teacher, brought an Exploration Bag.  Her busy bag was the only one to get us outdoors and exploring.  I can’t wait to try it out with my little guy.

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Lastly, this mom created this Color Sorting busy bag.  Full of little toys, shapes, textures, and colors it is a tool for learning and practicing color identification and sorting.  I love all the different items found in the bag and had fun sorting them for this picture.

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At 18 months old, my little guy hasn’t learned his colors.  I think he knows the color blue, but that could be me just seeing something I wish was there.  All the busy bags are great but at his current stage of development they’re still a bit advanced for him.  Tonight, I broke out the color sorting busy bag to see how he would play with it.  He ended up sorting the items in the bag not based on color but based on category.  That was a fun activity him and I did for about 20 minutes.  I would begin by putting one item on each plate and he would then sort the items.  He sat in my lap as he picked out the cars, sticks, spoons, and dinosaurs.

20130628-211752.jpgI am so grateful to the moms that put in the time and effort to make these bags.  They turned out so great and I can’t wait to break out more for my little guy to enjoy.

If you’re looking for a way to connect with other parents and at the same time gather some fun activities for your little one I encourage you to host a busy bag swap.

Change of plans. ‘Weather’ I like it or not.

Living in Chicago you have to just roll with whatever the weather is. Although the weather reports did predict thunderstorms and rain throughout the later part of today, the clear blue skies and live music was too enticing to stay home. I carefully prepared for our evening of picnicking and live music from The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Plans quickly changed when the notorious Chicago weather did not cooperate.

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This photo was taken just a half hour before the clouds and thunder came rolling in.

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The storm clouds quickly moved in, changing the beautiful blue sky into a gray cloudy haze. At this point, an announcement was made stating the concert was canceled, everyone was to pack up and evacuate the area, and we should all quickly find shelter from the storm. Within just a few minutes of that announcement, as I was packing up, the sky got even darker, there was thunder and some lightning and it started to pour. Before I could even load everything onto the stroller I was drenched.

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Debating between waiting out the storm at the Anthropologie store a few blocks from the Pritzker Pavilion, getting on a bus, and walking home, I decided to walk home. I was already soaking wet and the walk home was only 20 minutes. As I entered the door to my apartment, my little guy greeted me with a cheerful, ‘Mommy!’. My husband snapped this picture and we then sat down to enjoy the picnic dinner I had packed.

What did I get out of this experience?

Awesome
-For an hour before the storm, I sat on the lawn enjoying the nice weather and the buzz of people around me.
-My husband wanted to be my knight and come rescue me. The plan was I head to Pritzker first and set up. My husband would come home with our son and they would make their way downtown and meet me for the evening. Luckily, as they were waiting for the bus to head my way, I was able to get a hold of them and let them know the concert was canceled. My mister was worried about me and wanted to come get me right away. Since I was already making my way home, it was much faster for me to continue walking, but I had to really insist for him to let me. Sweet right?
-Right before the storm the light was perfect for photographs.
-Strangers offered me help because I was pushing a stroller during the storm.

Awkward
-I was pushing a stroller with no kid in it. As strangers approached to help me, they saw there was no kid in the stroller. I resisted the temptation to explain our plans for me to set up while my mister and our little guy would meet me later. I figured we were all in a hurry to get out of the storm and decided to not say anything. I wonder what people thought.
-I was wearing a white dress. So excited for today’s warm and sunny weather, I opted to wear my favorite summer color, white. Within a few minutes of the pouring rain, I was soaked and my white dress became transparent. Not cute.
-The light was beautiful and perfect for photos but I did not get any because I packed our camera equipment away afraid it would get water damage.
-I was starving. While walking home, yes, I thought about how cool it would have been to see my son enjoying the live music, yes, I thought about how I wanted to get out of the wet clothes, yes, I asked myself why it took me so long to realize I had a jacket I could wear to cover my transparent dress, and yes, I wondered how The Carolina Chocolate Drops were feeling about the show being canceled. But mostly, I thought about food.

How are you spending your summer days?

