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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mark your calendars for the Three Oaks Flag Day Celebration


For several years we have been visiting Three Oaks, Michigan in June for their annual Flag Day Parade. The weekend is full of festivities culminating with a long parade on Flag Day that is really just small town Americana at its best. The parade is about two hours of patriotic veterans groups, marching bands and floats with royalty from little towns in Southwest Michigan. As I tuned in to the Inaugural events on Friday, I noticed the Mid-America cowgirls were participating. They are always part of the Three Oaks Flag Day parade, so it reminded me that I now have a 2017 calendar going and its time to add this favorite annual event.

Three Oaks is one of our favorite places for a summer day trip from the Chicago area. With a downtown area full of artsy shops, cute cafes, a local history museum, a distillery, art galleries, a live theater and a theatre that features independent and foreign films, there's plenty to do do and see within just a couple blocks on the main street. Add in summer farmer markets and scenic roads that entice bicyclists and it adds even more reasons to visit. It's also close to many beachside towns that sit along the shores of Lake Michigan and within a few miles of several wineries.

Find updates on the festival and parade on the Facebook page "Three Oaks Flag Day Weekend and Parade."




Saturday, January 21, 2017

Travel and Adventure Show

If you're in the Chicago area or not too far from it, you may want to consider paying a visit to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center where the Travel and Adventure Show continues tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Learn about hundreds of vacation destinations across the country, across the globe or in your own back yard - from Belize to Taiwan to Italy to South Dakota, Florida, Arizona and places as close as Michigan's coastline, Springfield and Milwaukee.

Kids age 16 and under are free, so it's an economical way to have some family fun as you dream together about your next travel adventure. Some of the hand-on fun includes scuba diving, riding a camel and trying out a segway.

On the several stages are speakers and demonstrations, including travel celebrities Rick Steves and Samantha Brown, experts on travel adventures brought to you by AAA and chefs and local food celebs. Take in the Culinary Fight Club at the Taste of Travel Theater at 1:30

If one of your resolutions this new year was to do more traveling, this is the place to be. So many ideas under one roof. For more info and tickets, go to travelshows.com






Friday, December 30, 2016

Blue Gate Garden Inn

Several years ago we planned a short family trip to Shipshewana right after Christmas while the kids were off school for the holiday break. The area was breathtaking with a substantial blanket of snow. That year, late fall and early winter had been mild and we hadn't seen any snow yet, so when we arrived to all that freshly fallen white stuff, the kids were excited and mesmerized. As we arrived in town, we noticed beautifully carved blocks of ice in some of the parking lots of the businesses. We just happened to be visiting during the annual Shipshewana Ice Festival. Throughout town we got to see several more sculptures and got to watch some being carved.

So, this year when I wanted to plan a short getaway between Christmas and New Year's, I immediately looked up the ice festival dates and decided it would be a great place to visit. On our previous visit, we stayed at a hotel that had a small water park. It has since changed ownership and become the Blue Gate Garden Inn and the water park was replaced with a pool, but has a lot of nice amenities for families as well.

The Blue Gate Garden Inn has some common spaces that are inviting and cozy and spacious and I love seeing families gather there to spend time together. On our last visit and this one as well, I noticed many multi-generational groups together. They were playing board games, watching the football game, sewing, eating. I even learned from watching a grandmother show her granddaughter how to make a fleece tie blanket. It seems to be a popular spot for family reunions or multi-generational outings. It's a great place to spend time with family and connect. It's also great visiting at this time of year because the inn, like every place else in town, is still decorated nicely and all lit up for Christmas. The lobby was adorned with a tree and sleigh and some wreaths and greenery, but these huge poinsettia hangings were absolutely stunning.

So often on our trips, we are running all day to attractions and museums and then the evening may be dinners out or shows or sporting events and when we get back to the hotel, we just crash.

On this trip, we spent time at our hotel together and made memories instead of running until we were all exhausted. Pretty much all the shops and stops in Shipshewana close up around 5, so evening options are limited to dinner or to a show if there's one playing that evening. We opted to stay at the Blue Gate for dinner.

