My Secret Shame


Awww…. isn’t he cute?

Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow Live!

Even Now

One Voice


Here Comes the Night

Oh, Julie!

Manilow (RCA)

Because It’s Christmas

Ultimate Manilow

The Greatest Songs of the Fifties

The Greatest Songs of the Sixties

15 Minutes


And here are some pictures from last night’s concert in Chicago, at the Chicago Theater. One bucket-list item, checked off!


The text above is from a draft post I started writing just over three years ago. I did have a ticket to see Barry at the Chicago Theater, but he ended up cancelling the show when his recovery after some surgery was coming along more slowly than he had anticipated. I didn’t know the show was cancelled until I was already in Chicago to see him, and it turned out that quite a few strings were attached to my ticket and my attendance. I did enjoy my walking tour of downtown Chicago and my dinner at a Top Chef alumni restaurant, which I did blog about (see From the Bucket to the Sprout), but overall the weekend was rather emotionally tumultuous. Enough said about that — it’s in the past and it can’t be changed.

A couple of months ago I was browsing Facebook when Barry made the announcement that he would be touring in 2015, for the last time. It was time for me to get another ticket. And I did. I’m going to get to see and hear him live this Tuesday night in Milwaukee, and all I have to do is figure out how to get there myself and where to park the car and have dinner.

I don’t always wait 35 years to see someone in concert. But when I do, I’m over the moon.

This might be one of the three kindest Barry Manilow memes on the Internet.

This might be one of the three kindest Barry Manilow memes on the Internet.

Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 6:49 pm  Comments (4)  

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm…

Random observations after a 150-mile bike ride

(Note: These pictures are from the Internet for illustrative purposes only, and were not taken by me or at the Scenic Shore 150.)

1. Overheard on Day Two, from the first of five riders tucked in behind a tandem: “It’s like driving 80 miles an hour on the freeway behind a guy with a radar detector!”

Fast. Tandems are fast.

Fast. Tandems are fast.

2. Consecutive rider numbers on riding partners are cute. The older the riding partners are, the more adorable it is. If they both look over 70, your heart just melts.

cycling pair

3. A Conversation I Had With Almost Everyone:
Them: “Is this your first time on Scenic Shore?”
Me: “Yes, how is Day Two?”
Them (after a dramatic pause): “Well, it starts out very pretty as you ride out through the park. The first 45 miles are pretty flat. BUT THEN…”



4. A lunch consisting of a tuna salad sandwich, a chocolate chip energy bar, a kosher dill pickle spear, pasta salad, chocolate milk, and fruit punch Gatorade sounds like a lunch assembled by a psychotic nine-year-old, but when you’ve just ridden 50 miles it is the perfect combination of carbohydrates, protein, fluids, salt, and sugar. And it does not matter in what order you eat everything, as long as you eat slowly. (I am not making this up… it’s exactly what I had for lunch on Day Two.)

From "Bike the Drive" in Chicago. But still from the Internet.

A food stop from “Bike the Drive” in Chicago. But still from the Internet.

5. Overheard on Day Two, at the rest stop 13.5 miles before the end: “There’s nothing better than finding beans you didn’t know you had!”

The orange ones are excellent.

The orange ones are excellent.

6. After Day One, most people crept into their tents at 9:30pm. Everyone else went into the lounge area of the main building at UW-Manitowoc to watch the day’s recap of the Tour de France on the wall-mounted television. We sat quietly, numb from riding, mesmerized by watching other people ride. The Tour might be the only sporting event whose audience ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT want to participate in it. Collectively, everyone watching on Saturday night had completed either 79 (the organizers lied about the 75; we all noticed) or 100 miles. In the morning each one of us was going to rise, eat a bizarre breakfast, and ride another 75 miles. And we were convinced that every single rider on the Tour was insane.

7. Those pockets on the back of a cycling jersey can hold so much stuff that at the end of the day you might find things you forgot you’d stuck back there. On the second day mine held a berry-blend protein bar, a squeeze packet of lemonade-flavored electrolyte gel, the aforementioned Sport Beans, and a Stinger vanilla waffle. And my smartphone.

Ooooh... a chocolate waffle. But I heard the honey waffles are the best.

Ooooh… a chocolate waffle. But I heard the honey waffles are the best.

8. Cyclists are quite proud of their bizarre tan lines. Because of the gear they wear, they usually tan in a patch on the back of the hand, from the shoulder to the wrist, from mid-thigh to the knee, on the top of the nose, and at the back of the neck. And since there’s not really a way to cover these areas and tan the rest, that’s just the way it is.

cycling tanlines

cycling legs

9. It’s okay to judge the cyclist ahead of you by their calves. Cycling is NOT a weight-loss activity. You can do it every day and it only seems to tone and reshape you on the inside. Except for the calves. You can quickly tell who just started riding (they have calves), who has been training for a while (they have muscular calves), who has been doing this for some time (they have “cut” calves with great muscle definition), and who wants to turn pro (you can see every tendon in their calves, and they complain that the route does not have enough hills to present a challenge). Thighs are not always a fair way to judge a cyclist. Young female cyclists may have muscular thighs. Older female cyclists may have big-looking thighs that hide their muscles. Long-distance cyclists of any gender may have long, lean, yet muscular thighs. But professional sprinters and track cyclists will have thighs as big around as a normal person’s waist.


calves riding

10. You can do it. No matter how crazy your goal might seem, you can do it. Practice, train, and dream… and train some more. You can do what you thought was impossible. But you have to try.


