Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Day in Chicago

While I was on my blogging break during Advent, a momentous event occurred that I must post about, even belatedly: I took all six kids into Chicago, for a whole day!

I haven’t done that since I was pregnant with Bantam2. (Why I did it then is a story unto itself.) And incredibly, I didn’t pay one dime for parking all day! Three times I found on-the-street parking, and the one spot that had a meter wouldn’t take my quarter. Someone had inked “Broken” across the glass with a Sharpie marker, and 2 Chicago cops on bicycles told me it was my lucky day. (Not that plainly, of course.)

In fact, we hardly paid for anything all day. That was the reason for the trip, you see. Last summer, we all participated in the library’s reading program and received passes to a number of museums and attractions around Chicagoland. But--they all expired on 12/31/07.

So with that deadline looming, off we headed, bright and early one December morning, for the big city. We started out at the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the nation’s greatest museums. Since we’ve been studying the ancient history of these cultures, we started with the Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman galleries. The only other thing on my agenda, since we had other places to go, was to take them upstairs to the Impressionists galleries--past Monet, Manet, Degas, and Renoir--to see Sunday on La Grande Jatte, which no reproduction can capture. It is bigger than you'd think, and in real life, it is the opposite of static; it almost shimmers and moves as you change position.

Then Bantam12 surprised me with an agenda of his own—he wanted to see the painting Nighthawks. Unfortunately, it’s on loan to another museum until February, we found out, so have a reason to go back soon!

We walked then to the Panera on State and Congress for lunch—because we had coupons, also courtesy of the reading program, to use there. Then back to the car to drive to Lincoln Park, where there was plenty of street parking outside the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, home of one of my favorite places in Chicago—the Butterfly Haven. It’s a tropical climate greenhouse with exotic butterflies everywhere! If you stand still long enough, sometimes they even land on you. On a cold winter day, it’s a perfect mini-vacation to somewhere warm and lush and green….

The rest of the museum is only so-so, but this time they had a special exhibit of reptiles that was amazing. Mostly there were snakes, including the hugest one I’ve ever seen, but what really captured our attention was a big, brightly-colored lizard whose eyeballs worked independently. One was staring out at me, then Blondechick15, then back at me, while one swept slowly across the ceiling of the cage. It was weird.

Then it was out of the tropics, into the December cold, across the street to the Lincoln Park Zoo—one of the last free zoos anywhere. We were glad we had all put on tights or long underwear under our jeans. It was so chilly, not even the polar bears were out—the one animal we thought we could count on seeing!

We had an exciting moment in the monkey house, however. As we approached the glass front of the cage of a couple of drills, the male rushed to the front of the cage and bared his teeth at Bantam12! It was as if he had singled him out to challenge. Bantam12 took a step backwards, surprised, and the drill haughtily turned around and mooned him—standing there a long while, with his iridescent bottom just inches from the glass, while we tried hard not to further offend him with our laughter. (And if you didn't click on that link, do so and you'll see the exact fellow--the male from the Lincoln Park Zoo--in Wikipedia!)

We made it back to the car before frostbite set in, and then Bantam2 and Chicklet5 got a little nap while I tried to find my way from Lincoln Park to the John Hancock building. I mean, the John Hancock is the second tallest building in Chicago, and I’ve approached it dozens of times from the south…but I sorely lamented forgetting the GPS device Papa Rooster had laid out for me before we finally arrived there at last. Then the serious prayer for a parking space began--and was favorably answered, just two blocks away! Saving the $20 that a parking garage would have cost was the miracle of the day.

On the walk over, there was a 50’s style diner called Johnny Rocket's, where we spent the big bucks on dinner for seven. Then it was on to the John Hancock Observatory, where we had free passes for the younger crowd and a $5 each coupon for me and the two teens (we'd otherwise have been twice that). It was impressive, after dark, with the lights of the city a twinkling panorama on three sides, and the lake a misty blackness to the east. Looking straight down, we saw the street we were parked on, and Johnny Rocket's, and the old Water Tower, the city’s one landmark to survive the Great Chicago Fire. We spent a half an hour or more just enjoying the view, while the two youngest played delightedly with the telescope thingys.

Then we ducked into Water Tower Place, a glitzy mall, to ride the escalator to the top and back down again, dipping our fingers in the water jet fountains on the way. Outside, we stopped to listen to a Salvation Army brass band, and on the way back to the car, we stopped again to pat a friendly carriage horse pulled up by the sidewalk, his harness and mane bedecked with Christmas decorations.

It was a good day to be in Chicago. A little cold, yes, but what a great city! And it’ll still be there, just as available to us when we move to Wisconsin. It might even be closer. It’s nice to know that that skyline will be a constant, on our landscape of change.


Kerry - A Ten O'Clock Scholar said...

Wow! It sounds like you all had a fantastic time!

I love that scene in Ferris Bueller where they are in the Art Institute - standing transfixed infront of the "Dimanche sur la Grande Jatte". I've never seen it in person - oh, how I'd love to!!


Megan (FriedOkra) said...

Chicago is such a great city, isn't it? We went down on the train while my sister and her two daughters were here last week and had a wonderful time. Since we rode the train and were somewhat limited by that schedule, we saw less than you did, but just being among the hustle-bustle for a few hours was worth the trip. One thing we did see was the Chicago Public Library, which is 9 stories! And the children's section dwarfed our entire local library by quite a bit. Glad y'all had fun. Now that I see how easy it is on Metra, we'll be making more trips down there ourselves.

Bronwen said...

So how long was thr trip to get there?
Sounds like it was a fun and educational day.
I took my two older boys down to London to the British Museum when they were doing Egypt. we also had a go on the London eye. But I left the little ones at my parents' house... Wouldn't want to do tubes and buses with too many children!

Annie said...

Oh, your post made me homesick! Next time, you should add the Garfield Conservatory (at Homan and Chicago) to your itinerary-- it's beautiful.

Linds said...

What a super day! Your family is beautiful, Jeanne, and it is so nice to see them all together havign such a great time.

Jenny in Ca said...

wow, what a great, jam-packed day! I couldn't imagine trying to see so many things in one day with all the kids, wow- you impress me,Hen! It sounded like a really fun day to remember.

Brea said...

Sounds like a fun (but cold!) trip. Glad y'all had such a good time!

Anonymous said...

Great field trip! We went to Chicago a couple years ago to visit the museums and John Hancock observatory. We're headed to Chicago again this month for a work-related banquet, Lego shopping, and swimming at the hotel with friends. I'll have to write about it on a future Field Trip Tuesday.