Fun holiday shopping ideas

First, toss away the idea that museums visits are just for occasional drop-ins to see current exhibits. Their gift shops are a treasure trove of unique, artistic items.

Secondly, think two-for-one when shopping at a museum store. You are getting a special item and a portion of the price goes to the museum so you are helping a not-for profit place you enjoy visiting.

Third, you can go in person to spend some fun hours browsing or shop at the museum store online.

Here are three museums with fun and fascinating gifts for the holidays.

Find artistic gifts at the Art Institute of Chicago

Find artistic gifts at the Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S, Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60603

It’s fun to walk through the main store in the original building to see cases of jewelry, shelves of ties, stationery, cards and books and displays of pottery and art glass. But don’t forget the shop in the Modern Wing for its home decorative items. Many of the items are online so you can go to art institute shop and call 1-855-301-9612. If you go in person be sure to stop downstairs to see how some of the Thorne Rooms are decorated for the holidays.

The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605

The museum is always worth a visit to see dinosaurs, American Indian artifacts and wander inside an Egyptian pyramid tomb. But for the holidays also go to lose yourself in The Field Museum’s huge shop where you roam among large stuffed animals, exotic art items, out-of-the-ordinary jewelry and clothing and fun t-shirts. Best plan is to visit in person but when time doesn’t allow go to fieldstore.

Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60637

Go to see the museum’s Grand Tree in the Rotunda and the 50 smaller trees that for years are a holiday tradition because they are decorated by Chicago’s ethnic communities. While there go through the museum’s Mirror Maze and visit the robots currently moving around a special exhibit area. However, the museum store is also a good place to find a great gift for your budding scientist or an historic photo for someone’s wall from the photography store.

For a fall getaway, catch the Horicon Marsh bird migration

Pair of cranes photographed in Wisconsin

Pair of cranes photographed in Wisconsin

You can capture two fall happenings at one time by traveling over to Horicon Marsh in Eastern Wisconsin. Horicon is a 33,000 acre (right, count the zeros) of wildlife, freshwater plants and a fall bird migration stop just south of Fond du Lac and about 1.5 hours north of either Madison or Milwaukee. Its bordering trees make photos here picture perfect.

Divided by two government entities, the north two thirds is operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. The southern third is managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area.

You can hike, bike, kayak and canoe. To say bird watch would be an understatement. Thousands of ducks and Canada geese land here each fall.

The marsh is the largest redhead duck nesting place east of the Mississippi and sees the largest migrating flock of Canada geese. Mid-September is fine but to capture nearly 200,000 geese in your lens go in mid-October. As with TV that ads say, “wait, there is more,” you are likely to see some of the marsh’s 300 bird species including cranes and pelicans.

Among the largest freshwater marshes in the United States, Horicon is filled with muskrats, fish, frogs and red fox. Check events at the site for hikes.

There will be a guided hike and bird watch event Oct. 3 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Also a sunset crane watch is at the Palmatory Overlook, 1210 N. Palmatory St., Oct.17 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

A stay at the Honeybee B&B turns a Horicon visit into a vacation

A stay at the Honeybee B&B turns a Horicon visit into a vacation

A good intro to the marsh is the Emporium, a new interactive center that is fun for kids and adults.

Turn the trip into a vacation by staying nearby at the Honeybee Inn. The breakfasts are great, the rooms comfy and innkeepers/owners Barb and Fred Ruka are knowledgeable about the marsh and other area sights.

Honeybee Inn Bed & Breakfast is at 611 East Walnut Street Horicon, Wisconsin 53032, 920-485-4855 .

The Horicon National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center is on the east side of Horicon Marsh, 3.5 miles south of State Highway 49 on County Road Z at  W4279 Headquarters Road, Mayville, WI 53050, 920-387-2658. The Wildlife Center is at N7725 HIGHWAY 28, Horicon, WI 53032, 920-387-7890.

Historic landmarks to seek out when in Chicago

Of course you have heard of the Great Chicago Fire and probably are aware that John Dillinger got his at a Chicago movie theater. So, if you have time when visiting Chicago to see some sites either laden with history or are city landmarks, then check out these remarkable places.

Biograph Theater is where John Dillinger caught FBI bullets

Biograph Theater is where John Dillinger caught FBI bullets

Biograph Theater

Lincoln Avenue has lots of good restaurants and shops but a good place to stop is the theater at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Designed by Samuel N. Crowen in 1914 it was where FBI agents shot John Dillinger in 1934. Dillinger had been watching a gangster movie inside then was shotin the alley as he left the place. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a Chicago Landmark. The theater is now home to Victory Gardens Theater, a stage venue known for excellent productions. Although remodeled, the theater still has its grand staircase

Buckingham Fountain

At night you might spy the huge, gorgeous Buckingham Fountain by its aura of changing lights. During the day, find it by walking south from the Art Institute of Chicago along Michigan Avenue and see if you can spot a really high water spout. A designated Chicago Landmark, the fountain was dedicated in 1927 after Kate Buckingham had it built in memory of her brother, Clarence.  Yes, it’s pretty fancy. It was inspired by the Palace of Versailles’ Latona Fountain. The waters put on a 20-minute show from about mid-April through mid-October.

