Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tips for Visiting Chicago's Museum Campus

I mentioned last week that I'm Expedia's Kids in the City Chicago representative. You can read my write-up on some of Chicago's highlights here. You'll notice that I lead with Chicago's world-class museums. Chicago's museums rival any you'll find around the world. And three of the best are clustered within the Museum Campus.

At this lakeside area of downtown Chicago, you'll find the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium. While each of these museums could easily fill a day in their own right, you can also take advantage of their close proximity and hit a couple in one day. Here are some more tips for visiting Chicago's Museum Campus:

  • Make time to explore the park land surrounding the campus. The grounds are really breathtaking, beautifully landscaped, and truly an attraction themselves. You'll be right along the lake with the towering skyscrapers of the Chicago skyline as your backdrop. It's a great spot for pictures!

  • Pack a picnic. The best way to enjoy this area would be to dine outside. Sure, each of the museums has a cafeteria, and that's a great option if the weather is lousy. But I'd recommend picking up some food at the Trader Joe's along Roosevelt, or in a town known for its hot dogs, order this Chicago specialty at any of the many carts around the campus.
  • Go to Shedd Aquarium first. If this great aquarium is on your must-see list, then make that your first stop. The entrance lines can get extremely long as the day progresses, particularly on the weekends.
By 11 a.m., the entrance line to Shedd was already stretched outside the building.
  • Get a Chicago CityPASS.* Speaking of lines, you can avoid ticket lines altogether by getting a CityPASS. Plus, you'll save considerably on admission to all three Museum Campus attractions. It's valid for 9 days so you can spread out your museum visits. 
  • Take public transportation. There's an 'L' station two blocks from the Museum Campus on Roosevelt, and the red, orange and green lines all stop here. (There are parking lots throughout the campus, with the bulk of parking available at Soldier Field. But the 'L' is much cheaper.) By taking the train, you'll also get to see Agora, a famous and whimsical sculpture that you'll pass as you walk from the station to the Museum Campus.
Agora near the Museum Campus

Want to hear more of my thoughts on Chicago? Watch the video below, where I chat about my top 5 things to do in Chicago with kids. You can bet the Museum Campus made the list!

Be sure to check out the other cities profiled in Expedia's Kids in the City campaign. In addition to their general write-ups and videos on Expedia's page, each blogger is also offering up more specific info on their city at their own blog. So far, the following cities have been featured, with more to come in the next few days. (I'll continue to update this post with additional links.)

Disclosure: I was compensated for my participation in Expedia's Kids in the City campaign.

*Affiliate link.

Friday, May 25, 2012

April Showers Bring May Flowers

I have a hard time walking by a beautiful flower when we're traveling and not taking its picture. Of course, then I get home and that picture doesn't really serve much of a purpose other than to remind me of how pretty it was when I spotted it.

So here's a little round-up of some of the beauties I've found.

T.C. Steele State Historic Site in Brown County, Indiana

Slow Food Garden at White River State Park in Indianapolis

Spring Mill State Park in Mitchell, Indiana

Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory in Fort Wayne, Indiana

As spring fades to summer, I hope these photos brighten up your holiday weekend. We're off to the Indy 500, where I'm guessing I'll see a lot more sunburns, beer cans, and race cars than I will dainty little flowers!

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Kids in Chicago, Expedia Style!

I'm happy to report that I am one of the family travel bloggers participating in Expedia's Kids in the City summer campaign (see the new fancy ad to the left?!) This summer, Expedia is profiling 12 wonderful cities to travel to this summer with your kids. I'm representing Chicago, one of just two midwestern cities to make the list.

Here are a few things I've written about Chicago, just to wet your Windy City whistle:

You can read my Chicago fact sheet at Expedia here.

Next week, I'll be offering up some tips for visiting Chicago's famous Museum Campus. This area of the city is, in my opinion, a big reason why Chi-town is so kid-friendly (and fun!). You can also watch a video where I chat up my top 5 things to do in Chicago with kids. And if you're just can't get enough Chicago trip ideas and tips, follow my Chicago Pinterest board.

