Solo Camping for Two Nights: Doublin’ Down at Governor Dodge

I almost can’t believe how much I love camping. I want to do it all the time. I want to do it right now. I want to plan out the meals, do the shopping, do the packing, find the spot, set it up, do the hikes, do the sleeps, do more hikes, find the birds, research the birds, relax and eat and do it again. Get sick of nature, desire a shower, dream about fancy product, drive home with slight sadness, force the unpack, and do it again.

This time I explored Governor Dodge in Iowa County and on my way to my site I saw this on the campground road. Right on, kids. I’m working on it.

The first night I was not yet in the vacation mindset, still sort of reeling and not sure how to relax, but I found a feather and spent time checking out the wildflowers and then I heard a Veery and I was starting to get in the groove. Getting mesmerized by bird sounds, I began to forget to worry about things. I stopped and listened.

Breakfast, inspired by the Murny. Is there anything better than strong, hot coffee on a cool morning in the woods? Nope.

Next I met a new exciting bird buddy. The American Redstart, which I will call the rockabilly warbler. Seriously. It wears flames on black. And it kept watch over me both mornings from the same branch. Thanks, tough little guy.

Photo from Wikipedia.

Later I hiked the Lost Canyon Trail, where I finally saw Stephen’s Falls, something I missed the last time I was at this park at least ten years ago. And since I was weekday camping, I had it all to myself. The mist was cooling and soothing and I sat thinking about the family that lived on the property a hundred years ago with their ten kids on land that had a waterfall and how they built brick houses over the springs as makeshift refrigerators. The kids must have been wild with all that water. This photo does it no justice. Totally worth seeing in person.

Back at camp. I have this NAILED, as you can see by the tuna snacks and DC, so I basked in the glory with a sunhat and worked on my checklist for a bit.

Later I cooked sausages and mushrooms over the fire and even though it was still daylight, a raccoon came right up to me, basically demanding some of my dinner. He was fearless. And relentless. I chased him away but he kept trying from different angles. Still I never gave him any food, because I will not participate in the conditioning! There was a sign at the park office about not feeding those rascals and I’m following the rules for sure. It felt like this:

Artwork by Charley Harper, who captured wildlife like no one else. Image borrowed from

More wildlife. A fancy-pants caterpillar had an opinion about my iPod choices and I think was planning to change the playlist.

At bedtime I heard at least four Barred Owls having a conversation with some Whip-poor-wills and it was awesome, but the raccoon came back and started scratching at my tent walls and I had to kick him away. Sorry, bro. It’s not you, it’s me. At this point I felt like I’d really done up the nature good, and it was time to get back to civilization in the morning.

I returned home refreshed and different and I was moving a little more slowly, paying a little bit more attention to my breath and the birds. Success. And wow. I almost made it through this whole post without saying something about getting out of Dodge.

Why are murder shows so awesome? (Watching the Detectives)

Early in March the Wisconsin weather was not being so weirdly amazing yet and work was picking up some serious steam, so I spent a lot of nights at home streaming murder shows and killing snacks. Crime procedurals (the Law and Order type), forensic fantasies (Bones and pals), classic whodunits (Columbo, baby), and buddy cop cheesefests (oh man, The Good Guys) are my favorite kinds and mostly have murder in common. It got me thinking again about something that has puzzled me for a while: why are shows about murder so awesome? Maybe I need a little excitement in my life? Some drama? Something that isn’t HAMPERKS? See photo.

HAMPERKS: This is a promotion wherein you win ham for shopping. Srsly. Please give me stereotypical goons, fake designer drugs, impossible international intrigue, and hot (but quirky!) FBI agents instead.

You have the right to remain silent, HAMPERKS.

So is it the violence to-go? Generally I don’t like violence, but somehow I can handle the murder cop genre. Maybe since I never have a chance to get attached to the characters in the different-victim-different-killer-every-episode format? Maybe I would PROBABLY not run into these things in real life? Is it the (mostly) emotion-free entertainment? These kinds of shows are generally not designed to make you weep, unless it’s HIGH-BROW (I do love you, The Wire) or a season-ender: who put a baby AND a wedding AND a first kiss in that one episode of whatever that was? Was there a puppy in there, too? Stop it.

