getaway

My Darling B and I drove up to Door County last weekend to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and to get away from the rat race for a while. We both took Friday and Monday off, then planned to drive up on Friday and stay Friday and Saturday night, returning on Sunday afternoon so we would still have Monday to do weekend things around the house like clean and garden and be lazy.

To stay true to our natures, we waited until the last possible minute to book a place to stay or even to choose a place to go. About two weeks before our anniversary B googled a few tourist destinations in northern Wisconsin she might possibly be interested in, but that was just about all either of us did until two or three days before we were thinking of leaving. When it finally came down to the moment when we had to shit or get off the pot, I believe I was the one to suggest doing to Sturgeon Bay and bimbling around Door County for the weekend, an idea B was happy enough about to go along with me.

peeved

Is there one thing people do practically all the time, a small, insignificant thing that really shouldn’t bother you but, even so, makes you clench your teeth to keep yourself from screaming, “STOP DOING THAT! IT’S WRONG! WHERE’D YOU LEARN TO DO IT THAT WAY?”

For me, it’s when people say “reason why,” as in, “the reason why that’s important ….” I know “reason why” has a long history of use by the most respected writers in the English language, but it’s repetitive. If you said, “the reason that’s important …” you haven’t lost the meaning, and you’ve avoided being redundant. I’ve never been able to discover why so many writers believe the extra word is necessary.

And don’t even get me started on “the reason why is because ….” [HED ASPLODE]

Thank you so much for humoring me as I once again compulsively pick at a scab that I’ll probably never allow to heal.

And here’s what drives My Darling B up a rubber wall: license plates with more than one annual sticker, an annual sticker in the wrong place, or both. (Usually, it’s both.) It doesn’t bug her just because she works for the DMV. It is partly because she works for the DMV, but mostly it makes her want to hit people with a stupid stick because the State of Wisconsin mails the yearly license plate stickers along with a set of instructions that looks exactly like this:

It’s pretty hard to mess that up. You don’t even have to know how to read to follow directions as clear as that: month goes on the left, year goes on the right, and that’s it! There’s nothing in the middle, nothing up the sides, nothing across the top, yet every day we see license plates with stickers plastered all over them as we commute home from work, to much gnashing of the teeth belonging to the otherwise-nice lady in the passenger seat.

You now know her weak spot. Exploit it at your peril.

smoothies

Sometime last summer, My Daring B started making smoothies every morning. We took them to work with us. She drank hers almost right away; I think of smoothies as something you eat rather than drink, so I saved mine for lunch.

At some point during the summer, I started making the smoothies because B usually waited until after she’d had her shower, which didn’t give her much time. I figured I could make them while she was in the shower, a time when I usually twiddled my thumbs or picked my nose or something about as constructive.

Making a smoothie isn’t hard. At least, the way I make them isn’t. Two bananas, a cup and a half of chopped-up frozen fruit, about two cups of vanilla soy milk, then blend it all together in our Ninja smoothie-making blender for a minute or so. Takes five minutes, turns out a very tasty smoothie.

After we came home from our week-long vacation in August, I hit a little bump in the smoothie-making road. Come Monday morning, I forgot to make the smoothies. And Tuesday morning. It wasn’t a conscious decision, I just clean forgot about it. For two, maybe three weeks, I didn’t make smoothies. Now I admit that, somewhere in those two or three weeks, I recalled I used to make smoothies, and I thought, Huh, I should start making smoothies again.

But you know how hard it is to get back into the habit of doing something after you fall out of it? That’s how this was. Every evening I found myself thinking, I should make smoothies tomorrow morning, and then next morning I would be on the sofa twiddling my thumbs for five or ten minutes, vaguely troubled by a thought in the back of my mind that I was forgetting something, and next thing I knew we’d be on our way out the door and it’d hit me – Oh shit! I was gonna make smoothies! And that night I’d promise myself I’d make smoothies the next morning, and then next morning there’d be the thumb-twiddling and the oh shit moment, and so on.

Finally, one morning at work, B’s boss handed me a note with a smirk on her face, turned and walked away. The note said B wasn’t able to perform her duties as well as she had when I made smoothies in the morning, and that she would really appreciate it if I’d make smoothies again so she could have her best worker up to speed again. Something like that. I’ve been making the smoothies ever since.

a memory hole

[The management wishes to inform you that this drivel was originally posted on September 28, 2008. We beg your indulgence to repost it mostly so B can rub my face in it.]

