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Five Great ... Daytrips from the Fox Valley

For many of you, we've nearly reached the midpoint of spring break. Are you or your kids going stir-crazy? Here are five suggestions for fun daytrips you can do from the Fox Valley, and we didn't even get near Chicago! 

Photo courtesy of the LaSalle Canal Boat.*Starved Rock State Park: The park features 13 miles of trails, waterfalls active in the spring and amazing views. The park is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Both the park and its parking lots are free. It is located about 60 miles from Geneva.

*Kohl Children's Museum: We love the DuPage Children's Museum in Naperville, but if you're looking for something different, head on up to Glenview for an outing that's all about imaginative play. The museumis located in a gorgeous newer facility on land that used to be occupied by the Naval Air Station Glenview. It's best for children up to 6 or 7 years of age. The museum is about 40 miles from Geneva.

*Burpee Museum of Natural History: This museum is located in Rockford, about 50 miles from Elgin. It is home to Jane, an unusually complete skeleton of a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex. And while Jane was just 11 when she died, her fossilized skeleton is 21 feet long. The Burpee is right next to the Discovery Center Museum, a hands-on science museum.

*Discovery Zone Park at Deicke Park: This park in Huntley was the one that kicked off the Go West "Great Parks!" series, and I'm not sure it will ever be topped. The Discovery Zone is a play village for toddlers and preschoolers. And while it looks like a junior amusement park, it's all free and part of the Huntley Park District. Huntley is about 23 miles north of St. Charles. Make sure to pack a picnic lunch!

*The Illinois and Michigan Canal: This one has been on my list to explore for a long time, and I hope to finally get there this summer. The canal, which runs along the Illinois and Des Plaines rivers, helped provide the first complete water route from the East Coast to the Gulf of Mexico. It's now used for recreation and features miles of trails, state parks, restored historical sites, wildlife and beautiful landscapes. The canal runs from Channahon west to Seneca. Morris, a town which is located along the trail, is about 32 miles south of Aurora. The LaSalle Canal Boat begins its season in May and runs into October, so this is also a good addition to your summer plans.

Go West readers: Do you have any favorite daytrips that are do-able from the Fox Valley? What are your favorite spots in Chicago for a special outing?


Five Great ... Ways to Improve Public Pools

Last week, we brought you the Go West “Pooley Awards,” celebrating what’s great about the public pools, beaches, splash parks and spraygrounds (mostly owned and operated by park districts) in the far western ‘burbs.  This week, we want to suggest five changes that could be made to make them even better.

Naperville's Centennial Beach, pictured here, has nights for families with special needs. More pools should do the same. Photo by wuperruper on Flickr.Bring Your Own: Most of the aquatic parks don’t allow you to bring your own food and drink inside. That means if you’re at the pool over lunch or dinnertime, you’re going to have to pay $3 or $4 a sandwich for concession food that’s not healthy and usually not too stellar in quality, either. With sides and drinks, a concession bill for a family can quickly top $25. Aquatic parks should let visitors bring in their own coolers with food to eat in the concession area. The kids will still likely end up buying popsicles or ice cream. But I’m all for vigilantly enforcing the “no eating by the pool” rule.

All in the Family: A few of the newer aquatic parks have family restrooms, but they’re not that common overall. I know it’s a space issue, but family restrooms are a godsend when you have a adventurous toddler who likes to climb out from underneath the stall or changing room curtain while mom is getting dressed. I’m sure they’re appreciated by larger families, too, when one mom is trying to keep track of a group of young kids. And of course they’re useful for dads taking their daughters to the restrooms.

More Hooks!: Please add some more hooks and shelves to the bathhouses. The floors are always sandy and wet – and while you might be lucky enough to find space on a bench on which to to balance your beach towel and bag, it usually ends up falling to the messy floor. Ick.

Special Needs: Centennial Beach in Naperville is hosting four nights this summer for swimmers with special needs, saying the Sunday evenings provide a “quieter, more relaxed atmosphere.” Every pool should do something similar.

Stormy Weather: Most of the aquatic parks and splash parks have a strict “no refund” policy if weather forces the pool to close. But how about issuing a coupon for several dollars off – or buy one, get one free – for a return visit? The coupon could even be stamped with the date the pool closed early, and the park district could require patrons to use it within a week or two of it being issued.

Note: To read the reader suggestions made when this first appeared on the home page, click here.


