Monday, June 26, 2017

Luau Cruise, Spring Green Art Fair, and Fireworks

I hope my readers had a good weekend, despite the cold temperatures and on-again, off-again rain. Thursday evening Travalon and I went on a Betty Lou luau cruise, and the weather started off threatening, but by the end it was a beautiful evening. The food was really good, and the music was wonderful, if more Caribbean than Hawaiian for the most part. Alas, I did not win either the hula contest or the best Hawaiian costume contest. The prize? Another Betty Lou cruise! It was a two-hour cruise, which is not enough time to see the whole Lake Mendota, so we had to cut off a whole section of lake that included the ginormous houses of Bishop’s Bay. Ah well, Travalon and I have seen those while cruising in our own little boat, the Megan Jaye.

Friday evening Travalon and I went to a free concert just off the Capital Square. It was Dark Star Orchestra, the premier Grateful Dead tribute band, and I was expecting to see more people wearing tie-dye. I did, of course, and even wore the tie-dyed hat I got at the Baraboo Art Fair last weekend for good measure. The band was really good, and they played forever. We ended up leaving before they were done because we were so tired from dancing to them all night.

Saturday morning Travalon had to work, so I met Rich and the Rosary Ladies for coffee and the rosary, and then when Travalon got home, he, Jilly Moose, Luxuli, and I went to Spring Green for their art fair. We spent a good deal of time there, so it was later than we expected when we got to the Nature Conservancy land out there with the cacti on it. A sudden storm blew up, so we couldn’t hike and ended up just driving back to town. The Rosary Ladies, Travalon, and Prairie Man had dinner at the Hubbard Avenue Diner, and I embarrassed myself when trying to show off to our Latina server: I tried to say something in Spanish, but she just stared at me, and then I realized it was half in Irish! Oops! It had gotten very cold by then, so Travalon, OK Cap, Cali, and I really had to bundle up to watch the Shake the Lake fireworks from the East Side Club.

Yesterday I skipped 9 am Mass to go to Oconomowoc with Travalon for his nephews’ family birthday party. They are twins and just turned twelve, so Travalon said they are past the toy stage. One loves old coins, so Travalon got him a couple of really cool old ones, and the other loves fishing, so Travalon got him some lures. They both really liked their presents. They had just gone to the Shedd Aquarium, so we had that to talk about. After the party, Travalon and I took his mom out to lunch, then we hiked briefly at Lapham Peak, but I was not dressed right and wanted to go home to change. I hadn’t been hungry when we had gone to lunch, so we ended up going to this incredible burger place called Wegl’s in Jefferson, then we went on an epic quest for paw print stickers and finally found them at the University Bookstore. We had to go to 5 pm Mass, and who should we see there but Jilly Moose! Afterwards the three of us had a bite to eat at Bellitalia, where we saw a rainbow, then she and I went for a rosary walk while Travalon fished at Tenney Park, where we saw a beautiful sunset. On the way home Travalon and I stopped at the co-op, and outside of that we saw a bizarre cloud. I took pictures of all of it and will post them at some point.  

Famous Hat

Friday, June 23, 2017

RIP Rodney 1999-2017

Here is Rodney's obituary, written by Travalon:


Born: July 30, 1999
Died: June 18, 2017

    He was a very sweet, loyal and affectionate, fun and energetic little dog.
He loved his daddy and stepmom unconditionally right up until the end and he always enjoyed getting attention from kind and caring animal lovers of all ages.
He was adored by many - one woman he met in a park was so taken with him she said, "He is so cute, he shouldn't be legal!"
     My favorite memory of him was when he was only two years old - he ran nonstop around the kitchen table in extreme happiness at least ten times when seeing his daddy who just got home from a trip.
    He loved being walked all over the beautiful Oconomowoc (where he lived most of his life) and Madison areas and basically anywhere on road trips.  Any trail looked great to him for a long or short hike. He also loved romps off-leash at the Nashotah, Waunakee and Cherokee Marsh dog parks, and got along well with other dogs because of his calm and friendly nature. He also enjoyed tagging along with his daddy on fishing trips (an always available fishing buddy) and to Ashippun Mudcat baseball games, even to dog friendly taverns such as: AJ's in Oconomowoc and Kenny's in Monterey. He was also a big hit with people passing by on walks along the Lakeshore Path by the UW Memorial Union Terrace, receiving lots of attention. He even enjoyed going for boat and canoe rides with his daddy and stepmom wearing a lifejacket that was labeled "outward hound."
   Rodney was always up for an adventure, and he also enjoyed a relaxing evening at home, just being cuddled in his daddy's or stepmom's lap. It didn't take much to please him, often just a dog treat or stomach rub.
    He shared a home for almost 15 years with a very sweet Calico cat, and they became friends, respectful to each other's space, but often sitting in the same recliner chair or under a window sharing the sunlight.
    Even in his old age with declining health he remained very affectionate and loyal, and after a bad spell or day he always seemed to bounce back and be ok. Despite losing his eyesight and suffering from arthritis pain, he still enjoyed short walks, just getting outside sniffing the ground, even in the cold of winter wearing his lamb-skinned doggie coat.
    Because of the well-deserved love and care he got, along with all the exercise and his resilience, he exceeded the average lifespan for his breed by almost three years. People he met couldn't believe his old age.
    He spent his last conscious moments in a beautiful natural area near Spring Green, on one last walk being carried in a backpack. He is now running pain free up in doggy heaven. He is greatly missed and I am filled with sadness from his loss, but remembering the happy times with him gives his daddy a sense and peace and calmness - thankful to have him in my life for so long, giving me so much joy and pleasure.
He will be in my and Famous Hat's heart and memory forever.
God bless Rodney, and all the good dogs out there who give or have given us us so much joy !

Here is Travalon's favorite picture of Rodney:

This is my favorite picture of Rodney:

Here are Rodney and me in happier times:

And this is the last picture taken of Rodney while he was still alive. He looks so peaceful, and I look so sad.

