Chicago’s Field Museum

Here’s a closer look at our visit to the Field Museum in Chicago:

There was so much to see, and we didn’t have a lot of time. We knew we weren’t going to get to everything, so we made sure we hit all the highlights. We walked through the Hall of Birds, learned about the state fossil, the Tully Monster (sounds like a Sesame Street character, doesn’t it?), visited the Hall of Gems, where we saw a likeness of the museum’s benefactor, Marshall Field, carved in green beryl, took a look at ancient Egypt, and saw meteor fragments:

The highlight of our visit was definitely the Hall of Dinosaurs:

And the best part of seeing the dinosaurs was becoming acquainted with Chicago’s most famous resident, Sue, the T. rex:

We were able to use the reciprocity that comes with our St. Louis Science Center membership to offset some of the cost, so we only had to pay admission for three children. I thought that was a great deal for how much we saw and learned while we were there…someday, I’d like to go back and see some of the things we missed!

Markel Family Winter Weekend Getaway–Day Four

We were worried we would wake up to more snow on the final day of our trip up north, but instead, we were greeted by the sun for the first time since our arrival! The views from the windows in our hotel room were excellent!

It was sunny, but quite cold and windy, so we loaded up the van as quickly as possible, and then headed into Chicago to visit the Field Museum. The retreating winter storm over Lake Michigan was still apparent from the museum’s windows:

One of the main reasons for our trip to the museum was visiting Chicago’s most famous resident, Sue, the T. rex. We were not disappointed!

Because I’m me, I had to brave the cold and wind to get a look at the city skyline before we left:

As we often do, we stopped for a late lunch at Portillo’s in Bloomington on the way home.

The rest of the drive was…interesting. We ran into some unexpected snow on the way home, and the last hour of our trip was slow-going and messy. But we got home at a decent time, and the clouds even cleared out for us to see the lunar eclipse later that night! It was a fun getaway, and we’re already planning our next trip to the Chicago area!

2018-19 School Year–Week Twenty

I know I’m late with last week’s wrap-up, but that’s because I wanted to share the cool learning experiences we had over the weekend, too! Briefly, as far as our regular subjects go, Turkey and Bunny learned about ratios in math (which tied in very nicely with their chemistry lessons), Ladybug read about Marco Polo and the Forbidden City in history, and Chickadee measured in centimeters. Oh, and there was other stuff, too, some of which was mostly the same as the week before.

On to the fun stuff! We were in the Chicago area over the weekend, so I planned some special field trips to places we hadn’t had the chance to visit yet. On Thursday, we went to the Brookfield Zoo, and had what may have been our best zoo experience ever. It was cold and a little bit snowy, but the animals were so active! We really enjoyed the chance to observe them in a way we never really have before!

On Friday, we went to the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, where we learned about rocks and gemstones, and how gemstones are cut. It was unlike anything we’ve ever done before, and we learned a lot!

Yesterday, we stopped at Chicago’s Field Museum on the way home from our trip north. We toured the Hall of Birds and the Hall of Gems. We also took a look at ancient Egypt. The highlight of the trip, though, was walking through the Halls of Evolving Planet and Hall of Dinosaurs on our way to see Chicago’s most famous resident…Sue the T. rex:

We drove through snow for about the last hour of our trip home, but fortunately, the clouds cleared in time for us to see the Super Blood Wolf Moon during the lunar eclipse:

So we had three regular days of school last week, and then a lot of fun field trip days and unique experiences…it was definitely a nice way to spend a school week in January!

The Top Ten–Chicago Attractions

I’m doubling my usual “Top Five” list…there are so many great attractions in Chicago, I had to choose ten! These are pretty touristy, but they’re the places I’ve been trying to make sure the Fab Five see at least one of each time we visit because they’re important to me. If you’re going to Chicago for the first time and/or have limited time to spend there, these are the places I think you should visit first for the quintessential Chicago experience!

