What’s cooking?

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Barbecue season in Wisconsin begins once the top of your grill is visible above the snow drifts and ends when the snow is so high it’s impossible to find your grill out on the deck.

 

 

Take a walk around the neighborhood on a Wisconsin summer evening and you are bound to smell steak, brats, venison burgers, salmon, hamburgers, hot dogs, or lake perch smoking on planks of cedar, sugar maple, black cherry, or golden alder.

 

 

Last week after our own non-grilled dinner, I sat on the couch reading a book while my husband relaxed in the recliner working on his computer, and the grandchild conducted a physics experiment in the bathtub to discover how much sloshing was needed to saturate the bathroom rug.

 

 

The next thing I know, a sweet smell saunters into the house, sits right next to my nose, and says, “Get a load of me.” So I do, and I say to my husband, “What smells so good?”

 

 

He takes a big whiff. “Must be Ray grilling.”

 

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The smell grows stronger and I get curiousier, so I walk outside to see what Ray is grilling in front of his garage. He isn’t. So I check out in the backyard, but he’s not on his deck either.

 

 

I look up and down the street, determined to find the source, but now I can’t smell it. I go back inside to check our oven. My husband is now as old as me and like so many people his age, forgetful. But it’s not that either. I check the basement, the back rooms, the laundry room, and the garage. I can’t catch a whiff of that pleasant smell anywhere except the living room.

 

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That’s when I noticed my hat. Earlier in the day I had been going in and out to work in the yard and had set my hat on top of the floor lamp. When I sat down to read after dinner, I turned on the lights and started slow cooking my hat.

 

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This method of cooking hemp hats allows the aroma to infuse the house.

 

Four years ago I bought that hat for my first trip to Europe and wore it the following two summers from England to France to Hungary to Russia. I have always counted on it to be on top of things, usually my head, but I counted wrong when I put it on top of the lamp.

 

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My smoking hot hat.

 

The first words of the grandchild after completing the bathtub science experiment were, “What’s that good smell?”

 

That sweet smell, child, is my hat, my hemp hat.

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Oddly a hat is also called a lid.

 

I ordered a new one, identical to the first, and will save my smoked version for fishing and gardening. I learned two things from my own experiment in hat cooking: one, a floor lamp does not make a good hat stand; and two, the saying “Put that in your hat and smoke it” can be as literal as it is figurative.

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This hat is still raw and crunchy.

Dear Canada, we need to talk

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united-states-canada-mapDear Canada,

 

I like you. Really, I do.

 

I love the way you keep polar bears away from Wisconsin. Few things are as disconcerting as finding a hungry polar bear on your porch when you walk out your front door.

 

I feel a great deal of loyalty to you, too. Probably because when I was younger I drove up the Alcan Highway with my family from Texas to Alaska. That time with you so long ago probably explains that incident a few years ago in France when I committed a fox paw (that unlucky charm of the French, which they spell faux pas). I was so embarrassed, but I smiled sheepishly and said, “Sorry, I’m Canadian.” Honestly, I felt Canadian then, and proud of it.

 

Wisconsin and Canada are close. Maybe not as close as you and Minnesota or some of those other not-Wisconsin states. But that lake between Wisconsin and the part of you known as Ontario has helped the two of you develop what anyone can see is a Superior relationship.

 

I wouldn’t criticize you if you weren’t so close to Wisconsin, but since no one else seems willing to talk to you about it, I feel I have to. It’s your problem of passing wind. Please don’t be offended. Meteorological flatulence is no laughing matter, and it’s difficult to talk about, but we need to have this discussion.

 

Arctic wind, as you know, is powerful stuff. This month, the wind you passed was so cold that people here couldn’t talk when they were outside. Their speech bubbles froze in mid-air and shattered on the ground. We’ve all had to carry axes with us when we go outside. If you walk too slowly, you freeze in place and have to chop yourself free. Many of friends now wear a much smaller shoe size. No one knows how many of the snow mounds dotting the landscape are people who didn’t move fast enough and froze in place. We won’t know until spring. Your wind is so bad that when small children cry, their eyelids freeze shut; then they bump into flagpoles, cry out, and get their tongues stuck. It makes it really hard to raise and lower the flag when that happens.

 

Please, Canada, if you can’t control your meteorological indigestion and you have to pass wind, turn the other cheek and let it rip toward the north.

 

Your friend,

 

Yearstricken for Wisconsin

 

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Love, marriage, and freezing weather

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Courtesy of the Commons.

The best way to avoid cold weather is to be careful who* you marry. My husband and I met and married overseas, and the fact that he was from Wisconsin didn’t seem important at the time. I visited the state once before we wed, but it was summer, the season that makes you believe anything is possible. I won’t say I was deceived, but I will hint at it. When we lived overseas, I told my husband repeatedly that I would never, never live in Wisconsin because it was too cold in the winter.

