Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Last Hurrah for Summer

We went to Bradford Beach today because I was determined to try out those sea kayaks before they got put away for the summer.  Wheel Fun Rentals has a kiosk at the north end of the beach, and the prices have been lowered compared to what was advertised on their webpage.  SUPs are $12, kayaks are $11, and double kayaks are $17. We took a double kayak out for about an hour and managed to get all the way to McKinley beach before we turned around.  It was a nice view with the big white stones along the shoreline.  We saw plenty of birds, the water tower, Villa Terrace, and people out enjoying the sunshine.  The rentals will be put away after next weekend (Labor Day), so if you want to try out a SUP or a kayak, this is the last week. You will get wet.  The waves come over the sides and through the bottom.  I'd leave anything you don't want to get wet on shore (like phones and cameras).  We saw a couple of brave ladies trying the SUPs and it's just not that easy with the wave action, but it was only a matter of time before they were up and down the shore.  If you don't have the confidence for Lake Michigan, go to Veterans Park and they have calmer water with SUPs and kayaks, as well as pedal boats.
We took out a double kayak

Look for the Wheel Fun Rental sign

You can stand up or sit down on the paddle board

There were not many people IN the water, but a lot of fun was being had on the beach.  It was all about togetherness.  We saw families carrying coolers, and building sand castles.  There were college and high school age young people playing games and daring each other to get in the water.   There were a few people just relaxing in the sand with music or books. Plenty of volleyball nets were in use. We made our way through snap chatting, instagramming, face booking fun seekers.

A group of guys was playing a game I hadn't seen before so we stopped to see how it was played and they graciously let Omar play with them briefly and then let me take a photo of them.  Some day they are going to look at that photo and think about how great they looked in the summer of 2015!
Learning to play spike ball

The entire spike ball team (Omar sneaked in too- thanks guys!)

Another set of young men were standing on the shore looking at the frigid water.  They told me they were all off to schools next week so they were enjoying the time they had left of summer. I coaxed them in the water for a photo, but they assured me IT WAS FREEZING!!!  I guess the lake just isn't going to warm up this summer.    
Don't they look like they are happy to be together?

We built our own sand castle and headed over to North Point Custard for fries and sundaes- kind of a summer ritual.  We found a group of three seated with a banana split in between them.  What better way to end the summer than with a beautiful tasty creation like that?
There were lots of rocks and beach glass to adorn the lump of sand we made
Eating a treat like that takes teamwork!

So what's on your list to do in the next week?  Make this summertime count.  Find some fun with friends and make a few memories. If you need a little help, scroll through the blog or check the county parks Facebook page

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Forest Home Cemetery Tours

Tours are led by volunteers who can spin a good story

It's been awhile since I last wrote about Forest Home Cemetery but it continues to be in the news-this time with Huffington Post.  A writer talks about haunted sitings, and does a pretty thorough job of covering the history too, so it's worth a read.

There are still a couple of tours left before the leaves turn brilliant colors for fall, usually by mid October. This is one of my absolute favorite places to go in fall because of the variety of trees, and because of that I have written about it under my blog entry for historic fall tours.   You can download a map for self guided tours here. 
Just a sample of what you see in October

If you have not been there, put it on the list before snow falls. You can follow the cemetery on Facebook for up to date additions, but they have two more tours scheduled for September, and sometimes there are "haunted tours" available around Halloween.  I've just copied this from the main website.

Saturday, Sep. 12- Civil War History at 2 PM
Sunday, Sep 13- Milwaukee Beer Barons at 2 PM

All tours start under the awning of the Halls of History building.  Tours are free and guided by a number of knowledgeable story tellers/historians.  All of them donate their time, but they do accept donations.  Dress in comfortable shoes because you will be doing a bit of walking over uneven terrain.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Ride a Seven Seat Bike...and other Fun Bike Stuff in Milwaukee

This Saturday I took a food tour via Seven Seat Bike Tour.  This was my second tour on a seven seat bike and it was so much fun.  I took my sister along this time, because fun like this should definitely be shared!  Last year, there was a tour through Lake Park where the owner, Shlomo, talked about the ghastly history of the east side, which I included in my post about The Milwaukee Bucket List.  He still offers that tour, but I have to say the food tour was my favorite so far.

