Hershey Park

On the day of my oldest son’s 14th Birthday, we decided to visit Hershey Park.  After the previous day’s hike, we thought that he and his brothers would prefer a busy day at a theme park by way of a birthday celebration rather than further explorations of Pennsylvania state parks.  His birthday happened to coincide with the first day that Hershey Park was open for the 2017 season.  This meant that tickets were half-price (since not all areas of the park and rides were open) but also meant that it was thronging with people.

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Theme parks are not my thing at all.  As I have had cause to state several times on this blog, I have a terrible fear of heights.  I also dislike things that move too quickly in a way that makes me feel out of control.  So, yes, theme parks are not the place for the likes of me.  Happily, Mr Pict, while not an adrenalin junkie, is quite happy to accompany our kids on any and all rides they might wish to go on.  I, therefore, get to sit back and watch them without any pressure to participate in any rides that make me freak out.

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I expected there to be more of a chocolate or candy theme to the park but, while present on and off, for the most part the park was like a gigantic fairground stuffed full of thrill rides and traditional rides.  We were there before the park opened so were among the first people in and, for the first couple of hours, it was not overly crowded and the queues were not unbearable.  It also helped that the morning was a little overcast and the temperatures not too hot.  That meant that the kids were able to get onto a good few rides they were really keen on doing without much hassle.

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After noon, temperatures steadily grew and so did the crowds and – with that combination – so did fractiousness and frustrations.  The lines started to get insufferably long for the kids.  For them, there has to be an acceptable correspondence between the length of time waiting to get on a ride and the duration of the ride itself.  They felt that every ride they did was super fun and worth doing but not necessarily worth the time and energy spent queuing.  Standing still can be more tiring than walking.  They started to get frazzled.

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There were a couple of rides left that at least some of the kids were keen to do.  However, when they saw the length of the queues, they decided it wasn’t worth the wait.  Mr Pict and I have been parents for 14 years now but have only recently become veterans enough to recognise when to call it quits, taking our lead from the kids’ moods, rather than push things to the point that it risks undermining the success of the whole day.  So we quit while the going was good but not before feeling as if we had got our money’s worth from our day at Hershey Park.

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Pole Steeple Trail

The Pict family had two birthdays to celebrate within six days of each other.  My oldest son turned 14 and my 9 year old entered double digits.  Since both birthdays occurred during Spring break, we decided to take a couple of days off to travel and explore a little further afield.

Our first destination was the Pole Steeple Trail.  The trail is in Pine Grove State Park and abuts on to the Michaux State Forest and all not too far from the Appalachian Trail (which we really should have a wee wander on some day).  The trail is pretty steep and, with the sun blazing, I realised fairly quickly that I have gotten a bit too mushy over Winter with my lack of outdoorsy rambles.  It was pretty exhausting ascending by clambering over rocks.  At least, it was pretty exhausting for Mr Pict and I; the kids were sprinting ahead without much difficulty and were even burning up extra energy by jumping from rocks and climbing up trees.

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It did not take too long, however, before we reached Pole Steeple  This is a dramatic rocky outcrop that dangles over the landscape.  I had been very much looking forward to the view from the summit.  The view was supposed to be my reward for huffing and puffing my way up the trail.  Unfortunately, I was way too scared and anxious to get close enough to the edge of the slanting rocks to take in the view and appreciate it*.  Sometimes my fear of heights is very limiting.  Of course, as soon as my kids realised that I was having palpitations moving around on the rocks that were not even near the edge, they decided it would be funny to jump around, run, scale up and down different gulches, and at least make it look as if they were teetering on the edge and might fall at any instant.  They had a whale of a time.  I think the area would be beautiful once there are more leaves on the trees, especially so during Autumn.

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Once everyone had finished leaping around like mountain goats and flooding me with cortisol, we headed downhill again.  Downhill was so much easier and quicker than uphill.  On our descent, we stopped not to catch our breaths but to have a “sasquatch off”, a contest to see who could best replicate the famous Bigfoot pose.  Sadly there were no random strangers around who could adjudicate and it made all the squirrels run away.