We went to the Black Horse auction north of DeForest and planned to spend pretty much all day there. Haven’t done that for quite a while. Haven’t gone to the auction first thing in the morning in quite a while, either, but it pays to get there early so you can have a good look around at all the junk laid out on the tables. That way, you can get some idea where the most interesting action might be.

We go there for the drama, not to buy the junk. Somehow we usually end up buying junk, but the fun in going is watching the junk get sold. I watched two guys furiously bid against each other, upping the ante ten dollars at a time, until one of them ended up paying one thousand dollars for an old book. A single old book! As he looked it over, I heard the guy standing next to him ask: “Did you get what you wanted?” The buyer gave his head a quick shake, not to answer “no” but as if to clear out the craziness rattling around in there. “I sure hope so,” he answered.

The most amazing drama we saw all day, I have to say, was right in our laps. As we made our first rounds, My Darling B zeroed in on a sewing machine table at the far end of the back room, not because she needs a sewing machine but because, if she spots anything that appears to be related to sewing, she has to stick her nose in it, just as sure as her cat has to stick its nose in a door that’s left cracked open. And a good thing she did, too, because when she flipped open the folding top of the table she uncovered a Bernina, a brand of sewing machine that even dopey old me can recognize as a high-quality machine that’s sought after by anybody who likes to sew. It was an old machine, but old Berninas are like old Chryslers; they’re built to last and are even more sought-after as they get older.

So even though she didn’t need another sewing machine, there was really no question that we should buy it, if it went for a reasonable price, meaning ten bucks, maybe fifteen, tops. That presented us with a couple problems: B figured that a reasonable price for that particular Bernina might be somewhere in the neighborhood of two-hundred dollars. We were deeply conflicted between our usual inclinations to be tightwads and our recognition that this was a rare find. And, if we bought it, we would have to figure out a way to get it home. Not the sewing machine, that was the easy part. The sewing table it was mounted on, though, stood about waist-high and was three feet wide. I eyeballed it and declared that we would have no trouble getting it into the back seat of the car. Okay, I lied. I wanted her to have it, and I would have gone begging for a screwdriver and a pair of pliers off somebody so I could take it to pieces if need be. But I didn’t tell her that, I only told her not to worry about it.

The only other problem we had was that, at every auction, there are invariably people prowling around who buy up all the best furniture, appliances and various knick-knacks, stuff them into the huge panel van or trailer they’ve got parked in the middle of the road outside and take it all back to their shop or sell it on e-bay for a tidy profit, and they know their profit margin to the nickel. If you find yourself bidding against one of these guys, you’ve got to be prepared to bid high and take comfort in knowing that, if he’s still outbidding you, it’s worth a lot more than you thought it was.

After talking it over, we decided B could go as high as two-hundred, but even with a cap as high as that she spent the rest of the day with a nervous knot in her stomach, worried that one of the collectors would be there waiting when the auctioneer got to the Bernina. It was one hell of a long wait. An auctioneer didn’t get around to the back corner of the back room where the Bernina sat waiting until much later in the afternoon, but B watched him like a hawk all day to make sure she didn’t miss it. I ended up watching him pretty closely, too, because her nervous flitting back and forth got me wanting to see how this was going to play out.

You can never really tell how high the bidding’s going to go on any item. If it’s an antique, you can guess that somebody will probably recognize its value and it will sell for a mind-boggling amount of money, but every so often nobody will realize what it’s worth and somebody will walk off with it for a buck or two. And sometimes you’ll have your eye on a worthless piece of junk like your favorite Bobby Goldsboro album, and you’ll get used to the idea that you’re going to walk away with it for a buck as you wait all day for the auctioneer to get around to it, but when he finally does there are six other people in the crowd who remember it was their favorite Bobby Goldsboro album, too, and the bidding rockets insanely to a hundred fifty bucks, leaving you to trudge away empty-handed.

As the auctioneer sold one item after another, getting closer and closer to the Bernina, B pointed out the people in the audience she suspected of being dealers, or sewers who knew what the machine was worth, or just people who saw her coveting the machine and were there to ruin her day. The auctioneer sold off some picture frames, a king-size bed, and a repulsive coffee table before he came to the Bernina and by that time there was a very thin crowd of only a dozen or so die-hards eagerly waiting for him to get to the last item. They stood poised to bid. I expected no less than a fist fight to break out.

