Goin’ Local: Willowbrook Wildlife Center

We can’t take an Alaskan Cruise or a cross-country road trip every day. But that doesn’t mean we stop exploring. Today, we explored Willowbrook Wildlife Center, part of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, for the first time. (I don’t know what took us so long, we live right down the street.)

Mommy, what if we find a hurt duck?

Willowbrook Wildlife Center flashed onto my radar a couple of weeks ago when my daughter asked me what we would do if we found an injured duck. I remembered there was a wildlife rehabilitation center nearby and took a look on the internet. The website for the wildlife center is deceiving as it doesn’t begin to highlight all they have to offer.


First and foremost, Willowbrook is a wildlife rehabilitation center. But they also have a butterfly garden, both indoor and outdoor live animal exhibits (including a bald eagle), and a few winding nature trails for an easy outdoor walk.

The center is free to visit, but a donation (either cash or other) is appreciated.

Urgently needed as of July 2017

Indoor Exhibits

After dropping our donation in the box outside, we headed into the Visitor Center to see what there was to see. First was a case full of beautiful monarch butterfly chrysalises. The kids loved the golden details.

IMG_5429There were many other indoor exhibits as well, which housed small birds and other small animals and reptiles. The birds were fun to see because the kids could get up close and really get a good look. (Unfortunately, I haven’t yet mastered our fancy camera enough to know how to focus on the animal, not the cage. I’ll be doing some more research on that.)

It was also fun to take a peek into the animal care area to see what was going on behind the scenes.

Bird enclosure

Outdoor Exhibits

We headed on to check out the outdoor exhibits. First, the kids encountered a sand pit where they could make imprints of animals’ footprints and figure out which animal each footprint belonged to.


But there was much more to explore. My son and I tried to catch a glimpse of the cormorant. We couldn’t get a good picture, but I find this bird interesting because a flightless variety of the cormorant exists in the Galapagos Islands.

My daughter headed off to the butterfly garden.


We didn’t spy any butterflies in the butterfly garden, but we did enjoy the koi pond.



Meandering further through the exhibits, we saw a sleepy and itchy red fox. (We actually smelled it before we saw it. It looks much cuter than it smelled.) And some owls that had eye injuries and could not be returned to the wild.

Sleepy red fox


We took the nature trail to the sandhill crane exhibit and found one of them to be very friendly, walking with my daughter back and forth (the bird inside the enclosure while she was outside).

Sandhill crane (photo credit: my 7-year-old son)

Finishing up our walk on the nature trail, we encountered some lovely foliage and a very camera-shy deer.


Camera-shy deer taking a drink

Willowbrook Wildlife Center is a lovely, close-to-home (for us) place to visit.

Civil War Pumpkin Patch

This past weekend our family celebrated fall with a visit to the pumpkin patch. But not just any pumpkin patch. This one featured the biggest Civil War reenactment we’ve seen so far.

This pumpkin patch featured the biggest Civil War reenactment we’ve seen.

Every year Dollinger Farms in Channahon, IL features a fall Civil War Weekend. And if your family is planning on taking a Civil War road trip, as ours is, brushing up with a little living history is not a bad idea.

Here comes the cavalry

This battle was representative of the Battle of Belmont that took place in November 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War.

I have to say, however, with the kids being so little and my interest in the Civil War being a nascent one, we attend these reenactments not to really get a grip on the historical accuracy of the particular battle being represented. Rather, we go to get a feel for what it was like for people living during that particular episode in American history.

A reenactor dressed as a vivandiere, a woman who provided support and care for soldiers in the battle

For example, we get to see firsthand what is meant by the saying the ‘fog of war,’ and why there were some battles with so much friendly fire – because you really can’t see who you’re shooting at with all the smoke from the gunpowder lingering in the air.

Additionally, my son is fascinated with the uniforms and the weaponry, specifically the functionality of the weaponry and what steps the soldiers had take in order to properly load their weapons. We also get to look at and touch authentic period artillery. And we get to learn about the roles of women and children in the war.

Union soldier
Union soldier reloading his weapon

An added benefit is that we get to talk with people (reenactors, others that have an interest in watching reenactments) about what got them interested in the first place. By doing so, I, personally, am trying to get some insight into my son’s brain. I’m trying to figure out why he became so interested in the Civil War at such a young age. (My brother thinks it’s because my son must have been a Union soldier in a previous life, but that’s another story.)

Living history helps children understand the complicated world around them.

