Early Morning

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As I type this the wind is howling through the city, shaking up the trees and my metal porch rocking chairs. You can actually hear it roar before it blows through. This, I’ve learned, is typical of the southern winds that come from Texas. The photo above was captured last night just before the winds became so unbearable that Matt and I cut short our lakeside walk and headed back home. Blowing dirt in the eyes – it’s not a pleasant feeling. Being around a large body of water during sunset – that’s a pleasant feeling.

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It’s a little after 6 o’clock in the morning. I woke up nearly three hours ago – on my own, on a holiday – and have already had breakfast and watched an episode of Parenthood on Netflix. The rest of the family is still in bed. The dogs did get up  to have their first meal of the day with me but even they promptly went back to sleep. I hopped online to get a head start on some classwork but, as usual, I was distracted by stories. This time is was a blog post written by a young woman who is touring the arctic waters near Greenland, where icebergs and belugas outnumber people. Another time I was sidetracked by an entire blog series about women who travel solo in Iceland.

I’m not sure when I developed this fascination of life around the Arctic Circle. I much prefer being in the subtropics. My loyalty to the North Florida swamps is proof of that. Even my current Facebook profile photo is of me riding an alligator, all giddyup style. I’m also concerned about how the manatees will fare if their federal protection status goes from endangered to threatened, which is very possible. So while my heart is in the coastal south, perhaps my sense of adventure (which is very underdeveloped) enjoys learning about life in the high Arctic because it knows I’ll never go.

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So, back to why I’m online in the first place. What it’s like studying history? Well, I’m not studying history yet. I’m actually studying how to study history. Sometimes this is very boring, as there are only so many ways one can be told how to interpret a source. Also, there are way more types of sources than I ever thought possible. I’m enjoying parts of this, though. We are told to be critical and skeptical, yet to remain open and able to consider context. I am a Libra, a middle child, and have played Devil’s advocate all my life. I feel very comfortable in this role.

Clearly, there can be no perfect interpretation of history. My classmates and I have compared historical interpretation to practicing medicine or law – you’re only told so much by the source/patient/witness, then you must factor in what they are possibly not telling you, and then you are expected to create a narrative/diagnosis/judgment. In the end, someone is always going to be pissed off by what you’ve decided.

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Books I’ve read recently:

  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: It’s a young adult novel, and one that kept me awake all night. It’s also one of those stories that cannot be summarized without giving away the parts that lead to the bigger parts, and therefore giving away the end. If you read reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, be careful of spoilers. It’s best to go into this one headfirst and clueless, maybe only knowing that the end is worth it.
  • The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani: This was my first audiobook.  It was 13 hours of someone telling me a story while my husband did the majority of the driving from Oklahoma City to Milwaukee. The book reviews are harsh, not so much on the book or the author, but on the main character. I loved her. Most readers seemed to hate her. Set in Florida and North Carolina, the story we are told centers around something that has happened between this girl and her cousin, something unspeakable, and it takes a damn long time to get to it. However, that unspeakable something is just the catalyst.
  • Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley: A novella originally published in 1917, Parnassus is a comical look at life for one woman who decides to make her “spinsterhood” work in her favor. I enjoyed this one, which surprised me. It took me nearly two weeks to get through this book because it doesn’t have the same kind of drive and drama most books today have. That’s not the book’s fault, though. The story itself is nearly 100 years old! When I finally read it with the idea that most women in 1917 were tied down by, well, oppression, it took on a whole new life.

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I opened the blinds hours ago so that I’d be able to catch the sunrise. I wasn’t paying attention so I totally missed it. At least the wind has stopped.

Tree Mail

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A few of my favorite things can be found in the picture above: water (!!!); a blue sky with little puffy clouds; fishing boats and docks; soft, green grass that doesn’t stab your feet with the sad effects of an Oklahoma drought; and blue spruce pines. This is Little Cedar Lake, outside of West Bend, Wisconsin, which, in itself, is the best part of the picture above.

