Sunday, May 25, 2014

Jelly Belly Center: Kenosha, Wisconsin

One of our family's favorite getaway spots is the Kenosha, Wisconsin area. For those living in the Chicago area, it's a quick little jaunt that makes for a great day trip, but it's also an awesome destination for a weekend getaway with lots of accessible lakefront, free museums, great eateries, superb shopping and other fun attractions.

When traveling with the family, it's always a plus when you can spend time somewhere that the kids enjoy and it's free. Jelly Belly Center is one of those places. I don't think we've ever been to the Kenosha area without making a stop there. Free tours are available daily  through the distribution facility on a cute little train with stops along the way for a video history of the company and to admire some awesome jelly bean art that hangs on the walls.

The tour naturally exits out the store. So, although the tour is free, it is pretty hard to make it out of the place without purchasing a few edible souvenirs. However, if you just want to taste, there is a sampling bar where you can try out a huge number of their beans and other products. There's also a section with deeply discounted candy, including the "Belly Flops" which taste great, but didn't pass the prettiness inspection.

The facility is not far off of I-94, so even if you're just passing through on the way to another destination, it's a great rest stop for families where they can stretch their legs and have a sweet treat.

We always do a bit of shopping on our visits to the Jelly Belly Center.

Jelly Belly Center
10100 Jelly Belly Lane
Pleasant Prairie, WI

Saturday, May 24, 2014

International Orangutan Center opens today at Indianapolis Zoo

Eight orangutans have taken up residence in some new digs at the Indianapolis Zoo. The new Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center opens today, giving visitors a close look at this amazing species that is on the verge of extinction. 

I was able to preview the exhibit earlier this month as part of a media tour and was enthralled by watching the orangutans play and interact with one another, but also get up face to face with visitors at the glass. Kids can go online to research each of the orangutans before the visit or follow up afterwards by learning more if they go to

The center allows for lots of opportunity for outdoor climbing and spectators can watch from a sky ride that extends around the exhibit allowing for a birds eye view of the center.

Also part of the exhibit is the Nina Mason Pulliam Beacon of Hope, which stretches 150 feet into the sky and will transform the Indianapolis skyline. At night it is illuminated by lights the orangutans turn on themselves, reminding us that there is still hope for orangutans.

We also had an opportunity to watch some practice lessons where the orangutans used computers to match up images, showing the intelligence of the species.

This is an awesome way to observe these creatures in ways that the general public never could before. Find out more on the exhibit at

Friday, May 23, 2014

Lansing to host first cruise night June 14

For classic car fans, there's a full season ahead of car shows and cruise nights to pull that antique out of the garage to show it off or to simply stroll along and admire the automotive designs of the past. South Suburban Lansing, Illinois has three cruise nights scheduled for the season. They all take place on Ridge Road between Burnham and Wentworth Avenues.

Dates for 2014 are:

June 14
July 12
August 2

Each cruise begins at 6 p.m. and runs until 10 p.m.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dinosphere at Children's Museum of Indianapolis celebrates 10 years

One of the most popular portions of the massive Children's Museum of Indianapolis is the Dinosphere, which turns 10 years old this year. The museum hosted several special activities during spring break and the highlight of the exhibit during this anniversary year is the arrival of Leonardo, the best preserved dinosaur remains ever found. Leonardo is a juvenile Brachylophosaurus that roamed the earth about 77 million years ago.

Also part of the exhibit is the dome (featuring Bucky the teenage T. Rex) that gives the sense of transition from morning to night with special lighting, a dinosaur dig and Dracorex howartsia, a recent discovery that was named in honor of the Harry Potter series.

The Dinosphere is included in regular admission to the museum.

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis
3000 N. Meridian 
Indianapolis, IN

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Indiana Beach Camping: Monticello, Indiana (with 50% off discount information for Memorial Day weekend)

Indiana Beach Amusement Resort holds fond memories for me as it was one of the first trips I took with my husband. We're going way back to the late 1980's when we had been dating for a year or two, so it was really fun to take our family there this past summer for a couple days at the campground and a day spent at the amusement park.

Camping facilities near the park have primitive sites, sites for RV hook-ups and rental cabins with swimming facilities, arcades, mini golf and other activities. Our rental cabin was the perfect size for our family. Six of us went on the trip and it was roomy enough for us to move around while providing accommodations above the "roughin' it" style of camping.