 

And I meant it. It is too cold in the winter. Although Wisconsin boasts that it has four seasons, it really has two: winter and springsummerfall. They both last about six months. And while it’s true that the last one, the non-winter season, can almost make you believe Wisconsin is God’s country; in winter, it turns into God’s icebox.

 

It’s common knowledge that everything is bigger in Texas, my home state, but I’m here to tell you the uncommon truth: it aint so. The winters in Wisconsin are way bigger than the winters in Texas. Winter there is a little bitty bunny that burrows in your yard for the season and plans to eat the bark around the saplings in your yard. Winter in Wisconsin is a great big old polar bear that lives on your front porch and plans to eat you.

 

You can’t tame a polar bear. They fear you about as much as you fear a rib eye steak or Texas brisket. So what can you do?  Here are two tips to help you stay alive in winter if you accidentally marry someone from Wisconsin:

 

  1. Avoid going outside.
  1. If you must go out, don’t.

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*Yes, it should be whom. No, I do not plan to change it. Maybe the war is over.

 

Cold feet

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While still suffering from seasonal amnesia back in September, I won two tickets to a Packer football game. Seasonal amnesia happens after you escape death-by-cold in northeast Wisconsin and convince yourself that the unseasonably warm fall weather will sneak unscathed through the months of winter, arriving just in time for spring. You convince yourself that bones can’t freeze and teeth cannot grow noticeably shorter from chattering. You should know better.

 

Cold is frozen into first place in my list of things I hate. I prefer sweltering to sweatering so many layers I cannot bend my arms. I do everything I can to avoid cold and would never willingly put myself in a place where frost is free to bite at will. And yet…few things please me more than free. I rarely pass the sample ladies in the supermarket, and when I shop, I look for bargains. The ultimate bargain, of course, is free.

 

Bewitched by the weather and the win, I told my husband I wanted to attend the game at Lambeau field. If you have ever been to Green Bay, Wisconsin and visited Lambeau, you know that for a pro football stadium it lacks nothing, unless roofs are important to you. I am rather fond of them myself, especially when the colored alcohol in the thermometer refuses to rise above 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees Celsius).

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And yet…I won a pair of FREE tickets. Me, lucky me. All those other people wanted those tickets, but did they win? No! I won! Somehow I convinced myself that free is stronger than cold.

 

When I awoke from my enchantment, I discovered I was living in winter. I could have turned back, given the tickets away, and barricaded the door, but I convinced myself it would be an adventure – a free one.

 

The day before I descended into madness, my husband and I met with siblings for breakfast at a nearby café. A number of hunters, clad in camouflage and orange please-don’t-shoot-me-I’m-not-a-deer hunting clothes sat nearby. One of the sister-in-laws said, “You’d have to be crazy to go out deer hunting in this weather. The only thing crazier would be going to a Packer game.” She had no idea that’s exactly what I was preparing to do, and when I told her and the others, all of their flabbers were gasted. “I hope,” I said, “that I sit next to a large, fluffy man. That way I will have my large, slightly fluffy husband on my left and another on my right.”

 

The morning of the day I was prepared to die, I laid out the clothes I would probably be buried in: two pairs of long johns, three pairs of socks, a long-sleeved pullover, a wool sweater, heavy pants, a wool scarf, a knit hat, silk glove liners, wool gloves, snow boots, and a hooded down coat. In my arms I carried a Packer-green throw and a queen-sized blanket.

 

The sister-in-law who correctly diagnosed me as insane lives within a ten-minute walk from Lambeau stadium, so we parked at her house and walked. I felt invincible with my soft, wimpy flesh encased in sheep and geese products. I, the thin-blooded, slim-minded Texan, had tamed the mighty Wisconsin cold. That euphoria lasted the entire ten minutes it took to reach the mausoleum/stadium.

 

Thankfully, the stadium has an atrium with walls and a roof, a concession no doubt to the non-natives who might be lured in by free tickets. Fearful that the mustard on my brat (the wurst kind) would freeze before we found our seats, we ate our lunch inside. With my belly full of brat and my mind full of hubris, we left the atrium and entered the roofless stadium.

 

When we reached section 110, row 46, seats 20 and 21, I felt as if Christmas had come early. Santa Claus, or his near cousin, sat in seat 22, his own warm self overflowing into my 18 inches of space on our shared metal bench. When he saw me moving in his direction, he smiled with delight and said, “Are you sitting here?” Both of our prayers had been answered – he had asked for a small person on his left, and I had asked for a large one on my right. My husband brought a large cushion to sit on, while I brought a smaller one and the green throw to sit on. I snuggled into my now 12-inch seat, pulled the blanket over me, and waited for the games to begin.