Famous Hat

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Outdoor Concert in Oconomowoc

Last night Travalon picked me up from work, and we battled the terrible traffic to get out of town. A water main had broken under Johnson Street, which is a major thoroughfare, so everyone was taking alternate routes that coincided with the way we were going. Finally we got on the highway and drove to Oconomowoc to go to an outdoor concert with his mother. I have mentioned these concerts before on this blog. They are in the band shell by the beach, which is a beautiful location. It seemed like a really wonderful way to spend the longest evening of the year, sitting outside and watching the sun set while listening to live music. The program was “Postcards from ….” They would read actual postcards that I believe were written by band members (it was a large Legionnaires brass band with a color guard) and then play a piece of music associated with that place. For example, they played “Hungarian Dance #5” by Brahms after reading a postcard from someone visiting Hungary. Once we brought my mother-in-law home, she found out I had my mandolin along with me because of my gig, and she asked if I could play “Hungarian Dance #5,” so I did a passable job at it. Then Travalon asked me to play the rebetiko song I had learned on the “bouzouki,” and that was a little confusing because of the difference in fingering, but I also figured out how to play it on the mandolin. So far my instrument adventure is going fairly well (I am trying to learn a Landini piece, “Ecco la Primavera,” on the rebec), except for the otamatone. If I ever learn to play that thing, it will be a minor miracle.

Famous Hat

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Boz Scaggs and Make Music Madison

Last night Travalon and I went to see Boz Scaggs at the Overture Center. It was a really good show, except that he didn’t do my favorite song, “Miss Sun.” I had been so lucky with musicians doing my favorite songs, even if they weren’t their biggest hits, but in this case it was a big hit so I was sure he would do it. He did do a really cool tango piece, and some stuff by obscure Cajun songwriters. I just don’t get why rock stars do that, instead of playing the songs you want to hear. As a musician, I get that they might get bored with playing the same songs over and over, but he did all his other hits, and we paid a lot to hear his music, not obscure Cajun songwriters’ music.

Today at lunch I had a free gig for Make Music Madison, the annual free music solstice celebration. All over town, people are playing free gigs outside all day long. We played at Hotel Red, which was a pleasant location in that it is outdoor yet shaded, but boy is it noisy on the corner of Monroe and Regent Streets! Plus they have just started doing road construction. At first our audience consisted of Travalon, but soon more people drifted in, and by the end we had a respectable number of people listening to us. They even tipped well – we each got $10 in tips! Afterwards a young guy approached me and said what a beautiful Neapolitan style mandolin I had, and that you don’t see many like it. I figured if he knew that much about it, he must play, so I let him play mine, and indeed he does know how to play. He said he has a bouzouki, but when I told him about mine, he said they are larger than mandolins, not smaller. So I am not sure what my little instrument is, after all. Tuning it like a bouzouki seems to make sense. I got in touch with a woman who said she would teach me to play the “bouzouki,” so if we can ever coordinate schedules, maybe she can tell me what my little instrument actually is. 

Famous Hat

Monday, June 19, 2017

End of the Rodney Era

Warning: this blog post has a sad ending.

I hope my readers had a good weekend. Mine was kind of up and down. Friday evening Tiffy and I had dinner at Brasserie V, then we drove to Spring Green and met the Dairyman's Daughter at the outdoor theater to see "A Flea in Her Ear," a romantic comedy. We saw a few scenes before there was a rain delay, then we saw the first third before they called it off completely because of a storm. Tiffy noted that the last time the three of us had attended a play there, it had also been called off because of storms, and she suggested we sell our services ("Guaranteed rain!") to drought-stricken farmers. So now we will have to figure out a time we can go back to see the entire play.

Saturday I had an unpaid gig in Baraboo, so Travalon and I took the Merrimac Ferry on the way there. My band played at an art fair in front of the courthouse, amid the billion-year-old Baraboo Hills, and then Travalon and I drove to Reedsburg to have cream ale (and lunch) at the Corner Pub. It is the most delicious beer ever. They brew many other beers, and someday I will branch out and try some others. Rodney was not doing so well when we got home, but Travalon had the idea to put him in a backpack so we could take a walk on Governor's Island, and after that he perked up and even ate dinner. Travalon and I met Rich for dinner at Villa Dolce, and for dessert I had the most amazing almond fig gelato.

Yesterday after Mass, Travalon and I went with Rich and another choir member to the Lakeside Cafe, sitting out on their patio overlooking Monona Bay. When we got home, Rodney was not conscious, but Travalon thought maybe another walk would help him. We drove all the way to Spring Green and hiked on the Nature Conservancy land full of blooming cacti; dogs aren't technically allowed there, but we hoped nobody would bother us about a tiny, dying dog in a backpack. Rodney kept having seizures, and he didn't regain consciousness, so we drove back to Middleton and took him to the emergency veterinary clinic, where they put an IV in him. While he didn't come out of his coma, he seemed very peaceful, and we asked if he could possibly recover, but they said not at his age, so we had him put down. We buried him in Rich's yard and then went for a long walk on the path beside Lake Monona. Here is my favorite picture of Rodney that I ever took, canoeing several summers ago.

Travalon will write a complete obituary soon. He is still grieving at the moment.

Famous Hat

Friday, June 16, 2017

Paul Simon in Chicago

Sorry for my silence the last couple of days, but I wasn’t anywhere near a computer to blog. Wednesday I took the day off of work, and Travalon and I drove to Chicago. Lots of bad traffic and road construction, but we finally got there, and Travalon suggested the Shedd Aquarium but the weather was beautiful so I suggested a lakeshore walk. We stopped for lunch at a little food stand run by a couple of Eastern European women, but suddenly a terrible storm blew up. The women were so nice, they let us take shelter in their stand until the lightning stopped striking around us, then Travalon and I ran through the rain to the Shedd Aquarium. We enjoyed that immensely, and when we left, it was drizzling but not storming out, so we took the water taxi over to Navy Pier, explored the Crystal Gardens, and had dinner at a Mexican restaurant in the gardens. We had a private water taxi ride back, then we went to the outdoor concert venue on Northerly Island to hear Paul Simon. I was wondering if he would do my favorite song, “Boy in the Bubble,” and he opened with it! In fact, he did a lot of stuff from Graceland. Thirty years later, it is still one of the greatest albums of all time. Travalon was happy because he did four encores and included lots of older stuff in them. His band was amazing too. Then we drove home and got there around three in the morning. Yawn!