  • Art Institute–This museum has, in my opinion, some of the best art in the world, and also some unique exhibits, like the Thorne Miniature Rooms. Make sure to take time to see the Chagall windows while you’re there!
  • Museum of Science and Industry–Where else can you tour an actual U-505, visit a coal mine, see a Tesla coil in action, and watch baby chicks hatch? If you’re lucky enough to visit at Christmastime, you can also see an amazing display of Christmas trees from around the world!
  • Adler Planetarium–All about space…need I say more? Oh, and the views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline are amazing!
  • Field Museum–This museum, named after Marshall Field, the Chicago department store magnate, is home to one of Chicago’s most famous residents: Sue the T. Rex. There are many other exhibits, too, which bring the history and culture of many civilizations around the world to life.
  • Shedd Aquarium–If you want to see fish and other sea creatures from around the world, this is the place to be! You can also touch sea stars, stingrays, and sturgeons, and take in a show at the Oceanarium featuring dolphins and beluga whales.
  • Boat or Bus Tour–I’m a fan of the Wendella boat tour, but any chance to get out on the water (Chicago River and/or Lake Michigan) or on the top of a double-decker bus and see the city from a unique point-of-view while hearing a guide share some of the city’s history is a great experience!
  • Brookfield or Lincoln Park Zoo–The two Chicago area zoos are very different from each other, so you’ll have very different experiences at each. My favorite is the Brookfield Zoo, but I’ve been to both, and they’re both fantastic spots to see wild animals!
  • Sears Tower Viewing Deck or John Hancock Observatory–I suppose I should refer to these as Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower and 360 Chicago at 875 North Michigan Avenue, but I’m old school. Whichever you choose, you’ll get great, bird’s-eye views of the city…just make sure to go up on a clear day!
  • Wrigley Field–I feel a little guilty even mentioning this, being a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but there is something special about historic Wrigley Field. Whether you go for a Cubs game (I’ve only been once) or for a tour (something I’d like to do in the future), you’ll have a unique Chicago experience and get to see the famous “Ivy on the walls.”
  • Chicago Botanic Garden–This is a new favorite Chicago-area location (it’s technically in the northern suburbs, in Glencoe), for me…I visited it for the first time last year. But it’s a beautiful place to take a walk in the winter and spring, and there’s always something new to see!

Bonus item: Christkindlmarket–I didn’t think it was fair to put this in the main list, because it’s open for such a short portion of the year. But if you find yourself in Chicago in late November or December, this is definitely worth a visit, and one of my very favorite things to do in Chicago!

Not mentioned…the FOOD! I couldn’t narrow it down to just one restaurant, or even one type of food, because there’s so much to love to eat in Chicago. But you’re going to need to stop and eat while you’re visiting all these amazing attractions, so grab a Chicago-style pizza, some Italian beef, gyros, a Chicago-style hot dog, or a Rainbow Cone while you’re out exploring!

And, yes, I know Navy Pier and especially the Centennial Wheel are missing from this list. So here’s my confession…I’ve never been to Navy Pier. I actually would like to take the Fab Five there in the future, if only to say we’ve been, and if I do, and I like it enough, I may have to modify this list at a later date!

The Top Five–Photos of 2018

It’s time for a look back at my top five favorite photos from 2018! They can be organized into two categories…pictures from our trips to Chicago, and pictures from the Missouri Botanical Garden.

First, a picture of the Chicago skyline from outside the Adler Planetarium in January:

And a picture of Lake Michigan from Glencoe Beach:

We were back in Chicago in May, and I loved the poppies at the Chicago Botanic Garden:

We visited Chinese Culture Days at the Missouri Botanical Garden for the first time, and the dragon was a huge hit!

Garden Glow at the Missouri Botanical Garden is always one of favorite events:

My children will accuse me of “cheating,” but I’m adding two bonus photos anyway…not necessarily because they’re great pictures, but because they have such great memories attached to them. First, this picture from our trip to Florida of Bunny at Diagon Alley, which is pretty much the happiest I’ve ever seen her:

And the picture I took of Chickadee the day we went pumpkin picking, and she got “baby porcupines” stuck to her boots. Two months later, and the memory still makes me giggle!

I’m already looking forward to the pictures I will take in 2019…I can’t wait to see what special memories I capture!

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago does an amazing Christmas tree display every year, featuring trees decorated in styles unique to many different countries around the world, from every continent save Antarctica. It’s been maybe…20 years?…since I last saw it, so I was really excited to see how it had changed. Now, my memories are pretty fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure the exhibit is much larger than it used to be, and it was a lot of fun to go through it, and see how different cultures celebrate Christmas and other winter holidays!

This doesn’t cover every tree in the display (I think maybe I have photos of about half of them), and also doesn’t cover the displays featuring holidays such as Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, because they were in glass cases that were very hard to photograph with all of the lights reflecting off of them. I did also include examples of some of the displays that were included beneath the trees, which was a very nice touch, as well as the signs that accompany them. With one exception, I included only one photo from each tree. It was impossible to keep track of which tree went with which country, so you can try to figure that out on your own!

The grand tree in the center of the exhibit was an unbelievable sight!

And a bonus picture of the Pioneer Zephyr, all decked out for the holidays!

I’m so happy I got a chance to see this display again, and even happier that I got to share it with the Fab Five…we all learned so many things about how Christmas is celebrated around the world!

Christkindlmarkets

I was so excited when Belleville finally opened a Christmas market. For years, I had said that it would be the perfect way to honor the city’s German heritage, and add a little extra Christmas fun to the town square. And we’ve enjoyed visiting it in the five seasons it has been open.

