Thursday, October 30, 2014

Parenting 201: Stealing, Trading, and Acceptable Gift Exchanges

Okay - I didn't want to title this "Parenting 101" because I feel this is in a different category than what you need to know to care for a child (food, sleep, baby proofing, ...)  But, I also wanted to share these experiences with you.  I would love to hear your parenting experiences too!

My daughter is pretty easy going and seems to never be interested in giving her things away or trading her things.  My son, on the other hand, keeps us pretty active in these areas.  I want to clarify that he hasn't done anything yet that has caused major problems.  But, I do view these early days as an opportunity to teach him acceptable "behavior" so that he can avoid any major issues later in life.

Stealing:  Yep - I am starting with the big one!  My kids have not stolen anything (at least they haven't yet).  But, they have been victims of theft at school.  I think there is a lesson to teach with this as they now know what it feels like to be the person who has had something stolen from them.  I do have a theft situation from MY past.  I was about my sons age (5-6).  I went to a small grocery store in the town we lived in.  I remember that my mom, my aunt, and my little cousin were with me.  My cousin was crying because she wanted a balloon and she couldn't have one.  While we were standing near the small toy/party supply section of the store I noticed a balloon on the floor.  It was just a little latex balloon that must have fallen out of a package of balloons.  My mom and aunt were shopping in another area of the store so I put the balloon in my pocket so I could ask my mom if my cousin could have it.  I completely forgot about it until later that day.  I was at home, getting ready to use the restroom and the balloon fell out of my pocket.  I immediately knew that it was wrong that I had the balloon since I didn't ask my mom if it was okay.  I remember sitting in the bathroom trying to figure out a way to hide the balloon.  Should I hide it in the trash?  No.  I was sure that my mom would see it when she emptied the trash and would know that I stole it.  Isn't it funny how a child's brain works?  So, I eventually came out of the bathroom and told my mom all about the balloon.  She then made me tell my step-dad about the incident.  They decided that I should be taken to the store to return the balloon.  All the way there my mom told me about a time that my aunt stole something from a store when she was little and she almost had to go to jail!  True or not (I honestly don't know), that entire car ride I was sure I was going to jail!  My mom took me to an employee where I had to tell them what I had done and then she asked for a manager.  The manager told my mom that I could just keep the balloon but my mom insisted that I was NOT keeping the balloon and that I needed to be talked to.  Of course, I knew nothing about this conversation until later in life.  I sat there on a bench telling the manager all about the balloon and fearing that he would call the police.  Of course, I was able to go home.  Was this to extreme?  No!  I think that this was the best decision my parents made in raising me.  It impacted many of my decisions for the rest of my life!

Acceptable Gift Exchanges:  My son recently came home with a  dollar.  No big deal but I knew it wasn't HIS dollar.  So, I asked him where it came from.  He explained that at recess a boy took a playground ball away from my son and his friends.  During the dispute over the ball, the boy hit my son.  Which, of course, hurt so he cried.  The recess staff were made aware of the situation and handled it.  But, one of the other boys, who felt sorry for my son, gave him a dollar to make him happy.  Seems harmless - right?  I could have just let it be but I took this as an opportunity to make my son aware that he should not accept a gift like this.  Who knows, maybe the boy who gave him the dollar will be in trouble with his parents.  Maybe that boy will claim that my son stole the dollar.  This scenario could play out in so many ways.  So, the next morning I drove my son to school so we could stop into the office.  I explained to him that he was not in trouble but that the dollar needed to go back to the boy who gave it to him.  Thankfully the office staff was on the same page and made this a positive experience for my son.  My son did not know what the boys name was but he knew what grade the boy was in and said that he could find him at recess.  So, we left the dollar in the office with the plan that my son would find the boy that day and bring him to the office to get his dollar back.  I hope that this experience has helped my son make better decisions on gift giving/receiving in the future.

