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.

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Everything I Love about Wisconsin in ONE Place!

I’ve noticed our cheese adventures have slowed down a bit this summer.  Why? Maybe we’ve been busy doing other fun summer things…maybe we’re more drawn to cheese during cold, winter months.  Anyway, I was thrilled nonetheless when we visited Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet this past weekend on our way back from camping. They are located right off the highway in DeForest, Wisconsin.  You can’t miss the mouse on top of the roof nor the massive bovine!

The GIANT cow welcomed us so nicely!  We all know that giant Wisconsin cows make the best cheese!

Giant cow outside of Ehlenbachs Cheese

The Cheese Chalet is all kitsch, but so much fun! Daddy O. posed in front of it, knowing the drill from our other cheese adventures!

Front of Ehlenbachs Cheese Chalet

The store is amazing – very spacious and full of everything I love about Wisconsin: cheese, local micro-brewery beer, wine, and even some chocolate! The selection of curds and cheese was vast and impressive!

Ehlenbachs Cheese Chalet

So much to love about this store!

We are currently devouring the Peppercorn Ranch Cheese Curds and have a 6 Year Old Cheddar waiting for us in the fridge. Other kinds of curd flavors were garlic & dill, horseradish, marbled, basic yellow, and I think some sort of cajun too.  YUM!  Some of the cheeses flavors we noticed were caraway swiss, hot pepper cheese, pizza cheese, horseradish cheese, garlic cheese, baked cheese, and the traditional flavors of colby, monterey jack, brick, swiss, gouda and MORE.

Outside of the building, they had this mural of Wisconsin, which I love! We are fortunate to live in such a beautiful state with so many state parks, lakes, Door County cherries, cheese factories everywhere, Milwaukee breweries (okay AND New Glarus, Madison, and Chippewa Falls microbrews), and the beloved Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, and our favorite of all three the University of Wisconsin Badgers!

mural of Wisconsin

As I looked at the map, I was reminded of all the cool places I would like to visit with my sweet family.  We had just enjoyed camping in the Dells, but there’s so much more to explore in this great state!

Thanks for following along as I write about it all on Go Mama O.!  Enjoy the remnants of summertime!

How I Became a World Cup Fan

Looking back I was not a huge soccer fan by any means.  In 1998 I was part of my high school exchange with families in Germany.  We ended up touring Paris at the end of our 3-week stay in Germany for two days.  At the time I certainly noticed the FIFA World Cup was happening in Paris, but as a first time visitor, I just assumed the large crowds were part of the cities’ overall popularity.  I do remember seeing a soccer stadium from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

My overall reaction in 1998: Meh…

Fast forward to 2001 and I meet my future husband while playing basketball at open gym during college.  He played soccer in high school and is a big fan. After dating for about six months, he graduates and moves to Illinois to start working.  I fly to Tokyo for a summer internship program with the railway company. I write more about my time in Japan here and here.

Part of my internship, besides writing a marketing plan to increase ridership of foreign tourists, included assessing how easy it is for an English speaking passenger to ride the railroad.

My scrapbook page including a guide for the 2002 World Cup fans

My scrapbook page including a guide for the 2002 World Cup fans

As I wrote above, there were a lot of Football Guides for fans located at stations near stadiums.  We also learned the IMMENSE amount of preparation that Yokohama station underwent to make sure everything went smoothly for game days.  All station employees knew SOME English, so they could assist non-Japanese speaking riders too.  I’m pictured on the page above (see tall girl in the middle) when I helped teach station employees English for one morning.  I also worked in the station for a bit and was proud to help an English speaking tourist find his way.

Internship aside, the 2002 World Cup was split between Japan and Korea, so it had a different feel. Being in Tokyo I wasn’t too close (nor too far) from a stadium, but I didn’t have tickets to any games.  Japan didn’t host many public viewing sites (or if they did, I didn’t know about them in Tokyo), so my watching of games was limited to my tiny apartment. Wild and exciting, right?!

My overall reaction in 2002: Football (as the rest of the world calls it) is kind of cool

In March 2005 that same boyfriend from college drove across several states, so we could finally live in the same city, after having a long-distance relationship for a few years.  He proposed and I said YES!  We had a mini-moon right after our wedding in Wisconsin, and then went to Germany in June 2006 for our proper honeymoon, which included going to a World Cup game.

