Monday, August 25, 2014

Travels and Tribulations

My Uncle Harold died on Wednesday.

I'm not quite ready to write about that, but feel I need to write something, so I'm going to dive back into my neglected blog to describe just the logistics of everything we experienced last week.

My uncle was 90, and he'd chosen to go off dialysis, so we knew the end was near we just didn't know when.  He knew.  He apparently predicted Wednesday, and had time to talk to my dad (his younger brother) and others on the phone who couldn't get to Florida to say goodbye.

We got the call about his passing on Wednesday afternoon, right as I was preparing to take the kids to their violin lessons.  Ian was out of state for Army work.

My dad's side of the family is Jewish, and in Jewish tradition funerals happen within 24 hours of a death.  Wisconsin is a long way from Florida (as we discovered firsthand back in February).  But our household was the only one even remotely available at that moment to go there to represent my dad, so I was determined to make that happen.  There had to be a way to get us down to Florida for a service the next day at 1:00.

Thankfully my brother, Arno, frequent flyer that he is living in New York and working in Seattle, offered to go online and find us tickets and a hotel.  I don't think we could have done this all without his help because we only had a couple of hours to get to the airport, and I had lots of arrangements to make at my end (making sure someone could cover the store, figuring out what to do with the dog, moving appointments and swim lessons...) in addition to packing and helping the kids find any clothes appropriate for a funeral.  (I didn't realize just how many tie-dye shirts my kids owned until we tried to find anything in their closets that looked serious and actually fit.)

I'd made crepes for breakfast in the morning, and had a stack of them set aside for a baked chicken-mushroom-crepe dish for dinner, and I just shoved those into a ziplock bag for snacks.  I'm glad I did, because all plans for eating in airports wound up being dashed, and aside from the paltry treats offered on the planes that was all the kids got to eat until we arrived at our hotel.

This is the point where I am going to say I have the best kids in the world.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Amazing Milwaukee Race on Bikes 3!

This past weekend I was in The Amazing Milwaukee Race on Bikes again!  What a blast.

We are so lucky in Milwaukee to have someone like Adam Baus who wants to go to all the trouble to design interesting races around our city.  I can't imagine how he makes the time for it, but I'm glad he does.

This was the third biking version of the race, and the first with perfect weather.  (The first bike race was plagued by three tremendous cloudbursts, and I was dumb enough to be wearing jeans.  This time around I had on bike shorts because I wasn't risking that kind of struggle again.)  The version on foot is great, too, but I've only managed to do that once with my friend, Linda, and another time our violin store got to be a stop on the race which was really exciting.

Ian had Army commitments, so my friend and fellow luthier, Robyn, agreed to join me.  Team name: The Violin Femmes.
Our official race punch card
We did the "B" or "Short" course.  (I don't know the three extra stops the people on the longer course did.)  The short course was supposed to be around 15 miles, and the long one about 30, but since Robyn and I biked from our homes up to the Start/Finish Line we ended up clocking in about 27 miles total.  I only had to walk my bike up one hill at the very end because I hadn't paced myself to face the last incline on the bridge over the freeway after climbing the hill before it, so that's not bad.  (I suppose next time I might bite the bullet and go for the "A" course since after a nice shower I was fine and couldn't really tell the next day I'd done anything.)

Robyn, pre-race
The race began about four miles north of my home at a place called Jackson's Blue Ribbon Pub (at 10th and Juneau near the original Pabst Brewery).  We arrived in plenty of time to check in and for Robyn to grab a little breakfast and check her smartphone.  (I may not be smart enough to have a smartphone, but I'm smart enough to have friends who have smartphones!)

At 11:45 we assembled in Zilber Park behind the building.  I'm including a picture of us posing by the odd statue of the Zilbers in the park because it's the only photographic evidence I have that I was in this race.  (Weird statue.  It included dead weeds sculpted at the figures' feet.  And a large spider was living inside Mr Zilber's bronze sleeve.)
Me, Robyn, and the Zilbers
bronze weeds
After addressing the teams and reviewing basic rules and safety, the race volunteers handed one person from every team an envelope that we were instructed not to open until the end of the countdown.  We were told each envelope had two Scrabble letters, and we had to team up with others around us to spell a six letter word before we could receive our first clue.

Between us and two other teams nearby we had two G's, an I, a U, a T, and a blank.  I'm a good Scrabble player, but that wasn't looking promising.  I laid out the blank as an N so we could create something that ended in ING, and suggested we keep the T, but see if we could trade in two letters.  We got two things about like what we'd just traded in, so we did it again, and eventually were able to spell the word "EATING" and finally get our first clue.

