A New Year

We had a great New Year’s! We had just decided to celebrate quietly at home when we were invited to a small get-together at friends of a friend’s house. They are both musicians and live about 15 minutes from us in Madison. We were told there would be children too so the girls came with us. It was snowing lightly when we arrived at their luminaria decorated house. The kids soon gravitated to the den to play Wii and watch tv and ended up playing soccer in the basement. The adults were so welcoming to Mark and I when they found out we were new to the area. I met several women who bike regularly and they invited me to join them when they start up again in the spring. They do spinning and yoga in the winter so I’m thinking I better stay in shape!

Our hosts lived in France for a while, the husband having grown up there, so the food and wine were delicious – homemade baguettes, bacon-wrapped figs, and apple brandy. Someone else brought a wonderful Greek casserole unlike anything I’ve ever had. We were most taken by the bread oven that doubles as a fireplace in the living room. The hearth is at waist level, making it convenient to use, and the firebox is dome-shaped so it is very efficient. It provided lots of warmth that night but we didn’t get to see it baking anything. They say they make pizza in it all the time, as well as many other things. You just let it heat up to 700 degrees, move the ash out of the way and put the pizza right on the floor of the oven! It cooks in a few minutes. Mark is now scheming how we can put one in our house.

We have gone to a New Year’s Day party at very good friends’ house for many years so rather than pine away missing them we decided to host our own open house. We invited pretty much everyone we know here plus all the neighbors, many of whom we haven’t met. We weren’t quite sure how many would show up especially since the UW football team was playing in a bowl game that afternoon. We had let it be known that the tv would be on for anyone to watch since we know that people here are serious about their football. It turns out most folks like to watch the game in the comfort of their own home though so it was pretty quiet until the end of the game. The Badgers lost but that didn’t keep everyone at home drowning their sorrows. We had a houseful! Musicians of the Chamber Orchestra came as well as board members, patrons, office staff, families from Rose’s soccer team, families of the girls’ friends and many neighbors. Everyone was so appreciative, especially the neighbors we hadn’t had a chance to meet yet. Many people brought lovely house-warming gifts and I think we ended up with more wine than we started with! I think a new tradition has been born!

I made these really cool cylinders out of ice and put candles in them on the porch. Of course you can only do that in a place as cold as Wisconsin! 

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Christmas in Wisconsin

We’ve had a delightful Christmas season in Wisconsin. It started out bitterly cold in early December and rose to a high yesterday of 43 – the first time it was above freezing in weeks! We have almost a foot of snow on the ground, the result of several small to medium sized snowfalls but no huge storms.The girls have been sledding on a hill near us but we are still searching for a big hill! There are lots of parks in Madison we have yet to explore and as I have previously mentioned, Wisconsin is not flat so surely we’ll find something. We recently discovered an outdoor ice rink in a park near our house that is maintained by the city of Verona. They were spraying it the other day so it ought to be nice and smooth. Time to pull out the skates!

We started the season early by helping to decorate the performance hall for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Holiday Pops concert just after Thanksgiving. A local company loaned two beautiful old restored sleighs to put in the lobby. They were truly works of art and the girls got a kick out of pretending they were on a sleigh ride.

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We went on an actual sleigh ride a few days ago. The percheron horses that pulled the sleigh were incredibly impressive. The owner said it was not difficult at all for the two horses to pull the heavy wooden sled with twenty or so people inside. As a matter of fact one of them could handle it but he brought two so they wouldn’t get tired over several hours of rides. For us it was a revelation that there is always snow on the ground for this annual event, unlike in Massachusetts where you never know what winter will bring.

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We found a huge Christmas tree farm from which to choose our tree. We went out on a 20 degree day with a light snow and after lots of traipsing around (and 4 pairs of cold feet) finally cut down a fir. We hadn’t brought a tape measure and when we got home Mark was disappointed that it wasn’t taller! He wanted one that reached to the top of our high-ceilinged living room. It does fill the front window quite nicely though, so it looks good from inside and out. Our movers had somehow managed to leave a giant box of ornaments and lights in the attic of our house in Massachusetts. They got everything else out of that space but somehow missed this important box – go figure. Our realtor very kindly packed it up safely and mailed it to us so we were able to have that annual trip down memory lane, admiring beloved ornaments.

Mark and I went to a cocktail party at the Madison Club one weeknight. It was a fun chance to get dressed up and go downtown. We only knew a few people but lots of folks were very friendly and we ended up meeting two couples who live near us. A few weeks later we splurged and took the girls to a holiday brunch there. It was lavishly decorated and the buffet had an amazing variety of delectable food to choose from. Mark persuaded (forced?) the girls to pose with Santa and we all went home happy and sated. The 5 degree weather kept us from walking to the square to see the Christmas tree in the Capital but there’s always next year!