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* As a result of my wimpiness, some of the photos in this blog post were taken by Mr Pict and our kids.

Lady Liberty Weeps

***NOTE: This blog post is about my art work.  This is not a political post and I am not inviting political discussion.  You are, of course, entitled to hold different political opinions from me and I respect that.  I, therefore, ask that any comments left on this post are similarly respectful and civil.  Any nastiness will be deleted.***

 

This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “Travel”.  Normally my imagination would be sparking and fizzing with ideas about dream destinations and bucket list travel plans or else memories of wonderful travels from times past.  However, the prompt happened to be revealed on the exact same day that President Trump issued his revised Travel Ban.  As such, my creative impulses took me in an entirely different direction.  As an immigrant, legal permanent resident in America, I felt compelled to follow that impulse.  The result is a depiction of Lady Liberty weeping.  I drew the face rapidly using black acrylic paint (having roughly mapped out only the proportions) and, once that was dried, I added some Dylusions spray ink in teal and turquoise to suggest verdigris and add some additional visual texture.

9 Lady Liberty Weeps

Steamtown and Jim Thorpe

I am pretty sure Scranton is not a place that features highly on most people’s Travel Bucket Lists.  Somehow, however, this Summer I ended up going to Scranton for the third time within three years.  The recent visit was inspired by my in-laws, visiting from the UK, since my Father-in-Law is a lifelong, massive railway enthusiast and he very much wanted to visit Scranton.  This is because Scranton is home to Steamtown, a National Park site dedicated to the history of railways.

On our previous visits, we have wandered the adjacent yard and nosed around the freight cars and locomotives parked there.  This, however, was our first visit to the actual National Historic Site museum. The museum buildings circle the periphery of a working turntable and roundhouse.  It was to the turntable that we wandered first.  There was a locomotive that the kids and their grandfather were able to climb aboard complete with a rope to make the whistle blow.  We had tickets for a train excursion so, after an impatient wait in the blazing sun, we clambered aboard some carriages from the 1920s and headed off on a short jaunt pulled along by a steam locomotive.  As it had only been a short while since our last steam train journey, the older kids were not remotely enthused or engaged: the 10 year old decided to nap while the 13 year old had his nose stuck in a book for the entire journey.  I have to admit with struggling to engage myself.  Industrial and infrastructure heritage just is not my thing so, while I could recognise that the young man acting as tour kid was incredibly knowledgeable about the history of this particular railroad and railways in general, I really did not absorb any information or at least none that stuck for more than a short while.  The route took us out to a gorge which was the location of an event that was really the beginning of the end of this railroad company as a commercial venture.  A storm had damaged the line at that spot and, already struggling due to the region’s failing economy, the rail company collapsed.

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By the time we hopped off the train and toured a section of the roundhouse with several locomotives on display, three of the kids had had enough and went to go and play outside the museum under the supervision of their grandmother, who readily volunteered for the job.  To be honest, the only reason the 10 year old stayed with the remaining three adults was because of the air conditioning though I think he actually quite enjoyed the museum.

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Much of the museum’s contents were the result of a seafood millionaire collector and was originally housed in New England. For various reasons, the collection was relocated to Scranton in the 1980s and eventually won National Park status.  Nevertheless, the place struggles financially.  I guess there are not a high enough proportion of railroad enthusiasts in the country who are intent on visiting Scranton to make it economically viable.

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Regardless of its woes, however, we found the museum to be organised and well considered.  I actually quite enjoyed wandering through historic carriages because they represented an aspect of social history.  It was interesting to see how cramped the sleeping conditions were within a Pullman carriage, for instance, but the lounge area and dining area on the same carriage were pretty spacious.  My favourite, however, was a mail car.  I loved the rich patina of the wood and all the little shelves.  It appealed to my love of organising things.  I could actually imagine myself rattling along the tracks while placing the mail into the appropriate pigeon holes.

