A Visit to Chicago

taken from a window in the Field Museum
taken from a window in the Field Museum

I’m learning that, no matter how much you love home, you need to get away sometimes too. We spent the first two weeks of September in Chicago visiting relatives. Despite being sick for half the trip, and my poor husband was sick pretty much the whole time (and working too!), it was still nice to get away. We didn’t do everything we set out to do, but we still did a lot thanks to some reciprocal membership programs that we’re part of.

The Field Museum. “Sue” is the largest and best preserved T-Rex specimen ever found. This time we visited her with the knowledge of how she was found and the controversy surrounding her after watching the documentary Dinosaur 13. Fascinating stuff.

We went to the Field Museum, which we’ve been to several times now. It’s my favorite place in Chicago, I think, and I never get tired of it.

Museum of Science and Industry. This museum is also home to the U-505 Submarine, a German sub that was captured on June 4, 1944. It also has a great exhibit on the weather with a large, simulated tornado, and my personal fav exhibit is on the human body.

We also went to the Museum of Science and Industry. That was our second time there. It’s a great museum, if you haven’t seen it, and especially if you like airplanes.

Chicago Botanic Garden
Chicago Botanic Garden. Ahhhhh….

My other favorite place is the Chicago Botanic Garden. I wish I could spend a whole day there by myself, but I love going with my family too.

My boys spent some time with their Polish relatives, which is an education in itself! I sometimes feel like I’m going to a foreign country when we visit family in Chicago. I love the flowers in my in-laws yard and all the home-cooked Polish food.

It was an odd time of year for us to go away, but that’s the nice thing about homeschooling. You can be flexible and go when you want to go.

Since we went away, I had to put off our homeschooling plans for a while longer, and now that we’re back, the boys caught yet another illness (when will it end?!), but I’m slowly inching myself toward normality again. Very soon I will write about my plans for this year.

I have also written more extensively about the places we’ve visited before in Chicago in past blog posts. You can access those by clicking on the Chicago tag.

I hope you are doing well. Have you started a new homeschooling year, or are you continuing forward with your everyday life?

The Chicago Botanical Garden Butterfly Habitat

On our recent journey to Chicago to help my in-laws in an unfortunate circumstance, we took a couple of days to go out and do something fun. One of our favorite places is the Chicago Botanical Garden. We went last year when we were in Chicago visiting our relatives, and it was nice to go back feeling like we didn’t need to see everything. It’s a huge garden. One of our favorite spots within the garden is the butterfly habitat, and this year, especially, it seemed like a fitting celebratory ending to our experience raising Painted Lady Butterflies this spring. We spent a long, leisurely time in the habitat this year, and I was so excited knowing that my six-year-old fully understood the butterfly life cycle and because of that, it had more meaning for him.

I thought you might enjoy the photos I took of some of the butterflies in the habitat. The photographer in me was so delighted with my subjects.

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The Museum of Science and Industry

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on August 8, 2012.  You can view it on the newspaper’s website by clicking here.  Attention Homeschoolers: You might find useful information for your home education program on this museum’s website!

Since my family and I made a trip to Chicago to help celebrate my in-laws 50th anniversary, we thought we might as well stay awhile and take advantage this wonderful city.  Yesterday we went to the Museum of Science and Industry.  My husband had been there many years ago, but I’ve never been, and I think it’s now become my favorite place in Chicago.

I felt just as giddy as my children as we toured this museum, which, according to its website, is the largest science center in the Western Hemisphere.  It’s “home to more than 35,000 artifacts and nearly 14 acres of hands-on experiences designed to spark scientific inquiry and creativity.”

Our first tour was of the “Silver Streak: Pioneer Zephyr.” This train was one of America’s first diesel-electric streamlined passenger trains.  In 1934, it was the fastest train in the world, traveling between Denver and Chicago in about 13 hours.  It cut the previous travel time (by steam engine) in half!  It was also the first train to ever have air conditioning or refrigeration.  For the first time, passengers could be served ice cream.

After the Silver Streak, we found the room with several airplanes suspended from the ceiling, a real steam engine, wagons from the old days, and a United Airlines 727 to tour.  But my boys spent most of their time at “The Great Train Story,” a model railroad with 30 trains running on 1,400 feet of track.  The trains wind their way from Chicago to Seattle and pass through the Midwest, Plains States, Rockies and Cascade Mountains.  The size and detail was stunning and according to the museum’s website, this railroad was the largest of its kind when it opened in 1941.

We enjoyed watching “Tornado Alley” at the Omimax Theatre where we followed scientists and photographers into the middle of a tornado.  It was my five-year-old’s choice to see the movie about the tornados, but I was relieved to hear him say afterward that he never wanted to chase tornadoes!

After the movie we went to what became my five-year-old’s highlight of the day: touring the U-505 Submarine, the actual German U-boat that the U.S. Navy captured on June 4, 1944.  He took the tour with this grandfather while the rest of us enjoyed the exhibits and memorial outside the vessel.

