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‘Jaunts’ Category

  1. Horicon National Wildlife Refuge

    September 7, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2111Horicon National Wildlife Refuge is a place of wonder.  Located just about 1 hour from Madison, it is a super easy day trip for a hike or a bike ride upon your arrival.

    We had decided to bike and made our first vehicle stop at the Federal Visitor Center on Headquarters Road for some suggestions on the best path for our family.  We were pleased to discover a nice nature display, an observation deck, a small gift shop, and clean bathrooms within the Center.

    The Center’s guide suggested that we try a bike path that runs along side an auto tour road.  This path included access to a network of floating pathways which led out into the wetlands and a central observation spot. We have the most luck on our hikes and biking when our travels include water, so we knew this was probably a great trail to explore.

    Tip1: Be careful to examine your maps closely. In our haste to begin, we ended up on a path that shared the way with vehicles. The majority of drivers were using extreme caution, but a few zipped down the path with seemingly no care about the blind corners, hikers, and bicyclists.

    We were happy that the bike trail had only a few rises that Bluey easily managed. We had to leave our bikes to explore the floating pathways.

    Tip2: There are no bike racks at the head of walking-only pathways. Be prepared to take valuables with you and to leave your bike propped off the main road.

    The surroundings were breathtaking. We’ve done a lot of biking and hiking in the areas in and around Madison. But we were impressed with the beauty of Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.  And we had more wildlife encounters than we’ve ever experienced in our prior outings.  If you aren’t familiar with many species of water birds, you may want to tuck a pocket guide in your gear.  You will have a chance to see many rare birds in a wildlife setting such as this.

    Tip3: It appears that dogs are allowed on many trails but we’d suggest you leave them at home if you are interested in experiencing wildlife.

    Even though we spotted a school bus, vehicles, and others out and about on the trails- we managed to enjoy the majority of the area we chose on our own, without fighting crowds. Parking wasn’t an issue and access is free.

    We can’t wait to go back in the Fall and perhaps witness some migratory bird viewing!

  2. Surrounded by Molds

    February 1, 2015 by admin

    IMG_9969 We wanted an adventure on a recent weekend that was somewhere new and something unique.  It took a bit of research as we’ve already been to a ton of places within a two hour radius of our home.  But perseverance uncovered what we hoped would become a very interesting day trip.

    Just outside of Sparta is the FAST Corporation.  The company makes fiberglass statues and when they are done with a mold, they store it on their surrounding property with the hope to reuse it at some point.IMG_2765

    Tip1:  A sign at the entrance cautions that molds are favorite nesting spots for wasps in the spring.  Since we visited in the dead of winter, this was not an issue.

    When you first pull into the free parking area, your eyes are drawn to the welcome sign and a small grass yard with some abandoned statues.  We had a moment of worry that this was all the corporation had to offer.  And then we did a 180 and realized that we were surrounded by molds of all sorts and sizes.  Let the adventure begin!

    Tip2:  There are no public restrooms on the property during the weekend.  You might be able to use the FAST restroom during business hours.

    Our family spent a transfixed hour romping among the molds.  We saw everything from dogs to dinosaurs to indians to ET, the extra terrestrial.  It was oddly peaceful and a lot of fun to try and guess why someone would order something like a gigantic devil’s head.IMG_2766

    Even though we were dressed properly for a winter outdoor explore, the weather certainly influenced the amount of time we spent here.  We imagine you could easily take two hours to walk around this property in the warmer months.  This TR family is eager to return and discover molds we may have missed on our first visit to FAST!IMG_9988

  3. Discovery World

    January 11, 2015 by admin

    We were recently gifted with a membership to the Discovery World Museum (DWM) in Milwaukee.  We immediately started making plans for a visit.  We’d been to this museum before, so we knew it would be a great trip.  In fact, our kids had been asking when we’d get to go back!

    Tip1:  DWM has very steep admission prices.  If you don’t have a membership, you’ll need to plan ahead for the expense.

    We started our exploration of the DWM at the science and biology end of the building- a three story wing that faces Lake Michigan and offers amazing views along with great interactive displays.  We particularly love the Great Lakes map exhibit where you can actually make rain fall from the ceiling.  And our Bluey greatly enjoys scrambling around on the full sized boat on the 2nd floor.

