10 Unexpected Places to Take a Toddler on a Cold or Rainy Day

I don’t think any of us are ready to hunker down for winter yet, but here we are in early November with temperatures in the 40s and a polar vortex headed toward Chicago. As the parent of a toddler, the threat of an early and long winter seems particularly soul crushing — fewer places to take a toddler means being stuck indoors with a constant force of energy — which can be detrimental to parent’s mental health.

Unexpected Places to Take a Toddler on a cold or rainy day

So when the weather gets rough, the tough have to get creative. Whether it’s Sunday afternoon or Thursday morning, here are some ideas of places to take a toddler on a rainy or cold day when you’ve exhausted your patience, ideas, and resources.

10 Unexpected Places to Take a Toddler on a Rainy or Cold Day*

*With bonus ideas for those of you in the western suburbs of Chicago

1. The Library
This is an obvious one, right? Keep in mind, even if it’s not story time, most libraries have moved beyond shushing and have interactive children’s sections with toys, blocks, computer games, and, of course, books.

2. The Local Mall
A lot of indoor malls have dedicated play areas. In the Chicago western suburbs, North Riverside Park Mall is close to our home and has two toddler-friendly play areas as well as a kiddie train and other rides. The play areas are free, but the train and rides cost money, FYI.

3. Ikea
The children’s section at Ikea is set up to entertain the little ones. We took our daughter to the Bolingbrook Ikea a few months ago to look at big girl beds, and while she had no interest in the beds, she couldn’t get enough of the toys that were available for her to test out. She also liked exploring the staged children’s rooms with their toddler-sized furniture.

4. Aquariums and Pet Stores
I’m a big fan of hands-off parenting, and an aquarium or pet store requires me to be a bit more vigilant than I prefer. But you got to do what you got to do sometimes, and Emme loves to look at fish. There’s an Aquarium Adventure store in the same shopping center as Ikea in Bolingbrook. Just be careful with any loose animals, and stay away from places where people can bring their own dogs, like Petsmart or Petco. Stick with fish and other cage-bound pets like lizards, hamsters, and guinea pigs.

5. Indoor McDonald’s Playplaces
Look, I’m not super excited about getting my toddler hooked on Big Macs, but I can’t deny that sometimes a McDonald’s Playplace is a literal lifesaver. The McDonald’s on Ogden Avenue in Lyons has a decent Playplace with an eating area that is separate from the rest of the restaurant.

6. Local YMCAs, Rec Centers, or Gyms
Most gyms, YMCAs, and park district recreation centers offer a free or relatively cheap hour or two of babysitting in a daycare-like setting for parents who are working out. If you’re a member, I highly recommend you take advantage of this perk. Other centers have spaces you can use for burning toddler energy even if there’s not a specific program going on. If it’s a slow time of day, ask your local YMCA or rec center if you can take your child into the gymnasium or an unused studio or on the indoor track to run around. Also check open swim times.

7. Greenhouse or Conservatory
Conservatories and greenhouses are great options when little ones who love dirt and plants can’t go outside. Oak Park’s Conservatory has pretty extensive visiting hours and is even open on some holidays.

8. Indoor Playspaces and Playgrounds
Have I mentioned my love for indoor playspaces? I take my toddler to Peekaboo Playroom in Oak Park all the time. Unlike businesses that provide indoor inflatables, these spaces tend to cater specifically to the toddler and preschool set. There’s tons of age-appropriate fun to be had, and your two-year-old won’t be demanding to get into a bouncey house with 14 other kids twice his age. While Peekaboo Playroom is my go-to, I’ve put together a Pinterest board of playspaces in Chicago and the surrounding areas, so you can find one near you.

Chicagoland Indoor Playplaces for Littles

9. Museums
Children’s museums are always a great option, though they tend to be a bit more crazed and crowded than indoor playspaces. We like the DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville (currently closed until April 2015 due to water damage) as well as Wonderworks in Oak Park. But think outside the children’s museum box: We’ve taken our two-year-old to the Art Institute of Chicago many times, and there are plenty of other museums with sections that cater to little ones.

10. Local Toy Stores
I know… You may end up having to buy something you didn’t intend on buying, but many toy stores, especially smaller stores that are trying to compete with the Toys R’ Us-es of the world, have created interactive play spaces where kiddos can sample the goods in order to lure more customers. Some stores, like Geppetto’s Toy Box in Oak Park, even offer events.