The story of the battle is quite remarkable, and you can read all of it on the Museum’s website.  What I found fascinating is how the nine-member boarding party saved the vessel from sinking or exploding.  They re-secured the cover to a sea strainer and yanked the wires to several scuttle charges, or time bombs, which the German crew had set before they abandoned the vessel.

Then there was the seemingly impossible task of towing the vessel to Bermuda.  On August 15, 1945, The Saturday Evening Post printed these words written by Captain Daniel Gallery: “…[Commander Earl Trosino] spent hours down in the bilges, crawling around in the oily water under the engines, tracing pipelines and closing valves to make the boat watertight…. Thanks to Trosino’s uncanny instinct for finding the right valves, and his total disregard of his own safety, we succeeded in saving the U-505.”

And thanks to Captain Gallery, who was a native of Chicago, and this Museum, the U-505 was preserved.  Its journey to the museum is another great story, but I’ll let you read about that on your own.

The Museum had so much more to explore.  We visited the Idea Factory, which was almost like a children’s museum for children 10 and younger, and we visited “YOU! the experience,” which was about the human body.  I was awed and had somewhat mixed emotions at their presentation of a developing fetus, from conception to full term, using real babies that for various reasons had never been born.

We only explored a small fraction of the museum.  If you are ever in Chicago, I highly recommend you stop by, but if you can’t travel there, please visit their website.  It is full of wonderful images, stories, a blog, podcast, and online activities.  It would be time well spent for children or adults who are interested in learning about science and industry.  www.msichicago.org

A 50th Anniversary Celebration, Polish Style

50th-anniversary-party-5Note: This has surely been the busiest summer of my life, and the column below will let you know one of the reasons why.  We are finally home from this unexpected two-week vacation in Chicago, and though we had a lot of fun, we’re ready to get back into the swing of things.  I have a very long to-do list, and that includes ideas for this upcoming first year of “official” homeschooling as well as ideas for this blog.  I may not get to it all in a timely manner, but such is life with young children.  I hope you’ll stick with me as I muddle through my to-do list!  And thank you to all my new and faithful long-time subscribers!  You give me encouragement to keep this chronicle going.

The following column was printed in the Barrow Journal on August 1, 2012.

This week my family and I are in Chicago visiting my husband’s family and celebrating my in-laws 50th anniversary.  They had a big celebration and invited over 100 family and friends – some people my husband had not seen in 20 or 30 years.

For me it’s always a treat to visit Chicago and get a glimpse into my husband’s childhood, which was very different from mine.  I grew up in a small family with no relations who lived nearby.  I didn’t live in a big city either.  I mostly remember the suburbs of Denver and later Las Vegas, and while it’s a city, the culture and atmosphere is different from Chicago or more specifically, the Polish neighborhoods where my husband grew up.

I’ve heard many stories about the huge weddings, funerals and other celebrations that my in-laws frequent, and for the first time, I got to attend one.  It was an all day affair, though I’m grateful they had it on a Sunday, which meant it lasted until only nine o’clock instead of two in the morning!

We attended church with them in the early afternoon when they renewed their vows.  I was more than a little anxious about my two-year-old sitting silently for one hour during the service.  He was cranky and sour all morning, but when we got to church I realized all he had wanted was me, so as long as he could sit in mama’s lap, he was happy.  Wiggly, but quiet.  Whew!

I knew the five-year-old would be good.  He’s old enough to understand me when I tell him he has to be quiet and good for a while.  Later he told me it was boring, and I could understand that, especially since the service had been in Polish. I’m proud of him for enduring it.

The five-year-old also told me the party was fun, and indeed, it was fun.  Polish people know how to party!  The party lasted six hours, and there was a live band, more delicious food than you can imagine, an open bar, dance floor, and huge dessert table.  Everyone greeted each other with kisses and hugs, and my five-year-old ran around with his cousins like he had known them his whole life.

Whenever someone started to tap their silverware on their dishes, the whole room filled up with clanging and hollering.  This was a signal that the bride and groom are supposed to kiss each other.  My in-laws pretended not to notice while they poured more coffee or took a second helping of food.  Then they would satisfy everyone with a peck on the lips.  My husband told me if they were a young couple newly married, this ritual would happen much more frequently through the night.

My mother-in-law was a wonderful host, and she visited every table to make sure everyone was happy with the food.  I was also introduced to endless, smiling faces who kissed me on the cheeks and told me they knew my husband when he was my sons’ ages.  I could barely hear them because the band played so loud!

My in-laws started the dancing as is typical at a wedding, and my husband followed by dancing with his sister.  Soon a large group of people circled them and held hands, making the festivities escalate.  Everyone in the room danced at some point, and whenever the band played, the dance floor was full.

When the band took a break, the adults drifted back to their tables, and the children took over the dance floor, running in circles or making up games of tag.  Other times they played under the tables draped with tablecloths.  My five-year-old had a great time.

