Monday, January 2, 2012

Families, don't hide from winter Hunt animal tracks, learn a new language or volunteer your time to beat cabin fever By Joseph Ruzich, Special to the Tribune

Me thinks the Good Lord wanted human kind to know the great joys and adventures to be derived from communing with nature at each and every hour of some days, and during each and every season. Except, of course, for those who live in San Diego, CA, for whom he knew that too much variation of climate would drive them into full mode madness and they would build mega churches that reach to the stars in their attempt to prove that they are the ones most blessed.,0,2107379.story

January 4, 2012

Chicago residents Jay Annadurai and her husband, Zubin, are is always looking for activities to do with their two children during the cold winter months.

"It's easy (in the winter) to get held up in the house," said Annadurai, who has a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son and is program director of the Neighborhood Parents Network, or NPN, in Chicago.

Annadurai and other activity planners say numerous activities are available for families during the winter.

For example NPN, formerly the Northside Parents Network, has more than 5,000 members and provides Chicago families with social and support groups, online discussion forums and a calendar of activities for children and adults.

Activities range from foreign-language classes to museum trips. The cost to join is $45 for one year, and many events are free or reduced in price.

Annadurai said there are a lot of other activities for nonmembers in Chicago and said she thinks the city is a great place to raise children.

"While I often take my kids to museums, there are a lot of fun and free things to do," she said. "You just have to keep your eyes open for events."

Annadurai recently took her kids to a free storytelling event at a Whole Foods grocery store and likes to visit a coffee shop that has activities for kids. She said many such events can be found online and in parenting publications.

She recommends families visit the NPN calendar at Some of the events at NPN are also open to nonmembers.

Another family option during winter is volunteering. Tanisha Smith, national director of volunteer services at Volunteers of America, said families and individuals should find a volunteer opportunity that they would enjoy.

"Animal lovers could work at an animal shelter, while others, perhaps, might want to deliver food to the elderly or send care packages to the men and women serving overseas," said Smith. "It doesn't have to be hard."

Smith said volunteering can create bonds with other family members.

"It instills values of helping, sharing and caring, while helping those who are less fortunate," said Smith, who added that volunteers often make new friends and find out about other opportunities.

The Volunteers of America website is

One of the most obvious things families can do during the winter is to bundle up and go outside.
The Chicago region is rich with thousands of acres of open space that becomes transformed into a winter wonderland after a snowfall.

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County offers trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The district also offers ice fishing tournaments and snow tubing.

When snowfall reaches 3 inches, snow tubes can be rented for $4 a day for thrilling rides down Mount Hoy at the Blackwell Forest Preserve in Warrenville.

The hill is open through February on weekends and school holidays.

The Forest Preserve District's website is

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County offers ski rentals at the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center near Lemont from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through early March. The cost is $12 per person or $30 for a family. The website is

Naturalist Jack MacRae, of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, recommends taking a quiet walk on a trail in the snow in search of animal tracks.

"It's exciting and illustrates the kind of animal activity going on in the forest preserves," said MacRae.

Field guides and online lessons can teach hikers to identify deer, fox, rabbit and coyote tracks.

MacRae also recommends bird watching in the winter, which can be easier for beginners because there are no leaves on the trees to hide the birds. Some common winter birds include owls, woodpeckers and an array of finches.

"It really is a great time of year," said MacRae. "If you dress for the weather, you can really enjoy yourself."

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