Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chicago (Part 2)

After checking into the hotel Friday we grabbed some dinner and walked around the city a little, but weren't feeling too adventurous.  Mostly we just watched out the windows as the construction crews built a parking garage next door and let the kids bang around the room. 

Saturday I had to finish preparing my talk I was giving that afternoon so Rob took the kids out for a walk to Navy Pier and around the city.  They returned just as I was finishing my last practice (and I had successfully whittled a 180 minute talk down to a cold 16 minutes) and so we all headed out toward my conference site in search of a lunch place.  We found a local bar&grill and then went our separate ways for the rest of the day again.  Rob and the kids stuck close to the hotel and caught naps.

My talk went really well and I ran into several colleagues from other universities.  By seven o'clock I had sketched out 2 new papers and re-connected with another potential co-researcher about an old idea.  Not to mention a lot of general conversation and news-swapping.  I hadn't been to a conference in nearly two years since August was born just before the usual fall ones in 2010, I didn't feel up to the spring one in 2011, the summer 2011 one I usually go to was in France and I wasn't interested in a trans-Atlantic family trip with a 10 month old or leaving my nursing child for that long, and the fall 2011 conferences were at a bad time in my semester.  I forgot how much energy I get from these things--networking, heated debates over ideas, brainstorming new projects, and of course laughing hysterically over things that only people in our little niche of geek-dom would find funny.  It was a blast.

I headed back to our hotel and called Rob along the way; he put in an urgent dinner-to-go order so I showed up with some take-out.  All three kids were awake and energetic so we walked around the city for nearly two hours admiring the city lights.
Beluga whales
Sunday most of the day was free to explore, so in the late-morning we headed to the Shedd Aquarium. The kids have been insanely excited about seeing dolphins and whales and they were not disappointed.  We also saw, um, everything.  Seahorses, sea otters, river otters, giant crabs, a sea turtle, sting rays, manta rays, fish the size couches...  It was fantastic.  We spent the entire day there, including lunch and dinner and naps. And we still didn't see everything covered by the cheapest basic admission.  We figured that would be the case and got the $8-10 tickets rather than the $30+ tickets that included all the special exhibits.

For anyone else considering a trip to the Shedd on a weekend: bring a stroller.  Even if your kid is 7 or 8.  Seriously.  We got there and found a line at least an hour long leading out of the building, down the steps and into the park. This pic is from after closing, but trust me, it was a LONG line.

Upon arrival, I immediately starting throwing my version of a tantrum, loudly insisting that we find something else to do today and come back the next day when it would surely be less crowded.  The kids looked at me in horror because we had been talking up the dolphins and whales a bit too much, perhaps.  Thankfully--and here's the stroller bit--the stairs are not accessible for anything on wheels and so we were waved over to the wheelchair/stroller/wagon entrance around the side where there were--maximum--20 people in front of us.  The museum worker was shooing anyone with just legs out and around to the side.  I felt really bad for families with 4-5 year old kids who were going to have to wait in the long line with those kids.  Oh, and also get less time in the museum.  So again: bring an umbrella stroller.  Best $15 fast-pass ticket ever.  Shove your smallest kid into it and abandon it when you get inside if you have to.  Or use it to hold all the coats and other things that will get dropped by your kids as they overheat in the tropical exhibits.

After the long walk back to the hotel (which involved pushing/dragging August in the stroller while we each also piggy-back carried a big kid), we ate and hit the pool so the kids could demonstrate their own swimming skills.  Not surprisingly, everyone slept like the dead that night.


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