Wednesday, November 28, 2007 ;
12:48 PM
Nov 26

Some of the museums in Chicago have free admission on 26th and 27th of Nov because it is right after the Thanksgiving weekend.

My card does not have free admission to Shedd Aquarium, so we used 26th to visit Shedd, and gain free admission anyway. We planned to visit the Museum of Science and Industry and Adler Planetarium after this, and for both of them, we had free admission because of the card.

We didn't bargain for Shedd being as fantastic as Field though. It is also my favorite. Many people will be able to relate to this. Some people may not appreciate the dead stuffed animals in the Natural History Museum, or the historical artefacts.

But an Aquarium, and such a huge and well-organised one, who can resist? Even babies love to watch fish swim around. I was simply mesmerised by the huge circular tank that meets you once you enter the aquarium. It is similar to the one in Underwater World, but several times bigger in radius. I think, just observing that tank alone, with all the diverse species within, can take one hour! Even the kids had to be peeled away from the tank to move on to other exhibits, each one better than the last.

Exterior of Shedd above.

I wish Singapore can have something like that, or like Field. Just like the Esplanade, at one time, we thought, the concert-going population is too small to support something like that. But it materialised. Hmmm, last I heard, it was still in the red, but at least, we went out and built that. We should have more world-class museums too. I'd buy membership and go all the time. I promise. When I go back to Spore, I am going to buy the zoo and Science center membership and go as often as possible.

The Raffles Biodiversity Museum (called sth like that?) was the closest I saw in Spore that is like Field. Sigh. One day, perhaps.

The Underwater World in Sentosa. That needs renovation. I've been there so many times. Everytime there was a such a crowd. Not spacious enough and always squeezy. Not handicap-friendly too. I remember carrying my stroller up and down countless flights of stairs. And it was a nightmare for my stroller in there. Even lost the kids' water bottle inside, still recall vividly, cos the crowd was pushing so much.

Not at Shedd. There was also a huge crowd cos of the free admission that day. There were so many tourists too, but I had enough space for stroller and all, plus at least a meter radius of comfort zone. Elevators to move to different levels, and no stairs to negotiate at all. Huge cafeteria to rest and snack with a super view of Lake Michigan through the all-glass windows.

I can go on... the exhibits are organised by habitat, oceans, seas, Amazon, freshwater lakes, tidepools etc. Very comprehensive. Didn't take many pics, cos there were signs saying we should not disturb the animals with flash. With or without flash, the glass and the dark interior made it difficult for good pics anyway.

Besides aquatic species, they also tried to reproduce every habitat accurately, so there were many plant species and amphibians, reptiles to gawk at too.

They also have kids' activities. Very educational and fun. We all know that different aquatic animals have differing mouthparts to suit their feeding habits and prey type right? They could have just taught the kids, but that would not stick in their minds for too long.

They allowed the kids to learn that themselves. How?

I'll try to recap as much as possible.
1st: bottom of the sea. a lot of sand and leaves in a tub provided to the kids. chesnuts are mixed amongst the fine sand and leaves. kids were told, the chesnuts are food. They were given several tools: a ladle scoop with slit holes, pincers, larger tongs, etc. They were then asked to try to get as much food as possible in a fixed period of time. But just food! No leaves or sand!

Hmmm, who had the most chesnuts? Oh! The one using the ladle scoop with holes? Why?
Not surprisingly, the facilitator need not teach, the kids had the answers. They need not be exceptionally smart! It was obvious. The pincers kept slipping against the chesnuts' smooth exterior. The scoop without holes took too many leaves and a lot of sand, it couldn't separate the sand and leaves from the chesnuts very well. The ladle scoop with holes scooped up the chesnuts, sand filtered down the slits at once, and by some slight shaking, all the leaves fell off too.

The facilitator then pointed to several posters of aquatic animals and asked which could possibly dwell and feed at the bottom of the sea. The kids could tell that it was the ray (see below right). The facilitator will hold up the tool to the mouthpart and asked if it was similar. So the kids learnt about adaptation, habitat, mouthparts and different species names all at once. Neat.

After that, there was a huge coral reef, and scattered in between the coral reef were coarse colored grains. Kids had to try and pick up the grains as food. Which worked best? The pincers. What kind of animal then? Something like the butterfly fish. The ladle can't even fit in between the coral to get at the grains!

