A Wisconsonite Asks Why

The following is a guest post from my sister, Erin Bilyeu. Erin is currently in Bellingham, Washington but she has family in Wisconsin and did her graduate work in Milwaukee. She was watching the recall election closely. When Walker survived the vote she was…not pleased.

My very first introduction to the wiles of Scott Walker was as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin  – Milwaukee.  ScottyDubs, as I like to call him, was then the County Executive for Milwaukee County and a staunch advocate of privatizing public assets (see the Milwaukee airport) and severely limiting public services (see the Milwaukee County Parks System, and County Transit System). Although it has been five years since I left Milwaukee to pursue a career in the public sector, I have followed his bizarre rise to national fame as one of the most  brazen anti-worker governors in the country.

I wanted to write something eloquent and witty about the results of June 5 recall but like Leslie Knope, I find myself angry. (I tried to find the season finale debate from Parks and Recreation but couldn’t find a clip).

Continue reading “A Wisconsonite Asks Why”

A Wisconsonite Asks Why

Mississippi River Adventures

Last Friday Aaron and I road-tripped down to Wabasha, MN to see two friends embark on a sailing adventure that started in a tiny Wabasha marina and will end in Belize, Central America (You can follow the adventures in photos and written stories at their website, Sailing to Belize). We left at 4:30am and rolled into Wabasha at about a quarter to seven. We got a tour of the boat and were treated to a really beautiful sunrise. The goodbyes wrapped up and the guys set sail. Those of us who had traveled down to see them off headed into town to warm up and get some breakfast.

After that Aaron and I split off to explore some of the landmarks along the Mississippi River. We started at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. It’s a very pretty building with several exhibits that educate about eagle habitats, behavior and representation in current and historical cultures. The highlight of the museum is a viewing area with five of the center’s permanent eagle residents. The viewing area is open air; the eagles are tethered to an small area around their perches and visitors stand behind a low barricade only feet away from the birds. The eagles – four bald eagles and one golden have all been injured and are unable to be returned to the wild.

This eagle had been hit by a car and never regained his ability to fly. The National Eagle Center gives him a home and helps people learn about eagles.

Next we crossed the river into Wisconsin and drove south to Alma where we visited Buena Vista Park. It shelters many different kinds of songbirds and is kind of breathtakingly gorgeous.

Just a little pretty. Panorama stitched together by cleVR. Click to enlarge.

And since we were there we made a quick stop at Lock and Dam #4 in Alma. We were hoping to see some bald eagles hunting the fish that get injured by the dam, but all we got were a bunch of ring-billed seagulls. Pbth! But I did get cool shot of the dam.

Chatty three-eyed aliens!

The next stop on our list was Rieck’s Lake Park, which is north of Alma and not quite to Nelson, Wisconsin. It is a large lake and flat, open marsh. We saw tons of Canada Geese,  Mallards, and Teals, but weren’t lucky enough to see any Tundra Swans. The view, however, was incredible.

Ducks and Geese hanging out in the lake.

Some small mammal hut – muskrat? Reick’s Lake houses beavers, mink and muskrats.

View from the Reick Bridge site.

After that we went in search of Tiffany Bottoms Wildlife area. Tiffany Bottoms is largely undeveloped and has a great and varied population of birds. We found a parking lot a few miles past Nelson on Highway 25 and started hiking. We never made it to any of the rivers that run through the area (other than the Chippewa, which our path ran parallel to), and we didn’t see a lot of birds, but we found some other forest inhabitants and a set of overgrown train tracks.

Fall Forest Trail 

Eastern Comma Butterfly


Leopard Frog

Overgrown Train Tracks

After Tiffany Bottoms we headed back to Minneapolis. We had been up since 3:30am and the day’s adventures did us in. We did stop for dinner in Stockholm, Wisconsin on the way back. What a cute touristy town! We walked around a little and shopped at the trinkets stores. And then we went home. What a day!

Mississippi River Adventures

Wisconsin Weekend and Photo Contest

A friend of mine invited me and the Hubby to spend this past weekend in Wisconsin with her and her family. They have a GORGEOUS  house on a quiet lake in the Northeast corner of the state. We went tubing, jet skiing, boat cruising around the lake and flying through the woods on an ATV. We played board games, had tasty adult drinks and ate incredible meals prepared by her mom (her mom bought all sorts of gluten-free goodies just for me, including brownies, spice cake and ciabatta rolls!). We packed a lot in over 30 hours. Oh, and we saw a frickin’ black bear as we were driving home!

