Checking out the Como Zoo

A cancelled camping trip led to a trip to visit friends in Minneapolis – St. Paul earlier this summer. Though we’ve been to the Twin Cities several times during summer, we have covered Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet, but we hadn’t been to the Como Zoo.

We started out pretty early and found parking in nearby lots.  We decided to check out the animals in the morning, enjoy a picnic lunch in the park by a playground, and then try some rides after that.

Como Zoo really is a lovely free zoo! There is a suggested donation at the entrance followed by many gift shops, rides, food and other opportunities to spend money. We made it out with two stuffed animals for our kids!

The zoo has a nice variety of animals and it’s small enough to walk through with kids quite easily.

We spent the most time at the Primate House, watching the mom and baby gorilla munch lettuce. They were positioned so close the the glass and just looked so comfortable, hanging out in the shade. I love how the mom is cradling the head of romaine like a baby too – it’s hers! It looked like such a sweet, domestic glimpse into their gorilla family life.  Meanwhile the silverback gorilla was out pacing the yard. The gorilla forest was a really cool exhibit, housing seven gorillas in total.

apes and monkey at Como Zoo

Emperor Tamarin and Mom & Baby Gorillas

After checking out the gorillas, we kept walking through the primate house. I really liked watching Como Zoo’s Tamarin climb and leap from branch to branch in their exhibit. The mustaches gave them a distinguished sort of look.

As a member of our zoo since our kids were babies, I’ve been going to zoos a lot over the last six to eight years, though it seems to be less and less frequent as my kids get older. Still, it is a treat to see endangered animals up close, showing off their normal behaviors, such as eating a head of lettuce with her baby or effortlessly jumping from branch to branch.  I / we may never have the opportunity to see these animals in the wild. While that would be preferred, we will enjoy zoo visits and learn the conservation stories the animals and their habitats around the world.

Thanks for a great visit, Como Zoo!

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So Many Stars: The Price of Freedom

This spring I saw the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. for the first time. It was beautiful and moving to say the least. This part of the monument hit me the hardest.

WWII Memorial Stars

Wall of Stars on the WWII Memorial. So Many Stars.

The plaque reads:

Freedom Walls hold 4,048 gold stars. Each gold star represents one hundred American service personnel who died or remain missing in the war. The 405,399 American dead or missing from World War II are second only to the loss of more than 620,000 Americans during our Civil War.

Powerful.

My grandpa was a lucky one, who was able to come home after serving in the Pacific in WWII.  So many others had their lives cut short. This is true of any conflict or military operation. It is those whom we remember today on Memorial Day.

Here’s another part of the WWII Memorial on the opposite side of the Freedom Wall of stars.

WWII Memorial Quote Nimitz

WWII Memorial Quote by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

We visited on a splendid, sunny day during the week. A few more pictures captured the full monument and the Pacific side, including New Guinea and Buna, where my grandpa served in the Army.

WWII collage

WWII Memorial Monument, you can see the Lincoln Memorial behind it.  Sparkling fountains and gray columns and stone make for a moving and reverent tribute to the fallen.

Blessings to those who made the ultimate sacrifice and to their friends and families. May we all remember and honor them.

 

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