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Mark and I loved not running around like crazy playing gigs all during December and were surprised at the amount of family time we had. We watched Olivia dance a beautiful Waltz of the Flowers with the Verona Youth Ballet and enjoyed seeing Madison Ballet’s version of the Nutcracker. The girls and I laughed and dabbed our eyes during the Children’s Theater of Madison’s A Christmas Carol, remarking that perhaps that will become a new tradition for us. The girls had friends over to decorate gingerbread houses and Olivia even ventured past the graham cracker type for a stab at real gingerbread. Lots of sugar was consumed!

Christmas day we opened presents and had a big breakfast that we all helped prepare. The rest of the day was spent reading, playing new games and watching movies. It was quite peaceful and relaxing, just as it should be.

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Trolls in Wisconsin

My parents were visiting a few weeks ago so we took the opportunity to venture outside of the Madison area to see what else there is to see. We didn’t have to go far. The village of Mt. Horeb is only 12 miles from Verona and is billed as the troll capitol of the world, demonstrating the citizens’  sense of humor. Originally settled by Norwegian immigrants in the early 19th century much of that heritage remains. Back in the late ’80s the highway was rerouted to bypass the town. Concerned citizens were afraid this would amount to a drop in visitors so they came up with the idea of sprinkling trolls throughout the village as a way to entice people. A local woodcarver created the first ones with names such as The Chicken Thief and The Accordion Player and other artists followed suit. We spotted a few of the more than 20 trolls on the Trollway.

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There were lots of cute shops and beautiful Scandinavian things. It was too early to think about the holidays then, but I am eager to go back to pick some of the lovely Christmas decorations we saw. Also on the list: The Grumpy Troll Brew Pub!

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The Vagaries of Moving

There are some things you just don’t anticipate when you move. Like it’s hard to live without twist-ties.Who knew? Of course we didn’t pack any twist-ties with our kitchen things but when we started going about daily life here I realized I really needed them! You can’t buy them in a store either (as far as I know) so we had to make sure we bought bread equipped with twist-tie-fitted bags instead of those useless plastic closures. I think I have a good stash now.

Similarly, when it came to painting the girls’ rooms we didn’t have any disposable plastic containers for pouring a small amount of paint in in lieu of lugging the whole paint can up the ladder. Arggh! Not wanting to make another trip to the store to buy something I resorted to pouring the rest of the milk into a glass jar and cutting down the jug to the right size. Is that pathetic?

Navigating a new grocery store is so time consuming! I’ve been to many grocery stores in an effort to find one I really like, so I haven’t really learned the layout of any of them. Are the cocktail cherries with the olives or in the canned fruit section? Why can’t I find steak tips? Israeli couscous anyone? I guess I need to pick just one soon so I can cut my shopping time down to less than the multiple hours it seems to take now.

People told us that midwesterners are SO nice. I thought, OK, but people in New England are nice too, their reputation not withstanding. I mean, our friends are nice, our neighbors are nice, the people in stores are (mostly) nice. What do midwesterners have over the rest of us? It turns out they are super helpful. If you ever ask an employee in a store where to find an item, they ALWAYS walk you right to it. No searching for the fourth shelf two-thirds of the way down aisle 16 by yourself. They will then make sure that is the item you wanted and ask you if there is anything else they can help you with. I don’t recall that happening too much in Massachusetts. One time after not finding the item I was looking for an employee tried to brainstorm where else in the store it might be located and similar items that might work (Pilsbury pizza dough in the cardboard tube, Boboli pre-baked crust, already rolled out dough from the bakery; fresh pizza dough does not seem to be a popular item here). At this point I was rushing to get through the store (very East Coast of me) so I could pick up Olivia at dance and was ready to ditch the dough, can you please just stop talking and let me go(!) but he was determined. He was just being NICE.

We assumed we were accustomed to the sounds a house can make at various times of the day and night, so we were startled to wake up to a flushing noise around 2:30 am a few weeks after moving in. It sounded like a giant toilet flushing. Not a good sound. Fearing a water pipe had broken Mark fearlessly made his way to the basement only to find that the water softening system was flushing and recharging. It does this about once per month, always in the middle of the night, but now we just roll over and doze back off.

It’s also pretty frustrating not being able to find things in your own house. I know we brought extension cords with us but where are they? Duct tape, that do-everything problem solver, didn’t we have multiple rolls? A baseball hat of Mark’s (yes he does need to wear that specific one today, not one of the 16 others!) – did it come with us? Sigh. I give up. Time to make dinner. If only I could find the dough hook for the mixer to make pizza dough.

