Back in the zone

After almost two months without an entry, I’m happy to be back.

What better reason to break the silence than Kailas’ seventh birthday party. It was held in the small, downtown theater that has been renovated by a tenacious and resourceful group of artists who also use the front lobby as an art gallery. There’s also a stage for live performances and a small dance floor in front. They achieved art deco style on a budget!

Since it was held on St. Patrick’s Day and Kailas is practically half leprechaun that’s the theme I went with for this party. There was a reasonable licensing fee (it varies with each movie) to show The Secret of the Kells. In the invitations I urged everyone to wear green, so of course more than a few came in Packer garb – this is Wisconsin after all.
The birthday boy sported a kelly green bow tie and a hat I’d spray painted green for the occasion. While I set up things in the theater, he sat in the gallery and made a few masterpieces.

Sagan had a green velvet dress, but after jumping around “helping” me for thirty minutes she got too hot and went home to change. The weather was unseasonably warm (low 70’s) for northern Wisconsin.

For those of you who know how I like to make birthday cakes- this one was fun and fairly simple. The night before the party I made a “pot o’ gold” cake complete with foil wrapped chocolate coins. It rode in my lap to the theater which is only a few blocks away but because of winter’s thaw there were 2,843 potholes along the route.

A word of advice: If you want to get your kids to smile in a photograph you can tell a joke. Or do something funny. But don’t ask them to smile, or you’ll get this:

Have you seen those candles that burn different colors and wondered if they really do? Well I got some and they really do!
We sang the notorious song and Kailas revelled in the attention.

What made my day was the “ahhhh!” from the kids when I sliced into the cake. For this little pot o’ gold, the rainbow was inside!

It was admired but check out the other kid’s shirt – it covers St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween all in one. How cool is that?

It seems I’m a bit rusty on blogging since this took me twice as long as usual to post, but it felt good to do. Those of you encouraging me these last few months (and you know who you are) let me just say “thank you.”
Life is good – with you in it.

Posted in Exploring the USA, Wisconsin | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Quiet for a while

I won’t be blogging anymore for a while. Thank you for following the posts of our family. It has been great times and so many wonderful memories that my kids can now look back and read about.

My best to everyone.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Sub(zero) Culture

Okay I’ll admit this Texas gal is not in her comfort zone right now. In fact, forget comfort – it’s survival mode when the temps drop below zero.

Twenty years ago I moved to Wisconsin, but the winters still scare the hell out of me.

The coldest temperatures I’d ever experienced in Texas were single digits. Pipes would burst. Schools closed. People died! The toughest rednecks, who wouldn’t dare exhibit weakness working in blistering triple digit heat, howled and shivered like puppies.

In Wisconsin, when you use the word “cold” to describe how you feel when an arctic breeze chills you unexpectedly in September, or perhaps when you dip your feet in fifty degree lake water in July, they will most likely give you a friendly smirk.

You keep using this word.
I do not think it means what you think it means.

Let me explain.

In an earlier post I listed everything the kids needed to wear when playing outside in the cold and snow. But when the gauge goes well below zero – school is cancelled. This happened last Friday so we stayed in and made some yummelicious crepes.

Since we were stocked with groceries, the kids had projects and I’m addicted to FaceBook, we remained indoors for a few days; keeping the icy fingers of Jack Frost out of my thermals.

Except for when we had to go out for Harriet’s potty break.

It was twenty four below zero one morning and at this bone chilling temp the moisture in your breath forms little crunchy stalagmites in your nostril hairs. You’ve carefully covered every inch of skin with more than one layer, but then there’s your eyeballs. When they start to freeze, just blink a lot. Calm down. Nobody shot you in the face, that was just the wind.

Hurry up, Harriet! Pinch it off!

Are you imagining a deathly still, quiet day where no one dares set foot outside? Then you would be terribly mistaken. Amazingly, some people sincerely love when the world turns dangerous.

Mark for one. He goes out and chops wood. When he comes inside his hair is frozen stiff with sweat and his cheeks and nose resemble a bad paint by number santa. He explained to me that there’s a certain amount of moisture in the wood that can’t escape, and when it gets so cold it creates a lot of pressure inside. With one blow he can explode the wood easily into many pieces.

