Thursday, June 28, 2012

What Do You Think Thursdays with Skinny Scoop: Kid Friendly Things To Do in Chicago

As you may have heard, I have just returned from a trip to Chicago to check out Kimpton’s Hotel Allegro new program, Allegro KidsRule.  And it was a blast!

I decided to make a Skinny Scoop list to consolidate the information, and I am hoping that you can add some of your favorite things kid friendly things to do in Chicago as well.  I will be using this information when I return to Chicago. 

Because I love it there. 

And it’s my new favorite city. 

I’m also slightly shocked that I have been living in Michigan for all thirty-four years of my life and haven’t been there more.  So I have a lot of lost time to make up, you know?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

In Photos: Serendipity in New York City

 I have been taking this show on the road!  First I went to New York City and New Jersey with the kids.  And the next thing I know, I’m in Chicago testing out the new Allegro Kids Rule Program at KimptonHotel Allegro. 

This week’s MichMoms post explains how travelingwith young kids is not easy, but it is so worth it.  Traveling just makes me feel all lit up and alive as I experience life in a different place, and I hope my kids will love traveling as much as I do.

This Brandy and I decided to focus on the Blur Tool and the Sharpen tool.  (And she’s new to Twitter, so be sure to give her a nice warm welcome).

This photo was taken at Serendipity in New York City.  That frozen hot chocolate was delectable!  (Thomas almost finished the whole one by himself.  And then proceeded to crash from the sugar high.  Obviously).

Here is the before:

Here is the after:

Here are the steps:
1. Crop

2. Blur Tool (Strength 100%, Size 169px)  Go over the area you wish to blur a bunch of times because the effect is subtle

Hover over Blur Tool and click on the Sharpen Tool (Strength 35%, Size 100px) I focused on focal points, like our eyes and the frozen hot chocolate

Guided Edit Tab in the upper right corner, Scroll down to Photography, Effects Lomo Camera Effect

Apply Vignette

Viola!  A pretty photo is created!

Are you struggling with Photoshop Elements 10?  If you have an effect you would like to learn about, be sure to mention it in the comments!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer Adventure Part Two: Chicago’s Kimpton Hotel Allegro Edition

As you may have read, I just returned from New York City from a family vacation.  A few short days later, this road warrior embarked on a special journey to Chicago.  Kimpton Hotel Allegro invited me to stay with them and participate in their Allegro Kids Rule summer program.*

Seriously?!  I was so excited to take part in this adventure!  First of all, the hotel is amazing! The d├ęcor is elegant yet fun and playful. 

During their Kids’ Hour, lemonade and popcorn are served in the lobby along with a Wii station and board games to play.  Then, directly afterwards is Wine Hour.  Did I mention that they are both complimentary?  How cool is that?!

The Allegro Kids Rule program also includes a scavenger hunt which was a great way to see the city and introduce me to the  kid-friendly sites of Chicago.

Fun Fountains!

Lots to see walking around!

Sue at the Field Museum

Top of Sears (Willis) Tower with Marie's new friend Sami

Chicago-style hot dog (my first ever), and it was deliciously spicy!

Chocolate chip pancakes at 312

 Fun times, but when I return with Harrington and Thomas, I would break up the scavenger hunt into two days because Marie had a blast playing at the fountains and wanted to see *everything* in the Field Museum.

To be honest, after the series of five-alarm meltdowns Marie had in New York, I was a tad bit nervous to take her on this trip.  Turns out, I really didn’t have that much to worry about (minus a three-alarm meltdown in the Field Museum! Thank goodness that my new friend Lynsey from Moscato Mom and her daughter were very understanding).  I think what really helped was the location of Hotel Allegro.  It’s a short walk to State Street and Millennium Park, but it is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  I could be shopping at the Disney Store and eating Garrett’s Popcorn one minute, and relaxing in our super cool room the next.

Also, 312, the restaurant adjacent to the hotel, was amazing!  Not only was the food delicious (best brioche French toast I have *ever* had), but the service was incredible.  They didn’t have chocolate chip pancakes on their menu, but I asked if they could please make some for Marie.  They totally did, and they were the yummiest, gooiest she had ever eaten (guess I’m going to have to step it up and put more than three lonely chocolate chips in each pancake).

