Category Archives: fun things for kids in Chicago

Total solar eclipse August 21 – see it from the ocean!

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English: Total Solar eclipse 1999 in France. *...
English: Total Solar eclipse 1999 in France. * Additional noise reduction performed by Diliff. Original image by Luc Viatour. Français : L’éclipse totale de soleil en 1999 faite en France. * Réduction du bruit réalisée par Diliff. Image d’origine Luc Viatour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Accuweather.com is a pretty reliable source of information about the weather. Thank you, Accuweather! And they also have the occasional newsworthy story. Thanks to them I now know there’s going to be a total solar eclipse this August 21. Think about what such events might have meant to people centuries ago when the strange phenomena seemed to come out of nowhere. These days scientists predict them, the media announce them, and we can all marvel at the wonders of the universe we live in.

Here is Accuweather’s list of the top 10 places in the U.S. to view the eclipse. Remember, exact start times and length of the eclipse depend on your precise location. Even a few miles can make a big difference.

And here’s a fun idea – combine a vacation with a guided viewing of this extraordinary natural event. Royal Caribbean is doing a ’Total Eclipse Cruise’ during which you can watch the eclipse from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Participate in eclipse-themed activities on board, and wear your provided protective eclipse glasses for the actual event. Tickets are still available for the seven-night cruise, which departs from Port Canaveral, Florida and stops in the Bahamas, St. Thomas and St. Maarten.

Or if you’re not going out of town and you can’t see it from your location, you can always go learn more about it and see videos of astounding sky-related stuff at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.

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Jell-o® takes the all-natural trend mainstream

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You remember – most of us grew up with them – Jell-o flavored gelatins and Jell-o puddings. Maybe you still buy them for the grandkids, or even for yourself. Vanilla pudding was my all time favorite. Now Jell-o is joining the parade of huge companies that are responding seriously to the public’s concerns about artificial colors, sweeteners and other ingredients. Thus is born Jell-o Simply Good: 4 flavors of gelatin mix made with juices and 4 flavors of pudding mix, all made with real cane sugar – no HF corn syrup or aspartame – and colored with vegetable and spice extracts.
New Jell-o Simply Good mixes
New Jell-o Simply Good mixes
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You can still buy the original and diet versions (a mainstay for many), but it’s good to know the kids can have great taste without fake stuff to make it so. It’s interesting they recommend making the new puddings with 2% milk and don’t suggest skim milk as an alternate.  Don’t remember what the original banana pudding mix tasted like, but this new version tastes very, very good. Feels like I can tell there’s nothing artificial in it – like a dessert in a good restaurant.
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The campaign to present the new product line was inspired by having a bunch of kids answer questions honestly about what they know/think about artificial ingredients. And the company obviously chose carefully the flavors to start with: orange-tangerine, strawberry, pineapple-orange, and mixed berry gelatin mixes; vanilla-bean, banana, chocolate caramel, and chocolate pudding mixes flavored with good stuff like real cocoa, vanilla bean and banana.
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If you make it for your kids, you’re invited to share their feedback using hashtag #DelightfullyHonest on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Jell-o is pretty sure your kids are gonna have good things to say about these new mixes.
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In the campaign videos the kids don’t actually talk about their reactions to the product, but they’re cute anyway. Hey, they’re kids.
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Shedd Aquarium on the move

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Shedd rescue penguins at play
Shedd rescue penguins at play

Did you know that Chicago’s own Shedd Aquarium rescues wounded, abandoned or otherwise trouble animals from the wild? One of their favorite rescue animals is the penguin. Shedd staffers work with local scientists to rescue them and rehabilitate them. Shedd even maintains a mini-habitat of penguins at Lurie Children’s Hospital so the kids can enjoy watching wildlife close up.

Nickel heading down
Nickel heading down

One of the many wonders at Shedd is a huge look-up-and-be-amazed round aquarium tank that sits in the middle of a two-floor exhibit. There you’ll see a once-seriously wounded but now seemingly very happy sea turtle whose back legs don’t work because of an encounter with propeller blades. Yet she propels herself just fine around the environment, even working up extra enthusiasm to push herself deep under the water using only her front legs. Her name is Nickel because, when she was rescued, she had a nickel stuck in her throat. And she’s a testament to the resilience of life in all its forms.

Don’t miss the shark exhibit. There’s nothing to compare to watching these creatures from ancient times as they glide noiselessly around their huge tank. The Shedd shark expert has 31 years in the industy, so she can tell you a lot about them. She explains that they are studying microbiome of water with a view to understanding more about the  11 species of shark they keep here. Regular feedings by keepers – the sharks respond instantly when shown a specific shape and given an audio cue – keep them from attacking their fishy tankmates for meal fodder.

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The atmosphere is warm and slightly humid on some of the floors. Everywhere you can gaze at your leisure at the sea creatures in all sizes hanging out in habitats that closely approximate their homes in the wild. Watch a shark embryo moving and growing inside its protective cocoon. Marvel at the colors and the shapes of dozens of other varieties of fish and mollusks. The watery exhibits are in many cases breathtakingly lovely and the gently bubbling or moving water is soothing to the spirit.
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Baby dolphin Makoa swims close to mom
Baby dolphin Makoa swims close to mom

Shedd recently facilitated the birth of a baby dolphin in captivity and invited the public to participate in a naming contest this past July. Thirty-four hundred people participated and voted for Makoa, which means fearless.