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Crazy Cat

Our cat Ellie was a great traveller on our halfway-across-the-country trek. We had gotten a natural sedative from the vet to help her out but it turned out she didn’t really like it and only ate one. We had taken her on a few car rides leading up to our departure in order to get her used to the car but she still meowed softly in her crate as soon as we left Littleton. Maybe she was sad too? The girls thought she would like some music so they put on a funny classical music CD for her which actually calmed her down after 20 minutes or so. They declared that she liked Mozart best. Was it the orderliness of his pieces or the lovely melodies? In any case whenever she started to cry we sang or put more soothing music on and it always did the trick.

Ellie is loving the new house. We have so much more space plus hardwood floors which add up to lots of fun for her! At night we hear her run across the floor, scramble to stop herself (or sometimes skid into the wall!) and then go back in the other direction for more. She is having a blast. For those of you who know her, fear not, she is still the ambush cat. Her favorite thing now is to hide out beneath our new chaise longue and swipe at us as we walk by. I much prefer that to her clawing at it which she also does. The movers seem to have lost her scratching post so we bought her a new one which she actually uses! Here she is sleeping on it after an active night of playing.

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This is a much newer and tighter house so we imagine her dreaming of all the mice she left behind in our old one.

 

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Devils’s Lake and the Ringling Brothers

On a chilly but brilliantly sunny day last weekend we headed up to Devil’s Lake State Park, about 40 miles north of Madison. Several people told us about the great hiking and views which will “make you wonder why you didn’t move to Wisconsin sooner,” in one person’s words. The entrance to the park is through a stand of oak trees that created a yellow-leaved tunnel. After checking out the trail map we headed up the East Bluff Trail. Not steep but a steady climb with many stops along the way to view the beautiful spring-fed lake below. The bluff itself is made from 1.7 billion year old quartzite! The quartzite is part of the Baraboo Hills and Devil’s Lake Gap is a gorge in the middle of it. (Wisconsin is not flat as I had erroneously thought before moving here – oops.) The lake was formed from glaciers depositing rocks on either end of the Gap. End of geology lesson. Here are some pictures.

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We headed into the town of Baraboo for a coffee break and a quick change of clothes before going to dinner at the house of a couple that Mark has gotten to know through the orchestra. The house is on a cove of Lake Wisconsin with lots of windows taking advantage of the views. The inside of the house is just as interesting though. Baraboo has a long history with the Ringling Brothers Circus and our hosts are big fans. Much of their furniture is upholstered in animal prints and there are vintage circus posters and photographs hung throughout the house. The Ringling brothers started their circus in Baraboo at the end of the 19th century and it was the winter home of the circus until 1919.Many of the buildings still stand and are National Historic Landmarks and part of the Circus Museum. We’ll have to go back to see it when it reopens in the spring.

Our hosts had invited about a dozen of us to have dinner before going to the premier of a film in which a mutual friend’s teenage son had a role. It was a short movie based on Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” and the showing was at the historic Al Ringling theater in Baraboo. Ringling built the theater in 1915 and died a few months later.  The theater is soon to undergo a restoration but even in its tired state you can see its former grandeur. It was fun to watch the movie knowing one of the actors and interesting to hear the director and lead actress talk about the process. All of the film was shot in Baraboo, hence the local showing. Lots of people in the audience had seen some of the shooting or knew someone in the film so there was a buzz in the air before it started. Imagine our surprise when we saw Edo deWaart across the aisle from us! He is a world renowned conductor and the music director of the Milwaukee Symphony. Turns out his young son was in the movie too!

We headed back to the house on the lake afterwards and indulged in dessert while the girls swam in the glorious indoor pool. They were in heaven and needless to say, think we should put one in our house. Hmm that might might the winter pass more easily…

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Exploring

We wanted try to see at least a bit of what Madison has to offer as soon as we could. We had a grueling day of moving in on a Friday at the end of August. It was hot and humid and the movers were late showing up. The day was salvaged by: 1. Our stuff all making it off of the truck and into the house with minimal breakage. (Some of it miraculously so – who packs wine glasses at the bottom of a box?!?)  2. A package waiting for us containing beautiful address labels from my friend Sharon, reinforcing the concept that this is now our home. 3. Our very thoughtful realtor Susan dropping off a lasagna from Gino’s Deli. It was truly the best I’ve ever had and not just because I was hot, tired and famished. The Italian bread, silverware, plates and wine (yay!) completed the meal so that we didn’t have to think about a thing.

