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.


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!




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.




Lakefront Brewery




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.


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.


Port Washington marina

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan


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.

A Tour of the Midwest: Part Two


Our first night at Little Cedar Lake started late. We pulled in around 9:30 Wednesday evening, said hello to our hosts for the week (my cousin Debbie and her fiance, Mike), and went to unpacking the van straight away so we could get to the business of sleeping. For months I had been looking forward to “glamping” in one of my cousin’s two glampers. Oh, the fresh air, and the sounds of nighttime! Who was I kidding? I gave up after a few hours and went inside to take over the couch.

I woke up refreshed, as if I’d slept a full 8 hours (which NEVER happens). And with the sun shining so brightly outside, I actually wondered if I had slept in too late. When I checked the time it wasn’t yet 6 o’clock. IN THE MORNING. Northern latitudes – you play mean tricks! I immediately thought of all those nights as a kid in Upper Michigan when I could play outside until it was 10 o’clock at night. The sun comes up at four a.m. during some parts of the year. Then a delightful thought sprang into my mind – GO BACK TO BED. IT’S TOO EARLY. Before I fell back to sleep, I took this photograph so I could remember not only the view I had each day, but also what early morning looks like up north.


We spent most of our days on the lake. There was fishing. There was boating. There were July Fourth fireworks coming from every direction. There was family reunion-ing. I finally met my cousin’s son, born only two months after my own daughter. He is autistic but he held my hand when we said goodbye to each other. I’ll remember that forever.

Little Cedar Lake

Little Cedar Lake


I took some time to introvert in the glamper – to read, to nap, to listen to the birds.

Little Cedar Lake

Little Cedar Lake

Little Cedar Lake

The weather was near-perfect everyday. Having adapted to Oklahoma’s dry heat from Florida’s humidity, I worried Wisconsin would chill me to the bone. I believed in this fact so hard that I actually packed winter clothing. Silly of me, really. It turns out the heaviest thing I ever wore was a flannel, so quick was I to tap into my once-northern blood.

Though I’d never been to Little Cedar Lake before this, the surrounding towns played a huge part in my growing up. My parents brought us to visit this side of the family often – we only lived five hours away when I was a kid – and we’d established traditions. My childhood is here. At the farmhouse, at the Jackson Motel, at the Everly House, at Jim’s Bakery (now Jim’s Place), in the cornfield where, decades ago, my cousin and his friends showed me where they stashed their booze.


Sometimes we ventured away from Little Cedar Lake. There were day trips to see the old Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee and other drives north to Port Washington and Green Bay. But we always returned to Little Cedar Lake in time for the sunset.

We can’t wait to get back.

Little Cedar Lake

Little Cedar Lake


Next stop: Port Washington and Milwaukee. Or, as I like to call it, Milwhoa (like Joey from Blossom – I can’t help it).

A Tour of the Midwest: Part One

We’ve just returned from a 10-day vacation around parts of the Midwest. It went by too quickly, yet at the same time I was thrilled to pull into our driveway last night, unpack, and crawl into my own bed. Normal life resumes. The 13-hour drive from Chicago treated us much better than the 20-hour drive from North Florida last summer (a torturous haul I wouldn’t recommend to anyone).

During our short stay in Northern Wisconsin, I considered having the family drive a few extra hours north to Upper Michigan where my would-have-been high school reunion was taking place. Late last year I was invited to attend, even though I had moved away from this tiny Michigan town when I was twelve years old. Keeping in mind all the other hours we would be car-bound led me to stay put. A good decision, I think.

How do I recap this vacation? We visited eight cities – some of them were big, most of them were small, and two of them were Springfields. Missouri has the most beautiful roadside wildflowers; Illinois has the most boring landscape. Lake Michigan has cliffs and seaspray and it is breathtaking. And, for just a little while, I felt like I was on top of the world.

So, how do I recap this vacation? Place by place! Or segment by segment, really. The distance between Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Green Bay, Wisconsin is approximately 976 miles. We made a few stops in between.