    IMG_9770In the basement level, a top-notch aquarium can keep you mesmerized for quite some time.  There are jellyfish to watch, and sting rays and sturgeon fish that you can touch!  They feel like… well, that would be telling. You’ll have to find out on your own. 😉

    Tip2:  A snack before romping through the DWM’s 2nd wing is a great idea.  There is only one small, overpriced cafe at the museum.  We recommend you enjoy your own snacks from home!

    At the other side of the building, you’ll find the technology in Wisconsin wing.  It holds fabulous displays on various machines that have been developed and built in Wisconsin- from Evinrude engines to Les Paul guitars.  There are countless devices to manipulate and learn the science and technology that went into making them.

    Also within this wing, The Kohls Design Center allows you to take a break from the museum exhibits and create various arts and crafts projects – for FREE.  A team of assistants will help you find all the materials you need to make a unique craft that you can take home from the museum.IMG_9768

    Exploring the entire DWM will easily take all day, if you can last that long.  If possible, we recommend you break your enjoyment of the DWM into several separate day trips.

  4. Science Expedition

    December 14, 2014 by admin

    IMG_2549For Bluey’s birthday expedition this year, we surprised him with a trip to the Museum of Science & Industry (MSI) in Chicago.  It was quite a day and a great trip!

    We don’t often go on day trips of this magnitude (a 3 hour drive each way!) – but a special occasion calls for a special event!  We told Bluey and Plum about the trip a few days in advance so they’d both have time to prepare and get excited.  And it worked!  Our whole fam was stoked about this adventure.  None of us had ever been to MSI before, so we didn’t know exactly what to expect.  But everyone was ready!

    A few well chosen stops along the way fueled our spirits and we arrived at the Hyde Park neighborhood museum just a  few minutes after it opened. We were surprised that MSI was already getting quite full of visitors so early in the morning.

    Tip1:  MSI offers parking in an underground lot for $20 a day.  There is NO reason to pay this fee.  We found free street parking within a stone’s throw of MSI.  Just read the street signs carefully.

    IMG_9118We typically visit museums on the weekend, so we were a bit thrown by the number of school groups.  The nice thing about dealing with school groups is that the students are supposed to stay with their leader.  So in a museum this large, we found it fairly successful to blitz past the students and find other sections of the museum to explore.

    And boy, is there a lot to experience!

    Tip2: We spent a long time at the Museum and probably only saw about half of it.  We recommend taking time before your visit to map out exhibits that are important to you.  Then come back a second time to explore the areas you missed.IMG_2541

    We began at the ToyMaker3000– an automated toy machine that will create a personalized gyro-top souvenir for $5.  We figured this would become quite crowded later in the day and we thoroughly enjoyed having it to ourselves first thing in the morning.  The  assembly of the gyro-top was fascinating to watch and it was even more fun to play with the toy later that day.

    Tip3:  We absolutely recommend you get a free map from one of the information kiosks!  There is a ridiculous amount to experience, spread out over 4 levels.  You’ll need a map to guide you from one exhibit to another.

    We took a break midday for a meal from the MSI food cafe.  The choices were plentiful but pricey.  We highly recommend you pack your own food.  In good weather, you can eat on the lovely lawns surrounding the museum.

    After lunch, we saw a few more exhibits.  We also visited the gift shop.  There are not a ton of lower price point items and in retrospect, we recommend purchasing the gyro-top and skipping the gift shop.  We then we headed home, exhausted but happy.

  5. Lake Mills

    October 3, 2014 by admin

    IMG_7974We recently headed out to a nearby city’s library book sale. It was a beautiful Fall day and even though we had never been to the city of Lake Mills, the idea of an exploration along a country road was enticing enough for this TRFamily.

    Tip: Why not slow down and explore that place you always just drive through on your way to somewhere else.

    IMG_7990The library is an impressive stone building that was constructed in the late 19th century. It is situated right off the city’s Commons Park. The book sale was held in a small house owned by the library on the back of the property. At $2 a bag of books, we were quite pleased to rifle through the offerings. In addition to our bags of books, we scored a good supply of FREE books on tapes that include Arthur stories and a German Language series for kids.