Authentic 1861 artillery
Confederate soldiers receiving their orders

Living history is a way to truly bring history to life! So many young people are so bored sitting at their desks reading about the past. It’s so important to get these kids out and experiencing what it was like to live through past events. Their understanding of the importance of history increases tremendously, which then helps them put into context and understand the complicated world around them. It’s the least we can do for future generations.

Oh, and we did get to see some pumpkins too!

Pumpkin siblings

Achieving Goals – A Journey of 1000 Miles

Spider web

The gorgeous, creepy creature that weaved the beautiful web in the picture had to start somewhere. But where? And how? How does a spider start weaving its web? I guess, as they say, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step… or something like that.

The beautiful waterfall, Waterfall Glen

One of the goals we have in mind for the future is to hike the Grand Canyon from bottom to top, with the kids. Granted, this will have to take place sometime in the future (and it may never take place at all). But, as stated above, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step. And sometimes that one step is just a thought, an idea, a future goal, something to work toward.

A journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.

Enjoying the view

Well, our journey today took us on a 4-mile hike at Waterfall Glen in the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. And nowhere did the kids learn the lesson that a journey of 1,000 miles (or hiking one more mile back to the car after hiking 3 miles on little 6-year-old legs) begins with one step, then another step, and then another.
Until you reach your goal (which, in this case, was either the parking lot, or the ice cream I promised them to keep them hiking).

I see these little victories, these little tweaks in attitude, as major life lessons.

In any event, in order to keep her spirits up, my little girl started making up songs that went: “Every step you take gets you closer to your goal….” My son, after telling me he couldn’t take another step, took another and another. Then smiled proudly to himself after we reached the car when I reminded him how he thought he couldn’t do it, but in actuality he could.

Waterfall Glen
The last 1/2 mile of a 4-mile hike.

I see these little victories, these little tweaks in attitude, as major life lessons. Lessons that could be applied to completing algebra homework, perfecting pirouettes, or even writing a blog post! Each little increment gets you a little closer to where you need to be. Each difficult task requires effort. And in order to reach each big goal, you need only conquer one small and manageable goal, then another, then another.

One step at a time. One foot after another. That’s how to start. That’s how to succeed. That’s how to reach goals. Whether you have eight legs or only two.


Preparing Kids for a Civil War Road Trip

As mentioned in a previous post (see Preparing Kids for an Epic Family Trip), it’s important that kids get an opportunity to prepare for a trip in the same way that adults get to.

Now, if you’re planning to visit some U.S. Civil War sites with your kids, I’m going to assume that you are a bit of a geek and have done a fair amount of research about the Civil War yourself. The resources are endless for adults interested in this period of American History.

There are also a great number of Civil War resources for kids.

My son has been interested (read: OBSESSED) with the Civil War since he was three years old. Because of his intense interest in the subject I have gone far and wide to find resources that are appropriate for his understanding. The links below will take you to Amazon.com for further information. **PLEASE pre-view each of the resources below before giving to your children to make sure it is appropriate for your child’s understanding.**

Lincoln: The Gateway

The “gateway” for my son’s Civil War obsession was learning about Abraham Lincoln as part of a Presidents’ Day lesson in preschool. Abe Lincoln is quite a fascinating character and learning about him offered my son a chance to learn about that time in history.

Across from Abraham Lincoln Museum, Springfield, IL

To foster his interest, we made a trip to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL.

We also made frequent trips to the library to pick up books about President Abe. Some of the Abraham Lincoln books that stand out to me are:

There was also a great video we watched ad nauseum called:

Slavery and Race

As my son’s understanding of the Civil War era grew more sophisticated, we moved on to books about the Civil War itself and the issues involved. As we all know, one particularly heavy subject that is difficult to discuss with children is slavery and the implications of race in today’s society.

As we all know, one particularly heavy subject that is difficult to discuss with children is slavery and the implications of race in today’s society.

One book we checked out again and again that addresses this difficult topic was An Apple for Harriet Tubman, which tells the story of Ms. Tubman’s childhood experience as a slave on a plantation. Another favorite book of ours on the subject was From Slave to Soldier. Although these books take on a weighty topic, they are written to take into account the tender nature of the subject and the unique sensibilities of children.

More Books

More books that fueled my son’s interest in the Civil War were:

Coloring Books and Photography

Coloring books have also been extremely important in my children’s understanding of the Civil War. Here are the ones we found:

Civil War Documentary
Watching a Civil War documentary dressed in full Union regalia

We then expanded our interests to learn about advances in photography in the late 1800s by reading about Mathew Brady and other Civil War photographers in books like Civil War Witness.