Now, my downfall in these races has always been, and continues to be, not reading carefully enough.  I'm still annoyed with myself that in the second bike race we spent so much extra time in the cemetery when we didn't have to.  We could have won I tell you!  But no, because I didn't realize that we didn't need to solve ALL the clues in the cemetery we lost a lot of time.  In this race we got off to a doubly false start and never quite caught up.

The first thing that threw us was that the last task was included along with the first clue, and it told us to complete two tasks from past races included in a grab bag list before we showed up at the finish line.  Scanning the list of options we noticed one of them was to get a squished penny souvenir from the gift shop at the Pabst Mansion.  I somehow missed the word "Mansion" and thought we were being directed to the Pabst gift shop a block away where we had done the catapult task a couple of years ago, so it seemed smart to dash over there since it was so close and get it out of the way.  But then by the time we realized my mistake the pack of racers was gone and we couldn't follow them.

Our second problem was that we thought of the things included in our clue packet (a map with the grab bag list of final tasks on the back, and two copies of a postcard), that the postcard of a church was the first clue.

Pretty, huh?  And we spotted it just on the other side of the freeway.  We biked over the pedestrian bridge and then all around the church, but there were no race markers or volunteers there.  We were stumped.  Luckily one other team was there and similarly stumped, and they decided to call the race hotline number and ask what to do.

Turns out the first clue was written ON THE MAP.  Duh.  In a big white box labeled "Clue # 1."  It said quite directly to go to Washington Park, which would have been much easier to find if we'd simply followed all the other bikers who read their clue packets carefully.
But at least Robyn and I were finally headed in the right direction, and we got to Washington Park just was we saw many people leaving it.  The task in Washington Park was to score a goal in bike polo on the tennis courts (and then we could get our card punched).  I got to take a mallet and swing at a small ball from my bike and try to get it into what looked like a miniature soccer net.  I narrowly missed the first time, but managed to score a goal on my second attempt.  It was fun!  And over too fast.  I was sorry Robyn didn't get to try because it's surprisingly awkward trying to manage a mallet from atop a bike.

On to the next clue!  Which seemed to be the St Joan of Arc Chapel on the grounds of Marquette University.  I knew that was tucked just beyond the main street somewhere near the dentistry school, but I'd never been there before.  It was built around the 15th century over generations in France, was moved to Long Island, NY in the 1920s, and then to Milwaukee in 1964.  It's weird, because in one sense it's the oldest building in Wisconsin, but in another it's only really been here since the 60s.  Make of that what you will.  Regardless, one of the best things about theses races is the opportunity to go places worth seeing, some of which you may have heard of, and often many you haven't.  I was glad the Chapel was on the route.

However, on the way to Marquette University was the Pabst Mansion!  And its squished penny!
Such a pretty place.  I haven't been inside in years, and it's the sort of landmark that local schoolkids wind up visiting on field trips eventually.  Supposedly at Christmastime the interior is elaborately decorated.  Anyway, people behind the gift shop counter had anticipated the rush of bike racers and were prepared with pre-squished pennies for quick purchase.  I grabbed mine and headed off with Robyn to the chapel.

The St Joan of Arc Chapel is lovely.  My photo here is of the back of it, because I don't know why.  Racing, gotta move, no time for reasonable pictures.  There are several points along the route I wish I had taken a moment to snap a photo or two, but that just didn't happen (because racing).

At the front of the chapel we got our second card punch and our next clue, which sent us to a big red church on the other side of the freeway.  Turns out there is a theater in the lower level of the church I'd never heard of!  An organization called "In Tadem Theatre" so that was interesting to learn about.

The task at In Tandem Theatre was a Roadblock, meaning just one of us had to do it.  It was singing!  Either of us were game to belt out a tune, but we'd read there were typewriters available on site somewhere, and one of the choices for the second grab bag option was to type on a postcard.  We thought maybe we could split up and Robyn could sing and I could type. 

Turns out I had to be in the audience before I would be allowed near any typewriters, which worked out better than fine because I got to enjoy several heartfelt rounds of "Daisy Bell" on a small stage with Adam Baus himself accompanying on keyboard.  Robyn was awesome.

