Kidventures: NEWaukee Night Market

Food, music, art, shopping, “activities” (as I sold it to Corban)… the NEWaukee Night Market is a free open air market that sets up one Wednesday a month from June through September on West Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee.

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Half our Wednesday evenings are spent with our church Community Group, so it never worked out for us to go last summer. But last month, the market finally fell on a Wednesday we were free, so I marked my calendar well in advance for it.

I’m so glad I did! It was energizing to see that area of downtown–not “bad,” but relatively lifeless for being in the heart of downtown–made vibrant by Milwaukeeans out on a beautiful weeknight enjoying a curated sampling of local culture.

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Had we not had Corban and Mara with us, I would have loved to peruse all the booths of local makers. From what I saw, it was like a classy craft fair, with people selling handmade items that appeal to modern taste.

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Instead, we said hi to Peter’s co-workers at the Pick ‘N’ Save nacho bar (only $1), ate fancy tacos, roasted marshmallows, danced to music, watched an ice sculptor and a painter at work and stumbled upon an outdoor story time hosted by the Milwaukee Public Library.

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I love events like this that are friendly to any age.

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There are two more Night Markets this summer: Wednesday, Aug. 19 and Sept. 16.

This was on my big list of summer fun. See the full list here.

Kidventures: Family Kite Festival

We’ve checked a few small things off our summer to-do list so far. Hit up the New Berlin farmers market, went to one of Peter’s softball games, bought tickets for SummerStage, booked a massage (for my birthday tomorrow afternoon!). A few other things are plotted out.

Fly kites at the lakefront was on the list, and the other weekend we did the next best thing: watched other people fly kites at the Family Kite Festival.

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It was a gorgeous morning to be at Lake Michigan, in part because there wasn’t much wind. Probably not exactly what the kite festival organizers were hoping for.

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But we were able to enjoy the sun and water.

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And a gigantic bubble machine!

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Corban took hold of my DSLR camera (with the strap around his neck) and shot some photos.

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I took some photos myself as we sauntered around.

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And by late morning, the wind started to pick up a bit, and the sky began to fill with kites.

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We left just as the crowds and wind were picking up, but it was still a perfect Milwaukee spring morning.

Summer to do list: 50 things to do in Milwaukee

Summer is perfect and yet so fleeting here in Wisconsin. So we try to stuff as much outdoor fun as possible into three months. I’m sure this will be even more intense once the kids are in school.

I’ve realized in the past year that it’s not only OK but good not to plan something for every day of the week. Our schedule fills up without a whole lot of effort, and on days when we have nothing planned I’m either relieved to have no pressure or appreciative of the opportunity for spontaneity.

On the flip side, it’s frustrating when activities we’ve been wanting to do slip off our radar because of lack of planning.

So this summer, I want to strike a balance between filling our days with friends and fun and taking a break to relax in our backyard. I want to be intentional about hitting up certain places and activities, and also leave room for impromptu whimsy. So I’m creating a list to help guide my planning in both areas, as well as a few other categories.

Here is my Milwaukee summer to do list.

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Kidventures

Weekday (non-workday) adventures with the kids and friends.

1. Milwaukee County Zoo. We got a zoo pass a few weeks ago and have used it three times already. I love our zoo as much as the kids do, and many of our friends do too, so I foresee this as a default activity on nice days.

2. Imagination Station. This fully accessible playground in Oconomowoc looks rockin’.

3. Farmers markets. Corban and I had a lovely date at the Tosa market one Saturday morning last fall, making me realize farmers markets are excellent spots for one-on-one kid time. This season I’d like to hit up Tosa again (live music, and it’s near train tracks), plus New Berlin (near a playground), Waukesha (on a river) and West Allis (huge). Here’s a map of all the markets in southeastern Wisconsin.

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4. Urban Ecology Center. Playground, nature center with turtles and snakes, trails and public art. Sounds perfect (minus the snakes, but Corban will love that).

