A Place to Remember

IMG_9486 2When my daughter asked me if I could take the kids somewhere “educational” this week, I thought of a few places, but centered in on the Illinois Holocaust Museum, I had been there once before, but I knew the kids hadn’t been.

The museum is located in Skokie, a Chicago suburb, where at one time, the population was half Jewish. (That figure is from the 90s, not sure what it is today.) Precisely because of that demographic, the development of the museum had a lot of support from townspeople who had been through the holocaust or had family who had been through it.

The new museum (it use to be located in a storefront) opened in 2009.

You can take pictures in many areas inside, but I didn’t. So much to read and look at and we shared the space with a limitless amount of middle and high school kids on field trips. (Might not have been the best time of year to go.)

Although all the museum is interesting, the highlight of the trip was the Take a Stand exhibit – considered to be one of the top twelve museum exhibits in the world.

To design the exhibit, the museum took several Holocaust survivors out to L.A., where they sat in a green room and were asked questions for five or six hours a day over a period of a several days. Their answers were videoed. The producers then edited the video down to 28 answers to the most common questions and the entire project was made into a hologram.

So, as you sit in the auditorium, a man or women sits up front and tells his or her story. IMG_9491Then the audience can ask questions. Because of the hologram effect, it seems as if you are talking to a real person, but in actuality it’s a picture. In fact, the man we listened to died two weeks ago. As time goes on and the number of survivors decreases, I’m sure exhibits like this will become even more valuable.

I would highly recommend a visit.

Here are some tips.

*Knowing about the Holocaust before you visit is a good thing. That helped me grasp the meaning of some of the exhibits. Although, even if you know nothing, the museum clearly gives a timeline of the events. Both munchkins had studied the Holocaust and had a good understanding of what they were seeing.

*Give yourself a lot of time. We missed quite a bit of it because of time constraint.                           The Take a Stand exhibit is an hour itself. In other words, don’t expect to run in and out in a half hour.

*Consider the ages of your kids. I asked the munchkins how old they thought someone should be before visiting and they agreed with me – middle school and up. If you do take a  younger child, a lot will need to be explained. Pictures are also disturbing (for older teens and adults, too, but we are more understanding of the reality of what happened). And I did not see one child among the hundreds of people who were visiting on the day we were there.

IMG_9485*Beware that this time of year is when field trips happen. The place was packed with teens to the extent that we were often stuck behind them and had to wait to get to the next room.

*Know you will need to go through security to get in.

Would I recommend it? Yes! And I would recommend you bring your teens there, too. As we get further and further away from World War II, less people will be around to tell their stories and memories blur.

Yet, we must NOT forget.


Inside the Hemingway House

A lady sat at a desk in the home’s entrance. She greeted us happily and I told her I needed an adult ticket and a student ticket.

She gave me a knowing smile and explained, “WE call them youth.”

Well, okay. The list of fees I had seen talked about students and ID cards, but I wasn’t going to argue.

She went on to say that we’d have to wait 20 minutes for the next tour and we could go get a cup of coffee if we wanted. Not sure where we would’ve been able to do that in 20 minutes (which neither of us wanted), so we turned around to wait in the small entrance amidst a display of Hemingway’s books and a display of magnets that we could buy to help the upkeep of the home. The magnets said, “Write Drunk.” I didn’t feel the need to buy one.

Then another lady appeared and said that we could just go on the present group , they were only one room into the tour. (This began another interesting conversation which I won’t bother repeating.)

We decided to do that.

Hemingway’s childhood story is convoluted and interesting. His father was a doctor and his mother was a musician, often involved in her music to the extent that housekeepers and cooks took care of the house.. His parents were both well educated. His dad took him camping, his mother took him to the opera. Hemingway often said he hated his mother.

He didn’t like his name because it made him think of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest.

They were upper middle class and spent their summers in a Michigan cabin. The home we visited was Hemingway’s birthplace – later they moved to a much bigger house on Kenilworth (another Oak Park Avenue). That home is owned by private residents who hope to restore it for future visitors. Hemingway lived in Oak Park until he went to war. (Seeing where E.H. lived negates his stories about growing up in poverty which he often told the women in his life.)

Hemingway’s own description of Oak Park was: a place of wide lawns and narrow minds.

Hemingway was a direct descendent of John Hancock. Another relative – either his grandmother or great-grandmother (couldn’t find anything to back this up) was the first female student at Wheaton and graduated with honors.

