Monday, December 22, 2014

It's Christmas Break, I Live South of I80, Now What? {Top 10 List}

What to do, what to do?

Already, my 10 year old is bouncing off of the walls.

Here are my suggestions of fun, economical and geographically close activities if you live in or around Frankfort Illinois (one is not, you're gonna have to drive).

I know - very specific.

And...likely only appealing to boys (sorry).

Here is the list, by date (of course).

Monday, December 22nd
Chef Klaus' Bier Stube

Here is the deal, my family of origin would travel from the south suburbs to "German Town" (Lincoln Square) when the German shops took up more than one single block.  This was a Christmas time tradition, every year, for as long as I can remember.
But...only one shop still exists from my childhood and I can't navigate it with my three kids right now.
I still want to honor my German roots, but I don't want to travel to Lincoln Square during this time of year.
Enter Chef Klaus' Bier Stube.  Located at 20827 S. LaGrange Rd in Frankfort it's my personal go to for authentic German food.  To be quite honest, I think it's a whole lot better than The Brauhaus (I think that my "German Card" may be taken away for admitting to that). With it being only a five minute drive for us, this really is a no brainer.
Decorated with authentic German artifacts and other memorabilia, the Bier Stube gives its customers  the warmth, charm and friendly feeling of a German "landgasthaus" - country inn.  
You can find out more about Chef Klaus' Bier Stube by visiting their website which has menu and entertainment information in addition to photos and their hours.  Prost!

Tuesday, December 23rd
Main Park Ice Rink

So, I'm only guessing that it will freeze and there will be snow...likely not, but here is the information regardless.
Located at Main Park (Nebraska & Locust, just east of LaGrange) in Frankfort the park offers two ice rinks.  One for hockey and the other for open skating.  Skate rentals are available at the north concession stand should you need them.
You can find out more information about the Ice Rinks at Main Park by checking out the Frankfort Park Districts website.  Hours & concession stand information is listed there, in addition to up to the minute reports on ice conditions for skating.
*think freeze!*

Wednesday, December 24th 
Christmas Eve

Thursday, December 25th
Christmas Day

Friday, December 26th
Down Home Guitars - Open Mic

My husband plays guitar

My oldest son plays guitar and bass

My middle son plays drums

I'm pretty sure that my youngest son is some sort of maraca pro

Down Home Guitars, located at 11 S. White Street in Frankfort will be hosting it's monthly Open Mic on Friday, December 26th from 7-9pm.  Interested in participating in the open mic?  Sign ups start at 6:30pm and all ages and skill levels are encouraged to come out.  There is a suggested donation of $3 which supports the non-profit Frankfort Bluegrass Festival.
You can find out more information about Down Home Guitars and their Open Mic Events by visiting their website.

Saturday, December 27th
History Museum & House Walk

Yep, we are history geeks in this house.  We truly believe that you cannot have an appreciation of world history unless you understand local history.  We are quite fortunate to have such a wonderful local history museum within walking distance of where we live.
The History Museum, located at 132 Kansas Street in Frankfort has an amazing collection of local artifacts on display.  You can also pick up a self guided walking tour map of the historic homes in the area surrounding the museum.
You can find out more information about the History Museum by visiting the Village Of Frankfort's website.  

Sunday, December 28th
Frankfort Bowl

Six lanes, on the second floor, circa 1947 fun!  This is a really neat place to bowl at.  Be prepared to keep score manually.  This is old time bowling, remember you are going for fun, not to smoke your kids at bowling (you likely won't win anyways as the lanes are a little warped).
Located at 15 Ash Street in Frankfort this unique bowling alley is perfect for family fun.  There is a possibility that the alley is rented out for private events, so call first before going.
You can find out more information about Frankfort Bowl by visiting their website.

Monday, December 29th
CMP Laser Tag

Now, I have to be honest...this is one of maybe two things listed that I will not go to, only because our 1 year old can't enjoy it.  This is really a Dad and older kids kind of thing.
Located at 10315 Vans Drive in Frankfort, this is a more price-y option with 1.5 hours costing $25 per person.  BUT, this could definitely get rolled into a last minute Christmas gift as they do offer gift certificated.  Be sure to book your times early as they fill up fast!
You can find out more information about CMP Laser Tag by visiting their website.

Tuesday, December 30th
Galloping Ghost Arcade

Again, not something that I will be attending as the 1 year old will not enjoy it.  This is something that my husband and two older boys really, REALLY enjoy, though.
This is also a little bit of a drive.
Located at 9415 Ogden Ave in Brookfield, this arcade is coin-less gaming, you pay for a day pass - and this place is HUGE!  $15 per person gets you in all day (and you can come and go, so you can go out to eat and come back).  They currently have over 440 games to play with all of them set to free play.  They are open until 2am, daily.
You can find out a whole lot more about the Galloping Ghost by visiting their website.

