Imagine being a school teacher and having to teach five grades or more at one time. One-room schoolhouses were common in rural areas of the United States all the way into the 1960s, some even later. Earlier this year we visited the Nottawa Stone School in Nottawa, Michigan, a one-room schoolhouse that served grades one through five, which has been restored for historical purposes. Read more
The farm is quiet on the late February day we visit. Equipment and supplies are stored for the winter, glistening snow blankets the fields and ice fishermen are on the lake across the road. But farm work never stops. Winter is when grapevines are pruned, tractors are maintained and Beth Hubbard, owner of Corey Lake Orchards, grows tomato plants in the greenhouse. Read more
Driving through Colon, Michigan, you would never think this tiny town of 1200 people is the Magic Capital of the World; that Bob Hope, Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin all got their starts here; that Edgar Bergen visited Colon regularly; or that the town cemetery is filled with deceased magicians. Read more
With a wave of his hand, magician Rick Fisher turns several uneven lengths of rope into even pieces. He has me tug on the ropes to verify they are taut. With another wave of a hand, the ropes are back to being uneven lengths. Read more
Spring is beginning to emerge following a hard winter during our mid-May visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, situated on the northwestern shore of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Young green grasses are poking out from the drab browns of winter, trees are beginning to leaf out, and the warm sun cuts through the chilly air.
Fresh rolled butter. Peach fritters the size of softballs. Peanuts ground into cappuccino peanut butter. Salads made from generations-old Amish recipes. The aroma of hickory smoked ribs and chicken. It’s no wonder that Yoder’s Country Market in Centreville, Michigan, has had to expand three times in its ten-year existence—and the market is bursting at the seams again. Read more
As another year comes to a close, we reflect on all that we’ve accomplished over the past twelve months and plan new goals for the coming year. For me, 2014 brought lots of opportunities to explore the Midwest, discovering more attractions, events and restaurants to share with you. It’s always amazing how much there is to do right here in the Midwest, from the Great Lakes to the Black Hills, from small towns to big cities. Today I’m sharing with you some of my personal “firsts” and also my top ten blog posts of the year, the ones most popular with you, my readers.
2014 New Experiences:
In March I discovered that anyone can paint—even no-artistic-talent me. At the Art Party Studio in Champaign, Illinois, bring your own wine, if you’d like, follow the step-by-step painting instructions, and every painting turns out well. If, on the slim chance it doesn’t, you can always blame it on the wine.
I tried my hand at glassblowing for the first time at The Glass Park in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Okay, so my turn lasted only a minute or so, since I was on a group tour and we just had a sampling. It would be fun to go back and create a “work of art” of my own.
I joined the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau dragon boat team in the Kenosha Area Dragon Boat Festival in July. As hard as our team tried, we came in last place, but we had a great time.
Two new states were added to my list this year, Nebraska and South Dakota. I spent a couple of days exploring Omaha, including gardens, museums and shop. If you like zoos, you have to see Henry Doorly Zoo, my favorite zoo of all I’ve ever been to.
Besides the national monuments, national parks and so many other things western South Dakota has to offer, I took my first helicopter ride with the Black Hills Aerial Adventures, where I saw the Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments at eye level and the Needles Highway from a bird’s eye view.
As great as everything else was in South Dakota, the highlight was the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park, where I bumped along in the back of a pickup truck right in the midst of the cowboys and cowgirls on horseback rounding up around 1,100 head of bison for their annual vaccines and pregnancy tests.
The year concluded with my second helicopter tour, this time in the evening with Chicago Helicopter Experience, along the Chicago lakeshore, with a great view of the Lincoln Park Zoo and Michigan Avenue Christmas lights.
- Haunted DeSoto House Hotel, Galena IL was published in 2013 but continued to be the most popular throughout 2014.
- Ghost stories are apparently popular. Bowers Harbor Inn, Traverse City: Two Restaurants and a Ghost created quite a controversy among Traverse City locals, some believing the legend and others not.
- I don’t know whether it’s because of the location on Route 66 or if people are interested in car museums, but the Number 3 most popular post was Pontiac Oakland Museum, Pontiac, Illinois: Auto Nostalgia along Route 66.
- Frank Lloyd Wright architecture is always popular, so I’m not surprised that Historic Park Inn: Last Remaining Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel made the list.
- Billed as the biggest biker destination in Illinois and along the Great River Road, Poopy’s Pub n’ Grub, Savanna IL; Popular Even with Non-bikers, came in at Number 5.
- Downtown shops in towns in southwest Michigan resort towns are always fun to explore, and Traverse City foodie fans especially liked Traverse City Shops: A Culinary Delight.
- Green County, Wisconsin, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Cheese Days in 2014. In June I attended a press preview of the big September event and wrote about it in Cheese Days 100th Anniversary Preview, Monroe, Wisc. The event is held every two years, so plan ahead to attend in 2016.
- Published just in time for Halloween, another Traverse City supposedly haunted location came in at Number 8, Tour a Former Asylum at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, Traverse City.
- Eating at a tiny ten-seat diner is fun, especially when the delicious food is served by a magician, like it is at the Suzie Q Café, Mason City Iowa: A Meal with a Dash of Magic.
- Old lighthouses are fun to explore. The stories behind them are always fascinating. Another Traverse City attraction, Tour Mission Point Lighthouse, Traverse City, Michigan made the list at Number 10.
I’m looking forward to sharing more fun and interesting attractions, events and restaurants in Midwest destinations throughout 2015. If you have suggestions on Midwest places to see and things to do, don’t hesitate to share them at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll help spread the word.
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Driving onto the Village of Grand Traverse Commons grounds on a sunny day should have been a tranquil experience. Massive old shade trees dappled shade across the expansive green lawns. Beyond the front lawn stood towering three-story 1880s Victorian-Italianate buildings. However, instead of tranquility, I felt a bit of eeriness. Had I not been aware that the 500 acre property was once a mental health asylum, maybe the eerie feeling wouldn’t have existed. Read more
Bowers Harbor Inn, built in the 1880s on Traverse City, Michigan’s, Old Mission Peninsula, was the summer home of Chicago lumber baron J.W. Stickney and his wife Genevive. Today the building houses the Jolly Pumpkin, a casual restaurant and brewery, and Mission Table, an upscale restaurant. However, even though the property has passed through several hands since the Stickney’s owned it, some say Genevive hasn’t left. Read more
It’s not uncommon to see groups of young women, very often bachelorette parties, hopping from winery to winery via limousine along Midwest wine trails. Wine tasting is a popular date among couples, too, standing at the tasting bar, sipping a half dozen or so wines and then moving on to the next winery along the trail. In the past couple of decades the number of wineries in the Midwest has exploded. It seems the more wineries on a trail, the more popular the trail. Traverse City, Michigan, and nearby Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas are home to over 50 wineries. The area is a magnet for wine lovers. We visited some of the Traverse City wineries during our recent visit. Read more