June 15, 2006


  Frogs: A Chorus of Colors

Frogs are fun. That’s the bottom line at the Museum of Science and Industry’s new exhibit, “Frogs: A Chorus of Colors,” which my family previewed the day before its official opening. Since we don’t normally see live animals at MSI, we weren’t sure what to expect and we ended up very pleasantly surprised. The exhibit makes frogs interesting in all the right ways: through sights, sounds and touch.

The exhibit is divided into four parts: “Where it began,” “If looks could kill,” “A frog’s biology” and “The fading chorus.” Each section contains information, live frogs in custom enclosures designed to look like their natural habitats and activities designed to drive the knowledge home. Since my sons are still in preschool I had to do a lot of reading aloud while they searched for the frogs in each enclosure. But the activities were fun for all of us.

In the first section visitors can “create a chorus” by pushing buttons which activate various frog calls. Anything with buttons is a big hit with my four year-old and I was grateful for the sparse preview crowd because I had a hard time pulling him away. We also loved the activities in “A Frog’s Biology,” including a space to test our frog jumping skills and the highlight for my five year-old, “Froguts.” “Froguts” is a virtual frog dissection projected onto the wall for everyone to see. He loved using the roller to make scalpel cuts and pin back the frog’s skin. And he summed it up with a simple, “That was disgusting. Awesome.”

As the exhibits name implies, you can expect to see a lot more than muddy green toads. Frogs can be green, blue, red or yellow. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a 10-foot-tall glass vivarium with more than 50 poison dart frogs. Truly, they look like plastic toys except they are moving everywhere, and apparently can kill a human with the poisonous chemicals they secrete in the wild. Around each side of the vivarium are small cameras which visitors can maneuver to focus in on specific areas. My sons had a little trouble working the focus and zoom, but got the hang of it after a while. In fact, they were faster than I at spotting a frog.

We spent almost 40 minutes wandering around the exhibit, looking, listening and learning. We took a nice break on some seats designed to look like lily pads and my boys posed as frogs on a great forest backdrop. (Don’t forget your camera). As is the case with everything these days, the exhibit exits into a tiny gift shop filled with every kind of frog souvenir you can imagine. Although we didn’t buy anything, we took home some fun memories. Alena Murguia

Frogs: A Chorus of Colors runs through January 7, 2007. Tickets are $5 per guest in addition to general Museum admission and are offered on a timed-entry basis. The Museum of Science and Industry. 57th  Street and Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. (773) 684-1414, www.msichicago.org.

Cirque Shangai

When the acrobats of Cirque Shanghai get started, there isn’t a wandering eye in the crowd. This 75-minute show is packed with enough traditional Chinese showmanship-from plate spinners to human pyramids-to keep even the youngest kids fully engaged.

Despite its name, Cirque Shanghai is nothing like Cirque du Soleil. It lacks the over-the-top staging, pounding music and outrageous stunts that can be overwhelming for younger children. Nevertheless, this Cirque is packed with amazing feats that drew regular choruses of “Wow,” “Oh my God” and “Did you see that?” as well as a standing ovation at the end.

If we had any complaint about this show, which runs through the summer at Navy Pier’s beautiful Pepsi Skyline Stage, it is that, at times, there is so much going on that it’s tough to watch it all. Acrobats dangle from bungees over the audience as a woman stacks chairs sky high before rising slowly into her handstand. The contortionists (or “twisty people” as my son called them) roll around a raised platform and balance a few glasses on their heads, hands and feet while another swings on a trapeze as she balances even more on a long pole held in her mouth. The knife juggler works stage left while the jug balancer works stage right, with an amazing array of acrobatics in between.

Our favorite act, however, was the choreographed “competition” between acrobats wearing White Sox and Cubs uniforms. Campy but effective, and evidence the show was developed especially for Chicago and the Navy Pier stage.

Plan to go on a Wednesday or Saturday night and stay for the fireworks that start 10 minutes after the shows ends. Walk down the stairs and outside onto the south side of the pier for the best view.

A few words of warning: The Skyline Stage is open to the night air, so consider bringing bug spray and a sweater to ward off the mosquitoes and the chilly night air. Also, there is no intermission in the 75-minute show and the ushers claimed no one who left would be readmitted. So make sure everyone uses the bathroom before you go in. Cindy Richards

“Cirque Shanghai.” Pepsi Skyline Stage at Navy Pier. Call or check Web site for showtimes. Families. $14.50, $12.50 kids 3-11, free kids under 3. 848 E. Grand Ave., Chicago. (312) 902-1500, www.navypier.com.

Product Test: VZ Navigator System

Count me among the direction-challenged. Thus I was impressed and amazed by the VZ Navigator system offered by Verizon on newer model cell phones.

Verizon loaned us a Web-capable phone to test. I was intrigued initially by the “bathroom finder” function which seemed like a great tool for a traveling parent who hears, “but Mom I have to go now” while nowhere near a bathroom. The function is supposed to tell you where to find a bathroom listed by distance. Unfortunately, it turned out to be far less useful than that.

The Vindigo City Guide, a downloadable application available for phones with the “Get It Now” capability, really only works for big cities. And you have to know where you are—it’s easiest to operate it by ZIP code. But if you’re traveling, who knows what the ZIP code is? And it’s a lot easier to find a bathroom in a city than when you’re driving along a deserted stretch of highway and looking for the next exit. (On the plus side, it did offer some bathroom options I wouldn’t have thought of, such as the nearest Border’s bookstore.)

However, the VZ Navigator was terrific. This cell version of a GPS satellite system got me to southwest Michigan and back without a misstep. And it was relatively easy to figure out, even for someone who isn’t all that technologically adept. I wouldn’t attempt to do it while driving, however. This definitely requires pulling off to the side of the road.

Both features can be downloaded directly from a phone with “Get It Now” technology. And there’s no need to sign up for a two-year contract. VZ Navigator is sold by the month ($9.99) or by the day ($2.99) and is canceled by removing the application from your phone. The Vindigo City guide is $2.99 a month. Cindy Richards

Summer Fun in the Southland Contest Winners

Congratulations to our “Summer Fun in the Southland” contest winners!

These lucky Chicago Parent readers correctly identified one or more of the South Suburban locations in our contest photos.

Winners of Joliet JackHammer Tickets Dawn Kolous- Minooka Burman Family- Orland Park Aisha El-Amin- Chicago Shelly West- Crest Hill Ellen Hill- Orland Park Danielle Esposito- Wilmington Wanda K. Prescott- Chicago Jim Nicholson- Downers Grove Theresa McKeon Jones- Chicago Julie Bittke- Lemont Brandy Francisco- Bolingbrook Josie Lopez- Elgin Suzanne Snaidauf- Orland Park Karol Scott- Channahon Kendell Stachelski- Joliet Cheryl Lynn Milan- Brookfield Amy Stachaz- Romeoville Chris Kocol- Villa Park

Winners of Activity Passes to Hidden Cove Laura Kula- Grayslake Michelle Davis- New Lenox Rhonda Gray- Glenview

Winner of Kiddieland Tickets  Lina Kontopoulas- Elmhurst

Kids Eat Chicago

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