Wednesday, December 31st
KidsWork Children's Museum

We are actually members to the museum.  And, to be honest, my 15 year old and 10 year old are entertained here just as much as the 1 year old.
On New Year's Eve they are hosting a Noon Years Eve event at the museum from 9-3pm, with a balloon drop at 12pm.
It's a fun kid friendly, family focused event if the late night party thing isn't your gig anymore.
Located at 11 S. White Street in Frankfort, this is also a walkable outing for us.
You can find out more information about KidsWorks and their Noon Years Eve event by visiting their website.

Thursday, January 1st
All Aboard Family Dinning & Entertainment

This is a train themed family restaurant where a model train runs a track with your order and stops right in front of you.
A fricking train delivers your meal!
I remember going to a place like this when I was a kid...possibly in Evergreen Park or Beverly.  I remember taking my 15 year old to the one in Evergreen Park when he was younger.  My 10 year old has been to this place (he was a HUGE Thomas fan when he was little).
This place is just a fun little dinner.
If that isn't cool enough, there is a special playroom designed for kids up to age 7.
Located at 20831 S. LaGrange in Frankfort this fun restaurant is a great stop for lunch for kids of all ages.
You can find out more about All Aboard Family Dinning & Entertainment by checking out their website.

Friday, January 2nd
Commissioners Park Sledding Hill

Again, we are assuming that not only will it get cold enough to freeze the ice rinks at Main Park, but it will be cold enough to produce enough snow to go sledding at Commissioners Park as well.
Located at 22108 S. 80th Ave in Frankfort this sled hill is lighted and open until 9pm, daily.
It is a popular stop for area kids.  Be prepared for it to be packed!  We like to go later in the evening, after dinner, to avoid the crowds.
You can find out more information about the sledding hill by checking out the Frankfort Park District website.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

{My} Top Three Places For Santa Photos Cheap/Free

...because, obviously I'm an expert on this

...I'm not, I'm just cheap.  Wait!  Frugal.  I'm frugal.

So, this really applies in the Chicago-land area.  With one exception (sorry).

In no particular order -

1) Bass Pro Shop *FREE*
It's called Santa's Wonderland and here are the details:

  • You can get a FREE 4x6 photo with Santa until December 24th
  • I'd recommend going right when it opens or be prepared for a wait.  And, for the love of all things good, don't go while the little ones are on break from school.  It's CRAZY!!  You can get a Bass Pass, which allows you to save your spot in line with a ticket so you can shop or look around while you wait.
  • They offer crafts FOR FREE!  Right now you can decorate a stick solider.  The next one up is to decorate a cookie (December 22-24).
  • FREE games and activities can be found here
  •  Here is the event schedule.  Check the website for your local Bass Pro Shop.

2) Daley Plaza (Chicago) *FREE*
He's in an actual house, and it's pretty cool.  Here are the details:
  • You need to bring your camera to take the photo
  • Runs through December 24th
  • Beware!  It's right by the Christkindl - it's BUSY
  • Currently open Friday-Sunday, but the week of Christmas it is open every day
  • More information can be found here 
  • You can walk it from the Metra EL and make a day of it visiting the Christkindl, stopping at Macy's and then walking down State Street and Michigan Ave.  Hit up the ice rink too.
3) Hammond Indiana Visitors Center
Located right off of I80.  Here are the details:
  • Cost is $5 for a 4x6 photo
  • Santa is on Santa Mountain!!  The whole visitors center is turned into an exhibit highlighting the epic Christmas movie A Christmas Story, which is based in Hammond Indiana.  
  • Did I mention Santa, with the slide and all?  Yep, it's cool.
  • The wait is never very long
  • There are activities to do
  • More information can be found here

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Teacher's Gift

Here it is, Christmas time.  We have been getting Secret Santa forms, Santa Workshop forms and Christmas Program invites.

It's busy when you have a kid in school around this time.

Having been out of the teacher gift giving loop for a few years I seriously was stumped on a gift idea.

Chris' school offers the opportunity to give a monetary gift that is totaled and then split between all of the teachers at the school.

Personally, I think that this is a brilliant idea.

Chris wanted to give his teacher a gift though.

Okay,, I asked him what he thought would be something his teacher would appreciate.

"You know those Dunkin Donuts cups you make up with gift cards?  My teacher likes Dunkin Donuts, I think that is a cool idea."

Hey!  So do I!