Singers (Robyn in the middle), judges, keyboard

They sang twice, then we got a card punch and found the typewriters, only one of which was working so there was a line.  The instructions were clear that we had to copy a particular bit of text, and if we made a mistake we had to start over.  I described the challenges of using the old Royal typewriters when I had to do this same task in the foot race, so I won't repeat them here, but I was very proud of myself for not making any errors.  Then nobody checked my postcard!  I was so looking forward to showing off my fine work!  So I will display it here for the interwebs to enjoy.

Next stop:  Purple Door Ice Cream in the Walker's Point neighborhood.  Purple Door Ice Cream is someplace we've been meaning to check out since it opened a couple of years ago because it has a reputation as a great place with a great mission.  The task was to buy and finish two scoops of ice cream and show the empty dish(es) to a race volunteer in order to get the next card punch and read the next clue. 

Having cut both sugar and dairy out of my diet at the beginning of the summer, Robyn bravely took one for the team and ate all the ice cream.  She scarfed down scoops of Cookies & Cream and Salted Caramel (which she said was particularly good, and would have been better had she not had to eat it so fast).  She did look a bit brain-freezy at one point, but Robyn's tough I tell ya.

After Purple Door we got back on our bikes and headed for the Old World section of Third Street (which has some attractive but nasty for biking brick roads) where we found the volunteers raising money for repairs to the Kilbourntown Marker which somehow went missing at some point.  I had to read historical information aloud about Mr Kilbourn, then we donated $10 to the cause, got our punch, and sped north to find Reservoir Hill.

This is another great example of why the Amazing Milwaukee Races are so much fun.  We get to learn more about this wonderful place where we live.  I've been wondering for years what's at the top of that hill.  We didn't know if there was still water up there or not, and it's just become one of those things that we drive by but never at a time when we could stop and explore.  I finally got to climb those steps and see! 

Turns out the reservoir was filled in years ago, and the park is a lovely grassy space with a phenomenal view of the city below.  (Excellent spot in this post for a picture you're thinking!  Damn straight.  Wish I'd taken one.  But, you know, racing.) 

And what was our task atop the hill?  Bubbles!  We had to make a really big bubble that lasted at least three full seconds.  I made a bubble a little larger than my head that was deemed too small, but Robyn managed a really great bubble that floated off toward downtown lasting a good ten or fifteen seconds, so we rocked the bubble challenge.

Next clue was written out in sign language.  I'm pretty good at my ASL alphabet (that's one of those basic life skills I've made sure to practice with my kids regularly), but I stumbled briefly on the letter "U" because it looked like an "H" pointing the wrong way.  But a sign language "U" is an "H" pointing the wrong way and I'd just never noticed before.  Anyway, I was glad I could translate the clue quickly and get us moving again.

It says, "Where can you go on a blue ribbon bike ride?"  The blue ribbon bike rides are group rides that meet on Tuesdays that I've never been available for, and I had no idea where they met, although I started to say as Robyn Googled it on her phone that every race includes a bar called The Roman Coin on Brady Street, so when in doubt we should go there.

Turns out Google agreed and off to The Roman Coin we would go!

What awaited us at The Roman Coin was a Detour: We could have our choice of two tasks:  Stripping down to our underwear or counting stairs.

At this point we'd biked up a lot of hills.  We weren't often on the recommended routes and may have biked farther in certain areas than we should have, so the prospect of climbing two different sets of stairs and hauling ourselves all the way over to Pizza Shuttle to verify the number of them sounded exhausting.  So the "Encountering Stares" option instantly appealed to Robyn over the "Count the Stairs" choice, and she was ready to strip down to her underwear and bike to nearby Caesar's Park to get our second to last punch.

What Robyn failed to realize at first was that BOTH of us would have to do this.  Robyn's a tall, beautiful, amateur athlete who does things like half-marathons for fun.  Robyn was willing to strip down even though she wasn't wearing ANY UNDERWEAR.  Just the idea of having a body that doesn't require underwear is amazing to me.

I stood for a while in indecision because my first reaction was absolutely not.  Then I realized how little I wanted to go count stairs, and that I was wearing my super industrial strength bra.  I'd decided in the morning at the last minute to go ahead and wear this special bra I bought for running in case we had to do, you know, some kind of running.  I don't run, but this bra has like a million hooks up the front and pretty well locks my double D's in place in case I have to.  It ain't a pretty bra, but it was about as much coverage as one could ask for with your shirt off. 

The real problem was my underwear.  My husband does the laundry, and he'd been out of town doing Army things, so I was down to that last pair.  You know the pair that you pass over in your drawer until it's the only pair left?  That pair.  This was like the "I told you so" moment for every mother and grandmother who ever said you had to make sure you were in nice underwear before leaving the house because you never knew. 