It didn’t help B’s nerves any that the auctioneer himself recognized the Bernina as a quality sewing machine and said its name loudly, over and over. “What am I bid?” he began, “Who’ll give me a hundred fifty?” Nobody flinched. Nobody ever takes the opening bid. Nobody ever takes the first two or three bids the auctioneer starts with. I don’t know why he even bothers starting so high, but I suppose there must have been a few times he’s hooked an over-eager newbie that way. He backed the opening bid down until he got to ten bucks, and B couldn’t stand it any longer. “I’ll take ten bucks!” she yelped.

“I’ve got ten dollars!” the auctioneer barked out. “Who’ll give me twenty?” No takers. “Who’ll give me fifteen?” Still no takers. “Twelve-fifty? Who’ll give me twelve-fifty?” Amazingly, still no takers. What in the name of seven flaming hells were these people waiting for? He prompted the crowd several more times for a bid of twelve-fifty before giving up and selling it to B for ten bucks. Ten bucks! When I checked later on e-bay there was an enamel pin that looked like a Bernina selling for fourteen ninety-five!

And, lucky me, I didn’t have to take the table apart. It just squeeked into the back seat of the car after we turned it upside-down.

Women’s March

Isn't She Lovely?B and I went to the Women’s March yesterday. I didn’t know there was going to be a Women’s March in Madison so we almost missed it, but B pointed out that it was being organized on Facebook, which explains why I, the Twitter junkie, totally missed it.

By the time B got out of bed I’d seen more than a few posts on Facebook and Twitter from people I knew who were going to the march in Washington. B asked if I wanted to go and I said something like, I’d love to go, but it’s kind of a long drive. Drrr. I’m kinda slow sometimes. But after she pointed out the Facebook post from the Madison Women’s March and I saw that we had plenty of time to make it to the rally point at Library Mall, I was all in. After I finished my coffee. And had a shower. She was still drinking her coffee, too, so she was okay with that.

I figured we’d go down to Library Mall to hang out with a couple hundred protesters, maybe a thousand, listen to the crowd go rah-rah, march up State Street to the capitol where we’d listen to a speech, and then get brunch somewhere. That is generally what a protest march in Madison looks like. We have no shortage of protest marches, and I don’t mean to make light of the very important issues the marchers seek to address, but if I were a legislator, three hundred people chanting “This is what democracy looks like” would not make me reconsider any position I’d taken.

The Women’s March, as you may already know, was a lot more than 300 people. I started to get a clue as we made our way toward State Street from the municipal parking lot and saw a steady stream of people carrying signs and wearing the signature pink “pussy hats” as they made their way to the mall.
(Fun fact: My Darling B didn’t get the hats at first. We’d been standing in the crowd ten or twenty minutes when her eyes lit up and she said, “Oh! They look like they have cat’s ears!” She knew they were called “pussy hats” but thought the hats were supposed to look like actual women’s, well, you know. She thought everyone had just done a bad job of making the hats because they didn’t look anatomically correct, or even sorta close.)

By the time we’d made our way down to the 600 block, the street was filling up. We got to within about half a block of the mall before we came to a full stop. We couldn’t go any further. There were too many people in the street. And they kept coming. The crowd started on Bascom Hill, filled the Library Mall and was packed shoulder-to-shoulder through the 600 and 500 block of State Street. The chief of police of the UW Police Department estimated there were at least 75,000 people there, maybe as many as 100,000.

It took us a half-hour, maybe forty-five minutes to slowly make our way up the street to the capitol in that crowd. As we marched up State Street (shuffled, really; it was still kind of hard to move), we caught glimpses of other people in pussy hats or carrying signs walking toward the capitol on the side streets. The west corner of capitol square was jam-packed with people when we got there; we had to carefully pick our way through the crowd to get close enough to capitol hill to see what was going on. We didn’t stay for the speeches, but I did get close enough to snap a photo Miss Forward wearing a pussy hat.

I’m glad we went. This event was a big deal.