Five Great ... Ways to Stay Cool on the Cheap

The weather forecast is predicting a scorcher this week, with the high temperature every day supposed to be in the 90s through at least Sunday. And of course we’ll likely have a couple more runs of extra-steamy weather before Labor Day. So we thought we’d offer up some ideas for how to stay cool without spending too much cash.

Photo by tjstaab on Flickr.* "Check Out" the Libraries: Most of the area libraries seem to be hitting the high point of their summer reading programs right about now. That means the Go West Calendar is packed with drop-in crafts, storytimes, movies and special programs, all free! Just to highlight a couple coming up: The Messenger Public Library in North Aurora is offering family bingo on Wednesday at 2 p.m.  The Sugar Grove Public Library is showing “Despicable Me” today at 2 p.m. And the Gail Borden Public Library’s Rakow Branch in Elgin will host a “Renaissance storytime” at 11 a.m. Thursday. Your kids will be treated to a “highly interactive” show about pirates, princesses, Robin Hood, Irish faerie legends, etc.

* Cheap Flicks: Nearly all of the local movie chains have some kind of summer promotion aimed at families and children. Goodrich Quality Theatres will be showing “Stuart Little” for $1 this week at its theaters in both Oswego and Batavia at 10 a.m. “Rio” is on the bill at theMarcus Theater in Elgin on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. with admission $2. Classic Cinemasin St. Charles shows a $1 movie each Wednesdy at 10 a.m.; this week the movie is “Alpha & Omega.”   

* Splash Around: The “spraygrounds at Geneva’s Moore Park and splash pad at Aurora’s Phillips Park (outside the Visitor Center) are free, as is the splash fountain at Elgin’s Festival Park. The large splash park at Otter Cove is $4 for resident children, $6 for non-resident kids and you only pay for the children’s admission. The Glen Ellyn Park District also has a splash park at Maryknoll Park that’s just $3 per child.

* All Wet: We have such wonderful public pools in the western suburbs, but admission prices can certainly add up. But there are deals to be had. The “Way Back Wednesdays” promotion at the Harold Hall Quarry Beach in Batavia means residents get in for $2, non-residents for $5. Nearly every pool has a weekday rate for after peak hours, often called the “twilight swim.” At Swanson Pool in St. Charles, the cost is just $3 per person.  Most of the pools don’t let you bring your own food onto the property (except the quarry.) But you could always pack your lunch or dinner in a cooler, leave it in the car and get a re-admission stamp to go outside and eat under a tree or on a picnic table. Most of the pools are located in lovely parks, anyway.

* Chilly Treats: I absolutely love going out for ice cream (hence “The Ice Cream Diaries”) yet it’s not always the most budget-friendly outing. So how about making ice cream at home? Why not dig that ice cream maker you got as a wedding gift up from the basement? We don’t have an ice cream maker, but we had great fun last night making this yummy “faux” ice cream in a blender using Greek yogurt and frozen fruit. There are tons of recipes online for homemade popsicles, but Real Simple never lets me down. We’ll be using trying this recipe for Peach & Strawberry Popsicles from Weelicious later today, using my mom’s “vintage” Tupperware popsicle molds!

Note: Check out these suggestions Go West readers had for beating the heat when the story was first posted on the home page.


Five Great ... Movie Dads

Father’s Day is on Sunday, and in honor of the holiday, we thought the “Five Great … “ list could take a look at five great cinematic fathers. Is your favorite on the list? If not, make sure to tell us about it in the comment section!

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird."* Atticus Finch, the upstanding attorney played by Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the 1962 adaption of Harper Lee’s classic.

* George Banks the “Father of the Bride.” You can choose between the dad played by Steve Martin in the 1991 version (Kimberly Williams was the sneaker-wearing bride) or Spencer Tracy in the 1950 version with a radiant Elizabeth Taylor as his daughter.

* Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire, as played by Robin Williams in “Mrs. Doubtfire” from 1993. Come on … he put on a bodysuit with fake boobs just so he could spend time with his kids!

* Chris Gardner, the homeless father played by Will Smith in 2006’s “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

* Marlin, the fish who braves the dangers of the deep to find his missing son, Nemo. Marlin was voiced by Albert Brooks in this 2003 Pixar film "Finding Nemo." 

Did you miss our list of "Five Great ... Movies About Moms" in honor of Mother's Day? You can find it here.

Note: When this first appeared on the home page, there were several other good suggestions.


Five Great ... Restaurants and Pubs With Outdoor Seating

Photo by adventurejournalist on Flickr.Last week, I spent a beautiful evening outside with a close girlfriend, catching up over dinner and drinks. We were seated in the charming, fenced patio area at  Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant in the Arboretum shopping complex in South Barrington. That experience made me think about how, when the weather is right, I love dining outside.