We actually spent the first night in Springfield, Missouri, with my in-laws and had breakfast there. We made a spontaneous stop in Springfield, Illinois because of my Abraham Lincoln-mania and had a convenient lunch there. My husband is the one who pointed out our “eating in Springfields” trend that day. Dinner was not in a Springfield, sadly. But hey, IT’S ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S HOUSE, Y’ALL!



I am starting my master’s degree in American history next month, so what kind of student would I be if I let this opportunity pass me by? We took the tour of Lincoln’s house and learned a lot. Too much for me to retain. What I do remember is this: the top photo is of the renovated house. Lincoln bought the home as a one-story building that had only a few rooms. As his fortune grew, so did his house. The kitchen, pictured above, ended up being a favorite of Mary Todd’s. When Abe was elected and readying the family for a move into the White House, she begged him to allow her to bring this stove. It was top of the line back then. Her husband assured her the White House was adequately equipped with a functioning stove and she finally agreed to drop the subject.



The bedroom featured above belonged to one of the boys, though I never did catch which one. Truthfully, this was my favorite room (besides the nanny’s). It was the only one I can remember that didn’t feature gaudy wallpaper and a blindingly hideous curtain fabric (again, besides the nanny’s). I’m not knowledgeable enough in historic preservation to decide if that’s the fault of the Lincolns or historical interpreters. The photograph of the house is purely for tourist purposes: it is the most popular angle from which to capture a shot.

This photo featured below was a happy accident that led me to find my own personal connection to Lincoln. The reason for this trip to Wisconsin was to visit with my mother’s side of the family, half of whom are Hamlins. And yes, it turns out they are related to Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s VP. HISTORY NERD SCORE! Another Hamlin-esque note of interest: Hannibal Hamlin’s son, Charles, was at the Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was assassinated. When you think about how many presidential assassinations Lincoln’s son, Robert, witnessed, it makes you wonder how much smaller the political world was back then. Or is that just me?



I take full responsibility for this slip-up. Here’s the thing: my daughter’s nickname is Ella and I have known for years about Ella’s Deli in Madison. I’ve been instructed, for my daughter’s sake, to visit Ella’s Deli one day. So the family agreed to drive nearly 90 minutes off our travel route to have dinner at Ella’s Deli. How could we not? WE WERE SO CLOSE! And be sure to try the noodle kugel!!! (whatever the hell that is)

Ella's Diner - Madison

Ella's Deli - Madison (noodle kugel!)

I’m still trying to process this experience. It was an alarming super-sensory adventure. The menu itself is 20 pages long, often featuring the same dish multiple times but it SO MANY DIFFERENT FONTS AND COLORS!!!!!!!!! There were trains making the rounds near the ceiling and mechanical toys flying above our heads. Near our table was an Elvis the Pelvis who sprung out of the wall like a cuckoo bird. Above my husband was a pantiless Betty Boop doll (who’d seen better days) swinging lazily on a swing. It was some creepy, overwhelming shit.

We watched more than one kid lick the windows all while a little girl sitting behind me coughed and sniffled daintily just inches from my hair. It was disturbing to realize the dried…er, stuff (?) on the menu might not be food at all and was probably months-old kid boogers. Ella, my Ella, hilariously declared that she would wait out the next 72 hours to see if she’d caught a virus. The whole family was concerned. (Note: WE ARE FINE! Our next virus watch wouldn’t hit us again until I accidentally stuck my finger in my mouth after touching a Chicago subway rail. Ewww.) Check out the website and decide for yourself, unless your eyes explode from this visual circus, if you’d like to visit one day. Don’t forget the Excedrin.

As for the noodle kugel – I still don’t know what the hell it is, but up there is a picture of it. It wasn’t necessarily awful, instead I found it to be surprisingly edible. Imagine your mom’s creamy homemade macaroni and cheese, baked to a tender crisp on top, and sprinkled with…cinnamon? And dipped in sour cream? I ate it because I was hungry but I don’t ever want to eat it again, that’s for sure.