Published in: on July 21, 2014 at 10:03 pm  Comments (2)  

Don’t Stop Me Now

To clarify, this week’s post title is quite different from the phrase “nothing can stop me now,” which is engraved in my family’s history as the ill-fated phrase my brother has triumphantly exclaimed immediately before numerous and painful occasions. Some of these occasions are accompanied by gruesome photographic documentation. Be glad I do not possess copies of such documentation; they are not to be viewed by the faint of heart. Suffice it to say that I will never utter the phrase “nothing can stop me now” for the rest of my life. It sorely tempts fate, which, frankly, doesn’t need much tempting in the first place.

This week I was able to indulge in some hours of intense activity as well as some moments of introspection. The activity consisted of a cross-country ski session that, while quite fun (I’d do it again! I swear!), pushed the edges of my personal envelope with regards to pain; it was icier and “slopier” than I’d expected, and although I hiked the trail and carried my skis for most of the trail, I did take some rather spectacular spills, one of which my ski-partner may have managed to catch on video.

Let me know if you’ve already seen this on YouTube. Specifically, from 0:14 to 0:17. This documents Crash #2 of 5. Or of perhaps 6. I started to lose count after a while.

Happily, especially because I do *not* at the present moment actually have any health insurance, discretion became the better part of sanity by the end of the trip, and I retreated from the ski trails before any body parts broke, dislocated, disintegrated, or exploded. Many of them were bruised, but I cannot give an accurate accounting of how many, because I am daily discovering new bruises in some unlikely places. After Crash Five (or Six) I cut my ski-partner loose to do something besides wait at the bottom of the slope to see how long it would take me to get up, and speculate as to whether or not I’d be able to retrieve my hat, cell phone, or skis without his assistance. I suppose he went skiing for a while or something.

After several ice pack sessions (okay, bag-of-frozen-peas sessions) on my sore right shoulder, I had time to speculate on the size of my personal envelope.

Don't spend it all in one place, folks.

Don’t spend it all in one place, folks.

My friend’s personal envelope? Well, considering he already has a pilot’s license, skydives, rides a unicycle, and is learning to juggle, I assume it’s considerably larger than mine.

largest envelope

This might have room for enough postage to mail someone to the Moon.

The neat thing (well, one of the neat things) about hanging out with someone like this is that their idea of reasonable activity is so far above “sitting on the couch watching videos” that almost anything you do helps to expand your own horizons and challenge you beyond what you thought you were capable of. For example, on Saturday morning I often felt I was not capable of standing up again. But I did stand up again, over and over. I’m stubborn as hell a persistent soul, and I wasn’t going to fail to live up to whatever I thought the expectations were. And even though I felt on Sunday morning as if I’d been a rock in a tumbler, I still had a great time on Saturday.

Resting up gave me a chance to think about all the things I don’t usually do, and all the things I’ve wanted to do but haven’t pushed myself to accomplish over the years.

What, really, is stopping me besides myself?


I used to set ten-year goals and for them, create a five-year sub-plan and a list of reasonable one-year tasks. Heck, I used to have goals rather than random resolutions — though I don’t mean to denigrate the effort I put into the random resolutions. Some of them might not have been quite so random. But at some point (perhaps when I was at home with four kids ages seven and under?) having any kind of long-term goal was ludicrous. Day-to-day survival was a much more reasonable achievement. Keep everyone alive for now, and we’ll deal with the big picture later. Capisce?

But now we’ve all survived that period of intense-personal-care parenting. The “kids” range from almost 15 to almost 8. They’re able to go along with most of the things I’d like to do (even if they’re not yet willing), and even help with the planning, preparation, and performance of said “thing.” (Not so much on the putting-away afterwards, but we can work on that.)

Now, I can get back to my thing, which has always been writing.

What I’m knitting this week:

I finished the first and second “Don’t Shoot” cowls — one was done in time for last weekend’s road trip to Ice-Land, and the second one was finished two days later. Moving on!

Don't Shoot! number 2.

Don’t Shoot! number 2.

This week I’m knitting a meme — more accurately, the knitting instructions I read in a meme that’s been making the rounds on Facebook.

It's not rocket science, people... it's more like fiber-based topology.

It’s not rocket science, people… it’s more like fiber-based topology.