Our First Dinner at Ishnala

The view from Ishnala Supper Club's dining roomWe had dinner last night at the Ishnala Supper Club near Wisconsin Dells. It’s a bit of a drive, just under an hour, but as things turned out, our visit there was worth every minute on the road.

We learned about Ishnala from “Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club,” a documentary we watched at the film festival. If it sounds a little dry and boring, it really isn’t; it gave us the urge to visit every Wisconsin supper club in the film. We didn’t, but ever since then we have wanted to visit Ishnala, a relatively short drive from Madison.

I have to admit, I wanted to go there for the ambiance alone. The supper club is in a log-cabin themed building perched on the very edge of Mirror Lake. The bar is the most prominent room, jutting out over the lake and surrounded on three sides by picture windows that gave us an uninterrupted view of the fall foliage. The dining room is much the same: a long, open room with floor-to-ceiling picture windows on the side facing the lake. Our visit was maybe a week past the peak time for fall colors, and the evening was overcast so the colors were a bit muted, but it was still gorgeous.

I frankly didn’t expect much from the food, but was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was. B and I each ordered a seven-ounce fillet mignon with sun-dried tomatoes in a wine reduction, one of the specials, and it was fantastic. I ate every bite and used my potato skins to sop up as much of the wine reduction as I could. The little bit of sun-dried tomato that was left over got buttered onto slices of melba toast and I shared it with My Darling B.

Tim treated us to his company on this trip and reported that the New York strip steak he ordered was every bit as wonderful as our fillets. We were there a little more than two hours, lingering afterwards over a slice of chocolate gateau and coffee before hitting the road back to Madison.

hand towel

I went to the laundry basket with dripping hands and started pawing through it.

“What are you looking for?” B asked.

“Hand towel,” I answered, pulling out what I thought was a hand towel.

“Don’t use that,” she admonished me. “That’s a rag. Just look at how dirty it is.” She held up a neatly folded hand towel. “We’ll put this one out, because we’re having guests tonight.”

I held out my hand for the towel.

“You can’t use it now,” she said with a verbal eye-roll. “I’ll put it out before the guests arrive, so it’s clean. You can use that dirty thing now.”

It’s like we speak two completely different languages sometimes.

walking on the moon

After our weekly visit to the farmer’s market on Madison’s west side, My Darling B and I crossed the street to the Hilldale Mall where B had to shop for a dress to wear to a wedding. B hates shopping with the blazing white intensity of a thousand exploding suns, but the wedding is just two weeks away, so, even though there was still some time left to procrastinate, she decided it was time to get it over with. As luck would have it, she fell in love with the very first dress she found, but it’s fire-engine red and apparently there’s some rule about wearing a dress to a wedding that would upstage the bride. She put it on hold and kept shopping, eventually ending up with what she called “the granny dress,” a cream-colored, knee-length dress with lots of sparklies. B loves sparklies.

While she was trying on dresses, I wandered down the street a few blocks to a garage sale on Midvale Avenue that I spotted as we drove past. There wasn’t much that interested me, and the only thing I eventually bought was a book published by the Associated Press to commemorate the 1969 moon landing. Titled “Footprints On The Moon,” it was a coffee table book chock full of familiar photographs of the space race, starting as usual with Sputnik and ending with lots of lofty prose about how Neil & Buzz walking on the moon had ushered the world into a new era, yada yada yada.

When I picked up the book I had no intention of putting it down again. I’ll buy almost any book or commemorative nick-knack that came out of the space race. I’d never seen this book before and as I opened the cover I thought, Oh nice, something new for my collection, but I didn’t think it was anything extraordinary at first. Then the book fell open to the middle where the folded newspaper pages were tucked away. My heart sped up. It was the first four pages torn out of the Wisconsin State Journal dated July 21, 1969. “ON THE MOON!” the headline on the front page blared in block capital letters over a full-color photo of Armstrong and Aldrin in a training scenario, using tongs to pick up rocks in their space suits. An inside page ran a snapshot of the video feed from the moon, unfocused and about as black-and-white as any photograph could be. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might not realize what was going on.

