All posts in Adventures with kids

  • Chapter 152- Lion’s Den Gorge

    Day off of school?  In our house, that means a family hike!  Even though we do this pretty often, I still get complaints at first when I mention it.  “But I don’t even liiiiiiike hiking!” and “It’s too boring!” are common responses.  While I understand that a 3mi hike is a lot for those little legs, THEY LOVE IT EVERY TIME.

    So on our most recent no-school day, we got out my current favorite book (Kevin Revolinski’s Best Hikes Near Milwaukee).  I had a vote to hike near water, and the kids wanted a loop that was less than three miles.  Oh, and of course not more than an hour away.  Because I’m old school and don’t have anything electronic for my kids in the car, they’re stuck with books and art supplies for long trips.  Luckily, Lion’s Den Gorge made all the requirements.

    The trip started out with an end-of-the-world itchy glove issue (see above for clues), but the disaster quickly remedied itself with the distraction of nature and siblings.  Which, come to think of it, remedies most things in life.

    *a quick note that erosion is present and bluffs are steep, so please review with your family the necessity for staying on the trails.

    The kids decided to take the Bluff Trail down to the beach, which is when I regretted not bringing my other new favorite book, Stan Tekiela’s Trees of Wisconsin Field Guide.  I’m sure we passed through birch trees, but there were many others that I haven’t yet learned to identify.  Games of tag and zombies and collecting shiny ice vs “blocky” ice (whatever that means) kept everyone pretty busy, and we suddenly found ourselves at the top of the steps down to the beach.  Heads up that there are a lot of steps.

    We spent close to an hour at the beach, throwing rocks in the water and exploring the rapidly receding ice shelf.  And getting our winter boots soaked with water, of course.  We talked about how the waves were slowly melting the ice, and noted the small creek flowing into Lake Michigan.  Little T made use of her monocular (thanks Aunt Jamie and Uncle Rick!) and spotted some ducks out on the water for viewing.

    When our snacks were about to run out (I think we went through a bag of carrots and celery, four granola bars, a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies, and string cheese for all…people were HUNGRY on this hike!), we made our way up the stairs.  The kids drew a map in the dirt and decided to take the Bluff Trail back because it was shady and they had such a good time on the way down.

    My youngest found some birch, and she told her siblings that’s what people wrote on before paper was invented.

    An added bonus of the trip was that two out of four kids mastered the use of a compass!

    Everyone loved the long boardwalk at the marsh, near the end of the hike.  The kids brought back the nature-exploring technique they learned in preschool of lying on your belly to look off of a dock or pier.  It’s a safe way to get close to the water!

    Success.  Another day, another hike, another reminder of how lucky we are to have so many unique places to explore.

    Peace!

    -Amber

  • Chapter 151- Retzer Nature Center

    Happy New Year! It’s been a busy time here in the Storm house, so I’m catching up from one of our best hikes from before the holidays…Retzer Nature Center!  I knew it was a great place to go with kids, but for some reason didn’t make the 25 min drive from MKE to Waukesha.  I’m so glad my kids had off and we could finally go!

    We parked and headed in to the Nature Center to check in, and were delighted to find out that admission is free!  What a great resource.  I noticed the planetarium, well hold on.  My oldest who is a big fan of space, was drawn to the solar system models and exhibits, and we ended up peeking in the planetarium.  When we opened the door, a I heard a voice say “Hello?  Come on in!”.  AND THAT’S WHEN THE MAGIC HAPPENED.  The gentleman working in the planetarium gave us our own mini viewing of a Sesame Street’s One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure!  This isn’t a typical occurrence I’m sure, so check out this link for times and admission prices.

    Shortly after the viewing ended, we put our mittens back on and headed outside.  The kids and I decided to head west, and we quickly started the hunt for walking sticks and other treasures.  Our family is learning to read trail maps, so when the kids found the Nature Trail marked in red, they were pretty proud.

    Little T found a Wooly Bear and we all adored its cuteness and gently put it in the grass off of the trail.

    After hooking up with the Outer Hiking Trail and walking through the pine trees, we stopped for a snack in the sun.

    We stayed on the Outer Hiking Trail for the remainder of the hike, and found a beautiful hill to run around on!  I think I heard some “The hills are alive…with the sound of music” coming from my kids’ mouths.

    We followed the trail back to the pine plantation, and read all about the age of the forest, and learned why these trees are all in a row.