*Chicago Western Suburbs Bonus* Hamill Family Play Zoo
We’re members of the Brookfield Zoo, and it has been one of the best investments we’ve made — not only in the summer when going to the zoo is practically mandatory, but in the winter. The Hamill Family Play Zoo is an indoor child’s area that offers interactive learning, crafts, and other fun. It’s open every day from 10am until a half hour before the zoo closes. You can even go on Sunday afternoons, and it’s never crowded on the weekends in the winter (which blows my mind).

Are there other places to take a toddler when it’s rainy or cold and you can’t handle staying in the house one second longer? Share them in the comments.

Fitness for Moms: Body Back Week 1

After unexpected health challenges, breastfeeding ups and downs, and struggles with my work schedule, the fog of new motherhood began to lift right as Emme hit the one-year mark in August 2013. I was mentally and physically ready to refocus on my well-being again, and for me, that meant getting back into a regular workout routine.

I did some yoga, tried various classes at the gym, and started running again, completing a handful of 5Ks and a 10K over the past year. In February, through my local mom’s group, I signed up to try Body Back — a fitness program for moms from Fit4mom, the same company that offers Stroller Strides.

From Fit4Mom:

[Body Back] is a results-based workout program designed for moms of any age. The workouts offer high intensity, interval formats that give a total body workout with an added combination of motivational support. Whether you just had a baby or had a baby 20 years ago, it will help any mom get her body back. Each session includes before and after assessments, 2 classes per week, Mama Wants Her Body Back DVDs, a nutrition plan, 1 red resistance band, and food journals. This class is for moms only, no children. It is recommended that you be at least 3 months postpartum before beginning this program.

I signed up for an eight-week session of Body Back after the initial trial class. Then I signed up a second time. After bouncing around trying various workouts, it felt like a good fit and a real routine. I enjoyed the classes, which were different every week and never boring; the instructors, who got to know all of us and were supportive; and the other moms, who wanted to encourage each other. And, even though I struggled to stay on track with the nutrition plan, I had solid results. I gained  a lot of strength, lost a couple pounds, and felt good.

I fell off the bandwagon big time this summer. I decided against signing up for another session, opting instead to just “drop in” to classes when I had time. I wasn’t in the best head space, and after months of being in good workout groove, I was coming up with excuses to bail every week.

Around Labor Day, I started to feel a bit more motivated, so in an attempt to get back on track, I signed up for Body Back again. And in an attempt to stay on track, I’m going to post weekly-ish about my progress here.

Session 1
The session began on Tuesday, September 16 in Memorial Park in La Grange Park. The first workout eases you in to the program—we weighed in, took measurements, and did fitness assessments. I love that while Body Back has a weight/fat-loss component, there’s a focus on gaining strength and endurance. We’ll do the same assessment in eight weeks to see how far we’ve come.

The instructor then passed out our materials and explained the nutrition program, which consists of clean eating along with portion control. The booklet includes recipes, a weekly workout plan, and space to track your meals. We also get workout DVDs, which have options for quick 20-minute workouts, so you can stick to the workout plan even if you can’t get out of the house and to the gym for an hour. Since this is my third session of Body Back, I was given the “Advanced” DVD. I already have three others, including one that is ab focused and one that is lower body focused.

Fit4Mom Body Back Materials & Assessments | Mommy Sanest

Not pictured: My resistance band. I was too lazy to get it out of the car.

The bicep curls, push-ups, full sit-ups, and squat numbers are all based on how many I did in one minute; the run (high knees in place), plank, and side-bridge (side plank) were all held as long as I could. Seriously, the run is my worst ever. Sad face.

And that was it! It’s always that easy, right?

Not exactly…

Session 2
Saturday’s Weigh-in: -.2

On Saturday, we did a cardio-strength-ab circuit workout. Cardio included things like burpees, sumo squats, and power squats. The strength interval typically included an exercise that targeted more than one muscle group, so for example, we did bicep curls with a curtsey squat. Ab exercises ranged from basic crunches to fancy planks with leg lifts and knees to the chest. We did each exercise for one minute before moving on the next; repeated the circuit; then moved on to the next set of three exercises.

Our instructor provides modifications, and you can always work at your own level. That said, this workout was challenging and, for the record, typical. I remember when I took my first Body Back class, I was surprised that the class was so tough. But, it’s designed to push you and help you get your fitness to the next level.