We went down to the arcade and played a few rounds of ping pong and air hockey and skee-ball and we ordered a pizza from the Creamery - a little cafe set just past the lobby offering freshly-made pizza and ice cream. I have to admit that I wasn't expecting much from a pizza made inside the hotel, but I was really blown away when I tried it.

When you are used to Chicago pizza, you don't find many places where the pizza measures up to the high standards you've set from eating years of Chicago-style pizza. If you find something while traveling that is the equivalent to a chain like Dominoes, it's usually the best you can expect. What made this pizza so delicious was the cheese - I'm guessing it's locally made, natural stuff and you could totally taste the difference. The meats were also very tasty and the crust did not disappoint. This is one of just a handful of times I've found really good pizza outside the Chicago area. So, if you stay there, rest assured that the pizza will not be a frozen pizza out of the box, but a delicious home made one that you'll really enjoy.

Pizza was followed up by ice cream, which we couldn't resist after smelling them making the waffle cones and waffle bowls all afternoon. The ice cream was creamy and the waffle bowl was just so good and fresh. The Creamery is a cute little retro looking eatery with black and white checkered floors and bar stools and an old soda fountain. In the back there's a table inside an Amish buggy where you can enjoy your meal or just pop into for a picture.

The rooms are really cute - decorated with country touches that are far from what you'd find in a standard chain hotel. I loved the quilts and the charming wallpaper borders. It really has such a homey feel and an atmosphere more like grandma's house than a hotel.

Breakfast was included with the room and it's far from the basic sweet rolls and granola bar breakfast that many hotel chains pass off as a continental breakfast. This breakfast has many hot dishes to choose from - we filled our plates with eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy and a ham and potato casserole.
There's also a station where you can have a custom made omelet made and there are make-your-own waffle makers with several different flavors.

Lodging that includes breakfast is always something we seek out when finding a place to stay in our travels. It makes the trip much more economical. It saves the time of driving to a restaurant and then waiting for a table, waiting to order and then waiting for your food. Sometimes you're in for two hours or more with transportation, waiting, ordering and then eating. It's so nice to just slip downstairs, fill your plate and have a hearty meal before heading out for the day or getting back on the road.

Shipshewana and the nearby communities of Nappanee and Middlebury are ones I would definitely recommend for families. Exposing kids to the Amish lifestyle is a great lesson in appreciating simplicity and the Blue Gate Garden Inn is an ideal lodging option for a visit to the area. There's also a car museum just steps away that all ages will enjoy. Visit BlueGateGardenInn.com for reservations.




Thursday, December 29, 2016

Potawatomi Inn in Angola, Indiana

Fireplace off the main lobby
One fun thing we've discovered in years of traveling is that it's always nice to forego the chain hotels and stay somewhere more interesting. It doesn't always turn out to be amazing. We've had a few crazy  stories where it didn't turn out as well as we'd hoped. In the majority of cases, we've been pleased and often the bed and breakfasts, historic hotels, independently-owned cabins or other overnight spots have exceeded expectations.

I have loved finding inns located at state parks that may not be decorated in the most modern fashion or equipped with the most modern technology, but are full of history and style and just so cozy and inviting.

View from interior back hallway at Potawatomi Inn
We stopped recently in Pokagon State Park in Angola, Indiana to check out the toboggan run and visited the Potawatomi Inn while we were there. The toboggan run is a huge draw in the winter months, but the grounds and lake look like they're pretty stunning and fun during the warmer months. Throughout the inn are little pieces of history - chairs and taxidermy animals and little plaques giving historical tidbits. There's a large formal dining room where I'd hoped to have a meal, but we happened to be there during the 2 - 5 p.m. span when the restaurant is closed between lunch and dinner and didn't have enough time to hang around until it re-opened.

The toboggan run at Pokagon State Park
The in has 138 guest rooms as well as 8 historic cabins and four luxury cabin suites. The inn includes an indoor swimming pool, an arcade lounge and craft room. What I found most charming were the common rooms where families sat in front of fireplaces or snuggled on sofas or tucked away in corners playing board games. On the back of the inn is a long hallway that is all windows and filled with seating facing out at the lake. It's a perfect place to just curl up with a book and a cup of tea and get lost for hours.