We met in the Third Ward at the corner of Water and Chicago.  There's a parking structure right there so you can put your car away for about $5 while you head out on a bike for 2 1/2 hours. One of the seats is for the guide who will be in charge of steering and braking.  It's actually quite easy to pedal, though because the pedals are in a circle, you may have to watch your toes when you pedal so they don't hit another pedaler. There's a small cage in the center of the bike where you can put a small backpack, phone, camera, or anything you might want to purchase.  I brought my son last year and he was about five feet tall and could reach the pedals, so kids could do this.  On Saturday, we took 2 bikes out on tour to visit 5 restaurants.  I felt a bit like a celebrity as we made our way through the Third Ward because a bike like this does draw attention.

Our first stop was at La Scala inside the Italian Community Center where we got bruschetta, french bread, calamari, and eggplant strips with a dipping sauce...all served on white linen tablecloths.  We had about 20 minutes, so there was time to look through the building at the amazing historic photos of old Milwaukee and use the bathrooms.

From here we made our way to Kasana, and were greeted by Ana Docta, the owner.  I've read a lot about this place because Ana is doing stuff which is unique and wonderful.  She attempted to start a line of healthy vending foods a few years back, but sadly Milwaukee was not ready to give up its love of junk food yet.  Her restaurant is not to be missed though- especially the twist on weekend brunch which includes frittatas, blueberry pancakes,  banana french toast, quesadillas and burritos.  Everything is made from scratch.  You can read more about Kasana and Ana in the Feb 2015 M Milwaukee Lifestyle Magazine.   We had goat cheese tapas here and purchased a fruity sangria to accompany it.  Drinks aren't included in the price of the bike tour.

Sushi was next on the menu at Screaming Tuna.  The cool thing about this place (besides the great sushi) is the view.  You're outdoors on the river so if it's a beautiful day (which it was), you can enjoy Milwaukee riverside. If you've never tasted sushi, I think you'll be surprised that it doesn't really taste fishy.  They do have options which include vegetables rather than seafood too.

We were ready for dessert, so we pedaled into Walker's Point for a couple delectable truffles at Indulgence Chocolatiers. They always have a tray of samples out for shoppers so we were able to try a dark sea salt chocolate.  Some of our group paid extra to try a pairing of chocolate with whiskey.  They also do pairings with local beers, wines, and cheeses.  I didn't think chocolate could be more fun to eat...but they kick it up a notch.

Finally, as though we needed an extra sugar rush, it was a stop at Red Elephant.  Known for chocolate in many forms- cheesecake, truffles, bars, drinks, and even custard.  We all chose a scoop of custard and could eat it inside or out on the sidewalk.  I always think some of the best people watching is outside in the Third Ward, so we went outdoors on the patio.

Sadly, the ride came to a finish.  We were not overstuffed or sweaty.  It was just the right length of time with the right amount of food.  This is a great way to see the town.

There are a couple other unusual events coming up related to biking in Milwaukee.

Connect 53212 is a Bike Fashion Show which will show you that bikers can be cool and cool looking.  This is being held at Dream Bikes on Martin Luther King on Saturday, August 29 at 7 PM.  Suggested donation is $5.  If you bike, there will be a bike valet.  The organization hosting this Connect 53212 promotes biking, busing, and transit use.

Ciclovia MKE is a bike event to promote biking in our community.  The Bike Czar does a much better job of explaining the event, so I'll provide the bike czar link.  Meet Saturday, August 29 from 11-3 at Cesar Chavez and Washington St. It will be a car free public space.

You can find other bike events at the Milwaukee Bicycle Community.  And here's a fun link for more amusing bike stuff- cute fashionable bike wear and a blog called Bike Pretty.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Tree Climbing Experience

Go Climb a Tree!
As part of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation's free gift to the community, we climbed trees at Riveredge Nature Center yesterday while the nature centers were offering free education, entertainment, hikes, and fun. If you're not participating in the free gifts each month, you're really missing out.  The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is donating a free activity to the community every month this year, which has included free admission to the Domes, free transit rides, free outdoor concerts, and updates to several parks in the region...along with other gifts like a pair of snow leopards at the Milwaukee Zoo.  You can check out their website link each month to find out about the current month's gift.

We had never been to Riveredge, and though it's more than half an hour away, I felt it was well worth it.  Similar to the Schlitz Audubon Center, there is an admission charge to use the trails.  The nature center has plenty of educational displays and a gift shop.  Educators are on hand to help with activities.  It has a unique tree climbing experience I haven't seen elsewhere.  In their forest, they have ropes strung through the treetops which climbers use to pull themselves to the top.  Climbers are in a harness the entire time, so it's safe enough to feel secure letting hands go and have some fun with it.  Many of the kids were hanging upside down or swinging. My 10 year old son needed some extra help, and Jessica, the executive director, was on hand to help him with an assisted climb.  One of the ropes has pulleys so an adult on the ground can help pull the person into the air, making it possible for people of all abilities to give it a try.  As you can see in the photo above, he had a blast!
Each climber is fitted with safety gear

Jessica helps Omar use the ropes to pull himself up

Jessica helps Omar climb using an assisted climb rope

These climbers get up really high!