Anyone who knows even a little bit about the Hemingways, knows that there were a lot of suicides in the family including Ernest himself and two of his five siblings. The family was a strange mixture of achievement and depression.

Here are some pictures of the inside of his house.


This is the kitchen – the family lived in the house for nine years and his mother never, ever cooked a meal.


Upstairs  hallway.


One of the first – if not THE first – bathrooms in town. I just liked the look of the tile and paneled walls.


Ernest as a one-year-old.DSC_0283DSC_0286

His dad was a scientist and a photographer and took Ernest hunting and fishing and taught him to be a naturalist.


I took this picture because I have a chair like this that belonged to my grandmother. The tour guide explained that it was a sewing chair and that’s why the arms were low. I never knew that. Hmmm …

Would I recommend you visit the house? That’s a good question. If you’re interested in literature and the personalities of well-known authors – I would say yes. But it’s not a place to take small children. Or, if you do take kids, there needs to be good conversations about what you heard.


An Afternoon in Oak Park

DSC_0265Recently when Mallory and I have been together, we’ve ended up talking about books and writing. So about three weeks ago, while waiting for our cheese and pepperoni at California Pizza Kitchen, she listed some of the classics she’s been reading lately and in the process mentioned Ernest Hemingway.

“Not a super good role model,” I told her. “He married a lot of women and drank a lot of alcohol.”

“I know, but I’d like to read one of his books. Maybe like The Old Man and the Sea.”

“A story of a Cuban fisherman fighting a marlin,” I told her. “I read it on a flight from Chicago to New York, so it’s not too long.  But wait, how would you like to visit his house and learn more about him? Maybe over spring break?”

So that’s what we did. We arrived at lunchtime, parked the car and then wandered around in the Hemingway Historic District. (A place well known to me because coincidentally it’s where I get my taxes done which has nothing to do with our trip nor anything to do with Hemingway.)

We looked around for a place to eat and found a small cafe, cozy and filled with a group of ladies celebrating “Margaret’s” birthday. We chose the salad bar and talked about the quaintness of the restaurant. Afterwards we wandered up to a bookstore that was quite proud of the fact that it was started by women, owned by a woman and only women worked there. Which didn’t necessarily make me anymore anxious to browse, but I will say the woman behind the counter was friendly, kind and helpful.

I mentioned to her that we were thinking of getting a cupcake at a bakery across the street, but she told us that we shouldn’t because they use “oil.” Instead we should go to the one down the street that used cream and butter. “Down under the tracks,” she told us.

So we walked “down under the tracks” and out the other side – but they didn’t have cupcakes, just cookies and pies. We each got a cookie and then meandered back up the street, enjoying the cityscape.


Interestingly, the town’s couples were transforming the fence under the bridge into a Pont des Arts bridge – with padlocks signed and dated by the couples. Didn’t have quite the same effect as a bridge over the Seine River in Paris, but it’s an attempt. (And the bridge railing in Paris has been removed because the padlocks had reached a weight of 48 tons and there were fears that the whole bridge would topple over and hit a boat below. Look up the pictures on the internet – interesting.)



Last time I was here, you went to the museum first where there were several pictures and exhibits of Hemingway’s books, but that is temporarily closed s they are putting a new museum behind the house so everything is in one place. (Before the two locations were separated by a few blocks.)


The area is filled with sprawling Victorian houses and you can imagine life in the late 1800s and early 1900s and the upper middle class sat on their porches on warm summer nights.


Get it? The Old Man and the Sea … the Young Girl and the Sign.DSC_0267

More about the inside of the house … and what we learned in my next post.


The 10-year-old munchkin asked if I would take him to the Lego Discovery Center for his birthday (which was actually back in February). I said, “yes.”

I had checked it out before and most reviews talked about it being overpriced, but if you went later in the day you saved $2.00 per ticket. So – the dilemma – go early and pay more or go later and experience rush hour. I’ve been in the area for rush hour before and know you often have to wait bumper to bumper to get back on the highway.

So we went early – on a Saturday.

And it is expensive – $18.00 a piece no matter if you’re 3 or 103. They also had an activity pack for sell which we didn’t get – for $5.00 a piece. (Later I checked on their website and read that it’s simply a couple puzzles.)

You gotta figure – How great could this place be when it’s stuck between two other stores in a strip mall?