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The museum had clearly figured out that it needed to appeal to people like me who were into social history more than industrial history as one whole area was dedicated to displays about people of the railroad.  As well as there being a vintage ticket booth and waiting room – where my 10 year old did an outstanding method acting job of “imagining” he was sick and tired of waiting – there were displays revolving around different types of people.  We could, therefore, learn about the role and history of such folks as conductors, telegraph operators, hobos and the little kids who sold newspapers, snacks and drinks to passengers.

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My Father-in-Law thought that Steamtown was absolutely terrific so clearly it is the perfect place for railway enthusiasts to visit.  I, therefore, highly recommend it to people who fall into that category as even I could recognise it was a great collection.  The rest of us, however, were less enthused and had to really work hard to find an engaging angle.  While I saw plenty of other kids who were loving the whole experience, including a fair few who were dressed up like tiny railroad engineers, my boys were totally not digging the the place at all.  They were relieved when it was time to move on to other things.

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After a quick snack and a run around the Boulder Field at Hickory Run State Park – a place we always enjoy visiting – we visited Jim Thorpe.  Our first stop was at the Jim Thorpe Monument.  Jim Thorpe is celebrated as the first Native American to win a gold medal in the Olympics.  While the medals he won were for pentathlon and decathlon, Thorpe was an accomplished athlete in several sports, including American Football, baseball and basketball.  The memorial statues at the site represent Thorpe in two of his fields of sporting success: football and athletics.  Apparently the grave monument includes soil from Oklahoma, Thorpe’s home state, and from the site of the stadium in Stockholm where he won his Olympic golds in 1912.  It is also inscribed with the words of Gustav V proclaiming Thorpe to be “the greatest athlete in the world” which actually does not seem ridiculously superlative given Thorpe’s multitude of achievements.

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The town of Jim Thorpe was one we had often driven through since emigrating to Pennsylvania but had never wandered around in.  We, therefore, decided to get out and have a stroll in the late afternoon sunshine.  Jim Thorpe actually never sat foot in the town that bears his name.  The story of how it came to be named for the athlete is actually quite a sad and somewhat sordid one.  Upon his death in 1953, his widow (his third wife) made off with his remains, apparently without the knowledge or consent of any of his children, and made her way to Pennsylvania where she had struck a deal with a town regarding memorialising her husband.  Thus the town purchased the body and Mauch Chunk was renamed Jim Thorpe in his honour.  Thorpe’s children pressed various courts to order the repatriation and reinterrment of their father’s remains to Oklahoma, specifically on Native American land, but all attempts failed and so they continue to remain in a small town in the Poconos.  Told you it was sad and sordid.

The town itself is rather quaint and picturesque, a cluster of streets nestled in a mountain valley, lined with interesting buildings.  Mauch Chunk was founded, as with most places in the area, because of the mining industry and it was an important hub for the railways transporting coal from the Poconos to the region’s cities and across the nation.  As such, the town’s prosperity very much follows the familiar curve of boom and decline.  It’s the variety of 19th Century architecture there, however, that probably gives it a bit more of a boost than most places in the vicinity because it makes it visually appealing and that attracts tourists and tourism businesses.

 

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We focused our stroll on the street named Broadway, knowing the kids were unlikely to tolerate a longer meander than that.  The architecture of the place really is pretty fascinating with, for example, buildings that would not look out of place in New Orleans’ French Quarter given their ornate wrought iron balconies sitting on the same street as buildings with European style turrets.  I particularly liked the red stone library and the old fire station with its arched doors and bay window.  We browsed in the windows of a few shops and even made a purchase in one, a shop that sold nothing but varieties of jerky including ones as exotic as mako shark.  Mr Pict and the Pictlings settled on a sample pack of interesting beef jerkys.

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Ultimately we did not spend much time in Jim Thorpe but I think we will definitely stop off there again and have a more extensive wander and perhaps visit the museums and historic buildings next time.  I think we will steer clear of the railway for a while though.  I think my kids are a bit sick of trains now.

