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  1. Having a little one shouldn’t stop you from getting out and soaking up the rays. Here’s a roundup of some of the best sandlots around the city that are perfect for baby’s first trip to the beach. Stock your diaper bag with swim diapers and sunscreen, and get ready to introduce baby to Lake Michigan! Great for South Siders Margaret T. Burroughs (31st Street) Beach 3100 S. Lake Shore Drive Burroughs Beach stretches from 31st Street to 26th Street and offers amazing skyline views for adults and a newly renovated and ADA accessible playground for kiddies of all ability levels. Yummy concessions, easy and affordable parking, and a “green roof” for family picnics make this beach an easy choice for South Siders. Great for North Siders Loyola/Leone Beach Touhy Avenue and Lake Michigan Loyola/Leone Beach is perfect for North Side dwellers and active families alike. Chicago’s largest beach features a 2/3-mile walking trail along the beautiful beach and Lake Michigan, making this the perfect beach for stroller walks and jogs. In addition to a playground, there is also a softball field and basketball court available for older siblings. Great for families with dogs Foster Avenue Beach 5200 N. Lake Shore Drive (Foster Avenue and Lake Michigan) Parent to a baby and a dog baby? Head over to Foster Avenue Beach and get the best of both worlds. Foster Beach has its own dog beach at the northeast end and outdoor showers so that your fam can clean off after a day in the sand and sun. Great for water adventuring babies Kathy Osterman Beach 4600 N. Lake Shore Drive Osterman Beach is located in the northernmost tip of Lincoln Park and is perfect for families that want to explore the water: it is known for having shallower water than other beaches. Great for water-shy babies 63rd Street Beach 6300 S. Lake Shore Drive. (E. Hayes Drive at Lake Michigan) Baby not quite ready to frolic in Lake Michigan? No worries! 63rd Street Beach has interactive water fountains that are perfect for letting your little one enjoy the water without swimming in the lake. Great for a day of relaxing 12th Street Beach 12th Street at Lake Michigan on Northerly Island If a less crowded day at the beach is what you’re in search of, 12th Street Beach is the perfect spot for you. Nestled just south of Adler Planetarium, this beach feels like a private sandy shore just for you and your family. Concessions and restrooms are nearby and you can check out the nearby museums when you need a break from the sun.
  2. It’s the first 70-degree day in months and you have visions of a perfect outdoor dining experience with the fam. There’s no time to research in between playdates, soccer matches and diaper changes. But we’ve got you covered thanks to crowdsourced recs from trusted parents. These dining dreams promise good food, great patios and enough room for the whole clan. In a city that loves to eat, narrowing the list to a few is challenging, but here’s our best effort for family-friendly dining on all sides of the city. [Related: You can make eating out with your kids actually enjoyable] Flo & Santos South Loop; 1310 S. Wabash Ave., floandsantos.com Food: Pizza, pierogies and beer Al fresco highlight: A spacious beer garden nestled just off of the El tracks makes this a cozy neighborhood hangout for the entire family, including Fido. Pro tip: Live acoustic music on the patio on Thursdays Café Selmarie Lincoln Square; 4729 N. Lincoln Ave., cafeselmarie.com Food: Breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner Al fresco highlight: Tucked in the heart of Lincoln Square, the outdoor seating and European pastries give off old world vibes, plus kids can run around in the square next to the seating. Pro tip: Don’t leave without a baked goodie. Nella Pizza e Pasta Hyde Park, 1125 E. 55th St., nellachicago.com Food: Pizza, Italian Al fresco highlight: Sleek, sophisticated outdoor seating for simply excellent Italian dining Pro tip: Order anything. Reviews argue it’s one of the best Italian spots in the city. Debate ignited. Easy Street Portage Park, 3750 N. Central Ave., easystreetpizzachicago.com Food: Pizza Al fresco highlight: Enjoy the patio and the big game with flat screens outside. Pro tip: Before you dig into your pizza, try the cheese curds. [Related: Chicago date-night ideas that go beyond dinner and drinks] Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits Logan Square, 2051 N. California Ave., & Ravenswood, 4947 N. Damen Ave., bangbangpie.com Food: Breakfast/brunch, bakery Al fresco highlight: At the Logan location, the casual, stylish patio more than doubles the seating on a warm day, and the facing patio doors provide ’Gram-worthy shots. Pro tip: Pie and biscuits are included in the name for a reason. Try both! The Waterfront Cafe Edgewater, 6219 N. Sheridan Rd., waterfrontcafechicago.com Food: American, seafood Al fresco highlight: Live music most evenings in the summer. The perfect urban oasis if you need a quick getaway from the real world. Pro tip: Take the CTA (Red Line: Granville), bike or walk to avoid parking challenges. Honey Butter Fried Chicken Avondale, 3361 N. Elston Ave., honeybutter.com Food: American, chicken Al fresco highlight: The spacious yet comfy patio on a warm summer night makes you feel like you’re hanging in your bestie’s backyard. Plus, there are always activities for the kids. Pro tip: Come for the chicken, stay for the pimiento mac & cheese.