My poor memory cannot recall the other habitats! I think there was one other or 2 more? Anyway ds1 had so much fun scooping and pinching with the other kids. The classes keep running, so any kid would have the chance to try.

Took a pic of this, just a little nostalgic. A level Bio students will know the African lakes pretty well, esp the Lake Tanganyika (2nd largest lake in the world), Lake Malawi and Lake Victoria. This appeared in one of the past exam Qs. haha, every year I discuss that TYS Q with students, class after class, until I can recite answers from memory. Surprisingly, just a year on no pay leave has erased that! I used to be able to recall the Q just like that, now I can't remember what the Q is about, only know it refers to the lakes and the cichlids' speciation. haha. I think my brain is filled with parenting stuff now. I hope, at least, that it is not a void instead.

This section of the aquarium focused on those lakes, the species in them, esp the diverse species of cichlids (250 spp just in Tanganyika?). Many endemic species too, not found anywhere else in the world.

Wish when we discuss textbook examples, we can have the live specimens to look at. The students would be able to relate so much better and understand the Q, the answers... the concept.

The Amazon Rising section was very interesting too. It was full of weird and fascinating creatures. Saw lots of piranha, a large anaconda, mangrove trees...

Also saw the Beluga whales, and caught a dolphin show.

It was getting really late though, so we left reluctantly. We rushed over to the Adler Planetarium and caught the last 15min of its exhibits before it closed.

Above left: adler exterior.
Above right: how the first spacecraft and men landed on the moon.
films and recordings on how the astronauts lived in the spacecraft and what they spoke to family and friends back on earth.

Too bad the museums all close at 4.30pm. We had no time left for the Museum of Science and Industry, which had the Stars Wars exhibition right then.

Drove around downtown, saw the financial district, the commercial area, Millenium Park, the concert hall and so on. Then drove to see Northwestern University just for fun, and also because our dinner appointment at Kamal's was 7pm.

Finally went to Kamal's. Many households started decorating for Xmas already. Here's one of them in the Evanston neighborhood.

Our recent stay at Park City over Xmas also saw so many beautiful houses, all decked out in lights, inflatable snowmen, Santa, reindeer and all.

Stayed very late at Kamal's then happily went back to motel. Wondered how the kids can take it, so many late nights and touring. Remember hoping they won't fall sick till at least when we reach home.

Next morning, we flew home. No delays this time. :-)

rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow

8:45 AM
Nov 25

Went to church in the morning.
We had searched online for a Church of Christ in Chicago. Found one with a detailed website. Copied the address, entered into the GPS and drove there.

That's the building. The services and sermon were roughly similar to the one in Utah as well as back home. It is a black congregation. All black. I didn't see any whites around, so I guess it is the neighborhood that is predominantly black? They were all very friendly.

Their singing is very different though. They sing a capella, but the style is very "gospel" like. We thought that movies like Sister Act are stereotypes of how blacks sing, but turns out, it is really in that style. So they have a lot of rubato, a lot of the song leader singing on his own, with different words, and sometimes going at very high octaves. They also like to do vibrato kind of effect, or is it glissando, don't know how to describe the style, sliding up and down the notes while vibrating the vocal cords? If you know what I mean. The song leader also sways and taps his feet quite a lot. So do the rest. Exactly same hymn books as Utah and Spore, but sound very different. New experience.

After church, we drove to Forest Preserve Drive to get some Eli's Cheesecake (store above). My student highly recommended it. The cheesecakes are supposedly slow-baked the old fashioned way to bring out the best flavors of the ingredients, which includes slow-cultured cream, sour cream, Madagascar vanilla beans and whole eggs. It is then baked on high quality crisp all-butter shortbread cookie crust.

Best of all, they have so many different yummy flavors and combinations! We were only able to buy one cake, so we chose the mixture kind. One cake having 4 different flavors. We brought them to Shawn's house in the evening as he was hosting dinner. We left the cheesecake in the car boot all the while, and the temperature of the surroundings were cold enough to act as a fridge. :-)

After that, we used our GPS to get to a steakhouse to have lunch.

Then we drove to Navy Pier.

