Monday, December 30, 2019

Visiting Rochester

I hope my readers had a good weekend. I had an excellent Friday evening: I went to the Third Day of Christmas Carol Sing at the Lutheran Church where I used to sing, along with Rich, Kathbert, Cecil Markovitch, and the Single B-Boy. My former OTHER choir director played the organ, although he is retired and in fact is now Catholic. Afterwards I was invited to a party attended mostly by organists, where we had wine and cheese and told crazy stories, not all of them involving organ playing. Travalon, meanwhile, went to a high school basketball game as he loves to do.

Saturday I kind of overslept, having been out too late with all the organists, then Travalon and I got on the road, stopping at Wollersheim to get a gift basket for my family and in Sauk to see eagles. We saw one bird but weren’t sure if it was an eagle or a gull. As we drove through the hills outside of Baraboo, the “Check Engine” light came on, so we stopped in Mauston to find out what was going on. The problem is not serious and can be fixed later, but that set us back some more on time. We also had lunch at a Chinese buffet there. We were deep in Minnesota when we came across a Sinclair travel plaza. Travalon loves Dino the Sinclair Dinosaur, so we stopped there, and I took his picture with the big Dino wearing a Santa hat and scarf outside. I also bought him a little stuffed Dino. It was almost four by the time we got to my parents’ house, and so I had missed my brother. For reasons I cannot understand, Ma Hat thought we were going to get there by lunchtime, which would have been an impossible feat unless I had gotten up at my usual time for getting to work, and no way was that happening. Anyway, my parents and two nephews were there, one of them visiting from Colorado. I gave them each an ornament, and Travalon gave my parents a map of Minnesota showing different hot dishes for each area. We also gave them a drawing of the Thai pavilion in Olbrich Garden. Then we all went to a local brewery that my aunt and uncle from Colorado had recommended – they even said they would pay for our dinner! Travalon and I tried a bunch of their beers, and they were all delicious. It was so much fun talking to my nephews, who are in their 20’s. Of course, in a few days, we will all be in the 20’s! Then we went back to my parents’ house and had eggnog and cookies that the Colorado cousins had made. The one thing that’s really different about Christmas at Ma and Pa Hat’s house these days is the tree. When I was younger, it had colorful lights and lots of mismatched ornaments. Now it looks like something from a department store display, with burgundy and gold ornaments and white lights. I’m partial to the old look myself, and I do wonder what happened to all those old ornaments. But all Travalon and I have is a little tabletop fiber optic tree, so I can’t really criticize anyone else’s tree.

Travalon and I stayed at the Kahler Grand Hotel in downtown Rochester, which has a very cool swimming pool on the top floor. It has a dome over it – for a video, check out my old blog post from when Tiffy and I stayed there. I also had to get a bunch of steps, so I went down to our room and ran in place while Travalon enjoyed the hot tub and sauna. The next morning we could very conveniently walk to Mass two blocks away, then we met Ma and Pa Hat for coffee. They gave me some of my old childhood drawings, and they are as amazing as I’d remembered. There was this alphabet book of animals, and three-fourths of the way through I got tired of doing the background so it’s just the animals. Each one has the letter that starts it incorporated into it. There is also a calendar I did that for some reason is in French, with amazing pictures of each sign of the zodiac doing something seasonally appropriate, like a goat blowing a noisemaker beside a glass of champagne as confetti rains down. For some reason there was also a French assignment I didn’t remember doing with photos of my family and a shockingly low grade. Then I looked more carefully, and it was my brother’s homework, not mine. I had forgotten he studied French too – I would have thought he was more the German type. What blew my mind was how stunning I looked at the age of sixteen. I don’t remember ever being beautiful; in my memory, I was always very plain.

Then Travalon and I hit the road but didn’t get too far because we had to stop at the Sinclair travel plaza again. They have an Amish restaurant, so we went there for lunch. Then we took a tour of French Island in La Crosse and stopped at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine for a vigorous hike up the hill. We drove home along Highway 14, and I loved seeing how each little town decorated their downtown area for Christmas. We also passed some amazingly decorated houses, but there was nowhere to stop on the highway to take pictures. We did come across the most beautiful light display in Richland Center, so we stopped and took a walk through it. I took lots of photos and short little videos, so I’ll try to combine them into one long movie at some point. We finally got back to town around eight and had dinner at Amber Indian Restaurant, because Travalon wanted the same thing he had on Christmas Eve: Lamb Marsala. I tried it too, and it is so good. I had the rest of it for lunch today.

I would like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year and a fortuitous 2020.

Famous Hat

Friday, December 27, 2019

Beautiful Bird Party

Today I had to go back to work, and it was very quiet, but I saw something wonderful during my lunchtime rosary walk. I could hear some sort of birds calling, and as I walked toward the lake, I could see many large, white birds swimming. Someone said they were Arctic swans, and they are beautiful. There were so many of them! I took some pictures and made a short video, but they don’t really capture how beautiful the swans are, or their haunting calls. I also saw a small flock of black and white Goldeneye ducks, but they were not close enough to get a good photo. They only come around in the winter; we often see them in Sauk when we are eagle-watching. My readers know how I love bird parties, like on the little pond up in Waunakee where lots of birds gather, and this was one, big, beautiful, shining white bird party.