Saturday we left the boxes as they were and went to the Farmer’s Market, mentioned in a previous post. We had such a good time we went back to Capitol Square on Sunday for A Taste of Madison. This is an annual event where restaurants from all over Madison set up booths and sell a few select items from their menu in small portions – thus the “taste.” All food offerings are $4 or less. This being Wisconsin there is also beer for sale. I believe it’s all a fund raiser for a charity but I’m not sure which one.

Similar to the Farmer’s Market you walk around the square counter-clockwise, this time with grills sizzling, hot oil bubbling  and delicious smells wafting over you. There were also three huge stages hosting local bands that were rockin’ the the place. Madison has plenty of ethnic restaurants and they were well represented here. I had empanadas, Olivia tried sesame chicken with noodles and Mark had Mexican pork. Here is a picture of Rose eating bacon on a stick with Mark reaching in to try some!

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 Very tasty indeed!

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Cheese curds

We have had fabulous fall weather since we’ve been here – temps in the seventies and lots of sunshine. The farmers are lamenting the lack of rain but we aren’t complaining. We have been to the Dane County Farmer’s Market on Capitol Square in Madison  on several Saturdays. It is the largest farmer’s market in the country and it gets crowded! People are very civilized though. Everyone walks around the square counterclockwise visiting all the vendors. There is produce of every kind plus flowers, homemade jams and pickles and of course cheese. It’s true, Wisconsinites love their cheese! New to me are cheese curds. Before cheddar cheese is placed in a block and aged the curd is salted and quick chilled so it forms a random, natural shape. The key is the freshness. If they are very fresh (made that day) they squeak when you chew them. The sound is described as 2 balloons necking. Farmer’s actually advertise them as “So fresh they squeak!” Not what you usually look for in a food product but I will say they taste good. Beer battered fried cheese curds are on EVERY restaurant menu. One tongue-in-cheek description I ran across said, “Rats who are fed this remarkable food develop an unusual capacity to polka and drink beer.”

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Homecoming

We had heard that Homecoming was a big deal in our little town of Verona and we found that out first-hand on Friday. Each day of the week leading up to it was some sort of spirit day at the girl’s school. Here they are on “twin” day.

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The parade was scheduled for 4:00 Friday, going from the high school to the center of town. At about 3:45 people started streaming down our street to get to the parade start – mothers pushing toddlers and babies in strollers, elementary school kids, retirees – and they were all wearing the school colors of orange and black! I met the girls over at the school and we found a good viewing spot (that is until they ditched me to be with their friends). 

There is no walking in this parade! The football team came first, sitting on a flatbed truck, followed by the middle school team and all the Pop Warner teams – dozens of them it seemed. We are in football country here. They were followed by the cheerleaders and all the other athletic teams – golf, soccer, tennis, swimming, volleyball! Then came the Homecoming Court, each couple riding on the back of a convertible driven by a smiling parent. Quite a few clubs joined the procession too. I loved the science club in their lab coats! The band had it easy as they too were sitting in chairs on a truck. All in a sea of orange.

I had noticed lots of kids lining the route had brought plastic bags with them. I thought it was for sitting on the damp grass but soon found out the real reason: most of the groups in the parade were throwing candy to the spectators. Obviously this was a big hit.

That night Mark and I went to a dinner with several supporters of the orchestra while the girls went to the high school football game. We are not huge football fans in our house, but of course it’s all about the socializing anyway. Middle school students are required to sit in the student section and remain there unless they are with their parents. Olivia happily hung out with her friends but Rose was glad to be “sprung” from the student section by her friends’ parents and Mark and I were able to enjoy our evening knowing the girls could walk home from the event!

 

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Birthday in Wisconsin

It’s a bit strange to celebrate a birthday when you’re not surrounded by old friends but I had a great day nonetheless. It was fun to hear from well-wishers and meet up with some new and re-connected friends. It was a beautiful fall day so I went for a bike ride around Lake Menona and spent the rest of the day eating (and drinking) my way through Madison. Here are a few photos:

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Tea and a scone at Michelangelo’s Cafe after my ride.

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The view of Lake Mendota from the UW Memorial Union.

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Refueling with super chocolate fudge ice cream on funky State Street after shopping.

 

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Cocktails with Mark at Opus Lounge in downtown Madison. (We passed on the martini flight sampler. I would have been on the floor before dinner.)

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View of the capitol building from Graze restaurant.

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New friend Mary and college friend Svetha at dinner. Picture of the husbands was not nearly as flattering so I decided to omit!

 

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