The first area we went into was the Lego Chicago which was my favorite display of the entire place. From there, we went through a jungle area and then a Star Wars area. We also went on two rides – the first where you go through a tunnel and shoot at displays and another ride that goes round a center pole and the harder you pedal, the higher you go. Maybe or maybe you just go high and low no matter what you do.

We skipped the 10-minute 4D movie since the munchkin doesn’t like 4D and I’m not all that crazy about them myself.  The “factory” tour was sort of pathetic and took about three minutes.

Next we stood in a line waiting to go into a room and get a lesson in Lego building. We were all given a little bag filled with about 12 pieces and learned how to make a giraffe. That was all well and good and cute – but to actually KEEP them, we had to pay $5.00 for each bag. If we didn’t want to keep them, we had to take them apart and stick the pieces back in the bag for the next group. (Don’t even think about the germs.)

We wandered through the gift shop which is not as big as the downtown Lego store or the Disney Lego stores either.

But it wasn’t really a negative experience. The munchkin had fun and I had fun with the munchkin and liked seeing him having fun, so I was ok with it all.

We then went across the parking lot to the Rainforest Cafe – which was also fun.

The end.

Chicago - in Legos
Chicago – in Legos
The lights went dim to give an appearance of night ... which was very cool.
The lights went dim to give an appearance of night … which was very cool.


The picture and the letter was part of a scavenger hunt which wasn't very hard to scavenger.
The picture and the letter was part of a scavenger hunt which wasn’t very hard to scavenger.


The Jungle Room.
The Jungle Room.


A scary spider/black light
A scary spider/black light
Star Wars
Star Wars




The Munchkin and Her Monkey

The almost-12-year-old likes sock monkeys.

A lot.

About a year ago I was checking out Midway Village in Rockford. I had seen a sign for it on the way home from “up north” and wondered if it would be a fun place to take the kids so checked out the website. At which point I learned something I didn’t know before (and actually, do not remember ever wondering about) – I discovered that Rockford is the home of the sock monkey. Truly.

But what grabbed my attention was the Sock Monkey Madness Festival. Sock monkey enthusiasts come from all over the country and even the world to celebrate the stuffed monkey.

Some of the earliest sock monkeys - from the 1920s
Some of the earliest sock monkeys – from the 1920s

I am not really into sock monkeys, but am into doing fun things for the kids’ birthdays, so I put the 2014 Sock Monkey Madness Festival on the schedule. (We had missed the 2013 festival.)

I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I mean WHAT do you do at a Sock Monkey Madness Festival on a cold March day? How mad can you get with a bunch of sock monkeys? I pictured a room of booths selling all things sock monkeys.

And that’s exactly what it was. Some of the monkeys were cute. Some were sort of not so cute. Some booths sold clothes (apparently sock monkeys need an extensive wardrobe) and an author of a book about sock monkeys was signing autographs. Truly monkey madness.

The sock monkey when the Nelson Knitting Company started making them in the l950s
The sock monkey when the Nelson Knitting Company started making them in the l950s

We wandered around for awhile and then headed down a hallway to the museum part of the building which told about the history of Rockford and the history of sock monkeys. (Truly, did you know sock monkeys had a history?)

Then we discovered we could make our own sock monkey. The lady said it would take an hour and a half to two hours, so we only purchased one kit.

What we received for $20.00 was a plastic bag containing a pair of socks and sock monkey instructions.

Our bag with our socks.
Our bag with our socks.

The room was set up with long tables, crowded with people making sock monkeys. (About 200 monkeys would be handmade by sock monkey fans during the fest.)

Some were novices (like us) and others obviously came to the festival each year because they had the past years’ sock monkeys lined up at their work stations. One man was saying he had 54 sock monkeys.

The munchkin and I read our instructions and got started on our project.

Other supplies were on the tables: scissors, stuffing, yarn, buttons, etc.

Our instructions.
Our instructions.

The munchkin began by cutting one of the socks and stuffing the legs.

The munchkin stuffs the monkey.
The munchkin stuffs the monkey.

After the sock was adequately stuffed. I sewed the stuffing inside the monkey and then we tied yarn around the top to form the head. So far. So good.

DSC03200About this time, two delightful young ladies came and sat across from us – Andrea and Liz. We discovered they worked at the Rockford Visitor’s Center and often told people about the Sock Monkey Madness Festival, but had never actually been to one and never before had the privilege of making a sock monkey.