Trading:  Trading cards are a big thing at my kiddos school right now.  My son loves collecting so you can imagine that we have had a few conversations about trading "rules".  Of course, what we need to talk about is never known until unacceptable trading happens.  For example, my son has protective covers for his Pokemon cards.  Not just the cheap clear ones but the Pokemon designed covers.  The first day that he took some of them to school he traded the cards, with the covers, for another card, without a cover.  I explained that we spent extra money on the covers so he should not trade them with the cards. So, the next day he came home with a penny.  He explained that someone gave him money for a Pokemon cover.  Yep - my 1st grade son thinks that one penny is a lot of money.  So, after many discussions about the value of a penny, he now knows that he can not trade his cards/covers for money.    So, then he started trading the covers for additional trading cards.  Example, he gives one card cover without a card and he receives one card in exchange.  Okay, picking my battles, we are letting him do that.  I figure it's time for someone else's parent to discuss trading with their child if they don't think they should trade cards for covers.

Another situation that occurred that I thought I would share.  A couple of years ago we visited my brother and his family at a military base in Boston.  As a souvenir, I purchased an engraved dog tag for my son to attach to his backpack.  The dog tag cost about $10 but it was nice and perfect to personalize his backpack (in case it was left at school or on the bus).  One day my son came home from school and the tag was gone.  I probably wouldn't have noticed but the chain that held the dog tag was left laying in his backpack.  So I asked my son where the tag was.  His reply:  "I gave it to my friend so he could know where I live."  Seriously?!?!  I could have written down the address for him!  But, my son gave it away not knowing the "value" of the $10 spent on it.  Another lesson learned - LOL!

As you can imagine, my little man keeps our life interesting.  But I wouldn't trade him for the world!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Shopping Chicago: Taking the Train & American Girl Place

In my area many people take the train to Chicago for day trips.  I have always wondered how they have done this.  Especially since the only train that I was aware of costs around $60 per person each way!  That is NOT a deal!  So, this past summer, a friend and I did some research and went on a mother/daughter shopping day in Chicago.  Here's our experience:

What we discovered is that there is a commuter train (South Shore Line) that takes you from South Bend, Indiana to Chicago, Illinois.  The train ends in Chicago at Millennium Station (it's underground but very easy to find your way out).  

We decided to get on the train at the Carroll Avenue station.  This was close to our driving route and appeared to be the safest to park our car.  It is a busy station but there appeared to be plenty of parking (overflow parking for busy days).  Parking at the station is free and you can park overnight!  They do not have the station monitored overnight but it is well lit and they claim to have very rare cases of break-ins/damage.

You can purchase your tickets online, at the station, or on the train.  For the trip out we purchased tickets in advance for a set time through an app that South Shore Line offers.  What I learned on the way back is that it's much easier to just purchase tickets on the train.  That way you are not committed to a specific time or location to get on the train.  Also, there are some deals that you can take advantage of.  We paid close attention to the times of day that the kiddos could ride for free with a paid adult.

The ticket vending machine at the station.

So excited for our adventure.  Of course, a stop at American Girl Place.  You will notice that one girls face is blurred.  This is a friend who I am blurring for her privacy.

On the train - lots of room to store our bags for the trip back.  
It took close to 2 hour for us to get to Chicago since they stop at every station along the way.  Looking back - it would be a lot faster to just drive.  But, then we would have to figure out parking and fees once we were there.  Plus, I hate driving in large cities.  They do have restrooms on the train.  They can get a little messy as the toilet water splashes all over during the bumpy travel.  But, it's still an option if you need it.  You can also bring food and beverages on the train.

The end of the route brings you right across the street from Millennium Park.  Of course we had to check out the "bean".

I needed this picture with the building from the Adventures in Babysitting movie.

Water Tower Place (mall) is not that far and it was a beautiful days so we decided to walk instead of taking a cab.  Plus, it added to the experience as we passed many unique shops and a variety of street vendors/protesters.

Many great picture opportunities!

This was from a visit earlier in the summer but it shows the outside entrance of the Chicago American Girl Place. 

The special part of this trip for us was to have a mother/daughter lunch at American Girl Place.  My daughter and I had never done this and we loved it!

Seats for the doll.
FYI - the bow on the napkin is actually a hair tie that you can keep.

"Would You Rather" cards for fun conversations during the meal.

Mini sweet rolls to start out with.

More appetizers.

The main course.
There were plenty of options.
My daughter picked cheese pizza.
I had a great past dish with a ton of veggies!

Dessert:  Chocolate mouse and a cupcake.
Great presentation and the cupcake was amazing!

In the store you will find these in the bathroom stalls and at the hand washing station.
They keep your doll in a nice safe place when you need some hands free time.