We didn't really spend much time at the site, but we were at the end of a row facing forest, so it was a nice quiet spot. I wish we'd had time to build a fire and make smores and just hang out.

The boys were fascinated by the tree frogs that came out at night and climbed along with windows with their sticky feet.

You'll be within walking distance of the park or if you prefer to be close to the gate, you can pull up for the VIP parking and then spend the day on rides, in the water park, on the beach or on a boat. Summer family fun at it's best!

Click here for a 50% discount on a two or more night stay over the Memorial Day holiday weekend!

Fly a kite at New Buffalo City Beach and Lakefront Park: New Buffalo, Michigan

It's just been in the past few years that we've discovered New Buffalo's public beach. For years we'd head up and spend time in Galien and Three Oaks, but never ventured over to New Buffalo. Now, it's a frequent summer destination for us as there are a lot of good eateries in addition to the fabulous beach.

And we don't always go there intending to go in the water. Sometimes in the off season we stop there just to take a walk and to take some pictures and enjoy the beautiful shoreline. We've also been there several times with the kids to fly kites. This time of year is a great time to visit when parking is free and the summer crowds haven't made their way there yet.

The beach is free but after Memorial Day there is a $10 parking fee, unless visiting before 9 a.m. or after 8 p.m.  Sometimes we'll spend the day in the area to pick fruit or shop or check out the Flag Day Parade and later in the day, once it hits 8 p.m., we'll head over and spend a little time on the beach before returning home.

If you don't have kites, you'll find them at a lot of the shops in New Buffalo. I think we got some of ours in nearby Three Oaks at the Three Oaks Pharmacy. Once in a while one is short-lived (usually if it's something from the dollar section), but if you get a quality kite it will last you several seasons as ours have.  Their favorite is the shark kite we have that looks pretty cool flying above our heads.

Find more information on the New Buffalo City Beach here -

See vintage wedding dresses at Lansing Historical Society's June Brides exhibit

Wedding fashions have changed drastically over the decades and an annual exhibit at the Lansing Historical Society gives a chronological look at what local brides have worn over the years. Running throughout the month of June, the June Brides exhibit includes dresses that date back to the late 1800's made from a variety of materials along with an exhibit of wedding accessories and trinkets.

The all-volunteer museum has limited hours - Monday from 6 - 8 p.m., Wednesday from 3 - 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. - noon. The museum is located in the lower level of the Lansing Public Library at Indiana Ave. and School Street in Lansing, IL

Dolphin Shows at Indianapolis Zoo

One of the features I've always enjoyed at Chicagoland's Brookfield Zoo are the dolphin shows. I recently was in Indianapolis and spent some time at their wonderful zoo, which included taking in a dolphin show.

The Marsh Dolphin Theatre has two shows daily that are included in your zoo admission. You need to obtain a ticket for the free show and a limited amount are available, so be sure to get yours early to ensure that you'll be able to enjoy the show. The shows are about 20-minutes in length and filled with upbeat music as the residents perform under water and above.

If you're a big fan of dolphins and plan a little in advance, you can enjoy the rare opportunity for an in-water adventure with the dolphins. From the zoo's website, here are details of those exciting encounters.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The Dolphin In-Water Adventure ​

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to step into the world of our dolphins!  This 90-minute Dolphin In-Water Adventure program includes:
  • A backstage classroom session about dolphin characteristics, adaptations and training.
  • More than 30 minutes of poolside/in-water time with our trainers and dolphins where in-water participants will get a sampling of the different activities the Zoo’s trainers carry out each day – feeding a dolphin, signaling the dolphin to carry out a behavior, and lots of up-close, hands-on interactions. 
  • Along with memories for a lifetime, participants will receive a souvenir towel and a digital photograph of themselves with a dolphin! 
Please note: This is a wade-in program and no swimming is involved. Each session includes up to eight participants.

Requirements for Participation

  • All participants must be at least 4 feet, 6 inches (54 inches) tall.
  • Participants who meet the height requirement and are between the ages of 6 and 13 must be accompanied by a paid  adult either in the water or as an observer.
  • Observers must be at least 6 years old. Paid observers between the ages of 6 and 13 must be accompanied by a paid adult observer with a ratio of one adult per child.
  • Observers cannot register separately; they must be associated with a participant.
  • Observers experience the classroom session and are able to watch their participant from an area near the in-water activity. Only paid observers will be able to view the interaction.
  • To insure the health and safety of our guests and dolphins, those who are pregnant may only observe.
On the date of their program, guests should arrive 15 minutes prior to their scheduled time to fill out paperwork in the Hix Institute, located directly to the right of the Zoo admission gates.