5. Fox Brook Park. This Waukesha County Park has a lovely little beach and playground.

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6. Fly kites at the Lake Michigan shore.

7. Walk the Milwaukee Riverwalk and meet Peter for lunch at Bartolotta’s Downtown Kitchen.

8. Fox and Branch concert. This kid-centric music duo has a regular lineup of free concerts.

9. Wehr Nature Center. Hiked there for the first time a couple weeks ago and it is an oasis.

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10. Splash pads/pools. There are a bunch of options (this map isn’t even up to date), but I’d like to try tot time at David F. Schulz Aquatic Center, Cool Waters Family Aquatic Center (they open at 10 a.m., earlier than many pools) and any splash pad in our vicinity. We just finished a much-needed session of swim lessons for Corban so I want to keep him in the water this summer.

Activities at home

Quiet mornings, rainy days and other fun at home.

11. Backyard camping. Complete with campfire and s’mores. The sleeping part could very well be disastrous, but in that case we’re only a few feet from our beds.

12. Make play dough. Easy enough, right?

13. Make soap clouds. Trippy.

14. Balloon ping pong.

15. Marble race track. Judging by how much they love the golf ball tracks at Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, both kids would go crazy for this.

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16. Treasure hunt. Need to figure out the details of this.

17. Make popsicles.

18. Kiddie pool/sprinkler. Obvi.

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19. Yoga. Or at least play around with some kid-friendly poses.

20. Neighborhood bonfire.

21. Outdoor movie night. After the kids go to bed.

Weeknight fun

Forget bedtime. It’s hard to resist all these fun summer weeknight activities.

22. Pewaukee Lake Water Ski Club show. Every Thursday night. Waukesha has a water ski club, too.

23. Cheer on our church’s softball team, of which Peter is a member.

24. New Berlin Concerts at City Center. Haven’t made it to one of these free summer Wednesday night concerts yet.

25. NEWaukee Night Market. Music, art, food, etc. in the streets of downtown Milwaukee, four Wednesdays this summer.

26. River Rhythms. Free Wednesday night concerts at Pere Marquette Park. Somehow, I’ve never been to this. The lineup is excellent. (Side note, why is everything on Wednesday night?!)

Fam-ventures

Weekend outings to enjoy with the whole family.

27. Pewaukee Beach. Do some late afternoon beach bumming then grab dinner by the water.

28. John’s Drive-In. Just heard about this place, but a throwback spot with root beer floats sounds right up our alley!

29. Fishing at Greenfield Park.

30. Old World Wisconsin. We have never been to this step back in time. Might as well go while both kids are still under 4 (a.k.a. free).

31. Canoe the Milwaukee River. It’s worth it to join the Urban Ecology Center simply for the benefit of free canoe, kayak, bike (and more) rentals.

32. Green Meadows Petting Farm. A preschooler’s paradise.

33. Berry picking. We still have strawberries in the freezer from Barthel Fruit Farm last June. Best strawberries I’ve ever tasted. I wouldn’t mind going back this year, or heading up north a bit to pick blueberries.

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34. Bastille Days. In the city of festivals, I love that this one is a true street festival, with free entertainment and a mini-Eiffel Tower. And beignets.

35. Brewers game. Would love to take the kids now that they’re old enough to get excited about it. Corban went to one (vs. Cardinals) game so far this year and loved it.

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36. Wisconsin State Fair. I love everything about it.

37. Milwaukee Parks Traveling Beer Garden. Sip a pint of Sprecher while the kids play on the playground. Looks like it’s coming to Greenfield Park this year, yay!

Dates

Adult time, just the two of us or with friends.

38. SummerStage at Lapham Peak. The outdoor theater has several plays and concerts this summer. Looks like a good lineup to choose from.

39. Brenner Brewing Co. tour. I bought a Groupon for this, so we definitely need to check out this new-ish art-centric brewery.

