Monday, June 30, 2014

Review - Part 2: Jump Start Swimming Lessons at Goldfish Swim School

Disclosure: We received one week of Jump Start lessons at Goldfish Swim School in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own as always!

My daughter graduated from her week in the Jump Start program at Goldfish Swim School! I am so proud of her, but more importantly, she is so very proud of herself!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction - in theaters 06.27.14!!!

Disclosure: This blog post is part of a paid SocialMoms and Paramount Pictures blogging program. The opinions and ideas expressed here are my own.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is hitting theaters on Friday and we can't wait!

Many of the scenes were filmed in Chicago, so we're looking forward to seeing the Transformers take over our hometown! It will be so cool seeing them stomp through familiar streets. The Chicago Tribune captures some of the filming in photos here.

My son, now 13, has enjoyed the Transformers since he was a little boy. He loved pretending to be an Autobot and he always forced me to be the bad guys (Decepticons). I can't even tell you how many times I ran around our home trying to catch my little Autobot. He would often build an Autobot den out of sofa cushions. While my Autobot is all grown up now, he still loves the Transformers. My son and his friends already have their Friday night all planned out!

Check out this sneak peek: 

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION begins after an epic battle left a great city torn, but with the world saved. As humanity picks up the pieces, a shadowy group reveals itself in an attempt to control the direction of history…while an ancient, powerful new menace sets Earth in its crosshairs. With help from a new cast of humans (led by Mark Wahlberg), Optimus Prime and the Autobots rise to meet their most fearsome challenge yet.  In an incredible adventure, they are swept up in a war of good and evil, ultimately leading to a climactic battle across the world. This is the fourth film in director Michael Bay’s global blockbuster franchise, and it stars Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Li Bingbing , Kelsey Grammer, Sophia Myles, T. J. Miller, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor and Titus Welliver.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is in theaters 06.27.14, and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo.

Who is your favorite Transformer??? I will always have a soft spot for this guy!

Official site:

Monday, June 23, 2014

Jump Start Swimming Lessons at Goldfish Swim School

Disclosure: We received one week of Jump Start lessons at Goldfish Swim School in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own as always!

My daughter started swimming lessons today! She is taking part in the Jump Start program at Goldfish Swim School and will be attending every day for the entire week. The goal is to have her swimming a (Jr. size) pool's length by the end of the week.  I'll be updating on Friday to see if she reaches her goal!

We are a very active family and in the summertime, we spend a lot of time at the pool and beach. My daughter has zero fear of the water: as far as she's concerned, she's been an Olympic ready swimmer since the day she was born. Being at the beach with her can be nerve-wrecking: she LOVES the water and loves venturing out into the deep. 
I'm going to save these froggy goggles for her to wear when she competes in the 2024 Summer Olympics

Her teacher today, Coach Joe, was super encouraging, friendly, and had high expectations. By the end of the lessons, she was able to swim a half-length of the pool. Tomorrow she will be  working on getting her head face down in the water and using her newly-learned swim strokes. I will feel so much better taking her to the swimming pool knowing that she can swim and get herself out of the pool. 

Goldfish Swim School is dedicated entirely to indoor swim classes and programs for children 4 months and up. The pool area is colorful and fun, and the teachers are trained to work with even the littlest tots. I highly recommend Goldfish Swim School for kids of all ages and swim-levels.

Here are some of the Facility Features:

  • Year-round swim instruction for children 4 months and up.
  • Small class sizes. (Max 4:1 student to teacher ratio)
  • Two heated indoor swimming pools kept at 90 degrees. (Air temperature kept at 92 degrees!)
  • Experienced staff of Red Cross certified swim instructors.
  • Proud member of the United States Swim School Association.
  • State-of-the-art pool water purification system.
  • Air conditioned viewing gallery for parents to watch lessons.
  • Tropical decor.
  • Unique and educational teaching equipment.
  • Activity area for birthday parties and events. (i.e. Girl Scout parties, Sweet 16 parties, school year end parties)
  • Snack Bar and Pro Shop. (Perfect for that after lesson snack or fun pool toy!)

