Just Because its FREE, Doesn’t mean its Lame

We Americans frequently adhere to the adage: “You get what you pay for.” Sometimes in certain circumstances this is true, no denying that. Yet I am here to lift up the virtues of seeking out and enjoying FREE STUFF! Of course there are the many free things in life like love, friendships, holding a soft puppy, enjoying the sounds of soft spring rain and….well you get the idea. These things are all well and good, but I’m talking about less esoteric things, like entrance to a free museum.

So many people have the impression that things can’t be very good, or worth taking the time to look into, unless you have to pay an admission fee. I am here to strongly denounce that misconception. I have seen so many interesting museums and “freebies”, yet have also seen ones that were indeed lame. It’s always a gamble, but look at it this way, you haven’t paid money up front so you are not out anything. Yet, if it turns out to be an interesting and worthwhile place, you can almost always donate money on your way out the door. Museums and centers need donations to keep places running and also appreciate positive feedback….tell your friends, they might enjoy the place too!

In my area, there is a county museum that has an amazing collection of stories, artifacts and documentation on the settlement and growth of several communities within our county. The Polk County Museum in Balsam Lake, Wisconsin is housed in a majestic, red brick courthouse. The building itself is quite a sight to behold. Originally built in 1899, it was used as a courthouse until 1975 when it was converted to a museum and is operated by volunteers. It has been included in the National Register of Historic Places.   Inside the museum, there are three floors of galleries with some of the exhibits dating back to the Revolutionary War.  There is an impressive exhibit about the logging industry and its impact on the area. Logging and lumbering were the primary attractions that brought early settlers to the area in as early as 1837. I never knew that the logs were “branded” (just like cattle) before being sent down the river…neat.

The building also has unique and beautiful stained glass and interesting architectural details on every floor. Here is a stained glass window that is beautiful, but also informative: it shows a map designating the townships within Polk County. I thought this was so beautiful and I bet it looks very different depending on the time of day.

Not only do they have an impressive permanent collection, the museum also hosts traveling exhibits. Late summer, they hosted a fantastic exhibit about John Muir, the conservationist and one of the men instrumental in founding the National Park Service. John Muir spent much of his youth in Wisconsin.  The Museum has limited hours in the summer time, and frequently hosts private and school tours the rest of the year. The museum is at 120 Main Street Balsam Lake. For more information you can contact them at: (715) 485-9269

Another free and very interesting museum that I had the pleasure of visiting is the Bayfield Maritime Museum. Located in Bayfield, Wisconsin near the Apostle Islands, it is a treasure trove of cool stuff all related to the maritime industry, the history of the area and the wonders of Lake Superior.  Many topics are covered including boat making and the development of the maritime industry, shipwrecks on Lake Superior, lighthouses, and an impressive collection of historical photographs and artifacts related to the area. It is staffed by very helpful and knowledgeable volunteers, who are happy to answer any questions.

They also have a small amount of books and souvenirs about the area and the Apostle Islands. I purchased a nautical print of  Bayfield and the Apostle Islands and another print showing all the Lighthouses of the Apostles.  Both prints were very suitable for framing and it made me feel good knowing that my purchases went towards helping to operate the museum. This museum is only open during the summertime and is staffed by volunteers. For more information, check out their website at: www.bayfieldmaritimemuseum.org

 

My son Dan in seventh heaven @ the Spam Museum: Austin, Minnesota

Some FREE museums, like the SPAM museum in Austin Minnesota, have an ulterior motive like promoting and extra marketing of their product. But so what?!….if it provides an entertainment value and a diversion for weary highway travelers, more power to them.  Many people react with the comment: “There’s a SPAM Museum, seriously?” Yes, seriously. If you are passing through southern Minnesota, don’t forget to go. However…I’m kind of embarrassed to say I have been to the SPAM museum three times, with various family members so they too can enjoy that fun place. I’m not even a big fan of SPAM (except with mac&cheese), but it really is a fun place and a lovely gift shop too! (One can never have too many SPAM refrigerator magnets.) For more details about the SPAM museum, their website is: www.spam.com/museum

So next time you are out and about, or even in need of a local excursion, don’t forget the local small museum. You may be surprised of what new wonders await within.

Don’t let this be “The One that Got Away”

Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, Hayward Wisconsin

Throughout the ages, fishermen have told their tales of “the one that got away”. Yet, in the north woods of Wisconsin there is a place that one can view the biggest, the best and the world records in fishing.  The Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin pays tribute to fresh water sport fishing and truly is an interesting place to visit.  Even, if you are not an avid fisherman, which I am not….it still is well worth a trip to see all the varied fishing artifacts and well over 300 mounted fish. The 7 acre complex boasts over 100,000 visitors annually.  And YES…you can climb the staircase inside the giant Musky and take a picture from his gaping jaws…Ahhhh! The ultimate photo of your visit here!

Their website clarifies that it is more than just a museum showcasing trophy fish but also on a mission to promote the sport: “The Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is the international headquarters for education, recognition and promotion of fresh water sportfishing.”

Also among the giant fish statutes, is a rather large and interesting museum with thousands of antique rods, outboard motors, and publications. Throughout the hallways are dedications of anglers, both living and memorialized,  in the Halls of Fame who have brought many records to the sport of fishing. Some of the records are not just for the “biggest and best”, but also many anglers are remembered for their contribution for educating and promoting the sport of fishing.  I really don’t pursue fishing as a hobby, but you can’t help but get a little sentimental when reading some of the dedications in the Hall of Fame.

The giant Musky statue is the landmark feature and is quite impressive. He was built in 1978-79 and is an impressive 143 feet long and is 50 feet high. When you ascend the staircase to reach the top of the Musky, along the way are amazing facts and figures about fishing and additional highlights covering anglers’ achievements.

When in the North woods of Wisconsin, The Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is definitely worth checking out. For more information you can check out:http://www.freshwater-fishing.org  So what tales of fishing adventures do you have to tell? Tall tales or otherwise, I love to hear them.

So head on out and “Put your traveling shoes on.” JES

Inspiration found: Chicago Botanic Garden

Chgo Botanic garden logoSometimes as a gardener,  or even as simply a lover of flowers and plants, one can find oneself “stuck in a rut” with the same old plants year after year and perhaps an unwillingness or trepidation about “thinking outside the box.”  A visit to Chicago Botanic Garden helps to inspire and also to rejuvenate an interest in the wonderful beauty that is found right in one’s neighborhood and very back yard.  The Chicago Botanic Center is located in Glencoe, Illinois and includes 385 acres of land dedicated to showcasing some beautiful plants and innovative landscaping. The garden was opened in 1972 and with over 50,000 members, it currently has the largest membership of any U.S. public garden.DSCN1650

Yes, many of the traditional plants and flowers are there, along with some exotics not found in the Midwest. However, the presentation of them is everything, a wonderful variety of flowers clustered with a multitude of leafy green plants. A Marigold does not just look like another simple Marigold when portrayed in this beautiful landscape. Many of the plants are commonly found in local yards, but when they are paired with other plantings, it gives new insights as to what works well together.  Of course light conditions, soil conditions and moisture needs must all be taken into account and it is great to get recommendations from the expert gardeners there.

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In addition to the botanic showroom, Chicago Botanic Garden has numerous statues and garden artwork throughout the garden enhancing the beauty of the flowers and water features.  The inspiration portrayed by the sculptors is enhanced by the backdrop of lush trees, flowers and several small lakes within the garden.  One sculpture in particular pays homage to the man who is considered the Father of Taxonomic Botany: Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) He created a system for plant classification using both the “genus” and “species.”

Initial impressions of Chicago Botanic Garden lead one to believe that it is just another lovely park with plants, fountains and art work. Yet, this place is also a research and development facility for seed propagation and developing hardy plants for this area of the country.  Several green houses on the premises work year round on botanical production. In terms of educational enrichment, certificate programs offered at the School of the Chicago Botanic Garden include: photography, horticultural therapy, Midwest gardening, professional gardener, garden design and botanical arts.DSCN1673

A  busy day touring the garden can make one hungry and thirsty. Two cafes are available: the Garden View Cafe and the Garden Grille. The Garden View Cafe offers fresh, locally produced ingredients to serve up fresh salads, soups and sandwiches.  The Garden grille offers hamburgers and chicken sandwiches and daily specials. There is enough variety there to please almost any palette.  After renewing your energy at the cafe, don’t forget a stop in the gift shop: “The Garden Shop”.  A wonderful array of all types of “goodies” to choose from including clothing, specialty books, stationary and also children’s items to inspire young gardeners.

Admission into the garden is free, but there is a parking fee.  Membership includes free parking daily and you can visit as many times as you want.  A membership also includes discounts at both of the cafes, the Garden Shop and discounts on programs as well. For more information you can call : (847) 835-5440 or click here to link to their website: http://www.chicagobotanic.org/

DSCN1652It’s such a wonderful garden to visit…and hard to see it all  in just one trip.  My friend and I will be going again soon! Put your traveling shoes on. JES