    I had a few dollars in my pocket, so I asked the kids if they were feeling big enough to go inside and make a donation.  Of course they said yes!  So I waited on a bench outside and gazed at the beauty around me.  When they didn’t come out for more than 5 minutes, I figured I should check on them.

    And inside, I found my four year old adding her name to the list that contained her siblings’ first names.  Apparently they wanted to somehow document the donation, which is adorable.

    The exhibits in the lobby are perfect for anyone, with lots of hands-on models, furs, skulls and more.

    We even got to see turtles and frogs mating!  For anyone who’s wondering, my response was super simple: the male animal is joining his sperm with the female’s egg.

    We’re definitely excited to head back to Retzer.  I was so grateful to find a free place for my kids and I to explore outside and refuel in nature!

    A big thanks to Waukesha County and the Friends of Retzer for this resource!  Check out their links to find ways to support their efforts.

    Peace!

    -Amber

  • Chapter 150- Ways to get outside in winter!

    Hi friends!  On The Morning Blend, I’ll be talking about ways to get your family outside in Wisconsin winters.  There’s never enough time on air to give specifics, so here’s a list of our favorite ways to take advantage of the midwest’s greatest treasure….WINTER!

    Also, ok.  I know some of you probably hate winter, or at least like to complain about it because that’s what we do here in Wisco.  But I vote for changing the idea of lamenting the cold in the winter, and the heat in the summer.  Let’s embrace our seasons!  One of my kids was complaining about the end of last winter, and when I was trying to console her, I realized the beauty of Wisconsin.  We’re so lucky that we have the opportunity to practice patience and resilience and gratitude.  In order to not be miserable in the hot summers, we have to be thankful that it’s not winter all year long.  And in order to not scowl all winter, we can be thankful it’s not 90° with 80% humidity.

    That said, my best advice for enjoying this weather is to make sure your people are in good outdoor gear.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does need to be warm/waterproof.  Check out your local neighborhood Facebook buy/sell/trade pages, look at used kids clothing stores, and keep tabs on what you need for end-of-season sales at REI, Land’s End and more.  Also, keep your adventures short.  Use hot chocolate as a motivator.  And know that it’s going to be messy/wet so bring extra clothes.

    Aside from low-key, and no-planning adventures like building snow forts and playing in snow mounds at schools, I have a few favorite organizations that embrace getting outside.

    Urban Ecology Center

    • Winter Equipment Lending.  It’s free with a very reasonably priced membership, and includes things like snowshoes, cross-country skis, poles, sleds, ice skates and camping gear.
    • The 2017 Candlelight Walk is happening this Saturday night!  Check UEC’s page to register for a guided and beautiful walk in the woods.
    • Saturday Animal Feedings.  Kids and families can meet with UEC staff and volunteers, and get a close up look at reptiles, birds, fish and more.

    Wehr Nature Center

    • Winter Walk at Wehr on December 31st is a great way to take a guided walk followed by hot chocolate next to the fireplace.  Not a bad New Years Eve, I’d say!
    • Christmas Bird Count, a free and easy way to contribute to the worldwide count of birds!  Plus there’s a potluck.
    • This weekend you can attend Owl Prowls, a chance to learn through exhibits and instruction, followed by a walk in the woods to look and listen for real live owls.

    Milwaukee County Parks

    • Slice of Ice!  Check out ice skating at Red Arrow Park all winter long, weather permitting.  Skating is free if you bring your own skates, otherwise rent them for $7-8 a pair.
    • Winter Sports at Whitnall Park…just click the link for LOTS of ways to enjoy the snow, from sledding the cross-country skiing to DOG SLED RIDES.  Need I say more?

    I hope to see you out on some winter hikes (which reminds me, I’ve started referring to hikes as “playing in the woods” because it seems to go over better with my crew) or sledding hills or skating rinks!

    Also, for more ideas join me on over on Instagram which is where I waste most of my time 🙂

    Peace,

    Amber

  • Chapter 149- Volunteering in Milwaukee

    Volunteering and getting to know your neighbors is such an important value to teach your kids, especially in the wake of tragedies that are all too frequent.  I don’t have the one answer to our national community finding its way back to humanity and decency and kindness, but I do know that reaching out and giving can only help.

    On The Morning Blend, I’ll mention a few of my family’s favorite ways to donate our time, money and energy.  But there are so many ways to get involved that I’ve created a list with some tips for the blog.