Road Trip Review

This is not an advice blog.  Nope, it is not that.  While I might sometimes give recommendations and suggestions based on our family experiences, I would never think I was in a position to dispense advice.  I also have a policy of never giving unsolicited advice.  However, upon reflecting on our recent road trip and what I might do differently next time we undertake such a journey, I had some thoughts I thought might be worth jotting down here.  Maybe someone can learn from my mistakes.  Hopefully that person is me.

  • I am a micromanager when it comes to vacation planning.  It is part of my being a major control freak and also part of my desire to cram as much as possible into each travel experience, as much bang for my buck as possible.  I generate spreadsheets of options, lists galore, and sometimes even hand drawn maps.  When Mr Pict and I went to Rome for a short break a few years ago, I drew a map of the city centre that was both colour-coded and number-coded.  I make lists of what needs to be packed and check off the list as each item is added to the specified case (each person having their own to keep things organised).  And yet, despite all of that micromanaging, despite all that researching and organising and list making to the nth degree, somehow my husband and/or kids will throw some kind of curve ball that makes it feel like I failed to manage all the possibilities.  On this particular road trip, I apparently relinquished too much control immediately before setting off on our trip.  As we ushered the kids into the car, it transpired that the 10 year old had left his shoes at his friend’s house the previous night.  Somehow my husband had collected him and brought him home without noticing he was barefoot.  Impolitely early, therefore, we had to drive by the house and pick the shoes up.  And then, absolutely astonishingly, we arrived in Pittsburgh some hours later to discover that our oldest son had gotten into the car without his shoes on.  He had to spend the first hours of the trip in his Dad’s beach clogs and I for once had cause to be thankful that he has massive feet.
  • No matter how I try to dress it up and make it interesting, my children will not be interested in either topography or architecture.  I can try ad naseum to engage them in the subject but I will fail.  They will, however, monologue endlessly about Harry Potter while I try to take in the topography and architecture.
  • Even in this age of electronic payment options galore, we should always travel with more cash than we think we might need – or at least more than $14.
  • On a related note, one should never purchase a one way ticket unless assured of the ability to fund the return journey.
  • I made packed lunches most days so that we wasted neither time or money on food in the middle of the day.  What I learned from this is that my children will moan about the very packed lunches they would usually regard as a special treat during the school year.
  • Booking non-chain motels is a lottery and will reveal that my kids know tropes from serial killer fiction despite never having seen a slasher movie.
  • My children, who normally beg and plead to have sleepovers in each other’s bedrooms, will argue endlessly about having to share a hotel room with each other and will make decisions about who shares a bed with who feel like hostage negotiations.
  • All hotel showers will be engineered differently and have their own idiosyncrasies making each morning’s ablutions feel like STEM learning.
  • On a related note, one bonus of staying in hotels with pools is that it is possible to persuade yourself that your younger children do not need to be showered on evenings when you just want to climb into bed and sleep.
  • One hotel toilet between six people – five of them male – requires the mother of the group to have the bladder of an elephant.
  • At least one child will vomit in the car with not much warning.  Any warning will sound like, “Mummy, I feel a bit blarfbleughslop!”  As such, despite the fact none of my children have worn nappies (diapers) for years, I still travel with fragrant nappy sacks within quick and easy reach in the car and force my sicky children to have one in their hands at all times.  Their aim is improving, I am happy to report.
  • My children can turn anything into a competition including who can fill the most barf bags on any given stretch of winding road.
  • If we give four kids two options for things to do that day there will be a guaranteed 50/50 split and incredibly often four way splits as two children invent options that were not even presented to them.  Note to self that sometimes parenting has to be a dictatorship rather than a democracy.  If the kids are lucky that dictatorship will be benevolent.
  • Kids who rarely appreciate sculpture will absolutely always 100% adore fountains, especially if they can get entirely soaked to the skin.  Conversely, any fountain that they cannot at least dip a finger into will be anathema to them and the absolute “worst thing ever”.
  • I can research and plan and construct elaborate spreadsheets to my heart’s content but the “of mice and men” maxim will inevitably undermine it at some point – spectacularly so when a child breaks their arm.
  • The things the kids end up loving the most about the trip were not the things I anticipated but were instead the random diversions, the time fillers, and the unexpected.  Our youngest son actually declared that his highlight of the trip was spending a night in a “horror hotel“.  Another child stated that the best thing about being away from home was getting to come home to the cats.
  • The car will start out looking more immaculate and pristine than it does for most of the year but will end the road trip looking like a cross between a biological weapon and an experiment in finding the latest antibiotic.  Utterly gross.

