We visited Mitchell Park Conservatory (The Domes) in Milwaukee this past weekend (http://county.milwaukee.gov/MitchellParkConserva10116.htm). It wasn’t a totally frugal outing forus because we are not local. We had the additional expense of gas and a meal eaten out. However, many cities have conservatories or public gardens that are wonderful thrifty destinations for family outings.
Our visit to the domes was perfect for this time of year because it was an indoor activity that felt like an outdoor activity. It was a sunny day so the temperatures inside the domes were perfect for giving the impression that we had escaped to somewhere warm and sunny! Mitchell Park Conservatory consists of three distinct domes linked by a large lobby. There is a tropical dome with water and some huge palms and other specimen trees. There were places to sit and the sound of water and the smell of tropical blooms and fruit. It felt good to sweat again! Click on the following link for a two minute tour: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ce4g2nSbC_s&feature=related.
Another of the three domes is a desert habitat. This dome was my favorite. I loved the architectural quality of all the plants. I liked all the textures and the alien feel of the place. It is totally different from anything I experience at any time of the year in the Midwest. I think that is the essence of any vacation or getaway—that feeling of being somewhere totally different from your ordinary life. The desert dome also was worth the modest entrance fee.
The third dome is used for changing seasonal displays. We were able to take in the a train show there while we were there ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfYH2EJSoBM&feature=related) . This dome is also set up for other programming, such as music and light shows (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqGaa24uUSY) . The train displays spilled out into the lobby. The setups were very fun and detailed. The more you looked, the more you would see. The Lego train layout inside the display dome was especially impressive, and it was only a quarter of its total size!
After visiting the domes, I had the feeling that I had been away for a weekend rather than a few hours. That feeling of compressed time is a sure sign that you’ve gotten the most from your time away from the ordinary. Begonia
We are having our annual February thaw here on My Little Farm in Town! That is just southern Wisconsin in the winter—a little false spring and then back to winter again for a couple of months!
We took the opportunity last weekend to do some snowshoeing in Donald County Park before the snow melted too much. (We will probably have some more snow, but it won’t be of the same quality as the early winter snow cover.) I remembered to bring my camera with this time and thought I would share some of the pictures I took of the landscape, including Donald Rock and Big Springs with you today. (See my Jan. 9 blog, Snowshoeing in Donald Park.) Begonia
We volunteered as a family at the Wisconsin Garden Expo (http://www.wigardenexpo.com/) yesterday. It was a nice change. There were crowds of people, plants, fountains, seeds, and all manner of garden ornaments! We served with another couple in the Donald Park information booth, answering questions about the park and what it has to offer. Many people had never heard of the park and wanted directions and information about what they could do when they got there.
Together we shared information and met a lot of people. My daughter invited people in answered questions, and talked about things you could do in the park—so much for homeschoolers being socially backward! My husband gave a lot of directions as to how to get to the park.
We’ve been volunteering at Donald County Park individually and as a family for the past 8 years in various capacities as trail stewards, blue bird house trail recorders, poetry trail maintenance people, prairie seed collectors, Tuesday work crew workers, and helpers on various archaeology projects.
We’ve had some very good times and stored up some very pleasant collective memories as a family over the years. One of the wonderful parts of volunteering for events is that you get a free pass and usually free parking. When you are not volunteering, you get to explore the whole event.
My daughter used the volunteer opportunity to earn another point toward her 4-H Silver achievement award. My husband got ideas for outdoor projects. The high point for me was finding open-pollinated peony seeds (for only $2 per packet) and instructions for how to propagate them from seed. I also found enough free information to plan new Frugal Family activities for the rest of the year! Begonia
Snowshoeing is an activity that even the youngest member of the family can do well from the minute they strap the snowshoes on their feet. If you can walk, you can snowshoe.There is almost no learning curve. You can start enjoying yourselves and the great outdoors immediately!
Snowshoes have metal crampons in their bottoms so you can climb icy and snow covered slopes. Steep declines are like skiing on pillows. If you fall down, it isn’t hard to get up.
We have been snowshoeing county parks (free!) as a family now that we all have snowshoes again. This Sunday we chose to explore Stewart County Park in Dane County, Wisconsin for our weekly family outing. This is the oldest park in Dane County and is in the process of being rejuvenated. We chose a new trial in the lower part of the park that crossed and recrossed a stream filled with watercress that eventually rejoined an older trail that took us up into one of the parks' prairie areas.
I just bought my daughter a new pair of snowshoes after Christmas for under $100 on clearance from Sierrtradingpost.com. You can spend a lot of money or very little, but generally, the cash outlay to get started snowshoeing is small compared to other winter sports like skiing or hockey. Many manufacturers sell starter kits that include snowshoes, poles, gaiters, and a carrying bag for a reasonable price.