Yesterday we had taken the day off of work to sleep in, which we did, and then we went to visit Travalon’s mom. (He goes to see her every week.) The day before, the otamatone Travalon had bought for me had arrived, but the instructions were all in Japanese. We could ascertain that I needed three batteries and a flathead screwdriver, and Travalon’s mom needed batteries too, so we stopped by a hardware store and got all that stuff. When we got back home, the inflatable Sinclair dinosaur I had bought for Travalon had arrived. However, I thought my otamatone wasn’t working because the mouth didn’t open, and Travalon’s toy seemed to be defective as well, because there was no plug for the spout to inflate it. We looked at our instructions, mine in Japanese with some pictures, and his very vintage-looking, and we ascertained that I had to open the mouth of the otamatone myself, and that Travalon had to push the spout in to plug it. So there were no problems with our toys! In the evening we went to the rooftop of the Monona Terrace and sat beneath the blooming Japanese lilac trees, listening to a very good Chicago tribute band. The weather was absolutely perfect, and there was a beautiful sunset. I will try to post pictures and videos of our adventures soon. Don’t expect a video of me playing the otamatone anytime soon – I need a lot of practice on that thing! Here is a video of someone else playing one:

Famous Hat

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Photos from Our Memorial Day Weekend Trip

Here are some photos from our Memorial Day Weekend trip. First is a shot of Mill Bluff.

Next is the exterior and the interior of the church in Eau Claire where we went to Mass, Sacred Heart.

This is the inside of the very colorful Mexican restaurant in Chippewa Falls where we had dinner.

Here is a shot of the Leinenkugel brewery.

This is a very random thing we saw on our walk along the river: what appears to be an old building (part of the brewery?) with a modern house built inside of it.

This grotto and Catholic church are in Chippewa Falls as well.

Here are Travalon and Rodney in front of "Stout-Henge" in front of the Union on the UW-Stout campus.

Here are some shots from Crystal Cave. The first one shows how pretty it is.

This one is of the "Ghost of Crystal Cave." It looks like a face!

Asking about this paddle cost me a dollar in the jukebox!

Here we are in front of the beautiful waterfall in Willow River State Park.

Here are two shots from Douglas Point, Minnesota.

This little Catholic church in Prescott is called (I think) St. Joseph's.

Here I am in front of Lake Pepin in Minnesota.

Travalon is a big fan of the Sinclair dinosaur, so he wanted me to take this shot of him with the cardboard cutout of it in a Sinclair station in Winona, Minnesota. He specifically said I should post this on my blog.


And this is the cool rock formation on top of a bluff across from the Sinclair station.

As a bonus, here is Donovan singing my favorite song of his, "There Is a Mountain."

Famous Hat

Monday, June 12, 2017

Playing the Ukulele at the Mallards Game

I hope my readers had a good weekend. I had so much fun on Friday night! I went to the Mallards game with Travalon, Tiffy, and Cali, and we sat with a bunch of other ukulele players in bright Hawaiian shirts and leis. We players practiced at the bottom of the fourth, then we stood by the gate to get onto the field until the end of the top of the seventh. It wasn’t the best spot to see the game, but it was so much fun playing during the seventh-inning stretch! We sang three “verses” of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (in C, thank goodness!), meaning we sang a verse, played a verse on the kazoo, and sang it again. People loved it! I saw the video the next day, and we were pretty good. Best of all, the Mallards won 11-8!

Saturday Travalon and I met Rich, Tiffy, and Cali for coffee, then Rich had to take off, Travalon went to the Union Terrace, and we ladies went to the Farmers’ Market. Cali had to leave, but OK Cap joined Tiffy and me for lunch at Himal Chuli. Tiffy came back to my place and I showed her my various instruments. She tried to play them and declared that the ukulele was the easiest to play. The two of us drove to Spring Green to the big potluck before the opening night of the outdoor theater. We joined Rich, Kathbert, the Dairyman’s Daughter and her sister, the Single B-Boy, and another woman who doesn’t have a name on this blog. We saw “A Midsummers Night Dream,” and this time it wasn’t interrupted by rain. We really enjoyed it, but I did get home very late.

Yesterday after Mass, Travalon and I went to brunch with Tiffy and her niece, who plays the ukulele and also this amazing thing called the otamatone that looks like a cartoon musical note. The video she showed us was just about the funniest thing I have ever seen. Then Travalon and I went to his high school friend’s daughter’s high school graduation. She is #14 in the state at track and field! In the evening Travalon and I went to see Donovan perform at the Overture Center. We play a number of his songs in the ukulele group, and something about his music really resonates with me. My favorite song of his is “There Is a Mountain.” First his grandson (who is also the grandson of Rolling Stone Brian Jones) came out and played a few songs, and he was a great guitar player. Then Donovan played, just him and the guitar and sometimes a harmonica, and the best part was the crazy stories he would tell between songs. It is the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, so he mostly told stories from that era, about his adventures with his crazy friend Gypsy Dave, and other rock stars from the era that they would encounter. All I can say is that if you get a chance to see Donovan live, do NOT miss it.

Sorry, the blog is not allowing me to link a video of the otamatone.