    A few things to cover first:

    • It can be difficult to find organizations that accept young kids as volunteers, so get creative and volunteer from home!
    • Talk to you kids about why it’s important to care for others.  Explain that there are neighbors who don’t have enough money to buy food, clothing or gifts.  But those are real people like you and me, who could use some help.
    • You don’t have to spend money to donate.
    • Model charitable acts for your kids.  They aren’t going to be inclined to donate some of their allowance if they don’t see you making effort and sacrifice for others.

    Last spring, I logged on to our neighborhood’s Nextdoor page, and asked if anyone’s Little Free Library needed filling.  I had lots of responses of things like “Yes!  On the corner of __ & __, our library gets a lot of kid traffic and goes empty so quickly!”  People were so appreciative and excited.  I then asked my kids to gather up all the books we don’t read anymore, and we filled a few grocery bags full and piled in the car.  While I stayed in the car, I sent out my kids to fill each library and they always came back with smiles.

     

    Milwaukee Riverkeeper has an annual Spring Cleanup!  It’s an easy and family-friendly option to get outside and make a difference.  There’s even a map that predicts the amount of trash to be cleaned up, so you can plan accordingly.  They provide gloves and trash bags, you provide the boots on the ground.  And at the end of the cleanup?  Cookies!!

    Community Projects for Seniors has a unique way to volunteer from home.  The organization provides over 4,000 meals to elderly folks in our community over the holidays, and with that they deliver cheerful placemats on which to enjoy the meal.  You and your family can make placemats by decorating paper with positive messages and pictures.  Then send or bring them into CPS’s office.  Done!  Call beforehand to make sure someone is in the office, and click here for specifics about the project and other ways to join the cause.

     

    Another option is to bring old stuffed toys, paper towels, dog/cat food, and many other wish list items to the Humane Society.  Call your closest location to see what requirements they have about donating certain items, and get your kids involved in gathering supplies.  Then, when you bring it to the shelter, have the kids be a part of the process of handing over the items so they can be thanked by the other volunteers.  Donating = caring!

    Write letters of encouragement for veterans!  Mail Call is a way for you to make a card, and have it delivered and read to a veteran on a Stars and Stripes Honor Flight.  There are lots of ways to send messages either online or via snail mail, and just takes a quick search online to find the opportunity that fits for you.

    Schools and many other organizations hold winter coat and food drives, which are great ways for kids to make a difference.  Last year for our school’s food drive, my kids each decided how much money from their piggy banks they’d donate (I supplemented with a few dollars).  We then took that money to the grocery store and picked out the healthiest and best options for donating.  We learned about the value of certain types of food vs. others, and when my kids brought their items to school, I could see how proud they were.

    A few other organizations we’re hoping to be a part of soon:

    • Victory Garden Initiative.  Join in on one of their BLITZ weekends and help move soil, install raised garden beds, prep soil for trees, and more.  This is best suited for older kids, but families can find ways to be involved by contacting VGI.  They also have an urban farm in the Harambee neighborhood, where you can find volunteers planting, harvesting, weeding and more.  Kids should be 8 years and older.  There is also a great AT HOME option of starting seedings in your home in January and February, which will then be planted through VGI’s Youth Education Program.
    • Riverwest Food Pantry has lots of locations and times to help get food to hungry people.
    • Toddlers & Kids on a Mission provides meals and events, and families with very young kids can get involved!  We’ve baked cookies to be served at meals in the past, which was a super easy way to help out.
    • Feeding America invites kids 10+ to join their parents in sorting and inspecting food to the hundreds and thousands of people they serve.  Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin distributes to hundreds of thousands of children, families, and seniors across 36 counties in eastern Wisconsin. Anyone interested in group or individual volunteer opportunities for kids should visit Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, and contact the Volunteer Engagement Coordinator to schedule an opportunity.
    • Core ElCentro is an amazing resource for people to get healthy!  Each volunteer opportunity has a slightly different schedule of day and time that it is available. Volunteers who volunteer 4 hours per month also receive free access to our holistic exercises (like yoga, zumba) and children are welcome to participate in class with their parents as well. Volunteering and exercising together is a wonderful way for families to spend time together, build community with others, and engage in other healthy classes and other wellness opportunities too!

    So however you can make a difference, let this be the nudge that says DO IT!  You’ll feel better, too!  If you’ve got suggestions, please let me know through comments, or on my Instagram account.  I’d love to hear what else is going on in the world of charitable giving in the Milwaukee area!

    Peace,

    Amber

     

  • Chapter 148- Milwaukee Music

    Need one more reason to love this city?  Look no farther than the music scene!  I’ve found a ton of opportunities to take my kids to see some live and GOOD music here in town, and I wanted to share some of them with you.

    Let me first say why I think music is important to kids and families.  We have a vibrant scene here in Milwaukee, and by taking your kids to attend events/listen to their neighbors making music, you’re supporting your community.  And making it stronger.  The other reason I value music so much is because like all art, it’s a form of self expression.  We all (kids included!) have emotions and ideas inside, and music is just one way to get those feelings out.  When your kids see adults, teenagers, and even kids performing, it can be an encouraging way to tell your kids “Hey you’re important!” and that by expressing yourself you might even help other people get their feelings out.

    We spend quite a few nights over the summer at our amazing Milwaukee County Parks for Concerts in the Parks.  Almost every day of the week, you can find some free and family-friendly music around town.  Most parks are busy with families and picnic dinners, kids running around, dancing, and adults sharing a drink.  Check out MKE County Parks’ website for schedules (though I’m sure next summer’s lineups aren’t out quite yet).

    88Nine Radio Milwaukee is constantly offering ways to see music, with kids and without.  This summer they held a block party to celebrate their 10 year anniversary, and we were able to attend this fun free event!  My kids had been hearing the band Reyna on the radio, so I did some Instagram stalking to introduce myself.  After we saw this sister duo perform, we then got to say hi in person and snag a photo!

    88Nine also offers 414 Music Live, one of my favorite perks of the radio station.  At these sessions, you can watch musicians perform and chat with radio hosts.  We’ve been lucky enough to see and meet Sonny Knight & The Lakers, Siren, Lex Allen, WebsterX, Grace Weber, Kaleo, The Bahamas, Sister Strings and Jack Garrett.  Most of those performers are local…what a great way to support your community!  Check their schedule here.

    I don’t have any photos, but check out Free Space at the Jazz Gallery in Riverwest, and DJ Bizzon’s Scratch Sessions.  Free Space is a community event held the third Wednesday of every month, and opens up its doors to youth who want to explore music.  The Scratch Sessions offer free lessons on turntables for youth ages 12-19.

    Anodyne Coffee Roasters has some interesting and free and family-friendly events as well!  Last year I took the kids to see a jazz bass player and it was a really new and unique experience for them.  They were a little out of their element, looking around with wide eyes as if to ask “is this music, Mom?”  But I feel very strongly that exposure to new and different things creates appreciation for the arts.  As much as I hated being dragged to classical music performances as a kid, I’m so happy to have that as a foundation in my life.  Thanks Mom!

     

    Colectivo hosts Gospel Sundays, MSO Mondays and more chances to see some great music.  Check out the schedules and get yourself to one of the events, if just to say you tried it once.

    And then there’s the Festival city Symphony’s Pajama Jamborees.  If your kids can hang a little later in the evening, get them in their pjs and head to see some lovely music.  It’s a free event held a few times a year, and the concerts typically surround a theme like holidays or classic stories.

    Fox and Branch know how to bring down the house.   They’re a local duo who play bluegrass when they’re not entertaining kids.  Check out their schedule for chances to see them (like at Anodyne Coffee and this event at the Washington Park Library).

    I commend the Milwaukee Public Library for offering such a fun and out-of-the-ordinary event…Library Out Loud Days!  It’s a fun way to explore our libraries, by being loud.  They’ve hosted shows (we saw New Age Narcissism this past summer, where adults got to drink a beer while kids danced and played and explored), and this month they have what looks like a really fun event.  Haunted Central will be alive with “haunted-themed” events and activities for two days this weekend.  Check it out!

    The Milwaukee Art Museum has free days (first Thursday of every month) and great weekend events, many of which offer music.  Kids under age 12 are always free at the museum, so if you get a chance to attend one of the special events, please take advantage of it!

    And my last tip for introducing your kids to music is to have some instruments lying around your house.  Ours are all second hand from rummage sales, and the microphone we have doesn’t even work.  But kids get curious and want to explore things hands-on, so when they have the chance to pick/pluck/strike/sing, I say let them.  I’ve also enjoyed seeing my kids be able to play some music, whether on our Fisher Price cassette player from the 80’s, or putting on their favorite album on the record player.