Anyway, so I guess it’s pretty much pure escapism. I’m not going to go any further in the analysis here. I’ll leave that to a David Foster Wallace-type-long-form essayist or a therapist. Whatever the reason, I’m not alone. Shoot shoot shoot, even EC wrote a song about it way back in ’77.

Awesome, right? This is a hugely popular genre. I have successfully canceled plans with a text that just said “Sorry. Crime shows” and I have run into kindred spirits out there, the kind who rush to judge a smell of almonds as cyanide even though it’s probably office Christmas cookies. You know who you are. And these days we can dial up killers and espionage and gunfire and shallow romantic overtones in an instant. And if you have 12 minutes and 350 degrees to spare, you can maybe even make it a whole night with SHRIMP CORNDOGS AND SPICY SAUCE.

PS. The Shrimp Corndogs and Spicy Sauce from Trader Joe’s are NOT recommended. They are gross.

2011 Wrap Up. Best of and worst of lists. (Plenty of swears.)

In a lot of ways 2011 can eat a bag. It started out with my dear friend Knobs having a brush with the reaper, cardiac-style. His life was saved by a winning combo of his dog, his wife, and the UW Hospital. He was awake when they used the paddles. Ouch! Happy New Year!

This was followed by a series of romantic blunders, a complete implosion in our state government, and the loss of my dear kitty Ella. Way to go ’11!

The thing is there are silver linings to all of this and lots of great stuff happened, too. Let’s list said silver linings and then the great stuff.

* Knobs’ heart attack. He survived and lived to give me one of the most sincere and happy hugs I’ve ever received, with a bonus that this hug was at the Charles Bradley show. I still get choked up when he does Frank at karaoke. LOVE YOU, DUDE. SRSLY. STICK AROUND FOR A WHILE, K?

* The government. I joined 200,000 plus protesters from all walks of life take over the Square in solidarity against Scott Walker and the rest of ’em. Ending collective bargaining, are you fucking kidding me? On the biggest day my boots were covered in mud and I was sharing tears with BFF Al and the crew smack in the middle of the most peaceful gathering of tons of people ever. Oh yeah, and some other pals were leading a CCR singalong over the big speakers. PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY AWESOME, YOU GUYS. SOLIDARITY FOREVER.

* Ella. This is a hard one to see the silver lining in, but I’ll try. She was a dear cross-eyed friend who helped me through the hard first part of the year when I was nervous about my new job and making a fool of myself with dudes. She always greeted me with loud HAY GIRL HAAAAAY meows when I got home and when it was time for me to take care of her, she taught me I actually could handle the hard shit and pain doesn’t have to last forever. That’s a big one. Thanks, girl. I hope you are being super loud in kitty heaven, Ellabella. Give ’em hell. PS. FUCK CANCER.

All right. Wipe your tears, ’cause it’s time for the best of list.

You can already count the other posts on this blog as highlights. The rest is stuff I meant to post but didn’t. Or didn’t have photos. These are not in any order.

* Birding and bonding with Shinks and her large sweet golden retriever, Djangy. We ate wild strawberries in a forest next to the trout stream in Token Creek. We discussed stage fright and months later I watched her kick stage fright’s ass. Yeah, girl.

* Blue Mounds State Park hike with MFJK and MFBK. BK likes butterflies and knows all about them. JK thinks BK likes butterflies because he’s extremely nearsighted. This is the kind of stuff you learn when you go for a hike with an old bandmate and a super smart lady. ADORBS.

* Biking out to Mount Horeb for the first time. Straight shot. Fun ride. Ran into Riley Fest, which is apparently a thing. Also there was a double rainbow on the way home. I’ll take it.

* My job! I really like it a whole lot. I get to try on crazy Alexander Wang shoes and write about them. I’ve made some fantastic new friends and worthy Word with Friends opponents there, too.

* Shopping and fake podcasting and arting out/acting out with Miss Margaret. We saw a guy dressed up as a pirate who teased us for our non-pirate outfits. He ordered a rum and the bartender rolled her eyes. The next day we shopped for cheap accessories and ate great food and drank too much coffee and had breakfast sodas. Some version of this happened several times this year. One time it ended up with a band name and all the song titles for a full-length. There may have been some day drinking. Save that notebook, Margaret. And this word-find book.