Remember to get a lid and tall straw, too.  I attach a gift tag to the straw (Chris will write a message on there), then I fill the cup with brown crinkle shredded paper (coffee) and assemble the cup.  No need to put in a bag or wrap in wrapping paper.  A gift to go!

Total cost is the expense of the gift card (we are giving $10), plus cost of cup ($.25), and fill ($1.00 at Dollar Tree will give you enough fill for 6 cups).

Friday, December 12, 2014

ChiTAG - {Day 5} Game Truck

Day Five Game Review - Game Truck

Okay, so technically NOT a toy or game, but hear me out on this - it's an experience

We have four different gaming systems hooked up to our TV.  We also have hand held gaming systems in addition to tablets, and pads, and ... things .... that all play games.

The Game Truck was the first thing that both of my kids ran - RAAANNNNN - to when we entered ChiTAG.  


Because it's cool (that's what I'm being told)

Really??, because we have that same exact game at home, why is it cooler to do it on a truck?

Apparently it's the couches, and TV's and it's relaxing.  

Okay, I'll roll with that.  Because you know what?  It's contained.  It's a weather-proof, stress-free and mess-free (MESS-FREE!) party option.  I'm a fan of mess-free.

The good -

  • Perfect for parties!  Up to 16 players can be in the truck at one time.  
  • 40 games on Xbox, Wii or Playstation (latest versions)
  • Offers other options, including laser tag, bumperz and pedal kart derby for an additional charge

The bad -

  • Pricing is a little steep, in my opinion, at $425 for the mobile video game theater for 2 hours of play

The details -
You can find out more about Game Truck by clicking here

Here's the deal, though.  I have two boys who love video games who happen to have birthdays exactly 7 days apart.  If, lets say, I was to have a combined friends party for them, then the $425 would be doable.  BUT, given that they are 5 years apart in age, that's likely not going to happen.

I really do like the option of a "Party-in-a-Party" where the kids are in the Game Truck and the parents are in the house.  I can't fit 16 kids in my family room in front of 1 TV to play video games all at once.  Game Truck has that ability.

Now, I'm trying to figure out how I can make this can I make this happen??
More info can be found here
Game Truck Website 
Game Truck Facebook
Game Truck Twitter

*the opinions are mine alone.  I attended a blogger event at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair where I received a bag of toys and games from contributing manufactures.  I did not receive anything from Game Truck.*

Thursday, December 11, 2014

ChiTAG - {Day 4} Quartermaster General

Day Four Game Review - Quartermaster General (Griggling Games)

I'm going to qualify my family's geekdom right now, in a photo

That is my husbands Christmas gift.  It's a 6 foot by 3 foot vinyl map for the game Axis & Allies. And yes, I can post that because he's not a regular here. 

I'm not going to post a photo of our game closet, because it's a mess.  But, along with Axis & Allies we have Battleship, Risk and at least 4 different chess boards.  

We LOVE strategic play.  

Unfortunately, I did not walk away from ChiTAG with my own Quartermaster General game.  In my defense, it was my first year attending and I didn't know that there would be games for sale.  (Noted for next year, though).  

But, we chatted with the Griggling Games guys for quite a bit.  Specifically about Quartermaster General.

The good -
  • Easy, quick play with minimal set up and pieces.    
  • 2-6 players, with a game length of about 120 minutes, tops
  • Awesome illustrated cards with amazing factual tidbits.  

The bad -

  • For me, price.  At $49.95 for the game, that's a hefty price tag for a board game.  BUT, if I view it as an investment it's not that bad.  It's just something that I have to save up for.

The details -
You can find out more about Quartermaster General by clicking here.

Given that we are fans of these types of games, this is really a no brainer to me as far as future purchase goes.
I also think that because this game is card driven and re-playable, it's a good first choice instead of something like Axis & Allies.  The quick set up helps greatly as well.    

More info can be found here
Quartermaster General Website 

Griggling Games Website
Griggling Games Facebook
Griggling Games Twitter

You can purchase Quartermaster General on Amazon. 

*the opinions are mine alone.  I attended a blogger event at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair where I received a bag of toys and games from contributing manufactures.  I did not receive anything from Griggling Games.*

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

ChiTAG - {Day 3} Tic Stac Toe

Day Three Game Review - Tic Stac Toe

So, Chris, my 10 year old, is some sort of reigning champion of this game at ChiTAG 2014.  Or, something like that.

If that title doesn't exist, it really should.

He kicked booty at this game! And loves it.  Actually, he'll be really excited to know that I'm doing this review today so he can play the game at home now.  

