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Posts Tagged ‘Traveling with kids’

  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. 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!

  4. In Racine, Head for Z’s!

    September 12, 2014 by admin

    A recent trip to the Racine area left us hungry and ready for lunch.  Our pre-trip research had suggested a place named Z’s might be a good choice, so we pointed ourselves in the right direction and went to check it out.IMG_7443

    We’re glad we did!

    Z’s Grill and Custard is a Wisconsin custard stand with a few twists:  They are open all year round and they have way more than custard on their menu.

    IMG_7440Z’s opened a few years ago with a goal of transforming a seasonal custard stand into a year round restaurant.  But even though Z’s offers traditional local fare like burgers and dogs, they also incorporate the owners’ family favorites like hummus, tabbouleh and house-made soups and chili.

    What a delight to be able to walk into a place on the outskirts of a town and order a vegan wrap, or a grilled cheese on a fresh pita!  Everyone in the family found something they loved.

    We were impressed immediately by the friendly service.  The warm greeting we received was a fantastic start.  The Staff were happy to answer any questions.  They took care of us and made sure all our food was to our liking.

    Z’s prices are quite reasonable also.  Our total bill was right in line with our typical Saturday lunch bills.  Kids and adults were happily fed and we’re looking forward to stopping at Z’s again the next time we find ourselves in the area.

  5. Backroads Bonus: Pockets in Aurora, IL

    August 24, 2014 by admin

    It can be hard to find a good place to eat when traveling.  Many places we consider are either too expensive, not at all nutritious, or lack vegetarian/vegan options.

    And then there’s the trick of convincing the kiddoes to give a new place a try.  On some days they are very adventurous and eager to check out a new menu.  Other IMG_7408days they want the satisfying security of going to a known restaurant.  We can easily fall into a pattern of seeking out the short list of national and regional chains that offer foods we know our kiddoes happily eat.

    But we are also working on expanding their palates, as well as encouraging their eagerness to try new places.

    We found great success with this endeavor on a recent jaunt to Aurora, Illinois, where we discovered Pockets.

    Pockets is small chain in Illinois featuring a menu built around the idea of… pockets!  Pitas, calzones and stuffed potatoes make up the bulk of their menu.  But they also offer salads and pizza, along with soups and a few sides.

    IMG_7406Pockets hit all the marks for us: cost, nutrition, vegetarian/vegan-friendly, and kid-friendly.

    Upon entering, we were most pleased to read on the Pockets’ board, in big letters,  “Veggies Only? Subtract $1.20!”  Typically, we are charged the standard price of a meal whenever we request the removal of the meat.  We knew that we were in the right place when we’d finally save money for being vegetarians/vegans!

    Pockets bakes their whole wheat bread fresh.  Their kids meals come with a choice of fresh fruit and the kids pizza is on whole wheat crust in the shape of a dinosaur!  You can choose from the standard menu or you can build your own meal.

    Our food arrived within 15 minutes and we dug in.  Everyone ate up to the very last crumb.  We were completely satisfied and very impressed. The total bill was equal to our family’s typical charge for eating at one of our favorite chains.

    So now the only question that remains?  When will a Pockets open in Madison?


  6. Galena, Illinois

    August 22, 2014 by admin

    IMG_7248Many of our friends in the Madison area have recommended that we visit Galena, Illinois.  “Oh you’ll love it.” they said.  So we thought we’d give it a try.  We can certainly recognize the appeal of a trip to Galena. It does have a lot going for it, with numerous small shops and antique stores.  But for our frugal, adventurous and exploring family, this town fell short of ideal.

    Just about 1 1/2 hours from Madison, Galena is a great day trip distance at the end of a pleasant route. We rolled into town and promptly missed the road we needed. Perhaps we just weren’t being observant, but our take-away was that there seemed to be an annoying lack of informative signs.

    Thankfully, Galena has a nice Chamber of Comnerce with clean bathrooms. The friendly staff got us headed in the right direction for our first destination, the West Street Sculpture Park (WSSP).  Based on the reaction of the employees at the Chamber (one didn’t know where it was), we quickly deduced that this wasn’t a popular site.  But it should be!IMG_7252

    WSSP is about a 1/2 mile up a steep incline just outside of the main shopping district and it is well worth a visit!  The artist, John Martinson, has filled the wooded property with large scale sculptures.  There are about 2 acres of land and art to explore for no charge, though donations are welcome.