So that’s that then.  Those are my immediate post-road trip reflections.  We have already started discussing what route the next road trip might take.  Perhaps by the time we embark on the next epic drive we will have absorbed some of these lessons.  Probably not.  After all, where would be the adventure in that?

Road Trip #16 – Thurmond

After spending a good few hours exploring Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, we headed a short distance away to visit a ghost town named Thurmond, now in the care of the National Park Service.

The drive to Thurmond was beautiful.  In fact, throughout our travels in West Virginia I was struck by just how arrestingly beautiful the landscape was.  Perhaps it reminded me a little bit of Scotland and was stirring some homesickness for hills and glens and thick forests of trees.  The road to Thurmond was also very reminiscent of the single track roads we were very familiar with from living in Argyll for over a decade, winding and bumpy and with a new vista opening up around every corner.  It also took us, however, past scenes of pretty dire poverty. There were lots of run down shacks and trailers, some looking to be derelict to the point of collapse.  I don’t think I have seen poverty like it in America since visiting reservations in the South West.

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We crossed a single track road bridge that was attached to a rusty iron rail bridge and emerged on the other side of the gorge at the railway depot building that serves as the NPS office and small museum.  We chatted to the friendly Park Ranger and had a look around the small museum and saw a three dimensional map of the area, demonstrating the extreme curve that trains have to take around the curve of the gorge and Thurmond nestled on the edge.  Trains still come through Thurmond including Amtrak passenger trains which people can board at Thurmond a couple of times a week.  Thurmond, fact fans, is America’s second least used train station after one in Texas.  Looking at the map again, it seemed to me a bit of a marvel that trains could make that bend at any sort of speed and still keep on the track.

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Thurmond was once a bustling and thriving Appalachian town.  Its economy was dependent on the interrelated business of the local coal mines and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway.  It was at Thurmond that all the trains from the surrounding mines would be coupled together to form one large train for shipment elsewhere in the nation.  In its heyday, there was a strip of commercial buildings along the line of the railway track and then residential buildings on the hills behind.  A hotel – long since burned down – was famous as the site of the longest card game in history, lasting something like fourteen years.  This hotel, the Dun Glen, had made Thurmond a resort town but when it burned down in the 1930 and one of the town’s two banks failed the following year that was the start of the town’s rapid decline.

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As we set off to explore the remaining buildings, we were warned that the heat had brought out lots of rattlesnakes in the area to bask in the sunshine.  This set up the kids to have high expectations of a dangerous snake encounter.  When none materialised, they became somewhat irked.  This was because they were already annoyed at not being able to access any of the abandoned buildings in the ghost town.  Back home in Argyll, one of their favourite spots had been the abandoned crofting village of Arichonan and then there were all the ruined castles in the vicinity too so they were used to being able to get into places and quite annoyed that Thurmond did not permit that.  The grumps swiftly set in and, in the baking heat, they were soon fractious.

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Then, just when the kids were nearing peak crankiness, a train saved the day.  We heard the train hooter (that’s not what it’s called, is it?) echo long before we saw it but soon a coal train came into view and stopped just beside the depot briefly before setting off again.  Apparently these trains only come through eight times a month so we were lucky to be there to see it during our visit.  It was massively long and the boys enjoyed trying to count the coal wagons as it hurtled past us and one of the boys even tried to race it for a bit.