I have to be totally honest here, I have NO CLUE how he did it. It's a three dimensional tic tac toe game.  He loves this game.


...and I could totally see how this stimulates spacial thinking as you play.  With the ability to get 4 in a row, on any level and over 75 possible ways to win, this game is going to quickly become a favorite one in our home.  

The good -
  • Based on a simple game that everyone knows.  This escalates (quickly, I might add) and forces you to carefully plan your next move (it reminds me a lot of chess in that way).    
  • With multiple ways to win (over 75 different ways, in fact) and four levels to play, spacial thinking runs high. 
  • Quick set up and easy pieces to play with.  Rated for ages 8+, Chris (who is 10) did much better than Cody (15) at this game.  Not sure why, but with this being a 2 player game I'm sure that there will be many matches  (and re-matches) in play shortly.

The bad -

  • The three dimensional play may throw some (like me) off a little.  It's taken a few (eh, hem...a lot) of tries to get the strategic planning required of this game.  It's a quick processes, though.   

The details -
You can find out more about Tic Stac Toe by clicking here
The game costs $18.99 retail 


Given that we are huge into strategic games in our home, this one really is a no brainer for us.  Like I mentioned above, it reminds me a chess and with the playing surface being 3D it just adds to the spacial decoding necessary to win this game. 

And, to be very honest, though I appreciate all of the products that we were sent home with from ChiTAG, Tic Stac Toe really is one of maybe three things that we will keep, and, it's top on that list. 


More info can be found here
Tic Stac Toe Website 
Tic Stac Toe Facebook 
Tic Stac Toe Twitter
Tic Stac Toe YouTube 
Tic Stac Toe App

Goliath Games Website
Goliath Games Facebook
Goliath Games Twitter

You can purchase Tic Stac Toe at Target. 

*the opinions are mine alone.  I attended a blogger event at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair where I received a bag of toys and games from contributing manufactures.  This game was not in that bag, though.  We were given this game to play at home.*

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

ChiTAG - {Day Two} Fluffy Friends Chomping Plush Toys

Day Two Toy Review - Fluffy Friends Chomping Plush Toys (Boo)

The good -

  • It's like a little misfit stuffie - I mean, come on - that's cool 
  • Easy to use, even my 21 month old figured out how to use it.  This means that it can be enjoyed by everyone in the family
  • Boo (the character that I received) GLOWS IN THE DARK!!

The bad -

  • As of right now there are only 3 character options.  ChiTAG was the launch of these toys.  BUT, the other two options are pretty neat as well (my favorite is Bad, by the way).  Not a "bad", really, just a limitation.    

The details -
Fluffy Friends Chomping Plush Toys are operated by your fingers.  

They have bean bag like bottoms so that they can sit on surfaces.  They also come with a clear plastic bone to chomp down on.

Also, Jordan Own, Inventor and Designer of Fluffy Friends, says that their will be supporting products in the market including story books, games and more characters.    

My 10 & 15 year old's both thought that they were pretty cool.  I can see these really hitting off well in the tween and teen markets (it's rated for ages 5+).  Think goth-like store in mall ...  that's where my mind is going. Anyway, they are a little off and different, I like that a lot (they really are "Diabolically Adorable").  I really appreciated the packaging. 

More info can be found here
Fluffy Friends Website 
Fluffy Friends Facebook

YOPO Toys Website

You can purchase the Fluffy Friends on the Fluffy Friends Website for $19.99 each. 

*the opinions are mine alone.  I attended a blogger event at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair where I received a bag of toys and games from contributing manufactures.  I received "Boo" from Fluffy Friends/YOPO Toy Company in my bag.*

Monday, December 8, 2014

ChiTAG - {Day 1} Ionix Pokemon

Day One Toy Review - Ionix Pokeom (Ash)

My boys BOTH loved Spin Master's display at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair.  And, it's really no shocker that Chris (my 10 year old) spotted the display.

He's really into Pokemon

Especially Pickachu

The good -

  • They are shapeshifting bricks, which means that they are movable.  
  • They fit with our already huge collection of those other tiny bricks *wink*
  • Quick assembly for quick play on these mini-figures

The bad -

  • As of right now they only offer the mini-figures in Ash, Pickachu, Froakie, Chespin, and Fennekin.  They do offer playsets, though, with other characters. Not necessarily "bad", but with my Pokemon crazed 10 year old 5 mini figures will be quickly assembled. 

The details -
You can find out more about Ionix's Pokemon by clicking here.
With each mini figure costing about $5.99 each, they make great stocking stuffers.

We are big fans of Spin Master products already.  Having a good chunk of their Spy Gear and Tech Decks already, as well as their game HedBandz, we know that the products are fun and our boys enjoy playing with them.