There used to be two basic types of snowshoes: Bear Paws (round snowshoes) and Alaskans (long ovals with tails). Both were made of wood and leather, and the bindings were sold separately. Now there are many types for a variety of forms of snowshoeing from mountaineering to trail running and day hiking http://www.sierratradingpost.com/lp2/snowshoes.html . The bindings are now part of the snowshoe, and the snowshoes are made of light, strong, space age materials. You can learn enough to make an educated buying decision by visiting just a few manufacturers’ sites (Tubbs, Atlas, Redfeather to name a few).
Snowshoeing is quiet and allows you to get into areas of parks that you might never see in the summer, AND THERE ARE NO BUGS! You don’t even need a trail to snowshoe. (If you are sharing a trail with cross country skiers, however, be considerate and stay out of their tracks.) Snowshoeing is also great exercise.
No special clothing is necessary. (People who enjoy off-trail snowshoeing sometimes wear gaiters to keep snow from falling in the top of their boots.) In most cases, getting chilled is not a problem unless it is an extremely cold day. Layer your clothing so that you can shed garments as you warm up. If you are snowshoeing with young children:
Pick shorter routes and stick to trails until you know your children’s limits.
Warm boots that keep snow out are important.
Snow pants and a winter coat keep little ones dry.
Pack an extra pair of dry mittens and socks to replace wet ones.
Check small hands and feet periodically to be sure they are warm enough.
Bring a snack and some water if you are going to be hiking far.
All that is required is a snow cover of 6 or 8 inches. You do sink into drifts, but the snowshoes spread your weight enough that you can climb out of them. I like to use poles when I break a trail or tackle really deep snow. I use cross country ski poles, although they do make special snowshoeing poles.
There is nothing like winter in the woods. One of the best ways to enjoy it and your family is by snowshoeing together. Begonia
We are all pretty much dug out of our snowdrifts now! The city crews are still moving snow in other parts of town, but they cleared most of the snow from our street and curb last Friday. Homeowners are responsible for digging out their driveways, walks, and the sidewalk and any fire hydrants in front of their houses.
It was pretty amazing to watch them haul away dump truck after dump truck of snow. They use one of the biggest snow blowers I’ve ever seen. For those of you who live in sunnier climes, I thought a few pictures of the cleanup might be interesting.
By the way, this snow blower can fill a dump truck in about 45 seconds! Begonia
It’s been a tad frigid here in Wisconsin on My Little Farm in Town. It is that time of the season. It is also that time of the season for football—playoffs. My husband was happy to have family time at home this week.
We had been entertaining friends and their families a couple of nights this week with make-your-own-personal pizza suppers. I had plenty of leftover toppings, crusts, and salad, so pizza was on the menu. One friend left us with ice cream and the other with brownies so we had dessert covered as well! (Thanks again!)
I know that I am unnatural, but I really don’t care for football that much. The ratio of physical trauma to entertainment value is skewed a bit too far toward “blood sport” for my taste—I do enjoy the funny commercials, though. It all works out in the end. We all sit under a blanket on the couch and eat pizza and brownies with vanilla ice cream. To pass the time between commercial breaks, I crochet or comment on the size and condition of various players. (“Wow! He sure is big. I didn’t know a leg could bend in that direction!”) The other members of my family actually follow the game. I ask my husband who is ahead every once in a while and judge by his mood at the end of the game whether or not the Packers won.
The important thing is that we all had a good time together. Stay warm. Begonia
This past Sunday afternoon, we went down to Lock and Dam No. 11 in Dubuque, Iowa, to view eagles. We have done this other years as well with varying results as far as numbers of eagles seen. Eagles can be found in our part of Wisconsin in the winter anywhere there is open water after the rivers and lakes have frozen over.
The colder the weather, the more water is covered with ice. The more ice, the more eagles congregate near the open water below locks and dams.
Other years, we have viewed the birds during Eagle Days in Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin, below the hydroelectric dam on the Wisconsin River. The city has created riverside viewing areas, and there are always educational displays, lectures, and raptor demonstrations by wildlife rehabilitators at one of the local schools. http://www.ferrybluffeaglecouncil.org/eagledays/index.html
This year we saw two birds along the divided highway on the way down to Dubuque, three near the lock and dam, and one on the way home! The reason for why there were so few birds around the locks became obvious as we walked along the top of the bluff overlooking the lock and dam and the river in Eagle Point Park. (We could see pockets of open water several miles upriver. (The river is about a mile wide behind the lock and dam at this point. Pickup trucks pulling ice fishing shanties onto the river ice looked like matchbox cars. This summertime picture should give you an idea of how wide the river is at this point. http://outdoors.webshots.com/photo/1409402321000603324OEaiqJ
If you are interested in viewing eagles in your state, check out this website: http://www.baldeagleinfo.com/eagle/eagle1.html it has a lot of great information for a great family outing! Dress warm and bring along some hot cocoa, binoculars, and your camera. Have fun! Begonia
P.S. In researching images for this blog entry, I came across this incredibly neat wildlife photo site. Enjoy!
One of the resolutions we made for the year 2011 was to try to make Sunday afternoons family time. It is January and both property and quarterly income tax time, plus there isn’t much snow and the wind chill is below 0F! What is a frugal (aka just about broke) family todo? Answer: Look around for a free indoor activity that will interest everyone.
