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!

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.

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!