  3. Moms are incredibly resilient and inspiring. We play instrumental roles in shaping the lives of our children. The communities we live in rely on us and our dedication. Our households function under the faith that we’ll always be there to maintain order (or at least the perception of order!). It’s no question that we are the backbones of our families. These are just some of the many reasons why there is a national holiday for us! Every generation of moms inspires the next, just like the moms in my family have inspired me. On Mother’s Day, kids across the world draw images of flowers on a card or give a pot of dirt with budding seeds in it as a gift to their mother. Of course, she deserves more than what is given to her, but it is cute nonetheless. As we grow up, most of us begin to learn that mothers can’t truly be gifted what they are actually worth to their children and families. But the gesture is still as priceless as the memories they leave behind. If the mother in your life enjoys priceless gifts, here are some special ways to honor her in our city. Connect with the other great mother, Mother Nature: Chicago Botanic Garden - Celebrate spring in one of the most beautiful places for the best Mother’s Day selfies! Lake Michigan for a bike ride, or a stroll and or a picnic for the queen of the house Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for some meaningful connection to nature Garfield Park Conservatory - This final day of its spring event is sure to celebrate mom. Lincoln Park Zoo - Watch momma animals with their mini-mes. Picnic - Indoor or outdoor bliss while the insects have not yet become a nuisance DIY ideas: Make a surprise brunch - Less hectic, cheaper than an outing and more fun for everyone Create an at-home spa day to bring laughter and somewhat of a comfort to the woman who rarely gets a moment to herself Mom’s personal helper for the entire day - Let mom relax and not lift a finger! Create a special gift for soon-to-be-moms - The anticipation of becoming a mother is such an exciting time for many women. Perhaps something with cultural or spiritual meaning she can one day share with her child. Offer care and support to women who have experienced the loss of a child. No matter what you and your loved ones decide to do on this day that honors our most cherished caregiver, remember to tell her how special she is to you. Verbalizing your appreciation for her role in your life is the most meaningful gift of all!
  4. Parenting in Chicago is hard. Two recent events reminded me of this. The first, running our two daughters out to the car parked in front of our house in what seemed like biblical rains — no attached garage to keep us dry. And the second, wading into the Chicago Public Schools application process. After reading about three different ways to apply to preschool, I realized this was the first step in a nebulous 18-year-plus journey. These are surface examples of a subtler thought that has gnawed at me for the last couple of years: This is not how I grew up. In many ways, my childhood was idyllic. I grew up in a nice suburb and have fond memories of it. That’s why I always planned to raise my children in one. If the suburbs worked for me, why wouldn’t I raise a family in the same way? Marrying a Chicago native changed things. And while we’re committed to living in the city, a review of the news headlines on any given day makes Chicago seem like the least family-friendly place to be. I’m slowly, sometimes reluctantly, learning the city is a great place for a family. What I know now is that the childhood my two daughters experience is not going to be the one that I had — and that’s okay. In fact, I’m glad. Here's why: Empowerment My daughters will not be intimidated by the “big city” things that scared me. They will know how to get from point A to point B and all the way to Z. And they’ll do it by understanding the CTA routes and schedules. This ability will open up the city to them and make so many experiences instantly accessible: visiting other neighborhoods, biking by the lake, enjoying countless festivals and museums, and soaking in the world-class culture Chicago offers. Diversity The diversity of cultures, learning and day-to-day experiences my children will encounter will provide a perspective — and, I hope, understanding — that’s hard to come by in the suburbs. From trying elotes at the park to neighbors who speak a different language, their close proximity to others different from them raises an opportunity to know people and their cultures better. Social justice My girls will have a chance to see and respond to the challenges of the city. They can be part of making Chicago not just the place where they live, but the community where they thrive. For us right now it looks messy. We cart our girls to homeless shelters and imperfectly prepare meals for guests once or twice a month. But our hope is that one day they’ll lead us to the problems they seek to fix in our city and commit to serving our community. Chicago reminds me on an almost-daily basis that the things that are worthwhile are often challenging. Raising a family in Chicago is a worthwhile challenge, and one that will leave me thankful that my daughters experience a different childhood than my own.