Here is what I have so far. Actually, that’s not true. I have several more inches of this by now. It’s just that it’s such a simple pattern that it puts me to sleep when I knit it, and if I use up all the yarn I have allotted for it, I’ll probably be sleeping for the next twenty years, which is not how I wanted to spend the next twenty years.

Got coma?

Got coma?

Part of me is screaming inside: All right, now you know what it looks like! Rip it out and knit something more interesting! That part of my brain is doing battle with the part that controls the hands to calmly turn the work around, pick up the free needle once again, and think: Well, it’s not as if it’s hard… and people need scarves….

Published in: on January 16, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Week Forty-Eight: Thank you

Thank you.

Thank you for reading.


Thank you for commenting.


Thank you for visiting my blog before I have something new published, because you know it’s almost time.


Thank you for sharing the link to my blog.


Thank you for clicking “Like” after a post that you liked.


Thank you for responding to my surveys and questions.


Thank you for following my news feed.


Thank you for hanging out in this space, my little corner of the Internet.


Thank you for believing that I could accomplish all my crazy resolutions.


Thank you for trusting that every week really would bring a new blog post.


Thank you for tolerating such a wide range of writing: knitting play-by-plays, philosophical musings, weather reports, “Hamlet” commentary, nerdy math posts, room makeovers, photo essays, and even a sonnet.


Thank you for scrolling down.


Thank you for laughing at the silly pictures I find and embed.

End of Internet

Thank you for coming back.


Thank you for sharing your feedback.


Thank you for encouraging me.


Thank you, on Thanksgiving Day and every day.

Published in: on November 28, 2013 at 9:00 am  Comments (2)  

Week Thirty-Three: Grand Designs

This week has been full speed, full tilt, full out. So it’s strange that at this point I’m not sure that I have anything important to say.

This weekend, though, I gave a makeover to my dining room. It was really an act of faith to call it a dining room at all, as we didn’t eat there, let alone “dine.” No dining-related apparatus was stored there. Oh, there was a table surrounded by four chairs, but it was covered in perpetuity with clean folded kid clothes, school papers, crayons and paper, books, board games, and Lego pieces. I struggled for many years with how to use the room and how it should look, and it didn’t help that it was often the dumping ground for items left over from the makeovers of other rooms. I didn’t dare return anything to the basement, but all the items needed a real place. And until I could visualize the function of the “new” room, I couldn’t imagine the form.

"Before," to my eternal shame.

“Before,” to my eternal shame.

Finally I started to see it. Last Saturday the kids and I went to Target looking for, among other things, a set of ladder shelves on which I could display my accumulation of Macintosh keyboards (“collection” being far too intentional a word). Target didn’t have one, but they had a desk that caught my eye — a simple desk that just might do. I gathered the kids together and we agreed on the Walnut color, and we hauled it into the shopping cart and took it home. And then I started working, one item at a time, on the dining room.




Well, now it was obvious that I had room for an identical desk on the other side of the tall plastic stack o’ drawers. So I got on the Internet and searched the inventory at my other local Target stores… and found one Walnut desk. Perfect.

Sunday came and we all headed out again, to a different Target store. We shopped for backpacks and snacks and assorted things, then rang up the desk. Oops…. the card wouldn’t go through. But it would without the desk, so we left it there. We went home, and I shuffled the money around online and kept working on the dining room.


Monday came. We all went to my knitting group for a while, then it was, guess what, off to Target! to fetch the desk. Then off to OfficeMax to get dry-erase boards to hang over each desk. Then home again to put all the pieces together.

"After." A room for homework, projects, and even dining.

“After.” A room for homework, projects, and even dining.

I got to use an electric drill. And a level. And measuring tape. (After having put together two admittedly simple desks. It was heaven.)


So far we have eaten at the dining room table a few times, cleaning up after ourselves when we’re done. I have laid a few small piles of clean folded clothes on the table, but they get put away within 12 hours. And the kids have done a couple of their own creative projects, and cleaned up after themselves. The real test will come when school starts after Labor Day, but so far it looks and feels like a success. I can even push the curtains aside to let in the summer sun.

When I was done, the kids were stunned. My middle son said I had done the impossible. And my daughter asked, “Why did you fix up the dining room all of a sudden?” Well, after living here for six years, I finally knew what that room should look like.

Published in: on August 16, 2013 at 9:00 am  Comments (2)  

Week Twenty-Eight: Quiet Time

Last weekend I ferried my Teen to another state and had the rare and disconcerting task of driving home alone. I took a new route because I could, and it was refreshing to view different roadside scenery for a few hours, but ultimately, seven hours is a long time to spend only with one’s own thoughts, particularly when one has become accustomed to having one’s thoughts interrupted every minute and a half so that one may (a) give permission for someone else to have a glass of water, (b) appreciate someone else’s capture of all three star coins on world 8-5 of Super Mario Bros Wii, or (c) accompany someone else up the stairs solely because said other person does not like going up said stairs alone. To say that my current life prepared me for that much introspection in such a large dose is like thinking that a few tennis table serves will adequately prepare you to face Rafa Nadal on a clay court.