This week, she is taking part in a Goldfish Swim School’s Jump Start Clinic.

What are the clinics?
       One 30-minute lesson per day for 5 consecutive days (Monday through Friday) for levels Mini 3 through Pro.
       Your child will have the same teacher, classmates and class time each day to help boost the learning process, to overcome a specific skill or to get a jump start on learning how to swim.
       The class ratios are the same as our regular lessons: 4:1 student-to-teacher ratio for our Junior 1 – Pro classes, and 3:1 ratio for our Mini 3 classes.
       Your child will receive a report card on Friday at the end of each clinic to update you on their progress.

    When are the clinics?
       Every week this summer, starting the week of June 16 and ending the week of August 11. (There will be no clinic the week of July 4, as we will be closed on Thursday and Friday.)
       Classes will run every half hour between 9 – 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 – 2:30 p.m.

How much does a clinic cost?
       Each 5-day clinic costs $100/week
       We are happy to grant you a 7% sibling discount for each additional child you enroll in a clinic.

Looking to get your kids in the swim of things this summer? Check out the Goldfish Swim School in your area!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Gifts for Grads #BestBuy #GreatestGrad #spon

Disclosure: The reviewer has been compensated in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card.

Is the Grad in your life moving out into the world on their own and you want to help them get all set up 

Monday, June 16, 2014

#makesmesmilemondays Welcome, Shazaib! #ExchangeStudent #Pakistan #WorldChicago

This past weekend an exchange student arrived in our home. 14-year-old Shazaib is from Pakistan.

I think I can safely say that our home life is the polar opposite of Shazaib's home life in a small town in the Jammu Kashmir region of Pakistan. So far he loves the eggs here in the U.S., was completely puzzled by the metal contraptions on Daniel's teeth (braces), and inquired as to whether or not we had electricity in our home as we drove to our home on the first day (we do). On Saturday Daniel had an end-of-the-year backyard BBQ with his friends from school - both boys and girls - and Shazaib just looked baffled as the boys and girls ate hot dogs, fought each other with water balloons, and played basketball in the backyard. He loves listening to John Denver. 

This program is sponsored by World Chicago. Last year we hosted Layla from Iraq. I believe in this program because I think that children make better ambassadors than adults. They are just more open-minded and accepting and eager to learn about others, even if it's intimidating at times. Also, since I can't exactly travel to places like Pakistan and Iraq right now with the kids, it gives our family a chance to "travel" and learn more about other cultures while staying firmly rooted in Chicago.

Welcome to the USA, Shazaib!
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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Disclosure: Special thanks to Coyne PR and IMAX for sponsoring this post. As always, all opinions are my own. 

Here's a fun, new, action-packed movie for the whole family! Head to your local IMAX® Theater for the premiere of How to Train Your Dragon 2!


Jet Set: Travel in Style

Last week, the evening before my trip to Annapolis, I attended a great media event sponsored by SoChic Media. The focus was on summer travel, with an emphasis on traveling in style.

My kids traveling in style: boarding a sea plane to St. Croix this past April.

Monday, June 9, 2014

#makesmesmilemondays A Visit to Annapolis @VisitAnnapolis

This past weekend, I visited Annapolis, MD, for the very first time. 

I loved wandering the cobblestoned streets and visiting the historic sites (including the Maryland State House, where George Washington came before Congress to resign his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. The Treaty of Paris was ratified there, too, marking the official end of the Revolutionary War).

I so enjoyed a day to myself, browsing the boutiques (like this tea shop, above). I would have purchased the entire inventory of the Pink Crab if I were a millionaire. 

It was wonderful to walk the picturesque streets of Annapolis, admiring the Colonial architecture - Did you know that Annapolis boasts more 18th century buildings than anywhere else in the nation?

But the real reason I was happy to be in Annapolis was to visit my son at the U.S. Naval Academy. 