Traveling is one of my most favorite things to do in the whole entire world.  It does something for my soul; I feel renewed and energized experiencing life outside of my little suburb.  I was so excited to share my passion and this adventure with Marie.  I place a premium on stretching the boundaries of life beyond my Babes’ backyard, and this was a wonderful opportunity to do so.

I am now plotting and scheming on a return visit to show Harrington and Thomas all the amazing sites we saw! 

And to be quite honest, I think Chicago is my new favorite city.

How’s your summer vacation?  Have you been on any adventures?

*Kimpton Hotel Allegro picked up the tab for the room, parking, and some meals; however, these opinions are all mine!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What Do You Think Thursdays with Skinny Scoop: Summer Road Trip Playlist

 As you know, I have just returned from my family summer vacation to New York and New Jersey.  I wrote about preparing for it here, here, and here.  I wrote about how that preparing did little to get my Babes ready here.  And here is where I have proof that we did have a great time!

This road trip warrior is not quite done.  I am going to check out the Kimpton’s kid-friendly Hotel Allegro Chicago and their new summer program for kids this weekend!  I can’t wait to tell you all about it next week!

Since I am hitting the road once again, I thought I’d share a few of my songs I love to listen to while I am travelling in my car.  (That is, when I am not being forced to listen to The Fresh Beat Band on repeat).  

Most of these are kid-friendly so I can give myself a break from their music expand their musical horizons.

What songs do you rock out to when you are on a road trip?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

In Photos: Instagram Edition

If you read yesterday’s post, you will know that I made it back home from our family vacation adventure team building exercise experiment.

Although I was mortified by my children’s behavior, we did have some fun times.  I have proof via Instagram (which if you aren't following me, I highly recommend that you do.  I'm erin_mommyonthespot).  If you are wondering why Buzz Lightyear, Jesse, and the alien from Toy Story are in our photos, they were our family mascot.  This was a comment on my What Do You Think Thursday with Skinny Scoop by Moms Are People Too, and thought it was a great idea.

If you are wondering where my Photoshop lessons with Brandy Nicole Photography are, look for a bonus post this Friday!


Off to NYC!


Break time with Monster Sundaes at Friendly's!

Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity gets a thumbs up!

Central Park after going to see Freckleface Strawberry.

We love Central Park!

View from my family's apartment.

Home again!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How to Survive a Family Vacation with Little Kids

 As you know, I have been preparing for our family vacation.  I have written it about it here, here, and here.  And guess what?  The drive went really well!  Yay!

However, the rest of the vacation wasn’t *exactly* how I imagined it.  During our twelve hour car trip, I reflected a bit on what went wrong differently.  Number one thing I would’ve done differently was to prepare my suburbanite Babes what life in the big city is all about (walking, lots of walking).  I usually do lots of prep work with them (we watched the Disney planning video for months before we went)!  However,  we had to make some last minute changes to this vacation(more on that later!), so I was preoccupied with making the trip actually happen as opposed to explaining the rules for riding in the cab (apparently is frowned upon if children play with the window controls.  Understandably so).

Here is the rest of the information I have processed and felt compelled to share with you so your family vacation is a success!

First, change the word from “vacation” to “adventure.”  Vacation conjures up images of relaxing on a beach with a drink and a bag of chips.  However, on an adventure, you never know what you are going to expect.  Maybe a yummy frozen hot chocolatefrom Serendipity.  Perhaps a whirlwind of a time at the American Girl store.  Possibly a homeless man getting dressed in the middle of the sidewalk. You never know – it’s going to be an adventure!

If “adventure” doesn’t work, try using the phrase “team building exercise.”  We all need to work together if we are going to walk 10 blocks (which my delicate suburban Babes thought was a country mile).  If everyone six and under starts to cry because that tenth block was just too much for their little legs, start using the word “experiment.”  Therefore, if your daughter is crying because she wanted to spend her college fund at the American Girl store while simultaneously complaining about walking a few blocks, you can say that this experiment failed, and it doesn’t sound as bad as your family vacation was, at times, uncomfortable.