Join me and some of the other Expedia Kids in the City bloggers on Wednesday, May 23 at 1:30 p.m. EST on Twitter for an Expedia Twitter party/chat about family travel. Use the #ExpChat hashtag.

For now, head over to The Mother of All Trips to read her post about Philadelphia. I've only traveled to Philly when I was a full-time working gal for business, but I'd love to take my kids there. More cities will follow in the days ahead, and I'll be sharing links to those on the Arrows Sent Forth Facebook page, so give it a "like" if you haven't yet. Videos about the other cities are available here. (I'm in some great company on this campaign... what a fun group of moms!)

Disclosure: I was compensated for my participation in Expedia's Kids in the City campaign.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

It's the Bee's Knees

On Saturday, we had a fantastic family day at Hunter's Honey Farm in Martinsville, Indiana. We hadn't done a day trip in a while and it was really great to get out there and make some memories. The best part was watching my son learn so much about one of nature's most basic and necessary animals: bees.

If you're like me, the only time you typically think about bees is when you're shooing them away or spreading honey on your toast. But so many living things rely on them, and it was nice to be reminded of that this weekend.

Can you spot the queen?

More on our fun at the farm to come. And be sure to check back on Tuesday for an exciting announcement! (It has more to do with tall buildings than bee hives, but still very family-friendly!)

This post is a part of You Capture at I Should Be Folding Laundry. The theme this week is life.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

4 Tips for Visiting Farmer's Markets with Kids

It's almost Farmer's Market season around here (the Columbus Farmer's Market opens the first Saturday in June!) Whenever we're in town, this is always a weekly tradition for us. And we often visit markets when we're traveling.

Chesterton European Market in northern Indiana

Over at Visit Indiana's blog, I shared some general tips for farmer's market visits. But going with kids make a trip a little different, so here are four kid-specific farmer's market tips.

1. Seek out some kid-friendly activities. I have found that most markets have these. For instance, at St. Petersburg's Saturday Morning Market, there was a booth with baby chicks that kids could hold and touch. Kidscommons, the children's museum in Columbus, often has a booth at our market with bubbles and crafts for kids. My son is much more patient when we do the rest of our market shopping if he gets some play time too.
Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg, Florida

2. Let them select some fruits or veggies. This is a great idea if you have a picky eater. I do this at the grocery store, too. Big Arrow usually gets to pick out a produce item, and he's much more likely to try it at home.

3. Give kids a budget. Many markets offer a lot of tasty treats of the sweet, sugary variety. It can become a hassle if your children beg you for something everytime you stop at a booth. This year, we plan to let Big Arrow have a couple of dollars each time we go to the market to select the treat of his choice. He's going to have to earn the money by helping out around home. And it will give him something to look around for as we wander through the market.

4. Go on a scavenger hunt. It can be pretty simple, like finding something red, green and blue. Or if your kids are a little older, challenge them to find more obscure vegetables. Count the number of dogs you see or the tents. Simple tasks like this help to challenge kids and keep their minds busy!

Whatever you do, make it fun. Our weekly trip to the farmer's market is one of Big Arrow's favorite things to do. What do you love most about farmer's markets?

MORE: You can read about our visits to farmer's markets around Indiana here. I reviewed the Chesterton European Market in northwest Indiana for Visit Indiana here. Soon, I'll be writing about the St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market.

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Suitcase and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels. I'm also linking up to Wanderfood Wednesday at Wanderlust and Lipstick.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

If you like the Arrows Sent Forth facebook page, then perhaps you've been reading the week-long series that I've been sharing at The Mother of All Trips which celebrates her 10-year anniversary as a traveling mom. She has offered lots of tips, heartfelt stories, and adorable memories, and other bloggers have joined in the fun.

The week wraps up (just in time for Mother's Day) with travel blogging moms sharing their favorite photo. Since I'm typically behind the camera during our travels, most of my favorite photos are shots of the Arrows or my husband enjoying the various destinations we've visited. But my husband snapped this picture recently at WonderLab, a children's museum in Bloomington, Indiana that I wrote about last week.