Tubing on Crane Lake

Me tubing!

Photo Contest

I could use your help. I’m submitting three photos to a gallery at work (just a showing, not a contest) at one of our upcoming site-wide celebrations. I’ve picked out my top thirty favorite photos and placed them in a flickr set. If you have the time and the inclination, I’d love to have your help in narrowing it down to the three winners. Here’s how you can pipe up:

Oh, and did I mention that there is a contest associated with this? I love contests. If you vote you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a set of prints of your three favorite photos, even if they aren’t the three that I use for the gallery showing. I’ll chat printing options (size, finish, etc.) with the winner. 

Thanks for any votes, thoughts or advice!

Wisconsin Weekend and Photo Contest

Road Trip: The House on the Rock

It’s time for another adventure!

I’m heading downtown now to catch the MegaBus. *shudder* I’m not a huge fan of riding the MegaBus; they sell incredibly cheap seats (I bought a ticket to Madison for $5), so families with lots of kids tend to ride. Also, the last time I rode they oversold the bus by TEN SEATS, and it took the driver an hour-and-a-half to sort everything out. Also, on my last two experiences people were noisy and rude – they pushed, talked loudly on their cell phones, and wandered the cramped aisles of the bus rather than stay in their seats, jostling anyone who happened to have an aisle seat. But $5 ticket to Madison. So there you go.

My Mom, who is in the middle of an EPIC solo road trip (Southern Illinois –> Washington DC –> Chicago –> Minneapolis –> Seattle and back to Southern Illinois), is going to pick me up in Madison tonight, we’re going to stay overnight in a hotel, and then tomorrow morning we’re going here:

House on the Rock is an odd collection of rooms that contain odd collections of items perched on a literal rock in the middle of a forest south of Spring Green, Wisconsin. It factors into Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods, so in honor of the trip, that’s what I’m rereading on the bus ride down.

After we tour the HOTR, Mom and I will drive together back to Minneapolis. She’s visiting for two weeks and I’m going to take her EVERYWHERE  that she’ll let me take her during that time:

  • Minneapolis Raptor Center
  • Minnesota Orchestra
  • Minnesota Opera
  • Beyond Therapy @ Theater in the Round
  • MN Zoo and IMAX
  • Social Science at the Science Museum of Minnesota
  • MN Arboretum
  • Walker Art Center
  • MN Institute of Arts (MIA)
  • Mall of America Aquarium and shopping
  • St. Louis Park outdoor mall off of 394
  • Dinner with The Hubby’s family
  • CONvergence (She already has a ticket!)
  • Gay Pride Parade and Pride in the Park
  • Padelford Riverboat Mississippi River cruise

Did I miss any of the big ones?

So excited. Love me some Mom time.

Road Trip: The House on the Rock

…and boy are my arms tired!

Four and a half hours of driving later and we finally arrived back home to Minneapolis from “Some-city-named-after-a-fish”, Wisconsin.  The weekend went amazingly well – I can’t believe all of the things we managed to do in two-and-a-half days!

Friday night

The Hubby, C. and I caravanned from Minneapolis.  The Hubby and I had to leave early on Monday morning, and C. wanted to stay in Wisconsin through Monday afternoon, thus two vehicles.  I rode with C. for the trip down and we had a blast.  We’re both big musical fans so we spent the entire trip singing selections from Avenue Q, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Wicked, Legally Blonde, Phantom, Rent, The Producers, Repo the Genetic Opera, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Spring Awakening, Sweeny Todd and more.  I say singing, but by the end of four and a half hours of belting music it was was more like slaughtering, although C is classically trained and can belt like a pro.  The Hubby was really happy that he had his own car for this trip.

We stopped in a little podunk town for dinner and made the not entirely wise decision to eat at the KFC.  Blech.  KFC is awful food, but after I’ve gone without it for several months I forget about how painful and gross the entire experience was and think…mmmm…fried chicken.

Sadly, the KFC once again lived up to past experiences.  The chicken was overdone, and it had soaked up enough oil so that it wasn’t dried out, with the end result being that the meat fell off of the bones and the bones crumbled as we tried to eat the meat.  Ugh.  At least the cole slaw was all lardy goodness.