  5. If you're like me, date nights look something like this: drinks, dinner, repeat. My husband and I rarely plan ahead, opting to snag an OpenTable reservation somewhere interesting mere hours before the sitter arrives. A few weeks ago this consisted of an incredibly lucky last-minute opening at Parachute, followed by drinks at Ludlow Liquors. If you wind up at Parachute, don't miss its famous Bing Bread—crispy on the outside and loaded with potato, bacon and scallion. Slather on the sour cream butter if you really want to gild the lily. Hoping to break out of the dinner and drinks rut, I've been brainstorming some new and fun date night ideas for the spring and summer. I've also been mulling over some past dates that could use a refresh. Some are outdoorsy, some are inside, but they're all immersive experiences that are uniquely Chicago. Feel free to "borrow" them and let me know how it goes! Chicago Magic Lounge This requires some advance planning since shows sell out, but the experience at Chicago Magic Lounge lives up to the hype. The space is gorgeous and there's magic everywhere you turn—even the bartenders perform tricks! Dining options here are limited to a small plates menu. For something heartier, try nearby Hopleaf or Immm Rice and Beyond. On Sundays, Chicago Magic Lounge offers The Family Show, a great opportunity if you can't book a sitter and want to go somewhere that satisfies both the adults and the kids. Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary Who says date night has to be in the evening? If you and your significant other can swing it, head out for an early-morning date at the Montrose Bird Sanctuary. Bring your binoculars to catch a glimpse of some of the 300 species of birds that have been spotted at this world-famous (really) birding destination. Grab coffee, pastries or sandwiches for a picnic, from nearby Dollop Coffee Co. Blessed with a sitter for the whole day? Chicago Architecture Foundation gives tours of nearby Graceland Cemetery. See the final resting places of Chicago's movers and shakers in one of the most serene and beautiful spots in the city. Trust me, it's truly awe-inspiring. Dusek's and Thalia Hall This is one of my favorite date-night combos and I wish we did it more often! Enjoy dinner at Dusek's in Pilsen, then head upstairs into one of Chicago's grandest concert venues, Thalia Hall. Granted landmark status in 1989, Thalia Hall was originally built in 1982 and modeled after the Prague Opera House. Plenty of wow factor but still intimate enough to enjoy smaller acts. My pick for an upcoming show? The Jayhawks on July 13. After the show head to the basement bar, Punch House, for a nightcap. Moonlight Kayak Tour One of the best ways to see the Chicago River is at night when there are fewer boats and the water is calmer. Wateriders offers a "Moonlight Paddle" tour through downtown Chicago. Enjoy the river when it's all lit up by the lights from bordering skyscrapers. It starts at 8:30pm so there's plenty of time to grab dinner near their dock. Try The Hampton Social for all kinds of fresh seafood like oysters, lobster rolls and crab legs. None of it caught in the river (of course) but it will hopefully still put you in a seafaring mood.
  6. Birthday party planning can be stressful. I get it. I have nine-year-old twin boys and we’ve had our fair share of big, blowout birthday parties. For a few years, we invited all 60(!) of their classmates. Thankfully, our days of parties are over. Now we try to invite a few close friends for a special activity like mini-golf or Great America. If you’re just getting started with your planning, you’re in luck. I’m sharing my recommendations for the best parties I’ve planned, researched or attended. Emily Oaks Nature Center All year round, Emily Oaks Nature Center in Skokie will help you host an unforgettable outdoor-themed event. We hosted a summer party there a few years ago where attendees were “transformed” into mice and went on a nature walk through the woods where they hid from foxes, made a mouse house and found mouse food. Later we went back inside to make a woodland-themed craft. The indoor party room is spacious and you can bring in any food or cake you want. We got catering from Brown's Chicken because they offer really affordable options including pasta. Emily Oaks has a nice outdoor playground if you want to continue the party or entertain children waiting for a parent to pick them up. The choices for party themes at Emily Oaks have so much variety. They have themes built around birds, bugs, bees, coyotes—you name it! There are even nighttime options like storytelling around a campfire and roasting s’mores. Their parties are perfect for kids age 3-10. Activities are limited to 25 children but the party room can hold 70—plenty of space for parents or family members to hang out and celebrate along with the birthday kid and their friends. Facets Multimedia What kid wouldn’t want to see their name on the marquee of a movie theater? We hosted one of our favorite parties at Facets and I highly recommend it, especially for large groups. They’ll curate a custom screening of award-winning short films from their Chicago International Children's Film Festival archive. Optional add-ons include popcorn and drinks. After the screening, head upstairs to the party room where you can serve food and cake. If you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing option, Sweet Mandy B’s is less than 5 minutes away, making pre-party pickup a breeze. Art Side Out Studio and Mask Shop I recently drove by this storefront art studio and literally did a double take. I had to pull over to write it down so I could look it up later. Turns out this creative mask shop is also the perfect place to host a birthday party. Teaching artists will assist groups from 5-45 in creating unique and individual masks. Transform into a butterfly, a bear, a dragon—the sky’s the limit. Farther north on Western Avenue is my family’s favorite frozen custard shop, Lickity Split. They cater special events and their custard is so delicious. Need to tire out the troops after a few hours of intense art-making? Head to nearby Indian Boundary Park for a romp through the old-fashioned wooden playground (bigger and better than Oz Park) or explore the new nature play center. Then go home and take a well-deserved nap. Cradles to Crayons Have a child who is exceptionally altruistic? Eschew the traditional birthday party and have friends and family join you for a volunteer shift at Cradles to Crayons. They provide children from birth through age 12 living in homeless or low-income situations with the essential items they need to thrive—at home, at school and at play. Children as young as 5 can help sort donations in their warehouse. If you’re looking for a way to give but not ready to ditch a party completely, have guests bring toy donations for Lurie Children’s Hospital. They take gift donations all year, not just during the holidays.