During our vacation to southeastern Wisconsin this summer, I couldn’t get enough of those blue spruce pines. I’d point and exclaim, “There’s another one!” every time we drove past one. My uncle drove us to see his old farmhouse and, lo and behold, an entire section of the property had become a tiny forest of blue spruce pine trees. It turns out my cousin, who has lived at the farmhouse for years now, brought a few of those abandoned trees home a long time ago and stuck them in the ground to see what would happen.

This is what happened:

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Ever since I left Wisconsin I haven’t stopped yammering on about how much I love these trees. I’ve looked for them in local nurseries (Oklahoma City, believe it or not, actually has a few USDA planting zones because the terrain is so varied here), and I’ve looked on Google for information regarding the care and planting of these trees in my particular zone. The chances of a blue spruce surviving this environment – hot, dry, windy – are minimal. Not impossible, but the chances aren’t great. I figured I would just hold out until our next trip to Wisconsin to see them and smell them again.

Then I got a package in the mail yesterday. It was from my aunt and uncle in Wisconsin who have been known to gift members of my family with huge boxes of Wisconsin-made cheese. This usually happens around Christmastime, but I eat Wisconsin cheese any time of the year! Except this package smelled like…pine?

Inside the carefully wrapped package was a tiny blue spruce pine of our very own.

Bruce the blue spruce

I’ve talked with two tree experts at a local nursery, both of whom are wishing me luck. In some parts of the city, these blue spruce pines might make it. In other parts of the city, they don’t stand a chance. It was suggested that I keep Bruce (yes, Bruce the Blue Spruce) in a container until our ground temperatures drop to 60-70 degrees (it’s been in the low 100s this week, if that’s any indication of how long we might be waiting). Then we’ll plant Bruce in the northwest corner or the yard and coddle him like that newborn baby he is.

It’ll be decades before our blue spruce pine is the size of those in the pictures above. We’re realistic, though. Our goal, at least for now, is to keep him alive in the container until late fall/early winter. I’ve already decided he will live on my bedside table in the meantime.

 

Museum Library Finds

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I’ll be completely honest with you: I have no idea what this means.

Each week I spend at least a couple of hours organizing the books in my museum’s library. When I come across something that interests me, I photograph it. The same day I discovered this dedication I also found the word MURDERER written neatly over a snapshot of Reinhard Heydrich’s face. Beneath that were the words NOW IN HELL FOR ETERNITY. I photographed that, too, along with the title of the book. It’s not often I find such emotional, and quite obviously personal, notes inside the books.

But with Oppenheimer I forgot to photograph the title of the book in which this dedication was found. I’m more than a little pissed at myself for that.

There are very few things I know about this, Oppenheimer OR the bomb, seeing as I’ve never watched The Manhattan Project nor do I study things that include terms like “quantum molecular theory” or “deuterium-tritium fusion bomb”. I don’t think I even associate with people who do.

So how was Oppenheimer made a victim prior to the bombing of Hiroshima? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. After some quick research I learned he was accused of being a communist, but that was nearly a decade after the bomb dropped in Japan (the Red Scare isn’t something most high schools teach kids about). Did the author of this book (boy, wouldn’t it be nice to know which book!?!?) have a personal relationship with Oppenheimer, or some other means of being privy to his private feelings? Or is this in reference to Oppenheimer being forever tied to mass death as soon as he discovered the ability to create such a weapon?

If someone knows, or even has an inkling, please share it with me.

Oh, and for any of you Nazi history enthusiasts out there:

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Taken from Wilhelm Hoettl’s The Secret Front, published in 1953. Hoettl was a prominent prosecution witness during the Nuremberg Trials, a valuable asset indeed after all his years serving as Adolf Eichmann’s right-hand man. And Heydrich, who I’d never even heard of before I came across this picture, seems to come up in all my research as the man who thought up the “Final Solution”. Heinrich Himmler merely wanted the Jews deported. Heydrich took it a step further.

So here you have three men who were all responsible, whether directly or indirectly, for the brutal deaths of millions.