One of the highlights of the stop was watching the Hubby eat chicken.  It’s an old joke in our family: The Hubby didn’t eat fried chicken in front of me until we had been dating for at least six months so he wouldn’t scare me away.  When it comes to table manners, the Hubby is usually a neat, tidy, perhaps even fastidious, eater.  But give him chicken on the bone and his lower brain kicks into overdrive.  This was how dinosaurs ate, I’m sure of it.

Think about how you eat fried chicken: You pick it up and nibble away at it.  Easy, right?  But how do you hold the chicken?  If you’re like C. and me, you hold it like this guy from the twttrstream debate “Should Fried Chicken Be Eaten With A Fork or With Your Fingers?”:

See the technique?  You use a couple or three fingers to lightly grip the chicken on each end and you eat the damn thing.  Not so with the Hubby.  He gets in there with all ten fingers, plus the palms:

Not only that, but he tears the bird into tiny shreds in the search for that last, tiniest morsel of remaining meat, leaving bits and pieces of discarded bone and fat on the plate, tray, or a napkin on the table, until a mound of inedible bird remains are left in a sad, oil-saturated pile off to the side.  We tried to show him a less messy alternative, but he just looked so damned uncomfortable that we let him go back into chicken berzerker mode.

After that entertaining stop we continued up to the cabin.  The cabin is about 45 minutes off of the main highway, nestled deep in the woods.  When we finally arrived at about 9:30-10pm we bustled everything inside, said our hellos and goodnights to C.’s parents and hit the hay.


I’ve been to C.’s cabin on one other occasion, but had forgotten how beautiful the area is.  For starters, their home is really more of a high diamond-class resort than a “cabin”:

The upper deck

View of the back of the cabin

The dock and pier from the upper deck of the cabin

Closer to the dock and pier

Gorgeous, right?  It’s very quiet in the area, even though C.’s cabin has neighbors close on each side.

So we woke up on Saturday and C.’s mom made this amazing breakfast of egg bake casserole (made gluten free so I could eat it!) and cinnamon rolls (not GF, but apparently de-li-cious as told by the gluten-eaters).  Saturday morning started out very, very chilly and looking a bit like rain.  We had planned on taking the boat out to do some fishing, tubing and maybe a little bar-hopping around the lake (you dock your boat at these bars, grab a drink and then boat to the next bar – it’s a blast!), but because the weather wasn’t cooperating, C.’s parents surprised us with a trip to a horse ranch/go-kart amusement park that their family used to go to all the time when the kids were younger.  I ask ya: Who doesn’t love horseback riding and go-karts?

We had a 45-minute wait between go-karts and horseback riding so we took a short ride to some nearby cabins where C. and her family used to vacation.  It was a very pretty camping spot right on a lake with about six cabins situated together in a “village” .  I took nerdy nature pictures while we were there:

After wearing ourselves out with go-karts and horseback riding, we headed back to the cabin.  We stopped at a couple of very interestingly-named shops (I made sure to Foursquare them!) along the way:

Snack stop!  This place had the best fried chicken wings ever.  Really.

Two thirds of the places up here – stores and cities – are named after wildlife.  We call that “charming”.

C.’s mom made an incredible dinner for us on Saturday night, and C. introduced me to Rose’s Cocktail Infusions.  Her mom had the entire set as seen below: 

Yum, yum, yum.  We ate dinner, sang “Happy Birthday” to C., drank pear, raspberry, mango and pomegranate martinis, and watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the original, of course).  We all started to wander off to bed around 11:30-midnight.


I woke up at about 9am on Sunday, which surprised me because I could have sworn that I set my alarm for 7:30, but ah well.  C.’s Mom came through with another delicious breakfast of egg casserole leftovers, fruit salad, bacon, and cheesy hash browns.

C. was determined to take the family’s new jet ski out for a ride around the lake, even though the air was only about 60-degrees Fahrenheit when we headed down to the dock.  First C. took the jet ski out for a ride with her brother so she could learn how to handle the thing, then she took the Hubby out for a ride.

By this time she returned with the Hubby, C. was getting more comfortable on the jet ski and she was ready to take a more adventurous ride.  I hopped on the back and off we went!  She drove out to the center of the lake and made tight circles to stir up some waves, and then she would cross the wake, making us lift up into the air!  At one point we switched places so I could tool around for a while.  It’s harder than it looks, but you learn quickly from trial-and-error how to make the thing go!  During one pass I managed to hit the wake with the nose pointing down a little too far, causing a huge wave to come up over the top of the jet ski and soaking both of us like some sort of thrill ride at a water park.  Later when C. was driving again she did a few more tight turns, one of which threw both of us off the jet ski into the water!  But at 66-degrees Fahrenheit the water was warmer than the air!  Brr…we had a chilly ride back home, though.