  7. Is your whole family about to lose their minds to cabin fever? Don’t let it get you down! There is so much free or cheap indoor and outdoor fun to be had. Here are some activities you and your special-needs kiddo can enjoy. Around town activities Free museum days Adler Planetarium, Chicago Children’s Museum, dancing with the kiddos at the Chicago Cultural Center, sensory Saturday at the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Chicago History Museum. Conservatory exploration Explore beautiful plant life at the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Garfield Park Conservatory. It’s always free and it feels like you are visiting the tropics! Live theater See a play that will accommodate those who have sensory issues at Lifeline Theatre and Chicago Children’s Theatre. Music Get out and do some serious dancing with your kiddos! Beat Kitchen has a whole kids' concert series! Indoor water parks Splash Landings Aquatic Center in Glenview, The Water Works in Schaumburg and Pelican Harbor Aquatic Park in Bolingbrook Trampoline park Sky High Sports offers discounted open play every Tuesday just for your special-needs kiddos! Obstacle and agility courses For those kiddos who crave climbing and hanging, check out Ultimate Ninjas for open-play weekends. Outreach play Misericordia offers a great play program that gives you a chance to meet and mingle with other parents while volunteers play with your child. Free play KEEN Chicago: Kids Enjoy Exercise Now! Chicago Park District's special rec programs CPD has a lot of available programs for our kiddos. You do have to sign up early as spaces fill very quickly. Sledding and skating Try sledding at one of the Chicago Park District parks. Our favorite hills are Oz Park, Horner Park, Gompers Park and Warren Park. Get skating in at Maggie Daley ice skating ribbon, Warren Park and Wrigley Field. Indoor home activities Sensory bins Create one or a few sensory bins using Insta-Snow, water beads, dried beans, shaving cream or cotton balls to hide and search for treasures. Dress up! Put those old costumes to good use and get dressed up for some pretend play. Have a very posh tea party, get rescued by your favorite little superhero or have your kiddo cure all of his or her stuffed animals boo-boos! Dance party Turn on that music and work out some serious energy! We have different genres programmed on Pandora, like Disney, Kidz Bop, Laurie Berkner, Fresh Beat Band and School House Rock, to name a few! Build a blanket fort and camp inside Make some s’mores Rice Krispies treats with the kiddos and heat up some hot chocolate! Family game day Play Twister, Charades, Old Maid, Hungry Hungry Hippos or whatever you have on hand to enjoy together! Art day Hold a painting party and drink apple cider from fancy glasses. Try re-creating a famous artist’s piece using paint, construction paper, beans, yarn or pasta! Winter can be lots of fun if you get a little creative! Enjoy!