Oppenheimer: Victim
Hoettl: Author
Heydrich: MURDERER NOW IN HELL FOR ETERNITY

My museum library has around 8,000 books. I’ve only cleared maybe 250. What else can I possibly find in there?

Garden Update: Week…I have no idea

I really underestimated the power of a good garden box. Matt and I have no idea how many tomato plants we actually put in (we’re guessing six?) but they’ve become their own region of the garden. The tomato jungle, I call it. My supports – which include stakes, towers, tie-ups, and, as a last resort, 5-foot tall broken tree limbs – cannot contain the tomato plants. They’ve fallen over. They’ve put so much weight on the nearby sunflowers that the sunflowers have fallen over. As a result, I have a ton of delicious tomatoes. This means homemade pizza sauce and pasta sauce, BLTs, tomato and cucumber salad…oh my god. The cucumbers! They’ve taken over the sunflowers, too.

My vegetable plants are pretty much self-sufficient. So are my zinnias. The okra are coming in quite nicely. The peas got pulled a few weeks ago. I have a whole batch in the freezer, so they’ve done their job.

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What happens when it's too hot to check my garden on the daily... #garden #gardening #veggies

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I’ve moved on to succulents. This is all new to me. I don’t even know what a cutting is (I think I do, but I’m not 100% sure how to make it work). Because I work in a library I have an endless array of informative books at my disposal. Books on succulents, cacti, and the like are plentiful. But as soon as I open one wanting to learn, I get distracted by all the photographs. The reading, the learning, doesn’t happen. All I really know is there’s a ton of pea gravel in my backyard and it’s been useful for potting my new plants. These, by the way, are what I plan to bring indoors during the winter.

When it comes to seasonal depression and how to alleviate it a bit, I like to plan ahead.

I adopted some cacti and succulents this morning. Though it's mid-July I'm already prepping for winter with indoor-friendly plants. #succulents #garden #gardening #babyjade

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#succulents #garden

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A Tour of the Midwest: Part Five

looking over Chicago

For this vacation we had an actual agenda, and we followed it quite well. Most of our days in Wisconsin were left open so that we could reunite with family members or head off on spontaneous day trips. Chicago, on the other hand, was a well-planned and, I might add, a well-executed adventure in timing. My husband should be a travel agent.

The plan was to visit five major Chicago attractions in just three days. We managed to get through only four. Part of the trick of timing is to shell out ridiculous amounts of money for meals from museum cafes. A Cuban sandwich is never worth $12, but sometimes convenience is.

DAY ONE:

Museum of Science & Industry

We left Little Cedar Lake at 8am and headed straight to the Museum of Science & Industry. This really was our first stop, before we’d even checked in at the hotel. It’s a great museum to take kids since it encourages hands-on interaction. This, by the way, is also one of its drawbacks. Chaos aside, all of us managed to find something we enjoyed. Elle almost signed herself up for a dissection class (she’s into forensics and anatomy) but backed out when she learned they would be dissecting a cow’s eyeball (the one body part that makes her squeamish). Matt was excited to tour the U-505, a German u-boat captured by the US Navy in 1944. It has quite the storied history. However, while our CityPASS museum tickets allowed us a free guided tour aboard the U-505, the tours were all completely full by mid-morning. There was never any indication given to us that this could happen, or that we even had to sign up for the tour. Shame on you, museum staff. You disappointed us here, and I’m sure many other folks were disappointed, too. For this reason, we gave the Museum of Science & Industry two fat thumbs down.

U-505 @ Chicago Museum of Science & Technology

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After checking into our hotel we had dinner at an Italian restaurant where a strange man, apparently a regular, proceeded to engage us in conversation with a set of plastic eyeballs he used to puppetize his right hand. He was originally from Tulsa, and a retired librarian. And odd. He was very, very odd, but he gave us some great recommendations.