Last Week’s Workouts
Monday, September 15: REST
Tuesday, September 16: Body Back Assessment
Wednesday, September 17: REST
Thursday, September 18: Couch-to-5K, run/walk, 35 minutes total
Friday, September 19: Couch-to-5K, run/walk, 35 minutes total
Saturday, September 20: Body Back
Sunday, September 21: Couch-to-5k, run/walk, 28 minutes total

This isn’t my best showing ever, but to be fair, I had a pretty bad head cold. My goal for week 2 is to continue with Couch-to-5k, but also add in the Body Back DVD workouts.

Last Week’s Nutrition
Last week was a mixed bag, nutrition-wise. I did go grocery shopping and spend the weekend making sure I would be ready to hit the ground running with healthy breakfasts and lunches this week though.

Body Back Week 1 | www.mommysanest.comFrom left to right, clockwise:

  1. As a treat “for Emme,” I made SkinnyTaste Low-fat Peanut Butter and Banana Muffins.
  2. My typical breakfast: whole wheat English muffin, peanut butter, and banana.
  3. I made this Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe from Clean Eating magazine and took the leftovers to work for lunch twice last week.
  4. Healthy snack: string cheese and grapes.

Breastfeeding Resources in the Western Suburbs of Chicago

Find breastfeeding resources in the Chicago western suburbs to help you navigate the often bumpy road of breastfeeding. You can find me over at {Kidlist} today writing about breastfeeding resources for Moms in the western suburbs of Chicago. If you’re not familiar with {kidlist}, it’s a fantastic local blog for parents in the. Here’s a taste:

Breastfeeding, more than anything else, consumed me after giving birth to my daughter in 2012. And if I remember correctly (which I probably don’t, let’s be real), breastfeeding is all I talked about for the first year of my daughter’s life. Not exactly a fun topic for non-mom company.

Read the rest over at Kidlist: Breastfeeding Resources in the Chicago Western Suburbs.

Find Fun Things to Do in the Western Suburbs of Chicago with Kids

My weekends aren’t what they used to be. Pre-kiddo, Saturdays and Sundays were filled with long runs, brunches, errands, dinners, bars, and naps. Post-kiddo, we have to be way more strategic about how we spend those precious 48 hours.

We also have to figure out how not to be stuck at home — we need to get my toddler out of the house rain or shine, least we all go insane, and sometimes the local parks just aren’t going to cut it. When I’m trying to figure out where to go and what to do, I look to these sources for information about kid-friendly events in the western suburbs of Chicago as well as Chicago and beyond.

Looking for fun stuff to do with your kids in the western suburbs of Chicago, the city of Chicago, and beyond? Look no further. These sources will be your go-to websites for events, ideas, and activities in the Chicagoland area.

Red Tricycle Chicago Edition: Red Tricycle launched in Seattle in 2006. Since then, the site has expanded into several metropolitan areas, and I’m a huge fan of the Chicago edition. Red Tricycle’s content focuses on local activities and information for families and kids and they don’t shy away from highlighting the western suburbs of Chicago. What I love about Red Tricycle is that their style is easy to read; their site is intuitive; and they don’t discount the suburbs for fun family adventures. I click through nearly every Red Tricycle article that shows up in my inbox or Facebook feed, which is basically the holy grail of digital content, right? I highly recommend you check them out on Facebook and subscribe to their newsletter.

{kidlist}: A mom in the western suburbs of Chicago launched Kidlist in 2011 when she was trying to figure out what to do each day with her two little ones. She focuses on stuff to do in the western suburbs of Chicago and publishes a weekend events list every week. She also offers insight into places for birthday parties and seasonal fun, and keeps up-to-date listings of businesses and organizations in the western suburbs of Chicago that cater to families and kids. Follow Kidlist on Facebook for additional information about local events.

OPRF Mom Mail: If you’re in Oak Park, River Forest, or one of the surrounding suburbs, I recommend subscribing to Mom Mail. In addition to providing opportunities to buy and sell used goods for kids, Mom Mail sends out two “Things To Do” emails each week with information about local events and activities.

Free Things to do in Chicago with Kids: Free Things to do in Chicago with Kids is the Facebook page for Kidwinks.com. Kidwinks offers lots of content about things to do and places to go in Chicagoland, but their Facebook page lists only FREE events. It’s a great resource for family fun on the cheap.