Famous Hat

Friday, June 9, 2017

Another Great Ukulele Jam

Last night I had such a good time. Travalon met me at the Lakeside Café, and we had dinner outside on the patio, overlooking Monona Bay. Meanwhile about seventy other ukulele players were gathering, and we all had to have our photos taken in various configurations. I had a bourbon barrel-aged beer and failed to notice that it was 11% alcohol until it hit me pretty hard. Boy, was I happy! We played a bunch of songs, and a guy sat next to me who was just a spouse of a ukulele player, not an actual player, and he sang harmony on everything. Best of all, I got some free tickets to the Mallards game tonight because the ukuleles are playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch. I sure hope they are planning to play it in the key of C, because I figured out how to play it in that key. Someone said it might be in G, which should also be very doable. I will let you know how it all went.

Famous Hat

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Liliana's with Jilly Moose

Sorry for my silence yesterday. I was going to blog about how Jilly Moose, Travalon, and I went to Liliana’s for their special soul food menu, but once again they were out of it. Or at least the main course, fried chicken – the people sitting next to us got the last two! We did get the appetizer of macaroni and cheese with bacon, and the dessert of banana pudding, and when I asked if there were any of the side of greens left, the waitress brought me some. We had to order entrees off the regular menu, and we each got something different: Travalon got catfish, Jilly Moose got salmon, and I got something called Diablo Chicken, which was quite spicy. I could only eat half of it, so I had the rest for lunch yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon I suddenly became very sleepy, and so during band practice I made all sorts of weird mistakes because I couldn’t remember where to put my fingers. But was this a function of being sleepy or of being confused after playing so many instruments? I only brought my acoustic mandolin to band practice this time, but in the evening as we sat on our porch, I practiced Bubba Sue the mountain dulcimer, the bouzouki, the balalaika, the good violin, and the rebec. That is almost all my instruments, except for the electric mandolin, the cheap violin, the African thumb piano, and the random small instruments like recorders and ocarinas that I have not seen since moving into our present place anyway. And I plan to give the cheap violin to Kathbert as soon as I can get it together (I poached its E string for the good violin, for example), so that will be one less instrument to neglect. Oh, and of course the ukulele, but I will play that tonight and possibly tomorrow night. Stay tuned... (pun intended)

Famous Hat

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Tennis Time

So I didn’t go to this game, but the Mallards recently beat the Green Bay Bullfrogs 20-1, so they don’t always lose epically – sometimes they win epically! I guess they just specialize in lopsided games this season.

Last night Travalon and I played tennis for twenty minutes, which burns over 200 calories according to my diet app. We decided we should try to play it once a week. After all, there is a tennis court right in our yard, and nobody else ever seems to use it. I was using a racquet that Ma Hat had brought me, and it is really a good one. I don’t think she ever used it, because the price tag is still on it. It must be one of the matching ones she and I got decades ago, because we were going to play all the time. I did use mine a lot back in the day, but now I’m not sure where it is. It seems to have vanished during one of my many moves. It will probably turn up again, because I know I didn’t give it away. We also have two less high quality racquets, so if any of my readers wants to play some time, I can provide a racquet of questionable quality.

Famous Hat

Monday, June 5, 2017

Relaxing Summer Weekend

I hope my readers enjoyed the warm weather this weekend. Travalon and I had a very relaxed weekend. Saturday we slept late, had brunch at the Manna Café, and then went to the music store for a strap for my ukulele and cables to plug in my electric mandolin and Travalon’s bass. Back home we tried out the cables, and I figured out the bassline to Pink Floyd’s “Money,” but when Travalon found the tablature online, I had mixed up two notes. He had always wanted to learn that bassline, and now he can! Then we went for a hike in the south part of Cherokee Marsh, but we kept running into geese families, so we had to go other ways or wait until they passed. Trust me, you do not want to get too close to a goose with babies! I once saw a somewhat inebriated girl get attacked for doing just that. In the evening we went to the Overture Center to see Diana Krall, who is very funny besides being very talented. As my regular readers may remember, I once had a gig playing with a bassist who had played with her. That is one of my brushes with greatness, the other being when Pope John Paul II waved at me.

Sunday was another relaxed day. Rich helped us get our boat trailer attached to Travalon’s car, then we all headed to Olbrich Park and put the boat in the water. We had hoped Rich would come on the boat ride with us, but he is a busy man, so he said he would just return to help us get it out of the water. We went out on Lake Monona for about an hour and then went back into Starkweather Creek, where you can get an amazing view of the Thai Pavilion in Olbrich Gardens from the water. As we were trying to get the boat out of the water before Rich got there, we saw a guy who forgot to put his parking brake on or something, and he got out of his SUV to mess with the boat, and the SUV (which was running but had nobody in it) backed into the water and hit the boat. Whoa! Travalon and I may not be very elegant at getting our boat into and out of the water, but we haven’t made that mistake… yet. Rich, Travalon, and I had a drink at the East Side Club, then Travalon and I went to the café on the roof of the Monona Terrace, but once again it was closed with no indication on the website that it would be. We ended up having dinner at the Olive Bar in the Hilton, and we saw a retiree we know who got a job there as a valet. I guess some people can’t stop working, and in his case it isn’t because of money. He said it was a really fun job, he made a lot in tips, and he got to drive fancy cars. Doesn’t sound like a bad gig at all. 

Famous Hat

Friday, June 2, 2017

Epic Mallards Loss

Last night Travalon and I went with a bunch of my coworkers to a Mallards game. We had great tickets, so we got to sit right behind home plate, eat as many burgers and brats as we wanted, and drink three beers. Believe me, I needed those beers because while the weather was perfect, the Mallards were about as far from perfect as a ball team can get. I have seen them win and I have seen them lose, but I have never seen them totally destroyed like that before. Their defensive playing stank, they couldn’t hit anything (seriously, about the only guys who got on base were the ones walked by the other team’s pitcher), and their pitching wasn’t anything too wonderful either. In the end they lost 12-0. Apparently they lost the night before to a new team called the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders (Travalon loves that name!), but it was a reasonable score, like 5-2. We have been spoiled because the Mallards are always good enough to get into the playoffs, so maybe we were due for a bad season. But a terrible season? Hopefully they don’t have another game like the one last night! Otherwise, we had a lot of fun.