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DAY TWO:

Field Museum

Oh, Field Museum, how fantastic are you!?!?! I could have spent all day, nay ALL WEEK!, in this place. There are dinosaurs (hello, Sue!), minerals and gems, birds from around the world, Egyptian tombs and child mummies, and a Maori hut! Can you believe I actually agreed to pass on the Plants of the World exhibit because we were running out of time? Now I have to go back.

Field Museum

Field Museum

Field Museum - Sue the T-Rex

Maori hut @ Field Museum

Maori hut @ Field Museum

That Maori hut blew my mind. I’d spent so many months last year writing my thesis on the American narrative and our culture of national and personal memory. Part of my thesis compared other cultures’ earliest personal memories based on what parts of the world the children were raised. Yes, I know this rant is a bit off-topic, but it explains why I was so enamored of this structure. Americans and other westerners are from very individual-based cultures and recall first memories from around the age of four. Asian-based cultures, many of which reflect nationalism, avoid individualism which reflects in a person’s first personal memory much later in childhood, usually around the age of six. The Maori tribe of New Zealand maintains a culture that prizes personal family history above all else, and they often recall memories from the age of two. TWO! And here I was standing in a still-used meeting house? Whoa.

Finally, my thesis research can be used to inform someone other than my thesis advisory board! And now back to our regularly scheduled touristing…

Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium is another favorite of ours! There was a dolphin and beluga show (which a staff member graciously let us see for free), penguins, playful sea lions and river otters, etc. Really, it’s the same thing you see at any aquarium around the country, but this one was near perfection. Again we had lunch in the cafe, with a gorgeous view of Lake Michigan. A beluga whale talked to us, and a sea lion was also quite the conversationalist. One of the coolest things was the shark fetus!

Shedd Aquarium

at Shedd Aquarium

at Shedd Aquarium

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Dinner? A Chicago-style deep dish pizza from Gino’s East, delivered to our hotel room because I’m lazy.

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DAY THREE:

Willis Tower

Most people know this as the Sears Tower (and some refuse to call it by its new name). Willis Tower’s Skydeck was going to be my biggest challenge, or so I thought. I’d already had to back out of climbing to the top of Oklahoma City’s Skytrail and that’s only 8 stories. The Skydeck is 103 stories. The only way to get there is to be crammed into an elevator with about 30 other people for a 60-second ride to the top. It’s not a quick trip down either, so I knew if I was going to panic that I’d have to do it in a very controlled way. BUT I HAD TO MAKE IT TO THE TOP. PERSONAL CHALLENGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Let’s back up an hour or so to my first ride on Chicago’s L train. I’m a fairly seasoned DC Metro veteran, yet it dawned on me that the Metro is a much smoother ride than the L train. The fastest way from our hotel to Willis Tower was via the subway. That little nagging voice in the back of my head that kept saying Willis Tower Willis Tower Willis Tower clearly had no idea what riding the L train was like. I rode the train out of necessity, but I don’t ever want to do it again.

Willis Tower? No problem. Except I have to touch a wall, or a human being, on the elevator, and it doesn’t matter to me if I know who you are. It might matter to you, but I was lucky enough to ride up and down with a bunch of strangers who didn’t care. Another hint – bring gum, to pop your ears. I felt like I was yelling the whole time because I couldn’t hear anything.

The view is absolutely incredible, though.

Willis Tower

Willis Tower

Willis Tower Skydeck

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Willis Tower skydeck

By the time we made it down to solid ground again, we were all exhausted. Matt’s plan was for us to hit up the Goose Island Brewery, accessible via another line on the L train. All above-ground, this ride was easier for me to deal with. But after walking block after block from the train station, deeper into an obviously industrial side of town, it was learned that the brewery is simply that – a brewery. No restaurant, no tasting room, nothing.

Remember the crap my family gave me about Ella’s Deli in Madison, Wisconsin? This is where Matt and I called it Even Stevens, pretty much while we were standing in front of a property filled with shipping and storage containers. Notice THERE IS NO RESTAURANT. But there was plenty of whine…we were hangry, and tired, and hot, and hangry (again).

That's not a restaurant...wrong side of town.