    Thanks for stopping by and reading!  If you have suggestions for other ways to get your family involved in live and or local music, please drop a line!

  • Chapter 147- First Stage Theater (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)

    While growing up in my family, Thanksgiving meant a 3-5 day celebration with aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends.  Wednesday was an all-night pizza party that ran right into Thursday morning turkey baking.  After our meal on Thursday, we’d play and nap and the kids would invariably get into some sort of trouble before movie time began.

    We’d watch classics like Swiss Family Robinson, E.T., Mary Poppins, and one of my favorites, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  It’s a tale of imagination and perseverance, and has a flying car in it so OF COURSE kids like it.  And I got the opportunity to see this magical movie come to life in a First Stage performance!

    If you’re not familiar with First Stage, it’s an incredible children’s theater here in Milwaukee that began in 1987.  First Stage offers professional theater productions like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, an academy for theater training and classes, and educational programs in schools and our communities.

    And on this past Sunday, I took my oldest and youngest daughters on a special date to see the play, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  My two kindergarteners actually get to see it with school later this month, so it was a really nice treat for the other two to get to see the production!

    (above photo credit Paul Ruffolo Photography: Jackson Evans, Malkia Stampley, Jack Trettin and Paige Landrum in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG)

    And I have to tell you, it was nothing short of an incredible experience.  My 8 year old and almost 4 year old both loved the performance equally.  The theater is set up so there’s not a bad seat in the house, and the stage is recessed so everyone has a great view of the people and props on stage.

    (above photo credit Paul Ruffolo Photography)

    When the opening number began, I noticed the wide age range of actors.  We got to see some very young kids (the youngest appeared to be about 5 years old), adolescents, adults and even a “grandpa-aged” adult as my daughter said.  Some of these actors were entering and exiting through the audience, a great way for kids to see people and costumes up close!   I was also impressed with the use of stage…actors were standing on boxes and tables, getting close to the audience.  The pianist was pretty much in the audience which contributed to the almost hands-on feel of the show.

    (above photo credit Paul Ruffolo Photography: Rick Pendzich, Jackson Evans and young performer cast in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG)

    As for the actual story and performance, it was so creative!  The props were used in such a way that I think encourages ingenuity and creativeness.  For example, when the car was to be floating on water, stagehands crawled under the car and “inflated” some floatation devices, waving them gently.

    (above photo credit Paul Ruffolo Photography)

    At one point in the movie, a blimp is flying through the air with a small hut hanging below.  The actors carried a miniature blimp and hut in the air, with their voices sounding far off, and gave the clear impression that they were in the air.  Even if some dialogue was lost for younger audience members, the action/set/singing/dancing carried them through without confusion.

    This interpretation of the movie really emphasized the message of adventure and persistence.  The family didn’t give up on rescuing their grandfather AND helping the children of Vulgaria (you’ll just have to see the play to know what I’m talking about).  I was moved by the song “The Roses of Success”, where Grandpa Potts was given the impossible talk of making the Baron’s car fly.  We’re told “…up from the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success…”.  In the next number, the rest of the Potts family is trying to save the children of the city and they sing “…we’re all together, a team can weather any storm they may go through, cause teamwork can make a dream work, if you’re not afraid to fight!”

    (above photo credit Paul Ruffolo Photography)

    Now perhaps I was inspired by these messages of hope, unity, grit and determination because of current affairs in our county (and ahem, worldwide).  I’m uneasy about our volatile political climate and worried about the future.  But spending a Sunday afternoon listening to reminders that we can work together for justice and a better life eased my mind.  And it offered the same lessons to my kids.

    We loved the Q&A (or talkback) session after the last scene.  The cast stayed on stage and took questions from the audience.  The actors took turns answering the questions, which was a neat way for my kids to see that the people on stage were regular people, too!

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is playing through November 5th, and I really hope you get a chance to see it.  Thank you First Stage for the wonderful experience!

    A. Storm

     

  • Chapter 146- Pope Farm Conservancy

    In my effort to cram everything in to the last few weeks of summer, we headed to Madison to see Pope Farm Conservancy’s sunflower farm!  I’d been seeing some beautiful photos on Instagram since last summer, so this adventure has been in the back of my mind for quite some time.  As a bonus, I happen to meet up with a bunch of my amazing friends and their kids that day!