The World Cup was EVERYWHERE in Germany!

World Cup 2002 in Germany.  Murals painted on the ceiling of the train station, fans in the street.

World Cup 2002 in Germany. Zidane  & Ballack mural painted on the ceiling of the train station, fans in the street.

It was unlike anything I had seen before when in Tokyo or Paris.  I couldn’t help but get swept up in the excitement of the World Cup along with my husband (then just Mr. O.).

One of our favorite nights - watching Germany play at a public viewing in a outer-lying area of Stuttgart

One of our favorite nights – watching Germany play at a public viewing in a outer-lying area of Stuttgart – amazing beer and a win for Germany

Mr. O. had to request tickets even before he had proposed to me, so we were unsure which game we would even see.  It ended up being England versus Ecuador in the qualifying round. Here we are before the game:

Game Day - being photo-bombed by a English fan!

Game Day – being photo-bombed by a English fan! (and we kind of look like tourists here! I remember security took our extra camera batteries, telling us that they could be thrown and hurt someone – really?!)

We ended up sitting by some German fans, who were, like us, more neutral fans at the game.  The England fans were in full force with A LOT of cheers and flags decorating the stadium.

Mr. and Mrs. O. at the England - Ecuador Game in Stuttgart 2006 World Cup

Scenes from the England – Ecuador Game we went to in Stuttgart, 2006 World Cup

England ended up winning 1-0 on a penalty kick by David Beckham.  It was a pretty awesome, once-in-a-lifetime experience!

My overall reaction in 2006: World Cup Football IS awesome!

Though we haven’t been to other World Cup games since our honeymoon (and we certainly are NOT in Brazil), I am still a World Cup fan.  It IS always impressive to see teams and athletes competing at the top of their sport.  Being that it only happens every four years makes it all the more special.

I’ll be watching the USA play Germany with Daddy O. and our two kids (who will hopefully cooperate during the entire match). I’ll be cheering for USA of course, but have a soft spot in my heart for Germany, where I finally became a World Cup fan in 2006.

How do you feel about soccer and the World Cup?  Has your level of fan-dom changed over the years like mine did?

Kid-free Fun in Phoenix

My hubs and I celebrated our 8th anniversary in the middle of the week with mac n cheese, hot dogs, green beans, and homemade peanut butter cups.  I left that lovely meal to go play in a volleyball game, making it one romantic evening!

Truthfully, we celebrated our anniversary a bit earlier with a nice steak dinner at home and several weeks ago with a kid-free trip to Phoenix, Arizona.  It was a DELIGHT to escape the polar vortex that has kept coming back to Wisconsin and simply be on our own, adult-directed schedule.

On the first day it hit 80 degrees, though as they say, it’s dry heat, so it’s not quite as warm as it is with humidity.  We were both comfortable in pants and enjoyed a stroll around the Desert Botanical Garden that had a special Chihuly Exhibit. His vibrant glass sculptures have an outer-space like quality and seemed at home in the desert surroundings.

Striking views of Chihuly exhibit and scenes of Phoenix, Arizona.

Striking views of Chihuly exhibit and scenes of Phoenix, Arizona.

As part of our trip planning, we read a 2007 Fodor’s Guide I picked up at the library’s book sale for $1 and received a copy of the Wall Street Journal Off Duty Guide to a Long Weekend in Phoenix from our travel agent, who easily planned our trip in about 24 hours! The article suggested a variety of attractions and restaurants.  Our advice – when the WSJ recommends it – go there!

