Visiting the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

On a trip to Chicago, the kids and I ventured to the Lincoln Park area and visited the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum on a very hot and muggy afternoon. The museum was perfect for escaping the heat and learning about nature during our two hours there.

1st Floor Highlights:

We sort of few through the Riverworks and then paused a bit more to see the live reptiles and amphibians. The exhibits are very much hands-on, reminding me more of a children’s museum. Both my four and six year old enjoyed the Hands On Habitat area, designed for kids age seven and under. They played in various animal habitats, went down a “tree” slide and even played dress-up in animal costumes.

2nd Floor Highlights: the Butterflies!

The butterfly haven really stole the show at this museum, though on our way there, we did walk through the taxidermy areas that showcased Illinois ecosystems. Most of my pictures are from the butterfly area. I just love this oasis – it’s so peaceful and relaxing to watch the butterflies flutter around the greenhouse.

So many butterflies

I loved the Blue Morpho Butterfly, upper left. My smartphone camera took some decent shots!

Butterfly collage

Upper left – feeding time, a butterfly by the fruit plate. Upper right – turtle hanging by the pond / waterfall. Lower left – a Blue Morpho butterfly landed right by my kids!

The circle of life is represented in this habitat. In the picture above, lower right corner, there is a quail and below a bird that both eat dead butterflies.

Bird in the butterfly exhibit

Pretty bird. Must eat a lot of butterflies too…

After hanging out in the butterfly haven for some time, we made sure that none were coming with us (not one butterfly landed on us), and left the greenhouse. Outside we could see the chrysalis with the next crop of butterflies for the garden. I think the lifespan of these butterflies is about one month in the garden, so I can imagine how many have to hatch to re-populate this beautiful exhibit.

hatching butterflies

Hatching new beauties

We spent some time in the weather exhibit, having the most fun with the green screen! My daughter did pretty well reading and keeping up with the lines.

Fun with the green screen and reporting

This line was perfect for the HOT weather we were experiencing that day. 

You could choose between fast or slow reading (we chose slow for my soon to be 1st grader), which was nice. I think all kids (adults too) enjoy seeing themselves on camera! \

After one more visit to play in the under age seven habitat area, we briefly hit the gift shop and cafe. While there are many tempting and exciting items (my kids wanted a lot of the stuffed animals), we managed to each buy a drink and then leave the building to hike the nature trail outside.

My kids found some ducks and scared them into the pond.

Enjoying a hike outside the nature museum

Ahh – noisy kids, better swim away!

It was a really nice, shady nature trail that hooked up with a larger park, so we could have kept on walking if we wanted. Instead we cut our time short and headed back to the car. This was our view as we left:

View of the Chicago Skyline from Lincoln Park

All in all we enjoyed our visit to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum! It is a nice, manageable museum in Chicagoland that is not in the main museum campus near the lakefront, so it was relatively easy to find. I think it was perfect for my kids, though it seemed people of all ages were visiting. I’d recommend checking it out if you’re in the area.

Life Lessons from Camping in the Rain

We spent the weekend camping as a family, and most of the time it rained except for small breaks on Saturday and all day Sunday, when we were packing up to leave. As one can expect, the weekend had some highs and lows, but all in all I’d still call it a good one. When I thought about it, there definitely were some life lessons that could be gleaned from camping in the rain:

  1. Life’s Messy – you’re GOING to get dirty, especially at a muddy campsite that has soaked up rain for 15 hours! We have this screened in entry way into our tent, and it just had puddle and mud from our shoes all over. I kept trying to wipe a bit up with towels, but just had accept that it was going to stay dirty until it could dry out. Fortunately everything DID get cleaned up, multiple loads of laundry later. So go ahead and accept the dirt! There will always be a load of laundry to do.
  2. You’re not in control – This is a big one for me, as someone who loves to plan. I look at my lists and pack as best as I can for camping, but you certainly cannot plan the weather, as much as we’d like to. We woke up to rain Friday night that continued practically ALL day Saturday. This changed our hiking plans, and so we found a small coffee shop, where we grabbed breakfast, hung out, and later drove to meet my parents for a visit and lunch. We found joy and fun in the unexpected, reminding me to embrace whatever life and weather brings!

    beautiful latte

    When it rains, go enjoy a latte! This one was so pretty & delicious.

  3. Good Things Take Time – Everything takes longer when you’re camping, and in preparing meals, this is so true. Some of our most memorable meals are when we’re camping. This summer we grilled salmon and red potatoes over the fire. We’ve had elaborate breakfasts – omelettes, fried potatoes, bacon & toast over the fire or on our camp stove. Plus there’s nothing like a perfectly toasted marshmallow on a s’more! It’s all so good eating al fresco and well worth the wait!
  4. Unplug – We didn’t really occupy ourselves or our kids with electronics the entire weekend, even with the rain. My daughter and I enjoyed coloring pictures together at the coffee shop and in the tent. Daddy O. and the kids fished in the drizzle. We played games as a family and took a hike when the sun finally came out. We hung out around the fire. It was good, quality time together as a family….and not that we didn’t have our “moments” when the tent became a time-out location because we did. Cram four people into a tent and moments will teeter between harmony and discord. It just happens.