    IMG_7996After the sale, we decided to look for lunch. There was a smattering of cafes across the green space and we headed that way. Timber Creek Pizza Co seemed a great choice and it didn’t disappoint this sometimes picky family. They have tons of choices at fantastic prices. Service was friendly, accommodating, and fast.

    Full of good food, we decided to explore the Commons Park and its massive band shelter before heading home. But on the way out of town, Rock Lake Park on County Rd B caught our eye. It offered a small playground, a fun hand operated water pump drinking fountain, and a secret tunnel passage. It was a great way to end our visit in Lake Mills.

    No matter where you live, there is probably a town or area that you haven’t really investigated. Give it chance.  Get out there and explore!

  6. How Do You Like Them Apples?

    September 28, 2014 by admin

    IMG_2310Fall!  One of our favorite seasons in the TR family.  The air is cool and crisp!  Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner.  Bugs are dying by the truckload!  And apples are ready for picking.

    FullSizeRender.jpgWe love apple picking.  We look forward to it every year.

    Walking through rows and rows of trees, seeking out the perfect pieces of fruit that we can take home, is a memory none will soon forget.  And when you find that perfect apple, and take a big bite standing under the tree it grew on- well that’s just out of sight!  It’s a great combination of outdoors activity, good eats and good fun!

    With our bounty of apples we’ll make pies, tarts, and maybe applesauce?  Who knows?  We have plenty of apples to work with.

    Our orchard of choice is Door Creek Orchard.  They have a great selection of different varieties of apples in a beautiful, hillside setting. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the prices excellent.  They also have cider and grapes available and Black Welsh Mountain sheep to admire.IMG_2313

    If you don’t live near Madison, find your own local orchard and give it a try.  You’ll come home with  tons of fresh fruit and good stories, too!

  7. Make The Best Of It

    September 26, 2014 by admin

    IMG_7431Everything that we set out to do as a TR family doesn’t result in astounding success with high fives all around. A few of our adventures fall just short of the mark, and some others are utter failures. But we never give up. We have found that if you don’t allow yourself to take some risk, you won’t reap as many rewards.  And one point of heading out on a jaunt is to spend time together- we can always find a way to pull some fun out of any experience!

    We recently headed out to the town of Racine, WI. We had read that their local art museum (RAM) was hosting a fairytale inspired exhibit. And then we discovered that Racine has a small Heritage Museum that is free to visit. Sounded like a great combination for a day trip!

    But it didn’t quite work out that way…

    After paying to gain admittance, we found RAM was smaller than we had hoped and the fairytale exhibit was a bit esoteric for our kids.  But we had a great time when we discovered an unexpected display on pop-up books- including some titles we all recognized.  We also enjoyed an avant garde clothing display, where everything was made from recycled food containers (like juice boxes and sugar packets that were sewn together.)

    Nonetheless, we didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time at RAM and headed up the street to the Heritage Museum.  This museum also not very big, nor particularly geared for kiddoes.  It didn’t take us long to cruise through their exhibits.  Soon enough we found ourselves back on the sidewalks of Racine.

    But our eyes are always open for an unexpected treat, and our family is accustomed to the fact that not every jaunt is going to knock it out of the park.  When we head out to an unknown place, we tell the kids quite clearly: “We don’t know what to expect.  We’ve never been here before.”

    Knowing our proximity to the Lake Michigan shoreline, we looked for a chance to continue exploring Racine in that direction.  We found a parking spot near a marina and walked along the pier for a bit.  We also stumbled upon a little memorial to the Underground Railroad.IMG_2170

    Recharged with some fresh air, we headed for the S.C. Johnson Company factory.  An architecturally unique building, designed in part by Frank Lloyd Wright, it seemed like a fun place to visit.  But it was not to be– tours are permitted only when scheduled in advance and are talking tours aimed at adults only.

    Ah well.

    We decided that it was time for lunch, knowing that some food would help everyone refocus.  We found a fantastic meal at Z’s and finished up our trip to Racine.

    By keeping our spirits up, and our eyes open, we were able to take aways some good memories of Racine.  When our research turns up some more places to check out in that town, we’ll head back.  And if it doesn’t work out– we’ll still find a way to make it a worth while trip.