Much of my introspection was about coming to terms with being alone. Now, of course I have my Darling Children, and my Immediate Family, and my Fellow Persons-of-the-Yarn, and my Cyber Friends, and you, my Dear Readers. I’m talking about being the one who pulls the heavy loads around here and makes the daily decisions and remembers to pay the bills and put gas in the car and snag the freelance jobs and get everyone to the doctor when they need to be there. (raises hand) I’m not terrible about doing these things; they’re all doable. The critical parts lie in reminding myself beforehand, and recovering afterwards. Being a comfort to myself isn’t something I’ve been doing.

Quiet times are essential for me to be able to let my plans, my ideas, and my anxieties to all come to the surface to be dealt with. Chatter, interruptions, and general busy-ness tend to plaster them over, so that I don’t notice any gaps until there’s a tectonic-level shift and the paint starts flaking off the walls. The old saying “If it’s to be, it’s up to me” came to mind. While on one level it would be nice to be able to pretend to live the life of the idle rich, I need to live realistically and realize I’m the pilot, the navigator, and the mechanic. I need the quiet time so that I can make better plans for the not-so-quiet times, when I’m needed at the wheel. I’m not used to having quiet times, so they’re uncomfortable now. But those feelings of discomfort are like surface tension before it’s broken though — or the sound barrier, which was perceived to be dangerous (if not fatal) for many years. They are part of the territory in which I now dwell.

And then the quiet got to be too much, and I found a hard-rock station that was doing a Top 500 countdown. Rock on and sing along! Back to the comfort of the familiar….

I just need one or two more skeins of new yarn to finish what I started with the scraps, I swear!

I just need one or two more skeins of new yarn to finish what I started with the scraps, I swear!

Knitwise, I started a simple little shawl with the leftovers from the slippers I knitted for my grandmother. I got as far as I can go on it without buying more yarn from the same dye lot, and this will have to wait until I can visit the same store. This week at knit night I cast on for a giftknit project with a deadline. I was gratified to discover that I remembered how to do the long-tail cast-on without flaw, and that I estimated almost perfectly how long said tail should be. However, working with that close of a length value tends to make the last stitch or so impossible to knit. After several failed attempts, I passed the project to Bonnie, who accomplished it for me and passed the project back. I probably won’t show a photo of that project until after it’s done; after all, it is a gift and I don’t want to risk spoiling the surprise. And right now I’m in the very early stages, so it won’t look at all like what it’s going to be when it grows up. But I promise that you’ll get to see it eventually, unless of course I cut it to tiny pieces from sheer frustration with the yarn, which I’ve never used before and might never again. The first skein of at least eight skeins contained three knots, which is unacceptable. I am saving them in a little baggie to mail to Lion Brand with a very vent-y letter when my project is complete.

I’m going to concentrate on the giftknit and the simple shawl until both are done. I also have a sock in progress, but it doesn’t have a deadline. Sorry, sock. I’ll get back to you.

Published in: on July 11, 2013 at 7:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Week Twenty-Six: We Shall Never Speak of This Again

I started this blog somewhere around 2006. We were innocent knitbloggers then. We posted pictures of our kids and used their real names, talked about where we lived and when we were going on vacation, and basically shared all kinds of details about our lives. That changed for me the day I was checking my statistics page and noticed that people were using my firstborn son’s full name as the search term for finding my blog. All right, Search Engine Optimization is one thing, but there are very few people who are on a “need to know” basis for my firstborn’s middle name. At that point I removed a lot of kidly photos from my blog, and tried to share personal information more thoughtfully.

These days I spend quite a lot of time on Facebook, and I wince at the ways people leave themselves bare and vulnerable. They announce with great fanfare when they will be away from home for extended periods of time. They post pictures of their children for all the Public to see. They advertise their preferred bedroom activities in one post, then complain about their stalking ex in another. They complain about their jobs, then complain that they’ve been “let go.” They issue vague, passive-aggressive status reports so that cyberfriends will rush to their emotional rescue. It’s tough stuff to watch, and it makes me that much more aware of any details I post about my own life.

That being said, I marked a very personal milestone last week, and I thought it needed to be mentioned — once and only once. Last week I was divorced. Now, I have been married before, and counting from the date of my first wedding, I have spent 80 percent of the time from then to now in a married state. But I am single now and intend to stay that way.

