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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Shipshewana Ice Festival

While the kids were out of school, I wanted to work in a little getaway. I thought back on a trip we'd taken a couple years ago to Shipshewana to visit the Splash Universe Water Park and figured it would be a perfect trip for right after Christmas. It's not too far away and it would give the kids a chance to play in the water park and maybe I could get a little shopping in and find some edible goodies to write about on my food blog.

I didn't realize what a perfect time of year it would be. We happened to be visiting when the annual Ice Festival was happening. I had no clue until just before we left when I logged onto a Shipshewana Facebook Page to see a post about the Ice Festival.

As we pulled into to town, we noticed a big block of ice being carved with a chainsaw outside Yoder's General Store and Hardware Store. It was pretty cool to see one of the ice sculptures being made.
 


Next door was the Visitors Center, where I picked up a brochure showing each of the spots where the sculptures would appear. There were a couple of snowmen sculpted of ice outside.


There was a big, red structure right next door on the main road that was open on three sides. We went in to check out the sculptures there, which consisted of a full barnyard of ice made animals. There was a big inviting patch of untouched freshly fall snow along side the building and since we've hit a record in Chicagoland for the longest string of days without snow (close to 300 days!), the kids couldn't wait to get their hands on that while stuff. And it was heavy white stuff - perfect for making snowballs.

 



It was such a lovely scene - the sun starting to set while the kids threw snow around as horse buggies clopped by behind them. It was so peaceful! At least until one of the kids took a big snowball in the face and his nose started bleeding!

Anyway, the ice festival was pretty awesome. Later that day we drove around town a little more to check them out and walked around a little on our way to the Blue Gate Restaurant for dinner. The following day, the commissioned carvings were are lined up in a row near the silos.

The area was still all decorated for the holidays as the festival took place December 27 through 29. The huge tree outside the Blue Gate Restaurant is amazing! Next year if you're looking for a way to wind down after all the holiday excitement, keep the Ice Festival in mind. I've been to the area in both summer and winter and while summer is prime travel time and there's a different variety of outdoor activities, the week following Christmas is a beautiful time to visit!


Friday, January 4, 2013

Long Grove, Illinois

A one-tank trip article I wrote for the Northwest Indiana Times from June 19, 2010. I have such fond memories of visiting Long Grove as a child!


This town offers sweet treats

June 19, 2010 12:00 am  •  
As a kid, one of my favorite events of the year was our annual girl's trip up to Long Grove, Ill. All the men in the family went off to golf or watch a game together and my sisters, sisters-in-law, mother and I set off for a day of shopping and chatting in the charming, historic area complete with a covered bridge.
There were huge chocolate-covered strawberries from the confectionery, little trinkets and Christmas ornaments we'd pick up. And we'd always end with a good meal at the local tavern.
Today, you can still visit the Long Grove Confectionery Co., where the sight of the gourmet goodies can send you into a sugar coma. Among the treats are those oversized strawberries dipped in rich chocolate that I remember from childhood.

And the sweet, red little fruit now has a whole weekend festival to celebrate it. The annual Strawberry Fest takes place June 25 to 27.
The fest features strawberry treats of all kinds – strawberry drinks, ice cream, strawberry donuts, fruit smoothies and more. Each day, free live entertainment is provided.
Several of the shops follow suit with special strawberry-themed merchandise and foods. Kiddie rides, face painting and activity tents are also part of the fun.

The historic village of Long Grove hosts several festivals throughout the year, with the Strawberry fest considered the "granddaddy" of them all. A blues fest took place in March and there was a Chocolate Fest in May. Coming up is the Great Tastes Fine Art Festival on Aug.14 and 15 and Applefest on Oct. 1 to 3. 
The weekly Long Grove Farmer's Market runs 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Sunday through Oct. 17. On Father's Day, the Porsche Club Concours takes place, where you can bring Dad out to admire about three dozen of the automotive marvels.
The historic shopping area was first settled in the 1830s. By 1880 it was a thriving village with several businesses, schools, blacksmith shops, churches and a hotel. There was also a tavern, which still operates today called the Village Tavern. If you stop in Long Grove, be sure to pay the place a visit as the interior woodwork is quite a sight. It's also a great place to wind down after a busy day hopping from shop to shop.

A downloadable map of the village can be found at LONGGROVEONLINE.COM.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary: Athens, Michigan


Another article from the Northwest Indiana Times newspaper. This place is loads of fun. My kids loved it!