When it comes to restaurants, I found it best to eat a place that has a kids’ menu and an extensive cocktail menu as well.  Let’s just say, before you had brunch at a quaint little place called Cafe Luxembourg, you had a wonderful day at Central Park and taking in the musical Freckle Face Strawberry.  Since you (foolishly) assumed all the wiggles were out and had promised pancakes, you were in the clear for a delightful meal.  Oh, no.  Quite the opposite.  Thomas had a full on meltdown complete with hitting and screaming hurtful things like “I HATE YOU!  I HATE PANCAKES!”  I tried talking to him calmly.  I tried taking him outside, but we ran into homeless man screaming FUCK as loud and as many times as he could. 

New York City is a big place, but there was room for only one meltdown, and since we were on this guy’s home turf, we let him have this one.

Back inside with an angry child who was not being allowed to express his true feelings for the horror of having pancakes in the middle of the day, I politely asked the waiter about the Rosemary Fizz cocktail.  Without skipping a beat, he said, “Delicious, I’ll have one for you right away.”  (I felt an instant bond to this waiter and secretly wished to trade places with him so he could watch my kid while I took over his shift).

Since all my strategies had failed, I decided to just drink my Rosemary Fizz and ignore Thomas in hopes that everyone else would do the same.  Success!  (I think.  I had stopped paying attention at this point and was focusing solely on my drink).

Will we go on a family vacation again?  Yes.  Any time soon?  As soon as it takes for me to forget about how mortified I was by their behavior.

You may be thinking, “What?!  That’ wasn’t so bad!”

I must take a break before I talk about how my kids need to learn the finer points of being a well-behaved house guests while staying with family.

Please, I beg of you, tell me about your worst family vacation adventure team building exercise experiment memory!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On Kindergarten Graduation

Dear Marie,

You did it.  You have graduated from Kindergarten!

You have learned a lot: to recall plots of a story in great detail, write complete sentences, not to mention adding and subtracting.  You are lucky to have had a teacher that recognized your potential and worked with it.  She gave you assignments based on your level, and you rose to the occasion.  She helped you to blossom.

You also read Have You Filled Your Bucket?  in your Kindergarten-Plus class.  I am so glad your teacher saw the value in that book because it gave us a way to talk about behavior, in a productive way.  Remember that girl who passive-aggressively manipulated your snack away from you?  We were able to talk about that without perpetuating the bullying.  You were able to understand that her behavior was about her, and not you.

You learned how to ride the school bus and eat your lunch in the lunchroom.  One may take these steps for granted, but it’s not easy to maneuver around the social landscape.  You hit a few bumps, but we tried to keep your bucket full and give space to those who were dipping into yours.

I am proud of you and all that you learned.  But most of all, I am proud of the person you are becoming.  I see this incredible person who is empathetic, knows the importance of kindness, has a witty sense of humor, and is incredibly creative with language and art.  I have no doubt that your intelligence will open doors for you, but it’s your self-awareness and your compassion towards others that will make your mark in the world.

As I always say, let the light always shine bright in your eyes and may you always find peace and happiness.

I love you forever.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

What Do You Think Thursdays with Skinny Scoop: Taking It To Go

 Our departure for our Family Road Trip is approaching fast!  And in case you’re wondering, that exclamation point is a mixture of equal parts of fear and excitement.  I find solace in my preparation.

Now it’s down to the packing.  Even though I’m sure anyone of you would be more than happy to come over and help me pack our suitcases, I just don’t think that’s feasible. 

But what you can do is give me great suggestions for healthy road trip food.  My plan is to pack our new gigantic cooler full of yummy, exciting, and healthy food.  Besides the obvious of just wanting to be healthy, there are a couple of other reasons we aren’t going to be stuffing our faces with M & M’s and Doritos:
I don’t want Thomas’s sugar addiction to flare up in a confined area only to turn him loose in our family’s house that has been so generous to open up to us to stay with them.  I don’t want to feel that awkward feeling of wearing out our welcome within the first hour of arriving.

I hate getting fit before a vacation only to feel like a beached whale upon arrival.  I usually reserve that feeling for *after* vacation.

I need ideas that are FUN and *SPARKLY*!  (And neat.  I get a little twitchy when I think about a car covered in graham cracker crumbs). Let’s be honest, this journey will take approximately two days of driving for 6-7 hours at a time.  I want them to be happy little people in hopes of a peaceful Family Road Trip.