  8. The Lego Store

    September 21, 2014 by admin

    IMG_7865It’s no secret that we love Legos at our house.   So on a recent Saturday we decided to check out the Lego Store!

    We don’t often make a whole day of a shopping expedition, but once we discovered there was a Lego Store near, we knew nothing could stop us from going!

    What had a great trip!

    The Lego Store is just chock full of Lego sets.  We loved being able to check out sets we don’t usually get to see, from high end Mindstorms to smaller sets from the Hobbit that we’d never spotted at our local stores.

    We especially loved the small, free building stations spread through the store which encourage young builders to explore and create while shopping.

    The whole family loved picking out an assortment of loose pieces to fill a roughly quart-sized bin to add to our collection at home.  The store staff was very helpful here, offering tips on how to get the maximum number of of Legos into the container.

    IMG_7862We picked up a Lego brick separator (which hard-core Lego fans will love having!) and our first Lego Technic set to build when we got home.

    If you have a Lego fan in your home, you won’t be disappointed if you track down your nearest Lego store.

  9. Summerfield Zoo

    September 14, 2014 by admin

    Do you ever have those trips where on the way home, everyone starts asking: “When can we go back there?”  We love those moments.

    We recently had an experience like this at a zoo not far from Madison- the Summerfield Zoo.IMG_2197

    The Summerfield Zoo is located in the outskirts of Belvidere.  This family-owned zoo offers refuge to rescued exotic animals, along with a collection of wonderful farm animals.

    We were impressed by the large variety of critters- from hyenas to alligators to several types of large cats and more!  Many of the animals are housed in a large barn-type structure, with windows looking in on each animal’s stall.  Some of them, like the fennic fox, were extremely interactive with us.  Others were mostly sleeping (or ignoring) the people coming through.  We loved getting to see so many animals up close, many of which we had never viewed before.

    Outside the barn there are many small enclosures with even more critters, as well as big fields with the herd animals on display.  Meeting reindeer, horses, and donkeys was a lot of fun.  Most of the animals ouside were very friendly and eager for human interaction.IMG_2213

    But the highlight of the day was the Animal Encounter.  At this event, guests gather at a small semi-circle of chairs while the zoo handlers bring out an assortment of smaller animals.  We were even allowed to pet some of these furry friends!  Most of these animals were babies, and watching them play and eat was a real treat.  The animals shown in the encounters change regularly, so you never know what critter you’ll get to see.


    A porcupine loving his sweet potato.


    We had a great time at the Summerfield Zoo and are eager to return.  Knowing that the entry fee is used to support all these rescued animals makes it even easier to plan our next trip.

  10. FermiLab

    August 31, 2014 by admin

    This TRFamily loves an off the beaten path adventure.  When we heard about FermiLab in Aurora, IL, we knew it was right up our alley!  We packed some snacks and the roadtrip car bags and headed out.IMG_7381

    The FermiLab (Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory) is a US Department of Energy facility and home to a large underground particle accelerator and several other high energy and physics experiements.

    Finding the lab was easy- it’s right off the main road going north out of Aurora.  We checked in at the guard post and were a little surprised to find that we would be free to explore the campus-like grounds (if we followed their rules:  only certain areas and certain floors).  We headed first to the Wilson Building- a fifteen story office tower that dominates the landscape and over looks the main accelerator.

    IMG_7390The 15th floor of the Wilson Building offers views of the campus along with many explanatory models of the science projects being done at the lab.  We loved looking out at the full view of the grounds and all the many outbuildings associated with different projects.  The property hosts a herd of bison on the grounds, but on the hot day we visited they were all seeking shelter out of view.

    Next we visited the hands-on Lederman Science Center.  This small building houses dozens of activities and experiments for families to show some of the work being done at the Fermilab. Most of the activities educated, in various different ways, how molecules and atoms work.  Everyone found a favorite activity there- from simulated particle collisions, to working remote trucks, to cosmic ray showers.IMG_7394

    There is more to the lab that we didn’t explore, including a dog park and a history display showing what the area looked like before the FermiLab moved in.  A family with older kids and/or more time available could spend most of the day exploring these grounds.

    It was definitely one of our stranger trips.  But we thoroughly enjoyed our time at Fermilab.