Have I mentioned that I got into all the museums in Chicago for free? I have this Discovery Center membership that my mom bought for the boys in Jan. It lasts for a year. Only around $100. Just by visiting the Discovery Center in SLC, I had long already made the fees worth it. We went countless times. Then, they are in the scheme where science centers and museums around the world join. Even the Singapore Science Center is in the list. It works like this: whenever you visit a museum on the list that is at least 90 miles away from the one you are a member of, you get free admission for the whole family.

It's supposed to benefit the tourist. Since they assume 90 miles means you are vacationing away from home.

When I knew that, and saw that the SSC is also on the list, I was kicking myself. Cos if I had joined as a Friend of SSC in Spore, then came here, it'd be even better. I'd also gain free admission to all the museums in Utah!!!!! From the SSC webpage, family membership (up to 2 adults, 3 kids) is S$50!!!!

Ok lah, nevermind, I already made it really a good deal. So the Field Museum cost so much already, and this Chicago Children Museum too. And besides getting free admission, it felt so good to bypass the super long queues, esp at the Field Museum. There were snaking queues and we were able to go right up to the "For Members" booth and then gain admission right away.

For those back home: go get your SSC membership if you plan to visit museums anywhere around the world. This link shows you that SSC is part of the ASTC passport program. There are many museums on the list, including Canada, Australia, Malaysia etc. Definitely will get your money's worth, what with all the interesting Science magazines you receive as a member.

First thing at Navy Pier, we visited the Chicago Children's Museum, cos they close at 4.30pm, and they had a Curious George Exhibition right then. ds2 loves Curious George a lot.

Above left: ds1 in uniform, operating a pulley lift?
Above right: ds2 running around the Curious George exhibits, mostly to discover different scientific principles, although it seems mostly physics than anything else. Light, sound, forces, magnets, electricity...

The museum is also huge, several storeys. So we didn't do everything. The kids spent a lot of time in some of the halls, like this water-play area below.

Above left: ds1 is in the foreground, hooded up, cannot see his face. ds2 is behind him, without hood, but also wearing that raincoat thing to keep their clothes dry. Both are connecting pipes and tubes to a forceful water source, to see how water flows. Some of the tubes had tiny holes at the side, and they could see that water flows out at right angles. Ok, there are various other tubes with different features too, I dare not elaborate more, cos I don't know what principles are behind using them, and I don't want to make a fool of myself. hehe. First one to laugh loudly at me would be law, then teck, then chowcw.

Above right: another area of the water play hall. This area has buckets, pulleys, boats, blocks and things that float or sink in water. ds1 was just playing around.

Above: the center of the museum has this long vertical rope tunnel that stretches up and spans maybe 1.5 storeys or 2? It then leads to a treehouse or ship thing. Can't remember what's the aim, but ds1 saw that and rushed ahead to climb. I only saw the sign that says : only children 5 years and above are allowed to enter/ climb. Oops! I was with ds2, dh was still parking the car then. It was too late to stop him. He had already started climbing and there were kids below him, climbing up too. I just prayed he will not lose his grip and fall.

Good thing he reached the end. He almost fell once or twice, and I can only stand by helplessly. His arms and legs weren't long enough for climbing certain sections yet, that's why. He even shouted down from the top to me, and waved. He doesn't know my heart was beating so quickly all the time he was climbing up. Sigh.

Above left: this inventions and discovery area had Lego, construction material and these foam parts. The foam pieces had velcro on them, and there were propeller and other shapes. Aim is to construct a flying machine (most pple did planes). You could then test it by hoisting it onto a step conveyor belt thingy, turn a handle to move your plane right up to the top and then release it. When it comes flying down, there's a timer to time the flight too. It was hoisted up real high, so it's really fun cos the plane can fly for quite a while.