We had so much fun talking with them – we felt we had made two new friends. In fact, the munchkin and I ended up on the Rockford Visitor Center blog  – just as I am sharing a picture of them right here! (If  you check out their blog – be sure and watch the video, too, and see the munchkin with her monkey.)

Andrea and Liz make their sock monkeys.
Andrea and Liz make their sock monkeys.

We had a good time laughing with them about our less than stellar efforts at sewing the arms, legs and mouth on the monkeys. (Rather tricky, actually.)  But we did it! Two hours later – this is what we had!

DSC03211 The munchkin even made a bracelet for the monkey and for Andrea’s and Liz’s monkeys, too.

We emerged from the room to find out that it had snowed the entire time we were there and was still snowing. (How unusual this winter.)

We had many miles to go – so we headed home.

But a good time was had by all and a new sock monkey had entered the world.



My sistDSC03192er-in-law likes to sing … and can sing.

Which is why she goes to the opera.

Every year.

I said I would go with her sometime and this week was THAT time. I don’t like opera, but I had never actually seen one, so I figured it would be a good experience. We chose the Barber of Seville because I knew a little about it so it seemed as if it would be a good “first” opera for me. Because I like to go to things I’ve never gone to before.

So, this past Wednesday we headed to the city for the matinee. I had done some research and learned that there was a bistro in the Lyric Opera House that you could eat at ONLY if you had opera tickets. The menu looked good, so we decided to try it.

First of all, I knew the opera house was close to Oglivie Station, but I didn’t know just how close … like within feet of each other – well the river is in between, but that’s about all. Along with many other opera goers, we found out way to the third floor … and the bistro. Dining at Florian’s definitely seemed to be the in thing to do.

I had a quiche. Sally had a Mediterranean tart. Then because going to the opera is a once-a-year event, she ordered the opera torte and I ordered the passion fruit meringue. Everything was super delicious.

I had prepared for my experience by reading the synopsis of the opera so I went in understanding what the story was about. They also have a screen above the stage with the subtitles, so I found myself reading the subtitles and watching it as I would any play, rather than paying attention to the music. The music did nothing for me. But I did enjoy the acting and the story. Sitting next to a friendly couple who chatted with us during intermission was also nice.

Do I like opera any better than I did before? No.

Did I enjoy myself? Yes.

Would I go again? Yes.


My guest blogger is Belinda – one of the two charming girls who went to the Museum of Science and Industry with me.

For our birthdays, my cousin (Chloe) and I were both taken to the Museum of science and Industry, by my grandma.

Right when we got to the museum we could tell it would be very busy, and in fact it was! We had to wait in line for about 15 minutes to get our tickets for the Walt Disney limited time exhibit.

When we got up the escalator the room was so amazing! So many Christmas trees from around the World lined the walls and the floors. And in the middle of the room was one huge, huge tree! Finally we were able to find our way to the exhibit where we were pleasantly surprised. Some of the things we found there were; the original costumes of multiple different Disney movies (like Enchanted and Snow White), and my personal favorite the Donald Duck drawing lessons.

After that, we walked around an saw some other fascinating  stuff. Some other highlights of the museum were; the big heart on the wall that showed you how fast your heart was beating, the World’s first walk through projector! The projector was a fog screen which used regular house tap water. It was sweet, Chloe and I spent quite a long time walking through it!!!

There were a lot of other fun things but I could not possibly write them all without writing a book! I truly appreciate my grandmas kindness! It was such a fun time, so fun I almost completely forgot about the pains in my heels that have been bothering me every time I walk! Thanks Grandma, thanks Chicago!!!!!


We went for the tea.

We thought that having tea at Hemingway’s house sounded very … elegantly literary.

Or something like that.

So on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon we headed for Oak Park and Hemingway’s museum and home. First the museum where the receptionist (who has worked there since 1972 and therefore knows everything there is to know) welcomed us and then explained that we did not have to pay because we were there on a Tuesday in March – which was a day for tea, which was a free day. (She knew because she had worked there since 1972).

And “you can take all the pictures you want, but if you were visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright home around the corner, you would have to pay $5.00 per picture.” (And she knew because …)

We had a time crunch and needed to get down to the house by the 2:00 tour, so quickly made our way through the museum exhibits (all in the basement of a large building). The exhibits were what you’d expect – book jackets, childhood memorabilia, war pictures, etc.

Then we walked a block or so to the house itself. A large, two-story Victorian.