There's a few reasons I love it. Mostly, it sums up life for me these days. One hand keeping tabs on Big Arrow, while the rest of me holds, cuddles, and transports Little Arrow (thank you, Ergo,* for making that a little easier!)

And do I look a little exhausted? Of course. Because I am, most of the time.

But I'm also smiling. Life with these two little guys is so, so sweet (and sometimes so, so hard). And I really feel like I'm the best mom I can be when we're out and about, seeing the world. At home, I'm often distracted by everything that needs to get done. And yet I know the years with young kids is fleeting. Adventures force us to stop and savor these moments, to take it all in.

Like splashing around in the water table at a children's museum. In 10 years, I'm confident we'll no longer be doing that. And that's ok... there are always bigger adventures on the horizon. But I'm glad I'm making the most of these baby/toddler/preschool years while I have them.

Note to self: Read this post tomorrow when the day starts at 4 a.m., you're grumpy, contemplating remaining in your pajamas all day, and already guzzling a Diet Coke.

If you'd like to see other favorite photos from traveling moms, stop by The Mother of All Trips.

*Amazon affiliate link.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

WonderLab in Bloomington, Indiana

I've often commented that one of the real joys of traveling with children is watching them make new discoveries. There was a lot of that happening during our recent day trip to Bloomington, Indiana, particularly at the local children's science museum there, called WonderLab. I wrote a more complete review of WonderLab at the Indiana Insider here.

Big Arrow couldn't get enough of the hands-on exhibits there. Like floating a beach ball on a puff of air.

Or learning about the crazy ways mirrors capture our reflection.

We tested out the properties of gravity.

And ended our visit splashing in water.

Needless to say, on the way home Big Arrow learned an extra anatomy lesson: sleep.

If You Visit:
Corner of 4th and Madison Streets in downtown Bloomington
Open 9:30-5 Tuesday-Saturday, 1-5 on Sunday
Admission is $7 for everyone over the age of 1.
Insider Tips:
I shared several tips for visiting WonderLab over at the Indiana Insider.
This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. I'll be sharing another photo from our visit to WonderLab on Sunday (Mother's Day) as a part of The Mother of All Trip's traveling moms tribute, so check back.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lowry Park Zoo: Tips for More Fun!

During our trip to Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida in March, we woke up one morning to cloudy skies and cooler temperatures. I flipped on the television to see if there was any hope of the weather turning into a beach-friendly day. Instead I learned that weather reporters in Florida think mid-60s is cool enough to hunker down at home with sweaters and hot chocolate.

But being tough Midwesterners, mid-60s seemed like ideal zoo weather. So off we went to the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. When we were able to park directly in front of the entrance, I had a feeling we might have the zoo all to ourselves even though it was a weekend. This proved to be correct until later in the morning, when the temperatures warmed up and the sun came out. But we had a wonderful two hours of quiet, with lively animals and friendly staff. Here are a few tips if you plan a visit:
  • Go early. This is true at every zoo. In general, animals are much more active first thing in the morning.
  • Interact with staff and volunteers. We learned a lot about the babies born at the zoo, the different temperaments of each animal, and we were even able to tell Big Arrow the animals' names because of the friendly folks who work and volunteer at the zoo. It seemed that almost every major exhibit space had someone standing around ready to answer questions and it really heightened our experience.

  • Grab a zookeeper schedule. We picked one up at the entrance, and we were glad we made time to watch one of the zookeepers feed the penguins (which included a little presentation and an opportunity for Q & A). Some of the information was lost on Big Arrow, but older kids would benefit even more from this type of interaction.