In lieu of the Adler Planetarium, attraction #5, we decided that shopping at Ulta for makeup would put us girls in a better mental state. And it worked. A few hours earlier I had snapped while eating a French dip in the Eleven City Diner, which we’d found after a train ride back into downtown from Goose Island Brewery. There were tears. There were apologies. There were new plans, most of which involved retail therapy and heading back to the hotel to binge on cable television.

I don’t want to rehash the hellish experience that was my $28 pasta takeout from the hotel restaurant that evening, so instead I’ll leave you with more photographs from Chicago. It’s a city I’m happy to have visited, but I’m happier to be home in Oklahoma City.

downtown Chicago

Chicago porches

hotel view

Field Museum

L train

Soldier Field, bah.

hotel bar at Public

Chicago lakefront buildings

Chicago Theater

downtown Chicago

A Tour of the Midwest: Part Four

We are Green Bay Packers fans. That fact is one of the first things people learn about me or my family. Politics and religious beliefs can be overlooked within our clan. It’s where your loyalty lies within the NFL that matters. For example, before Matt and I were married he claimed no loyalty to any team. He isn’t much of a sports guy. But then he joined my family in South Carolina for the holidays while we were still dating and woke up to find his very own Cheesehead under the Christmas tree.

He’s a fan now, too.

When he and I were planning our trip to Wisconsin, I told him, “There is no way I can be that close to Mecca and not visit!” If you’re a Cheesehead, you understand that Mecca means Lambeau Field. If you’re not a Cheesehead, well…

Matt, Elle, and I headed to Green Bay on Sunday afternoon and checked into our hotel, the Tundra Lodge. It has a waterpark inside! We took a few relaxing trips on the lazy river and spent some time outside in the giant hot tub. Later we decided to go to a local brewery for dinner.

Titletown Brewery

Titletown Brewery

Titletown Brewery is now a brewery and restaurant, but it used to be the Chicago and North Western Train Depot. For forty years the Packers used this station to travel back and forth for away games in Chicago and Milwaukee. It is located next to the Fox River in downtown Green Bay, and across the street is the Neville Public Museum.

If you go there to eat, I highly recommend the cucumber salad. Matt recommends the poutine. They also make their own root beer with an old family recipe. It comes highly recommended by Elle, who I sometimes think is a root beer connoisseur.

Moving on past a horrible night’s sleep (preceded, however, by hours and hours of CABLE TELEVISION!) (which we obviously don’t get at home or I wouldn’t be so excited about it), the three of us checked out of the hotel and went straight to Lambeau Field. With tour tickets in hand, we waited while the family drove up from West Bend then we all had lunch at Curly’s Pub. There was more poutine and even more fried cheese curds and hamburgers with the Packers “G” grilled into the buns.

And then…

Lambeau Field

It was so cool to visit this place with my family – my parents from Florida, my aunt and uncle from West Bend, my husband and kiddo from Oklahoma City. I only wish my brothers could’ve been there. I mean, we all saw the world’s biggest G together! Family memories, man. Family memories.

Lambeau Field - the biggest G in the world

Lambeau Field

There was so much to take in – over 90 minutes straight of Lambeau history. Our tour guide was just a kid when he sat down on the bleacher seats during the infamous Ice Bowl but he told me that even employees don’t get special perks to attend games.You can add your name to the season tickets waiting list but it’ll be about 14,000 years (yes, fourteen thousand years) before you get called up.

Lambeau Field

Lambeau Field

That patch of concrete is a significant part of the Green Bay Packers history. It has been moved from each stadium the Packers have called their home field to finally land here at Lambeau. That means every single Green Bay Packer has run across this exact concrete patch since the team played its first game.

Lambeau Field

You should be here!

Lambeau Field

Lambeau Field

The Brett Favre situation is still discussed, though I think without so many hard feelings. Reggie White is the last Green Bay Packer to retire his number here. Favre is expected to retire his number here, too. In fact, the rumor is he’ll do it before the year is out. And wouldn’t that be a good pair of names to see next to each other again? Reggie White and Brett Favre, together again at Lambeau Field.