Here he is presenting a poster on Aquaculture Engineering and Biofueling. Pretty impressive for a guy who just turned 13. 

This is one of the great things about being a Mom: seeing your children blossom before your eyes. My son's confidence, intelligence, sense of humor, and most of all, his kindness, make him a star in my eyes. I am so darn proud to see him shine. 
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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Prepping for Summer Camp: Camp and Sports Physicals at MinuteClinic

Disclosure: Special thanks to CVS/MinuteClinic for sponsoring this post. As always, all opinions are my own. 

For the first time this summer, my son will be heading off to a two-week summer camp, way up in the wild woods of northern Minnesota. 

I have so many fond memories of summer camp: diving into a cool lake early in the morning, learning how to pitch a tent, gathering around a campfire and watching the stars light up the sky. Summer camp gave me independence, which led to self-confidence. It taught me skills that I use to this day: sailor knots, sailing, canoeing, hiking and orienteering. Camping taught me the joy of waking up in the wilderness and embracing nature. 

I know that my son will have a blast, too, and I want to make sure he's packed and prepared to set off to an amazing summer camp experience. 
I keep meaning to check out this show

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The U.S. Virgin Islands with Kids: St. Croix

This is part 2 in a two-part series sharing the best of the family-friendly U.S. Virgin Islands. This story originally appeared at

Known for its sandy beaches, crystal clear Caribbean waters and sunshine, the U.S. Virgin Islands are usually thought of as a popular couples or honeymoon destination. Think twice and consider the beautiful and friendly islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John, all part of the USVI, for your next family vacation. The USVI makes for a fun, kid-friendly and relaxing, yet excitement-filled destination. And because its officially a U.S. territory, you won't even need a passport! I recently visited the USVI with my two kids, Daniel,13, and Chiara, 4, and we checked several items off our bucket list: snorkeling together as a family, swimming with sea turtles and flying on a seaplane were just a few of our many island adventures.

St. Croix

84 square miles in size, St. Croix is the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Its unique combination of history, culture and natural beauty make it one of the most unforgettable of the islands. Two U.S. National Parks and a U.S. National Monument, beautiful Victorian era architecture and warm, clear waters ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling, means there is always something to do in St. Croix. That said, relaxing on the sandy white beaches and swimming in the turquoise waters is always a delight on this stunning island.


Our arrival in St. Croix was part of the fun and adventure. From the island of St. Thomas, the kids and I hopped into a seaplane and flew over the beautiful islands, enjoying incredible vistas and experiencing the thrill of landing on water. Book your tickets on Seaborne Airlines. Upon arrival in St. Croix, consider renting a car if you're up for doing some exploring at your own pace. We opted fortaxi service to get us to points of interest. Grab your sunscreen and get ready for fun as you explore the magic of St. Croix.


