Thursday, August 30, 2012

Vacation Day 4

Whew! The lead-up to and start of the new school year has left me with no time to write the last post about our trip to Madison until now.

Friday night we went to the local minor league baseball stadium, Warner Park, where the Madison Mallards play. Amateur teams from around Madison had sent 1-2 players each for the Home Town All-Star Game. We struck up a conversation with the elderly gentleman in front of us, grandfather to one of the second basemen, so we rooted for his team. It was a decent ballgame that only got ridiculous in one of the middle innings, when the pitcher couldn't find the catcher's glove, much less the strike zone. I think he loaded the bases and let two runs score on wild pitches. All told, there was one homerun and a couple of errors. The game was tied into the bottom of the ninth, when someone hit a walk-off double. Even though we had no emotional stake in the outcome, the night was nice, and we enjoyed this little slice of Americana. I remember that the woman who sang the anthem had a beautiful voice.

Of course we had to sample the ballpark fare. Dear Husband paid a major-league price for a minor-league hot dog, soda, and fresh fruit cup (!). I opted for a veggie burger. I look so thrilled in the photo because of the thick layer of (iceberg) lettuce I got to add, in addition to the usual ketchup, mustard, relish, and onions.

Saturday morning was all about the condiments--or rather, a particular condiment: mustard. August 4 was the 21st Annual National Mustard Day. What? Weren't you celebrating?

First we met up for brunch with a historian of science friend of mine, then we all trooped over to the National Mustard Museum. This private collecting project has been Barry Levenson's hobby since the Red Sox disappointed him in the post-season in 1986. Hundreds of mustards and mustard containers are on display in the basement of the building in downtown Middleton, WI. There are even some real facts about the condiment sprinkled among the facetious news stories and curiosity pieces! A visit is supposed to be only marginally educational, and entrance to the museum is free, because the main floor is the shop, where you can sample every one of the hundreds of mustards for sale as well as purchase mustard/food-themed kitsch or swag from Poupon U. Basically, they're capitalizing on the novelty of the idea of a mustard museum.

The four mustards above are the ones we we tried at the tasting bar, from most (L) to least (R) favorite. Actually, we had already made up our minds to buy a jar of 3 Monkeys Mustard, a spicy-sweet spread concocted by a dad and his kids in their garage. It won the 2012 grand prize in the taste testing competition.

Outside, there was a stage for live music, games for the kids, the Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile, various mustard vendors, and of course food. One tent was giving away free hotdogs with unlimited mustard; it was $10 if you wanted ketchup! Culver's was selling mustard ice cream, which we tasted. It's better than it sounds: the vanilla and caramel were sweet, with a kick of hot mustard after-taste. We also got our photo taken with the French's mustard bottle (above). DH wondered that we were received in such a friendly manner, although both of us had unwittingly dressed in the opposing colors that day!

Soon enough, it was time to hop back in the car and drive home again. We had a few other small adventures and interesting conversations this summer, and I hope to find the time to tell you a little about each of them soon.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Vacation Day 3: Taliesin

Hillside School
On the third day of our anniversary vacation, we took a day trip out of Madison to Frank Lloyd Wright's first estate, Taliesin, just south of Spring Green. It was a beautiful hour’s drive west along a mostly two-lane highway that cut through small towns and wound past farm nestled between wooded hills. The scenery was everything I wanted it to be, until we encountered the reality of farming nowadays. Some operations had irrigation systems and were weathering the drought fairly well, but we passed one farm whose corn stood stunted and yellow in the field. A few farms had “for sale” signs along the road, and one offered a building permit. “What would you build out here?” I asked Dear Husband. I dreaded the thought of a Big Box Store. Maybe bedroom communities for the small towns. There was at least one large industrial building with solar panels out front—hopefully that was a job creator.