 

Once I was thoroughly nested, a bunch of people appeared on the field with a gigantic American flag and I had to stand up. That meant removing the large blanket, positioning myself between two large men on either side, checking to make sure my small blanket didn’t fall down when I stood up, and avoiding bumping into the people in the row in front as I tried to maneuver and actually see over their tall, fluffy bodies. The seatmate behind me, less inhibited than I, carried a large cardboard sign, which she waggled around, hitting me on the back numerous times.

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After the anthem, things began to happen. The other 79,999 people roared periodically, prizes were announced on the big screens towering over the stadium, music blared, rupturing eardrums at will, non-profits advertised, vendors vended (mostly beer), and people began excusing themselves up and down the long rows of swaddled people. My husband described it as a rock concert-church bazaar-bingo game atmosphere.

 

In the meantime, some football players down on the field started crashing into one another. Half of the time, I couldn’t actually see what they were doing because the excited and quickly inebriated fans in row 44 liked to stand and watch, unaware that none of the people in rows 45 to 47 could see through them. So I watched a lot of the game on the big screens.

 

This led me to ask myself two questions. First, why are football players smaller in real life? They looked like miniature versions of their television selves. Second, since I could see more of the game on the big screens in the stadium instead of squinting at the field, why was I sitting outside in 23-degree weather watching the game on their screens when I could be sitting in my chair at home watching the exact same thing on my TV screen?

 

Note how small the football players actually are! I've always heard being on TV makes you look heavier, but I didn't realize how much.

Note how small the football players actually are! I’ve always heard being on TV makes you look heavier, but I didn’t realize how much.

After spending close to three hours sitting outside watching TV, it hit me like a block of ice that I had another two or three hours to go. That’s when I got cold feet. Literally. Well, actually I got cold toes. All ten of them asked to leave, and I, being both in the minority and a believer in democracy, yielded.

 

We arrived home in time to watch the last quarter of the game, which went into overtime and ended in a tie.

 

Because it’s winter and I recognize that winter’s death threats are serious, I’m sure I will never go to another Packer game in mid-November when the temperature has sunk to the twenties. I am sure in the same way I was sure before last week that I would never go to a Packer game in winter. In the same way I was sure I would never live in Wisconsin because it’s too cold. My only fear is that I will win or be given free tickets again. So, I’ve written this post as a reminder. If I read it before football season each year, maybe I’ll get cold feet before I go.

 

 

Windbreaking News: Election 2012

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In the last week before Election Day, the vote of hot air balloonists in Wisconsin is still up in the air. According to Google, from October 1 to October 21, over 750 political ads were unleashed on the Wisconsinite public every single day. Personal appearances by presidential  and senatorial candidates have gone up dramatically.

 

Will Loftus, longtime balloonist, isn’t happy. “State and national politicians have been appearing all over Wisconsin like a rash on a baby’s bum. I hate to vent, but it breaks my heart to see that amount of hot air go to waste. All I hear from the politicians is talk about Medicare, taxes, wars in those foreign countries, jobs, and this country’s future. Why do they keep speaking to special interest groups? Frankly, I’m deflated. Political hot air is a renewable energy resource, yet not one politician has addressed that. I’m just your average citizen with a $25,000 hot air balloon. What about me and my needs?””

 

Unidentified sources close to Windbreaking News estimate that capturing political hot air would provide every citizen in Wisconsin a 30-minute ride in a hot air balloon each day for one month. Identified sources confirm this, and a random poll conducted by a random pollster on a random day in Random Lake* found that voters felt “let down” on hearing this news.

 

 

(*Random Lake, WI is known for its palindromic population: 1551.)

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of Nicolas Raymond http://www.freestock.ca/view_photog.php?photogid=1

The left doesn’t know what the right is doing

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It happened again. In a blatant act of partisanship, my right hand conspired against my left, made a wild grab for power, momentarily grasped it, and blocked my left hand from taking any action.

 

I was almost ten the first time. John F. Kennedy, winner of the Democratic nomination for president, chose LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson) as his running mate. Kennedy would have preferred someone else, but Johnson, a homegrown Texan, guaranteed the southern voters that Kennedy needed. The two men came to El Paso in September 1960 to campaign. I stood among the crowd lining the streets. (I have no idea who I was with, and my fact checker (AKA older sister ) doesn’t remember it at all.)