More info can be found here
Ionix Website 
Ionix Facebook
Ionix Twitter

Spin Master Website
Spin Master Facebook
Spin Master Twitter

You can purchase the Ionix Pokemon mini-figures at Toys r Us.

*the opinions are mine alone.  I attended a blogger event at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair where I received a bag of toys and games from contributing manufactures.  I received Ionix's Ash in my bag.*

Friday, December 5, 2014

Chicago Toy & Game Fair {ChiTAG}

I shared a little bit about how not meeting the qualifications for the ChiTAG Blogger Breakfast last year made me adopt my new blogging model, here.

I have heard many amazing stories about ChiTAG from other area bloggers over the past few years. This was my very first year attending...


It was so cool!  I mean, really, really cool.

Plus, I had the wonderful opportunity to run an giveaway for a free family admission.  I'm so glad that two other families were able to attend this event as well thanks to those giveaways.

So, I just wanted to include a few highlights from our day out at ChiTAG.  Starting on Monday, December 8th, I'll be highlighting some of the toys and games that we got to play with and giving an honest review about what I thought of them, as well as what my boys thought of them.

This is kind of my version of a "gift guide", except, I'm not doing a gift guide.  Just letting you know what we liked, what we didn't and why.  We'll see how that rolls.

Blogger Breakfast.

Waiting to enter



Thank you to the sponsors - Hasbro, Mayfair Games, Rainbow Loom, Razor and Spin Master
Thank you to the featured exhibitors - BERG Toys, Goliath Games, Patch Products and PRIVO
Thank you to Chicago Toy & Game Fair 

*the opinions are mine alone.  I attended a blogger event at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair, which was sponsored and highlighted by the above game & toy manufacturers.  I received a light breakfast for my family and I in addition to admission to the Chicago Toy & Game Fair (including a sneak peek one hour prior to general admission) as well as a bag of toys, games and products.*

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


There is this song by the band MercyMe called Greater

This song has been calling to me for a few months now.  I don't know, it's something about these lyrics

Every day I wrestle with the voices
That keep telling me I’m not right
But that’s alright

I mean, the whole song is really good, at least I think so.  The take away for me, though, is that it is in our thoughts, which lead to what we say, that ultimately lead to our actions that we are seen, truly seen.  I hesitate to use the word "judged" there, but really, one can be.
So, then, wouldn't I want to be greater?  In my thoughts, which lead to what I say and then, ultimately, to my actions.  Wouldn't I?
It is through our selfless actions, the ones we do that no one credits us for, nor do we want or expect credit for them, that this concept of greater resides.  We, all of us, are not meant to walk this life alone.  We are not to be lone ships at sea.  Plus, it's not good for us.  I know it's not good for me at least.

It is in our underlying principles and values, the concepts that we believe are our truths, which guide us, that will push us to that state of greater.  A place where we can run freely absent of condemnation, by ourselves or others.

I feel like I'm running there, now.

This is also coupled with the overwhelming feeling of gratitude that I have right now.  Actually, I'm feeling very overwhelmed right now.  There are a lot of feelings, but, gratitude is the one that is at the forefront and leading the charge.

This time of year is always very taxing on me.  It's not bad, I just feel worn.  And, for a good reason, really.
We are going into our 11th year of adopting a family who is being effected by a cancer diagnoses. We have been doing this for the past 11 years in honor of my sister-in-law, Kristin, who passed away of lung cancer at the age of 26 leaving behind her toddler son and husband.  
Kristin was the recipient of such generosity in 2003.  The impact that this outpouring of support cannot be overstated as two weeks prior to Christmas and the day before her last lung cancer treatment, doctors found cancer in her brain.  She had lost hope.
It was due to the efforts of her nurse that Kristin's last Christmas was filled with joy and hope rather than grief and fear.
She planned to pay forward what had been done for her and her family.  We continue to carry this on in her honor.

Her nurse acted greater

And it was because of that one person and what she was able to pull together by sharing Kristin's story with her family and friends that Kristin was inspired to pay it forward, by the well wishes and cards that were sent to her by strangers and by their kindness.  It was through this that hope was regained.

So, we act greater.  We do so because we know what an impact that this can have on a family.  We do this because we can.  

That feeling of worn that I have now, it is because I still cannot get through Kristin's Thank You letter to God without crying.  And I've read it hundreds of times.
That feeling of worn comes because I am putting myself out there in a raw and unguarded way by asking for help.  And that is so uncomfortable.