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Following our visit to Thurmond, I risked inciting the wrath of the children by dragging us on a bonkers detour.  We had noticed on the map that there was a place nearby named Lochgelly.  Since I am from Fife, I knew the original Lochgelly well and thought it would be fun to go and see a town in West Virginia that had been named after a coal mining town in Fife.  A bit of googling reveals that the town was originally named Stuart but a mining explosion in 1907 that killed 85 workers led to a difficulty in hiring miners to the mine there.  The name change was, therefore, a way to remove the taint of disaster.  The mining connection meant it was named for Lochgelly in Fife.  There was really no purpose to our excursion to Lochgelly other than for me to be able to say I had been.  We pulled up at a mulch company which was handily right next door to a frozen custard place.  The kids were plied with frozen custard which cooled them down and put an end to their cantankerousness.

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Having gone as far as Lochgelly, Mr Pict and I decided it was not much further to the New River Gorge Bridge so we should go check it out.  It was once the longest single span arch bridge in the world, is the second highest bridge in America, and stands 876 feet above the New River that runs beneath.  Having got the idea from driving across the bridge, the kids refused to get out of the car to see it.  I, therefore, wandered out to the viewpoint on my own to see a vista of it.  There were steps that would take my down to the bottom for a worm’s eye view but I decided that I had neither the time nor inclination to descend and ascend hundreds of wooden steps just to get a different perspective on a road bridge.

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We ended the day with a challenge.  Dining at a local steakhouse in Beckley, our 9 year old pleaded with Mr Pict to try their steak eating challenge.  Mr Pict initially resisted and placed an order for an entirely different meal.  Our 9 year old loves cookery competition TV shows so he was disappointed.  Between his pleading chocolate brown eyes, pouting lip, and his broken arm, his Dad capitulated and changed his order.  He had to eat a 31 ounce steak plus the sweet potato fries and salad that accompanied it.  Every. Last. Morsel.  And he managed it!  The kids were over the moon and our 9 year old declared him to be his “idol”.

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Road Trip #12 – Field Museum and Oz Park

Our whole road trip really pivoted around the idea of driving to Chicago and back.  Last November, when Mr Pict surprised me with a trip to Mexico, he had considered a city break in Chicago.  November in Chicago?  He made the right choice with Mexico.  I was, however, eager to see Chicago and not just because I had never been to Illinois before.  Chicago was also the fulcrum of our trip since it was the furthest west we were going to be travelling before looping back towards Pennsylvania.  I had so many plans for Chicago – way more than were ever going to be possible in the two days we had planned but plenty of options to choose from.  Of course, as my fellow Scot Robert Burns wistfully observed, “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft agley”.  The broken arm was the plough to our mouse nest and we lost pretty much an entire day in Chicago as a result.  Sigh.

Before we embarked on any excursions on the eighth day of our road trip, however, we had to get some breakfast.  We plumped for a cafe on Michigan Avenue where the menu looked appealing.  The portions when they arrived were astounding.  I ordered waffles with fruit and what appeared before me was a platter containing three full size waffles each covered in a generous dollop of a different fruit compote, namely blueberries, strawberries, and bananas.  Mr Pict had a corned beef hash breakfast he would later declare was the best breakfast of the trip.  The kids had various crepes and fruit platters with yogurt.  We were all very replete at the end of breakfast and did not have to eat again for almost the entire day.  What took the gloss of this breakfasting experience, however, was that the service was pretty abysmal, indifferent and lackadaisical at best, yet the server had added a generous service charge to the bill and had still left room for us to add an additional tip.  We are generous tippers but I consider that poor etiquette.

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Anyway, bellies full and ready to face the day, we headed off to the Shedd Aquarium.  The boys had voted unanimously for that to be our activity and I did nothing to dissuade them since I love beluga whales and the Shedd Aquarium has some.  However, as we approached the Aquarium, we saw an incredibly long queue snaking away from the building.  The first section of the queue was provided with some shelter and shade but seven eighths of those queuing folk were baking in the sun.  And it was hot that day.  Super hot.  The temperature was approaching triple digits and the humidity was so great that breathing was laborious. As dutiful parents, we asked the kids whether they still wanted to visit the Aquarium.  In unison they declared no.  They did not want to melt into a puddle like tallow candles.  Happily, right next door was their second choice activity: the Field Museum. As we walked through the doors and were blasted with wonderful air conditioning, we knew we had made the sensible decision.