Hemingway had a multifaceted childhood. His father, Clarence Hemingway, was a doctor and a naturalist who married the girl next door – or actually, the girl who lived across the street, an aspiring opera singer and a lover of literature.  Between the two parents, they gave their children a varied education, helped by Uncle Tylie, a world-traveler who lived with them in his later years. Looking beyond the surface, however, you see a picture of a troubled family. Archived letters show that Clarence did the laundry, cooking and other housework for Grace and that she often spent money on herself rather than on her children. Clarence eventually committed suicide. No surprise then that Hemingway’s own life was so troubled with four wives and a lot of alcohol. Sadly, he, too, ended his life by suicide.

Although I have read many of Hemingway’s books, I am not a big fan. To me the books reflect the chaos of his unsettled life. However, I do realize that he is considered one of America’s best (Nobel Prize in Literature – 1954).

Meanwhile, back at the house, the tour meandered upstairs and we learned more about the Hemingways being that they were one of the influential families of Oak Park in the early 1900s. You could imagine the house filled with the sound of six children and books and bugs and music.

After an hour or so, we said good-bye to the tour guide and thanked her for a great tour.

And then remembered we didn’t get our tea.

Seems like the tea lady had a cold or something.

So we did not feel especially elegantly literary.


But our adventure didn’t end there. Someone had told us about the Hemmingway Bistro in the Write Inn. Sounded very charming. (The lady who has worked at the museum since 1972 said that it was spelled with two m’s because of licensing purposes.)

The bistro was in a quaint room in the basement of the inn. A server behind the cherrywood counter chatted with some customers. A couple quietly talked in the corner. The atmosphere was old-world cozy with low ceilings and stucco walls. You could almost imagine Hemingway himself hanging out in a corner, smoking a cigar and talking with friends.

As we waited for our food, we heard the girl behind the counter talk about her childhood growing up in Belgium.  When she came to take our order, we discovered she was an MK, the daughter of church planters and had come to the area to attend Wheaton. She chatted with us as we scanned the menus.

The bistro was one of those quirky places where you could sit and talk for hours   – and besides, the food was absolutely delicious. The bistro almost made us feel elegantly literary once again.

And, of course, the great way to end this post would be with a Hemingway quote – so here goes …

“In order to write about life first you must live it.”

Guess that’s true because now that I’ve been to Hemingway’s house, I can write about it.

To read more about the day – see my friend’s blog at: http://oliveswan.wordpress.com/

The Museum
The Museum

DSC02267 DSC02268

The house
The house

DSC02271 DSC02272 DSC02274 DSC02276 DSC02279 DSC02284 DSC02285 DSC02286 DSC02287


So, once again we headed to Chicago – this time with the family – for our yearly traditional visit.

Christmas decor along State STreet
Christmas decor along State STreet
Grand Lux Cafe
Grand Lux Cafe
Disney store.
Disney store.
Across Michigan, looking at Fourth Pres.
Across Michigan, looking at Fourth Pres.
What if John Hancock could see his building?
What if John Hancock could see his building?
Outside Watertower place looking up!
Outside Watertower place looking up!
The cupcake we shared to tide us over.
The cupcake we shared to tide us over.
Lego Wrigley - very cool.
Lego Wrigley – very cool.
Lego Chicago - very cool.
Lego Chicago – very cool.
Coolest thing yet - Stand in front of the screen an you turn into an animated Lego character.
Coolest thing yet – Stand in front of the screen an you turn into an animated Lego character.
Closeup of a tree.
Closeup of a tree.
The munchkin at Watertower Place.
The munchkin at Watertower Place.
Three dimensional Lego Chicago - very cool.
Three dimensional Lego Chicago – very cool.


Two trips to Chicago this Christmas.

I’ve always liked the Christmas-themed city with the Salvation army bellringers, the lights, the people, the three boys sitting on the sidewalk playing their “drums” (plastic buckets) … (Oh, yeah, and the pigeons and beeping taxis and bus exhaust – but you work at blotting out the undesirable.)

Both days I was there – thousands of other people were there, too. The day the munchkin and I went down, you couldn’t even move at the Christkindlmarket. Literally. Basically we walked in one side and pushed our way out the other. Good thing we actually didn’t want to buy anything at a stall, because we couldn’t. And I truly wish Chicago would do something about the tree at the market. Rather embarrassing. Seriously, we can’t do any better than a tree that looked as if it had already dropped half its needles?

But other than that …