Here’s what is on my list already.  I could really use some suggestions! 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

In Photos: How I Wish I Could Have a Clone Stamp in Real Life

I am very excited to announce that Brandy from Brandy Nicole Photography will be collaborating with me for my In Photos post.  She is a super talented photographer, and she has been kind enough to set aside time to show me the finer points of Adobe Photoshop Elements 10.  See, for Christmas I asked for this incredible program, and when I tried to use it, well, let’s just say it didn’t quite work out.  I’m looking forward to sharing everything I learn at my Photoshop lessons!

This week we focused on the clone stamp.  It looks like this in the side tool bar.

This tool is amazing because it can take something in the photo that you don’t like and make it look like something else in the photo.  For example, say you planted this AMAZING garden, and because you are a blogger, you took a gazillion photos of it.  When you look at them, you think, why I didn’t move that giant bag of rocks before I took these lovely photos.

See that unsightly bag of rocks by that ugly air conditioner unit?

So to make that disappear, I used the clone stamp and cloned the bricks and grass over those eye sores.

Here are the simple steps:
  • -          Click on the clone stamp in your tool bar.
  • -          Click on the area you want to get rid of.
  • -          Hold the “Alt” key until you see a little target.
  • -          Hover over the new area while holding the “Alt” key.
  • -          Release the “Alt” key.
  • -          Go back to the area you want to cover and click on it.
  • -          You should see a clone of the area you copied.

Now don’t you wish you could have a clone stamp in real life?  A stain on a shirt?  No problem, I’ll just clone this clean part of the shirt and *PRESTO* it’s new again.  Someone’s giant tokus is in your family photo taken at Disney World and therefore in your Christmas cards?  Just clone a tree and *POOF* it was like she was never there.

The possibilities are endless, really.

Is there a Photoshop Elements 10 tool that you would like learn how to use?  Let me know in the comments, and be sure to include your blog information so I can link it back to you.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Flip Side

 ** Before I get into the post, I just want to send everyone a deep, sincere thank you for voting for me on Skinny Scoop’s Top 25 Mom Bloggers of 2012. I came in fourth place!  I am so excited.  Thanks, everyone, for your support!**

Did I ever tell you the time I almost shut my blog down?

It was this winter, and we were sick for three months.  Raising kids takes a lot of energy, but taking care of them when they are sick leaves little energy for anything else.  (Especially since they were really good at sharing their germs with me).  I was becoming so emotionally drained that I was starting to feel depressed.

But I grit my teeth and pushed on through with maintaining my blog.  I was determined to not give up on something that brings me so much joy.

Determination: it’s one of my best traits.  It helped me get through this winter.  It helps me make the best, most informative choices I can make when raising my kids (especially when it came to their various health issues).

Determination has seen me through the not-so-good times in my marriage and has not allowed me to give up on myself and my dreams.

Determination has served me well.

Until it doesn’t.  Because the flip side of determination is stubbornness.

For every time determination has helped me, stubbornness has bit me in the ass.  Hard.  (And not in a 50 Shades of Grey kind of way.  Ew).

Like the time I was *not* going to leave target without a bike helmet for Marie.  An employee from the Electronics Department knew absolutely nothing about fitting bike helmets.  When he told me they were by age, I quickly cut him off because that is not always the case.  He replied by telling me to Google it. 

Google it?!  I may have communicated in a somewhat assertive manner that he should do more to help me.  And next thing I know, I am being followed by Target security detail.

Or the summer after I graduated college and was teaching summer school English to a bunch of 18-20 year olds.  (Note: I was only 21 years old).   I was going to follow the rules and teach my favorite subject.  I was enthusiastic!  I was excited!  I was determined to be successful!

Until one student didn’t follow the rules and was about to fail which, in turn, would have delayed his graduation date .  Instead of just making up the work, he took the most *logical* step: he threatened to kill me.

Or the time when I was getting too comfortable around a difficult family member and I let my boundaries get a little soft and mushy.  I was determined to make this relationship work.  People were counting on me, for Christ’s sake!

Determination got in the way of reality.  And when reality checked in, it checked in hard.  And loud.  And nasty.  I knew the situation could be compared to a ticking time bomb.  But determination flipped into stubbornness and I made a bad choice.

Determination is like a super power and should be only used for good.  And wisely.

I walk a fine line between determination and stubbornness.  The good side of the trait has given me strength I didn’t know I had, yet the flip side has taken me down some very dark paths.

Do you teeter between a positive trait and the dark flip side?