We were just going to purchase the basic entry tickets for the Field Museum but our youngest two looked all pouty and pointed to a poster about a special bug exhibition so we stumped up the extra funds and in we went.  As per those pouts, we started with Underground Adventure.  The concept was that we would all be shrunk down to minibeast size so that we could learn about the detailed and compelling world that is a soil ecosystem.  Forget learning about the importance of soil and its inhabitants to the environment, however; for the kids this was all about the B movie sized monster bugs and pretending to be Ant Man leading an insect army.

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Next up was Ancient Egypt.  The three older boys have all studied Ancient Egypt at school, whether back home in Scotland or here in America, so they enjoyed seeing the Egyptian artifacts up close.  We have been in Egyptian sections of museums in many places, including the British Museum, and I have to say that this was one of the best organised I have visited.  It really placed the items in their context and offered clear, absorbable explanations.  My favourite item in the exhibit was a large wooden boat as I had never seen anything like it before.  Predictably, the kids liked the unwrapped mummies, though they were a bit sad about the one that was a wee boy, and a series of dioramas demonstrating the process of mummification.

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Of course, no natural history museum is complete without galleries packed full of cases of taxidermy and the Field Museum was no exception.  While the Egyptian section had been fresh and contemporary in its approach to display and turning artifacts into narrative, the stuffed critters section was distinctly tired and musty.  I would suggest that the actual taxidermy was completed some decades ago.  Everything looked just a bit moth-eaten and, well, derpy.  I don’t know how to express that any better way.  A whole bunch of the stuffed beasties just looked plain derpy, with goofy facial expressions.  It actually made me enjoy it more.  The marine mammals had even been relegated to the packed lunch area of the museum.  My kids absolutely loved seeing the narwhals and gigantic elephant seals but I did not see anyone else even looking at those cases.  From the looks of it, nobody had dusted them for a while either.  My 13 year old penguin enthusiast loved seeing the case full of ex-penguins – including one called a jackass – but my 10 year old despaired at seeing stuffed pandas.

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The main draw of the taxidermy section, however, was the man-eating beasts.   We had seen the “Man-Eater of Mfuwe” elsewhere in the museum.  This was a maneless lion that had attacked and killed several people in Zambia in 1991.  The legendary lions on display in the Field Museum, however, where the Tsavo Man-Eaters, the subject of several books and movies.  These lions (again maneless males) were reputed to have killed 135 workers constructing the Kenya-Uganda railway in 1898.  That number was provided by the hunter who finally killed them so exaggeration is understandable. Recent isotope analysis of the stuffed lions suggests that between them they actually killed 35 people, which is closer to the 28 workers killed reported by the railway company.  At first the skins from the lions were rugs on the hunter’s floor but then they were given to the Field Museum and the stuffed skins have been on display ever since.

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In addition to the Tsavo lions, the other thing the Field Museum is famous for is Sue the T-Rex.  Sue is the largest, best preserved, most intact of any Tyrannosaurus Rex yet discovered and that makes her a dino celebrity.  She was named Sue for the paleontologist who found her in the 1990s but I like to think that was her prehistoric name too.  She is also the oldest known T-Rex at 28 years old.  Don’t ask me how scientific people know that.  I am just reporting what I read.  We all enjoyed seeing Sue, especially my 7 year old.  He was enchanted so much so that he insisted on using a little of his savings on making a derpy looking dinosaur from moulded plastic.  He and his 10 year old brother collect squished pennies but this moulded plastic thing was a new twist on that tradition.  He was pleased as punch.  Even more exciting, however, was when he spotted a T-Rex wandering around.  Whereas my older three sons treat anybody in a costume as if they have the plague, my youngest was like a moth to the flame.  I think the T-Rex had actually finished his tour of the museum and was going for a comfort break or some such when out of nowhere my 7 year old sped towards him and grabbed him for a hug.  I have never seen a dinosaur mask look more surprised.  T-Rex was a good sport though and posed for a photo with my grinning kid.

