Friday, December 19, 2014

Gift a Tree or Park Bench

Looking for a unique gift for the person who has everything?  How about having a tree planted or a bench placed in a park in their honor?  It's easy to do and makes a gift that will last a long time and be enjoyed by many people during all seasons.  

Trees are available through the Park People website.  Costs run from $400 through $550, depending on the type of tree you choose.  There are a variety of trees- crabapple, japanese lilac, redbud, evergreens, maple, oak, birch, etc.  The trees are planted during spring and fall.  You get a brass hang tag that will be placed on a branch after planting and can usually choose the site in the park of your choice.  Wouldn't it be great to have a tree you can enjoy with your friends and family for many years to come?

Commemorative benches are also available through the Park People Website.  Prices start at $1900 for a steel bench.  Wooden benches made of fir are available for a couple hundred dollars more.  A brass tag will be placed on the bench. You decide what to write on the tag, and can also choose the park location.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Do the Domes for the Holidays

The Domes are always a welcome retreat, but even more so when the temps get colder.  You'll warm right up as you step inside!  Be sure to go for the Hawaiian holiday display inside the Show Dome to see a sea of poinsettias and feel the tropical inspiration.  The other domes are decorated with ornaments, so be sure to visit all three while you are there.

Admission is free to Milwaukee residents on Mondays from 9-12.  Otherwise, you'll pay $7 for the general public adult ticket and $5 for students.  They are open 9-5 on weekdays and 9-4 on the weekend.

There are a few vending machines with cold drinks and ice cream, but if you want coffee, you'll have to bring your own thermos.

You may have noticed that the new green houses have plants in them now.  This has been a huge improvement for Mitchell Park, because the plants you see on display can be grown in the green houses on site.  That hasn't always been the case.  WUWM did a great piece about the new green houses.  Check it out if you want to know more about them.  You'll also find out where the plants end up outside of the domes and who makes the magic!

On Saturdays, you can shop the Indoor Winter Farmer's Market at the Domes from 9-1.  This is a fun atmosphere where you can buy local goods.  Of course, the wares are somewhat different than what you'd find during a summer market.  Everything is local/regional, which means it's artisan breads, meats, honey, and other preserved goods.

This is a good time to become a Friend of the Domes.  By joining, you'll receive admission free all year long, as well as lots of other discounts, like 10% off in the gift shop.  Be sure to stop in the gift shop for local gifts.  There's such a great selection and it's jam packed with some very nice products and a wide range of books.  You can also become a Friend of Boerner Botanical Garden which has reciprocal membership to more than 300 gardens, including the Domes.  If you buy now, you can attend the indoor concerts every Thursday evening, called Music Under Glass, which run January through March and have something fun to look forward to every week this winter.

I'll leave you with a few more holiday shots.  Hope you get over to the Domes before January 4 when the display will change in the Show Dome.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ice Skating in Milwaukee

Strap on some skates and enjoy the ice rinks
We've had some warmer weather so far this month which means the only game in town for skating currently is Red Arrow Park's Slice of Ice.  That's not a bad thing.  It's a large rink complete with skate sharpening services, lockers, snacks, and even warm beverages.  Rink access is FREE.  You can rent skates there or bring your own.  Unfortunately parking is always kind of a drag.  You have to pay no matter where you park, unless you're already working at a nearby downtown business and looking for a noon hour exercise session.

Here's the scoop on Slice of Ice, which was voted as Milwaukee's best place for skating.  It's a refrigerated rink, so even if temps are warmer, they can make ice.  It can be open through early March if weather holds out.  The ice is groomed regularly so the potential for falling in ruts is lower than on other outdoor rinks.  Cost to rent skates is $8 for adults and $7 for kids.  Skate sharpening is $6 per pair.
Skating is fun for all ages.  There are smaller barrels to help the youngest who are learning balance.

Get a warm beverage from Starbucks, whether you're skating or just watching.

Some of the decorated trees on display through early January

S'Mores Week  (December 26-Jan4) is a fun time to visit.  When you're done skating, buy a kit to make your very own s'mores over a small fire.  $3 will get you a single serving or $10 will serve 4 people.  Hours for this treat are 2-10 PM.

When the weather gets colder, there will be a number of additional rinks at local parks.  If it's on a lagoon, there has to be 6 inches of ice.  If it's a manmade rink, it just needs to stay cold enough to hold the ice frozen.  For a complete list of county park rinks, check out this link.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Recycled Ornament Ideas from Cathedral Square Park

We took a drive around the city last night and spent some time at each of the decorated parks.  The lights are gorgeous!  I was so impressed with trees decorated by students at Cathedral Square.  The theme is Community Spirit Park.  60 schools and 2000 students are represented.  Most of the ornaments have been made out of ordinary household items that normally would be thrown away or recycled.  I was especially impressed with the use of lightbulbs, water bottles, and compact discs.  Who doesn't have those laying around?  Maybe you want to try some of these yourself or pin this post on pinterest to remember for next year.  Enjoy the photos and get over to Cathedral Square yourself in the coming weeks!

