To mark the middle of our Spring Break week, we dropped everything and headed north to Wisconsin for the day. We told the kids to bring a couple books, their cameras, and their appetites and off we went to Milwaukee with a side stop in Kenosha.
Milwaukee is about 2 hours or so north of Chicago, so it’s an easy day-trip for us to make. And why go north during Spring Break? A few reasons:
1. Cheese. Wisconsin is the happy home of seriously decadent cheese, bacon and sausage. Sure, you can buy a brick at your supermarket. But isn’t it more fun to buy a 9-year-aged sharp cheddar from a castle?
That’s the Mars Cheese Castle. Right off the interstate on the way north, it draws my family like a siren every time we head that way. If you like cheese — any kind of cheese — they have it, along with wines, sausage, etc. And who can beat a place where a giant mouse and a knight greet you as you walk in the door?
2. Bacon. Right around the corner from the Cheese Castle is a tiny little shop.
Don’t be deceived by its looks. It may not be a castle, but in my opinion, Bobby Nelson’s place has the best bacon ever. It’s huge, thick, crazy good. Makes the stuff you get at the grocery store look and taste like shoe leather. It’s a must-stop for us anytime we head north.
3. Kenosha. A town that sits right on the shores of Lake Michigan, Kenosha has an element of quirky artistry. For example, we saw fantastic murals painted on the sides of everyday buildings. Here’s my favorite:
We ate breakfast at Frank’s Diner, a local favorite serving food out of a converted vintage train car. It was profiled on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” a few years ago — and it’s ridiculous how small it is on the inside. It’s such a tight squeeze that the wait staff routinely yell out to folks waiting to be seated to move down, close the door, and (my favorite) “Cheeks against the wall!”
But the food? Fabulous. Huge enough portions to feed my teen and all of it delicious. The serving staff? Hysterical. It’s like getting dinner and show all at the same time.
There’s even a velodrome in Kenosha. Who knew?
4. Milwaukee Art Museum. The main reason we went north was to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum — specifically, their interactive exhibit on animation. They interviewed artists, editors, and directors from Pixar and showed how animators draw inspiration from great works of art. The kids could see how flip books worked and then draw their own.
They could hear about how integral the process of storyboarding is to getting the plot down — and then try it for themselves.
And the best part — they could make their own animated video using a simple background and some props and email it home. We spent hours in there.
Here’s my pro-tip for keeping school-aged kids involved and focused when they visit a museum: let them have a camera of their own to document whatever strikes their fancy. We’ve found used digital cameras on Freecycle and eBay for our younger kids, because if they lose it, drop it, or otherwise break it, it’s not a heart-breakingly expensive loss.
We then wandered the halls of the museum and let the kids take pictures. It’s eye-opening and fascinating to see what they capture.
As we were leaving, it was time for the “sails” outside the museum to close down for the evening. It’s a pretty fantastic feat of engineering and art, all right on the coast of Lake Michigan.
We’re planning to return to Kenosha and Milwaukee in the summer to take advantage of all the outdoor fun (like Summerfest) that they have planned.
And we’ll probably need more cheese and bacon by then, I’m sure.