Though my two-year-old can hold his own with the big boys, at one point he retreated to the table where the after dinner dishes had not yet been cleared.  He began to do what he does best – create and build.  He stacked coffee cups and silverware and mixed drinks.  He made a mess, but not as bad as you might think.  Someone came up to me and said he could get a job as a wine server – his motor skills are that good!

It’s not often this stay-at-home mama has a reason to get dressed up and go to a party.  I had a wonderful time, and I especially enjoyed sitting back and taking it all in – a different lifestyle and culture than I’m used to, but for that reason, it’s a joy to be part of it.

I’m glad my in-laws did it, and I think everyone who makes it to their 50th should have a celebration – a kind of summing up of the life they have lived and with the family and friends they have collected over the years.  It’s a wonderful reward for a life well lived.

Our Summer Vacation Part 4: The Kohl Children’s Museum in Greater Chicago

I promise this is the last post about our summer vacation!

When we decided to check out the Kohl Children’s Museum, we knew absolutely nothing about it, but when I called their telephone number, the recording told me that it is one of the Top 10 Children’s Museums in the Country.  I can see why!  It’s a beautiful place and far surpasses the INK museum, which we have here in Gainesville – not that I’m dogging INK.  I love it too, and I’m very happy to have it near us.  But the Kohl museum – Wow.  The water room BY ITSELF was worth the effort of going.  Just look at it…

The Kohl Children’s Museum is the ultimate place to play make-believe, and it had similar exhibits to the INK museum, such as a grocery store, vet clinic, diner, and music room, but it had a lot more science in it too.  My kids are still young, so they liked the hands-on exhibits such as the water room, sandbox, music room, microscopes, etc.  I have to say that this museum is beautiful too.  Aesthetically pleasing in every way.  I loved the colors and quotes on the walls.

I wish I could show you more photos, but it was pretty crowded that day, so it was hard to keep other kids out of the frame.

Speaking of crowded, someone there told us we were lucky because it was NOT crowded that day.  What?!  My husband and I said we’d hate to go when it WAS crowded.

Part of the museum we missed, so if we ever go back, we might have to visit again.

There were cool places to explore outside too…

The Kohl Children’s Museum is a definite MUST SEE if you have young kids and visit Chicago.

Our Summer Vacation Part 3: The Brookfield Zoo

Thanks to everyone who is humoring me by looking at my summer vacation photos!  We had a good time in Chicago, and another place we enjoyed was the Brookfield Zoo.  This is a HUGE zoo.  We only saw half of it.  I LOVE Zoo Atlanta, and I still do.  Zoo Atlanta is easy to walk through in one visit.  The Brookfield Zoo is a wonderful zoo, but there was a lot of walking between exhibits.

The Brookfield Zoo has a rich history, which you can read more about here.  I also wrote about the zoo in my recent column that I mentioned in my last post regarding The Field Museum.  You can read that by clicking here.

Tropics World is where in 1996 a small boy fell into the exhibit and a female gorilla held him until authorities could retrieve him.  Amazing!



Our Summer Vacation Part 2: Chicago’s Field Museum

On our recent trip to visit relatives in Chicago, we took advantage of being in the big city!  I loved the natural history museum, or the Field Museum.  I wrote a column about it for the Barrow Journal along with our adventure at the Brookfield Zoo, but I’ll post photos of the zoo later.  Click here to read the column and learn about this amazing museum.

I hope we can go back to the Field Museum someday.  Although my young children loved it, it’s a great place for adult learning, and when my boys are older and able to read, it would be an incredible field trip.

The main hall of the Field Museum.  In the foreground you can see “Sue,” the most complete T-Rex fossil in the world.

He liked pushing all the buttons.

This is only part of dinosaur hall.  The fossils were amazing.  I appreciate the Fernbank Museum that we have here in Atlanta, but it doesn’t have real dinosaur fossils to my knowledge.  And its exhibits pale in comparison.

A-hem.  I don’t think climbing was allowed….

If you are ever in the Chicago area, I highly recommend the Field Museum!

Our summer vacation in Chicago, Illinois

I have been absent from the Internet for over two weeks, and I haven’t missed it one bit!  But I have missed connecting with online and local friends while we’ve been away.  We took a 16-hour drive to my in-laws house north of Chicago, and while we were there, my sons met their Polish relatives, visited Chicago’s Botanical Garden, Field Museum, the Brookfield Zoo, and the Kohl Children’s Museum.  It was so much fun and quite an experience for them.  As I have time, I’ll post a few photos from our excursions.  (Be sure to click through the next three posts to see photos from those fun “field trips.”) Here’s a photo of my 4-year-old with his “Babcia.”  He’s very close to her, and he loved her small vegetable garden and other flowers.

If you’d like to read about our long drive and our first week in Chicago, I have written about that in my newspaper columns, which you can access by clicking on the links below.

Traveling with my Young Children

Visiting Grandparents in Chicago