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There were many areas of the museum we never made it into.  I was keen to see the Ancient Americas section.  However, a) there was only so much museum traipsing my kids were going to tolerate and b) we had a deadline for picking up our luggage and car.  My 10 year old, however, was really wanting to see the room dedicated to jade so we had a quick dip into there for him to behave like Gollum for a few minutes before we departed.

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As soon as we left the air conditioned cocoon of the museum, the intense heat of the day thumped us.  It really was not that pleasant, mainly because of the humidity.  My Scottish complexion has not adjusted to life with hot humidity at all so I soon looked like lobster thermidor.  We all felt entirely gross.  The heat also made us grumbly and grouchy.  Our plan had been to return to the hotel via the shade of a tree filled park.  However, the tree filled park was off limits because of the set up for Lolapalooza.  We did, however, pop to see the Buckingham Fountain, my kids entertaining ideas of getting to at least run their hands through the water in order to cool down.  They were spitting fireballs, therefore, when we arrived to discover it was fenced off.  No dipping anything in that water.  The fountain is apparently one of the largest in the world and there are light shows in the evening.  I imagine those are pretty spectacular.  However, on that sweltering day, as I slowly charbroiled on the Chicago pavement, I was underwhelmed.

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Once we had collected our luggage and car, we headed a bit further north in the city to the Lincoln Park area.  Our destination was Oz Park.  I am bound to have shared before that I am a fan of ‘The Wizard of Oz’.  Not a nerdy superfan but a fan nevertheless.  One of my favourite paintings I’ve done in this past year is a Flying Monkey.  I am passing on my love of classic movies to my kids so they are all Oz fans too.  Whereas I read all Baum’s books as a kid, my sons have not yet read the books.  I doubt they will.  Anyway, L Frank Baum lived in Chicago in the 1890s so I guess the park is a memorial to him and his imagination.

The park is home to sculptures of the main characters from the Wizard of Oz.  I was obsessed with seeing them all.  We discovered Dorothy and Toto with ease then, while Mr Pict supervised our youngest son playing in Dorothy’s Playlot, I dragged the other three off in search of Dorothy’s travel companions.  Scarecrow was only a hop, skip and jump away.  The other two – Tin Man and Cowardly Lion – could not be spotted from where we were standing so we just set off on an amble around the park.  Now the park is not a large park so the statues should and could have been easy to find.  However, I had no bearings or map but did have three increasingly cranky and fractious kids with me.  Know what the Wizard would have given them? Patience.  That is what they were lacking.  Fatigue soon erupted into squabbles and my own tolerance cracked.  I had this inner dialogue (which was like a yelling match) between the mother in me who knew I needed to take the kids back to the car and get them something cold to eat or drink right away before they went full Flying Monkey and started ripping each other’s arms off and the movie nerd in me who – with an added dash of OCD and control freakery – really needed to find those last two ruddy statues.  The Mother won.  She yells louder.

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Our destination that evening was somewhere in Indiana.  I write somewhere because the actual place was entirely forgettable.  It was near a college campus which was in itself plonked in the middle of nowhere.  Apologies in advance if you happen to hail from or love Indiana but honestly there was nothing that diverted my attention during our entire drive through that state.  Renowned as a flyover state, we treated it the same way but by car.  I am sure the people are lovely and there are things to see and do that are not immediately obvious.  We didn’t find them though.  Spending the night in Indiana, however, meant I got to claim the state – my 4th new state of the trip and 29th overall.

Indiana was also another accommodation mishap.  This time the hotel was perfectly pleasant and the staff lovely but it turned out our booking had screwed up.  Instead of two rooms that would each comfortably accommodate three of us, we had two rooms containing one king size bed each.  Oh dear.  The hotel was booked to the gunnels so there was no alternative space.  They were even out of foldaway beds.  We had to problem solve our way around it.  Two adults and a teenager take up quite a bit of space in beds plus we could not cram a kid with a broken arm into a shared bed.  The way I solved the problem was to sacrifice the teenager.  We asked the duty manager for spare comforters, sheets and pillows and made him up a nest on the floor of one of the rooms.  Ironically he probably got the best sleep out of all of us.  So that was Indiana then.