We used some of my birthday money for the four-hour Estate Tour, which involved a shuttle ride and a lot of walking with a tour guide and about 15 other people. It was totally worth the expense: not only does that money go toward preservation efforts, but we got to visit most of the important structures on the 600-acre estate (Unity Chapel, Hillside School & Theater, the Windmill Tower, Tan-y-deri [a house for his sister], Midway Barns, and Taliesin house itself).

To the left is Wright's grave marker at the family chapel. Behind it stands the tree at the foot of which his mistress was buried after an estate worker "went postal" when she dismissed him for his erratic behavior while Wright was away. The worker hacked six other people to death with an axe after setting fire to the residential wing of the big house. He attempted to poison himself, survived, and eventually starved himself to death in jail.

Wright is not actually buried there, however. He died in 1959 during surgery for intestinal obstruction. When his third wife, Olgivanna, died in 1985, it was discovered that her will instructed that he, she, and her daughter from an earlier marriage (who died in a car accident) be cremated and interred together at Taliesin West, Wright's estate near Scottsdale, Arizona. Many people close to Wright objected, but apparently a crew came in the middle of the night, dug him up, and carted him off.

To the right is "Romeo & Juliet," the windmill Wright designed for his teacher-aunts to provide water for their residential school. Romeo is the skinny quadrilateral at the back, designed to "cut into" the wind. Juliet is the hexagon that actually held the workings. The children of the school sometimes used the structure as a play house.

DH had read a biography of Wright about a decade ago, but I knew next to nothing about him, so I found the tour very interesting. This is me on the crown of the hill behind the house, which is perched on "the brow" of the hill. (Taliesin means "shining brow.")

Afterward we ate lunch at the restaurant at the Visitors' Center overlooking the Wisconsin River. That's DH enjoying a slice of strawberry shortcake pie in honor of our anniversary. (We had strawberry shortcake as the cake at our wedding reception.) Then we started on the drive back to Madison. We considered detouring south to see the Cave of the Mounds, but our feet were tired and we figured we had maxed out our budget for the day, so we just stopped off at a local park with a scenic point overlooking the valley. We got back to the hotel in time for a brief rest before heading out for our evening entertainment, which I will describe in the next post. Any Frank Lloyd Wright fans out there? Have a favorite building or design you want to share with us?

Editor's Note: Dear Husband and I later visited Wright's house and studio in Oak Park, IL, as well as his famous Fallingwater vacation house and the nearby Polymath Park trio.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Vacation Days 1 & 2

Dear Husband and I recently celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary much in the way we’ve celebrated the others: with a road trip to a city in the Midwest. We honeymooned in Denver with a botanical garden, an art museum, hiking (in Estes Park), good eats, and a baseball game. We’ve pretty much kept to that itinerary in the years since, as we’ve visited Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and now Madison. 

I am my grandmother’s granddaughter and my father’s daughter, and I love planning our trips. I always try to include something unique for the places we travel to. In Chicago we went to the Navy Pier. In Indy we visited a private super hero museum and the race track. In Kansas City we saw the Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. In Milwaukee, we rollerbladed along Lake Michigan. On our Cincy trip, DH played the pianos that had been decorated and placed around the city.

In Madison, we rented a tandem kayak on Lake Wingra. I had hoped they might let us use a small sailboat, but the lake has had such large growths of seaweed recently that you have to take a special class before they’ll let you sail. As we paddled back and forth across the lake, I suddenly didn’t feel so guilty for missing PiYo class while our car was in the shop earlier in the week: it was quite the upper-arm workout! We saw gulls, ducks, a heron, and a very large fish that jumped near the boat. It was a hot day, so we even braved the seaweed and got out of the kayak to “swim” in the middle. I don’t like it when I can’t see my feet in the water, so actually I worked out my abs by holding a pike position so my toes stuck up out of the water while we rested in/on our life jackets and let the underwater current carry us.

I don't think a marriage is legal in Madison unless
the bride takes photographs at this gazebo.
After rinsing off under a hose, we drove into the center of town. We were too late for an official tour of the capitol building, but we ogled the marble and the cupola for ourselves. This was the site of the famous anti-Walker sit-in in 2011. On the mezzanine level was an exhibition of beautiful oil paintings by and about Falun Gong (Dafa) practitioners in China and the discrimination and torture many have suffered at the hands of the Communist regime. Unfortunately, my camera battery had died when we got to the lake, so I don’t have any pictures of this first day.

