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Chicago Winter Sanity Savers (but sadly, barely any biking.)

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1) The Haul-a-Day made it out for a quick trip to the grocery store. 2) Chicagoans don’t let a little Winter stop them! 3) That sky? That’s COLD. 4) Clarke house looking quiet on our walk home from the park.

Gross. Gross. Gross.  It’s warmed up since this morning, but with a ‘RealFeel’ of -11, our family is looking at another day indoors.  This is a really tough time of year, and the poor Haul-a-Day is languishing in the garage.  It’s a heated garage, and I’m still determined to fix up the big-girl bike (HotRock) with fenders, but it’s even too chilly for that…

So I thought maybe I’d share a few ways the kids and I spend time in the winter here.  I was hoping for a milder season, since last year was horrendously cold as well.  But nope!  So are a few of our sanity savers.

#1- Museum of Science and Industry.

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I loved this exhibit. The kids were impatient to go see the baby chicks. My mom and dad were along and he was digging the vintage bikes and telling me all about the coolest bikes on the block when he was a kid, which was fun. The velocipede is the yellow wheeled-one. My son was super excited to see a ‘balance bike’ like his on display, and still insists he doesn’t ever need pedals. :)

Where to go if you’d like to see a velocipede. (Don’t worry, they don’t bite.) Chicago museum admissions are not cheap- we take advantage of discount days (free basic admission for Illinois families) and passes from the library when possible.  Lately there have been some great deals on Groupon for museum memberships though, and we were able to get MSI for under $90!  That’s amazing, considering it includes parking and Omnimax movies, plus reduced prices on special exhibits.  Homeschooling families can get free basic admission to the museum any day, but the lines can be long and you’ll pay full price on special programs and exhibits.  This Winter we’ve gone with a friend who drives a few times and took my parents (and their car.)  But we’ve also taken the bus to the museum and have plans to take the Metra at some point. We especially love the chicks, the bike decor in the member lounge, and- this awesome new exhibit.  You can spend a whole day here and not see everything- it’s like the Walt Disney World of Chicago museums…  my kids like the Idea Factory and we are able to catch live Science demonstrations much of the time.  The building is the only one remaining from the Columbian Exposition, which makes it worth a look from the outside, as well. (If it’s nice enough outside, which it isn’t.)

 

#2- Instacart.

Serial sicknesses, freezing rain, wind chills below -10, yeah, even if I bundled up and went out, my kids would be in tears.  They have a pretty firm 30 degree cut-off, so Instacart it is.  Prices are marked up considerably for Costco and Whole Foods, but Mariano’s, our local chain, is pretty decent.  Plus, minimum order for free delivery is $35 (we have an annual subscription) so that means our food is fresher.  I’m able to order for 2-3 days at a time, which means fewer bags of salad in the trash.  When we used Peapod we had a minimum order of $100, which meant in many cases a lot of waste.  I totally justify our grocery delivery by not having a car. :)  Plus, depending on the weather, I can often get delivery within a few hours, which is good news when I need that one thing to make dinner and realize we’re out.wpid-screenshot_2015-02-21-16-23-18.png#3 Uber

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Our Valentine’s Day/Anniversary night out- at a Vegas themed fundraiser. My daughter loves heels- oh boy. I am not one to gamble- but with fake money it was a blast! And I came out waaaay ahead. (except it all went to KICS Soccer in the end!)

I’ve blogged about Lyft before, and while I still use it, I now use Uber almost as frequently.  I don’t always want to wait for a Lyft to find me, so the Uber Taxi service is a great alternative.  So is Uber X, ride sharing based on the Lyft model (drivers use their own cars.)  We need to walk about three blocks to catch a bus, and some days that short jaunt plus the wait seem, well, hellish. On Valentine’s day, we went to a Vegas night fundraiser just a few blocks from home, but there was no way I was walking in a cocktail dress.  We took Uber- at a premium cost, thanks to the surge pricing.  When the weather is bad, demand increases, and so do the prices.  You won’t often see me in full makeup and heels, this was a very (very) rare instance- getting there warm and with my tailbone intact was well worth it!

 

#4: Um, the Internet.  But especially these sites…

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1) At DIY.org, set up accounts for your kids then accept challenges in lots of different categories- it’s like virtual scouts. 2) Bikabout is a pretty comprehensive directory for a decent amount of cities, with curated routes, analysis of bike culture, and tips on shops, lodging, and destinations. 3) Bike Winter! I love this! I know a lot of families who embrace their car-free lifestyle year round- read tips here. 4) Tom Skilling is THE MAN. The blog is really imformative and entertaining, I just wish he had better news for us.