I tucked the pages back in the book and carried it reverently to the front of the garage where a quartet of old friends were bantering with some customers about one of the items for sale. When one of them turned to me and offered to help, I handed over the book, which he opened to the inside cover to read the price: two dollars. “Footprints on the moon,” he said conversationally, flipping through the first couple pages before it fell open to the middle where he found the newspaper pages. I was sure when he saw those that he would either take them out because they weren’t part of the book, or at least charge me for them separately. He barely looked at them before he snapped the book closed. I held my breath. “Two dollars, please,” he said. I dug two singles from my wallet and handed them over; he thanked me, and I walked away with a tiny piece of history.

Shopping for dresses took a lot out of B, so we headed straight home where she planned to spend time in her garden to decompress. It had been raining for the past two days so the ground was probably too wet for her to plant anything. Even so, she figured she could at least pull weeds, but when we got home she wasn’t up for that any more. “A new bar opened in town with fifty-zillion taps,” she informed me, and she wanted to go there to see what that was about.

The bar was Mr. Brews Taphouse, a Wisconsin chain of bars that specializes in craft beers and features loads of local brews as well as national craft beers. I don’t know how many taps there were; it was too way many for me to bother counting them. We settled in at a hightop table next to the beer menu chalked on the wall, where I studied the options long and hard. I spotted a specialty brew called Sixty-One from Dogfish Head that a friend had raved about; I wish I could say it was as good as the hype, but I couldn’t be bothered to finish it. B ordered a delicious barrel-aged porter called Barrel Aged Brrrbon with Vanilla from Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland OR. She let me taste it, then she let me taste it again, and then I tasted it some more. Eventually she just said to hell with tasting and we called it sharing.

After the first draughts were out of the way, we ordered a flight of four beers: Dynamo Copper Lager from Metropolitan Brewing in Chicago; Bean Me Up Scotchy from St. Francis Brewing in St. Francis WI; Shake Chocolate Porter from Boulder Beer Company in Boulder CO; and Quinannan Falls Lager from Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo MI.

We’ve been to Chicago on our own, but we have to go back soon on a proper beer tour because there’s some really good brews coming out of there. If Dynamo’s any indication, I could probably spend all day in the taproom of Metropolitan Brewing, sampling their beers.

St. Francis is just north of Milwaukee and we’ve enjoyed their beer before. Bean Me Up Scotchy is a barrel-aged version of their scotch ale, known as Pride, and I would guess they’ve added vanilla beans to the recipe to boot. Very smooth, and yummy enough to make me want more.

I don’t remember drinking any brews from Boulder Beer before, so that’s something I’m working on correcting, starting with this excellent porter.

Bell’s has been one of my favorite breweries ever since I tried Two-Hearted Ale, a very hoppy beer. I’m not so much into hoppy beers any more, but fortunately Bell’s has produced plenty of other styles that are ever so tasty, and this lager, I’m happy to report, is no exception. Plus, it comes from Kalamazoo, which gives me an opportunity to say Kalamazoo. I love to say Kalamazoo. Who doesn’t love saying Kalamazoo? Boring people, that’s who.

I can’t remember whether or not we visited Widmer Brothers when we were in Portland. Looking photos of the place and where it is on the map, I’m pretty sure we didn’t. If we didn’t, we were stupid. It looks like a pretty great place to visit. Plus, the vanilla porter we sampled was scrumptuous. Getting some right from the source would’ve been a treat.

Our sufficiencies well and truly serensified, we retired back to Our Little Red House to pass the rest of a quiet afternoon reading and napping until supper time. And that is a satisfying way to pass a Saturday afternoon.

smartypants

My Darling B experienced a sustained moment of panic last night when she discovered that she couldn’t shut off her smart phone. B is a stickler for rules, so when the theater captain asks everyone to “shut off” their phones and I’m only silencing mine, B shuts hers all the way down – power off, cold as a stone, needs to boot up to make a noise or flash any lights.

But last night when she tried to shut her phone off, it wouldn’t respond. The screen remained blank, although a little blue flashing life-light kept blinking, so obviously it was powered up. I tried calling her and texting her, and even though I could hear it ringing through my phone, her phone gave no clue at all that I was trying to contact her. She sat through the movie with the phone in her hand, terrified that it would light up and start bleating in the middle of the show. It never did, so she got lucky. The guy sitting next to her, though, had a phone that made a noise so crazy loud that he just about jumped out of his skin trying to shut it down.

We did a hard reboot to it later by pulling the battery, waiting a minute or two for it to completely die, then reinserting the battery and powering up. Works like a charm now.