    Mama O and family camping on a sunny day

    One our our first camping trips as a family. We were on a nature hike in this picture and loving the sunny day in the great outdoors!

  5. Appreciation for Non-camping – We came home last night, started unpacking and cleaning up. My shower felt so luxurious compared to the 3 minute shower I took at the campsite. We slept great in our own beds without a 3am wake up and walk outside to the bathroom. I returned home with a thankful heart, feeling blessed for the time with these precious people in such a beautiful setting.

Though we’ve only been camping for the last three summers, I know it’s something that we will continue for years to come because it’s such a valuable, relaxing time to be together as a family. Simply put, it’s good for us all, mind, body, and soul.We always walk away thinking, “Next time we should pack that,” or “let’s try this camping spot next summer,” so we will be at it again with new places to explore and more memories to make together.

Spring Break was a Needed Break

Coming off of Spring Break this morning, I woke up early-ish, expecting a difficult morning. After a week of being able to sleep in and enjoy a few “pajama mornings” (as we call them), I was sure it would be tough to get my daughter up and moving. And wow, was I ever wrong.

This morning was delightful!

My daughter woke herself up early.  She was well-rested, probably exhausted from swimming, and a quick bike ride to the park after dinner. Plus, she was just excited to go back to school again. We had talked about it on Sunday night, and I asked what she might do to help get ready for Monday morning. She decided to pack up her backpack, which was another thing done! Breakfast, getting dressed, and packing up all went so well that I even had time to french braid her hair. This was a small victory in our year long quest for a better morning routine and a nod to my New Year’s resolution for less hurry.

Looking back at Easter weekend and Spring Break last week, I do think that the “break” really was needed for everyone in our family. We went to church, visited with out of town family, took a day trip to Madison, and did fun activities throughout the week.

spring break collage

Views of Lake Mendota from Picnic Point Beach, Madison, Wisconsin.

As you can see, we had a bright, sunny day to enjoy a brief hike on our visit to Madison. Aren’t the colors of the lake so soothing? Cool as it was, my son and daughter had fun feeling the sand between their fingers and exploring the shore. It makes me look forward to camping this summer and warmer weather in general. Our spring break started with snow on Good Friday and ended with more snow on April 2, so it goes in springtime in Wisconsin.

The time away from our daily routines and the stress of preparing to move was healing, a way to relax and recharge.

Over the weekend I was able to take my own solo road-trip to celebrate one of my very best friend’s birthdays. Quiet time behind the windshield gave me a chance to be with my thoughts, belt out some of my favorite tunes (without any complaints!), and catch up on some leisure reading during pit stops. A chance to re-connect with my dear friend who I’ve known since elementary school is always a welcome and fun break, not to mention a bit of therapy at times!

Plus the kids enjoyed some of their own time with just Daddy O. I was greeted with hugs and many stories of their adventures together. “I only wanted to hug you eight times,” little brother reported, and so we had to catch up on hugs a bit on Sunday afternoon / evening.  I came back from my road trip feeling very loved and happy to be home.

We didn’t do anything overly extravagant or exciting over Spring Break, but it certainly was enough for us all. I saw this quote at the museum we went to and thought that it summed up my sentiments quite well.

quote

The BEST Museum I’ve Ever Visited: Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

We found a museum that we love so much that we’ve managed to go there twice now.  It’s in Tucson, Arizona, a few thousand miles away from Wisconsin.  When the months get colder here (and do they ever!!), we’ve found Arizona to be an ideal retreat from winter.

During such a cold day back home, I took some time to organize our pictures from our recent visit with kids to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.

Here it is so well described on their website:

The 98 acre Desert Museum is a fusion experience: zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium.

And it’s almost ALL outside, giving us “snowbirds” the chance to savor the sunshine.

We started off in the aquarium area, where we learned about the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California. Surprisingly, this body of water is considered part of the Sonaran Desert Region. We enjoyed talking with docents around the touch pool, seeing and touching some echinoderms (sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins) hermit crabs, and other creatures found in the tide pool. My kids especially like the one that “pooped out” its stomach as a defense mechanism.

After that we were outside, greeted by this view:

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum view

View near the entrance of the Desert Museum

We moved along to the Earth Science exhibits, including walking through caves and learning about the history of the region. There were also great activities for the kids: they could pick their own rocks and “sweep” the sand away to reveal fossils.

geology hands on fun for kids

Beautiful rocks and “digging” for dinosaur bones.

Next we meandered along the paths to see all of the exhibit areas that are grouped by habitat types you find in the Sonoran Desert. Here are a few of our favorite animals that we saw:

Rattlesnake, roadrunner, javelina snoozing, bobcats

Rattlesnake, roadrunner, javelina snoozing, bobcats

After lunch in the food court (a better choice with kids instead of the sit down restaurant), we wound around the trails to see the Raptor Free Flight. We’ve seen raptor flights before, but it was so cool to see them fly directly overhead and watch how the Harris’s Hawks flew together in a team.