 

I’m missing being outside.  Missing the lake, and being on our bike, and picnics.  First virtual stop: bikabout.com.  I’m planning several trips in my head, even though I’m not sure we’ll be traveling anywhere soon.  It’s nice to live vicariously through these curated routes- my favorite right now is maybe Athens, GA.  Or Vancouver.  Or Portland.  But I’d love to go to Colorado… Did I mention I have a route published?  You can read the Chicago Green Space one here, but I’d hold off until at least April. :)

Also, I feel ironically warm and fuzzy when I read the Bikewinter.org website- a good place for getting neck gaiter patterns, browsing a gallery of winter commuters bundled in their best, and looking over the very entertaining sticker design submissions.  Sadly I didn’t get a sticker this year, we missed critical mass.  We vote for the designs every Fall on the Chainlink.

I learned about DIY from a fellow Kidical Mass organizer, and it’s amazing.  As a homeschooling mom, I’m sometimes racking my brain for things to do and there are so many ideas to choose from.  Great layout, and very educational.  (I want to do some of the challenges myself.)  My daughter is lately obsessed with Minecraft, and I like knowing she’s working toward a goal.

Finally, I’m checking Tom Skilling’s weather report daily, and hoping there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

#4 Warm clothes and outerwear.

You can’t beat some soft long underwear for warmth on the legs, and they make great pajamas.  I love my coat this year.  It’s a Columbia Microlight hooded coat, and it is PERFECT.  Also loving my Hunter wellies for slush, though I’m not able to find the fleece liners that would make them perfect.  Neck gaiters are the key- keep your neck and nose covered, and it’s much more tolerable in the wind.  Here’s a collection of photos of us in our outerwear.  :)

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This week looks a lot more promising- so if we can get well I hope to be out more!  I think everyone is on the mend- one last photo that tells the story of the past week or more:

Stay warm and well, everybody!!

Polar Adventure Days and more…

Working bikes human-powered music!  Pedal to make the vinyl spin...
Oy.  That's not nice.

The view from our window yesterday… all day.

 

"MOM! My forehead is freezing!"  (Direct quote.)

“MOM! My forehead is freezing!” (Direct quote.)

Yikes.  We got a ton of snow yesterday, and our one attempt to go out was unsuccessful- I underestimated how strong the wind was, and we made it about 20 feet from our front door before turning around!  We headed back in to make some ‘snow’ and play.  Super easy- just some cornstarch and shaving cream mixed together.  I’m going to help out at little guy’s pre-K on Wednesday, and I figured I’d pilot my project- and make sure no one hates me afterwards if it’s tough to clean up :)

How to have fun with snow when the wind speeds are >35 mph...

How to have fun with snow when the wind speeds are >35 mph…

It's snow!  Cornstarch and shaving cream.

 

Last weekend the kids and I took a ride over to Northerly Island again for their “Polar Adventure Days.”  There wasn’t any snow, and the weather was actually pretty decent- but there was plenty to see and do.  On the way over we stopped to watch the skaters again- that park is crazy busy for the middle of winter!

Checking out the action at the Grant Park Skate Park (is that a redundant name?  Maybe I'm wrong?)

Checking out the action at the Grant Park Skate Park (is that a redundant name? Maybe I’m wrong?)

At the event they had hot chocolate, marshmallows and a fire (contained in a metal pit, of course), a team of sled dogs, some wild animals from a rescue preserve, a green screen photo opportunity, a booth with pelts and skulls by the forest preserve, some Cliff bar samples, a craft area, and a tent with various toys.  We missed out on the marshmallows- but luckily there was another festival this past Friday where we got to check it off our list!  Oh- we also got to try out a very cool setup by Working Bike featuring a human/pedal powered turntable.

This is Hal- the prognosticating groundhog from the Big Run Wolf Ranch.

This is Hal- the prognosticating groundhog from the Big Run Wolf Ranch.

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These birds were rescues- the Flint Creek Preserve has an operation at Northerly as well, where you can bring injured birds (a lot of them fly into glass and buildings in the city!)

These birds were rescues- the Flint Creek Preserve has an operation at Northerly as well, where you can bring injured birds (a lot of them fly into glass and buildings in the city!)

Mush!  Here come the sled dogs- and they are pulling a modified bike.

Mush! Here come the sled dogs- and they are pulling a modified bike.

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The wolf was a hit- so was the coyote and the groundhog.

The wolf was a hit- so was the coyote and the groundhog.

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Roasting marshmallows outside Women's Park and Gardens.

Roasting marshmallows outside Women’s Park and Gardens.

Working bikes human-powered music!  Pedal to make the vinyl spin...

Working bikes human-powered music! Pedal to make the vinyl spin…

His legs were a little short- but with some serious assistance, he was able to get the "Grease" soundtrack blaring!

His legs were a little short- but with some serious assistance, he was able to get the “Grease” soundtrack blaring!

 

So quiet!  So pretty!  I never knew it was here!

So quiet! So pretty! I never knew it was here!

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Interesting collages outside the Winter Garden on the 9th floor of HWLC.

Interesting collages outside the Winter Garden on the 9th floor of HWLC.