    As chance would have it, one of my friends spotted me on highway 94 near Johnson Creek, and another said she was on her way there when I called to check in.  All 4 moms plus our 12 combined children met in the parking lot and hugged, being amazed that we ended up there together!

    At the parking lot, there was one port-a-potty which had a line.  So after playing on some big rocks while waiting, we walked up a big hill to the large sunflower crop.

    There were lots of people taking photos and standing on picnic benches, and we waited our turn to snap a few pix.  It was quite hot and sunny that day, so the kids were antsy to get moving and/or retreat to the shade.

    We made our way clockwise around the flowers, and came upon a small woods with more rocks.  And honestly, this is where we spent most of our time.  The shade was oh-so important and the kids really just wanted to play with each other, anyway.   Adults talked as kids played with sticks and rocks, smashing acorns open and tasting the dry and bitter nuts inside.

    When it was time for naps/lunch/saving kids from meltdown, we headed back the same way we came.  That’s it, people!

    This trip was a bit of a letdown…I really wanted to grab some cute photos for holiday cards but people weren’t really able to put on cute holiday card faces (understandable).  The kids were underwhelmed with the flowers, because there wasn’t a path to walk through them or anything.  Having hot, thirsty, and bored kids didn’t make for a successful adventure.

    However, I learned that weather makes a huge difference, so maybe next year during the peak blooming week we could try again.  AND I got to see friends (which didn’t really happen at all this summer) so it wasn’t a big loss.  Also, the conservancy does some amazing work with land conservation and education.  There are plenty of opportunities to learn about stewardship and even volunteer, so we’ll make sure to keep this place in mind for future adventures!

    And here’s my advice:

    • -Check the farm’s Facebook page for updates on weather and peak blooming, both are super important.
    • -Bring water and snacks!  They had bottles of water for sale but not much else.
    • -Head to the farm early or late in the day.  Midday sun isn’t ideal for getting people to smile and look at a camera with eyes open.
    • -Pair this adventure with others in Madison.  It doesn’t fill up a whole day, and there are so many other fun places to explore in Madison.
    • -Call you friends to see if they all happen to be on their way to the farm at the same time on the same day.

    Here’s a quick list of some of my fave Madison spots:

    Thanks for making the trip fun, Kady, Kate and Margo!

    Good luck with school staring, everyone…

    A. Storm

  • Chapter 145- Tamarack Loop Trail at Mauthe Lake

    On our way back from a trip to see my folks in Appleton, I took the back roads to the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest to check out the Mauthe Lake Recreation Area.  We’d been researching hikes in my new favorite book, Best Hikes Near Milwaukee by Kevin Revolinski, and narrowed it down to two hikes in the Northern Kettles.  The kids decided they’d be up for a flat 2-mile hike!

    When we arrived, the kids lamented that we weren’t camping and begged me to come back and stay SEVENTY nights at Mauthe Lake.  There’s a beach on the lake, a playground, and even a teepee to reserve.  The camping sites looked fairly small and close together near the lake, but we didn’t have a chance to see all of the loops.

    We did, however, ignore the sign that said flooding was present on the trail and started out going counterclockwise on the Tamarack Loop Trail.  I prepped the kids for a wet hike, and everyone said they were up for soggy shoes.

    We crossed a few puddles and found Queen Anne’s Lace and other pretty flowers.  We sang songs and took turns holding the backpack.

    At a small log crossing, we noticed some really interesting designs in the wood.  We talked about invasive species and the kids guessed that perhaps it was the box elder bug that made these marks.  However, I can’t identify trees yet so I couldn’t confirm that we were looking at an elder.  I’d really like to start learning about tree/plant/flower identification in Wisconsin, so if you have any tips please let me know!

    We made it through the white cedar forest when people started to get irritable.  It was around 11am so it was very hot, sunny, and humid.  The buzzing flies didn’t help.  The first wooden bridge over the Milwaukee River wasn’t too far ahead, but people were starting to fade.

    And so it was after this giant puddle that we had a board meeting to discuss the pros and cons of this hike.  It was a unanimous decision to head back to the car.

    We walked (ran) a little bit through the campground to avoid the same flooded spots we’d already navigated, and eyed up the teepee we plan on staying at next summer.

    The fishing pier provided us with a great view of the lake, and also the beach.  My people were DYING to go swim, but since I didn’t have swim suits or towels, I promised them with the deliciousness of cold ice cream on the way home.

    We peeled off our shoes and socks, and headed out with the intention of hiking the loop in early fall when it’s more dry.