Click on any of the photos to begin a slide show that will take you through all of them up close.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

So Much Holiday Spirit!

There is so simply so much holiday spirit in Milwaukee this time of year.  I hope you find some time to enjoy the lights, music, outdoor displays and overall enchantment of the season.  It's easy to get swept away in gift giving lists and holiday "functions" that we can forget to enjoy the simple things.  Then....whoosh!  It's all over!

There's a great slide show currently running on the county parks website and just below it is a list of all upcoming events.  So be sure to check that. Don't feel bad if you missed out on some of the fun events that have been held, there are plenty more. Here's what I recommend before the season is over:

Get over to Cathedral Square and see the decorated trees that are done by community organizations and schools.  Remember when Christmas trees were much simpler and decked out with paper chains?  This will bring back some of that nostalgia.  Currently we're kind of lucky that there isn't a blanket of snow over everything, but I do hope we see some flakes for Christmas eve.  If you go at night, you can see thousands of lights in many colors.

Ride the Jingle Bus and see all the lights from the comfort of your seat.  Cost is $1.  The 40 minute trip is narrated by the Milwaukee downtown ambassadors who point out attractions as the bus takes you to see the holiday lights, both in the parks and on the streets.  Looking for easy parking?  Park for $3 at Grand Avenue Mall structure.  Then you can go inside the mall to see the singing bears and get your tickets.  The last bus ride will be December 28.  Rides run Thursday-Sunday from 6-9 PM.

Go ice skating at Red Arrow's Slice of Ice.  Do this at night if you can to fully enjoy all the Christmas trees that are lit and decorated.  Skating is free if you bring your own skates, but you can also rent them there.  They offer sharpening too, which makes skating much easier if you've had yours stuffed in a closet for a couple years.  Don't forget hot drinks and snacks in the Starbucks warming house.  The week AFTER Christmas is S'mores week.  You can sit around the campfire with sticks and roast marshmallows.  The park has kits for sale at $3 each which include everything you'll need to make the perfect s'more.

Enjoy flowers and maybe even some music at Mitchell Park Domes before January 4 when the Mele Kalikimaka holiday display will be replaced.  Here's a schedule of when you might find Santa and live music.  If you haven't done your photo greeting card yet, this is one of the best places in the city for gorgeous back drops.  Be sure to check out the gift shop for some Milwaukee themed items.

Learn more about Christmas past by stopping in at the Milwaukee Historical Society, located in Pere Marquette Park.  Admission is $5/$3.  They pulled out some real Milwaukee treasures and have them on display, and of course the building is simply amazing, no matter what's on display.

 BMO Harris Bank, located at 770 N. Water Street, continues the tradition started 42 years ago using Steiff stuffed animals to create a holiday display at their lobby.  This year's theme is The Nutcracker.  It's simply delightful, as usual.  They donate $5 to Feeding America for every visitor who comes this season.  You also get a free candy cane.

If you don't mind a drive, pile into your car to see Candy Cane Lane in West Allis.  Be prepared to wait in traffic as this draws a crowd.  If the weather is fairly nice, you can always park a couple blocks away and walk the route.  They accept and encourage donations which go to the MACC fund. There's also a creative Nightmare Before Christmas themed neighborhood in Bayview.  The link takes you to the Facebook page that tells you more about the project.  No matter what you decide to do, enjoy the season!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Must See Yards

Some people go to great lengths to decorate their yards for the benefit of the public.  I learned about a Bayview neighborhood that is all decked out in Nightmare Before Christmas themed items and took a look at it today.  There are 5 homes in a row, and each has unique wooden cutouts.  It's quite a sight, just in time for Halloween.  And I've heard that even after Halloween, the decorations at one of the homes on the block will continue to tell the story that closely follows the movie, so stop by between now and Christmas to see what evolves.  Here are some photos.  Check out the Facebook link above to learn more about the project.  It's in the 2700 block of Logan in Bayview.

