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School Days with Gardner School & ChicagonistaLive

UPDATE: See pics from our second visit and watch the ChicagonistaLIVE video here!

It seems unfathomable that I'll soon add "find a preschool" to my list of to-dos. Little Miss is not yet a year old, but as any city-dwelling parent knows (even a newbie like me), the competition for spots can be fierce.

A newer option on the scene is The Gardner School. With locations in Bucktown, the West Loop, (plus Naperville, Glenview, and Oakbrook — and more around the country) this academically-focused daycare and preschool was founded in Tennessee, and accommodates ages 6 weeks to 5 years.

I recently spent an afternoon at the Oakbrook location, as a guest of the ChicagonistaLIVE crew. It's an adorable school. A-dorable. (And amazingly, I was told that the newer ones are "even nicer.") The corridors are sweetly decorated like an idyllic Main Street, USA drag, and classrooms are airy and cheerful. I spent the most time in the "crawler" room, which was filled with stimulating toys to taste play with.


Having fun in the baby room with tasty toys.


Another view of the crawler room. The school has an open-door policy with parents and encourages moms and dads to stop by during the day for a quick visit, or to make use of the peaceful nursing room. Closed-circuit TVs monitoring the rooms can be viewed in the lobby, and make goodbyes a little less stressful for parents.


Preschoolers wear these uniforms — how cute (and they make mornings easier).


Happy artwork throughout the school.


Learning begins with the littlest ones exploring American Sign Language, and continues with the big kids learning math, handwriting, and computer skills.

We'll be visiting the Oakbrook Gardner School next week, this time for ChicagonistaLIVE on Tuesday, May 20th at 2pm CDT at ChicagonistaLIVE.com. Follow along at #ChicagonistaLive and #GardnerChi. If you'd like to attend the taping, there are limited spaces available for readers with children aged 6 weeks to 5 years. Please RSVP to MJ Tam.



{travel} Four LONDON Faves

If you look closely, you can spot Mr. SCS!It's no secret that traveling during "shoulder seasons" (i.e. spring and fall) is a great deal — airfare is lower, crowds are thinner, and if it's May or September, the weather in most parts of the world is still agreeable. In fact, it's my favorite time of year for travel. Staying home for Chicago's fantastic summers is enough to desuade me from traveling during high season, never mind battling the crowds of fellow travelers at the Louvre/Machu Picchu/Taj Mahal/etc.

If you aren't beholden to school schedules and are looking for a quick getaway this autumn, I highly recommend a quick trip to London. Last September, Mr. SCS and I tacked a few days in Blighty onto a longer trip to Paris and the South of France, and we relished the warm temperatures and short lines. A few of my London must-dos...


Department Stores

Skip Harrod's. Ok, don't skip it if it's your first trip, but limit yourself to just the Food Halls in the basement level. Sure, Harrod's is huge, and it's got everything, but you'll soon see that it's mostly a tourist trap. Instead, consider your stateside shopping habits — if you're a fan of Barneys, visit Selfridges for a British take on all things edgy. If Neiman Marcus is your stomping ground, you might like luxe Harvey Nichols (Harvey Nix!). And if you want to shop as the old-timers do, a visit to Fortnum & Mason's carefully curated shop in Piccadilly is study in all things properly British.



Takeaway culture (that's "carry out" to us Yanks) is huge in cities throughout the UK, and London has a staggering variety of cuisines that can be purchased on the fly and eaten at your favorite park. If you're stuck for inspriation, consult a list of London takeaway restaurants, available in any local travel magazine. You may have to come to terms with England's culinary vocabulary (Gyro : US :: Doner kebab : UK), but you'll soon get the hang of it.


Tea Time

Tea a la Fortnum & MasonFor a more proper mealtime, do an Afternoon Tea (but first, read about the difference between "High Tea" and "Afternoon Tea"). The aforementioned Fortnum & Mason serves a traditional tea complete with armchairs, prim china, and fussy sandwiches. If your dining companion isn't into the itty-bitty food, they do have a more robust high tea menu. For a modern take on tea, try the "Brit Rocks and Tea Pots" at The Met Bar at the Metropolitan Hotel. With modern food pairings and cheeky presentations, this isn't your mum's tea.


See the Sights

For a visual who's-who of both ancient and modern British culture (dead kings! punk rockers!), visit the National Portrait Gallery. For characters of a less celebrated sort, stop at the northeast corner of Hyde Park on a Sunday morning for Speakers' Corner to hear pontifications on everything from taxation to alien invasions. One visit is enough. I went twice, ten years apart, and the grandstanding and soapboxing was much the same on both occasions. If it's serentiy you seek, take a trip to Kew Gardens, the Royal bontanic gardens. The structures are lovely, the flowers are fragrant, and in no time you'll forget that you're just outside one of the world's busiest cities. And if you happen to be in London during the few short weeks that Buckingham Palace is open to the public...go! You don't need to be a royal-watcher to get weak in the knees when standing before Queen Elizabeth's throne.