  8. As a child growing up in Chicago, I only thought of Hyde Park as where the Museum of Science and Industry lived. I'd go there on family trips or field trips, once or twice a year, always making sure to pay a visit to the baby chicks. On one memorable visit, my 8th-grade class ran into Davy Jones inside the Hall of Nobel Prize Winners. But for all the times I traveled to Hyde Park, I never truly visited the neighborhood. As an adult with children of my own, I've made a point to get out and really explore our city. I often craft whole itineraries based on their geographic proximity to one or two key places. I'll pull up a map on my computer and my kids will peer over my shoulder shouting out requests (usually asking me to find the nearest ice cream place) and we'll embark on our trip, sometimes pulling over if something new catches our eye. Here are some of our tried-and-true favorites in Hyde Park. Smart Museum of Art: An intimate but robust museum, the Smart hosts monthly family drop-in activities that are perfect for slow winter days. Not only are they free, they’re very high-quality projects. On February 3, it'll be celebrating everything blue with a Family Day inspired by the artist Yves Klein. There's even a cafe in the lobby for the caffeine jolt you’ll need after all that exhausting art-making. 57th Street Books: We almost never come down to Hyde Park without a visit to this iconic bookstore. The labyrinth of connected rooms and low ceilings make the whole place feel like it sprang from an author's imagination. Their selection of children's books is nicely curated and it can special order anything that's out of stock. Salonica Restaurant: Whether we are in the mood for standard breakfast fare like scrambled eggs and pancakes or Greek diner staples like gyros and moussaka, Salonica always has us covered. Their children's menu is a great value and service is excellent. Expect a wait on weekends. Nichols Park: My kids are always up for a trip to a playground in any kind of weather. Even in the middle of winter, we keep our eyes peeled for new or special parks. Nichols Park playground was renovated in 2016 and is a great place to blow off steam when the weather is above freezing (and even sometimes when it's not). Ice skating at Midway Plaisance: Rent skates or bring your own; this rink operated by the Chicago Park District is on the beautiful stretch of land that once hosted amusements for the World's Columbian Exposition including the original Ferris wheel. With the gothic architecture of the University of Chicago as a backdrop, this is one of my favorite vistas. Especially at dusk when the lights from the University buildings are twinkling. The Bakery at Piccolo Mondo: "Can we get hot chocolate?" I hear this one a lot and you probably do, too. My kids always want something “fancier” than your typical Starbucks treat. This Argentinian bakery has one of the coolest versions I've seen: It's called the "Submarino" and you get a glass of steamed milk served with a dark chocolate bar for a DIY hot chocolate that you mix yourself. Needless to say, this one's a big hit. Museum of Science and Industry: I've saved the best for last. Not much new can be said about this place except that you might not be aware of one of the city's best membership deals. At the annual fund level ($300) and above, you get invited to several special events throughout the year that really make it worthwhile. Our favorite is the annual Boo Bash with a buffet dinner, open bar, dessert station, and free admission to the coal mine and other special exhibits.
  9. “10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1...Happy New Year!” If this year’s New Year’s Eve countdown reminded you of your bank account balance, it’s time for a change. Now that the first half of the year is over and the holidays are behind us, it’s time to begin planning ahead for summer. Believe it or not, summer will be here before we know it with all of its expenses in tow: summer camp, family vacation, sports...(insert money flying away emoji). Keep reading for suggestions to jumpstart your budgeting goals and handle summer finances with ease. Set a goal. Write it down. Celebrate. Repeat. Begin by sorting your spring and summer expenses in two lists: a “must-do” list and a “can-do” list. Fill your “must-do” list with all of the expenses that have to happen. Think essentials like summer camp, sports teams, school registration fees for next year, etc. Total up those costs and round that number to the nearest hundredth (wiggle room is vital). Divide that total by the number of months remaining until spring, write it down and post it somewhere you can see it daily. When you reach your monthly goal, celebrate the cost-effective way: Have a movie night in or cook something special as a family. Repeat. Do the same for your “can-do” list, but always prioritize your “must-do” list. Pay yourself! There’s an app for that. You’ve set some sort of New Year's resolution, right? Reward yourself for sticking to your goals (or punish yourself when you don’t) with an app that auto-saves for you. There are a few apps that automate your savings, but my favorite is IFTT (If This, Then That), which works by creating “recipes” that trigger certain effects. For example, in a few finger-taps, you can set up a $2 transfer from your checking account into your savings account each time you check in at your gym. I use IFTT with Qapital, another saving app that makes saving easy and fun. Get your significant other to join in and save with you to speed up the goal-achieving process. Budgeting is a team sport Involve your family. Teach responsibility, introduce chores, and model saving and budgeting by turning household chores or everyday tasks into a chance to save money. Instead of paying your child, apply their earned allowance towards their personal expenses. These tasks don’t have to be huge — maybe a dollar for each day your kiddo completes three tasks that they normally struggle with, like making their bed, completing all of their homework and feeding the dog. Keep track of how much money they earn each week, then apply it towards your family budget. Your child will feel great knowing that their efforts helped contribute! #teamworkmakesthedreamwork Don’t worry if budgeting doesn’t come naturally at first. Take baby steps and set realistic goals, but don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Dave Ramsey said it best: “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”

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