Right outside of the 2nd floor of the American Girl Place is the Lego store!
This is another picture from earlier in the summer.

Lego store
I do not have a picture of it but there is also a Disney Store and Hershey store near the mall.

Another great view on the way back to the train.
Would I take the train again?  Absolutely!  I can see this as being a fun adventure for many different reasons.  Especially during warm weather days.  

  • We walked from the station to the mall and then back.  It would have been easy to grab a taxi but we didn't need one.  However, we were prepared to use a taxi if our purchases were more than we could comfortably handle for the walk.
  • Our kiddos were free for our ride into Chicago but we had to pay for them to ride home.  It wasn't that much and seemed a much better option than having to shop an extra couple of hours (until the kids ride free promotion started again) just to avoid the cost.
  • American Girl Lunch (or other meals):  You need a reservation!  It is expensive and it doesn't mater what day of the week it is - they seem to fill up!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Great American Road Trip: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

There are only a handful of weeks each year that you can really enjoy the beauty of Yellowstone National Park - unless you prefer snow...  We visited in mid June 2014 and had an amazing adventure!  Here's our experience:

First - our educational preparation.  We read books before any trip like this that will give us some insight on what we will be seeing.  I LOVE how much my kids enjoy this and refer back to what they learned!  Here are some of the books we read:

Then we created a "wish list" of animals we hoped to see.

These are the animals we did see in Yellowstone:

Grizzly Bear at the east entrance.
My son always refers to the "hump" when he sees a bear and tries to identify it.

If you are hiking, you may want this.  We didn't do a ton of hiking so we opted out.
It's not cheap!  The spray alone  can cost from $40 - $50 (based on the pricing we saw on our trip).
Then there is a storage case and belt strap - each costing at least $20 (if you decide to purchase them).

Bison (otherwise known as Buffalo).
By the end of our day in Yellowstone we had seen plenty of bison!

These were next to the road but do not get near them!  T
hey can surprisingly run very fast!
Some people were walking right next to them - YIKES!!!

"Traffic Jam"

"Fire Starter" (discussed in a book we read) or better known as Bison poop.


A visitor during our dinner.   We were inside the Old Faithful Lodge but he snuck in and was loving it ;-)

When I look at this map of Yellowstone I see a figure 8.  Do you see it?  We explored most of the park but not the center line of the "8" and not the section near Yellowstone Lake that runs south from the East Entrance.  Since we were coming in from Cody we entered through the East Entrance.  However, I have been told that the long winding road from Cody to the North Entrance is beautiful!  Unfortunately we did not discover this until it was to late to work it into our plans.

This map is helpful to see where we decided to stop along the way.  The visitors center at the East Entrance (Fishing Bridge) is on the lake and has a small museum inside.  Across the street from it there is camping, shops, gas and restaurants.  We headed north from the East Entrance.

Past fire damage is very present at the East Entrance.

The Mud Volcano.  Worth stopping!  I was amazed at the sound that this thing made!  It was also a little scary to think about why it was there and wondering how long it will be before this area erupts again.

Next stop:  the Lower and Upper Falls (follow the signs for "Artist Point").  This is considered to be the "grand canyon" of Yellowstone.  Such amazing views!

There is also a North Rim Drive that takes you to the north side of the falls/canyon.  We had limited time in Yellowstone (my priority for this road trip was Grand Tetons National Park) so we did not explore that area.  I'm sure it is amazing!

Next up was Canyon Village and Lodge (at the east side of the center of the figure 8).  There are plenty of places to eat, shop, get gas, and there is a great visitors center!  

From there we continued north.  This portion of the trip took a while for us.  There was a "traffic jam" (animal on the side of the road that was causing cars to stop for pictures) that took over an hour for us to get through.  Finally we made it to Mammoth Hot Springs!

There are MANY trails that you can hike and explore in this area.  Well - there are many places to hike all over the park but this area was very easy to see the man made trails that allow you to explore most of the hot springs.  Parking was hard to find during our visit.  We had to drive around for a while until a spot finally opened.  We did see some "illegal" parking but park staff were quickly issuing tickets!  You will find lodging, gas, food, and much more in this area.  However, the smell is one that is hard to get use to!  It has a sulfur smell that always reminds me of rotten eggs.