If you have a university near you, be sure to check their website for free activities they might have to offer your family. The University of Wisconsin Madison is within easy driving distance of our little farm in town and has a lot to offer. In the summer, there is the Allen Centennial garden, Picnic Point, Indian mounds, Lake Mendota, and there are a couple of museums that are open all year.
The museum we visited this Sunday was the Chazen Museum of Art (http://chazen.wisc.edu/home.htm). It cost us a little under $2.00 to park in a nearby ramp, and it was a short walk to the museum. Admittance was free, and it was open until 6:00 p.m. which made it an easy place to visit on a Sunday afternoon. The featured exhibit was illuminated manuscripts. If we had wanted, we could have stopped here, but we decided to move on into the main galleries.
A note of caution: If you are concerned about your children seeing the undraped human form, you will have to be highly selective in most art museums. Our child is of an age and stage in development that we were comfortable taking her through most of the museum. There was one area of the collection that we decided wasn’t appropriate, and fortunately, it was easily bypassed.
There are literally thousands of Indian mounds in southern Wisconsin. The mounds where built long ago by indigenous people in many shapes and sizes. Some are linear or look like small round hills, while others are shaped like turtles, buffalo, jaguars, and eagles. There is even a man-shaped mound! (http://saukcountyhistory.org/manmoundpark.html )
Many state, county, and city parks and historic sites in southern Wisconsin contain mounds. If you go to see one, keep in mind that they are Native American sacred places and many were burials. Don’t walk on the mounds or dig in them. Respect them as you would a grave.
When we visit mounds as a family, we usually bring a picnic lunch and dress for hiking with stout shoes; a walking stick; and depending on the time of year, a hat and/or a jacket and sun and/or bug protection.
Some mounds are near parking areas and some require a hike. Viewing mounds in city and county parks in southern Wisconsin is free. If you want to see mounds situated in state parks, you will need to buy a day pass or an annual sticker depending on your state. Be sure that you obtain permission first if you want to see a mound that is on private land.
We recently visited one set of mounds and another that are reproductions as art near the Wisconsin River. We saw linear mounds in a wooded area (where we were nearly carried off by bloodthirsty mosquitoes) near the Battle of Wisconsin Heights site. The reproduced set of mounds are located in August Derleth Park between the small cities of Prairie du Sac and Sauk City along the Wisconsin River. (This area is also known for the number of Bald Eagles that can be viewed here year round.) We had a nice walk on paved trails along the river, interspersed with prairie restorations and lovely river views.
I check the events section of my local newspaper every week for frugal things to do as a family. Subscribing to your local newspaper is a good idea. The money saved on even one or two frugal outings can more than pay for the cost of the subscription.
One of our local historical societies offers free lectures and activities regularly. (One that we attended a year or so ago was about cave drawings!)
Last weekend we attended a reenactment and rededication of a local historical site: Fort Blue Mounds. It was built during the time of the Blackhawk War when this area of the state was just being settled. It was abandoned, rediscovered, bought by the state and dedicate, forgotten again, and finally excavated and rededicated (Whew!).
We sat on a beautiful little piece of what was once prairie on a sunny day with a nice breeze and listened to stories of pioneer times told by a historian and reenactors and learned what life was like then. One of the local TV stations filmed the event, and we got to watch them work, too. It was both interesting and entertaining. Keep an eye on your local paper and have some frugal fun. Begonia
We threw the canoe on top of the van and visited a local park with a shallow lake and lots of fish and wildlife late Sunday afternoon. The lake is in a county park with prairie, woods, and lots of hiking trails within a 20-minute drive of our town.
We haven’t had the canoe for long. Both my husband and I have had childhood and young adult experience with canoeing—nothing extensive, just dabbling in paddling (I know—groan!). I started watching for an affordable aluminum canoe at garage sales in my area a couple of years ago. We decided that we didn’t want to pay more than $300. I ran across 3 or 4 canoes a year, but they were always too beat, too cheaply made (plastic!!!!), too expensive, or too SOLD. I finally found a craft that fit all our criteria last fall at the end of the garage saling season. We took it out once, and then it spent the winter perched upside down on our wood and garden storage box.
Many parks in Wisconsin feature water. We have been to almost every park in our area and hiked all the trails, but we’ve only been able to stand on the shore and squint through binoculars at the life on or across the water. We now have 20-50% more park to explore! The canoe allows us to see a new side to these familiar parks: different sights, sounds, plants, and animals. For example, Turtles—I’ve seen them sunning themselves on logs or slipping back into the water from shore. During our last outing, we could see them in mid-lake sticking just their pointy striped snouts up above the water to take a breath and look us over. We were also able to get a closer look at the water birds: Canadian geese, mallard ducks, and even an osprey fishing.
We will be vacationing close to home this year as we continue to pay down debt. We have a lot to appreciate locally for just the price of gas and a snack in most cases. We don’t have the expense of eating out or finding someone to take care of the “livestock.” We are usually home in plenty of time to close up the chicken coop and make supper! Begonia
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