My strong, manly woodchoppin’ man. Phew. Now go take a shower.

I’ll pass on the chance to bust frozen logs. And the other activity I’m not too keen on is snowmobiling. Since the riders are practically wearing space suits, twenty below is no problemo. Oh joy, this past weekend was Derby Week. The bike trail located just outside our home is now a snowmobile trail, so the lovely din of chainsaw motors and mystical blue clouds of exhaust from these pioneering machines lulled us to sleep as they went to and fro all night long on their derby pilgrimage.

It makes me want to buy a gun.

Just kidding! (bet their suits are bullet proof, anyway)

Speaking of night(mare) noises, when the temps plummet the house cracks so loudly you expect to see a 2×6 jut through the wall. Structures here are built to withstand a lot. The foundation has to be below the frost line, which here can be as far down as six feet. This frost wall is also insulated so the soil (or basement) provides another barrier from the intense cold. And of course, all the plumbing pipes are wrapped and buried six feet under; fixtures are never put on exterior walls. To be a plumber requires a doctorate here.

As for vehicles, my 1982 Caprice Classic carboat that I drove up from Texas twenty years ago (a.k.a. The Patrol Car) required a block heater to help it survive through the Wisconsin winters. Newer cars don’t need this but people still use them because it cuts down on engine wear. Of course you always keep extra blankets and clothing in your car just in case it becomes the only thing between you and hypothermia.

My northern friends reading this are smirking at me. Truly, these triumphs of engineering and attitude make me appreciate the Wisconsin state of mind, while giving due respect to latitude.

Don’t think I’m all down on outdoor winter activities! Let the temperature gauge get well above zero and then hand me the snow shoes, man. There’s a fabulous outdoor ice rink just blocks from the house. Mark wants to take the kids downhill skiing. At some point I would like to give cross country a try. I’ve even been threatened with ice fishing recently. Bring it on!

When it’s not so “cold.”

(An SUV sits out on the frozen lake while the snowmobiles whiz by the ice fisherman)

Posted in Exploring the USA, Wisconsin | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Shock and Awe (I mean Ow, that smarts)

We drove north through Iowa from Kansas City, passing several wind farms on the way to Minnesota. Did you know that Iowa is second only to Texas in wind power generation? Way to go, Iowa! I watched the turbines spin slowly under the coming wolf moon while the shadow of our van lead the way. It mesmerized me until dark.

For a more comprehensive depiction, then you must also close your eyes and imagine the peeving dialogue of “The Smurfs” movie and the cloying smell of overripe bananas.

We were all ready for this to be our last day trapped for hours at a time in this van.

Our hotel, the last one for this trip, was close to the Mall of America only because the rates were good and the territory familiar. I’d had enough MOA on my birthday trip.

No roller coasters or water slides today, kids.

The visit this time would be to The Bakken Museum. Here is Wikipedia’s attempt to explain what this place is:

A Library and Museum of Electricity in Life and known in the past as the Medtronic Museum of Electricity in Life, located on the shores of Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the United States, is the world’s only library and museum devoted to medical electricity. Focused on scholars and on young people, The Bakken educates visitors about the history of electricity and electromagnetism from 1200 A. D. to the present.

If you are left wondering what to expect after this wordy explanation -join the club. What we discovered was beyond our expectations, however. Seeing the mansion itself was a treat, but the best part was – the shock and awe!

Who doesn’t want to get an electric shock through an antique “medical” device?

Our kids sure did! Before they would try it they cautiously watched other children zap themselves silly. Kailas’ hair ended up looking like he’d stuck his finger in an electrical outlet.

Sagan was more interested in playing Mind Ball. In this game electrical receptors are strapped to your forhead. The object of the game is to keep your brainwaves low (relaxed) which causes the ball to roll toward your opponent. Both kids sat still and quiet, concentrating on finding their inner peace. All I can say is wow! They need to market this game to parents – I would certainly buy one!

The museum’s collection and the way it was presented was exceptional. It included an antique theremin, the first electronic musical instrument. There was a video lesson on how to play the thing so Mark tried his hand (so to speak) at it:

Kailas is making a 60,000-volt spark with this Wimshurst generator. There were also lots of hands on tools for kids to discover the relationship between electricity and magnetism.