Just south of the main area of hot springs we discovered a road that will allow you drive around some of the hot springs.  It's called "Upper Terrace Drive".  You can get out in a few areas to explore.  But, this seemed like a great option for people that have a hard time walking around.  You can see so much from your car!

On our way down to Old Faithful (where we were spending the night) we spotted a stop for the "Fountain Paint Pot".  At this point in the day we were passing by a ton of potentially interesting sites.  It was a long day and we lost some time due to traffic!!  But, this was near the road and something about it peaked my interest.  Also, I knew that in this area there were some of the beautiful clear and colorful pools that I had seen pictures of.  I was glad we stopped because we did find a small one!

There is also one of these you can hike to from Old Faithful.
But, we were told that it isn't as pretty these days due to trash being thrown or blown into it.
It's definitely an ever changing area that is impacted by natural changes AND human contact.

The sounds coming from this was amazing and really made my mind wonder.

A fun picture opportunity near the parking lot.
Then we were off to Old Faithful!  We had a reservation at the Old Faithful Inn.  There is also an Old Faithful Lodge which made it very confusing for us to figure out where we were supposed to go.  But, eventually we made it.  The inn is full of history and has a great atmosphere.  Most of the time we were in the lobby there was someone playing a fiddle (or other musical instruments common to the era to the early days of the inn).  My kids really enjoyed dancing around while we enjoyed some ice cream later that night.  The inn is historical and huge!  We had to book our room a year in advance.  We learned this the hard way when I attempted to go on this trip a couple of years earlier only to find that EVERY hotel option in all of Yellowstone was completely booked for the summer!  So, one year before this trip I booked our room with what limited options were still available.  The timing of our entire road trip was worked around the one day we could stay in Yellowstone!  We paid a ton of money but we did have our own bathroom (many rooms have a shared/community bathroom)!  The room was actually very nice!  But... National parks do not have air conditioning in the rooms.  That wasn't a big deal since Yellowstone is much cooler than the temps in surrounding areas.  Also, under the carpet of the rooms and halls there are wood floors that I assume are original to the inn.  So, we could hear every step every time someone walked in the hall, the rooms above us (we were on the 1st floor), or beside us.  I did not sleep well that night....  The positive aspects?  Old Faithful was right outside of where were stayed.  We could view the eruptions whenever we had time.  Estimated eruption times were also posted in the lobby.  This area has a big visitors center and a few places to shop/eat.  The dinning options at the inn required reservations at dinner or a really late eating time.  It was also expensive and not vegetarian friendly.  So, we opted to head to the lodge for the a-la-cart option.  That was great and had something for everyone.  You could also watch Old Faithful from the dinning area.  We did eat breakfast at the inn.  It wasn't cheap but the entire vacation was full of over-priced eating options.  My family selected the buffet and I ordered pancakes (the buffet was not very vegetarian friendly).    

Fun information I clipped from a magazine a few years ago.

There are some many hiking options and a ton to explore in this area!
The trails are man made and keep you raised up off the ground.

Old Faithful!
There are plenty of benches to sit on while you wait for the next eruption.
The seats do fill up as it gets closer to the next estimated eruption time.

The visitors center.

Then, we visited the visitors center, gased up and headed out.  On to the Grand Tetons!


  • We only spent 1 day in Yellowstone.  Many people spend a week or more exploring the park.  There definitely is enough to do in the park that could fill more than a week.  However, for this trip and my family, our main destination was Grand Tetons National Park and Jackson, WY.  
  • The land is ever changing!  Which means that the park is ever changing.  There was one recent change taking place while we were there.  They were working to move a road to another area due to a hot spring that popped up next to a section of the road.  As a national park they can not just re-route the spring.  So, the road was being moved.
  • Leave time for potential "traffic jams" or construction.  Overall, we lost just lover 2 hours of our day sitting in the car waiting until we could move!
  • Do not touch the water - no matter how tempting it may be!  Many areas have railing so you can not get close to the water (without jumping of the rail - which will result in a large fine).  However, there are some areas along the road where you could stop and explore the water.  This is not recommended for two reasons:  it could be hot enough to burn you!  Also, bacteria - there is a lot of bacteria that in the water.  So, we were told to stay clear of the water - just enjoy it from a distance.
  • Temperature difference:  It is generally much cooler in Yellowstone than in the surrounds areas. so wear layers!

Check out the rest of our road trip here.