It’s been a long time since I last called myself single. I’m finding that no matter how much time I think I need to have in order to understand myself, I’m underestimating. (Sheesh. I have a lot of me to understand. No wonder I’m hard to live with.) I also have children to co-parent for the rest of my life. Because they are important to me, and their mental and emotional health is important to me, my blog is not going to be a space where you will see me bash an ex, any ex. Life is tough enough to handle without making it hard on other people with open wounds, petty jealousy, and juvenile revenge fantasies. I may struggle sometimes, but I’m doing my best to be decent to everyone in this situation, including myself. I trust that if I hold myself to that standard, others may eventually reciprocate. (Sadly, I have some prior experience with this type of thing.) But even if they don’t… I won’t regret walking the high road.

Now it’s time to move on. Want to see an artsy shot of the geeked-up Tardisvan?



In the last week I’ve driven another thousand miles, attended a family reunion, finished a pair of socks, knitted one slipper for my grandmother, grilled hamburgers (and portabella caps), cleaned and reorganized my rental house’s laundry room (well, I’m almost done), and maybe done another thing or two here and there.

Redskin, I mean, Redhawk hockey socks!

Redskin, I mean, Redhawk hockey socks!

This weekend I have a big plan: to support my knitting friend Bonnie Stedman Dahnert. She’s the honorary chairperson for — oh, heck, read all about it here. Come back when you’re done, and I’ll put the rest in my own words.

I started our local knitting group, but Bonnie is our rock. She seems to know everyone in the county, know what to do on every occasion, and know how to teach any knitting technique you need to learn. She has taught some people to knit, and others how to crochet, and others how to spin. She has given advice, yarn, driving directions, restaurant reviews, prayers, and compassion to everyone who needed them. We half-joke that whenever we don’t know what to do, we call Bonnie. When my youngest son had a stitches-requiring accident last summer and my husband was away, I instinctively called Bonnie and she immediately said “bring the kids here.” She watched my other kids until after midnight, when Tommy finally had his stitches in.

In return we have shared her joys and tried our feeble best to help bear her own fears and sorrows. I don’t know if the newspaper article I linked to fully describes the anxiety our group felt when we realized the toll this second round of chemotherapy was taking on her, and how close we came to losing her. The CaringBridge site that her daughter Brigitta set up for her allowed us a glimpse into the minute-by-minute fight that she gave this second round of cancer. I do know that “she responded well to the treatment” is not the most accurate description of Bonnie’s fall and winter of 2012.

So, Saturday. I’ll be there for her as leads the lap of cancer survivors around the track, and as she speaks to the crowd. This morning at knitting-group she gave us pink-ribbon buttons that say, “No one fights alone!” And she’s right. We all have to fight for each other. It’s a bumpy ride, this short life, and we need to spend our time making it easier for each other.

Week Twenty-Four: There and Back Again

Since last week’s post I have made “homemade” ice cream twice (quotation marks here because I used a Rival ice cream base instead of making a custard), made asparagus soup completely from scratch (starting with harvesting the asparagus from the back yard), survived a youth soccer tournament (three games spread out over four hours, with nary a goal for our valiant and exhausted team), and bought a share in a CSA farm (it turns out that I am that kind of person).

Potage, Crème D'Asperges Vertes

Potage, Crème D’Asperges Vertes

These accomplishments pale compared to the round trip I made on Monday and Tuesday to drop off The Teen at my parents’ house in Ohio. My seven-year-old also came along, to be company for me on the way back. I have done this trip before — oh, soooo many times. I moved away in 1999 and made at least three round trips that year, and probably at least two round trips every year after that. Feel free to do the math (it’s not really that interesting or complex). However, I’ve never done it as a simple overnight round trip. My policy has always been to spend more time at the destination than I spend on the drive, and I’ve almost always stuck to that. This trip, however, needed to happen, and I made it happen.

I am…tired. Sore. Uneager to drive more than ten miles at a stretch, for a while. But I have to admit that my Eldest and Youngest Boys made for good travelling companions. I don’t know the proportions with any certainty, but part of it is because they’re nice guys. Part of it is because we have all made this drive so many times that, as a family, we can pass by a bunch of grain silos painted with some generic corporate logo and remark, “These are the ones that used to say ‘Popcorn, Indiana’.” I think they know where I’m going to turn by when I change lanes. They certainly accept my nicknames for landmarks.

Propellerville. Otherwise known as The Area Between Wolcott and Lafayette, Indiana.

It was a fine trip, all 999.7 miles of it, but I’m going to bed now. Pretty soon, I’ll have to make this trip again — taking three and bringing back four. I’m going to need a bigger car for that one.

Published in: on June 13, 2013 at 10:10 am  Leave a Comment  

Week Twenty-One: What to do in Wisconsin

Last week the kidlets and I were raiding one of the local thrift stores during our spare time. Lo and behold, I finally found the wondrous book I would need to conquer this summer: Wisconsin With Kids. Surely it would be chock-full of interesting day trips to entertain and educate us.

Um, not so much. My county is not listed, nor is the adjacent county to the south. That seems to imply that our region lacks greatly in Interesting Things To Do Mit Kinder.

Apparently the book has a few blank pages here and we need to fill them in ourselves. Challenge accepted!