    Like 100ft after exiting the recreation area, we came across Parkview General Store with a big “ICE CREAM” sign!  My kids tried bubble gum, rum cherry, chocolate and bee-nilla ice cream.  All gave an enthusiastic thumbs up!

    We’ll be back to explore when it’s dry, or when we bring rainboots.  The trail was really nice and flat, so I’m bummed to have not experienced it in entirety.  But this adventure served as a teaser for an even more enjoyable hike!

    Hope you’re taking advantage of summer, and if you have suggestions for hikes/other adventures, I’m all ears.

    A. Storm

  • Chapter 144- Discovery World (New Exhibit!)

    We recently decided to check out Discovery World’s newest exhibit, Zoo in You — The Human Microbiome.  Little T got a family membership last year, so we can come and go as we please without worrying about getting our money’s worth at each visit.  Which is awesome.  Because some days we stay for HOURS upon hours, and some we can only adventure for 45 minutes before people melt.

    When we entered, we went right to the new exhibit.  It is contained in one room, and has about 10-15 stations where kids can interact with the hands-on models and displays.

    The first stop we made was to a cool DNA puzzle, which challenges kids to connect nucleobases to create nucleotides.  Brought me right back to high school biology class.  Except way more fun!

    We learned how to build viruses and bacteria, and what they do.  Not all bacteria are bad, of course, and in fact we need some to digest food and create a balance inside our bodies.

    Little T had loved the microscope, which was easy for kids to manipulate.  She also loved the green screen where she got to pretend to be a newscaster reporting on the microorganisms in our bodies.

    Little A and I had a serious competition with the pinball-like game where we learned about places that humans can pick up microorganisms.

    I think the most eye-opening station for me was the interactive video, where we got to zoom in on a single cold virus.  We started out looking at objects like a penny, a grain of salt, a yeast cell, a skin cell, and a mold spore.  I made my kids watch that about a hundred times because I was astounded at how small that cold virus was!

    After spending about 30 minutes in the exhibit, we went to see the Challenger boat and snag a photo.

    And then, because it’s summer, we climbed trees and ran around in the grass outside of Discovery World.

    I’ll be back with more hikes and adventures soon…it’s been a hectic summer with a few setbacks, but we’ll keep exploring our city, parks, museums and trails!

    A. Storm

  • Chapter 143- Gibraltar Rock / Merrimac Ferry / Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron

    I believe that fieldtrips are very important to a kids’ education.  And while our school is really amazing, they aren’t able to take my children on ALL the kinds of fieldtrips they need.  Those kind would be hikes in the woods.

    So when a friend I met on Instagram (weird, I know.  I feel conflicted about social media and virtual friendships, but I’ve made quite a few real friends through the internet so I can’t say it’s all bad) said she was hiking Gibraltar Rock on a Friday, I knew this was a fieldtrip worth missing school for!

    Leading up to the trip, I talked with my kids about the Ice Age Trail.  We learned that it follows the border of the last continental glacier in Wisconsin.  The giant sheets of ice pushed boulders and land into new formations 12,000 years ago, and now we get to see coulees, drumlins, bogs, kettles and moraines.  The Ice Age Trail Alliance has a great website with lots of information about the trail and ways that YOU can volunteer!  We’ll be hiking lots of different sections of the trail this summer, too.

    We met Kelly in the parking lot near Lodi, and put our boots and hats on for good measure.  The kids took turns carrying the backpack full of their water, and we decided that we’ll be asking for four of these when birthdays roll around next.

    The trail was easy to maneuver, and nobody got lost in their dashes ahead of me and Kelly.  There was a lot of yelling in excitement and finding sticks and using pine needles as brooms and whining that we were going either too fast or too slow.  You know, the usual.

    Kelly knows a lot more about plants/flowers/trees than I, so she educated us on jack-in-the-pulpits, trilliums and skunk cabbage.  Stay away from the latter.

    The hike from the parking lot to the top was less than a mile which was nice.  It definitely gets a little unnerving for mothers of four near the top, so if you go make sure your kids understand the necessity to stay on the trail.  It is a very long way down.  And we of course want to be safe and not add to erosion, but also keep the plants and flowers from getting trampled.

    Once we got to the lookout, we had snacks of apples and cookies and the kids did their best to give me a heart attack.  We grilled Kelly about her life because it was the first time we’d hung out, so thanks Kelly for fielding our million questions.  And for sharing about your hiking history!