* Crying happy tears with Al at everything. Weddings, lives being saved, kids being born, movies, compliments, commercials, rock shows, karaoke. You name it. This lady and I can cry happy tears at everything. It’s pretty awesome and Sweets is right there with us most of the way. Here we are at a wedding. Not crying for a few minutes. Pic by CW.

* Yoga. Started this with a Groupon and I found out that it makes me feel amazing. I don’t know if I really believe in chakras and all that but I do believe in feeling all floaty and happy after stretching and balancing and twisting for an hour. And then sleeping like a bay-bay. Sold.

* Travel. I flew on a plane for the first time in 8 years, found out it wasn’t so bad and it’s actually more like a Greyhound these days, found out Arizona looks like a cartoon, and California is fucking loss-for-words beautiful on the coast and I got to do that in a convertible with the top down. Bad romance has its perks. And now I have an itch to plan more trips. Gonna do that for Great Aunt Iris, too, who left behind an inspiring life story this year. She defined her life through world travels. Thinking of her gives me courage.

* Seeing lots of friends and family members having kids and getting excited about having kids. Bring it on, folks. Let’s take over the world with adorable children that sort of look like you guys.

* My siblings! Different turns of events brought me a lot closer to some family members and I am forever grateful for that. There was an unforgettable bonding weekend in MPLS during which my brother played like 100 shows and still managed to be the best host ever. Let’s keep our branch tight, bro. Also, participating in my sister’s wedding made me see a huge connection between us that I didn’t even know was there. Also we both looked fantastic. (Below.) And we giggled a lot. (Not shown.)

* The holidays. My dear Grandma broke both index fingers on Halloween and it seemed Thanksgiving was a bust. NO TURKEY WTF. But the rest of the fam pulled it together and turned out a pot luck with a fresh bird and it ruled. We almost all got along, too. : ) Bonus shot of Grandpa with traditional Christmas tie.

Look at that. More good stuff than bad. And that’s definitely not all of the good stuff. There might have been a Superbowl win or something. Sorry there are so many words in this one. Ah, screw it. I’m not sorry. No sorry!

Shop Windows on Saturdays: A May/November Romance

It’s been a while so let’s ease back in with some pics that bookend the farmers market season. Today was the last outdoor DCFM, so I got a little misty about it. Even though it’s been a crazy busy summer with some extreme ups and downs, I still feel like I managed to take advantage of living 3 blocks away from an incredible weekly market and I will miss my Saturday ritual while this place turns to tundra over the next few months.

So anyway…I took a batch of shop window cell shots back in May and followed them up with a batch today.



Cedar Waxwings Are Very Pretty (And they make out.)

This Sunday, on a guided nature walk at the Arb there was a slow moment and I got out my binocs to check out some grey looking birds in the distance. When I got a closer look I saw the birds had patches of really bright colors on them and black masks and nice crests on ’em. But I had no idea what they were…

I was desperately trying to make mental notes so I could properly Google later, when a fellow bird nerd next to me said “Do you see those Cedar Waxwings?” Awesome. Thanks, bro! New bird for the list.

Cedar Waxwings are very pretty, no? Bombycilla cedrorum. Or something.
Cedar Waxwing
Public domain Audubon image.

And so I planned to research later, but when I got home I found this birthday present waiting at my mailbox.

F yeah! I have some good ass friends. Thanks, A12! So I looked up Waxwings right away and I learned that the bright droplets of color on their wings are “dense concentrations of pigments found in the birds’ diet of fruit.” Pretty cool. They are what they eat.

And then today Wikipedia gives me this nugget: “During courtship the male and female will sit together and pass small objects back and forth, such as flower petals or an insect. Mating pairs will sometimes rub their beaks together affectionately.” Oh jeez. SUPER CUTE.

Hike: The Grady Tract at the Aboretum

This weekend I went on my second guided nature walk of the year. It was at the UW Arboretum on trails in the less traveled Grady Tract. It was GORGEOUS out and our guide Kathy told the group lots of great historical tidbits, which I like because stories are a fun way to remember things.