The Carolina Chocolate Drops

One of my favorite things about Chicago summers is the abundance of live music.  FREE live music.  Tonight, we will be enjoying The Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Pritzker Pavilion.   For those of you living or visiting Chicago, the Pritzker Pavilion is one of the many great sites at Millennium Park.  Whenever my husband and I have guests visiting Chicago (in the summer) our itinerary  usually includes a picnic and live music at the Pritzker.

Are you familiar with The Carolina Chocolate Drops?  If not, watch the video below.  If you like them this link: The Carolina Chocolate Drops will lead you to their YouTube channel.

I fell in love with them after watching this.

Enjoy!

Easy Peasy Morning Berry Smoothie

Now that we have returned from our Seattle foodie adventure (post coming soon) it is time to detox. Our family ate ‘well’ (aka tasty but not healthy) while on vacation and it is time to get our nutritional needs back on track. This week I will be making a variety of fresh fruit yogurt smoothies. When making my smoothies I hardly ever use measurements. Instead I just eyeball everything and taste test my way through. But, for the sake of this post, here are some measurements for you.

Ingredients you will need for the smoothie

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Combine the ingredients:
-1/2 cup of ice
-6 strawberries with leaves removed
-1/3 a cup of blueberries
-1 banana
-2/3 cup of Greek yogurt
-2 teaspoons of sugar (not pictured)

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Blend the ingredients until smooth. Add additional ice, berries, yogurt, and/or sugar depending on your desired taste and consistency.

Pour into a glass, add a strawberry and straw and enjoy.

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Easy peasy right? This recipe made enough for two small smoothies for my mister and I. I shared my smoothie with my little guy and he loved it. The little guy let out an enthusiastic ‘yum!’ after his first sip.

Do you have any smoothie recipes to share? I would love to expand my smoothie repertoire.

Seattle 1 of 3: Enjoying the Seattle Sights

We have just returned from our five days in beautiful Seattle.  We had a great time!  For any of you considering where your next vacation will be I encourage you to consider Seattle.  There was so much to do and experience, I have to break my Seattle recap into three different posts.

Today’s post will focus on the city of Seattle sights.  A kid friendly city, we had no trouble using public transportation to get around.  All the sights we visited were stroller friendly and our little guy loved every moment of it.

So what did we do?

We first visited the International Fountain and enjoyed a choreographed water and music show.

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untitled (15 of 207)We continued our walk and found ourselves in awe of the Space Needle.

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We took a ‘break’ and visited the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum.

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The next day we visited the famous Pikes Place Market.

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Left Pikes Place Market to enjoy other sights of Seattle.  The day was gorgeous.  There was a light breeze and bright blue skies.

walkWe then stopped at one of my favorite sights of the entire trip the Seattle Public Library.

untitled (67 of 207)We took a moment to appreciate the Olympic Sculpture Park and later in our trip visited Bruce Lee’s gravesite.

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We indulged our love for music at the EMP Museum where we recorded our band, 3 Miles Island’s, first music video.  Turns out our little guy is more of a DJ than a drummer.

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We took a ferry to Bainbridge and admired the Seattle skyline.

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We ended with one last view of Seattle from Kerry Park.

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Have you been to Seattle?  What’s your favorite sight?

Farewell to Friends

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A stop by the park before our 6pm reservations at III Forks.

We just got home from a delicious dinner at III Forks. We enjoyed a special meal with our dearest and closest as we bid farewell to a couple leaving us for better things in Michigan. It is always wonderful to meet people you connect with. This couple has been a part of our Chicago life. We have celebrated each others’ graduations, weddings, and the birth of our little one. We wish them the best of luck in their new chapter and can’t wait to visit them in Michigan.

It was great to have a farewell dinner doing what we always do when we get together. We had delicious food and great conversation.

I ordered the Chilean sea bass while my mister had the rib eye.

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If you are a family looking for a fine dining experience III Forks is great. With a great park and water fountain nearby, your little one has a place to burn off energy before or after your meal. The beautiful indoor setting provides a lot to look at and the huge windows provide a nice relaxing element. The food is delicious and the service excellent. It was a wonderful dining experience for us, our toddler, our close friends and their one month old, and the rest of our party. III Forks provided the perfect atmosphere to celebrate our friendship and wish our friends happiness for what is to come.