Awesome Eats

Despite our actual anniversary kid-friendly meal, Daddy O. and I are somewhat adventurous eaters.  We indulged in Mexican, Asian fusion, and south-west BBQ during our visit.  Some highlights:

  • FnB – Food & Beverage in Scottsdale featured locally sourced food & drink. Our waiter had a definite laid-back vibe, calling one menu item a “sando,” which translates to sandwich.  Amazingly fresh, flavorful food!
  • The Clever Koi – I had pork ramen that reminded me of eating ramen in Tokyo.  Unlike the very cheap ramen from college days, REAL ramen is incredible.  We also shared some tasty Asian-fusion small plates and unique cocktails.
  • Carolina’s – This place boasts of the BEST tortillas in town.  The unassuming appearance of the building and odd mix of surrounding lots were a bit off-putting, but from the full parking lot and long line, we KNEW it would be good.  We stopped there for lunch and noticed the melting pot of customers (good food brings all kinds of people together).  We went back the next morning for breakfast burros.  So good, but a second to the breakfast tacos I had in Austin, Texas.
  • The Farm at South Mountain – on our last morning we ended up eating here. I had hoped to go here before we went hiking in South Mountain Park, but we were up WELL before sunrise and the restaurant’s opening time as a result of getting up at 4:00 a.m. the day before for our flight and the one hour time difference. It’s a beautiful setting, complete with outdoor dining under propane patio heaters (since it was in the 40’s we needed them!). It was good food, but difficult to eat fast before it got cold.

Outside of the Desert Botanical Gardens, we ventured to the Heard Museum of American Indian tribes, and enjoyed hiking in South Mountain Park, including a drive up to Dobbin’s Lookout for a fantastic view of Phoenix, Camelback Mountain, and Papago Peak (oh and an airplane, as the airport is located in the center of the city).

View of Phoenix from Dobbin's Lookout in South Mountain Park

View of Phoenix from Dobbin’s Lookout in South Mountain Park

We weren’t sure which trail included Fat Man’s Pass, as I watched in the Emmy winning video posted on the South Mountain Official Site.

It’s a beautiful park, and we would have liked to have tried some other trails if more time allowed.  My fear of heights sometimes limits what hikes we do! We laughed at our over-preparedness for our hike – carrying a lot of water, sunscreen, first aid supplies, bandages, multiple layers of clothes, all heavy stuff in a backpack – when we saw other hikers traveling MUCH much more lightly.  One woman wore flip flops on the trail – not my first choice for sandy, rocky slopes!!

After resting up from hiking, we went out in Tempe, where the Arizona State University college kids go (and felt kind of old).

Taste of the Old West

After our breakfast burros, we drove up to Wickenburg, an old west town and home to Rancho de los Caballeros.  Our family member who works at the ranch showed us around and has successfully enticed us to return someday – possibly with our kids! I would love to go horseback riding and explore the beautiful landscape or indulge in luxurious spa treatments, while Daddy O. would much prefer golfing.

Views from Rancho de los Caballeros - dude ranch, golf resort and spa

Views from Rancho de los Caballeros – dude ranch, golf resort and spa

After touring the resort, we headed to the historic downtown area for lunch at a place called the Hog Trough.  You KNOW it’s going to be good when the word “trough” is in the name!  We enjoyed smoked brisket BBQ sandwiches – so delicious that Daddy O. wanted to bring some back on the plane.  They just don’t make it that way in Wisconsin! Because we just can’t relax too much on vacation, we toured the Desert Caballeros Western Museum located in downtown Wickenburg before grabbing some ice cream and driving back to Phoenix.

Later that night we met another family member (Daddy O. has a big family!) for dinner in Chandler at local micro brew SanTan Brewing Company. I enjoyed a lighter, amber ale with a huge burger that was too big to finish.  We dined outside under a propane heater and enjoyed catching up, sharing stories about our trip (and home) and hearing about what’s new in his Arizona home.  Here’s a picture of me & Daddy O. from that night:

Mama and Daddy O posing together on vacation in Phoenix

Mama and Daddy O. very carefree & relaxed on vacation

It was a wonderful trip to an interesting city, jumbled together as it may be with strange mixed zoning (there’s often an industrial park, a school, some lower income homes, and a gated community all on the same street).  Phoenix was a perfect getaway to sunshine, a bit of hiking / nature, delicious dining, and interesting history.  I’m sure Daddy O. and I will be back, or continue to enjoy more of life’s adventures together on our family journey.  I certainly am blessed to have him by my side through whatever we encounter in life! Here’s to many more years babe!

What do you do to celebrate anniversaries? Have you been to Phoenix?  What are your favorite couple’s getaway destinations?