Holiday happenings: nature to nurture

If you are a family with time off because of the holidays, it might be wise to come up with a way to avoid getting on each other’s nerves. Consider these possibilities:

The first of five new guides to birding and nature trails in Wisconsin has been released by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. It concentrates on Lake Superior and the Northwoods.

There are maps, directions and descriptions of wildlife to be seen. To order a free copy of this “Great Wisconsin Birding Guide and Nature Trails,” call (800) 432-8747 or go to www.travelwisconsin.com.

Upcoming editions will be about the birds/nature of the Mississippi/Chippewa rivers, Lake Michigan, Central Sands Prairie and Southern Savanna. One edition will be released per year.

The lodging properties in Wisconsin Dells continue to try and outdo each other. One of the latest arrivals is the Howlin’ Tornado, a six-story water tubing ride at the Great Wolf Lodge.

The thrill ride takes four-person tubes into the eye of a 65-foot funnel that drops 30 feet per second, then enters a dark tunnel and ends up in a plunge pool.

You have to be 42 inches tall to get scared this way. Howlin’ Tornado got the Best New Waterpark Product Award at an international competition for such things.

Lodging/thrill ride packages are available. Go to www.greatwolflodge.com or call (800) 559-9653.

Competition, in another way, is coming to a boil in the Lake Geneva area. You recently heard here about a $100 million overhaul at nearby Lake Lawn Resort, Delavan.

Now The Abbey Resort, Fontana, has announced a $40 million redevelopment that is to be completed by May 2005. Improvements will affect many aspects of the 90-acre property, from its landscaping to guest room furnishings.

Three restaurants, including an Italian fine dining option, also are in the works. Spa facilities and meeting space will be more extensive.

To learn more, go to www.theabbeyresort.com or call (262) 275-6811.

If your way of coping with cold weather is to think warm thoughts, check out the new “Oshkosh Plays Ball” exhibit at the Oshkosh Public Museum. It’s about football and basketball as well as baseball.

A study in local history, the large assortment of sports artifacts will take visitors as far back as the Civil War, when a one-armed military veteran organized the city’s first baseball team.

There are film clips of the Oshkosh All Stars as well as Abbott and Costello’s famous 1945 bantering about baseball.

To learn more, go to www.publicmuseum.oshkosh.net or call (920) 424-4730.

Want to celebrate the new year early? Consider a stay at the Mansion Hill Inn, an exquisite bed-and-breakfast in downtown Madison. The countdown to 2005 will begin at 5:59 p.m. Dec. 31, “right before Big Ben strikes 12 on the Thames” in London, says spokeswoman Leslie Watkins.

Parking, lodging, the early celebration (with champagne toast and appetizers) and a champagne breakfast on Jan. 1 will cost $235-370, depending upon the type of accommodation.

To learn more about this historic property, go to www.mansionhillinn.com or call (800) 798-9070.

If a more contemplative entrance seems appropriate, there are three spiritual retreats being presented at St. Anthony Retreat Center, Marathon, next month.

“Live and Let Live” is the theme Jan. 7-9 for a gathering of recovering alcoholics. “Spirituality and Food: Opening to Abundance” is the topic Jan. 14-16, and “Dancing in Darkness” – about transforming “holy darkness” into “light for the world” – is Jan. 28-30.

Retreat cost, per person, is $125. That includes meals and lodging. For more, go to www.sarcenter.com or call (715) 443-2236.

Our good neighbors in Michigan recently sent a notice about the World’s Largest Dogsled Race, which will be Jan. 15-16 in Kalkaska, near Traverse City. More than 200 teams participate, and the courses are 6 to 14 miles, depending upon the event.

The dog sledding is a part of the village’s Winterfest activities. To learn more, go to www.mytraversecity.com or call (800) 872-8377.

Last, a note from Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, which specializes in travel/leisure.

You think that the ideal vacation should last nine nights. You take, on the average, vacations which last four nights.

These conclusions come from the marketing firm’s newest survey. You also say that it takes at least three days to unwind.

“Although 31 percent of vacationers perceive shorter vacations to be more cost effective, the average cost per day of a shorter vacation is generally more expensive than the average cost per day of a longer vacation,” Yesawich says.

“We also found that the effort required to plan shorter vacations is just as time-consuming as that required to plan longer ones.”

It’s just a little something to keep in mind, as you plot your priorities for 2005. Happy New Year!