There are still several opportunities for their open climbs, which are open to all ages.  You can also schedule private events like team building or birthday parties.  Here's the calendar I cut from their web page.  You need to arrive a bit early to complete some paperwork, then hike out to the forest area, which is just a short hike.
  • Saturday, Aug 29: 3-5 pm
  • Saturday, Sept 12: 3-5 pm
  • Saturday, Sept 26: 1-3 pm
  • Saturday, Oct 10: 12-2 pm
  • Saturday, Oct 24: 12-2
You might also want to join the youth tree climbing club.  Though there aren't many meetings left, you could see how it's done and join the group next year.  After meeting the volunteers who were out helping yesterday and speaking briefly with Jessica, I get the impression that these are people who love the outdoors and really want to share that love with others.  It's especially important for our kids who spend so much time disconnected from nature because of technology.  Everyone should have an opportunity to get dirty, chase bugs, find frogs, and dance in the sunshine.  This is just the place to make that happen.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Nature Centers Free Saturday!!!

Menomonee Valley Urban Ecology Center

Looking for a last hurrah to end the summer?  And would you like it if it was completely free?!  I love free, and I love that the Greater Milwaukee Foundation offers a Free day at our nature centers to celebrate 100 years of service to our community.

Visit Schlitz Audubon Nature Center on Saturday between 9 and 3.  There's a complete schedule of activities at their website.  Expect lots of outdoor fun like hikes, science projects, a trip to the ponds, and of course meet the resident raptors.  While you're there hike to the top of the tower for a great view of the lake.
Get hands on with snakes and turtles

Mequon Nature Preserve is also open for free with a special event thanks to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. Their outdoor activities run from 9-5 and include an obstacle course, petting zoo, games, face painting, live music, and tractor rides!  Hurrah!

Food trucks will be at both Schlitz Audubon Nature Center and Mequon Nature Preserve, so come for the whole day and eat there if you like.

All three of our Urban Ecology Centers will also be participating from 9-5, though there normally isn't any admission here.  The activities they ordinarily charge for will be free.  Try the climbing wall and slide down the secret slides at Riverside.  Walk through the Arboretum to the river and try a kayak. Canoe on the lagoon at Washington Park and check out the pocket parks. Learn about the bees that live on the green roof at Menomonee Valley branch and hike out to the Three Bridges Park behind the building to see the amazing views of the valley and painted murals.
Have you ever touched a snake?

Kayaks will be in the water on Saturday

Climb the wall at Riverside Park

River Edge Nature Center at Saukville is also included.  Though it's a bit of a drive, this is one place where you are encouraged to climb trees, and that makes it worth it in my opinion! They use harnesses, so it's not as scary as you might imagine.  You need to preregister if you plan to climb.  Be sure to check out the link to the nature center for details on fairy home building, geocaching, tile painting and river exploration...but especially for PARKING DETAILS.  There is another event so you may need to park at Fireman's Park in Newburg.  While there, be sure to check out the baby sturgeon project.

This is going to be a great weekend!  Get out and enjoy it!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Milwaukee has Family Friendly Beer Gardens in Parks

Estabrook Beer Garden has pretzels as big as your face
It's been a few months since I wrote about the Milwaukee area beer gardens opening for the summer, and sadly, we're down to the last weeks of the season. We visited beer gardens at Estabrook and Brown Deer Parks while we had visitors in August, and I can tell you it did not disappoint.  The Sprecher traveling beer gardens end September 7, but some of the others will run until the weather gets too cold to be outdoors.

There are still many folks out there who haven't had the beer garden experience yet.  It's just a great way to have some cool beverages and snacks in the outdoors.  Sometimes there's music. It gets you into some of the parks in a totally new way.  Then it's up to you to have fun.  It is family friendly. You don't have to drink alcohol to enjoy them.  The Sprecher's beer garden has all your favorite Sprecher's drinks, ice cream floats, and beer popcorn which are crowd favorites. Check the schedule of where you'll find them until they pack up for winter.  There are special 30th anniversary events being planned for August 28 and 29, which include a variety of musicians.
Have a soda and a pretzel with mustard or cheese

Go to the river and enjoy the view at Estabrook

Bring a soccer ball and make your own fun
Sodas and popcorn at the traveling beer garden

