Wisconsin Layover

I meant to post this all on my last morning in Wisconsin, but last-minute packing and errands got the best of me and I’m really only finding time to review and post this now – my third day in Boston. Sigh – oh well.

I worked my last day at my Chicago job on Thursday. Mostly packed up and ready, I went out for a low-key last-night-in-Chicago dinner. Friday morning came early; my brain wouldn’t let me sleep with all the little odds and ends I still needed to wrap up.

It was all done in time for the movers though and by 11 a.m., we were on the road with the smallest U-Haul truck to put my whittled down collection of belongings in storage in Wisconsin. The ride was smooth; overall, the day was pleasant. I didn’t love saying goodbye to my last Chicago friend, but with that the layover in Wisconsin truly began.

Per tradition, Friday night = fish fry, bowling, and beer. And it was lovely. But I was exhausted, and done before 10 p.m. Sleep is better in Wisconsin – the nights are darker, the world is quieter. When Saturday morning came around, I was ready for a full day.

I am taking full advantage of my last few responsibility-free days. Saturday started with an indulgent coffee treat. We threw in a bike ride on a gorgeous gravel trail. Our first time really biking the area, my brother and I did a quiet, easy 8.5 miles. We then hit the driving range for my first golf lesson which was a blast. Of course, the night wrapped up with a game of Scrabble. (I did appallingly bad. I think my final score was like 80-something. Shameful.)

Sunday was the big day though – family fun day. I started the morning off on a solo bike ride. Saturday’s easy ride was nice but I wanted more of a challenge, and got about 15 miles in. In the afternoon, we had a nice overlap of time where everyone could be here: my parents, all of my siblings, and my nieces and nephew. We went on a mini-hike in the “woods” behind our house, though the kids did not exactly appreciate the nature in the way I had hoped for. We played catch during the requisite cookout though, and I taught my niece how to properly throw a football. (Proud aunt here!) Sunday night, of course, was for cribbage – we’ve already hit bowling and Scrabble, after all.

Monday started with crossing my fingers while my baby brother took (and passed!) his driver’s test. My mom and I hit the gym – my first time back at true strength-training in a long time. We shopped a little, of course. And then we headed up to Oshkosh to check out my old stomping grounds – the history department at UW-Oshkosh. The new building is beautiful, very student-friendly; I sure wish they had that when I was there! Then we drove a bit north and watch the aforementioned brother slip into his alter ego super sweeper superhero role. (They tied.)

There was nowhere better to be on Monday night than in Wisconsin – Monday Night Football, Packers vs. Seahawks! We all indulged in my favorite pizza. I sipped on my serendipitously discovered Tyranena Lake Mills beer. (I had it once in Chicago a few years ago and have not been able to remember what it was called or find it again until this weekend.) And then the game took a turn for the worse… we will not rehash it here, but it was acutely felt.

My last full day in Wisconsin, Tuesday, my sister and I took to the gravel portion of the bike path. As you can see in all of these photos, it’s a gorgeous path, lined with trees and providing real Wisconsin nature basically in the middle of town. All of those pictures above are from my longer solo bike ride. What a beautiful ride… what a beautiful home. The hometown layover was wonderful, a perfect way to set up bouts of homesickness now in Boston.

My sporadic blogging is about to become even less reliable. I need to settle into a basic routine and then add all these extra back in. I trust you will find a way to carry on.

Who Has the Better Summer? Round 2: Stuff To Do

Wisconsin is where Chicagoans go to escape the city in the summer but it’s also where I spent my first 24 summers. The novelty that city slickers find in small town Wisconsin is just my normal. But after a few summers in Chicago, this feels normal too. So which is better? If you had to spend summer in just one place, which promises a better summer: Chicago or (my) small-town Wisconsin?

Summer Festivals
In my hometown, we have two summer festivals really – Walleye Weekend and the fair. The first is at the large park on Lake Winnebago and has formed around a three-day walleye fishing tournament. I know it better as the weekend we eat all kinds of fried food and watch the younger ones in the family play soccer. Just like any other summer festival – terribly unhealthy but delicious food, beer, bands, and the real purpose is something no one pays attention to. The fair is, of course – the fair. Come on. Carnival rides, animals in a large barn-type thing (um, I’ve been informed it’s just called “a barn”), and more fried food and beer.