I had to do that a few weeks back.  I needed help from my extended Scout Family in obtaining some items on this year's family's "Wish List".  I was invited to come out to the monthly Roundtable Meeting to present what information I had and see what kind of help I could get for this family.

I attended that Roundtable Meeting last night.  And, I am still overwhelmed.  

Complete strangers, who don't know me or this family or the child that their selfless generosity will touch gave, and gave greatly.

But, really, we are talking about Scouts.  I like to believe that the core values that families who participate in scouting hold allow them to truly act in that greater realm.  When your slogan is "Do a Good Turn Daily" and Scouts are instructed to be Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent how can you not grow, how can you not be selfless, how can you not act greater?

At every turn, I am truly in awe at what people will do, how they will act and how they give so freely.  
If you are feeling the desire to help as well, the information about this years family is below.  I know that we likely don't know each other, have probably never met face to face, and all you are going on is whatever feelings you have welling up inside you right now.

I get it.  Really, I do.  

I just want to point out that we are not an official non-profit.  There are many wonderful ones out there.  If you would like to help this family through a non-profit they are requesting donations be made to the Cancer Support Center of Homewood/Mokena, specifically to the Kids Summer Program.  Here is a link to give.

With all of that being said, I like to consider ourselves "Christmas Ninjas".  

*And, just right now, I received an email from a Scout Master who says that it's a privilege to help, and...I'm a crying mess, again.  Because, of that one word - privilege.*

Christmas Ninjas - *whew, deep breaths*, okay - so we operate on a level on anonymity.  We do not take credit for any of this, ever.  We socialite family, friends and co-workers to help.  As the family's privacy is respected and upheld, so is those who contribute.  All Thank You letters will come from us and I post a roundup on my personal Facebook page with photos and totals of everything.  

We are simply a family who saw firsthand what something like this can do, and we want to pay that forward. 

We can all do greater

We can restore hope 

(To follow is our official 2014 letter.  I've omitted our mailing address, but left our PayPal account information.  If you are interested in sending a tangible item, please contact me directly by commenting on this post.)

Dear Friends and Family,

                First, I hope this letter finds everybody well and enjoying the holidays.  As I do each year, I am writing to you about a family in need and struggling with a cancer diagnosis (and all it entails).  Thank you for your support over the last 11 years! 

Jeni (45) is a wife and mother of 3.  In addition to her work as a recreational therapist for people with special needs, she’s also heavily involved in her children’s activities and church.   After seeing a doctor about what was expected to be a routine rash, she was diagnosed with Paget’s Disease, a rare, very aggressive form of breast cancer.  Further testing revealed 2 more masses, and the combination of issues required Jeni to have a double mastectomy and surgical removal of 29 lymph nodes. Within a month she went from healthy to Stage 3 cancer and major surgery.  In the time since, intense chemotherapy has left her unable to work, drive, and even walk at times in addition to the usual side effects of constant illness and hair loss.  She is currently working with doctors to prepare a radiation treatment plan.

As always, there is a financial impact, and (as always) other things unrelated to cancer that make an already bad situation worse.  Jeni’s husband, Steve, is out of work and doing handyman type work as well as winterizing boats and RVs to make ends meet.   They are on Medicaid.  Obviously, watching their mother’s health deteriorate rapidly from the treatment has been traumatic for the kids.

                What can be done?  Although there are problems here that we can’t solve, we can have a big impact in a really positive way.  Here’s how this works: the next page contains wish-lists we’ve collected from the family. (For those curious: parents give us lists for the kids, and then we probe to get ideas for them/family—they never want to list anything for themselves.)  If you are willing and able to help, you can send a donation of any sort, and we’ll deliver them just before Christmas.  The purpose is two-fold.  We can provide the tangible items and support that is needed.  But this is really not about the stuff.  Rather, it’s about helping them have a “normal” Christmas—one where the focus isn’t on loss.  It’s about the true meaning of the holiday, what we are given through Christmas, which is hope and knowing that we have not been forgotten or cast off.

                As most of you know, this tradition began for our family in 2003 when my sister, Kristin, and her family were the beneficiaries of such generosity.  I can't overstate the impact it had on her.  Two weeks prior to Christmas, and the day before her last lung cancer treatment; doctors found cancer in her brain.  It was absolutely devastating for her, as she'd remained hopeful and thought her ordeal was almost over.  In the following days, nothing anybody said or did helped.  She lost hope. 

                The nurses at Christ Hospital, adopted Kristin and her family that year.  A couple came on the 23rd with gifts…a lot…like they pretty much packed the living room wall to wall.  I remember the look on her face—shock mostly, but also inspired.