Famous Hat

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Gypsy Swing at Cafe Coda

Last night I brought my ukulele to band practice and played it on a couple of songs. My bandmates said they couldn’t really hear me, so then I played one song with a pick, which for some reason nobody does when playing the ukulele. Maybe picks are too hard on the nylon strings. Then I met Travalon at Café Coda, which is at the Fountain, to hear some gypsy swing. We had heard a band with maybe eight members playing different instruments at the International Festival, and Travalon had really liked them, but this was two guys playing guitars and singing in French, and it wasn’t his thing. It was my thing, but even married couples can have different things. What I thought was interesting is that the singer was a very good musician with a lot of charisma, and the other guy was an AMAZING musician, but he had no stage presence. He could not have made a go of it on his own, while the singer probably could, but together they were fabulous. Sometimes it helps to find someone who can highlight your strengths and compensate for your deficits, like when I was office mates with Light Bright and would help her spell things while she helped me figure out the right thing to do in weird situations. We complemented each other just like the musicians last night. That is why God did not make us all the same, so we could all learn to help each other.

Famous Hat

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Driving Down the Great River Road

I hope my readers had a good Memorial Day weekend. I had a fabulous one, starting with Thursday evening, when Travalon and I brought Rodney to a doggie event at Mickey’s Tavern. There was a costume show, and the lion won, followed by Princess Leia and Cher and maybe the shark. One dog (not in costume) did a bunch of clever tricks, including putting giant plastic coins into a piggy bank. I struck up a conversation with a girl sitting beside me, who was fascinated by my many musical ventures. “I want to follow you around and have your life!” she said. It is a good life, I’ll agree. Music would be a terrible career in my opinion, but it is a wonderful hobby.

Friday evening the Northside Ukuleles had their usual fourth Friday jam, and then since it was the hostess’s birthday, we had a party afterwards. I brought my balalaika, having practiced “Happy Birthday” in the key of A (what was I thinking??) but of course the ukuleles played it in C, so I had to scramble to figure it out. I must have fooled everyone – they said I sounded really good! After that Travalon and I went to Brix 340 for their Wine Day special, and he had an amazing Riesling by Schloss (?) – so tasty!

Saturday morning Travalon, Rodney, and I met OK Cap and Cali for coffee at Crema Café, then the boys and I hit the road and drove to Mill Bluff State Park for a hike. We got to Eau Claire just in time to go to the vigil Mass at Sacred Heart, and then we drove on to Chippewa Falls to visit the Leinie Lodge, since it is a stop in our book of 70 historic taverns. The last tour of the Leinenkugel’s brewery was full, so we took a walk on a beautiful path along the river, and then we came back to the lodge and tried five samples of their various beers. We had dinner at a very brightly colored Mexican restaurant in town, then we headed back to Eau Claire and visited a tavern from the book called the Joynt, that had big name jazz acts playing there from 1974-90. The owner would snag them on weekdays when they were cheaper, as they traveled between Minneapolis and Chicago. Unfortunately the stage is now a back room, but they have photos on the walls of the acts that played there, like Dizzy Gillespie, and also some R. Crumb cartoons. They also had really cheap beer there, I think it was only $1 for a half-pint domestic tap.

Sunday we went to the free breakfast at our hotel, but it was pretty picked over, so we drove to Menomonie to see Travalon’s old school (including a sculpture in front of the Union they call “Stout-henge”), and we found a café there. We drove on to River Falls and a third tavern from the book called Emma’s, which was unusual in that it was owned by a woman back in the 50’s. They had a canoe paddle on the wall that said: “YCJCYADITJB” so I asked what it was and was told, “Your curiosity just cost you a dollar in the jukebox,” but they did let me choose the song, so I chose “Jump Around” by House of Pain. The bartender was really friendly, and when he found out we were planning to head to Kinnikinnic State Park, he said that one was really boring and we would be better off going to Willow River State Park. We heeded his advice and ended up on a long trail but were rewarded at the end with a very large, beautiful waterfall. I will post photos of this and all our adventures soon. Then Travalon and I headed down the River Road, stopping at a beautiful park on Douglas Point and at a restaurant in a historic building in Red Wing for dinner. We drove alongside Lake Pepin and got to Winona just as darkness was falling. Travalon stopped at one of the three Sinclair stations in town (two are right across from each other!) to see if they sold T-shirts with their dinosaur logo on them. The girl working there had one, but she said they were just for employees. However, I did take Travalon’s photo with a big cardboard smiling green dinosaur. The girl working there said we were her favorite customers all day, even though we just bought a couple of drinks, and also she told us she is a Packer Backer. Since darkness had fallen by then, we just headed back on the interstate instead of trying to take a scenic route home, and we got home around midnight.

Yesterday Travalon and I had coffee on State Street before my adoration hour, then we went to the Monona Terrace Café for lunch, but it was closed, although the website had not indicated that it would be. We ended up getting tacos at Q-doba before meeting Kathbert for a long walk out onto Picnic Point and beyond, to Frauschi Point. In the evening Travalon and I went to the East Side Club because the Tiki Bar had opened for the season, but it began to rain as we headed there, and so they must have closed it just before we got there. At least we saw a rainbow. We had burgers and sundaes at Michael’s and then stopped at the Nau-Ti-Gal before calling it a night, and the bartender there was very friendly. We had a conversation with him about the popularity of boys’ names in different generations. He says all the guys his age are named Jacob, and they were all jealous of the one guy whose name was Jakob, because at least he was a little different. Interestingly, he had never heard of Toni as a girl’s name, and he said he knew two guys his age named Casey and a bazillion girls with that name, though they generally spell it some weird way, like Kaysea. He didn’t know a single girl his age named Stacy or Jenny, the two huge girls’ names when I was in school. It’s funny how much it has changed in just a generation.