Since you're in the area, there are a couple other yards that are nearby parks and have been decorated over and above for the Halloween holiday.  The first yard I've written about before, and it's been mentioned in the book, Weird Wisconsin.  It's across from Sheridan Park and is well known for the Cadillac, Big Boy, Hamburglar, and Farmall tractor in the front yard.  There is so much more though.  Here's what it looks like now with some added ghouls and pumpkins.  It's at the corner of Lake Dr. and Armour in Cudahy.
The last yard is on the edge of the Grant Park golf course.  This is a great time to head out to Grant Park anyway to stretch your legs and do the Seven Bridges Hike while the leaves crunch underfoot.  When you go to the end of Grant Park and find the golf clubhouse, take a right and go to the first house.  The yard is decorated with hundreds of bike parts. These photos don't do it justice.  Everything is very creative and original.  Every time I go there I notice something new.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Extra Perks of Boerner Botanical Garden Membership

Have you been to the Boerner Botanical Garden yet?  It's a lovely space with something colorful to see in all seasons.  It's actually free to get in now as it's the end of the season.  But I think you should have an annual membership, and I'll tell you why.

Members actually become friends of the botanical gardens.  It will cost you $35 for an individual or $65 for a family.  You'll feel good about supporting the local gardens, and you'll get 10% off in the gift shop and cafe.  You get to attend some events for free and receive discounts on classes.  But it doesn't end there.  You get reciprocal admission benefits to more than 300 gardens around the US, including nearby Mitchell Park Domes, Chicago Botanical Gardens, and Madison.  You can check the link for a complete listing.

I decided to see the Chicago Botanical Gardens this week.  Admission is always free, but you have to pay $25 for parking, so it saved me a bundle!  The pass is like a 'park for free' card. This is a huge park so if you decide to go, allow at least a couple of hours to see it all.  There is incredible diversity- everything from Victory Gardens to Japanese bonsai collections.  With every path you start, you'll find something to look at.  It's especially colorful in fall.  I'll just post a few of the many photos I took to whet your appetite, and hope that you make it there some day.  You won't be disappointed!

An enormous collection of gourds and pumpkins

Colorful cabbages and mums were placed throughout the park

Just one fine example of the bonsai collection- there are many others

My favorite space was the Japanese garden

Loved the waterfall surrounded by fall color

Interesting lilies in the pond in a variety of unusual colors

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Historic Fall Tours for Driving or Walking

It was a rainy day when I took this photo at St. Luke's Hospital

The fall color in Milwaukee is nearing 100% so you won't get much better than this week, if you're looking for some pretty trees.  A new place I've found is the top of St. Luke's Hospital on Oklahoma.  If you go through the main entrance and take the patient tower elevators to the 8th floor, you'll find access to the "Healing Garden", which is open to the public. It's a beautifully landscaped garden complete with mums and other plants.  There's a view finder you can use to see the lakefront. From the top of this garden, you can currently see a mosaic of color all the way from Miller Park to the Basilica.  On a clear day, it's quite impressive.  You may also notice Leon's Custard is just across the street so treat yourself after seeing the view.  Drinks and food are not allowed on the roof.

I've written before about the Milwaukee Parks Fall Color Tour, which is still a good idea.  You drive between parks, and then I encourage you to get out and do a little walking and exploring, if weather allows.  Lynden Sculpture Garden usually has a beautiful show of color as well.  The problem now is that we've had some rain and everything is pretty muddy.  I have a couple of historic options that are full of color, but will keep you on paved paths, and can even be pretty if you never leave the car (though I hope it doesn't come to that!).

Most people are unaware that the most diverse arboretum in the area is Forest Home Cemetery, which also happens to be listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.  With around 400 different species on 200 acres, it's pretty in all seasons.  You can download a tour map at their website.  Then you also need to print a corresponding copy of all the famous people, if you decide to seek out the graves.  The stones are quite unique and tell a story of Milwaukee's history.  Be sure to go by the bridge at the lake, which is quite scenic right now.  Normally, they allow dogs, but because there's a large geese population traveling through, it's posted that dogs are not allowed right now. Here's a complete listing of all places in Milwaukee County on the National Registry.

The other place I like to visit is the National Soldier's Home.  You can see some of the historic buildings peering out of the trees beyond Miller Park.  This is considered a National  Historic Landmark District, and they've created a walking tour you can download at the Save the Soldiers Home website.  It is also an app, which you can put on your smartphone.  The buildings placed here date back to mid 1800s, and were used as retreats for returning soldiers.  The grounds are full of mature trees, though many are across from the buildings in a park like setting.  Spend some time walking the cemetery and you'll likely learn a bit about veterans who are buried there from several wars.  You'll notice construction at several of the buildings, which is a good sign.  Take some time to read about what they are doing so you can truly appreciate this historic area.

A pair of swans 

If you want to venture further, there's the Basilica at Holy Hill at Hubertus, and the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive.  Both will take a half day to fully enjoy.  I climbed Parnell Tower on Friday and it wasn't at peak yet, but it is likely to be there today.  There are plenty of stops you can make along the way- churches, hiking spots, but only one grocery store.  Be sure to bring snacks and get a state park sticker, which is available at several places along the drive.
Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive

View from Parnell Tower