A Tree-mendous Birthday

My third son was gifted a session at Go Ape for his 11th birthday.  My oldest son had done Go Ape back in Britain for his tenth birthday but this was a first experience for the other boys.  The three older boys were eligible to do the full course under the supervision of Mr Pict and their grandfather.  My youngest son, being too wee for the full course, had a ticket to spend an hour on a junior course which my mother-in-law and I could supervise from ground level.

It was just as well I could supervise from the ground as I don’t think I could have managed even the junior course without my fear of heights causing me to go into a panic.  The staff at Go Ape were fantastic.  They were competent, of course, but they were also great with their encouragement and praise and creating challenge.  My youngest son – who is completely fearless – got the hang of the course pretty quickly so they encouraged him to try and beat his own personal record, then to do one of the routes backwards, and to try different types of jump on the zipline.  He had a whale of a time and absolutely loved it.

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Once our time was up with the junior course, we headed into the woods to track down the others and see how they were getting on.  We had seen them getting fitted into their harnesses and being trained and at that time they were all smiles and excitement.  We wondered if, almost two hours in, they were flagging or finding it was getting too challenging.  We met up with them just as they were doing the fourth stretch of the course.  They were definitely feeling challenged but were still enjoying the experience.  It made me queasy seeing how high up they were.  Shortly after we met up with them, they had a choice to make as to whether to take a difficult route over to a platform or an extreme route.  My oldest son wanted to do the extreme route which meant his father had to take a deep breath and accompany him.  They had to move between a series of short scramble nets which were dangling in the canopy of the trees.  It was pretty terrifying to watch even from ground level.  Meanwhile, our birthday boy was having an attack of nerves as he found the combination of height, wobbly platforms, and wind to be overwhelming.  It took him a while to collect himself but, with some advice and encouragement from a member of staff on the ground, he took a first step and then another and then in no time he was across to the next platform.  That experience, however, meant that once he was back on the ground, he decided he was staying there.  He was done.  So were his 12 year old brother and grandfather.  My oldest son decided he wanted to complete the course in its entirety, however, which meant one final set of challenges.  Since he had to be accompanied by an adult, that meant his father had to complete it too.  This included what my husband declared was the scariest part of the course: a just-too-long drop off of a platform to swing across onto a net.  Once they ziplined back across the lake, they too were done.

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Every member of Team Pict had challenged themselves and felt a sense of accomplishment.  Just maybe even my mother-in-law and I get to include ourselves in that since we overcame our anxiety enough to spectate and offer encouragement.  Everyone was hungry after hours spent in low temperatures in the woods, especially those who had been burning calories swinging here and there, so it was time to eat.  The birthday boy wanted to have pizza for dinner so we headed to Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza and had some delicious food.  Once we were home, he had his special birthday dessert, a platter of cannolis, one of his favourite things.

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Road Trip #11 – Chicago Pizza and Millennium Park

After the unscheduled trip to the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute to deal with our 9 year old’s broken arm, we headed to our hotel in Chicago.  It was our accommodation splurge so we were only staying one night.  It was ideally situated since it was in the city centre and right opposite Millennium Park.  Given that we had spent most of the day travelling and in a clinic, we had to abandon several of our plans for touring the city so the fact that the park was in spitting distance of our base was very lucky.

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We had missed breakfast and lunch so were all entirely famished when we set out for the evening.  Chicago pizza was a travel priority for our 13 year old son so Chicago pizza it was.  Giordano’s had come highly recommended by a friend so we headed to the nearest one.  We were seated immediately but warned it would be a 45 minute wait for the pizzas.  We accepted that and munched on a delicious fennel and leaf salad to keep our grumbling stomachs occupied.  The restaurant was hugely busy and the waiting staff were rushing around all over the place.  We found our waiter to be surly but efficient.  Frankly, we did not care as long as our bellies got filled with delicious pizza.  It was worth the wait.  The pizza was amazing!  I have never eaten such a chunky pizza before.  It was stuffed and before too long so was I.  My 13 year old and I split a small pizza, his half being covered in pepperoni and my half being veggie.  Despite this economy, neither of us could finish our half.  I guess in our hunger we had not paid attention to the dimensions of the pizzas we were ordering.  We ended up taking a lot of pizza back to the hotel in a doggy bag and even then we could not finish it before it was time to depart Chicago.

And with that meal, I got to claim Illinois as my 28th state visited!

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Refuelled, we had a wander through Millennium Park.  I had devised this whole walking tour of the city centre in order to see as much public art as possible – works by Chagall, Calder and Picasso among them – but the loss of time plus the fact our 9 year old’s broken arm was making walking a little uncomfortable meant I had to ditch that plan.  Happily Millennium Park is home to some fabulous sculptures.

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Arguably the most famous art installation in the park is Cloud Gate, colloquially known as the Bean, by Anish Kapoor.  It is essentially a seamless, highly polished, reflective, giant kidney bean.  Kapoor was apparently inspired by liquid mercury and I definitely think he managed to convey that idea.  It is a wonderful sculpture.  The kids were utterly mesmerised by it.  For them it was like being inside a fairground hall of mirrors.  They enjoyed seeing the way their reflections distorted as they moved around, including in the omphalos bellybutton of the bean.  I enjoyed watching the way all the people were interacting with the sculpture and studying the reflections of the surrounding buildings on the surface.  I think it is an exceptional sculpture and am very glad to have seen it for myself.

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An even bigger hit with the kids, however, was the Crown Fountain.  This is another piece of public art, by Jaume Plensa, but it also functions as a video installation, fountain and water play area which makes it very interactive and massively fun.  There were two tall blocks facing each other that showed videos of human faces.  Water cascaded down the fascias of these blocks but then the human faces would form their lips into a pucker and suddenly a plume of water would shoot out of the “mouths”.  The kids were delighted.  The whole place was thronging as kids were playing in the water to cool down on such a steaming hot day.  My 10 and 7 year olds immediately joined them and were soaked to the skin within seconds.  They had a blast playing in the water. We were a little worried about the potential for our 9 year old to slip and hurt his broken arm or else get bashed accidentally by any of the hundreds of kids playing around and between the fountains but eventually he decided he was brave enough to have a paddle while holding his dad’s hand for extra balance.  It was amazing how cooling and refreshing it was just to dip our feet into.  It was so hot that evening that my wet footprint steamed when it hit the hot concrete.

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We had a bit more of a wander through Millennium Park but our 9 year old was beginning to feel serious discomfort in his arm just from the motion of walking and besides he, Mr Pict and I were all massively sleep deprived so we wandered back to the hotel for an early night and some much needed sleep.

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