Famous Hat

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Bouzouki at Band Practice

Yesterday evening I went to band practice as usual with my trusty mandolin, and since my bandmates are always asking me to bring one of the more exotic instruments, I brought the bouzouki too. They thought it was so cute, and one said it looked like the “little brother” of the mandolin, but since I think of my instruments as feminine, I prefer to consider it Mandy’s little sister. After we had gotten warmed up, I suggested we play something in D so I could easily use the bouzouki. We decided the klezmer music, which is in D minor, might work well – and it worked beautifully! The bouzouki has a little more exotic of a sound than the mandolin, and I could easily figure out the three chords I needed for the song (D minor, A, and G minor). I was playing along happily when suddenly we heard a snap, and the high D in the lower course went slack. I thought it must have broken, especially since I couldn’t easily get it to tighten up again. The strings came with the instrument when Travalon bought it at an antiques store, and who knows how old they are? However, once I got home and had more time to mess with the string, I found that it had just slipped, not broken. I retuned the bouzouki and practiced on it for my 100 Day Challenge, and then I practiced the mountain dulcimer and the balalaika. I can already see some improvement, and that was only Day 3 of the challenge. Imagine how good I might sound at Day 100 if I can actually keep this up!

Famous Hat

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Pictures of Spring

As promised, here are some more photos. Many of these are of my favorite month - May! The first one is the balalaika Travalon got me for our wedding anniversary earlier this month.

Most of these flowers were blooming in May, although some were from April:



Tulip that looks like a trillium

Crabapple tree

Anniversary picture!



Dogwood tree

Here are the creations Mamastep and I produced at Fired Up in April. She painted this VW Bug and made two pendants.

I painted this little hedgehog and made three pendants.

Famous Hat

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The 100 Day Challenge

I suppose many of the people (like there are that many) who read this blog have already seen my posts on social media, but why not put them here too? First is a photo of Richard Bonomo's "maximum fat" hot chocolate - with sprinkles!

And here is a beautiful orchid cactus we saw at the Olbrich Gardens conservatory:

Tomorrow I will try to post more photos. This post is about the 100 Day Challenge, something I remember hearing about where you post a video of yourself doing something not so well, and then you practice for 100 days and post a second video. Since I have all these instruments lying around, I am doing the 100 Day Challenge for three of them. First is the mountain dulcimer, and my attempt to play "Amazing Grace":


Next is my attempt to play a Russian folk tune called "Troika" on my new balalaika:


And finally, my attempt to play a piece of rebetiko music (sorry, I don't know the title) on the bouzouki. This is the piece I learned for Cecil Markovitch's birthday party.


Check back in 100 days to see if I have made any progress! That should be on or around the 30th of August.

Famous Hat

Monday, May 22, 2017

Beercation and Pa Hat's Birthday

I hope my readers had a good weekend, despite the lousy weather. Of course it was lovely before I had out of town guests, and today it is not bad out, but when everyone was visiting it was cold and wet. We still had a lot of fun anyway. My beer-loving aunt and uncle from Denver wanted to check out the Madtown brewing scene, so they came to town Thursday evening, along with Ma and Pa Hat from Minnesota. Travalon and I decided to bring them to Karben4 for dinner and beer sampling, but unfortunately it was too cold to enjoy their wonderful patio area like Travalon and I did with Rodney during Craft Beer Week. The Denver crew like their beers hoppier than Travalon does (he does not like IPAs at all), and while I don’t gravitate toward IPAs myself, I actually did enjoy all the beers.

Friday I had taken off of work, but Travalon had to work in the morning. I headed over to the hotel with my ukulele to jam with my uncle, who plays the flute. Since I am not that adept at jamming on the uke, we decided I should bring the mandolin the next day. Once Travalon got off of work, we went to Ale Asylum for lunch and a flight of their delicious beers. They even have Gail Ambrosius chocolates there, so we had some of those too. Our next stop was the Chocolaterian, so we could show off the Madtown craft chocolate scene some more. Everyone enjoyed the Parisian hot chocolate. We went to Olbrich and explored the conservatory, then we went into the gardens despite the cold weather, climbed the rose tower, and made our way to the Thai pavilion. In the evening we went to a Wisconsin fish fry with Irish overtones at Erin’s Snug Irish Pub. They have their own beer there, made by Leinenkugel’s.

Saturday my uncle and I jammed on the flute and mandolin in the morning as we all waited for my aunt and uncle from Chicago to arrive. Once they did, all eight of us went to Next Door Brewing for a flight of their tasty beers and lunch, including beer pie for dessert. My uncle from Denver loves New Glarus Brewing, so we drove down in two cars and got there not long before they closed. We had enough time to buy some beer and a fancy stein for my dad’s birthday the next day, then we went to an old tavern in town with murals depicting Switzerland on the walls. They actually had some New Glarus beers that the brewery shop had been out of, so we got some there too. We walked down the main street of the cute town, then we headed back to Madison and had dinner at Liliana’s, one of my favorite restaurants. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it, and my Denver relatives were very happy about their extensive vegetarian menu.

Yesterday we all met for brunch at Crema Café, and Rich joined us to celebrate Pa Hat’s birthday. He ordered “hot chocolate, maximum fat” and they even put sprinkles on the whipped cream! It looked so decadent, you would have thought he was the birthday boy! After we ate, we sang “Happy Birthday” to Pa Hat, and a bunch of innocent bystanders gamely joined in. Pa Hat liked his stein. My aunt from Chicago headed off to C’s Bakery to get some of their famous rhubarb treats, and everyone else also headed out, so Travalon and I went for a hike in the south part of Cherokee Marsh. Afterwards I found my fourth tick of the season – yuck! We ended the evening by watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which was even better than the first one. So it was a wonderful weekend from beginning to end.

