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

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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!

Family Fun & Lessons Learned at the Shedd Aquarium

Like many other families, we decided a trip to Chicago over Spring Break would be a fun idea, and, of course, it was a fun time visiting the Shedd Aquarium and staying with one of my best friends. However, a word of caution – there WILL be crowds on Spring Break!  Here were a few things we learned and a few pictures of our visit:

1. The Waiting is THE HARDEST PART – Tom Petty was spot-on (can’t you hear his song now). We arrived at 11:30 a.m. which was sort of what I expected. A long line was already forming, so we joined the crowd, slowly shuffling our way closer to the ticket line. I packed a lunch, so we ate in line to keep ourselves somewhat occupied. It started to drizzle. It was a bit cold… Ugh, are we there yet?!

2. To avoid waiting, you have some options: Just buy advance tickets, or bring a stroller, so you can use the accessible entrance.  People were walking right in with strollers! With our 3 and 5 year old, we opted to leave the stroller at home. BIG. MISTAKE. HUGE!

3. You think waiting builds character…and maybe it does.  I think I was the grumpiest out of everyone in our family (shame on me), but overall, everyone made the best of it. It was 1.5 HOURS in line, so I was very proud of the kids and Daddy O. (not to mention myself) for keeping it together.

4. While waiting, take in the view. The building itself is beautiful. The lobby had so many sea-themed intricate details that we played “I spy” with our kids. I spy two whales below…

Details of the Shedd Aquarium Entrance

Whales, shells, starfish and more in the main atrium of the Shedd Aquarium.

5. It was well worth the wait! We were able to buy the exact ticket package that we wanted: main admission including the Aquarium Galleries, Wild Reef, and the Oceanarium. This meant we could go everywhere in the Shedd, but skip the dolphin and beluga whale show and 4D movie experience.

6. Our favorites – My daughter and I loved seeing the beluga whales in the Oceanarium. They just floated and zipped through the water so gracefully.  My son LOVED the sharks in the Wild Reef area. The tropical fish and their brilliant colors made me feel like I was on vacation a half a world away without the big, fancy vacation price tag.

This makes me feel like snorkeling!

This makes me feel like snorkeling!

7. No flash photography allowed = play around with your camera settings!  I discovered a new multi-burst camera setting and took a few shots:

Little brother could have stayed here ALL DAY!

Little brother could have stayed here ALL DAY!

This was one picture of Daddy O. and Little Brother that used the burst mode.

This was one picture of Daddy O. and Little Brother that used the burst mode.

Mama O. and Big Sister

Mama O. and Big Sister

So engrossed...

So engrossed…

Big sister cradling the otter by their exhibit. Little brother not interested in smiling...

Big sister cradling the otter by their exhibit. Little brother was not interested in smiling…

Final Verdict – the Shedd Aquarium is a very enjoyable, family-friendly attraction. I would highly recommend checking it out, and with a little more advance planning, I’m sure we’ll be back.