On August 30 one year ago today we officially began our Wisconsin life. The movers came, we registered the girls for school and we wondered what was next. It has been a year full of firsts, new experiences, emotions, excitement, frustration, friendly faces, memories and change. I think we all learned a lot. We learned that we can get through a major upheaval and still remain intact. Being thrown in this together made us stronger and perhaps more dependent on each other. The girls didn’t know what to expect and that unknowing was hard but they will be the first to tell you that they like it here. They love the emphasis on the arts in school and they have made good friends. They have discovered volleyball and we even put a net up in our yard that we have had for years but never used (thank you to my sister Marianne, I think!). Mark’s job has been fantastic (yay QTI for your wonderful recruiting!). The board and supporters of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra are energized and have been vocal about how happy they are that we, the whole family, are here (I appreciate them telling me this too). Mark has already lined up some new concerts for the orchestra and the musicians really like him which means a lot. I very easily fell into some Kindermusik teaching (thank you Musical Pathways!). It was such a natural fit for me and the organization that it felt absolutely providential. Also providential was meeting some wonderful people while working at Epic who have become good friends (yes you, Kurt, Ann, Jenny & Noli). It can be hard to meet people when you’re not in a regular work environment so I consider myself lucky to have crossed paths with these folks. I am not sure what I will end up doing in the long term. Part of me wants to try something completely new but I don’t know what yet! There is time to figure that out in this still new place.
Wisconsin is much more beautiful than we knew. The rolling hills and long views over farmland are exquisite. We noticed that there are controlled burns of the prairie in spring to promote the natural vegetation. Many of the plants are familiar to us – black-eyed susan, coneflower and lilacs – but the tall grasses are more striking and the deep green of the landscape (well not in winter) is more intense. Or maybe it’s just that it’s a different green. In Massachusetts the green is from the many trees whereas here it’s from the grass and corn. I do miss the masses of forsythia that grew along the roadside in Littleton though and Rose’s super-blooming rose bush.
Wisconsin foods have their own niche. When you are in the supermarket there is no doubt you are in the dairy state. Seriously, the cheese case (not counting artisan cheeses, just the regular cheese sticks, shredded cheese and rectangles of cheddar) is about twice as big as in other places. No calcium deficiency here. Fried cheese curds have become our favorite appetizer when we eat out. Frozen custard seems more plentiful than ice cream. It is yummy but I do miss Kimballs. We have yet to eat at a supper club or go to a Friday fish fry, two Wisconsin traditions. Not being a fish eater myself, I could skip the latter. I’m not quite clear on what a supper club is other than some kind of restaurant but I am game to find out. The local food movement is huge here. It is the norm not the exception for upscale (and not so upscale) restaurants to list the nearby farms from which they get their meat, eggs, cheese and produce. It is fresh and delicious and a wonderful reminder to avoid big chain eateries. There are also many more good quality beers available here. People rarely buy beer by the case, so the liquor store owner told me, because they want to choose a 6-pack from several different breweries to sample. We haven’t even been to all the brewpubs in Madison or any of the handful of local distilleries.
It is true that life runs at a slightly slower pace here. I often am the first car to take the initiative and proceed through a four-way stop or to rush through a yellow light. This summer there was a lot of construction in and around Madison that snarled traffic but usually “rush hour” is a mildly inconvenient half hour. People seem more respectful of weekends as well. If someone calls with a work related matter on Saturday or Sunday they begin by apologizing for bothering you on the weekend. That just didn’t happen in Boston.
I know Bostonians have a reputation for their accent (which we did not acquire, much to everyone’s surprise here) but Wisconsin has its own peculiar pronunciations. The girls came home in stitches on the first day of school last year when their teachers mentioned putting something in a bag (pronounced with a long “a”). It reminds me of the flat “a” of Central New York. Of course some people have the accent more than others and we chuckle when we hear that somewhat nasal midwestern twang. Think “Prairie Home Companion” and you’ll know what I mean.
Sports are out of control here but it’s all about the UW not professional. Well, OK the Packers are huge but for all other sports it’s the Badgers. We are not huge sports people but we do love the fun of a good game. We had the privilege of seeing a few men’s basketball and hockey games from a suite, a women’s hockey game (no alcohol allowed for the peons in regular seats) and women’s soccer. There is a school song they sing that we can’t quite make out the words to, but the opening melody always reminds us of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” We crack up every time. Mark and I are headed to a football game this September which should be quite a spectacle. Envision a sea of fans dressed in red, many of whom have started drinking at 8 a.m. Depending on where you are sitting I’ve heard that it’s not an experience to which you want to take young children. We don’t need to worry as the tickets that were given to us are in a section that is probably too pricey for the students. Nothing against them; they help make the game lively!
Finally, biking is the thing here. Mark and I have gone on a few group rides (thank you Gordon!) near Verona that were a wonderful introduction to the many scenic routes nearby. Again, the views are stunning and the hills provide a challenge. One regular route we do takes us on rolling hills and then a fast, flat 3 miles on a path for a little break. As a family we have been on a local bike path that meanders through prairie and can take us all the way into Madison. There are so many paths to explore in and outside the city, we will never tire of them. I am all set to check them out with the new road bike I got in July!
We were back East this summer reconnecting with family and friends. It was wonderful to spend time with people we love who know us inside and out. There is nothing like it in the world. We are thankful for them (too numerous to name!) and with a year’s perspective can see that we haven’t lost a thing.