(I took the hit for making my family suffer through Ella’s Deli but things evened out later during our trip when my husband suggested we take the L train in Chicago to some brewery restaurant that didn’t exist and had us walking around for blocks in the industrial part of the city.)

Next stop: Little Cedar Lake

The Soul is Very Human

my lovely Libby

This lovely girl has been on my mind all day. My Bee. My precious, beautiful Bee. I don’t know if our family ever agreed on what Bee what short for. Her name was Libby, so Bee was an obvious nickname. But was her name always Libby? Didn’t we once consider naming her Liberty because we brought her home around the Fourth of July?

I’ve only just now remembered that we brought her home around the Fourth of July. How did that become forgotten? Then fourteen years later, only two days before the Fourth, we had to let her go. She was sick. She was hurting. We knew right away that morning that it was time.

It was a horrible way to spend a holiday. That evening my brother and I tried to enjoy something! Hell, anything.  We cheered on the Jacksonville Suns like a home run was the only thing that mattered. Later we sat in the stadium and watched nighttime fireworks over the city, all the time wishing I could just have my dog back. Screw the fireworks. I just wanted to go home to my dog and give her a kiss goodnight.

Two other families had adopted Bee before we did. Both of them ended up returning her to the shelter dropoff. I don’t know why. Maybe I once did, but after fourteen years with her I don’t. I can’t. My family thanks both of them, though.  Bee was happy with us. In her early years with our family, Bee was often taken to a nearby lake for a swim and enjoyed lots of time outside. In her later years, she helped teach my Elle how to walk on her own even as she was slowly losing her ability to move around agilely. But oh, how she tolerated the grabby hands of a toddler.

Libby and Elle


I don’t believe in heaven, nor do I believe in animal heaven. It’s a lovely concept – the Rainbow Bridge and all – and I wish I could hold so strongly it. Instead, I like to think we all come back to each other, even if it’s in other ways. Have you ever read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? It’ll kill you. If you’ve ever lost a pet, you’ll feel the seams of your heart rip themselves to shreds at the end when Enzo…well, you need to read the book. Decide for yourself which conclusion I’m referring to. Some people might think there is only one ending, but I’m not one of those people…

I want to believe that I’ll be reacquainted with my Bee once again somehow. I don’t think we are all just random spirits colliding with one another as we go from one moment in life to the next. There is something behind the sixth sense we all possess, those immediate connections we make with some people that we don’t make with others. That moment when you say to a person you’ve only just met and instantly liked, “You remind me of someone I used to know…”. Maybe that person remains a stranger having only been introduced to you once, but they stick with you. You know what I mean? There was just something about them.


Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps that is my own way of refusing to believe there is nothing after we die. Yet heaven is an acceptable destination?

No. For me, it’s all related – the people in my life, the dogs in my life, the world as a whole. No end. No single conclusion. No colliding spirits.

Says Garth Stein’s Enzo, “I’ve always felt almost human. I’ve always known that there’s something about me that’s different than other dogs. Sure, I’m stuffed into a dog’s body, but that’s just the shell. It’s what’s inside that’s important. The soul. And my soul is very human.”

Tell me, how can you argue with a dog?


“I feel more at home with the landscape…”

Everything I read and everyone I know says to “write, write, write!” I find I have a difficult time focusing on writing something unless I’ve been given a deadline and a specific assignment. I’m a better writer of history, of threading facts together to build a narrative. Because of that, I cannot wait for my master’s program classes to start. Two years of nothing but Civil War, Civil Rights, and the rebranding of the New South? BRING IT.

Well,  Colonial America and some Constitutional law will be sprinkled in throughout my studies. For the most part, though, I’m inching evermore toward a degree in American History with the help of a Florida-themed thesis. Why Florida when I’m so far away? I recently read this line in a book, a memoir written by a woman who ran away to the sea: “I feel more at home with the landscape than with the people.” These are words I have apparently been waiting years to read.