Exhausted from walking and from spending so much money in the Pro Shop (Dog collars! Coffee mugs! Children’s books written by Donald Driver!), we all went our separate ways. I said goodbye to my parents that evening and our little family of three packed up for the trip to Chicago the next morning.

 

A Tour of the Midwest: Part Three

A few months ago I listened to the Laverne & Shirley theme song a ridiculous number of times. That song, and the whole show, really, help keep vivid a memory I have of touring my first brewery in Milwaukee, which was the Pabst Brewery. I was young, too young to enjoy the samples of free beer at the end of the tour, but I remember watching the bottles fly past me on the assembly line. There were high hopes that a glove would stow itself away on the neck of one of those bottles and wave to me as it made its way out into the world, a la Laverne & Shirley.

Everything I just mentioned is important to me for these reasons:

1. The glove on the bottleneck never appeared. Disappointing, but life goes on.
2. The next time I took a brewery tour I was of legal age, but then I was too pregnant to enjoy the free samples of beer at the end.
3. While in Milwaukee this month, we had lunch at Lakefront Brewery but decided to skip the tour. Later in the week, while standing in the atrium of Lambeau Field, a gentleman struck up a conversation with my husband about Lakefront Brewery and mentioned the tour. “Oh, it’s one of the best in the city. They have the whole group sing the theme song from Laverne & Shirley at the end!” OH MY GOD. WHY DID WE NOT TAKE THE TOUR!?!?!?!

So, here. Just because.

MILWAUKEE

We didn’t plan too much of our day around Milwaukee. Matt and I had three goals. Visit the Pabst Brewery gift store. Eat lunch at a brewery. Dip our toes into Lake Michigan (okay, that one was my goal).

The Pabst Brewery was fairly easy to find. I mean, you kind of drive into the area like it’s a subdivision or the town’s historic district, with signs a’blazin': YOU ARE HERE!

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Lakefront Brewery is situated in the middle of a what looks like a condominium farm. A former industrial area? Probably. At least that was my guess after finding the nearby train bridge had been turned into a pedestrian walk-through. And there was thistle, just like here in Oklahoma!

It’s beautiful there. I like how the wild things are very obviously trying to take the area back, and I especially like how the people around here let it.

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Lakefront Brewery

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After a lunch of polish sausage on a stick and fried cheese curds, we headed toward Lake Michigan via Brady Street and the rich neighborhoods of the lakeshore. There was a beach volleyball tournament going on which involved a national championship. Naturally this left us with nowhere to park. And here is where we leave Milwaukee.

PORT WASHINGTON

Forgive me, BUT MY GAWD THIS IS ONE OF THE CUTEST TOWNS I HAVE EVER SEEN! Our timing is impeccable seeing as we Oklahomans rolled into this quaint little town at the exact moment they were testing their tornado sirens. Was it noon? Yep. Was it Saturday? Yep. We know the drill.

The sky was a bit overcast when we got into Port Washington, but the air was not cold (believe me, I’m just as surprised as you are that I didn’t freeze in the 70 degree weather). We spotted a Duluth Trading Company shop at the port. Matt needed pants. I needed a hat with a strap. Elle needed socks. So we shopped.

Just across from this small strip of stores is the harbor and marina. Next door was some kind of fishing derby. And there were two walkways that led visitors to separate lighthouses. We chose the one that warned of slippery rocks, a sign blaring DO NOT ENTER in red (to convey seriousness, always use red), and joined the throngs of other trespassers. It was probably the most dangerous thing I’ve done this century.

Even if I’d fallen in, it would have been worth it (I spotted the lifesaver rings way before I stepped foot on that breakwater – those of us riddled with anxiety are always prepared). The sky even cleared for us.

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Port Washington marina

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

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Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

Did I get to dip my toe into Lake Michigan? No. I’m actually okay with this. That water is COLD. This time I chose to stay dry and warm.

Next up: Our family’s pilgrimage to Mecca.