Father's Day Gift Guide

Men are so impossible to shop for! While we women (read: me) are happy to receive a pretty bauble or the latest "it" bag, the boys present all sorts of challenges. Does he really want another book or team jersey? Whiskey rocks or cufflinks made from old subway tokens? If you're stuck, I've compiled a few suggestions to get the creative juices/credit cards moving.


It's true — even the manliest of men like to be pampered! Whether or not yours will go to a spa is debatable, so bring the spa to him with this Daniel Buchler 'Hydro' Turkish Terry Cotton Robe and Agraria Balsam Luxury Bath Bar.


The Culinaire likes to whip things up in the kitchen, so give him a new challenge with a Molecular Mixology Kit. Post dinner, test his knowledge with Foodie Fight: A Trivia Game for Serious Food Lovers.


The New Dad is no doubt blurry eyed and perhaps slightly frustrated, so give him a laugh reprieve with Bill Cosby, Himself. 30 years later, Bill's tales of parenthood still hold up. Speaking of holding, do NOT make your man carry the baby's gear in some hideous Winnie-the-Pooh bag. This Jack Spade Waxwear Pocket Briefcase pulls double duty as a baby bag and work bag.



Pose, smile, click! If Dad loves to capture the world around him, capture his coffee in a clever Camera Lens Mug. Over coffee, he can brush up on his technique with Tony Northrup's DSLR Book: How to Create Stunning Digital Photography.



This past week was one of my favorite of the year — the National Restaurant Association, the International Wine, Spirits and Beer, and the Sweets and Snacks shows all rolled into town! (It's been known as Food/Booze/Candy Week. Hang on to your diet!)

Since I am currently heavy with child, I didn't attend the Spirits show. Not because I don't think that a pregnant woman shouldn't have a glass of wine every now and then, but because I just didn't want to deal with the quizzical stares I'd inevitably receive. It's one thing to order a malbec while sitting down at a restaurant — quite another to be eyeing vodka displays with my belly outtothere.

That's ok! The Restaurant and Sweets & Snacks shows more than made up for it! Here are some of my favorite finds from the week:

Sweets & Snacks Show

@NibMor vegan, non-GMO, and gluten free drinking choco and chocolate bars. Great texture and flavor. The drinking chocolate is great iced...not too sweet!


@popgourmet Rogue Blue Cheese Popcorn. Good bite of blue cheese, no chalky finish. Non-GMO.


@purechocolatelv gorgeous and delicious truffles. Smooth texture with fruit and spice flavors that pop. Bonus points for the friendly Latvian dudes working their booth.


@eatwhatever mints. Genius 2-step process: A gel cap for your tummy, then a mint for your mouth. Vegan, gluten and sugar free.


National Restaurant Association Show

Tasty kale snacks by @bradsrawfoods


@funleys Peanut Butter Stix in the Mud. All-natural and so delicious.


@hailmerrysnacks Miracle Tart. Vegan, Gluten free, and VERY rich, thanks to coconut oil.


@joialife sodas. Lime/Hibiscus/Clove was my favorite. Good depth of flavor, not overly sweet.


{style} Make your SWIMSUIT last LONGER


This season's swimsuits are super cute (I love that Robin Piccone mesh suit), but don't mistake your bikini or bandeau for any piece of casual wear — bathing suits require special TLC! There's something about the summer that makes me a little lazy about following a clothing manufacturer's instructions, but this year, I vow to follow these tips:


First, a Vinegar Soak

Before wear your new suit for the very first time, do a vinegar soak. Mix one tablespoon vinegar to one quart of water and soak for 30 minutes. The vinegar will set the color and prevent off fading due to sunlight and chlorine.


Rinse Before and After Your Dip

Before you dive into the pool/lake/ocean, do a cool water rinse to keep fabric from absorbing excess chlorine or salt. Post-dip, rinse again in cool water (always cool — hot water can weaken the fabric) to get rid any lingering nastiness.


Don't Ball it up in your Beach Bag!

I know, it's the end of the day and you're sunburned, tired, and feeling that third margarita. But DON'T leave your damp suit in your bag! That enviornment is a breeding ground for mildew and mold. If you can't wash it right away, lay it flat until you're ready to head home. When you're ready to wash...


Hand Washing is Best

Ok, so you splurged for a quality swimsuit, now protect its fibers from breaking down too quickly. The heat and agitation from washing machines and dryers will harm your suit, so a gentle hand wash is best. And what to wash it with?...


Choose an Eco-friendly Soap

I will admit — I'm more of the "lounge about the deck/beach" type as opposed to the "swimming laps" sort. Still, just as chlorine and salt can negatively affect your suit's fabric, so can body oils and sunscreen. So even if you're a deck bunny like me, take care to follow all the steps above, finishing with a wash in a vegetable-based dish liquid or a castile soap. Synthetic fragrances and petroleum-based chemicals can attach to the fabric, which can in turn irritate the skin.


More Adorable Suits!

I'm definitely a one-piece fan, preferably with a big floppy hat and earrings (as I said, so not the swimming laps sort). And if anyone knows of some good maternity suits, let me know!

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