Morton Arboretum on a Spring Afternoon

I got a cool Christmas present this year – given to me by my in-laws, picked out by my daughter – a pass to the Morton Arboretum.

Morton Arboretum is 1,700 acres in Lisle, Illinois founded by Joy Sterling Morton. Mr. Morton’s father founded Arbor Day. Mr. Joy Morton, himself,  not only developed the Arboretum but also started the Morton Salt Company,

The main focus of the Morton Arboretum is … trees. The 1700 acres have 222,000 plants of all kinds. I could say a lot more … and probably will because I’m sure I’ll be back.

So since Christmas I’ve wanted to go … first it was cold and then it was snowy and then I had a lot of writing assignments to do … and then spring happened and we’ve had rain and rain and rain.

And then we had a beautiful afternoon and I took advantage of the opportunity.

Here are some of the pictures I took.  (Other trips, I’ll focus more on identification, etc.)

DSC_0550 2IMG_9804DSC_0588 2DSC_0590DSC_0563DSC_0536DSC_0573DSC_0559DSC_0580DSC_0587 3

 

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.

IMG_9490

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.

IMG_9508 2.jpg

 

IMG_9511 2.jpgIMG_9507.jpgIMG_9509 2.jpgIMG_9515 2.jpgIMG_9513.jpg

 

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.

DSC_0273

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

DSC_0284

Upstairs  hallway.

DSC_0276

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

DSC_0282

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.

DSC_0279

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.

 

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.

DSC03209

THE GARDENS

Haven’t written for awhile – life gets in the way – but have had some adventures.

A few weekends back a friend suggested we visited the Japanese Gardens – a fairly popular site, but not a place I’ve been. The day was beautiful and the gardens had lots of trees, plants and koi,  however because it is a Japanese garden there are not an overabundance of flowers.  The garden does have a couple waterfalls though and is unique in that it is tucked in the middle of a city on a busy road, yet you feel cut off from the noise. The koi were in a variety of colors, but (I think because of all the recent rains) the ponds were extremely muddy and the koi were mostly orange and white polka dots in the water.