In Chicago, summer festivals are much more compact – just a few blocks of space, at most. They’re typically not free; they’re suggested donation-admittance. Of course, here you’ll also find your fair share of fried foods, but many festivals are held in celebration of some heritage and so you’ll get a sampling of new foods too. Chicago’s festivals are so phenomenal though because there is literally something for everyone all summer. Lincoln Square’s Maifest (like Oktoberfest in spring!), Printer’s Row Lit Fest (used books for sales, author talks and readings!), and Wicker Park Fest (hipsters and music!) are a few of my favorites. And there are several fests every weekend, so it goes without saying if you have nothing to do – you’re wrong, there’s something to do.

Point Chicago.

This one is easy. You can’t camp in Chicago. Point Wisconsin.

Lazy Summer Porch Drinking

Yikes, this is harder. There are not many porches in Chicago. We have a back staircase that has a landing which we could theoretically put out one, maybe two, folding chairs and drink some beer. The view is lovely – the roof of the apartment building next door or into my neighbor’s kitchen. But Chicago has some pretty amazing local breweries that give perfect summer beer options – nice and light, crisp and a bit fruity.

Eh, you can buy Goose Island anywhere now. Wisconsin has New Glarus, big backyards, decks with grills and plastic kiddie pools. Point Wisconsin.

Outdoor Dining
It feels unfair to even write out a comparison here. There is no comparison. Point Chicago.

The Lake

Contenders: Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan. I realize much of Wisconsin has access to Lake Michigan but we’re talking about my Wisconsin. My small-town Wisconsin has Lake Winnebago. A lake I’ve never swam in, maybe once canoed in, and often mocked. That said, I’ve only been to a Chicago beach once and certainly did not go in Lake Michigan. Tied.

Oh no, tied overall. Who guessed that would be the case? Truly, the winner is usually wherever I am not. When Chicago is too hot (and dirty), I crave a Wisconsin summer. And when Wisconsin gets boring, I itch to be back in Chicago. Luckily, it’s easy to go between the two.

Who Has the Better Summer? Round 1: Summer Storms

I’m in the midst of my sixth summer in Chicago and starting to feel the twinges of homesickness that always pop up along with the sudden summer thunderstorms and tornado warnings. Chicago, like the rest of the Midwest, has severe summer weather, but not often enough for my taste.

I lived in Milwaukee briefly last year and was kind of lounging around listening to the news one morning, when I heard something about a “water spout on Lake Michigan.” And a moment later, I realized,
I live on Lake Michigan! (Literally – my apartment was across the street from the lakeshore.) And sure enough, a glance out my window was enough to see something completely new (to me) and fascinating.

Photo from the National Weather Service and WISN Studio via mlive.com. 
Read about the water spout here.

Severe summer weather captivates us because we’re so close to but rarely ever in any real danger. (Please note that I do not live in Tornado Alley and while we have had our share of devastating tornadoes, they are rare.) And we’re regularly reminded of the power of nature, of
weather, in a Wisconsin summer. We crave and relish the summer thunderstorms while keeping an ear out for the sirens ushering us to the basement.

When severe weather strikes in Chicago, it’s just not the same. I’ve never really lived somewhere with an enclosed porch. I’ve certainly never lived somewhere with more than a pocket-sized view of the sky. The ramifications of severe weather inconvenience us more in the city than they did in small-town or rural Wisconsin. Chicago thunderstorms inspire annoyance long before any sense of awe.

It’s storming. It’ll take me 45 minutes to get home by train/bus. Do I wait out the storm at work? Do I want to be on the train during the worst of the storm? Will I have to wait for the bus long? 

It’s all much more tiring than fascinating when a thunderstorm strikes Chicagoland. Point Wisconsin.

What do you think, summer storms: yay or nay?