40. Art Bus. Never done this, but have heard it’s a good time.

41. Biloba Brewing Co. Family-owned craft brewery in Brookfield.

42. Escape MKE. Another Groupon purchase. This is a timed mission where you’re locked in a room with a challenge to accomplish. Teamwork!

43. Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. We have tickets so need to go to a performance in June.

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Me time

Because there are things I like to do that Peter doesn’t.

44. Summerfest. We’ll be out of town for more than half the festival this year, but there are bands I wouldn’t mind seeing every night that we will be in town (not that that’s feasible…). Let me know if you’re game for some music!

45. Massage. I now have two gift certificates for massages, and I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to carve out time for myself to use them. So it’s on the list.

46. Bike the New Berlin Trail. It’s been a long time since I’ve biked, but I’m itching to get out there once again.

Road trips

Our kids are not at great ages to travel, but we’re doing it anyway.

47. Door County. Booked! Peter and I have our first solo getaway planned since we became parents. Can. Not. Wait. We are staying at an adults-only B&B/lodge in Ephraim, Wis.

48. Camping. Ideally, this will happen twice: mid-summer via a canoe trip on the Lower Wisconsin River (a.k.a. paradise. It is beautiful.) and early fall with a group from church.

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49. Branson, Mo. Family reunion time. Waterpark. Theme park. Hiking. Cousins karaoke night. Etc.

50. Colorado. A house rental impulse buy with friends at a live auction, but I don’t think we’ll regret it.

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Would you look at that, an even 50!

I know that’s a lot, and I don’t expect to do it all. I’d just like to consult this list as we plan out our summer and as we find ourselves with free days. Nothing wrong with plain old playing with toys at home or walking to the neighborhood parks, but Corban and Mara do a LOT of that, especially when I’m at work, so this is my counter to that.

Bonus: I didn’t put this on the list because we’re doing it today, but hiking and picnicking at Minooka Park is also a great summer activity!

More resources: 50 things to do in Lake Country this summer | 100 things to do in Wisconsin this summer | Things to do for free or under $5 with kids in Milwaukee | 50 family fun spring break ideas13 rooftop spots to check out

What’s on your summer to do list? What else should I add to mine?

Summerfest with kids

Summer is like a highly competitive sport in Milwaukee. The goal of the game is to cram as many festivals and as much outdoor fun as you possibly can into three short months (give or take). It’s fun, but exhausting. I like to think that winter (a.k.a. the season of hibernation) is a necessary break in order for our wild and energetic summer to be possible, but it might be the other way around (likely summer is the necessary break in order to keep us from going insane/moving away during winter).

The festival of all festivals is, arguably, Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival, held on the shore of Lake Michigan for 11 sacred days each June and July. It’s 12 hours a day of live music on 10 stages, with acts covering every genre. I’ve enjoyed Summerfest as a high schooler (road tripping up from Chicago with friends several summers to see the likes of Guster and Ben Folds), a newcomer to the city (busing in from bars, popping over on your lunch break, just wandering with no particular act in mind to hear… these are things locals do) and as a journalist (this is the first summer in six years I’m not shooting videos, meeting bands and running around like a madwoman covering the Big Gig — kind of sad!).

But this year, I decided to experience Summerfest as a parent. There are plenty of folks who I’m sure would not dare to bring their kids near the world’s largest music festival, and I don’t really blame them. But I’m crazy, so even after the friends I invited couldn’t make it, I hit up Summerfest with the kids Friday afternoon (yes, solo). It was a blast.

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The logistics (perhaps this is helpful for others thinking of taking little ones to Summerfest):

Timing: Morning is prime time for kids, but, unfortunately, Summerfest doesn’t open till noon. So my plan was to get Corban to nap earlier than usual and arrive mid-afternoon, hopefully when crowds were still smaller. We arrived at 3 p.m., which, on a Friday, was starting to get pretty crowded, but on another weekday probably wouldn’t have been as packed.