But now I think I’ve ruined it for myself. I already mentioned that one of my top priorities when we went to Chicago was taking the Fab Five downtown to the Christkindlmarket. I was a little worried that I would be disappointed, because I thought that over the years, I had built it up in my head, and it wouldn’t be what I remembered. But it actually turned out to be so much more…more stalls, more food choices, more crowds, more everything. Sure, the rain was a downer, but the market itself was beautiful and huge and exactly what I wanted it to be.

And then we stopped at the satellite location in Naperville the next day on the way home, to make up for the rainy experience the day before. I had looked at the map ahead of time, so I should have anticipated what it would be like, but for some reason, I was expecting it to be small and disappointing after Chicago. But it wasn’t at all. Maybe not quite as big (or maybe it was!), but still plenty of options for shopping and food and photos:

And now I realize just how small Belleville’s market is. I know it can never be the same as the Chicago version, but I really thought the Naperville market would be more similar to what we’ve become used to, and it’s not. I know I’ll still visit the Belleville Christkindlmarkt every December, probably more than once, but it will never really be the same to me, after seeing just how German the markets up north are!

Markel Family Christmas Getaway–Day Two

Day two of our Christmas Getaway was a BIG DAY. A day I’ve been planning and hoping for for years…the day where I would show the Fab Five Christmas in Chicago!

But first, a look at the view from our 11th floor room in the tower at Pheasant Run. We’ve never had a north facing view before, and while we missed being able to see the skyscrapers in Chicago that we’ve been accustomed to (with the way the weather was in Chicago last weekend, there’s no way we would have been able to see them anyway!), it was fun to see something different. It was also nice of Chicago to hang onto the snow until we had a chance to really see it, because it was pretty much gone by the end of the day!

We enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Pheasant Run’s Jambalaya restaurant, compliments of the resort. It was a great meal…I especially enjoyed my eggs Benedict, a rare treat for a person like me who doesn’t usually eat breakfast!

And then we headed out. Our first stop was the Museum of Science and Industry, using the reciprocity that comes with our St. Louis Science Center membership to get in for free! We were there to see only one thing…the “Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light” display, something I enjoyed as a child who grew up in the Chicago suburbs. It’s much bigger than I remember it being, and we were definitely not disappointed…I think it took us over an hour to see all of the trees and other displays!

After the museum, we stopped briefly to take a look a Lake Michigan, which was wild…way wilder than the children have ever seen it, and possibly more so than I ever have! We really enjoyed watching the waves crash against the shore! It was a grander display of wind and waves than we even saw the two times we’ve visited the ocean!

We then headed into the heart of downtown, a harrowing experience that involved a crowded parking garage with narrow spiral ramps that terrify me, and no spaces available until we hit the 10th floor. I can’t tell you how glad I was that Ryan was driving! Despite my terror, it was a good place to park, and fairly close to everything I hoped to see. It was only a short few blocks’ walk to Millennium Park, where we saw the city Christmas tree:

And the “Bean.” Since Ryan hasn’t had the opportunity to see it with us the last few years we’ve visited the city in May, I made sure to get a picture of him with the children in front of it:

Of course I had to show the children the Art Institute lions with their wreath manes:

The number one thing I wanted to share with the children was the Chicago Christkindlmarket. I have happy memories of going downtown with Ryan when we were in college and having lunch and shopping at the stalls, and I really wanted the Fab Five to have that experience, too. It was so rainy and windy when we were there, though, that we didn’t spend much time at the market. We had a snack (not a full meal), and didn’t get to do any browsing. I didn’t even get a picture of the children there, although I did get a few shots of the market:

We then went to Marshall Field’s of Blessed Memory, where I wanted the children to see the Christmas decorations, especially the tree in the Walnut Room. And that’s when the second disappointment of the day occurred, because I discovered that apparently, you can no longer go up to the eighth floor and view the Walnut Room and its tree from above. I was not happy about that, but we did still buy a tin of Frango mints, so it wasn’t a wasted trip. And by the time we had purchased our treat to take home, the rain had stopped, so we could admire the Christmas windows outside:

After we finally made it back to the car (the garage was right across from Macy’s, but I was over using my knee scooter, especially with all the standing water that had collected everywhere, so I wasn’t moving too fast), we drove over to the Adler Planetarium so the Fab Five could see the city at night. Due to the weather, they really only saw the lower third of the city, but at least they got an idea of what Chicago’s night skyline looks like:

We decided to take the long way back to the resort, so we got on North Avenue basically where it begins in the city, and drove…and drove…and drove some more. There was traffic and construction and too many potholes to count. But it was still kind of fun (other than the potholes), and we stopped for a favorite treat from our college days on the way…Italian ice from Johnnie’s. This was a first for the Fab Five, and they really enjoyed it.

When we got back to Pheasant Run, we headed back down to Bourbon Street to see the light show again…this time, we caught it in its entirety, and then saw it again!

When we got back to our room, we indulged in one of favorite hotel activities…watching the Food Network on cable TV. It was hard to believe our second night at the hotel was also our last, but we still had a day of fun to look forward to on Sunday!