Back-legless iguana uses 3-D prosthetic
Back-legless iguana uses 3-D prosthetic

Shedd experts also have a 3-D printer that actually creates artificial limb replacements out of rubberized material; we saw one for their back-left-legless iguana. Fascinating to see the half dozen iterations they had to go through before they got the size and the flexibility just right. And now the iguana struts around his area like he owns the place.

Shedd offers multiple levels of membership. Give as much or as little as fits your budget and get free entrance and dozens of other perks. It’s a really special place in Chicago that you can’t fully appreciate until you’ve had a relaxed visit there.
And be aware that the CTA will take you right to and from their door. No need to pay big bucks for parking. It’s called the Museum Campus bus and you can plan out your route via the RTA Trip Planner.
P.S. For your viewing pleasure, a few more photos:

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Take the grandkids to Adler’s “What Is a Planet?”

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Most of the exhibits at Adler Planetarium in Chicago may be a bit beyond smaller kids, but if your grandchildren are older, they will likely find a lot to enjoy in the star shows and in a new exhibit called What Is a Planet? The show talks about what happened to Pluto-the-former-planet, but its main purpose is to highlight some of the museum’s prized historical icons relating to the evolving state of knowledge in astronomy.

When you visit What Is a Planet? you might even run into one of the Adler resident astronomers while you’re there. They love talking about astronomy and will tell you quite frankly that many astronomers disagree about a lot of things – another indicator of how our fund of knowledge about space is always growing and changing.

FYI: The new definition of planet, voted on by members of the international astronomers union (many of whom disagreed!), is that it must a) have enough gravity to be round, b) rotate around the sun, and c) clear everything else out of its orbit, meaning asteroids and other such extraneous stuff cluttering up space.

Interested younger kids will like the exhibit also because, right across the hall from the 600-year-old book of calculations by Kepler and other fascinating artifacts from the Adler’s archives, is a Community Design Lab where kids can draw spaceships, imagine visits to planets, and create – to their hearts’ content – models of machines and dioramas of sci-fi scenarios. All drawing and construction materials supplied free of charge. The room is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

P.S. No need to drive your car and pay a hefty parking fee. The #146 CTA bus drives directly into Museum Campus and pulls right up to the Planetarium. Catch it on Michigan Ave.

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Review – National Geographic guides to 100 years of national parks

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Sequoia sempervirens in Redwood National Park
Sequoia sempervirens in Redwood National Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

America’s 59 national parks are celebrating their 100th birthday this year. Even if you don’ think you’ll be able to visit one or more of these national treasures any time soon, you can have a virtual visit easily by looking at the official National Geographic Guide to National Parks 8th Edition just published recently. Gorgeous photos and clear directions for navigating your way through the parks make this book a must-have – even if you’re only visiting in your imagination. An enriching and relaxing way to while away an hour or two any time.

And if you’ve got grandkids, check out the National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide USA: Centennial Edition. They’ll see cool maps and amazing photos of wildlife; they’ll learn fun facts about forests and about conserving our natural resources. What a fun way to help kids open their eyes to how we can all preserve and protect our precious home planet. If the kids love outdoors, or if you’ll be taking them to a national park soon, they will love this book.

Imagine yourself there:

  • In the East, parks like Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah are among the most popular in the nation. They and six other parks showcase the subtle beauties of eastern scenery.
  • Midwest, we Chicagoans can experience national parks close to home or far out in the Dakotas. Environments both suburban and rugged/otherworldly await visitors to this, America’s heartland, where water plays a huge part in building and changing the landscape.
  • South Central hosts four parks – Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, Big Bend and Hot Springs – with scenery ranging from historical and underground to high and rugged.
  • The Southwest’s 11 parks contain rivers and historical remains of America’s Wild West. The Grand Canyon is an emblem of American heritage and a natural wonder of the world. Mesa Verde preserves natural wonders and the history of a people.
  • The Alaska national parks protect and preserve more than 41 million acres of natural treasures like active volcanoes, glaciers, rugged mountains, giant brown bears, sea lions, whales and wild salmon.
  • The four Rocky Mountain parks feature craggy peaks capped by glimmering glaciers, fields bathed in wildflowers, and lakes as smooth and blue as a summer sky. These also include Southern Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes.
  • The Pacific Southwest parks stretch from American Samoa and the Hawaiian Islands to the snow-clad peaks of California. Visitors can discover everything from coral reefs to volcanic landscapes, and from deserts to monoliths and domes of granite.
  • In the Pacific Northwest parks you can hike the cathedral-like glades of Douglas fir, western red cedar and other conifers of Mount Rainier, and the Olympic and North Cascades mountain ranges in Washington state. Redwood National Park is home to 2,000-year-old trees – and some of the tallest on Earth!. In Olympic, enjoy the beauty of temperate rain forests that soar to the sky near some of the nation’s wildest coastline. Here and at Mount Rainier are the only places you can find such forests in the United States.

Thanks to National Geographic for keeping us all entertained, delighted and informed about the wonders of our country and the ways we can respect our natural world. Visit their website for more fascinating guides to our country’s national natural treasures. And very happy one-century birthday to our national parks!

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