                The outpouring of generosity and support completely re-energized Kristin.  It made her last Christmas filled with joy and hope rather than the grief and fear.  She was inspired not only by the donations, but by the kindness of complete strangers. She was most moved by the cards and well wishes that were sent.  I could forever write on for pages trying to describe the hope and faith this brought her, but it's best put in her own words/prayer that evening, which I have enclosed. 

                While Kristin did not have another Christmas, she planned to pay forward what had been done for her family.  Our family carries this in her honor.   Whether you knew her or have another connection to situations like this, anything you can do to help would be greatly appreciated. 

                Included is the information we’ve gotten about what the kids like, where the family shops, etc.  As always, we accept tangible items, wrapped gifts, gift cards, cash/checks.  If you choose to donate via cash or check, feel free to specify what you'd like it to go toward, and we'll do the shopping for you.  We can also take donations via PayPal at  

                Thank you for reading this and in advance of your generosity.  It's our sincere hope that we can help spread hope and faith to this family, which needs a positive, uplifting experience.   We would like to deliver donations on 12/23, so please try to have them to us by the 12/22/14.  You can mail them, drop them off, or we will gladly pick them up.  Please call ***-***-**** to set up a time, otherwise mail to:

Thank you again and Merry Christmas!

Wish List

Girl age 8
Size large/xlarge shirts
Size 12 pants
Likes: Pokemon cards, posters, stuffed animals-anything Pokemon
Bright colors, girly hair clips/headbands (has long hair)
Would like gift card to American Girl store-she has never been before/is getting a gently used doll
Small water frog in desktop mini tank

Boy age 10
Youth large/ xlarge (14) workout pants (fleece/cotton)
Xlarge shirt (long sleve polos)
Likes Halo, Call of Duty, Mindcraft (posters, megablocks/lego building kits)
Soundtrack to Halo (Music DVD)
Boy Scout  uniform shirt (tan) and sash
Small water frog in desktop mini tank
Battlestation Pacific video game for xbox 360 (used is ok)

Boy age 12
Youth xlarge (16) workout pants (fleece/cotton)
Xlarge shirt (long sleve polos)
Likes Halo, Call of Duty, Mindcraft (posters, megablocks/lego building kits)
Small water frog in desktop mini tank
Civilization Revolution video game for xbox 360 (used is ok)

Speedway gift card
Cost cutters/ Great Clips gift card
Passes to any local attractions

Petsmart gift card
YMCA gift card
Passes to any local attractions
“Also any donations in support of our journey to the Cancer Support Center in Homewood/Mokena instead of a gift to me would also be greatly appreciated, specifically to the Kids Summer Camp Program.  All 3 of our children attended this summer.  It is an amazing program.”

Local attractions (Medieval Time, Sports, etc.)