Within walking distance of my house we have extremely local Rome Raiders baseball. Weather was a big factor in our not being able to attend any games last season, but we will make up for it this year. The kids are just beginning to be interested in baseball to the point where Colleen will ask questions about rules and calls. When the weather is good, they want to play baseball in the back yard. (Here in the country, that means “at the top of the hill between the garage and the barn; don’t hit the ball into the cornfield.”)

Rome Raiders

Other baseball options are the Madison Mallards, a collegiate baseball league, and the Eagle Diamonds, who play by 1860s rules at Old World Wisconsin.

Eagle Diamonds

Old World Wisconsin also has special programs for “The World of Little House,” which Colleen is now reading, and “Civil War Wisconsin,” which starts August 1.

Speaking of Laura Ingalls Wilder, her parents (remember Charles and Caroline Ingalls? Of course you do!) were married in very nearby Concord. This isn’t where Laura grew up (that was Pepin, west of Eau Claire), but it’s part of the local fabric.

And speaking of the Civil War, reenactments are big around here, and it’s time we saw one of them. There is an annual encampment in Waukesha (which is also the hometown of guitar legend Les Paul). Failing that, we need to travel to Madison to visit legendary friend Dale-Harriet in her capacities at the Wisconsin State Historical Museum. While we’re downtown, we should probably tour the capitol building. I haven’t been there since JC, now 14, was a six-month-old in an umbrella stroller. That was one interesting climb to the top of the rotunda!

Wisconsin State Capital on a clear summer day. Aerial photo.

Jefferson has a local museum, and surely so do Cambridge, Watertown, Whitewater, Lake Mills, Palmyra, and Eagle.

Trek Bicycles are manufactured in not-too-far-away Waterloo. I wonder if they have a racing-bike museum or give tours? Why, yes, they do!


We have several area libraries to visit, some of which have regular meetings of Lego Clubs and Pokémon Clubs.

There’s a local petting zoo in addition to the Madison and Milwaukee zoos. Waukesha has a planetarium. UW-Whitewater is fixing up its big telescope, and as long as we’re down there, the campus is our playground for the summer. There are tennis courts, basketball hoops, Starin Park, and the University Center, which will let us play video games on its big screens for free.

Every tiny town around here has a huge and impressive aquatic center, because it does get hot here. There is also a big beach at Pewaukee Lake, which they have already asked to visit.

Pewaukee Lake Beach

We can buy a trail pass through the WI DNR and get access to all the state’s parks, trails, and scenic sites for the rest of the year.

Considering that they are signed up for summer school during June, will have from a weekend to a week with their dad at the family farm in the U.P., will spend two weeks in Ohio with me, and there will also be Youth Football in August for one of them… I don’t know how we’re going to find enough time to do all these things.

Published in: on May 23, 2013 at 7:11 am  Leave a Comment  

Week Twenty: Cars I Have Known

Last weekend I got a new car. Okay, a new old car. Okay, a new old minivan. But it got me thinking about all the different cars I’ve owned. Of course, every one has a story. And I think that, somewhere, I have pictures of each of them — but I’ll never find them tonight. For illustrative purposes I’ll throw in some stock photography, then update this post as I locate and scan photos of my own cars.

1. 1981 Buick Skylark

Your first car should be special; I’m sure my Dad intended it to be. I was working at my first real full-time job and it was time for a dependable car of my own, not the 1981 Buick Skylark I was borrowing from my parents. I went to several dealerships with Dad and looked at several cars. I wasn’t impressed with any of them, but I did remember that he had me set the parking brake on one car, then he physically pushed it forward several feet. “Nope.” Finally we looked at a 1983 Buick Century. It was a four-door sedan and I hated it on sight. I didn’t like the color, the fit, the feel, or anything else about it. But Dad was in love, utterly smitten. “Maybe,” he finally said, “we could get this car for your mother and you could have the Skylark.”

“I’ll take the Skylark,” I said.

My Buick, parked at my Grove City apartment in a 1992 summer thunderstorm.

My Buick, parked at my Grove City apartment in a 1992 summer thunderstorm.

The transaction was sealed when Mom handed me the keys to the Skylark and said, “Pop the hood.” She then proceeded to show me how to properly apply Gum-Out.

I was happy with the Skylark for a while, but eventually I realized that it was starting to fall apart. I was spending as much each month on repair bills as I would have on a car payment. One day I was making the one-mile drive between work and home when green fluid started pouring into the cabin from somewhere on the other side of the dashboard. When I turned left towards the Shell service station instead of right for home, I had already decided that this car’s days were numbered.

2. 1990 Honda Civic EX

Not my car… but a twin!

The first car I actually bought was the car I should have been warned about, but I never blamed the car. I loved that little thing. But I’m jumping ahead. Let’s go back to when I was taking cars on test drives.