Bring your own frisbee for some active play

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Aquatic Centers for kids, dogs, yoga, and swimmers

Most summer camps ended this week, and that means parents will be looking for fun things to do in the last couple of weeks left before school starts.  We were at Schulz Aquatic Center at Lincoln Park earlier this month and it was busy, but not overcrowded.  If you don't get there early, chairs and umbrellas are difficult to find though.  There seem to be fewer inflatable tubes than in previous years, so you may wait a few more minutes to go down the lazy river or slide.  If you haven't been there before, it has a zero depth pool with splash areas, diving boards, water slides and a lazy river.  You can't bring in your own food or beverages but there is a snack bar with everything you'd probably want. My son loves the french fries.  Admission is $7.25 for adults and $5.50 for kids under 12.
Waterslides can accommodate double or single tubes

Milwaukee County maintains four family friendly water parks.  Tosa Pool at Hoyt Park has a variety of programs run through their own city parks department, including a yoga class run by Edie Starrett.  I was there early last week while lap swimming and yoga were happening before the pool opened for general swimming.  They also have a beer garden which serves food and a variety of beverages- not just beer.
Yoga is through the Tosa Community Rec program

Pelican Cove is the name for the pool at Kosciuszko Park.  Though it has some fun water features, this pool is priced at a lower rate- the same as other county pools- $3 for adults and $2 for children.  You can find more information about schedules and prices at the outdoor pools link.

Cool Waters is the pool at Greenfield Park which hosts a popular event for water loving dogs- Doggie Dip.  This year it's scheduled for Monday, Sep 7, but you can pre purchase tickets on the Sunday before.  Lines can be long if you wait until the day of the dip. I've included a few photos taken from the Milwaukee County Parks website so you can see how happy these dogs are to be swimming.  Of course, until that date, the pool is open for human guests and is lots of fun for hot days.  There are balancing features, slides, and laps for swimming.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Get Your Beach Time in Before Summer Ends

The water is still quite cold!
It's at this time of year that I begin to panic because I know Fall is right around the corner and Milwaukee's beach time is quickly drawing to a close.  It's not that you can't use the water because the calendar says it's September, it's just that services become minimal or go away completely after Labor Day.

We decided to go to Klode Park Beach yesterday evening for a swim. It's the only beach in Whitefish Bay that allows swimming, but you can't launch boats here.  For kayaks, Big Bay/Buckley Park is nearby but without facilities of any kind.  It wasn't crowded but we weren't alone.  A woman sorting rocks with a small zip lock bag of beach glass she had collected in the four hours she'd been there.  An entire team of people training for a triathlon- some in wetsuits. High school or college aged kids climbing the huge white rocks (which by the way is not encouraged).  A family with a couple of young kids getting their feet wet.  A photographer doing a senior photo shoot of a pretty girl. A couple of teenage boys were skipping rocks- there's a seemingly endless supply at this park.  I got my feet wet and though it was a bit chilly, but warmer than it was 2 weeks ago!  My son dove under and swam, without regard to the temperature at all.  It's a beautiful beach, though there are no lifeguards.  There is also no public restroom or changing area near the beach.  You really have to plan ahead and use the toilets way on the other side of the park on the bluff (near the tennis courts), which is a bit inconvenient though not unlike most beaches in Milwaukee.

Klode Park Beach

Some people swim without a wet suit

Beach glass comes up in about every tenth handful of rocks

Bradford Beach has one more week of lifeguards, though the beach rentals are still open through Labor Day. We tried to go kayaking there a couple of times but it has been pretty windy, and though wind keeps it cooler, it's better for skilled kayakers to be out on the lake.  Instead we opted for flying kites at Veterans Park and getting a humongous Chocolate Shoppe ice cream at the Gift of Wings, then taking a pedal boat out on the lagoon. We noticed ropes at Bradford Beach this year to keep the beach area watched by lifeguards more manageable, though the water has been so cold that very few people are actually swimming.  Most are just getting splashed or wading.  The county parks department used some funding for additional beach clean-up including removing the birds that often create a bacteria problem in the water, so the water has been pretty good this year.  You can always check the latest testing results at Beach Health Homepage, which includes all beaches along the Wisconsin great lakes.  Milwaukee County has their own page which includes additional information you will find useful about the beaches.
Wheel Fun Rentals is open at Veterans Park through September 30

Kite flying is always good near the lake
Not sure where to find a beach?  Check out the County Parks Beaches website for the list which includes all county beaches.  There's also Atwater Beach in Shorewood, as well as Klode Park which I mentioned above.