Two huge classrooms and a workshop were part of this complex. Inventions created by kids were on display in one of the rooms.

The first time I walked through the entire building (two floors) my concentration was on the exhibits. The second time I took in the architecture; I just love all of the detailed woodworking and trim.

There was something shocking (yes, literally) to see in almost every room. Here Sagan charges up various tubes with static electricity. Ow! Don’t touch me!

Kailas did very well checking out the exhibits on his own. As you can see, there weren’t a lot of people there that morning so we had the place all to ourselves.

At the end of our visit we sat through a twelve minute recorded multi-media presentation that “brought Frankenstein’s laboratory to life.”

You can be sure that Kailas did not set foot in that room.

It was worth viewing only because Sagan got a little background on the author, Mary Shelley. She found that to be very interesting (but the actual presentation was unconvincing).

Horror just isn’t my thing. And neither is shocking myself on purpose. But I love this quaint and quirky museum!

Then it was back to the van where my tush has sat on this 3,300 mile round trip. Somewhere amongst the suitcases full of dirty clothes, tents, sleeping bag and toys were our heavy Wisconsin coats. It was time to dig them out- for we were homeward bound!

Note: You can find other interesting and out-of-the-norm places to visit at the Atlas Obscura web site.

Posted in Exploring the USA, Minnesota, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Topeka Out of Texas

While in Austin it was really imperative to spend time with old friends. Unfortunately we ran out of this commodity way too soon and didn’t get to visit with everyone we wanted to.

Besides catching up with the familiars, we got the opportunity to meet completely new folks. Like Carl in Nacogdoches. And just before crossing the border we stopped to visit a second time with The Crumpackers.

The hitchlings (and the parents) hit it off so well the first time around Sagan regards Mason now as her new meilleures amies. See her mommy’s blog at SocraticMama.

We probably could’ve blabbed all night, oblivious to the rest of the world, but the restaurant ultimately flashed the lights on and off at us.

Once again we were reluctantly saying goodbye to friends. Group hug!

Foreseeably, we had a late start the next day. Topeka, Kansas was our destination so by the time we arrived it was dark and we were all road loopy.

I’ve always liked the word Topeka. In the language of the Kansa native americans, topeka means to dig good potatoes. My first hotel choice was a rotten tater, however. I should’ve been more skeptical of a place with such a cheap price that also used the word luxury in their name. Let’s just leave it at that. The bronze statues outside were interesting, however.

The next morning, we drove past the capitol building. It has an elongated dome (compared to Austin’s). Notice all of the contrails above! No wonder this part of the country is called the flyover.

Our reason for choosing Topeka as a destination:

The school building where it all happened has been turned into a museum and is now the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, maintained by the National Park Service.

Sagan finished her workbook and earned a National Park badge, which she is more than proud to show you.

Having this brick and mortar building helped the kids grasp the realities that existed with segregation much better than reading a few sentences in a history book. The concept of equal rights for all may seem easy, but obviously the reality of it was lengthy and hard fought.

Knowing what we have today for a Supreme Court, it is amazing and wonderful that in 1954 they ruled unanimously:

There are still inequalities for people, but this victory sets the stage for what we want for our children. We’re moving in the right direction. And on that note, we waved goodbye to Topeka and set out for Minneapolis.

Posted in Exploring the USA, Kansas | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Texas, Don’t Mess with Weird

We’ve been away from Austin for one year exactly. As we drove into town, the kids got anxious about seeing old friends.

Sagan nervously mumbled to herself while Kailas voiced concern that his buddies may not recognize him. Although I reassured him it had only been a year and he hadn’t changed much, he then continued to fret saying “but I can’t remember what they look like!”

We made a beeline for Central Market. The kids sprinted for the playground where they seemlessly reacquainted themselves with old friends. Being experienced CMers, we found strategic seats that allowed us to watch the kids, eat our lunch while also avoiding the drop zones. Dang those black birds can get disturbingly close with their sinister eyes, prehistoric chirping and sharp beaks, but mostly they just poo on your head.