Famous Hat

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Playing My Many Instruments

Lately in the evenings Travalon and I have been sitting on our screened-in porch, and he reads while I mess around on my various instruments. Yesterday I got really ambitious and played almost all of them, even Bubba Sue the mountain dulcimer. The evening before Travalon played along on his bass as I played the chords for “I Walk the Line” on the ukulele, since it was in the key of A so he just had to play the open strings A, D, and E at the appropriate times. My goal is to learn one song on each instrument so it won’t feel like a complete waste to own so many, although right now I can’t really do much with the rebec because it takes special gut strings, and the E string broke, so I have to find out where to get a replacement. Of course the instruments I can play the most songs on are still the violin and the mandolin. A coworker told me the other day that he knew someone who sold one of those old bowl-backed mandolins like mine for $1200. I have no idea if I could get $1200 for mine, and anyway, if I add up all the gig money I have made playing her, over the years it probably came out to more than $1200 (that would only be $75 per year, which is like three average gigs), so I have come out ahead by playing Mandy in public rather than selling her. Not that I would sell her anyway – she is a family heirloom, and one of my very dearest possessions. I love all my instruments, but if I had a favorite, she would probably be it. She is such a joy to play.

I probably won’t be blogging for the next few days, since my aunt and uncle from Colorado are coming to visit, as well as Ma and Pa Hat, so Travalon and I will be very busy entertaining them. We are going to explore the Madtown craft beer scene. 

Famous Hat

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Drumline Ridge Winery

I completely forgot to mention yesterday that after our hike in Cherokee Marsh, Travalon and I went to the new winery just down the road from us, Drumline Ridge. We got there ten minutes before they supposedly closed, but they were as friendly as could be. We each got a glass of white wine, and we split the local cheese platter. However, it was a tough choice between that and the European cheese platter. We sat outside, gazing out at the vines, and plenty of other people were out on the patio with us. They had $3 mimosas for Mother’s Day, but I really wanted to try their wine. The staff made absolutely no moves to kick us out, despite the late hour, and when we left the other people were still there. It was a laid-back atmosphere, and the wine was really good. I highly recommend this place!

Famous Hat

Monday, May 15, 2017

Cecil Markovitch's Big Birthday Party

I hope my readers had a good weekend. Thursday I went to the “big girl” ukulele jam again, but this time it seemed too hard, so at the break I gave up and sat out on the patio with Travalon and Hockey Girl, who had come to hear me. We had a great conversation about beauty in art. Friday Travalon and I joined Rich, A-Fooze, and her family at the Dorf Haus for a fish fry.

Saturday was an amazing day. Tomorrow Cecil Markovitch turns a big round number, so he wanted to have a big birthday pilgrimage. Travalon drove Jilly Moose, OK Cap, and me up to the shrine outside of Green Bay, while Cecil drove another car that included Cali, and the Single B-Boy drove a third car full of people. Of course I bought a couple more rosaries at the shrine, including a Fatima Centennial commemorative one. Then the three cars drove to Harrington Beach State Park, a beautiful park north of Milwaukee on the shores of Lake Michigan with a small lake in it formed in an abandoned limestone quarry. There was a path around the small lake, so Travalon, Jilly Moose, and I hiked around it while almost everyone else hung out on the beach of the big (one might even say great!) lake. Then we drove to Milwaukee and went to Mass at the Basilica of St. Josephat’s, where we were joined by a bunch more people. After Mass they handed out holy cards for the Centennial of the Fatima apparition, since it was that day. Rich had picked up my balalaika, which had arrived while we weren’t there to get it, and he brought that along with the bouzouki Travalon had given me for Christmas a couple of years ago. I had learned one rebetiko song (that’s Greek folk music) from watching a YouTube video over and over, so I played that for Cecil on the bouzouki. Travalon and I also gave him socks that say “Worst gift ever” on them. We all walked across the street to the Serbian restaurant of Old Town, and Tiffy joined us there. Trinidad Cap brought his mother, who was visiting from Trinidad (of course), and I wonder what she thought of me carrying around a couple of crazy string instruments. It was such a fun party! My two favorite quotes were when one guy at my table said I have so many rosaries that I could pray the rosary using the rosaries (I love it! So meta! I may try it!) and when there was a dispute over whether A-Fooze or Trinidad Cap’s mother had come further for Cecil’s party, and the latter won the door prize (a solar activated waving Pope Francis figurine), A-Fooze said, “I’m never coming to your 60th birthday party again!”

Yesterday I skipped Mass, since I had gone last night, and Travalon and I went to visit his mother along with two of his brothers. We took her out for lunch after the other brothers left. Then he and I went for a hike at Cherokee Marsh, and we had a quiet evening at home eating pizza and risotto on the screened-in porch. I tuned up the balalaika according to instructions on the internet and attempted to play a song called “Troika” while Travalon read. There is a balalaika group in town, so there is hope that I may learn to play this instrument yet. I am not aware of a bouzouki group in town, but if anyone knows of anything, please let me know.

Famous Hat

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Third Anniversary

Tuesday evening I saw A-Fooze, her parents, her sister, and her niece, who looks just like her sister. Travalon was happy to see them too, and he tried to speak a little Hungarian. Of course Rich made brownies, and Kathbert and my OTHER choir director came too. A-Fooze’s niece won a photography contest with a picture she took of a friend with her horse. She has a whole website of her photos – they are really good! She is seventeen.

Last night after I got home from band practice, Travalon and I went out for our anniversary. He has ordered a balalaika for me, but it hasn’t arrived yet, so he gave me a “meantime” present of a colorful rosary from Holy Hill. I had a “meantime” present for him of some books, since our tile will not be installed on the rooftop of the Monona Terrace for at least four months, but somehow I forgot to give them to him. We went to dinner at Mariner’s Inn, since it is twenty feet away from our condo, plus they gave us a coupon for free dessert for our anniversary. Then we came home and watched our wedding video. I always make Travalon watch it on our anniversary, and now we have seen it so many times that we end up talking through most of it, except during the really beautiful music, like Kathbert’s duet with Miss Heartsong. Still, I enjoy seeing it. Maybe we should have had the videographer record our reception too, but I thought that might be weird and intrusive for people, plus it was way more expensive than just recording the wedding Mass. However, I would have loved to have a video of Pa Hat’s speech and some of Lightbright’s band’s songs, and of course my first dance with Travalon as husband and wife. At least the photographer got lots of pictures of that!