 

A nice day for a ride!  She's getting the hang of those hand breaks. :)

A nice day for a ride! She’s getting the hang of those hand brakes- they are really tough to use with mittens! :)

.I’m throwing in some photos of my latest discovery- the Winter Garden at Harold Washington Library.  We have spent more and more time there as the weather deteriorates, since it’s a decent ride but not too far away.

We’re planning a KIdical Mass ride to the final Polar Adventure day in February- I haven’t had a chance to check the trails this week, but hopefully we’ll have a clear-ish path…

Stay warm!

 

The Haul-a-Day Rides the CTA!

We got this!
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We have vertical bike racks in our building- it was almost IMPOSSIBLE with the Yuba, but I can lift this one and turn the front tire without too much trouble. Here’s big kid in front, little in back- easier on me, but they felt I’d disrupted the natural order of things…

We tried something a lot different the other day.  We planned to meet some friends at the Peggy Notebaert  Nature Museum- which by the way, is running an insanely good deal on membership through Groupon- and with a high of 35 predicted, it seemed like the bike was the best way to go. It’s a little over six miles on the Lakefront Trail, and public trans estimated time was 45 minutes, so we loaded up, put on our Cuddl Duds, and were on our way.

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DANG IT. Could they maybe have put some signage up earlier??

Wind definitely adds on to our biking time in the winter.  We have to take care in a few places thanks to ice and snow, but for the most part the trails are clear- especially of people- and the only change from non-winter biking is allowing extra time and wearing extra layers.  I was a little shocked though at how TIRED I was as this trip went on- it was a pain to get west over to the next North/South bike lane (Dearborn) and the kids were whining a lot.  Me too.  The closed path was a big setback, and I kicked myself for assuming it had reopened.  (It was closed after this storm back in November.)  This is why I ought to be reading the Chainlink, though it sometimes drives me nuts.

So the ride, in total, was a bit over 7 miles.  We were only about 15 minutes late, but I was pushing against a pretty decent headwind.  We had a nice visit at the museum, said hello to the butterflies, and ate some lunch.  Then we rode over to see our friends at Alt-Cycle to check out the Xtracycle accessories Shane mentioned in a comment a few weeks ago- the flight deck and hooptie.  I think it’s a significant investment to change out our setup, but the kids might be a little happier with more room, so stay tuned.

After Alt-Cycle, we were tired.  It was pretty windy and cold, and it seemed like an ideal time to try out our mixed-mode transportation option!  We walked the bike down Fullerton to the Red Line Station and felt a lot nervous… I’ve never taken a bike on the train before, so a cargo bike seemed like kind of a big deal.  Plus, you know- two tired kids!

At the Fullerton station, wondering if we can pull this off!

At the Fullerton station, wondering if we can pull this off!

I double checked with an attendant in the front, she reassured me bikes are fine until 4:00.  CTA restricts bikes during rush hours- from 7-9 and 4-6.  The guidelines are here. We swung into the elevator with no problems, got up to a pretty crowded platform (DePaul students heading out) and waited for what I hoped was a very vacant train.

We got this!

We got this!

The train came, and there were a few empty seats- we spotted the handicapped symbol near a door and scooted ahead- I’d learned this trick from my stroller days.  On the newer CTA trains there are no dividers by the doors at these entrances, which makes it a lot easier to park something big like a stroller or bike.  I flipped the front tire around and pushed it in at an angle by the front seat- the kids each sat next to a new ‘friend’ while I held the bike and a pole.

Waiting patiently.  NBD.

Waiting patiently. NBD.

While we were riding, I’m seeing my little guy’s eyes getting heavy, and I momentarily have a moment of panic.  What am I going to do if he falls asleep and we reach our stop?  The kickstand isn’t sufficient to leave the bike freestanding with the stops and starts, you definitely need to hang on to it.  So at a stop in the loop, I motioned him over and had him sit on the deck.  It wasn’t too tough to hold onto, plus it simplified the exit when it was time.

We made it!  Hello, Chinatown!

We made it! Hello, Chinatown!

I probably should have mentioned this earlier- but you should definitely check that your destination has an elevator!  We usually get off at Roosevelt, but I know those are broken down frequently and pretty small (thank you stroller) so Cermak is a better option- newer station.  I felt relieved as we completed our commute…

All of us fit in the elevator- no problem!

All of us fit in the elevator- no problem!

And just in time- since this guy was DONE.

So the first one is the hardest, right?  I’m feeling like I could easily do this again.  It’s nice for one way trips, or to get out a little further than we’ve been going regularly.  Also, I’m really excited to do some Metra trips once the weather is nicer.

I’m still hesitant to do a bus trip, especially after reading this horror story this week on the Chainlink!!  (and this, and this, and this!)

Being able to mix up our transportation was the #1 reason we got this bike, I am dreaming about all the possibilities!  This little guy was dreaming, too.

Sure sign of a great day.

Sure sign of a great day.