Famous Hat

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Christmas 2019

I hope that my readers had a good Christmas. Tuesday I worked on the cassata, then Travalon and I took advantage of the beautiful day to hike by the Yahara River. Here is a picture of it, and another one zooming in on the island.

After the "Midnight Mass" at five, we had dinner at Amber Indian Restaurant and then looked at Christmas lights. I didn't take any pictures, but here is a picture Tiffy took of lights in Racine.

Then we put the finishing touches on the cassata and went to bed to wait for Santa:

(Thanks to my uncle from Denver for that!)

I for one did not miss having a white Christmas, but Tiffy had one up north:

Christmas morning after Mass, Travalon and I went to visit his mother, and we brought her a poinsettia:

Travalon's oldest brother and his wife came bearing a cheesecake, so the five of us enjoyed some cheesecake and conversation about ethnic origins. They are a lot of fun to talk to.

On the way back to Madison, Travalon and I stopped for a very vigorous hike in Tyrenena Park in Lake Mills, on the shores of Rock Lake. Apparently the trails were for mountain bikers, since we saw some on them, and there were lots of uphills. I did take this picture of the sun setting over Rock Lake.

As we drove to Rich's house for Christmas dinner, the sunset was spectacular.

As usual, we had Rich's lasagne, Cecil Markovitch's spinach salad, and my cassata. Between dinner and dessert, we played a gag gift game. I actually got things I wanted: a toaster, a flotation ring for swimming in ponds, and a lovely drawing of a church in a lake with instructions for opening a safe written on the back. Some people got masks. Who wore it better: Mr. N'Awlins or Travalon?

Rich forget we must not. Yoda he was.

As we were enjoying the cassata, my neighbor texted me that the condo below ours had a fire, so there was a lot of smoke damage in our unit. We rushed home, but the firefighters had opened every window in the place, so it barely smelled smoky by the time we got there. And fortunately it was 50 degrees Fahrenheit out, so my plants didn't mind all the windows being open. Apparently our downstairs neighbor decorated her fireplace for Christmas, then she started a fire in it, and all the decorations went up in flames. Yikes! Her unit is a mess, and she is staying with her son. The hallway was in rough shape too, but the neighbors across the way (who had texted me) did a lot of work on it today, and it is so much better now.

When Travalon bought his mom the poinsettia, they had a two for one deal, so he also got us this indigo one with sparkles. Isn't it pretty?

Today we went for a hike at Horicon Marsh. We saw a bunch of geese, but I didn't take any pictures so you will just have to imagine how it looks to see geese swimming on a pond and flying overhead. I know those are such uncommon sights.

Famous Hat

Monday, December 23, 2019


Today Travalon and I had the day off of work, so we drove to Lake Wisconsin. We went to a small cove right near Sunset Bay, where according to Google Maps there was a small island. We actually saw two islands, but this was from residential roads so there was nowhere to stop and take pictures. We also explored Paradise Island, which is very large and has a land bridge out to it. There are lots of houses and condos on it. Here is a view of it from further down the river.

Our second stop was the Lakeview Bar and Grill, from which it looked on Google Maps like you could see two more islands. This is true! Here is a view of the islands.

And here is a closeup of each one. You can actually see them from inside the bar. In the background of the picture of the larger island, to the right of it you can see Owl Head Bluff.

They also have this totem pole just outside the bar.

Then we drove north along the river and went to the Pine Island Nature Reserve. This is not Pine Island - we couldn't get close enough to it to get a good photo - but it is one of the little islands all along the river at this point.

Here Travalon is with several islands behind him.

This is a larger island just upstream from Pine Island. The actual Pine Island is so big that it has a little creek on it.

Here is a video of something floating downstream. We think it is a piece of ice, since parts of the river were frozen, but this part was open water. However, the edges are so perfectly rectangle that we weren't sure if it was natural or manmade.

Then we drove to Lake Mason. Here are a couple pictures of the sun setting over it.

And here is another shot of the sunset as we drove to another spot to try to see Pine Island. Ultimately, this effort was fruitless because the roads shown on the map existed but were private roads, so we couldn't go down them.

We also took a vigorous hike (a lot of uphill paths) at the Pine Island Nature Preserve. We have to take advantage of these unseasonably warm days while they last. I know a lot of people long for a white Christmas, but I am perfectly content with a warm, snowless one.

Famous Hat

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Christmas Trip to Chicago

Yesterday Travalon and I went to Chicago to visit some of my relatives, and we brought them Wisconsin beer and cheese. First we visited my aunt and uncle in the western suburbs, and we all went to a pizza place for lunch and had that famous deep dish Chicago pizza. My cousin joined us with her baby daughter and one of her sons, so that was a lot of fun. My aunt took this picture of Travalon and me in their driveway.