One finalist was the local mega-dealer. If you are now, or have ever been, from Columbus, Ohio, you know who I’m talking about already. I knew I wouldn’t actually buy a car from them, but I was curious about the process. It was even worse than I had expected. I wasn’t allowed to drive the car on their lot because of liability. I asked to see a manual-transmission car and was shown an automatic in shocking pink. The salesman, while driving, tried to sell the car to me based on the fact that the passenger visor had a mirror on it. When I was finally in the salesman’s cubicle and he asked, “What can I do to get you into this car today?” I could honestly say, “Nothing. I told you I was only looking, and you showed me nothing I wanted to see.” And I left.

Another finalist was the Saturn, which at that time was the new kid in town. There were only a couple of dealerships, so I drove north of Worthington to test one out. The people were very nice, and I liked the “no game playing” aspect of the Saturn experience, but the car itself didn’t impress me very much.

Honorable mention goes to a Subaru XT I drove. This is the car that doesn’t have a steering wheel — it has a yoke like you’d see in a fighter jet. A Google search is failing me now, but I think this is the car I drove. It was really unusual looking, and I remember thinking I’d never get used to that yoke instead of a wheel.

I ended up test driving the Honda Civic at a respectable Honda dealership on the north side, near Westerville. The staff members were very casual about the test drive process; they threw me the keys and said, “Bring it back whenever.” Nobody rode with me to do a hard sell. And I really liked the car. I traded in the Skylark, which probably showed up somewhere on the south side at a pay-to-own lot, and purchased my first car.

After I bought the car, its history gradually emerged. It was a dealer loaner, meaning that customers drove it when their cars were in the shop at the dealership. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when the transmission started giving me problems and they recommended replacing it, the service history of my car really started to emerge. Turns out there wasn’t much of one; even though the car had spent most of its two years right there on the lot, they hadn’t actually bothered to hit its service marks with much accuracy. And this was the second time the transmission had been replaced. Let me repeat: a two-year-old car was now on its third transmission!

The EX model, too, was very “special.” Every time I took the car somewhere for a change or a part, I heard, “OH. You have the EX.” I once spent a whole work day driving across Columbus and back in a raging blizzard to find the proper set of tires for it, only to get stuck in the snow at the entrance to my condo community at the end of the day.

But I didn’t blame the car. It was surprisingly spacious inside — once I managed to fit four Windsor chairs and a king-size waterbed mattress in it. I bolted a roof rack on it and hauled a canoe all over central Ohio. This person had a similar experience with their (also blue) Civic EX.

Yes, the original photo was taken in black and white with a manually operated SLR. The location is actually Sunset Cemetery near Alton, Ohio.

Yes, the original photo was taken in black and white with a manually operated SLR. The location is actually Sunset Cemetery near Alton, Ohio.

When I got a job in Wisconsin, though, and it was time to move, I had the chance to accept a used Audi from my father-in-law, who was buying a brand new Jetta. I sold the Civic to my brother for a dollar, thinking he’d be able to fill it to the brim with band equipment. And as it went with many things I gave or loaned to my brother, I never inquired as to its final disposition.

3. 1988 Audi 80

Not my car, or my wheels. The rest is similar.

This car always had the biggest snob appeal for me. It was tiny and it was eleven years old, but it was cute. And it was an AUDI dammit. We took delivery of it somehow, and I packed it to the moon with everything I could get in it when we moved to Wisconsin — my newborn in the center. I’ll never forget driving on the Chicago Tollway at 65mph with one hand, using the other to position a baby bottle for a freeway feeding as we passed the O’Hare exit. Fast times!

It was a wonderful little car. Like the Civic, the Audi was also pressed into service as a canoe hauler… but only once or twice. Its only liability was that this shade of grey blended perfectly with things like, oh, asphalt. When it was on the road, it was almost invisible. People pulled out in front of me, or nearly did, countless times. For a while I contemplated having the car repainted Tornado Red just so someone might see it. But it wouldn’t have been right. It was a modest, unassuming car.

I had the car for three years, putting on miles via longer and longer trips, and one day on the expressway I heard a blood-chilling THUNK from somewhere below me. Transmission. Almost gone. I saved the car for only necessary trips and started taking the bus to work instead. When I moved to Indiana, we towed the car behind us. After I parked it in my new town, it never started again. When we moved back to Wisconsin three months later, my only option was to sell it for salvage.

I still have the key.

4. 1986 Ford Crown Victoria Wagon

I have a panoramic photo that does justice to my Crown Vic. Until I scan it in, this car from “Tremors” will have to do.

We were the third owners of this car, which we bought in about 2003 from an engineer in Wausau. He had installed air shocks in the back, which were worked by a rocker switch under the dash. It was in wonderful shape for its age, and when the air shocks were pumped up it had a terrific “stance” to it. It also featured a third seat that opened like a cellar door — the riders faced each other.

The Crown Vic was impressive enough, but one day we were getting some sort of service done, and when they ran the VIN the car was identified as a Mustang! What an engine that car had. Amazingly, nobody got a speeding ticket with it.

