"Real Pirates" runs through May 27 at the Milwaukee Public Museum. (Photo: Bobby Tanzilo)

"Real Pirates" save the day

"Uh oh," I thought. "We may have made a mistake."

My family was seated in a darkened theater of the "Real Pirates"
exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum. The people in front of us were dressed as pirates for the occasion, and we could barely see over their furry tricorner hats. Our toddler was getting antsy, writhing in our laps and beginning to whine. We had purchased a $65 family four-pack to see this exhibit, which only runs through May 27.

"Should we just bail right now?" my husband whispered.

But then the movie began. We were transported from Milwaukee’s serene shore to the choppy, terrifying waves of the Atlantic 300 years back. We were introduced to the Golden Age of Piracy aboard the Whydah slave ship from London that was captured and plundered by the English pirate Sam Bellamy and his crew. Swimming in riches, these pirates headed for Maine to reap the rewards of their crimes on land. What became of Sam Bellamy and his mateys? Adults will be fascinated by this pirate history lesson!

For children, perhaps the best part of the museum’s Real Pirates exhibit is the re-creation of the Whydah. It’s complete with live pirate actors who engage the children in playful, pirate-accented banter. Kids can learn to tie nautical knots, touch actual coins that were discovered aboard the ship, and see a display of recovered pirate’s treasure overflowing with thousands of period coins. They’ll also enjoy seeing cannons and learning about John King, the spunky 10-year-old pirate who helped Sam Bellamy find wealth and infamy.

Adults who don’t know much about pirates – which is most of us, right? – will find themselves riveted by the politics and culture of a pirate ship. In a world plagued with widespread slavery and racial injustice, pirate ships were multicultural islands of equality and democracy. After signing or stamping an oath of loyalty, every ship member had an equal say and an equal claim to whatever riches were claimed.

Pirate ships were popula…

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The Urban Ecology Center's free toddler program on Earth Day.
The Urban Ecology Center's free toddler program on Earth Day.
The Urban Ecology Center at Riverside Park.
The Urban Ecology Center at Riverside Park.
Mr. Flower (Environment Educator at the UEC) knows a thing or two about leading big groups of small people.
Mr. Flower (Environment Educator at the UEC) knows a thing or two about leading big groups of small people.
The little ones discover nature.
The little ones discover nature.
We followed the Oak Leaf Trail towards Riverside Park.
We followed the Oak Leaf Trail towards Riverside Park.
Mr. Flower's enthusiasm for all things nature was contagious.
Mr. Flower's enthusiasm for all things nature was contagious.
The morning ended with simple nature craft.
The morning ended with simple nature craft.

Earth Day event reminds us that Urban Ecology Center is open year-round

There’s no better way to start off an Earth Day celebration than with a lively reading of "The Lorax," Dr. Seuss’s classic tale of businesses "biggering and biggering" at the expense of the whimsical Truffula trees.

And so began a magical morning for the Urban Ecology Center’s littlest participants.

Mr. Flower (that’s his real name) is the Environment Educator at the UEC. He knows a thing or two about leading big groups of small people. After a rousing story time and clever puppet show, it was time for a nature hike through Riverside Park.

We were led through a dim hallway towards the back entrance of the UEC, lined with perfectly hung skis, snowshoes, kayaks and binoculars. Mr. Flower informed us that members of the UEC get to use this equipment for free.

Outside, we followed the Oak Leaf Trail towards Riverside Park as bikers and roller-bladers zoomed by, passing under the new, earthy pedestrian bridge leading into the park. We looked back at the impressive climbing wall on the back wall of the UEC, available for public use at an affordable price.

The morning felt true to April in Milwaukee, sunny and chilly and beautifully brown. The little ones happily stomped through the mud and squinted into the sun.

Once in the park, Mr. Flower’s enthusiasm for all things nature was contagious. Leaving no log unturned, he pointed out crows, woodpecker homes and centipedes. The children gathered round to hear birds chirp on his nifty birdsong player. They scurried to see what critter he would catch next. They followed him into the prairie to hear tales of flowers that would soon be taller than he is. They’ll have to come back to see them!

Back inside, UEC staff ended their program with a simple nature craft, showing the children how to make bird-feeders out of cheerios and pipe cleaners.

Upstairs, the Earth Day celebration continued for those who didn’t have to go home for a nap. Children could pet live snakes, glide down the in-house slides, cli…

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Miller Park has a lot to offer kids of all ages.
Miller Park has a lot to offer kids of all ages.
To avoid sitting near the rambunctious people that resemble your former self, purchase seats in the alcohol-free family section.
To avoid sitting near the rambunctious people that resemble your former self, purchase seats in the alcohol-free family section.

Miller Park family fun guide

There was a time when going to a Brewers game meant tailgating, sunburns and beers – lots of them. But if you have young children and you’d like to enjoy a ballgame with them, those days may be over. Luckily, that doesn’t mean the fun has to end. Miller Park has a lot to offer kids of all ages, and families can easily enjoy a (sort of) stress-free experience at the stadium. Here are some suggestions for a smooth, fun-filled day at the ballpark.

Tip #1: Arrive early. Very early. At a recent matchup against the San Francisco Giants, my family and I arrived for a 7 p.m. game at around 5:30. It was raining, but we were able to park close to the main entrance and got in without much of a line or hassle. The wide open spaces gave our kid the chance to run around without bumping into innocent bystanders. Plus, he was enthralled staring out into the vast, empty stadium during batting practice.

Tip #2: Head for Bernie’s Clubhouse. Located on the Terrace Level behind home plate, this play area offers kids under four feet a place to wear themselves out before the game (i.e. they may actually sit in their seat for more than one inning once the game starts). Bernie’s Clubhouse is filled with slides, winding, colorful tubes and launching pads shaped as giant food items, perfect for climbing and jumping off.

Tip #3: For dinner, grab a kid’s value pack. The food stand adjacent to Bernie’s Clubhouse offers a Kid’s Value Combo for just $4. It includes a hot dog, soda, chips and a special treat, and comes in a clever, ballpark-themed box.

Tip #4: Make a Kohl’s sign and get on the jumbotron. Those cameramen seem to be suckers for the families who let the world know that this is their kid’s first game. Kohl’s signs are available on the first level behind right field.

Tip #5: Get a "first game" pin. Your kids can get a certificate or pin at the fan assistance center if it’s their first game. How cute is that?

Tip #6: Get seats in the family section. To avoid…

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