Participant: Zoo Member $205; Non-Member $225
Observer: Zoo Member $30; Non-Member $40

Payment in full is required at time of registration. Pricing is subject to change. There will be no refunds unless the Indianapolis Zoo has to cancel the program and guests cannot reschedule.  Please note that registration closes 14 days before the event date. 

Another fun feature of the shows is a "Junior Dolphin Trainer" opportunity where kids can sit up close and help give cues to the dolphins along side the trainers. It is only $10 per person and tickets can be purchased the day of your visit. More details below from the zoo's website:

Junior Dolphin Trainer

Lots of young people dream of someday becoming a dolphin trainer. The Junior Dolphin Trainer program presented by Dippin' Dots offers an up-close encounter for the little marine mammal lover in the family. 
Purchase your Junior Dolphin Trainer ticket at the admissions window when you arrive at the Zoo and you will be assigned a dolphin show to attend. Plus all Junior Dolphin Trainers receive a special badge.
Each junior trainer will be met inside the Marsh Dolphin Adventure Theatre and escorted to reserved seating in the first row of the west side of the theatre. When it's time, the marine mammal trainers will bring up their junior counterparts to help them cue the dolphins by hand! After the experience, the junior trainers will receive a collectors card with information on the dolphin they "trained," which will fit inside the badge holder as a souvenir. This program is only $10.00 per junior trainer (the rest of the party will not need special tickets to get into the show) and is for children age 5 and up. 

Of course, the dolphins are just one of the amazing zoo exhibits. Plan for a full day at the zoo where you can have fun on rides, explore a variety of species, pet a shark and visit the new International Orangutan Center. 

The zoo is celebrating its 50th year and is part of the White River State Park.

Indianapolis Zoo
1200 West Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN

Springhope Farm: Galien, Michigan

I'm looking forward another good season of picking our own fruits and veggies and one of our favorite U-Pick places is Springhope Farm in Galien, Michigan. It will be a bit before they open for the season, but once the orchards are ready, they'll be bursting with beautiful peaches, cherries and apples.

Galien is not too far over the Michigan border, so for those coming from Illinois and Indiana, it's an easy drive for a summer day. You can choose to either take a tractor-drawn wagon ride out to the orchards to pick your own or pre-picked items are available in the farm stand. They also carry a variety of vegetables when in season and some local honey, apple butter and other canned (or should we say jarred?) items.

During the summer season where other outings may take us to lively amusement parks or crowded community pools, visiting a U-Pick farm makes for a quiet, relaxing day of enjoying the outdoors in such a serene setting. The kids always love running around in the open space and then eating the fruit they picked with their own hands.

Springhope Farm
18720 Cleveland Ave.
Galien, Michigan

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Terra Cotta Warriors: The Emperor's Painted Army now open at Children's Museum of Indianapolis

The long-awaited arrival of soldiers from Shaanxi Province in China is here. Terra Cotta Warriors: The Emperor's Painted Army opened May 10 at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. It will run through November 2, 2014.

This fascinating exhibit includes 8 of the terra cotta warriors that were buried for 2200 years around the emperor's tomb and unearthed in 1974. Approximately 8,000 unique life-sized soldiers were buried as part of the world's largest underground burial site with the intention of protecting the emperor's tomb in the afterlife. 

This is the only time this year that you'll be able to see the Terra Cotta Warriors in the U.S. and the first time that it's been available in a family-centered venue. While the real warriors are behind glass, there are some great-opportunity for hands-on fun, including an opportunity to sculpt your own miniature terra cotta warrior.

Also, don't miss the experience of being immersed in Chinese culture in the Take Me There: China exhibit where you can learn all about life in modern day China.

Various programs and live demonstration help to enhance the experience for visitors.

Strike a pose as a warrior yourself.

Get your hands a little dirty and have some fun with modeling clay creating your own miniature soldier.

Or sculpt a face for a warrior.

For more details on the exhibit, visit

Prairie Guest House, Fishers Indiana

On a recent media trip in Indianapolis, I spent a little time in Hamilton County, staying at the Prairie Guest House Bed & Breakfast in ...