4th of July in Chicago--tips and tricks

At the 2013 fireworks
 Last night we took our 2nd annual trip to downtown Chicago to watch the 4th of July fireworks.  We spent the day up there last year on the 4th and had so much fun that we hoped to make it a family tradition.

Let's just say we learned some things on this trip and that spending the 4th up there each year has its pros and cons.  Here are a few of our observations.

You need to spend at least part of the day there.    We live outside the suburbs in rural Illinois.  It's close enough that the city is attainable, even just for dinner.  But it's far enough away that deciding to go takes at least a little planning.  *AHEM* this is not our family's strong suit *AHEM*.  Yesterday we spent the day at a friend's home and then left in the early evening to head up just for the fireworks.  We made it, it was enjoyable and the fireworks were BEAUTIFUL, but the display was not really enough to justify the trip. 

The Fix: Next year we plan to leave earlier so we can spend time taking in a museum or tour and eat before watching the fireworks.  Even arriving by 3 or 4 (maybe even 5) would make the trip worth it.

And along with that, Think long and hard about how you're going to get there. We love public transit, but it also has its downsides, including the time suck.  We know plenty of people who prefer to drive themselves. If you will need to use multiple modes of travel (Metra and CTA or CTA and Taxi, etc.) or if your family is large (littles are free to ride, but if you have older kids, they require a ticket) it may be more cost effective to drive, though remember that you have to pay (outlandish amounts) to park just about anywhere.  Just look into it and do a little math ahead of time.

We have made 2 different fatal errors in the transportation department for these trips. 
Location!  Last year, we decided we were going to go to Lincoln Park Zoo, North Beach, and then to Museum Campus for the fireworks.  That might all look close on a map, but it's NOT.  Also, consider where you want to go and how easy it is to get there on public transpo or if there is nearby parking.  Lincoln Park Zoo, for example, takes a loooong time to get to by train/bus. 

Our little champ walking back to the station
This year we decided to take the Metra train because the stop is so close to Museum Campus and I was not feeling up to a mile or two walk each way from an L station.  However, unlike the L, the Metra runs on a schedule.  The waiting, you guys!  Even though we looked up the schedule it was not updated in the app (and there was not one posted at the station) so we arrived at the station and had over an hour wait for the train.  The wait was much shorter for the train back, but it was the last train of the night, so if we'd missed it we would have been in a world of hurt. 

Tips/Fixes: I could write a whole post on the pros/cons of public transpo vs. driving.  Who knows, I might!  Until then, there is often a Groupon for the CTA and sometimes you can get tickets cheaper online, but this may require the tickets to be mailed to you.  Metra is a totally different animal and just takes some time to get used to--for example, yesterday you could buy a round trip ticket on the train, but there was not an option to buy it from the ticket machine in the station.  Also, while it may happen, we've never experienced the train attendant charging the extra $3 fee for buying your ticket once you've boarded.  We found the app "Embark Metra" (it's a black icon with an orange M with a circle around it) to be more accurate than the "onTime Metra" app.  If you're going to stay within walking distance of one location all day (or plan to rent bikes), you may save money by driving yourself if the traffic isn't a deterrent for you.  Also, bathrooms are few and far between on the CTA and Metra, so it turned out to be good that we had some wait time to find a bathroom for our little potty trainer!

Getting tired waiting on the train

Consider your kids.  This probably goes without saying.  Every kid has what I call "meltdown o'clock" and each kid's personality raises different challenges.  Nora is super easy to handle and is very easygoing, but next year we'll have to assess the new baby and see what will be best to accommodate his or her personality as well as Nora's as she grows.  Some things to consider: motion sickness and being in VERY close proximity to strangers (if you do the train--they are usually fuller at the end of the night...you know, when your kid is at their wit's end anyway), heavy traffic/sitting at a standstill (if you drive--especially on a holiday), behavior/reaction to being in a crowd (which usually includes leashed dogs), loud noises (especially for the 4th, but Chicago can be a noisy city on any day), lots of walking or riding, heat/sun safety, potential for plans to change suddenly including having to wait longer between potty and/or food breaks, being out late.

Past her bedtime
Tips/Fixes:  PACK SNACKS AND DRINKS!  I had plenty of drinks, but only had about a quarter of a bag of trail mix to snack on.  Our plan was to get hotdogs from the vendor on Museum Campus, but he was SOLD OUT of EVERYTHING.  Thankfully we'd eaten a late lunch and had been grazing all afternoon, so nobody was too hungry and cranky.  Nora didn't even ask for dinner, was just disappointed not to get ice cream and that our picnic turned out to be just sitting on a blanket.  Bring a stroller if you need one, but pack light. Because of how close our train stop was we only carried my purse, a small diaper bag and our blanket.  Bringing a comfort item is probably a good idea, especially for little ones.  We took Nora's monkey--he's special enough that he brings her comfort, but not SO special that if something tragic happened to him (being left, falling off the train platform, being eaten by a pack of hipsters) she would have been devastated.

Hopefully these tips help you out on your next trip to the city...or your next trip anywhere!


Pregnancy Update--Just 9 days to go!

Well, folks, we're in the home stretch!  Looks like this baby is taking after his or her big sister and staying in utero for the long haul. 

Stats (as of 38 weeks, 4 days):
  • 0 cm dilated
  • 0% effaced
  • +25 lbs

Favorite things to do:
  • Sit and think about the things I should be doing around the house
  • Boss my husband around
  • Go for walks/do prego yoga
My doctor appointment took forever yesterday--I think I was not the only patient who was rescheduled last week.  I thought I would be very disappointed to find out that I was not dilated, but I actually was not.  I was just glad to hear that things still seem to be on track, that baby's heart sounded good and it was just good to know where things stood in general.  I got the epidural release--they like you to read it before the "heat of the moment".  She also gave me the "when to call" and "what to do when it's time" sheet.  All things that keep reminding me that the time is near. 

I don't think I'll be stressed to the max if I go past my due date like I was with Nora.  I mean, the due date is really just a guess--it's kind of a 50/50 chance, just like whether I'm having a girl or boy.  So no biggie.  I am blessed to be able to carry a baby to full term--so many are not so fortunate and the longer baby stays in there the healthier baby will be when he or she makes his or her debut. 

So today I'm in a good place.