I often derive a nickname from my car's license plate, so we called this one "Flash" for a while.

I often derive a nickname from my car’s license plate, so we called this one “Flash” for a while.

Does this angle make my tailgate look big?

Does this angle make my tailgate look big?

I don’t remember what started going south on this car, and it could well be that with more kids in the family, we wanted to get a newer car that could handle contemporary child seats. The Crown Vic only had lap belts, and it took a lot of searching to find a Canadian-style booster seat for JC. (You’ve seen one if you’ve ever watched “Caillou.”) When it did come to the end of its service life it was sold for salvage, all 46 tons of it.

5. 2000 Chevy Venture

You’ve seen this van everywhere before.

This minivan puts the “us” in “ubiquitous.” When my oldest son was in second grade, and I drove him to an elementary school that housed only about three grades, this minivan was one of about SIX matching minivans. And I don’t mean that there were six Chevy Ventures. I mean that there were six Chevy Ventures in this exact same shade of red. Just at that small Catholic elementary school in a relatively small town in Wisconsin. The way we spotted ours was to note the broken left taillight casing. This vehicle was so common that the kids and I played a spy game with it, calling out “imposter!” when we spotted yet another twin. It had dual power doors, which eventually failed; other than that its two best features were the electronic compass and the “info” feature on the radio.

Yes... that's a motorcycle.

Yes… that’s a motorcycle.

I have to admit that it was great for long road trips, and it could haul a lot. But it didn’t really have a distinct personality, being the member of the Clone Army that it surely was. It was sold to some local folks who probably fixed it up and flipped it. Every time I pass one I look for a broken left taillight. Maybe it’s having the time of its life in Mexico.

6. 1994 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon

Not my car, but it could be, down to the trim FAIL on the driver’s side.

Now we’re talking CAR! This car puts a smile on the face of everyone who sees it. I’ve lost count of how many times middle-aged men have approached me at the gas pumps to tell me about their memories of family vacations as seen from the third seat (a location we refer to as the “Wayback”). Sunroof. Cruise Control. Hydraglide. A tailgate that opens down… or to the side. And a Corvette engine.

The Really Wide Buick. Really!

The Really Wide Buick. Really!

7. 1997 VW Passat (“Helga”)

Wait a minute… Triforce Motors???

This is the car my husband Peter bought with the insurance settlement money after his beloved VW GTI was destroyed, along with his legs, in a car accident in which we were hit by a pickup truck. His quick reflexes saved both our lives, but broke both his legs. I sustained minor injuries, but he earned himself a free (?) helicopter ride to Grant Hospital and was in a wheelchair for weeks. After that trauma, he couldn’t bring himself to buy a little car again. When he was ready to get behind the wheel again, he chose a manual-transmission Passat sedan with a VR6 engine. He named this one “Helga the Barge.” (The GTI had been “Gertrudis.”) He gave me driving lessons in it in 1999, but I was still under the impression you couldn’t hold down the clutch and the accelerator at the same time, so I was striving for an almost impossible timing, and I never drove it after my lessons were over.

After he suddenly passed away in 2011, I asked to have it. It has some bodywork issues, but I’m gradually restoring it to its glory as a touring sedan and hope to make it my primary car within the next five years.

8. 1999 VW Jetta (“Trixie”)

As tested by Motor Trend magazine!

Peter’s father Clayton bought this Jetta in 1999 and passed along his Audi 80 to me. He passed away in 2009, and Peter made sure to drive it at least once a month and keep it in good condition. After Peter himself died, I asked for this car, too. It’s jointly titled to me and to my son James Clayton, Clayton’s only grandchild. When he’s old enough to own his own car, it’s his. Right now it makes a marvelous commuter car (and takes 87 octane!), but it’s a little small for my family of five unless it’s a short trip.

9. 2002 Dodge Caravan

Not my TARDIS… but almost.

The Roadmaster is now falling apart one piece at a time, and when I realized I shouldn’t try to take it on one more round trip to Ohio (and I have at least two such trips planned for this summer), I started searching online for my next car. I was looking more at Subarus (i.e. a vehicle that would hold all of us, but be short enough that I could get a canoe on the roof rack), but the kids begged, “Please, Mom. Get a minivan, and one made in this century.” I thought that was fine, but really hoped I could find a dark blue van that looked like a TARDIS.

One peek at Craigslist Madison, and there it was, in my price range. Hello sweetie! I’m not done geeking it up yet, but all the kids already refer to it as the TARDIS. (JC is still holding out to name it Eccleston, since it’s a TARDIS and my 9th car. Get it??? Well, if it had black leather seats I think it would be an easier sell. But it doesn’t.)


And it really does feel bigger on the inside.

And it really does feel bigger on the inside.

Published in: on May 16, 2013 at 3:03 pm  Comments (1)