 

As Johnson’s motorcade drove by, he stuck out his hand. I rushed forward, thrust my right hand through the crowd and grabbed hold for two seconds. I don’t know what thrilled me more, that I had touched a famous person, or that I had discovered that fame resided in a hand just like my own, five-fingered with an opposable thumb. Like all famous hands, it  had a much wider span than mine, but it was attached to a man who could have been my neighbor or my teacher.

 

The second time happened last Friday, September 28. Earlier in the week I gave up all of my personal information for a free ticket to attend a speech by Michelle Obama at nearby Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. I arrived later than I had planned because I had morning classes. About 400 other people were late as well. Most of them stood in front of me, waiting to get through security and into the auditorium. About one hundred stood behind me. By the time I got out of the security area, a young volunteer directed me away from the auditorium toward a small tent next to the building, saying, “The fire marshal won’t allow any more people into the building. You can hear the speech from inside the tent.”

 

Was I unhappy? Yes. If I had wanted long lines, endless waits, and annoying security, only to be turned away at the gate, I would have booked a flight.  No one seemed happy, but we remained civil (this is the Midwest) and followed directions, mooing and lowing as we crowded into the fenced area beneath the tent. I amused myself by exchanging complaints with the others and by watching the well-dressed Secret Service men walk back and forth talking to their wrists. Forty-five minutes past the scheduled time for the speech, a group of grim wrist talkers guided Mrs. Obama around the perimeter of the holding pen. When she got close to me, I whipped out my phone, took some quick videos, shoved the phone into my left hand to distract it, and grabbed her outstretched hand with my right. Her hand felt just like mine, only more famous, and attached to a woman much taller in person than on TV.

 

Still picture from my iPhone video.

After the gripping event, I left, as did almost everyone in the tent. Watching the speech online appealed to me more than standing in a covered corral listening.

 

Later that day my husband asked if I planned to wash my hand. “Better yet,” I said, “I plan to sell it on eBay.”

 

Let me know if you’re interested.

 

IMPORTANT WORDS FROM YOUR SPONSORS:

 

I am yearstricken’s right hand, and I approve this message.

 

I am yearstricken’s left hand, and I don’t.

 

 

 

If you took a bath today, thank a pig

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Seriously. If you took a bath today (and we all hope you did), thank a pig. Actually, you should thank a pig farmer. Sort of.

 

Okay, not a pig, and not a pig farmer. You should thank the state of Wisconsin and its city Sheboygan, and the foundry it once had that was bought by John Michael Kohler and his partner Charles Silberzahn in 1873, who founded a company called Kohler & Silberzahn, which made farm equipment, including big tubs used as watering troughs and hog scalders.

 

 

I guess we also have to be thankful for the fire that burned down that original foundry seven years later because Kohler added an enameling shop when he rebuilt. Now he could cover his cast-iron troughs with a protective coat of enamel.

 

Three years later in 1883, Kohler came up with the idea of selling an enameled hog scalder as a bathtub. In exchange, he supposedly received a cow and 14 chickens. I’m curious about what gave Kohler the idea. He must have been on farms and seen hogs immersed in those tubs. Did one of the hogs remind him of someone he knew? History would be a lot more interesting if we had the answers to questions like that.

 

 

From that point on, Kohler focused on enameled bathroom fixtures. In 1911 the company introduced a built-in, one-piece tub, and the rest of us have been awash in their products since then.

 

I had no intention of writing about bathtubs today. Although I manage to get in hot water on a regular basis, I hardly ever take a bath. I prefer showers.

 

I started out today planning to write something about the word “bubbler,” Wisconsin talk for drinking fountain. It seems that Kohler is responsible for that, too; he put the capital “B” in the word when he trademarked it in 1889. Now it’s used generically, mostly in Wisconsin but also in Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut, southeastern Massachusetts, and Australia. In my experience, I’ve never heard anyone pronounce it with the capital, but then I’ve never been to Sheboygan.

 

In spite of its usage in both the U.S. and Australia, neither the Oxford English Dictionary nor the Cambridge Dictionary Online has an entry for “bubbler.” Merriam Webster Online and the Random House Dictionary (dictionary.com) give one of its meanings as “a drinking fountain that spouts water.”

 

 

If you go to Kohler’s website, you’ll find at least 53 different bathtubs: rectangular, circular, key-hole shaped, kidney-shaped, free-standing, sunken, and jet-streamed. They still make the Bubbler, too. Americans love their tubs and drinking fountain; go to Facebook and you’ll find that bathtub and Bubbler have their own Facebook pages. I also discovered that Pig scalder is on Facebook. In one of instances that proves that history sometimes moves backwards, it mentions that in New Zealand some farmers use their old cast-iron bathtubs for hog scalding.

 

 

Posters courtesy of http://blog.kohler.com/2011/05/18/the-one-piece-bath-turns-100/