    We saw quite a few large birds flying overhead, and read a bit about red-tailed hawks and other birds of prey who fly the thermals created by the tall cliffs (JSOnline has a good article about the hike).  I can’t say for certain what we saw, but I’m pretty sure J’s guess of Peregrin Falcons was a bit off.  Good guess, though!

    After our butts were sufficiently cold from sitting on chilly rocks, we decided to head back down.  Kelly grabbed this next pic of us right before we found the brightest bug ever!

    This little spider was about the size of a pinhead, and was a vibrant red from head to toe.  Half of my kids were scared and the other half wanted to take it home.

    On the way back down, Kelly got a good dose of whining that “this view is terrible!” and “I can’t walk any farther” and “I want to go home”.   I’m getting pretty good at just ignoring the ridiculousness of such statements and getting them excited about the next big thing.

    Which was finishing the hike and heading to the Merrimac Ferry!  After we said our thank yous and goodbyes to Kelly, and promising to do it again sometime soon, I took her directions to just keep heading north on 113 and find the ferry which carries cars across the Wisconsin River.  It’s free and runs around the clock from April to November.

    We were first in line and had to wait only about 3 minutes for the ferry to return from the other side.  When the gate opened, I drove on and put my car in park, hoping that’s all I needed to do.  At first there was some hesitation with getting out of the car.  For a 5 year old, it was a little unnerving to be floating across water where he thought sharks were just waiting to eat us alive.  After going over saltwater vs. freshwater, we all exited the car and took in the sights.

    And by the time we got outside, it was time to hustle back into the car.  It took about 5 minutes to cross the river, and when we arrived at the other side, we just turned around and got back in line to go back.

    Once back, I decided to try and find Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron.  I’ve been meaning to take the kids for a while, and since we were in no hurry to get anywhere, I headed southeast.  I didn’t have a map in the car, and wasn’t getting any reception on my phone to look at GPS, so I tapped into my innate navigational skills and hoped for the best.

    We ended up finding hwy 12 and that’s when I found service, so we knew to head north.  I’m pretty sure there used to be giant metal sculptures on the side of the highway to mark the spot, but I didn’t see them this time.  It took a tiny bit of backtracking, but we eventually found the entrance, just south of  Delaney’s Surplus.

    And when we got there, any trace of whining and complaining ended.  All four of my kids were entranced by the enormous machines and creations.  They all split up and walked around in amazement, imagining what the sculptures could do if they were functioning.

    There are very few pieces that you can actually sit/stand on, so if you go remember a few things:

    • This is about art, so be respectful of the work and take time to imagine what it might take to build and create these pieces.
    • There are no bathrooms here, but there is a gas station just north of the park.
    • Hours are posted online, and there is a box for donations.  There’s no entrance fee, so be generous with your dollars.
    • This fascinating place is run by the family of Dr. Evermor.  If you get the chance to speak with Lady Eleanor, whose office is in the park, please do so.   Her husband is Dr. Evermor and she’s knowledgable about the entire park and process.

    Speaking of Lady Eleanor, here she is.  She was kind enough to let me take her photo after we talked for a while about the history and future of the park.  She shared with me Dr. Evermor’s inspiration, a bit about her family, and the timeframe in which pieces were constructed.

    Near the end of our visit, my dude J took me on a tour of all of the bird-looking creatures.  I wish you all could have seen it.  Though it was starting to sprinkle, he pointed to almost every single creature and had names like “three-headed chicken lizard” and “electric cat king” and “fire-breathing trooper”.   He was in his element!

    When the rain turned into a drizzle, we packed up and headed to Madison.  Our friends hosted us for an overnight stay (which was the best, I love you Kady!) and then we hurried back to Milwaukee for a Saturday morning soccer game.

    It was a pretty epic trip in all.  We learned a lot about geological history in Wisconsin, we met a new friend, went on our first car ferry, filled our imaginations with art, and saw some old friends.  When we got home, I had grand plans to have the kids write/draw about the Ice Age Trail and present it to their teachers.  However, that didn’t pan out so my kids just ended up talking about all the adventures they had, throwing out terms like “glacier” and “driftless”.  Good enough!

    Hope this week is treating you well, all.  Be on the lookout for some pieces I’ll be contributing to Metroparent Magazine in the next few months, and I hope to see you adventuring soon!

    A. Storm