Snap some photos at Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary

June 26, 2010 12:00 am  •  
A pond full of alligators isn't a sight you'd expect to come across in Michigan, but that's what you'll find in Athens, just south of Battle Creek.
The Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary and Zoological Gardens is a rescue site for alligators and other reptiles and amphibians. It also serves as an educational facility where programs are presented for school kids and visitors can learn about the habitats and care of these creatures.
Owner David Critchlow has a system of training alligators with color–coded sticks. He even has an 8–foot gator (the alpha male) named Godzilla trained to respond to about a dozen different words. Godzilla even growls back a noise resembling a "thank you."
This is the sanctuary's second full year of operation and the attraction is growing quickly. A greenhouse has since opened allowing the facility to remain open year–round.
"It's set up to be a rainforest–type setting with some reptiles and amphibians in it as well as our small alligators," said Critchlow, a retired Federal Express driver and animal lover who owns and operates the park with his wife and daughter.
The greenhouse houses alligators smaller than 2 feet. Staff often bring the small gators out to be held or touched and pose for photos. While the gators are kept out of reach, small lizards, called anoles, roam free. "Kids can watch them and interact with them," Critchlow said.
Another exhibit opened this week called the Florida Everglades. The large walk–around exhibit features palm trees and tropical plants and houses alligators in the 2- to 4–foot range. An elevated gazebo will soon be attached to the exhibit as well. While it currently houses American Alligators, Critchlow expects to add some Nile crocodiles and Caimans to the exhibit by the end of the summer.
The large original pond remains for the alligators that measure 5 feet or longer. This is where you'll find Godzilla and about a dozen other large gators. Training demonstrations in this area take place up to 12 times a day, so visitors are able to catch the staff's interaction with the alligators.
The facility currently houses about 40 alligators, but as the expansion continues, that number should almost double.
The sanctuary gets all of their animals as rescues and none are bought or sold. Often, the gators are spotted and brought in by animal control officers after the pets have outgrown their tanks and were released by their owners. Also, many areas have ordinances forbidding such creatures and if discovered, local police confiscate the animal and some are turned over to Critchlow.
Others are donated from previous owners or zoos or other institutions. "This place is a safe haven for all those animals," said Critchlow, noting that they've come from about a dozen states in the Midwest.
Critchlow said he's had an interest in reptiles and amphibians since childhood. About a dozen years ago, he rescued his first alligator.
"This was the next logical step," he said. "We've been planning this place for many, many years."
Fun features for young kids include tortoise rides. "That makes the kids really smile," he said.
In the gift shop, you'll also find a variety of snakes, lizards and exotic frogs. "We have no mammals or birds. It's a unique type of institution. You probably can't find anything like this within about 700 miles that's dedicated specifically to crocodilians."
For those who would like some hands–on, up–close interaction with the animals there, a "Zookeeper for a Day" program that allows visitors to handle small alligators and spend time in the exhibit areas. Cost is $35 for a five–hour program. It's available for ages 8 and older by advance reservation.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Studebaker National Museum: South Bend


This is another travel piece I wrote for the Northwest Indiana Times. Fans of classic automobiles will love this museum in scenic South Bend, Indiana.


From blacksmith shop to big success in the auto industry

October 09, 2010 12:00 am  •  
For admirers of automobiles and history, the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend offers a hefty dose of both. With about 120 vehicles in the museum's collection dating back over a century, you'll find examples of everything from horse-drawn wagons and military vehicles to sleek luxury cars.
The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company began as a blacksmith shop in 1852, where two brothers also started making wagons. In 1902, the company introduced its first automobile, an electric coupe with a 48–volt Westinghouse motor. A total of 1,841 were made between 1902 and 1912. In 1904, the first gas–powered vehicle was produced.
You'll find the oldest surviving gas powered Studebaker on display in the museum, a 1904 Model C that sold for $1,600 new. There's also a 1911 Electric Coupe that was $1,850 new. On the other end of the spectrum, you'll find a four–passenger 1905 Studebaker sleigh that sold for $168 at the Studebaker Repository on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
Even as automobiles were produced, the company continued producing horse-drawn vehicles. It wasn't until 1920 that horse -drawn production ceased and the automobile plant that had been operating in Detroit relocated to South Bend.
The three–level museum houses several of both the horse- and motor-driven varieties with explanatory placards in chronological sections. The main level has four exhibit areas that cover the Studebaker family's arrival from Germany in 1736, the wagon era from 1868 to 1900, the Presidential Carriage Collection, the "From Horses to Horsepower" exhibit (1900 to 1920) and the Erskine Years from 1921 to 1933.
A replica of the H & C Blacksmith Shop (named for brothers Henry and Clement) follows the 1835 wagon on display built by the brother's father, John, when the family relocated from Pennsylvania to Ohio. In many areas of the museum, the contrast between what was available to middle class as compared to the wealthy is astounding.
In 1932 and 1933, Rockne Motors (a subsidiary of Studebaker) created the Rockne "65" and "75." Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne was to be an officer of the company, but he died in a plane crash before the first car came off the line. The affordable Rockne "75" went for $685 in 1933, while that year's model of the Studebaker Speedway President sold for $1,645.
Perhaps most impressive is the permanent exhibit titled Studebaker's National Treasures: The Original Collection that was completed just six months ago. Through a National Parks Service grant of more than $300,000, eight one–of–a–kind historical masterpieces can be viewed, including the Barouche carriage that transported President Abraham Lincoln to the Ford Theater the night he was assassinated.
Upstairs you'll find samples of post–war beauties and vehicles made by other companies that were absorbed by Studebaker, including Packard and Avanti. You'll also learn about circumstances that led to the company's eventual demise.
The lower level continues with visual storage and a military exhibit of Studebaker-made military water carts, a Weasel all–terrain troop and cargo carrier and a B–17 Bomber engine.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Three Oaks Flag Day Festival

Who doesn't love a parade? This one is far off...but mark your calendars because the Three Oaks Flag Day parade and festival is something you won't want to miss. It's in Three Oaks, Michigan from June 14 - 16 with the parade on the 16th at 3 p.m.