Then we went to visit another uncle at the Hemingway House in Oak Park, where he is a tour guide. He had lots of fascinating stories, and I thought the house was so beautiful inside. Here is a picture in the living room, of the piano and Christmas tree.

This photo is in the library. The two certificates were from Ernest Hemingway's grandfathers' service in the Union Army during the Civil War, and also I love the wallpaper.

This is the dining room table. I just love the colors!

This is also in the dining room. You can see the roses in the plaster edging, and the lace curtains that go all the way down to the floor. (The curtains are not original but are well-made replicas.)

And this is the carpeting in the dining room, featuring just an edge of Travalon's shoe. I took another picture without his shoe, but it wasn't quite as good as this one.

Then we went out to dinner with that uncle and aunt, at a fancy restaurant called the Hemingway Bistro. My aunt told me that in their neighborhood there were luminaries all up and down the sidewalk, and my uncle sent me this photo.

After that Travalon and I went downtown, and some of the buildings were lit up red and green so that was pretty, but the decorations on the streets seemed to be trees lit with white lights. Is there a more interesting part of downtown? Otherwise I would say Martinsville, population maybe forty, does a better job. Even the tollbooths as we headed out of town had more colorful lights! We did stop in Rockford, and they had some lovely lights downtown. Here is a short video of a sparkly Christmas tree in downtown Rockford.

We got home really late, overslept, and had to go to a later Mass. Then we went to the pond with all the birds on it, and today I got a really good photo. Can you see that there are even cranes? It's like a big bird party! And I love the sun sparkling on the water.

Then we went to Castle Rock Conservancy and finally found the pond! Check it out - it looks like there's a tiny island in the center of it.

We went on a path we hadn't been able to take before, since it always seemed to be flooded, and it went right by Six Mile Creek.

It was such a gorgeous day that I hated to go inside and play our gig at the airport, but the area where we sat was flooded in sunlight. I sang and played, sometimes at the same time. I like to think that maybe if some of those travelers were scared of flying, hearing a favorite Christmas carol gave them some comfort. One guy sang along on all three verses of "What Child Is This" with me. Hardingfele and I weren't sure what to make of this sparkly weird tree in the airport.

Then Hardingfele came over to my house and checked out all my crazy instruments. Now that my Snark tuner has new batteries, I have no more excuse for not tuning them all and learning to play them. Anyway, I'm not sure how much blogging I'll be doing in the next few days, so a Merry Christmas to all my readers.

Famous Hat

Friday, December 20, 2019

Maple Bluff Christmas Lights

Tonight Travalon and I drove around a rich neighborhood called Maple Bluff, looking at Christmas lights. This first picture is of the Governor's  Mansion.

Then we came across a house with all the trees in front of it lit up. I couldn't fit it into one picture, and the two don't really do it justice.

I like the way this A-frame is lit up, and you can barely make out the Capitol Building in the background, but this isn't the best picture either. At least you can get the idea.

This gorgeous house is also right on the lake.

Then we drove back home through more middle-class neighborhoods, and we found this masterpiece. It didn't even fit into one photo. The second photo would be to the left of the first one.

Across the street, the neighbors had a pretty good answer for all that.

Tomorrow we are hoping to go to Chicago to see some of my relatives and check out the lights downtown, so hopefully I will have some awesome pictures to post after that adventure.

Famous Hat

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Advent Photos

Staying on the Christmas music theme, last night at choir practice we practiced a lovely setting of "In Dulci Jubilo" by Buxtehude. It made me so happy! We will sing it on Christmas Eve during our concert before the "Midnight" Mass at 5 pm.

Here are some Advent photos from our recent adventures. The first picture is a stunning sunset Tiffy and I saw just outside her sister's apartment building.

This next picture is to make Richard Bonomo jealous: this is the hot chocolate Travalon got at Bellitalia!

Here are a couple of pretty crystals I bought at a shop on State Street. The one on the right is bloodstone, and I can't even remember what the one on the left is, never mind what "powers" it supposedly has. I just like them because they are pretty.

Isn't this rosary that a grad student gave me beautiful?

Check out the cool cookies another grad student made for our department Christmas party! This is the  party that a fourth of the invitations got mailed to us instead of the intended recipients.

This isn't a very good shot, but there are some beautiful Christmas lights downtown.

This is the mandrake I made at Adult Swim. Travalon left his behind.

Here is the State Christmas Tree in the Capitol Rotunda.

And here is a photo of Tiffy and me in front of the Christmas tree at Zoo Lights.

More photos of Zoo Lights:

Here is the island in Sunset Bay on Lake Wisconsin.

And here is Travalon in front of the island.

This is a cool bluff behind the bar near the island. You cannot see the island from inside the bar.

Here are the cool soaps I got at the soap shop.

This is a late addition to the little ornaments I hung up in my office. When I got this, Travalon got a French bulldog ornament he calls Chester. They are fair trade ornaments.

Here are Travalon's navigators, Candy and Goldie!

And finally, here is a short video of the balalaika orchestra.

Famous Hat