    Tip1:  WSSP is not handicap accessible and doesn’t have defined walkways.  There are no restrooms or parking lots.  Street parking is plentiful.

    Our family had a great time hiking through WSSP.  It greatly helped revive and refocus our spirit after the car ride into Galena.

    We then headed into the main part of town.  Immediately, we assessed what was in store for this next part of our adventure.  Main Street Galena is a tourist town with boutique shopping as its primary focus.  Street parking is available but if you roll into town late, you are going to struggle to find a spot outside of the pay lots.

    We headed for a toy store we’d heard about, thinking this would be a great place to take our Bluey.  After heading the wrong way up Main Street (again- maybe some signs would help here?),  we finally found the shop.  But the inventory was mostly high-priced collectible toys, not the thing for our five year old.

    We found an ice cream shop and refueled for a further explore of the downtown before lunch.

    IMG_2144Planning to stretch our legs on a walking path that bisects the city, we wandered into the Old Blacksmith Shop.   Here, our Bluey was fascinated by the free demonstration of metal work.  The smith was very informative, talking about the process the whole time he worked and informing everyone of the science involved in shaping steel.  We highly recommend stopping at the smithy!

    Heading back to the walking path, we were thrilled to discover a fallen tree that we could examine and climb.  After rolling down the grassy hills and walking along a raised wall, we headed away from the expensive main street restaurants for lunch.

    Tip2: There are numerous parks and river walkways in Galena.  We highly suggest that you pack a picnic lunch if your family is vegetarian/vegan.  The local Culvers does not offer their typical veggie burger and most restaurants in town are focused on meat.

    Overall, Galena seems best suited to an older, or more monied crowd.  But the sculpture garden and smithy were definitely popular with our family.  We managed to have a good time by finding the places that most people were passing over.  But we really don’t think that the average family with younger kids will greatly enjoy Galena.

  7. The Tablet

    July 9, 2014 by admin


    Part of our continuing series: Traveling With Kids


    We recently added a new tool to our traveling arsenal when heading out on a long trip-  a computer tablet!

    We were gifted a used tablet and have found that by relaxing our stance on electronics in the car, we have a new item to help make the trips go smoother.  We loaded the tablet with games and some movies that meet our criteria for educational value and non-violence.  We find our Bluey really appreciates this new part of the traveling repertoire.

    Now part of the lead up to a longer adventure includes the possibility of a new game to try out, so our kiddo is even more excited about the road trip.

    We have created a few rules about the tablet, so that it doesn’t overtake our usual traveling experience:

    1. The tablet never comes along on shorter trips, so we can continue to build our appreciation of experiencing rides together.

    2.  We have an understanding that when TRMom or TRDad say the tablet must be set aside for a time, there are no arguments.  This allows our kiddo to get back to his other car activities that stimulate other parts of his mind: looking out the window, playing with Legos, drawing, singing and interacting with the rest of the family.

    3.  No headphones!  We don’t want our kiddo retreating from the trip entirely, so we insist on no headphones.  We’d rather tolerate a few quiet blips in the background and be able to talk with Bluey as we like, than have him checked out completely.

    We find our longer jaunts highly enjoyable since this piece of tech has joined our family.  Our kiddo looks forward to each new adventure.  And he continues to be just as likely to spend a half hour during the trip playing with his stuffies, or fiddling with a Rubik’s Cube, as opposed to exploring on his tablet.

  8. The Secret Garden

    June 29, 2014 by admin


    As much as we love finding new places to go on our jaunts, we frequently find ourselves returning to a spot we have already visited.  It’s a great opportunity to explore further— to follow that hallway you didn’t investigate, to climb that hilltop to see the view from up there.

    IMG_6507We recently returned to Delaney’s Surplus.  It’s a cluttered shop of various spare parts, abandoned equipment, and such.  We had a great time there on our first trip, but our visit was in the middle of winter and quite cold.  So we hadn’t explored the big back open lot with large items, too numerous, or too dirty to bring into the shop.  This time, we went in early summer in order to peruse the outdoor area.

    And were we glad we did!

    We found lots of cool things outside:  huge bins of door knobs, candleholders, giant crystal plastic lampshades for street lights, strange wired pieces that would make great trelises for our garden, and much much more.  Not only that, we stumbled upon the secret entrance to Dr. Evermor’s Garden.