Above right: ds1 has a trait I hope he will grow out of, or change. We are working hard on that. He doesn't like to lose or admit defeat. Playing games with him, if I win, he will get very upset. Not normal upset, but sometimes really angry. He outgrew that phase, and now if he sees I am going to win, then he'll change the rules, to suit himself of course. Or change the goal of the game. He hasn't learnt to cheat yet, but I must really make sure I teach him well that cheating to win is not right.
A simple eg: when we play chess together, the moment I start "eating up" more of his pieces cos he was careless, he'll then say "Oh, mummy, this time, we are playing who-has-less-pieces-left-wins". I'll refuse of course, then he'll not want to play anymore. Arrrrgggh.
Ok, so that day, he saw this rope with knots. He hopped onto it. But, he wasn't strong enough to pull himself up to the top. Only managed 2 knots up? His arms are so thin, of course, right? He refused to come down, despite dh and I kept on persuading him. He said he must get to the top. We spent a really long time there trying to tell him it's ok, that as he grows older, he'll be able to tackle it. He insisted he must reach the top. We wanted to help him (carry a bit lor), he flatly refused. "That's cheating!".
Museum was going to close, they started announcing over the PA system that we have 15min more. He finally jumped off very angrily, and then started crying. Like really loudly. Everyone was looking at us already. Sigh.

I know he was frustrated, but I guess he just needs to learn on his own, that everyone has limits and we cannot do everything we want to, all the time.

Oh, I forgot to mention, sometimes when that sort of thing happens, he'll scold the thing. Like "lousy rope, so lousy that's why cannot work". Whenever he acts like that, the saying "a poor workman blames his tools" comes to my mind. One day, I have to get that across to him.

Above left: after he has calmed down a lot of course. ds1 playing with the sculptured stone seats. Xmas decor in background.

Above right: he saw Santa and Mrs Santa, so he said he wanted to sit on Santa's lap. there was no one in the queue, so I let him. he talked with Santa for a long time. Most of which was out of my earshot. I was waiting with ds2 in the stroller. dh was not with us. Suddenly, Santa raised his voice and said, "Oh, so you want CANDY for Xmas, ho ho ho.". I got the cue, smiled at Santa and nodded my head, acknowledging the message. haha. Just candy? That's easy.

We walked the whole of the pier, and viewed the other museums there too. There's a stained glass museum, very pretty. I took many pics too, but it's just not possible to post every pic. Here're 2. On the left, you can see dh's silhouette.

Something scary happened after that. Dh went to get the car which was parked really far away. It would take at least 20 min. So I went upstairs to the Crystal Gardens. I wanted to take the skyline at night, and also the lights along the Pier. But the angle and view from the inside of the Crystal Gardens was not good enough, so I tried to get out. Most of the glass doors were locked. I went to a far corner where in the daytime it was supposed to be a bar counter selling some drinks. Behind the counter was a door.

Ok, let's try that. I tried it, and hey, it was unlocked, so I pushed the stroller through the dingy dark space behind the bar counter, guided ds1 through also, and we went out. The wind was chilly, but I told the kids, just 1 min, let me take some pics. Wow, nice view. But it was just a barricaded part that I was on.

Ok, got the pics. Turned back. Tried to open the door. Oh no!!! The door was a one-way door! You know, those at the ground floor of Golden Village Cinemas? Where, after the movie you walk downstairs, you can get out but cannot go back in, cos the doorknob wouldn't turn?

I panicked for awhile. The 2 boys were still oblivious. They were playing and talking to each other. I tried the door a few more times, looked inside, and there was no one else inside who could help me. I tried banging the door awhile. No use. No one there anyway.

I turned to look at the barricades. They were those metal kinds, with vertical poles in between and tiny gaps. They were all chained together, cordoning off the bar store area. I was already thinking, what to do?!? Are the kids and I going to be stuck up here. Should I call dh already and describe it to him? So he can come save us?

I went over, as a last resort, shook and tried to move all the barricades. Wah... so fortunate. One of the chains was loose and not locked! It fell off when I shook the barricade. Still, it took all of my strength to lift the barricade and shift it to the side so the stroller, boys and me passed through. Phew!

Maneuvered ourselves all the way to the other side of the building and got into Crystal Gardens through another glass door, got into the elevator down to the main hall again. Heaved a big sigh of relief.

Didn't tell dh about it, kids didn't know too, so everything's fine. I am recording it down so I will remember to be more careful next time!

When dh came, we got into the car and went to Shawn's house for the wonderful dinner.

rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow

6:46 AM
Nov 23

Collected our rental car in the morning. Had arranged to stay nearer the city for the 1st few days, then switch to another motel nearer the airport for the remaining days. So we needed a car the last few days and also cos we wanted to drive around a bit after the city stuff.

