Leaning Tower of Niles

IMG_9495.jpgEven though I grew up in the area, I had not heard of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, located in Niles, Illinois, until last week when I was looking for something to do near the museum we visited. Not sure how I  missed it growing up, or maybe I did see it as a kid, I just don’t remember it.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa in Niles is half the size of the real one in Italy. Robert Ilg built the structure back in 1934 as part of a park for his hot air electric ventilating company.

Since then the tower has gone through several renovations and a couple years ago, the city of Niles bought it from the YMCA for $10.00 and renovated it once again.

Not much to do, but walk around – still if you’re going that way, it’s worth a stop.

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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.

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Louisville Slugger Museum

WHERE: The Louisville Slugger Museum is in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Because most of our time in Louisville was made up of studying, speaking and talking to people at the booth, we did not have a lot of time to be out and about. However, the museum was just a couple blocks away from the hotel so we were able to go down and back without being away too long. Actually the walk from hotel to the museum is rather interesting with well-known replicas of famous sculptures.  This is also where bats are made – the baseball kind, not the fly-around-in-the-night kind.

WHAT: Yes, this is a museum, but it is also a close-up and personal look at the bat makers making bats. If you are at all interested in baseball or in woodwork, this place is great. Not many factories let you get this close to the action anymore. You literally watch as a block of wood is turned into a bat. If you are interested in both – which I am – it is doubly interesting.

WHEN:  Mondays-Saturday 9:00 to 5:00. Sundays 11:00 to 5:00. (Everyone in our group managed to get down to the museum in the morning – but I did read that the union makes the workers stop at 3:30 or something. Having the workers working certainly was a big part of the appeal – so you might want to call before you visit to make sure you are there during working hours.)

INTERESTING FACTS: 

*Louisville Slugger started as a family woodworking shop (the Hillerich Family from Germany) that made everything from balusters to bedposts. Bud Hillerich, an amateur baseball player (1880) began making his own bats and then the bats for his teammates.

Then one balmy, spring afternoon seventeen-year-old Bud went to an Eclipse baseball game. (The Eclipse was Louisville’s professional American Association team.) Pete Browning, a star of the team broke his bat and Bud offered to make him a new one from white ash. Browning got three hits the first time he used the bat and became known as the Louisville slugger and thus the name.

*Most bats are made from white ash or maple. (Louisville Slugger has their own forests in the Northeast.)

*1.6 million bats are made each year.

KID FACTOR: The museum part of the place isn’t all that big (though admittedly, we were in a hurry and did not see everything) and had some fun things for kids to see. The tour was interesting – we got to hold some bats of pro players, see bats made and received a small souvenir bat. We also were able to chose the top of a bat (the part they cut off) to keep. This is just a piece of wood, but still cool.

This is definitely a kid place, especially kids who play softball or like baseball.

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A BREEZY SPRING MORNING …

When I visit Central California, they take me to places like Fisherman’s Wharf and Yosemite and the Pacific Ocean.  In return? Well, the biggest “mountain” I could find was a freeway ramp and the most water was in the Fox River, so I decided to not compete but take CFC to see Cantigny on this beautiful April morning.

But first I needed to drop some books off at my mom’s. As we made our side trip, we passed Kline Creek Farm and saw that they were doing sheep shearing, so we decided to stop. We got there right after they started, so it wasn’t yet too crowded and we were able to get close to the action.  More about this in a later post – but here are some pictures around the farm.

GO COUGARS

Well, the 1300 people from Summit headed home – except for one. Cindy from Califorinia (hereafter known as CFC).  So I guess that meant that only 1299 people went home – because CFC came home with me. (CFC’s job in California is helping churches start Awana Clubs and helping churches that have Awana Clubs find answers to any questions they might have.)

Anyhow, we headed to the Kane County Cougar Game since being from California, CFC is an Oakland A’s fan and the Cougars are an As minor league team.

Let me just say, it was cold.

We got our tickets from Dale and LuAnn (otherwise known as the king and queen of minor league ball parks) who have season passes, but could not use their passes

A random kid seeks attention.

since LuAnn just had shoulder surgery (and is thankfully doing well). Dale and LuAnn have been to so many

Some people are better doors than windows.

minor league ball parks that they actually had a newspaper article written about their ballpark adventures. If you build a minor league ballpark, they will come.

I digress.

As I said, the weather was cold and the “theme” of the night was Oberweiss Dairy, who greeted the fans with cups of chocolate milk. Not the best timing in the world – to think about cold milk and ice cream on a 45 degree and windy night. But it still was several steps above the game where each fan received a roll of toilet paper. I kid you not.

This was Ozzie Reading Night – so all the kids who read a lot of books this past year got to walk around the field with Ozzie (which the 10yo did one year). As usual, there were a lot of kids.

Not much action in the game for several innings. The Cougars were playing the Beloit Snappers and I’ve been trying to figure that out – what do snapping turtles have to do with Beloit. Do they really have more turtles than the average town?  (Then again, where are the cougars in Kane County?)

Did I say it was cold?

We both had winter coats on and a blanket over our legs and a lot of people nearby were drinking hot chocolate, but I was too cold to get up and get some.

Finally, around the eighth inning with the Cougars losing 2-0, we left and missed the Snappers scoring their last four runs.

But it was fun and we had even more fun the next day …

Oh, did I say it was cold?