Documentaries and Movies

There are innumerable documentaries that my children found fascinating. One was about a submarine that was used in the Civil War called Raising the Hunley.

My son then started getting interested in the individual battles themselves. At this point, his reading skills were lagging behind his unbounded curiosity (and I didn’t want to spend all day reading Civil War books to him), so we went the video documentary and historical movie route. Here are some great video resources:

Loading a Howitzer, Civil War Encampment, Lombard, IL

Girls and Civil War

Little girls often get left out of the Civil War discussion. That’s unfortunate because it’s such an important time in history. Once, when we were at a Civil War reenactment, one of the “soldiers” was inviting my son to join the battle once he turned 16. He then turned to my daughter to tell her that she could also be involved by bringing water to the “soldiers” when she was old enough. I had to remind both him and my daughter that women did play a very important role in the war by dressing as men and fighting in battles, and serving as doctors, nurses, and spies.

Don’t leave little girls out of the Civil War discussion!

Here are some resources that my daughter enjoyed (some are mentioned above):

Play and Understanding

A major part of a child’s understanding about the world occurs through play.

Abraham Lincoln Museum
Mary Todd’s Attic, Abraham Lincoln Museum, Springfield, IL

Last but not least, we have to remember that kids are kids and a major part of their understanding about the world occurs through play. At any moment, in my house, you are exposed to the danger of stepping on a plastic Civil War soldier (those little suckers hurt).

Civil War Show
At a Civil War Show and Sale after picking up a copy of The Complete Civil War Road Trip Guide

Teaching Kids about the Civil War

Teaching children about the Civil War is in no way glorifying war or violence.

Teaching children about the Civil War is in no way glorifying war or violence. Rather, it is educating them about the history of our nation. It’s so interesting that many of the issues that divided the country back then still resonate today. Having an understanding of where we come from helps us and our children understand where we are today, and what the possibilities are for the future. And seeing historical sites in person makes history real and tangible in ways that books and movies can’t.

I am looking forward to blogging more about our trip to Gettysburg!

Route 66: Day 1- Illinois, Missouri, Kansas

Goal: Tulsa, OK

Day one of our Route 66 road trip took us through Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas.

Gemini Giant, Wilmington, IL
Gemini Giant, Wilmington, IL

If you ask my son what his favorite part of our Route 66 road trip was, he would say the Gemini Giant. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why he always names this stop as his favorite. This was our very first stop along the way in Wilmington, IL, only about 60 miles from Chicago. The only thing I can figure is that this is where our kid preparation started to pay off. As mentioned in a previous post (see Preparing Kids for an Epic Family Trip), the kids and I visited websites and downloaded coloring pages of sites that we would see along our route. And one of those sites was the Gemini Giant.

What is the Gemini Giant, you may ask? Well, it’s just a little bit of that kitschy America that’s sprinkled along Route 66. It’s a monumental ex-Muffler Man (more info here http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/37422) geared up like an astronaut that accompanies the (now defunct?) Launching Pad Restaurant right next door.

Reflecting on why we actually took this trip?!?! Launching Pad Restaurant, Wilmington, IL
The Arch in the pouring rain. Did you get a pic? Good, let’s go! I’m soaked!!! St. Louis, MO

After snapping few pics and exchanging a few puzzled looks with my husband, silently asking each other what the actual goal of this trip was and why we pulled over and got out of the car to experience such a weird, side-of-the-road garage sale moment, we piled the family back in the car and went back on our way through the rest of Illinois and on to St. Louis, MO where we stopped for lunch in the pouring rain.

St. Louis was pretty anti-climactic (and adversely climatic), so after some pizza, we got back on the road again.

Route 66 traverses 8 states: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. As you exit Missouri, the main highway goes straight to Oklahoma, but Route 66 travels through the slightest little corner of Kansas. And, in order to keep the kids happy, so did we. To find the inspiration for the movie Cars.

Route 66 Cars Disney

Route 66 Mater Cars Disney Kansas
The kids with life-sized Mater, Galena, KS

Route 66 Cars Disney

Route 66 Gas Pump

The weather started to turn and packed us a wallop on the way out of Kansas.

We found ourselves in a comfy hotel room in Tulsa, OK way after the sun went down.

Day one goal: Accomplished