After that C. went water skiing (and by went, I mean attempted…so close, girl!), and we all tried kneeboarding.  After some practice C. succeeded beautifully, the Hubby managed to get upright, but crooked, and I was an excellent bellyboarder.

One more try, C!

C. kneeboards – doin it quite well, akshully.

The Hubby kneeboards.  He kneeboards sideways on the board, but definitely not bad for a first couple of tries.

I…bellyboard.  But I won the Stubbornly Hanging On award, by gosh!  At the end, C. forgets that she’s filming and palms the camera, but you can hear her imploring me to let go of the rope.  But I won’t!  I was getting up on that damn board if it…ohhh…they cut the engine.  *mumbling* I was almost there, too…

After kneeboarding we came in to pick up C.’s Mom, and found that she had prepared a fabulous lunch for us while we were out!  We dined on lunchmeats and salads, and then headed back out to the lake to do some tubing.  Tubing was great, but we were bounced around pretty well.  We all came back that evening grumbling and groaning about newly discovered muscles, and I’m still sore as I write this on Tuesday morning!

That evening we played Apples to Apples (truly an excellent group game) and snacked on hors d’oevres.  C.’s brother put on this hilarious and awful History channel show called Swamp People, which is a documentary/sporting show about Louisiana’s thirty-day open hunting season for American alligators.  It’s awful because you see alligators being slaughtered and hilarious because the people are very much your stereotypical big, burly, macho manly-men out huntin’ ‘gators.  But read carefully – no one is saying these guys are rednecks!  In fact, the websites I’ve browsed all use this *same phrase* over and over to describe the hunters as “the proud descendants of French Canadian refugees who settled in the swamp region of Louisiana in the 18th century”.  Ah-yup.

After that we pulled out the Rose’s Cocktail Infusions again, and things got really classy as we settled down to play a few old-timey card game favorites such as Bullshit and Circle of Death.  I wanted to play Spoons, but concerns were raised about the length of some of the gals’ fingernails so we ended up playing a few dozen rounds of Catchphrase instead.

And so passed another lovely evening!


The Hubby and I decided to get up at the crack of dawn and get our butts back to Minneapolis before Labor Day traffic became unbearable.  I was also hoping to spend a few more hours at the MN State Fair as it was ending that day.  The crack of dawn ended up being about 8am (that’s early enough on a holiday, thank you very much!), and we rolled into town at 2:15pm without hitting any major traffic.  The Hubby ran into work to get a few things done, and I ended up watching an episode of Warehouse 13.  It was raining off and on in the cities, so I decided not to go to the State Fair (sad Brianne is sad), so I got some reading done in this calculus book I’m currently tackling.  Later that evening we had a delicious dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Dinkytown called Shuang Cheng.  I had something with shrimp and scallops in it, and I don’t think I’ve had such fresh, well-prepared scallops since our trip to San Diego last winter.  Nom-my!  I think school starts at the U of MN tomorrow, and we saw groups of students walking with parents up and down University Avenue and through Dinkytown.  It all felt very exciting.

And hey – now it’s a four-day work week!

…and boy are my arms tired!

Off for the weekend!

In about eight minutes here the Hubby and I will start driving out east and keep going like that for about four-and-a-half hours hours.  Our destination is “some city named after fish species”, Wisconsin.  We’re going to be staying at the parents-of-a-friend’s GORGEOUS cabin (mansion, practically) in the woods.  The cabin is on a decent-sized lake that connects to other lakes in the area.  We’ll go lake bar hopping (her Dad volunteers to sober-boat drive us – yay!), and if the weather warms up we’ll do some jet skiing, tubing and water skiing.

I’ll try to send some picture updates to the blog, but I don’t know how much internet-ness I’ll have out there.  As my friend put it:

“Our only connection to the outside world will be a land line, and of course the traditional telegram and handwritten letter.”

So, if all else fails I’ve got a few canned posts for the next couple of days.

Take care, and for my US readers (all three of you) – have a fun and safe Labor  Day Weekend!

Off for the weekend!