I won’t pretend I don’t enjoy the hell out of my current easy access to free-roaming bison and farm-fresh foods, because bison are awesome, but truth be told – You Are Temporary, Oklahoma. And while I’m sure I’ll look back on my Oklahoma years fondly (I don’t hate you anymore), right now I have other things to work on and other places to be, even if it is mainly inside my own head.

In the meantime, I have been writing, writing, writing! FINALLY. And Morgan Freeman is spending a lot of time in my head, too, but only because he’s the imaginary narrator to my short story. It involves a Seminole princess, the Devil, and a giant hole in the ground. It’s a real place, too.

more moss

boardwalk...going back up!

lovely moss

A Passion For Donkeys (you’ll see)

My garden doesn’t look any different than it did a few days ago, and I don’t lead the kind of life that just throws exciting blog fodder my way. Instead, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about some of the stuff we do and deal with at work (I work mostly in the back room of a local library).

  • My coworkers and I thumb through every book and magazine that comes in before it goes back on the shelf. We find all sorts of forgotten pieces of your life: birthday party invitations, baby announcements, bookmarks, punch cards to various food and fitness establishments, your homework, your hair (I wish I was kidding), and bobby pins that we believe have nothing to do with your hair and more to do with keeping your page. Seriously, get a bookmark. Our library gives them away. FOR FREE.
  • The next time your cat pisses all over a library book, have the decency to let us know or at least have the consideration to bag that sucker before you throw it in the book drop. This, by the way, doesn’t make you anonymous. It makes you a jerk. And your cat’s a jerk, too. Thanks for reminding me to get my hepatitis B shot.
  • Part of my job is to pull books for customers on a waiting list and label them for pick up or delivery. To maintain privacy, our reserve stickers only show the first four letters of the customer’s last name. We have made a game out of this, of course. A coworker of mine confided in me that she likes to add “-alicious” to the end of those four letters. It produces some wonderful new names, especially if your last name is something like Titsel or Titson or Titsworth. Let me tell you something, Titsalicious, yours is still my absolute favorite.
  • When pulling books from the dozens of bins we deal with everyday, we usually try to find the most ridiculous book title and hand it over to a male coworker to read in his best seriously sexy voice. Why? Well, imagine James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman reading the title of this book with a come hither stare and you’ll understand why it’s so darn hilarious.
  • We find notes and letters of all kinds, which probably means this particular bullet point is just an extension of the first one, but they’re usually good enough to make them their own category. I have two favorites so far. One was written in a child’s scrawl, advising everyone with a question about anything to ask an old person. Old people are good at answering questions because they know everything. Or they think they do. The second was simply scribbled on a post-it note warning two girls (of unknown age) to stop causing each other so much conflict or else I’ll have to contact the State of Oklahoma Department of Mental Health.

I really like my job. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say I think I could love my job. I’m surrounded by books. And I’m surrounded (mostly) by people who love books. Besides the free internet access, most people visit a library because they are readers, which is to say they are my people.

Libraries have changed a lot in the last decade (or maybe two decades, I don’t know the stats, really). They have always been a vital part of the community but now libraries have to work harder to maintain their relevance in the community (and their funding). Many offer programs that may have been considered wasteful or frivolous in years past. These days, they’re necessary. Tax filing assistance, cooking with kids, music programs, and meeting spaces made available to everyone from government entities to homeowners’ associations. I get it, I really, really do. And I’m ALL FOR IT. What I don’t get, though, is when did it become acceptable to allow the screaming meemies you call your children to disturb an entire building of people?


That look above, on Teddy’s face, is the look I give to kids who scream, run, push books onto the floor, throw tantrums, and otherwise disturb the general quietude of the library. I was born with that look on my face, and I believe Teddy was, too. It’s probably why we get along so well.