11:30 p.m.
Dear God,
                It is the day before Christmas Eve, and as I have told You before many times this week, I have been feeling pretty low.  But I know that sometimes You have to take a step back and let me try to do things on my own.  Although it felt like it would never come, patiently I waited for that feeling of security.  That “knowing” that You were taking care of me and even though I hurt, You would not let anything hurt me.  I keep reassuring myself that people can, and do beat cancer, so why not me?  I am a young, strong, mother, and You, Yourself, know what parenthood can do to a person’s strength and determination!
                I come to you with my usual “thank you’s” and prayers, but also with a few extras tonight, too.  I am very blessed with many wonderful family and friends.  I have a beautiful son, a wonderful husband, and many more friends than I knew of.  Tonight, the night before Christmas Eve, Santa came.  Can you believe it? I am 25 years old and Santa Claus came to my house.  On Christmas Day, Joe and I will watch Joey open gifts that WE didn’t even know he was getting!  We will watch him with as much wonder and awe as he will have for the magic of that moment! Can You believe how lucky we truly are?  Can You imagine years from now, when we sit down to watch the video of Joey’s first Christmas, how amazing it will be to be able to tell him this story?
                I am convinced that there are some people who aren’t just people, they are angels.  A couple weeks ago, Suresh from 7 East at Christ Hospital called me and told me that they had chosen our family as this year’s “Adopt-a-Family.”  We were beyond touched by their offer and their gifts over the Thanksgiving Holiday.  I am disappointed in myself that I got wrapped up in all the chaos with our “news” of the lesion that I didn’t even send them a thank you card or make the cookies I was going to bake.
                I talked to Gerri from 7 East and she mentioned that she would be bringing over not only gifts from the hospital, but also gifts that her family and friends wanted to give as well.  We had NO idea the magnitude of this gift.  She brought her neighbor and her son Marty to help carry things in, and Joe and my brother Dave still had to make a couple trips as well.  In minutes, our dining room and living room were full.  There is more food than we can find place for.  Baby food, juice, diapers, toys, clothes, wipes, the list keeps going.  We’re still not cleaned up!  As if that wasn’t enough, there is an unbelievable amount of gift certificates to Jewel.  Gerri got me a pedicure.  I can’t wait!  (Maybe I’ll have them do my toes while their drilling those holes in my head, at least I know the polish won’t smudgeJ)  Joe is so excited to go to Wal-Mart and go shopping for some clothes.  He lost 45 pounds in four months and is very proud of his accomplishment, but now his clothes hang off of him!  Also, since he uses his own version of the Atkins diet and is a big meat eater, he is really excited to take the George Foreman Grill to work and grill some fresh brats or burgers.  He’ll be a hero!  It has been so long since we have had time to just rent a movie and relax.  It seemed like we were just starting to get back into the good old “normal” feeling again and now things are all crazy again.  Maybe we just need a good funny movie and to snuggle up after Joey goes to bed to help us remember how strong this is going to make us.  Joe will probably fall asleep half way through, but then again, I guess that would be what makes it feel so normal, You know?  Now, here is something so interesting.  I have never been to the Hancock Observatory, and I used to be a downtown connoisseur.  This, of course, means that Joey has never been there, and I am so excited to be able to plan another first for him.  Michael’s Craft sore is having a huge sale after Christmas and I have been longing to get back to my crafts that I love so much.  Originally, I thought this may slow me down, but now, that 70% off scrapbook aisle is calling my name.  K-mart, Kohl’s, Marshall’s, and Babies R Us…  You know what they say; the best kind of therapy is retail therapy!  And I believe it!  Then there are some personal gifts.  The Joyce family sent me a Christmas pin and earrings, and some lotions.  I’ve said it before...when you have no hair, the only thing you can do to feel like a girl is smell good!  (And get a pedicure.)  Michele and Erin sent a snowman ornament.  We already hung it on the tree.  There are piles of clothes for Joey.  Soft fleece, sports stuff, car stuff (which his daddy loves) and Elmo!  His favorite!  There is even a Noah’s Ark play-set in the toy box.  I’m excited, because we’ve been trying to read his children’s Bible and now he can learn about it even more.  The dog had a treat and a raw hide bone and the cat is purring louder than I’ve ever heard him, because he had some tuna cat food tonight, which he’s never experienced before.  I can’t even name everything, there is so much stuff.  For a long time, we just sat and starred at is all, in awe.  I can’t believe there are people that are like this, this giving and caring, that they would do so much for a family that most of them haven’t even met, and didn’t think twice about it.  And at this time of year! When money is tight and times are tough, when there’s so much to buy that you sometimes forget to be thankful for what you have, people are thinking about me.  My son.  My husband.  My family, my life, my holiday.  As we sat around and starred at the wonderful clutter, my brother said “This is the kind of power you have behind you right now.”

I feel recharged.  I feel hopeful.  I feel strong.  I am in awe of Your works.  I am humbled.

I know the next few months will not be easy.  The last ten haven’t been a piece of cake themselves.  But I can and I will beat this.  I am going to be the biggest, best survival story you have.  Just watch.
Before I go to bed, I just really wanted to say thank you for all of the wonderful doctors and nurses that I have. Last week, when I was in the hospital, I heard Gerri come onto her shift and as for me to be her patient.  It felt so good to have that comfort at a time when I was really scared.  You know, it has been really difficult to go through all of this since I lost my mom, a year and a half ago.  She was a nurse and excited to be about to be a grandma when she passed, and it has been hard to not call my mom for questions, advice, or help.  Gerri reminds me a lot of my mom.  I think we have that same sarcastic sense of humor, which is really great because there are only a few of us like that.  But she has been so supportive and insistent that I can beat this, and that I am as comfortable as I can possibly be while doing it.  And You know what?  I believe her.  Oddly, no one really told me what was going on with this new lesion.  (Maybe they did, I wasn’t really too with it last week or this week.) But, after I talked to Gerri, I felt like she had cleared some things up for me and I just felt better.  Modern medicine is amazing because it can help so much and take away so much pain, but the feelings I experienced tonight because of these amazing people just changed me.  I know that this tradition will definitely be one that continues in our family for years to come.  Next year, we will adopt a family, and we will spread Your grace the way that they have.  And the year after that and the year after that…
I know we usually keep our conversations pretty private, but I hope you don’t mind if I pass this letter along.  I really want them to know how their actions have changed who we are.  In one night, I have a whole new take on things.  Am I lucky or what?

Kristin Schubbe
(Joe and Joey, too)