Navy Pier has had many lives ranging from Military to college and entertainment
Navy Pier has had many lives ranging from Military to college and entertainment

Navy Pier

Sticking out 3,300 feet into Lake Michigan from Grand Avenue, Navy Pier really does have military roots. Its Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Children’s Museum and restaurants make it a fun place to visit, today. But its air of holiday fun also dates back 1916 when it was designed by Daniel Burnham as a multi-purpose pier. Over the years it has housed Navy operations, some Army personnel and the Red Cross. It also served as a campus for the University of Illinois Chicago. Ships still do dock there but instead of carrying military personnel or freight they are tourist excursion boats, and sometimes, the Tall Ships that sail the Great Lakes.

Great Chicago Fire Sculpture

A conflagration that destroyed about 3.3 square miles, the Great Chicago Fire burned from Oct. 8 to Oct. 10, 1871. Mrs. O’Leary’s cow has been exonerated but the fire did first burn down the O’Leary’s shed. “Pillar of Fire,” a sculpture of a flame by Egon Weiner, was erected there in 1961. To see the spot go to West DeKoven and South Jefferson Streets. It is next to a City of Chicago Fire Academy.

Site of Fort Dearborn

A historic location where tourists are bound to walk without knowing its unhappy story is the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive at the Chicago River. Look for a

Look for Fort Dearborn plaques at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive

Look for Fort Dearborn plaques at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive

plaque that mentions Fort Dearborn. Built next to the river in 1803, it was destroyed during the War of 1812 and later rebuilt in 1816. But it was during its first existence that its residents were ambushed and killed by Potawatomi Indians when they left the fort.

Photos (c) Jodie Jacobs

Travel to London to see the sights or Charlotte Elizabeth Diana

Excitement is definitely in the air in London. It’s time to go to see royalty and possibly catch a glimpse of Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s  baby daughter.

If you haven’t been there before, pick up a London Pass to cut the cost of such attractions as the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey and avoid the ticket lines.

See Westminster Abbey, snap a red phone box and do The Eye (back) Ferris type wheel

See Westminster Abbey, snap a red phone box and do The Eye (back) Ferris type wheel

Just go.

Visit Buckingham Palace. Pop into Harrod’s Food Hall and gape at the statuary along the store’s stairs.

Forget taxis. Stoplights and traffic make a cab ride slow and expensive. Walk or take the Tube and go to St. Paul’s Cathedral designed by Sir Christopher Wren. You can take a break downstairs in the café.

Then, head out the back way to stroll across the Thames River on the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern.

Pull out the Smart Phone or camera because you are on a pedestrian suspension bridge where you get great views. The UK’s famed modern art museum is housed in the Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron starkly-designed conversion of the former Bankside Power Station.

It still looks like a power station inside. At the Tate, you can lunch upstairs on Level 6 with a higher view of London but it is a bit pricey. Or lunch on the main level with a view of the river and walkways.

London has so much to see and do  that you should consider spending a week there.

On Wednesday or Saturday, antique hounds should go to the Camden Passage Antique Market. Any day is good to find a food gift to bring home from Fortnum & Mason near Piccadilly Square.

Sightseeing really depends on your interest. There really is something for everyone at Trafalgar Square.

For music, visit St. Martin in the Fields Church to one side of the Square. Go early for lunch downstairs in the Café in the Crypt. Save time for art. The National Gallery faces the Square and the National Portrait Gallery is around the corner across from St. Martin in the Fields.

Then, relax and rest the feet while indulging in sweets and petite sandwiches with an upscale tea. The Langham Hotel’s Palm Court is famous for its afternoon tea but any of the hotels on Park Lane would also be a good choice.

The Marble Arch is a Hyde Park landmark at Oxford Street and Park Lane

The Marble Arch is a Hyde Park landmark at Oxford Street and Park Lane


Think about location when looking for a place to stay. The Ampersand in London’s South Kensington area is good for the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and programs at the Royal Albert Hall. Just as good, South Kensington borders the Knightsbridge (think Harrods) and Chelsea shopping districts.

Or consider the Marriott Park Lane across from the Marble Arch on the Hyde Park corner of Park Lane and Oxford Street. A Tube station right outside the door will take you everywhere. It’s also a couple of blocks from Marks & Spencer for men’s clothes and from the large Selfridges which is fun to browse.

If time allows, fit in Kenwood House. A beautiful villa operated by English Heritage on Hampton Heath in the north area of London, Kenwood has a fine art collection that includes Gainsboroughs, van Dykes, a Vermeer and a Rembrandt. It is the highest point in the area with is a fine view of London.

There are many more things to do and places to visit and shows to see than mentioned here such as The British Museum, Kew Gardens and the Churchill War Rooms. So you will just have to come back. For more London sights visit London.

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