  • Dine inside at the Garden Grille. There were several food stands around the zoo, but we decided to grab lunch on our way out. There's a food court near the entrance/exit, and it is a clean, air conditioned space with healthier options. (A full listing of the zoo's dining options is available here.)
  • Don't miss the manatees. Even though we are frequent visitors of zoos (read about our experiences at the Indianapolis Zoo, Louisville Zoo, and Fort Wayne Children's Zoo), I have never seen a manatee in person before. Because manatees spend much of their time eating, you're just about guaranteed to catch them chowing down on some lettuce, which is pretty fun for kids to see. I was equally as mesmerized, I couldn't get over how many manatees there were (seemed like at least a dozen!)

  • Go on a dreary day. This is one of the most popular zoos in the country so I would imagine it gets rather crowded, particularly on the weekends. As it were, we had the place to ourselves for much of the morning. If it does rain, there are several buildings you could duck into to ride out the weather.
  • Most of the rides are free! No doubt, zoos can be an expensive outing for a family. Add in extra expenses like rides, and it can be a budget buster. Fortunately, with just a few exceptions, the rides at Lowry Park are free and you can ride all day.

  • Save even more with reciprocal membership. If you're a member of a zoo closer to home, see if they're listed here, and you'll save on admission.
If You Visit:
Lowry Park Zoo
1101 Sligh Avenue, Tampa
Open 9:30-5 daily.
Adult admission is $23.95, kids 3-11 are $18.95.
For other ideas on how to spend your time in Tampa/St. Petersburg, you can read my trip reports here and here.

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Museum of Science and Industry: Fun for All Ages

Asking me to pick my favorite museum is like asking me to pick my favorite song or movie. It's so hard to pick just one, and it kind of depends what mood you're in. But Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry would definitely be a strong contender for the title, for one very important reason: it appeals to all ages and interest levels.

Having visited in the past with family and friends ranging in age from 2 months to 80 years, I know from experience.

I came to the Museum of Science and Industry as a teenager with my parents and grandparents, and we all had a wonderful time. I distinctly remember my grandfather being really interested in the miniature train exhibit, an exact replica of the city of Chicago (albeit itty bitty). So I couldn't help but smile when Big Arrow was equally as captivated on a recent trip.

I also visited about 5 years ago, when having kids was a far-away thought. My husband and I spent a few hours at the museum, digging deep into the exhibits and learning a lot. I was really blown away by the enormity and logistics of the exhibit space, with fighter jets and commercial airplanes floating over our heads.

And earlier this year, we visited with Big Arrow (a toddler), Little Arrow (a newborn), plus a couple that we're friends with who have no kids. It was a perfect activity for mixed company. Even the more adult-oriented exhibits were hands on enough to keep Big Arrow entertained.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to delight little ones. Like big tractors.

And shadows that make a perfect dance floor.

But I love when there's fun to be had for adults, too. Like when we all raced the toymaking robot. (The robot won.)

"Fun for all ages" might be a travel promotion cliche, but when it actually happens, it's a real joy.

If You Visit:
Museum of Science and Industry
57th Street and Lakeshore Drive
Open 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
$15 for adults, $10 for kids ages 3-11 (Special exhibits, tours, and shows are extra)

Insider Tips:

  • Hungry? The cafeteria (in the basement) is actually pretty good, with a few gourmet, healthy options in addition to the typical cafeteria staples.
  • If you're staying downtown, consider taking the train! The South Shore Line and the Metra Electric Line both stop at the 57th Street station, just a few blocks away. (Otherwise, parking is $20.)
  • Join a reciprocal science museum near home (like Wonderlab in Bloomington, IN, which I'll be writing about next week) and save on your visit to this museum. Or if you'll be visiting several popular Chicago attractions, buy a Chicago CityPASS.*
  • If you're meeting up with people, have a plan ahead of time. The entrance/lobby of the museum is several stories underground, and your cell phones might not work. (We learned this the hard way.)
Expect more things Chicago-related over the next couple of months. If you're planning a trip to the Windy City, you might consider following my Chicago Pinterest board, where I've been pinning a few off-the-beaten path activities and fun Chicago-related blog posts. I also wrote about the Chicago Children's Museum here.

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.

*Affiliate link.