    Dr. Evermor is legend in these parts.  His metal sculptures made from repurposed scraps are found all throughout the Wisconsin area.  Driving up to Devil’s Lake or Baraboo brings many people past the front of Dr. Evermor’s garden, with it’s giant birds and other odd creatures guarding the gates.  The gates which are IMG_6534always  closed.

    We have long wanted to visit Dr. Evermor, but we never found the garden open.  Until we found the back door.

    Around the back of Delaney’s is a short path connecting it to the sculpture garden.  Follow the path and you will find yourself surrounded by small metal insects, gigantic birds, dinosaurs and, of course, The Forevertron.  The Forevertron is a massive piece, the center focus of the garden.  It is amazing.  Can it launch you to the heavens using magnetism?  We’re not sure, but it is awesome to see.

    Our inventive, artsy, tinkering family loved walking around the many sculptures and finding the hidden treasures tucked here and there.  We’re sure we’ll go back and attempt to see the things we may have missed.

    And this trip to Delaney’s will remind us to really look around each time we go somewhere , whether we’ve been there before or not, and to explore and discover the hidden bits that we might not otherwise see.

  9. Destination: Neenah

    June 22, 2014 by admin

    IMG_6438We recently discovered the wonderful city of Neenah, Wisconsin.  We’d never even really heard of Neenah before, although we’ve been many times to other cities in the Fox Valley.  We recommend you check out this destination.

    We headed up there to visit the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass.  The museum is located in the former Bergstrom residence in a very swanky neighborhood of Neenah, along the Lake Winnebago shoreline.  After a brief review in the car about ‘looking but not touching once inside,’ we went into the museum.  We were enthusiastically greeted by a docent on the front steps, who made sure to remind us to check out the upper level.

    Tip:  Admission is free with a note about a suggested donation.  There are restrooms but no other services.

    We were impressed right away to find that in the lobby there was a hands-on display!  The kiddoes played with colorful glass triangles on a light table, creating their own little art works, before we headed into the main museum.  And there we found another hands-on display inviting us to use paintbrushes to manipulate glass sand into designs of our own making.  What fun!  We hadn’t expected to be able to touch anything in this museum, but we were pleasantly surprised.  IMG_1953

    After viewing dozens of glass paperweights and beautiful artworks, we were surprised again to find that the museum gift shop had small glass items for sale that were very suitable for young patrons.

    You won’t spend a lot of time at this museum, but it is well worth incorporating into your day trip!

    IMG_6418Directly across the street from the museum, we discovered a fabulous park and playground.  Located right on the waterfront, Riverside Park features a rocket-ship themed play area with a giant rocket climbing structure, moon cars, and more!  The kids tired themselves out before we headed for lunch.

    Downtown Neenah hosts a lively farmers market and has numerous fun shops and cafes along Wisconsin Avenue.   We had a quick lunch and grabbed some ice cream before heading home with the whole family asking when we’d come back to Neenah.

    We look forward to our next trip to this city- what unexplored treasures await us?  The lighthouse? Another cool park?  We’ll let you know what we find.

  10. Map App

    June 13, 2014 by admin

    chicago-days-inn-melrose-park-mapIn our transition to smart phones, we find the mapping apps to be real lifesavers, especially when only one parent is in the car.

    We will always be big fans of traditional paper maps. We love how they show a wide and detailed perspective of part of the world. We love their old school simplicity. We love their tactile nature.

    But we have found that our phone app maps are indispensable when traveling solo, as recently happened in our family when only one parent could take the kids in and out of Chicago.

    Google-maps-iconWhether encountering construction delays or making a wrong turn, the mapping apps we use (GoogleMaps and AppleMaps) help us avoid having to pull over, locate ourselves on paper, and determine a new course.  It’s much simpler to find our position through satellite on the phone app and automatically get a new route, or see our options. And thanks to street views and 3D images, it’s also relatively easy to determine exactly where we are and what direction we are facing.iOS6-AppleMaps-icon

    With two parents in the car, we typically run a standard driver/ navigator dichotomy that works very well for us.  In that situation, we lean towards paper maps with a mapping app as our back up.  But when solo on the road, we can’t express enough thanks for our mapping apps!