Parking: I wasn’t about to pay $20 for parking, so I found a metered spot on Water Street in the Third Ward. It was about a 10-minute walk to the gates, but only cost $3 for two hours. The downside was I had to be back by 5 p.m. sharp, because Milwaukee parking folks don’t mess around. I once watched a meter lady write me a ticket literally the second my meter expired as I was racing to my car.

 

Tickets: Kids under 3 years old are free (yay!) and I had a free ticket from work (woo hoo!) but normally weekdays before 4 p.m. are $11. Good deal.

Stroller: I opted for the single stroller (City Mini), with Mara (10 months old) in the Ergo, figuring once we got to the grounds Corban (2.5 years old) might want to walk, so I could switch Mara to the stroller. I am so glad I didn’t bring our double stroller. It was difficult enough navigating the crowds with the single stroller. There was also no way Corban would be walking any distance on his own – he stayed safely in the stroller most of the time, and I was perfectly fine keeping Mara snuggled on me (it’s fun to dance with a baby strapped to you!)

Activities: There are quite a few kid-friendly activities. Corban would have spent our entire time there at the splash pad by the mid-gate. There’s also a playground area and a few designated stages with kid shows. They have paddle boats, a skyglider and a (new this year) Ferris wheel. Here is more info on all the kids activities. During the day, I like to just wander up to stages and check out bands I’ve never heard of, so I tried to get the kids on board with that. They’re young enough that they didn’t know any better (for the most part).

Our adventures:

We walked right in the gate to the tail end of the Summerfest parade – cute, but massive crowds. After popping by the Johnson Controls World Sounds Stage (one of the few spots under a roof – good to know in case of rain), we headed over to the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage and sat down to listen to a band called Friendly People.

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Corban was more interested in people watching (can’t blame him). He was still coming to life after being woken up early from his nap.

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Mara might have been the only one in the audience dancing (although you wouldn’t guess from this pic).

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Friendly People were near the end of their set, and Corban actually climbed back in the stroller – a definite sign it was time to move on. I consulted my Best of Brew City app and saw that Kohl’s Wild Theater was happening (an animal-themed show), so headed toward the opposite side of the grounds. After passing the splash pad, though, Corban started freaking out and attempting to escape from the stroller, asking to go to the fountain, so I complied.

He stood on the edge of the splash pad for probably 10 minutes just watching the other kids run around while I small talked with another mom.

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Finally, he dipped his toes in, and I began to worry I’d never be able to pry him away from the water.

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The promise of a “special treat” finally, miraculously got him back into the stroller, and we walked over to the KNE New Music stage (a small stage showcasing mostly local music) where the Land the Big Gig contest 2nd place winner, Doozey, was playing.

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(The guy in the yellow is this amazingly ridiculous man whom I see EVERY year dancing his heart out at different shows. I swear, he’s everywhere at Summerfest. It was good to see him still doin’ his thing.)

Doozey was so much fun! I loved their music and they knew how to work the crowd. Corban wasn’t going to forget his promised special treat so easily, though. Sil’s Mini Donuts was nearby, so we split a small order fresh out of the fryer while watching the show. The best.

Eventually, Corban noticed the Ferris wheel behind us and asked to go up in it. Sure, why not?!

I thought he might be scared, but he loved it. We both did, actually.

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The views from the top were gorgeous.

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Scary selfie, but Corban looks too cute not to share.

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After that, our time was up, and I had to race as fast as I could back to the car before the meter expired. Corban wasn’t happy about leaving, and, frankly, neither was I. I debated just feeding the meter, but once we were at the car I was too exhausted to push my luck and head back in. Better to end on a high (literally) note.

Though not for the faint of heart, Summerfest is definitely doable with kids. Earlier in the day is better and going with your spouse or a second pair of hands is preferable, but I would totally go back even alone with the kids. I’m hoping my next visit is with adults though!