Become a Junior Park Ranger at one of St. Croix's national parks. St. Croix might be small in size but it's big in National Parks, and at both Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve and the Christiansted National Historic Site, kids can take part in the outstanding Junior Park Ranger programs.
Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve holds the only known site where members of a Columbus expedition set foot on what is now United States territory, and it is the site of one of the earliest indigenous settlements in the central Caribbean.
Christiansted National Historic Site, located in downtown Christiansted and once the capital of the former Danish West Indies, is an urban park that illustrates colonial life in the Caribbean. The five historic structures on the site include Fort Christiansv√¶rn (1738), the Danish West India & Guinea Company Warehouse (where Alexander Hamilton worked as a young man), the Steeple Building (1753), Danish Custom House (1844), and the Scale House (1856). Aspiring rangers will need to complete a series of activities during their park visit and share their answers with a park ranger. In return, they’ll be awarded an official Junior Ranger badge or patch and a Junior Ranger certificate. To schedule a Ranger guided tour for a group, contact Park Staff at 340-773-1460 at least two weeks in advance.
Explore Christiansted. Spend some time strolling the cobblestoned streets of downtown Christiansted, which boasts 18th-century Danish-style buildings in pastel colors with bright red tile rooftops. The streets run at right angles to the waterfront with most shops and galleries on King and Company streets, near the Christiansted National Historic Site. If you're looking for a special souvenir, consider a traditional St. Croix bracelet from Sonya (Company St, Christiansted; Tel. 877-766-9284) Individually crafted, the original of these beautiful bracelets features a fishing hook but you'll also find a number of beautiful motifs, including a lizard, a hibiscus or a dolphin. Best of all, if your child outgrows her bracelet, you can always mail it back to St. Croix and Sonya will re-size it upon request.
Snorkel Buck Island National Monument. Buck Island Reef National Monument is an underwater monument with a 4,554-acre long reef and an underwater trail complete with underwater plaques detailing the marine flora and fauna you’re likely to spot. Snorkel this ecosystem and you're bound to encounter an underwater world brimming with marine life, including spotted eagle rays, nurse sharks and lemon sharks, and endangered leatherback turtles. On the western edge of the island you'll find Turtle Beach, voted one of the world's most beautiful beaches. Big Beard's Adventure Tours offers full-day and half-day sailing and snorkeling tours of Buck Island and Caribbean Sea Adventures offers scuba excursions to the island as well.

We stayed at the Divi Carina Bay Resort, the only all-inclusive resort on St. Croix. Located on a quiet stretch of beach, this resort was peaceful and relaxing. My kids had a blast playing on the beach and swimming in the pool. Our spacious beachfront guest room was elegant yet comfortable, with a balcony that offered an unforgettable view of the ocean. At night, we would sit on our balcony and count the stars in the sky before bed. We dined poolside most days and appreciated the excellent cuisine and fine service.  An on-site PADI five-star dive shop and activities center, as well as a mini-golf course, gave my kids an unlimited menu of things to do.

Don't Miss
-If you want to scuba dive or snorkel in one of the coolest dive spots in the world, check out Cane Bay, one of the most popular beach dive spots in St. Croix. Swim out 200 yards to "The Wall," an incredible and abrupt 2,000 feet drop in sea level.
-For an off road adventure, tour St. Croix by Jeep. Tan Tan Tours offers adventure-packed adventures around the island. The Anally Bay Swim Excursion will take you through the island's forest to Anally Bay, where you'll find beautiful tide pools and a waterfall.
-For the best Cruzian style BBQ chicken, head mid-island to La Reine Chicken Shack (Route 75 near Centerline Road), a no-frills outdoor diner. Don't forget to order the donut-like Johnnycakes!
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Monday, June 2, 2014


I was up at 4 a.m. this morning, dropping my son off at O'Hare. It's his first time flying alone, and yet as I watched him print out his boarding pass and wheel his suitcase through security, as I could think was that he looked like an old, seasoned pro at this travel and adventure thing. He's on his way to Baltimore, where he'll be picked up at the airport by two midshipmen and then be on his way to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he is participating in a special STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) program. I am so proud of him, and I can't even express the (bittersweet) joy I felt today watching my son make his way happily and confidently into the big wide world.

And here's the coolest thing about where he's going: the US Naval Academy has been proud to have helped shape the lives of countless outstanding individuals, including 1 President of the United States2 Cabinet Members16 Ambassadors24 Members of Congress5 State Governors5 Secretaries of the Navy1 Secretary of the Air Force5 Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff4 Vice Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff28 Chiefs of Naval Operations9 Commandants of the Marine Corps2 Nobel Prize Awardees73 Medal of Honor Awardees52 Astronauts46 Rhodes Scholars24 Marshall Scholars110 Olmsted Scholars and 30 Fitzgerald Scholars. Seriously, the list of USNA alumni is pretty incredible.

It is so true that time just flies when you are a parent: It feels like just yesterday when I was watching Daniel take his first ever wobbly steps. Hold your little ones today and always, love them up as much as you can, because before you know it, they will be flying the coop.
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