Raptor demonstration

Harris’s Hawks and Barn Owl show their stuff at the flight demonstration.

And we sure love the desert views.

As seen at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

So much to photograph! From top: cactus garden, red rocks, and kids running on the groomed paths. Bottom: love the colors of this panorama

Near the end of our visit, we ventured into the Hummingbird Aviary.  These birds are simply mesmerizing, zipping around so quickly and stopping to drink nectar. My point and shoot camera could barely capture the hummingbirds in flight! Luckily, I managed to get this shot:

Hummingbird in flight

My best picture in the hummingbird exhibit

Earlier in the morning at the Desert Museum, Daddy O. and I posed for this picture, and I think it just about sums up our reaction to spending almost the entire day here: big grins that spread ear to ear, so happy to be outside and sharing this awesome museum with family.

Visiting the Sonara Desert Museum

Daddy and Mama O in the Desert

I’d highly recommend a visit to Tucson to see the amazing Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum!

Illinois Railroad Museum – A Train Lover’s Paradise

You could say the love of trains in our family has skipped a generation.  Saying my dad is an avid railfan could be the biggest understatement of the century!  He has LOVED trains from little on – watching them, riding them, and building and re-building his elaborate HO scale train layout in his home.  Needless to say when he & my mom had my sister and me, he tried to pass along that same love of trains. You could say the hobby just didn’t “take” for us girls. I enjoy riding trains – especially during my time in Japan, Austria, and traveling throughout Europe, but I am not much of a train lover compared to my dad.

Fortunately, my kids and nephews are big train fans! They enjoy the trains that my dad bought for me & my sister as kids. We put them up, especially around Christmas time, and have fun running them as a family.  They also like checking out Grandpa’s model train at his house.

A recent picture of Daddy O., Grandpa, and little brother checking out the train layout.

A recent picture of Daddy O., Grandpa, and little brother checking out the train layout.

It’s no surprise that we also seek out train-related sights to explore with my dad and the kids. We’ve done Day out with Thomas at local railroad museums when the kids were younger. Those were nice events, a bit overcrowded and commercialized, but we all agreed that the Illinois Railroad Museum is MUCH better than the Thomas the Tank Engine themed day.

In a brief, one-phrase review, I’d call the Illinois Railroad Museum a Train Lover’s Paradise! According to its website, it is America’s LARGEST Railroad Museum. Since I have friends with kids age three and under (this is prime train / Thomas the Tank Engine-loving age), I thought I’d share some pictures and details of our visit to the train museum.

The museum is sort of in the middle of a rural area, but it was easy to find.  You certainly can’t miss it – the grounds are quite expansive with numerous buildings and rail lines. Here were a few shots that I took with my phone:

From top left - the old steamie, vintage Coca Cola signs hand from the diner. Bottom: Two cuties waiting for the streetcar, another vintage sign.

From top left – the old steam engine, vintage Coca Cola signs hand from the diner. Bottom: Two cuties waiting for the streetcar, another vintage sign.

As you can see above, with the picture of the boys, there are a lot of great backdrops for pictures. We saw some teens getting pictures taken (perhaps senior pictures?) that day, though it was a bit overcast.

I liked the vintage signs and diner that they were in the process of restoring. They do have a food court in the diner, but we opted to pack a lunch instead.

There is a lot of history here as the museum “rescues” trains and cars that are out of service, so they aren’t scrapped. If I remember correctly, we rode on a streetcar from the 1920’s (see picture of big sister “hugging” little brother on the street car), a retired CTA train, and the Nebraska Zephyr built in the 1930’s and retired in the 60’s.  (Dad, if you’re reading this, please correct me if I’m wrong!)

IL Railroad Museum pics

View of Daddy O. and little brother by the streetcar, Riding the streetcar (not so excited to be hugged by his sister), Riding in the posh, luxury car of the Zephyr.

Here’s my dad, excited to watch them get the Nebraska Zephyr from the shed. Isn’t it a pretty looking diesel train?!

Two train lovers by the Zephyr and Steam Engine

Top: My dad watching the Nebraska Zephyr get ready to take us for a ride. Bottom: The old Steam Engine, warming up. Little brother, looking on.

We rode on the Nebraska Zephyr for about a 30 minute ride. It was so comfortable sitting in the cushy, Lazy Boy-like seats in the first class car that I fell asleep! With each train we rode, we learned a bit about the history of the train and the time in which it was used. I think the 1920’s streetcar was my favorite!  The old steam locomotive (the black train above) was a fan favorite, as you can see all the guys checking it out. My son watched it from afar near some switching tracks.  I attempted some sort of artsy picture of him by the tracks, but didn’t really succeed!

Everyone who went to the Illinois Railroad Museum seemed to find something they enjoyed seeing or doing.  There was even a playgroud for the kids too! It’s very family friendly and a perfect destination for train lovers!