Like the color. haha. It's a Chrysler PT Cruiser. They gave us a choice of Corolla and this, so of course I chose this, since I've never tried driving it before. It's got a neat sunroof that's automatic and we had a lot of fun repeatedly opening and closing it to get drafts of chilly air. We = me and kids, haha.

Also rented a GPS system, cos it was very cheap. Never used one before, and am now so spoilt, cos I love it! Now I wonder why before every trip I spend all my time printing out Google maps using Greyscale printing mode and rough paper. For a 10 day trip in the past, I'd print out a box file full of maps, cos we'd visit at least 15 cities along the way.

With this, it was really cool. Even late at night, I needn't strain to read the maps for dh. Just listen to the thing go "In 0.2 miles, turn left". They'll remind us ahead of time first, then just at the junction tell us again. They also had all kinds of data inside, like where the nearest steakhouse, or Target is. So we could find anything. Churches, hospitals, parks... And the maps are wonderful, can zoom out and in to wherever in USA.

Sorry if you had used it before. I'm going on and on... It's after all, my first time, and I'm like someone who found a new exciting and amazingly useful gadget.

We even purposely tested it, just for fun. Like we turned in a wrong direction to stop at a gas station to fill up... And it went crazy, kept on saying, "recalculating, turn right, turn right then turn right..." non stop. haha. it'll also say "U-turn when possible...". Once you take a wrong turn, it recalculates. It also gives us the distance and estimated time of arrival for every destination we key in. So we also tried keying in all kinds of funny places. haha.

Ok, enough of that. We headed to Sears Tower.

Chicago has 2 very good observatory decks. John Hancock and Sears. I heard the former has shorter queues and supposedly better view. But Sears is the tallest skyscraper in USA since 1973. It used to be the tallest in the world (CN Tower not counted, since people argue that it is not a building) for quite a long time, until Petronas Twin Towers took over, and then shortly after, Taipei 101. Now Taipei 101's the tallest but not for long, cos the United Emirates is building something much taller in Dubai (completion estimated in 2008).

Hence we chose to go to the Sears, since we don't think we would fork out money to go to both.

Above left: the long queue in front of us. Think we waited for 1hr. But they had lots of info boards and TV screens to occupy us during the wait, so it didn't seem long.
Above right: finally in the lift. the sheer number of buttons on the panel attracted both ds.

Above left: view of Sears from outside.
Above right: view of Sears from inside, at the observatory deck.

Above left: view from Sears, the other skyscrapers in Chicago
Above right: all the way down Lakeshore (Lake Michigan). sun shining from that direction, so pic is dark.

Above left: can see John Hancock Center in this pic. the tallest one in the pic with 2 white antennae.
Above right: view of Chicago right up to Wisconsin. supposedly.
Can see Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium and Field museum in this pic.

After that, we went to Penang again! For late lunch. That's Chinatown below.

Ordered Hainanese Chicken rice, bean sprouts, Thai spicy assam fish.
Sooooo delicious. We overate actually, cos there's just us and kids.
After that, we decided to just drive alongside Lake Michigan and see how far we could go till the sun set.
We actually drove all the way to Indiana and wanted to make it to Michigan, but the sun set before we did that. There's the sun setting over the huge lake. We couldn't get to the lake side at this point, so no view of the lake from the pic.
And above right: the sign that welcomed us to Indiana when we passed the state boundary. It says "Lincoln's Boyhood Home". Illinois was where Lincoln started his political career, but Indiana was where he moved to from Kentucky, when he was 7 years old.
After that, we drove to the new motel near the O Hare Airport, which is really far from the city center.
Nov 24
Woke up tired and dh suffered from indigestion the night before cos he ate far too much the previous day. So we decided to take it easy and go to the premium outlets at Aurora (50 min away from downtown Chicago).
Wow, the outlet center here has more stores than Park City's and best of all are the food options.
So, believe it or not, we spent the whole day there. :-) Big sales at every store from the kids' Carters, Old Navy, OshKosh, to my stuff at Gap, Banana Republic, and dh's at Tommy Hilfiger, Van Heusen... We had a good time, cos everything was like 50 to 75% off. I got lots for the kids, long sleeved tops and fleece-lined pants for $3 and $8 respectively.
Dh even shopped at Lindt, for chocs for his co-workers back in Utah. He works with a bunch of Hispanics, from different parts of Latin America, and he gets along very well with them. They are teaching him Spanish too.
Back at the motel, we just kicked back, relaxed and watch a whole bunch of movies on the cable channels. hehe. Kind of wasted the day, I guess, from a tourist standpoint. It was the first time we did anything like that. Maybe got a bit too lazy. Or worse, age catching up...

rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow

5:21 AM
Nov 22

McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade
State Street, Chicago Downtown

We headed out bright and early to State Street, which was far from our hotel. To catch this parade, which had many marching bands, floats and performances. McDonald's is the sponsor. We got several free Mac's food coupons while watching the parade too. Weather was not that good though. It was snowing, a chilly wind was blowing, and the skies were grey and cloudy.

We didn't know it then, but our friends in Utah were watching the news, and they said they laughed at us, when they saw the Weather Channel say there was bad weather in Chicago over Thanksgiving. Grrrr...

Above left: Macy's. Again, like in NYC, Macy's occupied a huge building with lovely archi. Here in Chicago, it has a very rich historical background. Can't remember what I read already, but I'm sure Wiki will have that info. :-)

Above right: the bands mesmerised the kids most. This is one of them. We were standing just by the roadside. Great view. And kinda outside Dunkin Donuts shop too. So the smell of hot donuts kept wafting out towards us.

Although my loyalty is towards Krispy Kreme, I couldn't stand it, after about half an hour. I got dh to go in and buy hot chocolate and some donuts. Hehe. The hot chocolate did wonders for us, and we didn't freeze to death, despite wearing much less than the other tourists around us.

We had seen the temperature range of Chicago, and it was similar to SLC, but then, we didn't expect the wind to be so cold. It was strong, as expected, but it was more humid in Chicago, and the wind thus packed more chill in it. If you know what I mean. Fortunately we were "trained" by the cold the past winter, so we could still enjoy the whole parade, with just a little discomfort whenever the wind blew in our direction.

Above: the police officer in front of us kept sipping his hot coffee or cocoa too. Brrrrr...

Above: a colorful El train passed over head a marching band.

Below: later on, after the parade, and after redeeming the free food from Mac's, we took the train to Polk station where Rush Medical Center/ hospital and University is.

Shawn's apartment was just there, and he picked us up. We all went to his apartment to use the toilet. haha. Mac's toilet was closed, we didn't see anyt toilets at the train station, and we had been "holding it in" the whole morning. Quite funny, fortunately he is an old friend. Cos the moment we saw him, I was like, "Err, can we use the toilet first?"

At his apartment, we enjoyed some drinks and Greek baklava. He bought some bananas for the kids! We had mentioned the day before that the kids would only eat banana, and we couldn't find any at Walgreens and other supermarkets. So we happily took the bunch.
Then we went to Viet town for lunch.

rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow

4:12 AM
Nov 21

Visited the Field Museum of Natural History at Museum campus along Lakeshore Drive. What more can I say? It is one of my favorites, together with Shedd Aquarium.

This is the main hall, what you see once you enter the museum. Very grand, very nice archi.

Left: elephants

Right: Sue the T. Rex. Very interesting story behind how she was found and pieced. Sue was the one who found the fossils. It's not that the dino is female.

Above left: The Crown Family Playlab. Many exhibits and hands on stuff for the kids to learn and play with.

Above right: totem poles in front of the Africa Hall.

Above left: ds1 putting his hands through the barnacles. shows how they filter feed.

Above right: ds1 examining some rocks.

ds2 looking at the "big birds". I took hundreds of pictures of the animal and plant exhibits, cos there's so much to learn. And I still have the mentality that "hey! I could use that for my Bio class!" when actually I won't be going back to teaching for maybe a long long time to come. So I just snapped away. (Between me and dh, we have 6Gb of memory space for pictures, so it doesn't matter if I "waste" some.)

The exhibits were very comprehensive, and they covered every kingdom, phylum, class, order, family.. it seems. We didn't have time to finish looking at everything!

At the ethnic music room. ds2 with bells, ds1 with small Japanese Taiko drum.

After that, Shawn picked us up from the museum for dinner, which I mentioned in an earlier post already. :-)

rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow

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