If you plan on making a visit to Potawatomi Inn in the Winter (or 6 other state park inns), you can take advantage of a 2 for 1 offer that is valid Sunday through Thursday until March 2 (excluding the holiday break - December 25, 2016 - January 5, 2017.) If you stay for two nights, you just pay for one. To make a reservation, visit IndianaInns.com or call 1-877-LODGES1.




Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Navy Pier's Winter WonderFest

Chicago is a beautiful place to be around the holidays. Christkindl Market in Daley Plaza. Shop windows to explore on the Magnificent Mile. The tree lit up at Millennium Park and the snow-capped Bean. But...if you want to enjoy lights and trees and holiday merriment while staying warm, Navy Pier is the place to be for the Fifth Third Bank Winter WonderFest running through January 8 (closed on Christmas Day.)

I went to check it out with two of my boys recently and we pulled into the east parking garage, walked in to the Pier, went up the escalator and never had to feel one cold burst of wind. That's my kind of holiday fun.

If you're breathing a sigh of relief now that Christmas is done, but wondering what to do with the kids while they're home for the next week-and-a-half, the Winter WonderFest is a perfect way to spend a day. With an indoor ice skating rink, climbing wall, bounce houses and slides and lots of rides (including a carousel and Ferris Wheel), there's something for everyone. 170,000 square feet of fun for everyone to be exact. For more info visit NavyPier.com.



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Thursday, November 3, 2016

City of Chicago to hold Victory Parade and Rally on Friday

For the first time in 108 years, the Chicago Cubs are the World Series Champions and the city is preparing for an epic party to be held less than 36 hours after the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in a  10-inning, game 7 battle at Progressive Field.

The team buses are scheduled to leave Wrigley Field around 10 a.m. on Friday for a downtown parade and noon rally at Lower Hutchinson Field in Grant Park. The parade is expected to travel from Addison and Sheffield to Pine Grove and likely downtown via Lake Shore drive. The parade downtown is expected to begin at Michigan Avenue at Oak, then south to Ohio Street before moving to Grant Park for the rally. The event is open to the public.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Edwards Place in Springfield, IL

For those who love history, Springfield, Illinois should be at the top of your Midwest travel list. Besides the very obvious reasons of there being a current and former state capitol as well as so many attractions related to Abraham Lincoln, there are several historic homes in the city that give a glimpse into life in Springfield's early days.

The "courting couch." Photo provided by Springfield Art Assn.
On a recent visit to Springfield, I was able to visit some of those historic homes, including Edwards Place, which is the oldest home in the city that has remained in the same location. Built in 1833, the home was occupied by Benjamin and Helen Edwards and was a social hub of the area. Benjamin Edwards was the youngest son of Governor Ninian Edwards. The Edwards hosted parties and political events, including a rally for Stephen A. Douglas, which wouldn't seem all that unusual for a prominent family in early Springfield. However, the sister of Edwards' brothers' wife happened to be Mary Todd Lincoln.

Within the home are priceless pieces with ties to Lincoln, including the "courting couch" where Abe Lincoln and Mary Todd sat during their courtship in the home of Benjamin Edward's brother and the square grand piano that was used to play music at the wedding of the Lincolns.

The home underwent renovations to expand it in 1857 and cutouts on several walls show where the original brick is underneath. The renovations included the addition of the front porch that you see on the home today. In some spots, the original wallpaper is visible and you're able to view it in comparison to amazingly identical reproductions.

The sitting room at Edwards place. Photo courtesy of Springfield Art Association.
Throughout the home, the formality and prestige is conveyed, with some original furnishings displayed along with other period pieces in the parlor and private living spaces. As we visited, the house was being prepared for a fun murder mystery dinner (a first time event)
so it didn't appear exactly as it would a normal tour, but we were able to get a good look at what is covered on a routine tour, which lasts about 45-minutes.

The home ceased being occupied by the Edwards' family following the death of their daughter in 1909. It later became home to the Springfield Art Association in 1913 and became a gallery and space for meeting and education.

In 2015, the first floor was restored to appear as it would have when the Edwards called the structure their home with plans to continue with restoration of the second floor in the near future.

The home is open for public tours on Tuesday through Friday at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. and on Saturday at 12, 1 and 2 p.m. or by social appointment. Admission is $5 for adults and kids age 10 and under are free. For more information, visit EdwardsPlace.org