For instance, we learned that if cows eat too much white snakeroot the milk they produce can cause milk sickness and that illness killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother. Good to know. White snakeroot: don’t feed to cows.

Here she is telling the group about how Professor Henry Greene planted this huge ass prairie all by himself but when he was in his late 60s he committed suicide and no one knows why. Okay then. Nature provides lots of drama.

Naturalist Kathy

On a lighter note, she showed us orchids growing in the prairie after this. Seriously. I had no idea there were orchids in the grass. It was rad. To get to them we had to walk through a bunch of very narrow trails that my hiking companion (a/k/a Sweets) and I agreed we never would have attempted on a solo hike since we don’t feel confident enough to avoid poison ivy. But with a naturalist leading the way, we could take some chances. Here’s Sweets in a pretty canopy of baby oaks, not getting poison ivy. Single file, y’all.


I wish there were more pictures, but there was Sudafed involved and it appears I was not documenting at the top of my game. Heh.

Day Trip Double Play: Sausage Race 5K and Takin’ the Hen to the Game

Been meaning to get back on the blog, but times have been tumultuous, so I’ve been away. As I closed out July, though, I actually did remember my camera for a dual-event Milwaukee day trip. Not all is lost. Let’s blog!

So a couple weeks ago I participated in the 2011 Brewers Community Foundation’s 5K Famous Racing Sausages Run/Walk. If you are a stalker, you can go ahead and check my stats on that site, but I’ll warn you I ran the slowest race EVAR. I would be embarrassed, but it was dangerously hot out and the majority of the run is on asphalt. And as you can see by the first pic here, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I ran slowly so as to not die.

The big motivation for this race is during the last mile you get to run through Miller Park on the field, with a Brewer on the Jumbotron telling you you rock, while ‘Eye of the Tiger‘ plays on the big speakers. Pretty satisfying for a Saturday morning.

Miller Park is actually a lot bigger than my pin head. This is from far away.

Another bit of motivation for this race is the hot dog and beer you get when you finish. Dig the coupons attached to my number thingy. HOT DOG/BOTTLE WATER/BEER.

There is a pretty big cuteness motivation factor at this event too because the freakin’ Sausages (who race at every home game) are there cheering you on. Here they are at a photo op after the race. The Bratwurst is out of frame because he was jumping around and dancing his sausage butt off. Must have had AC in that suit.

My favorite is Chorizo, even though it’s an obvious choice. Impossible to resist a sombrero.

When it’s time to turn in your coupons for your dog and beer after the race, thousands of sweaty runners gather outside the church Sausage Haus. You can see the sun freaking BEATING down here, right? And I couldn’t photograph this properly, but there were people with hoses spraying us down. I felt a little bit like were were cattle. Sweaty cattle in technical fabric waiting for beers with Jock Jams in the background.

The big payoff. A million gallons of water in the shade and a plastic cup of Miller Light at 10A. Wamp, wamp. At least the swill was cold.

Carrying on the Brewers theme for this trip, my dad and I had planned to take his grandson/my nephew (from here on out referred to as the Hen) to the night game. Dad got us bleacher seats and t-shirts. Check out the Hen trying on his stuff. And don’t miss Dad’s suspenders. It’s his signature look and I’m for it.

We had some time to kill before the game and in an effort to get the Hen to take a nap, we visited the pool to wear him out. More cuteness.

Fast forward to the game where Dad and I enjoyed passing a snuggly Hen back and forth feeding him granola bars and juiceboxes, while he parroted what we were saying. Usually three times in a row. If you say ‘Ryan Braun,’ the Hen says ‘RYAN BRAUN RYAN BRAUN RYAN BRAUN.’ When it was time for the Sausage Race, I held the Hen up so he could see, and as a seasoned almost-2-year-old Brewer fan all on his own he yelled ‘SAUSAGES!!!’ and Dad and I cracked up.

It was difficult to take pictures during all this but I did get this happy blurry shot of us at the end of the game. Everyone in the sold out stadium stood up for the last out as the Brewers crushed the Astros. The crowd was electric and the day was super special. On the way home the Hen slept a bit, but also said ‘MOTO-CYCLE’ about a million times for some reason. Adorbs. Thanks for letting us borrow him, sis!