We were also there to meet a friend for the last Concert on the Square of the summer. From humble beginnings a few years ago, this free event has become a Madison staple. At 3pm you are allowed to leave a blanket on the grass around the capitol building to mark your spot. People start arriving at 5:30 or 6 o’clock with coolers, camp chairs, and folding tables, and food vendors line closed-off stretches of street. We bought some really yummy mint chocolate chip ice cream cones, DH had a hot meal that reminded him of Tafelspitz, and I ate cheese, crackers, and fruit. DH listened to the music/napped while the ladies chatted—apparently too loudly for the music snob behind us, who was shushing everyone around him. Then it was back to the hotel to watch some Olympics before bed.

The weather on the second day was supposed to be a doozy, so I had planned for the botanical garden in the morning and the art museum in the afternoon. The Olbrich Botanical Garden (free) is smaller than some of the others we have visited, but it is well maintained, and there was still plenty to see. The Thai temple and garden were particularly interesting. They've incorporated various cultural and artistic symbols, like water, topiary, lotus blossoms, and the Naga serpent. The temple (sala) was built in Thailand, taken apart, shipped here, and then reconstructed without nails or screws. The artisans happen to have been flying on September 11, 2001, and were on one of the last flights to land at O'Hare. You can't touch the gold leaf or else the oils on your skin can damage it. Then we paid for tickets to enter the conservatory to see the butterfly exhibit. Once a year they order hundreds of cocoons and hatch the butterflies in the tropical environment. You can see them up close, as well as enjoy orchids, banana trees, bamboo, canaries, and adorable little quail running around.

We ate lunch at the famous vegetarian/vegan restaurant, The Green Owl. Dear Husband had fake chicken with real parmesan cheese, while I ordered a filling BBQ jackfruit sandwich and kale chips. An...interesting culinary creation, kale chips: I tasted mostly oil, while DH tasted mostly kale. Go figure.

Kale chips!
Rather than continue our itinerary around Lake Monona, we repaired to the hotel for reading/naps due to tired legs. The Chazen Art Museum (also free) is open until 9pm on Thursdays, so I knew we weren’t trying to get everything in by 5pm and had plenty of time to see the exhibits.

The big draw was the current temporary exhibition of studio art glass. Apparently a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin Madison is single-handedly responsible for establishing the discipline, in that he made a workshop of all the different kilns and tools available to local artists, as well as training students. I love glass because of its versatility: it can be transparent, translucent, or opaque. It can be rough or smooth. It can be drawn out into delicate threads or cast in impressive hunks. It can be colored, have bubbles, and be made into a seemingly infinite variety of shapes. The display was impressive in its scope, and there was also a series of demonstration videos on various technique and on making tumblers, wine glasses, and other things.

No green owls, but I did find a green frog.
We spent so much time there that we were ready for dinner, so we headed down University Avenue toward the restaurant quarter. I had looked up a few places beforehand, and we quickly decided on Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, which is only the best burger joint in Madison and no small irony, considering where we went to lunch! We shared a strawberry milkshake, a burger, fries, and a spinach salad. We thought the burger wasn’t done enough, but the salad came with bleu cheese, which made me think of my maternal grandfather, who could eat an inordinate amount of the stuff.

We returned to the Chazen for the second temporary exhibit, on the fan in Japanese prints. I would have liked more thorough descriptions of the historical or literary backgrounds for the images, but then maybe that’s just me. We finished off our visit with the room dedicated to twentieth-century African artwork. Then it was back to the hotel for—you guessed it—more Olympics. (Hey, people, don’t judge: it was gymnastics!)

Next time: a cultured day trip and a wacky museum.

DH: "Look where her hand is. I know why he's giving her a high five!"