But I went ahead and did it.  (And, thankfully, no, no pictures of this either.)  It was one of those "Just be brave and get it over with" moments, followed by the reassuring thought that someday the sun will explode and none of this matters.

However, I do have to point out how unfairly this worked out, because Robyn, having not worn any undergarments, got to trade in her biking shorts for a pair of men's boxer-briefs that looked like a baggier version of what she had been wearing, and she just had to roll up the lower part of her biking jersey so it would look a little more like a bra.  Which means Robyn looked about the same.  I was the one in public in the industrial bra and the bad underwear thinking about how I've never even worn something as revealing as a two piece bathing suit outside before.  (Robyn assured me I looked fine, so I simply stripped and tried not to look down or think about it.)

The bike to the park down quiet side streets wasn't bad.  We locked up our bikes at the top of the trail and walked down to the bridge to get our card punched by a woman rocking a cool hat, then had to head back to The Roman Coin to retrieve our clothes.  Unfortunately the route we took the first time was a one way street so we returned down Brady Street, which, on such a beautiful sunny afternoon, was about as packed with people as I've ever seen it.  So, there's that.  I will say, though, that after hours of biking, standing around outside in your underwear is pleasantly breezy.

Once we were dressed we got our last real clue.  And you know where we had to go?  Back to St John's church where we went by mistake in the beginning!  At least we knew how to find it.  This time we were met by volunteers who asked what two grab bag tasks we'd completed (squished penny and typed postcard!), got our final card punch, and headed back to Jackson's Blue Ribbon Pub.

The hill back toward the freeway was steep, and as I mentioned earlier I forgot to budget enough energy to also tackle the uphill part of the bridge so that last little way I had to finally just get off and walk my bike, but I'm pretty proud of myself for otherwise biking the whole route.

How did we do?  Twelfth place.  A respectable finish in the top half, so yay!  The winning team for the B course clocked in at 2 hours 29 minutes, and we were at 3 hours 7 minutes.  (Last place came in at 4 hours 12 minutes.)

The real objective was to have fun, and that was certainly met.  Amazing indeed.  I can't wait for next year!

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Good Break

What an amazing thing it is to be able to take a bit of a break from the normal routine.

I actually got a vacation of about two and half weeks!  Unusual and exciting for me, and only really possible because I could leave my store in my assistant Robyn's capable hands.  Ian took the kids and our niece up to the cottage first, and after about a week I was able to join them there for a few days before Ian headed back to Milwaukee on the bus and I took the kids on to Detroit, then Ohio.

The time in Detroit with my parents was really nice, despite the fact that their street is being completely torn up and redone--sewer pipes, sidewalks, and all.  Apparently it takes incredibly loud rumbling equipment to do this, and my little dog was in a shuddering panic about it during working hours.  I got to spend a little bit of time with my brother before he took his daughter home with him (we all miss my niece, but I don't miss the pressure of the daily photo), I got a dinner out with my friends (a rare and wonderful thing), and an afternoon at my friend Gabby's house where our kids got to play together and we got to just talk.  My dad and I got in some Scrabble (he got 50 points for using all his letters during one game, and I learned the word "sportive"), and it's always great to spend time with my mom.

In Ohio we got to stay for a few days with my Uncle John and Aunt Charlotte.  Their home has been surrounded by commercial development in recent years, so their piece of property feels like a stately oasis.  They are so generous and kind.  We felt truly welcome and at home.  And it was refreshing to have an ordinary block of time to spend together instead of a rushed and crowded holiday experience.  We had time to just be and get a small sense of what their regular lives look like.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mold-A-Ramas at the Imagination Station

A couple of days after our trip to the Toledo Zoo, we did another day trip from Detroit back to Toledo to collect Mold-A-Ramas at the Imagination Station.

Parking was confusing, but the science center itself was good.  At first we thought our kids were a little old for it.  We walked through a few simple displays that weren't particularly inspiring, and then decided to have lunch.  The food was good and not too expensive and we got to eat outdoors with a view of the river.  Afterward the kids went exploring on their own and my mom and I were going to be content with sitting outside and reading.

But then I decided to check on the kids and discovered the deeper you went into the Imagination Station the more interesting it got.  I found Quinn by a mesmerizing display that involved a spinning disk and lots of sand that you could manipulate with brushes and sticks to create patterns.  We probably could have done that all day.