Famous Hat

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Great Week, Except for Dieting

I have to be good now as far as diet goes, since Beer Week was kind of a bust that way. I am afraid to step on the scale! However, last night Travalon and I did go out for ice cream drinks, because a coworker he doesn’t like has, you know, “left to pursue other opportunities.” The bartender was very friendly, and he made a reservation for us for tomorrow, which is our anniversary. We get free dessert for the occasion. At least I will be good today, I thought… and then Handy Woman brought in a lemon almond cake. I asked what the occasion was, and she said she just liked to bake. I should have refrained, but man was it delicious! She is such a good baker. So I thought, after my last Irish class of the semester tonight, I will just go home and have a light dinner, maybe run off some calories… and then we found out A-Fooze is in town, so that almost certainly will entail more celebratory eating, and very little time for working off extraneous calories. I need to take up running extreme marathons to work off all the calories I am consuming lately!

Famous Hat

Monday, May 8, 2017

Craft Beer Weekend and Kentucky Derby

I hope my readers had a good weekend. Travalon and I had a very beery one, as we wrapped up Craft Beer Week. Friday we went to a historic stadium in town for beer pong, but you were supposed to have signed up ahead of time, so we just ended up talking to a young couple we had met the night before at the bar in the grocery store. Then we were going to the grand opening of the Parched Eagle’s second location, but it was delayed, so we went to the art space next door, which was participating in the annual Art Walk. They have a small bar there called Maria’s, so we had some free food and Travalon had a drink as we sat in the rosy glow of neon lights. Most of the art they had for sale there did not appeal to me, but I did really like a painting full of brightly-colored buildings and tropical foliage. I did not buy it but am starting to regret that decision.

Saturday Travalon and I had a very relaxing morning, sitting out on our screened-in porch and having brunch at Crema Café. We took a walk all the way around the lagoon in Warner Park, then we went to the Malt House for their sour beer event, and then we went to the Big 10 pub to watch the Kentucky Derby. However, we were an hour and a half early, so we had a bite to eat and a beer, and then we drove to the Nitty Gritty in Sun Prairie so we could sit outside with Rodney the Poodle. To our surprise, nobody else was outside. Travalon was stoked to find out one horse in the Derby was named The Battle of Midway, and he should have bet on it, because it had long odds on it but came in third, so if he had bet $100, he would have won $2080. The horse I liked (because of its name) was Irish War Cry, which was right at the front of the pack for most of the race but somehow came in tenth. The horse that did win was the one favored to win, and its owner is named Bonomo! A long lost cousin of Rich’s…? We ended the evening by going to the Monona Terrace roof, and on the way we saw some teenage boy climb over a wall he wasn’t supposed to and then run into the path of a biker, who had to swerve to avoid him. I laughed about it to Travalon, and the kid heard me so as he was walking away he was hollering a bad word at me, but at first I didn’t realize it. When I finally did realize that he was calling me a female dog, I just laughed harder, which just made him madder, so he kept hollering it at me as he ran off. I laughed about that forever! Once on the roof, I told Travalon that his anniversary present is going to be a tile with our names on it on the roof, but it won’t be installed until the fall, so we looked at some of the ones already up there. We gazed out over the lake, but I had to leave briefly to powder my nose, and when I came back, the lights had come up on the Airgas smokestack. What poor timing I have!

Yesterday Travalon and I went to the Rockhound Brewery for brunch that included “beermosas,” then we went to the Next Door Brewery for their beer pie made with their Darth Porter, and then we went to Alt Brewing, where all the beers are gluten free. Neither Travalon nor I have any issues with gluten, but we were just curious to see the place, and the bartender, who looked like a Viking, was very friendly. We took Rodney for a long hike at Lake Kegonsa State Park, then we wrapped up Craft Beer Week by having dinner and beer at Karben 4, another brewey up on the north side. It is in the old Ale Asylum space, now that Ale Asylum is so popular that they needed to move to a much bigger place. We sat outside there with Rodney, and some other people came with three dogs, so Travalon joked that it was a dog park. We had a really great Craft Beer Week, and Travalon put it on his calendar so it won’t sneak up on us next year. I did him one better and downloaded the app, so now I am getting notifications about beer all over town.

Famous Hat

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Secret to Hedgehog Longevity

I didn’t mention this in my last post, but on Wednesday evening before the luau at the Boathouse, I went to an Early Music event on campus. The theme for the Early Music Festival this year is the music of Don Quixote, so the food at the event was Spanish (e.g., tapas, flan), and the music was Spanish madrigals sung by a quartet. I sat alone at a table but was soon joined by two women I had never met before, and we had a good conversation. Both of them had recently moved to Madison, one to be near family and the other because she researched where she wanted to move after retirement. She said Boulder and Albuquerque were among her other choices, but she also chose Madison due to family proximity.

Last night I met a previous coworker for coffee, then Travalon and I went to the bar in Festival Foods for their Founders tap takeover. This is part of Craft Beer Week, of course, and so we asked for a stamp for the passport. It took some hunting, but they found it. The bartender was very friendly, and he mentioned that he knew someone who has owned ten hedgehogs. It does seem like the people I know who are into hedgehogs go through them at an alarming rate, while I mostly just coexisted with the one I had inherited, and she lived for many years. Seriously, someone told me you are supposed to weigh your hedgehog every day to make sure it isn’t losing weight, but Sylvia always seemed fat enough to me, and I’m sure she appreciated that I only handled her a couple of times a month. Also, I let her wander around the condo while these people always keep their hedgehogs in cages. It would seem that the secret to hedgehog longevity is to mostly ignore the creature and let it wander around freely. After all, if you were a hedgehog, wouldn’t you prefer that to being poked at and prodded daily and then being stuck back into a cage?

Famous Hat