Local Meetup Groups: Are you a mom looking for things to do with your kid(s) and other moms to hang out with? Then go to meetup.com, and search for a mom’s group in your area. (Kidlist also put together an extensive list of mom’s groups in the western suburbs of Chicago.) Even if there isn’t a mom or parent group in your specific town, I’ve found that most groups in the western suburbs of Chicago don’t discriminate based on your location as long as you’re in the general vicinity. Brookfield, La Grange, Hinsdale, Elmhurst, Oak Park, Berwyn, and more all have mom’s groups. If the group in your area is active, typically one or more of these moms will have the inside scoop on local events like grand openings, special events at parks, and fun fairs that are basically in your backyard.

Have any other tips on great event sources for moms in the western suburbs of Chicago? Leave them in the comments!

Party at Peekaboo Playroom

Last year, for Emme’s 1st birthday, we rented a picnic area in a local park, where we moved tables, decorated, picked up food, set everything up, and, when it was over, cleaned it all up. It was a great party, but it was exhausting.

For my daughter's second birthday, we threw a party at Peekaboo Playroom in Oak Park. Peekaboo Playroom is one of my favorite indoor toddler play spaces.

For her 2nd birthday, we decided to make it easier on ourselves and let someone else do the heavy lifting. Enter: Peekaboo Playroom in Oak Park.

Mommy Sanest | Birthday Party at Peekaboo Playroom I’m obsessed with Peekaboo Playroom. It’s a large space with several playhouse structures, including a kitchen, a grocery store, and a workshop. They have a fleet of Cozy Coups, a massive collection of Legos, a train set, an area to read, and a separate section for non-walkers.

Mommy Sanest | Birthday Party at Peekaboo Playroom

Here’s the best part: Peekaboo Playroom only has toddler-friendly toys, and it’s wide open. So basically, you can find a spot on the couch with your coffee and Kindle, keep an eye on your kid from afar, and just let them play. No hovering necessary.

Mommy Sanest | Birthday Party at Peekaboo PlayroomIt’s toddler paradise, but (more importantly?), it’s mommy (and daddy) paradise.

We frequent Peekaboo Playroom, so we knew they offered birthday party packages. Despite it being a bit pricier than other options, we decided to go for it. And we were able to get 10 percent off simply because it was summer.

The day of the party, all we did was bring in food–I made salads; we ordered pizza; we bought a cake from the grocery store. I didn’t bother killing myself to come up with a theme–I let the staff at the playroom take care of the decor with minimal direction (you can let them know if you have a theme; I just told them to do whatever), as well as gift bags and snacks for the kiddos.

When we showed up 30 minutes before the party, the room was ready, and the staff immediately took the food and put that out as well. We were free to do whatever, so Emme got the party started early and made good use of the facilities.

Two things struck me: First, I didn’t know what to do with myself because the staff did everything, and what little directing I did, I was able to do because my kid was totally occupied and happy. I’ll be honest though, it kind of stressed me out to not be stressed out. Go figure.

Mommy Sanest | Birthday Party at Peekaboo Playroom

We had nearly 40 guests, the vast majority of whom were adults. The party package we chose allowed for up to 20 kids, but we had 13, mostly between the ages of 1 and 4. I worried a little about the adults not having a good time, but honestly, I think it was more fun because no one was worried about their kids. The early toddler years are a tricky time in most “kid” party spaces–I feel like Emme’s either going to run off if she’s not completely contained, or she’s going to get run over by bigger kids.

We had the space for two hours, which is about the perfect amount of time for toddlers to keep it together. I actually was able to have conversations and visit with friends and family, an amazing feat in room filled with little ones. But that’s the beauty of Peekaboo Playroom.

At the end of the party, we packed up the leftover food and the gifts and headed home. No cleaning required.

I honestly can’t recommend this place enough–for parties or just for play. Check out Peekaboo Playroom’s party package options, as well as their daily open play rates and information about special events.

Mommy Sanest | Birthday Party at Peekaboo Playroom

This is how you get a crazy two year old to attempt to blow out her candles.

If You Go to Peekaboo Playroom

  • Wear socks. It’s a shoe-free environment for adults and kids. But if you forget, you can buy a pair for a nominal free from Peekaboo Playroom.
  • If you want to go on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday, call first. They regularly shift their hours on the weekends to accommodate private birthday parties.
  • Keep an eye on their Facebook page for updates. Not only do they regularly post information about special events, they also typically update weekend hours here.
  • There’s free wi-fi! And it’s possible that you could get a few things done on the computer because your kid is going to be otherwise occupied. Just ask for the password.
  • You can bring in your own food, but they have a few snack options as well as coffee and tea for a few dollars.
  • Parking is primarily metered. Bring change (no fancy credit card meters here). Parking is free on Sundays.
  • Remember it’s a nut-free facility.