But although that evening inspired the idea for a “Five Great … “ list, I was a bit stumped to come up with five suburban restaurants, bars or pubs with good outdoor seating areas, and the few I did think of were heavily concentrated in the Tri-Cities area.

So for the first time ever, we have a fill-in-the-blank “Five Great … “ list So can you help me fill in the following blank?

“When I want to dine outside, or just a drink or dessert with friends, one place I like to head to is __________.”

Note: When this post first appeared on the home page, readers had lots of great suggestions. Check them out by clicking here.


Five Great ... Places to See Horses Up Close

The Preakness was on Saturday, my daughter adored the pony she rode at a zoo last week and I recently was in Louisville. So I have horses on the brain. If you kids like horses as much as mine does, I thought it would be fun for the “Five Great … “ list to look at five great spots where your family can appreciate these magnificent creatures up close.

A horse at the Danada Forest Preserve in Wheaton. Photo by architekt2 on Flickr.* Arlington Racetrack: Even if you don’t bet on a single race, you could have such a wonderful time at this beautiful park in Arlington Heights. Throughout the summer, the racetrack has special “Family Days” (usually on Sundays, except for holiday weekends when they’re on Mondays) that include family entertainment, plus pony rides and a petting zoo. You can bring your own food and drinks into the picnic area (check what’s allowed here). And you can see the horses up close when they take a turn around the paddock before heading onto the track.

* Wayne: The small, rural village of Wayne is located just east of St. Charles, along Army Trail Road. It features dozens of horse farms, boarding stables and riding centers, plus equestrian paths. Take a leisurely drive some day along Army Trail Road and you’re sure to see beautiful scenery, impressive houses and lots of horses galloping behind picturesque white wooden fences.

* Danada Equestrian Center: The center is part of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and is located on Naperville Road in Wheaton.  It offers private and semi-private lessons, horsemanship clinics, group trail rides, and seasonal horse-draw hayrides and sleigh rides. It's also offering weeklong camps for children ages 10-14 this summer, and groups and organizations can always schedule an hour-long tour of the facility.

* Horseback Riding: My friend Annie at {kidlist} (a site for familes in the near west suburbs) compiled this great  list of spots that offer lessons and/or pony rides for children in towns including Oak Brook, Willows Springs, Palos Hills and Palos Park. Eventually, I’ll put something similar together for the far western ‘burbs. Really, I will.

* Kline Creek Farm: Also part of the DuPage County Forest Preseve, this living history farm is located in West Chicago. It has a pair of massive Percheron work horses that help plant and harvest crops. If you’re lucky, you might be able to see them getting readied in the barn to be harnessed to the 20th century farm equipment. Admission is free, and the farm hosts regular special events.

Do you have any spots to add where you and your family like to go to see or even ride horses? Please share!


Five Great ... Movies About Mothers

Mother’s Day is Sunday – but of course you already knew that, didn’t you? In honor the holiday, we thought the “Five Great … “ list could take a look at five films in which the role of being a mother played a central, well, role. Is your favorite on the list? If not, make sure to tell us about it in the comments section!

"Terms of Endearment" starred Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine as her mother.* Terms of Endearment: The gold standard when it comes to movies about mother-daughter relationships. Starring Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger and Jack Nicholson it won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

* The Sound of Music: Who wouldn’t want to have Julie Andrews as their stepmom? Plus, even before she married their father, Maria was loving and nurturing with the von Trapp childeren. And don’t forget the wise “Mother” Abbess, who sends Maria to the von Trapps in the first place and sings the inspirational “Climb Every Mountain.”

* One True Thing: This is an underrated gem, in my humble opinion. Released in 1998, it stars Meryl Streep as a very traditional mom and Renee Zellweger as her career-minded daughter who returns home when mom gets sick. Warning: It’s a weeper, but I know it inspired me to call my mom the next day to say I loved her!

* Mommie Dearest: I didn’t say the movies had to be about good mothers, did I? This is one that will make you realize that on those days when you feel like the worst mom on the planet … well, you’re not.

* The Blind Side: Leigh Ann Tuoy didn’t enter Michael Oher’s life until he was a teenager, yet she certainly became his own personal mother lionness. Her role in this movie, based on a true story, earned Sandra Bullock a Best Actress award just a couple years ago.

What’s your favorite movie about mothers? Please share!