No matter how many times we’ve done this, I always jump when the beeper goes off for the food. And does anyone else have a Pavlov’s dog reaction to those things, are is it just me? It really was a perfect day; beautiful weather in one of my favorite cities – what a great way to start out the new year!

We actually made use of Central Market’s playground on more than one occasion. We really had some catching up to do on our CM time.

The kids weren’t the only ones carousing with old friends. And by old I mean I’ve known this gal since we were in second grade.

(which really seems like a helluva long time ago. Yikes.)

Yes that’s a pile of sushi you see. We ate about a month’s worth of food in the span of three days. One evening was spent with my old Meetup group for Chips-n-Chat at Santa Ritas. For breakfast one morning, I snarfed a box full from the dessert bar at Wholefoods. I bubble tea’d myself silly. The kids pretty much ate what ever they wanted because Mama was setting such a bad example.

Yeah, corn dogs at the Waterloo Ice House. But this was a special occasion, so yeah, climb onto the blue cow’s back and pretend to swing your lassos while yodeling at the top of your lungs. Heck yeah! I’d be up there too…but I’m uncomfortably full.

Our nights were spent at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center. When we checked in there were quite a few people with neon hair in the lobby. Then we saw leg warmers. And wings. Furry hats with ears. This was Austin, so it would take a lot more weird for us to realize that there was actually a convention going on and these were the dedicated fans.

It was wonderful to enjoy such nice weather in January. Soon we’ll be back in Wisconsin bundled up in our snow gear, but for now it was time to rollick in the Hill Country.

The kids also got to spend an entire morning with their old class at the Magellan International School. This was the highlight of the kids visit to Austin and they didn’t want to leave!

We eventually had to say good bye, and it was difficult. I think the kids left their sweaters at Magellan on purpose so we would have to visit one last time.

They are learning at a young age that real friendships don’t end when one friend moves away. They know they will always have a friend in Austin.

Posted in Austin, Texas, Exploring the USA | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Fracking the night away

We didn’t know what we were in for.

While in East Texas we went camping in my dad’s yard. There were lots of things to occupy the kids while we set up the tents and made the campfire ring. New toys, the ever-so-popular tire swing, the dirt pile… With all these amenities, the average time between “she won’t let me swing!” and “I skinned my leg” was a good thirty minutes or so. Things were going well, in other words.

We had our tents, our nice fire, warm sleeping bags and lots of bamboo for making roasting sticks; perfect for hotdogs and marshmallows – and near pokes in the eye by impetuous six year olds. It could’ve been a great experience, but I was pushed beyond my zone that night.

The discomfort was, of all things, noise pollution. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has taking over this once peaceful town so now the insufferable rumble of eighteen wheelers plagued the entire night from dawn to dusk. The constant roar drowned out the idling trains and even made the blaring horns seem whimpy as they tore through town several times during the night, heedless of sleepy neighborhoods. For us in our little tents, it was like camping on an interstate median.

Familiar sounds were completely obliterated, even the ones that I remembered to be annoyingly loud. Tens of thousands of squawking blackbirds still nested in the tall trees surrounding us. Normally I could clap my hands and they would fall silent and take flight all at once – a pretty neat sight. But not only was my clapping pointless, their noises were barely audible above the mechanical droning.

Night fell, and we sat around the fire trying to hear each other’s voices.

Gosh it is really loud out here.


The absolute worst of the infernal sounds (we had all night in our cocoons to judge) was the air breaks. I swear the semi-truck drivers were competing with each other; or perhaps is was an act of spite since they were working at 3 a.m. and so everyone else needed to wake up and take notice. Jack hammers on wheels. Transformers with gas. Indescribable racket.

Property owners around these parts are getting a little extra cash for the natural gas drilling, so I guess what we experienced was just one of the trade-offs. Oh and by the way, noise wasn’t the only kind of pollution we had to deal with; the water was not safe to drink while we were there.

No problem; the drilling company is supplying the community with free bottled water…for now.

Entering the town someone erected this downright freaky crucifix; a pure, white life spread out on a cross with fracturing ends.

The symbolism seems oddly appropriate.

If you aren’t aware of just how widespread fracking is, take a look at this music video. Careful, it’s a pretty catchy tune and it might get stuck in your head.

Posted in East Texas, Exploring the USA | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments