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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Have You Seen the Rubber Ducky?

A big bright yellow rubber duck is bringing smiles and childhood memories to people everywhere.

When we were little tykes, a rubber duck turned bath time into playtime. With his bright yellow body and orange bill, he became a delightful toy for generations of kids.

Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman re-created this classic childhood symbol to bring smiles and pleasant memories to adults. Hofman’s goal of bringing people together is happening wherever the rubber ducky appears.

The first ducky displayed in Singapore was 56 feet tall. He has traveled to a number of European cities since 2007.

The duck made his United States debut in Pittsburgh in September. He has charmed residents and visitors who have flocked to Pittsburgh’s famous Point (Point State Park) where three rivers converge. Because of the city’s many bridges, the duck had to be smaller. He is four stories tall and three stories wide.
Pittsburgh is abuzz with people asking, “Have you seen the rubber duck?” I’ve never yet heard the question from anyone wearing a frown. The duck brings smiles – whether you’re seeing him or talking about him.

He attended a Pirates game and has made several visits away from his temporary home on the Point.

The duck creates joy and brings revenue into the city. That’s a winning combination.

Did I tell you I love the rubber ducky?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Fall Conference - Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers

I've just traveled to Pittsburgh after attending two fall conferences.

The first conference, AGLOW (Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers) took place in Fond du Lac, WI.

Although I've never lived around the Great Lakes, this organization has given me the chance to learn what the northern states have to offer. Thus far, I've loved each destination, for different reasons.

The AGLOW conference is always a fun-filled event with more activities than I can keep up with. Fond du Lac rolled out the red carpet for us, thanks to Craig Molitor, Carrie Stollenwerk, Erin Lund and everyone else who helped. Our members are all outdoor writers and the Fond du Lac team worked hard to expose us to many different venues.

Event on Lake Winnebago
We explored Fond du Lac's outdoors - fishing, boating, hiking, birding and hunting. I even took a dog sled ride and spent a little time on the Ice Age Trail.

Ice Cream from Kelley's Country Creamery  
Conferences seminars included important subjects such as search engine optimization, ebooks, podcasting and dog training.

Thanks to our corporate sponsors, we learn about new products available to outdoor enthusiasts.
 Fond du Lac borders the southern shore of Lake Winnebago. Two of our major events took place in Lakeside Park where we enjoyed the fall temperatures, the camaraderie and the beautiful scenery.

Cattails at Horicon Marsh
I fell in love with Wisconsin the first time I visited Fond du Lac three years ago. I love the beautiful countryside, attractions such as Horicon Marsh, the good food and, most of all, the friendly people.

For me it will always be a warm weather destination but I know it's also home to many popular winter activities. When there's ice fishing up there, I want to hear about it from the beaches of South Padre Island.

Trying out a Mercury motor
Whatever your personal choice, it's a destination that offers many year-round attractions for outdoor and nature activities as well as family vacations.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dogsledding in Wisconsin

Siberian Husky

We went to the dogs today.

We didn’t quite know what to expect when we visited The Siberian Outpost in Malone (near Fond du Lac). Located out in the lush Wisconsin countryside, this 35-acre complex is home to Jim and Judy Feyen and their nineteen Siberian Huskies.

When we turned in the drive, the grounds and cleanliness drew our attention. Jim and Judy’s care showed in every aspect of their operation.

Then we saw the dogs. Standing almost in a row along the fence, more than a dozen beautiful faces watched us as we got out of our car.

Jim greeted us and took us in his showroom. It’s all about the dogs. Hundreds of photos decorate the walls and hang from the ceiling. An antique sled sets along one wall. On the opposite wall, the halters of dogs who have crossed over the rainbow bridge hang in their memory.
Getting ready

“The dogs are haltered and anxious to go,” Jim said. “Let’s give them some exercise.”

We followed him out into the fenced area, met Judy and were greeted by some great-looking dogs. With intelligence shining in their eyes, they eagerly awaited their instructions.

“They weigh anywhere from 35 to 110 pounds,” Jim told us. “We put the lighter dogs in the lead and keep the heavy weights for the back.”

“How many dogs do you run at a time?” I asked.

“We can run up to eighteen. That’s what I intended to do today until our volunteer, Tammy, showed up. She’ll run six and I’ll run twelve.”
Working team

Judy, Tammy and Jim began harnessing the dogs. “Butt in first” became the mantra as the dogs nudged their way into line. Secured by leads on the back and front of the harnesses, the dogs barked their excitement.

“They’re ready to run,” Judy said. “Better get them going before it gets any hotter.” Jim later told us that they don’t like to run the dogs when the temperature gets above 50.

“The colder, the better for them,” he said.

His pre-snow “sled” looked like a go-cart without the engine. We took the two seats that put us at eye level with the dogs.

The dogs followed Jim’s commands, displaying teamwork and an awareness of each other. One dog stumbled and the others slowed for him to regain his position. We watched the leads tighten when they worked in harmony.

The cooler fall weather allows the dogs to begin training for their winter runs.

Well-deserved rest
Jim and Judy offer demonstrations and rides throughout the fall and winter season. They love sharing the dogsledding experience with groups and individuals.

Jim makes presentations at schools and nature centers. If you visit the area, put The Siberian Outpost on your schedule. The ride, the dogs and the education make this a memorable experience.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Kansas City has a vital downtown

Downtown Kansas City, Missouri, has been renovated and re-energized. I recently stayed at the Crown Plaza Hotel at 13th & Wyandotte, situated within blocks of the old Municipal Auditorium, the Kaufmann Performing Arts Center, the Convention Center, the Kansas City Power & Light District and Sprint Center.

Just eight blocks to the north is the River Market area and about ten blocks to the south is Crown Center. Another twenty blocks south takes you to the Country Club Plaza.

From my room on the 19th floor, I looked out toward the Sprint Center. Even taken through the window, the three pictures present a beautiful view of Kansas City.

Sprint Center (not from my hotel window)
I moved from the Kansas City area twenty years ago. In the intervening years, the downtown has transformed into a vital entertainment destination for area residents and visitors.

For more information, check out the following website: Things to Do in KC.

Also, take a minute to watch this video: Kansas City.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Apples, apple cider and pumpkins. Makes you realize that fall is here. As cool temperatures come and the leaves turn to red, orange and yellow, it's time to enjoy the bounty that nature gives us.

Near Kansas City, the Louisburg (KS) Cider Mill is known as the place to find awesome apple cider. If you yearn for something different, try the apple-cranberry cider. Loads of options await visitors.

If you have a sweet tooth, don't leave without sampling the apple cider donuts. I did and I heartily recommend them.

In addition to all their food offerings, the Mill offers various events throughout the year including the upcoming Ciderfest 2013 (the weekends of September 28-29 and October 5-6).

Apple Cider
Their website states: MSNBC picked Louisburg Cider Mill as one of the top 10 cider mills in America! Try our cider to see why everyone is so excited. Better yet, stop by and visit our Country Store!

It's fall and time to celebrate the colorful and bountiful season!

Louisburg Cider Mill  and Country Store is located on Hwy 68 west of Hwy 69 and Louisburg. Visit Louisburg Cider Mill for more information.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Three Graves for One Civil War Guerrilla Leader

William Quantrill’s name is synonymous with the Border Wars between Kansas and Missouri. He is best known as the Confederate leader of “Quantrill’s Raiders.”

Quantrill's Grave, Confederate Veterans
Home, Higginsville, MO
The son of a school superintendent in Ohio, he taught school. Acting upon his mother’s wish, he moved to Kansas and purchased land. When the Civil War started, Quantrill joined the Confederate army. He took part in the fierce fighting along the Kansas/Missouri border and throughout Missouri.

The Union defeated the Southern force in Missouri and Quantrill formed his own guerilla band. Cole Younger and Frank James joined him and together they exacted revenge on Lawrence, Kansas (John Brown’s headquarters). It turned into one of the bloodiest encounters in the state. Quantrill and his men killed, looted and burned their way through the town.

After four more years of raids, he died of wounds received when he was captured in Kentucky.

However, there’s a fascinating and strange tidbit of information. Quantrill left this world and was buried in a church cemetery (in Kentucky).

Twenty years later, his mother and Quantrill’s friend wanted his remains. His grave was exhumed and his friend took the skull. Sam, our guide at the Confederate Veteran’s Home Cemetery, said Quantrill’s skull became part of a fraternity hazing ritual for a number of years.

The friend stole all the grave’s contents and gave some of the bones to Quantrill’s mother to be buried in Ohio. Some of the bones ended up years later with the Kansas State Historical Society and now are buried in the Old Confederate Veterans’ Home in Higginsville, MO.

Quantrill died at twenty-seven with a reputation for revengeful violence and he can’t even rest in peace. His skull became a game and scattered bones fill three graves. A sad sort of justice.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hedge apples - friend or foe?

Hedge apple

I found my first hedge apple on the road this morning. If you live in the middle of the US, you’re probably familiar with hedge apples (or hedge balls) – those grapefruit-sized knobby green balls that fall from the hedge trees (also called Osage Orange).

September is their “falling off the tree” month and I’m once again questioning their purpose in the great scheme of nature.

As a child, I learned that farmers used to plant hedgerows as a windbreak and instead of building fences. With the thick branches and long thorns, it successfully kept livestock out.

The hedge tree is a cousin to the mulberry. The trees can be either male or female, with only the female producing its fruit.

Are hedge apples good for pest control? The debate is ongoing. People place them around their foundations and in their basements to keep the little critters (spiders, cockroaches and such) away. I can remember my dad and uncles using them. If you own a pet, they may be good for flea control.

“All they’re good for is choking cows!” I’ve heard this comment from more than one farmer. The hedge apples aren’t poisonous but they do choke livestock by blocking the esophagus.

If you don’t want to pick them off the ground, you may find them for sale at your local farmers’ market.

Whatever their purpose, hedge apples appear every summer and fall off the trees every fall. If they can keep spiders away, I’m a fan.