1

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: And Behind Door Number One…

And the travelogue is finally here!

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 11: And Behind Door Number One… (Door County, WI)

Door County.

The Holy Grail of Exploration.

Everyone’s favorite part of the state.

The Martha’s Vineyard/Berkshires/South Bass Island of Wisconsin.

And it lived up to its reputation.

Geographically, Door County is the thumb of Wisconsin, if Wisconsin were a hand. It detaches from the mainland at Sturgeon Bay, its county seat, and continues on as a small, thin island between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, with Gills Rock at its tip, and Washington Island just a short hop away by boat. We didn’t make it quite that far, but it’s definitely incentive to come back.

Day 1: Road trip up from Madison to Green Bay, WI, where we spent the night at an awesome Airbnb right on the bay. We only stopped once for a Chinese dinner in Appleton. Mostly an uneventful day, but we did enjoy watching The Age of Adaline before bed.

Day 2: Got up at 9, but took our time and didn’t leave the Airbnb until about 10:30. A half hour later, we crossed the old steel bridge in Sturgeon Bay and were in Door County. After a quick gas stop, we drove just over the border into Carlsville, where we had breakfast at Door County Coffee and Tea Co. We were just in time for the end of the breakfast menu. The place got amazing reviews on Yelp and it didn’t disappoint. The coffee was divine, and my meal of a croissant and Spanish-style eggs was warm, thick and flaky in all the wrong places. Dessert was bread pudding made with Door County cherry jam (the local delicacy) and it was sugary and delicious. Definitely worth driving a little out of the way.

Next up, we drove over to Jacksonport to check out Whitefish Dunes State Park. It was a small park, but you barely had to walk 200 feet down the trail to encounter a gorgeous, practically deserted beach with the clear blue waters of Lake Michigan lapping at its sandy shore. We basked in the warm sunshine and got just a little burnt, and I got a hundred pages or so read in an hour.

Driving up the coast, we then entered Baileys Harbor, and even though it was hard to find, we made it through the windy roads to the parking lot for the Cana Island Lighthouse. What we didn’t know was that to access the island, you needed to cross a causeway of dirt and rocks, with water gently lapping at your toes. Managed to make it across to the island pretty much unscathed. It cost us $7 per person to explore the tiny island, and $5 to climb the 97 steps inside the lighthouse.

But it was totally worth it. The lighthouse is remarkably well preserved, with a beautiful view from the top, impeccable masonry, and stone paths down to the lake outside it. Plus, there were two geocaches hidden on the island. It was just so much fun to explore. Inside the lighthouse, we learned about how the Fresnel worked, as well as the history and lifestyle of the lighthouse keepers. They saved several ships from being wrecked, but not others. They also kept a logbook. Curiously enough, it was recorded that a female with a power canoe stopped off at Cana Island on her way from New York to Chicago.

Walking back across the causeway was not as easy of a feat. I sort of gave up halfway through when I began to sink into the muck. I waddled back to the car in wet shoes. Gross.

The day was winding down, so we decided to go as far up as Sister Bay, where we saw Al Johnson’s, the famous Swedish restaurant with goats grazing on the roof. It’s true! After a quick browse in the gift shop and a walk along the waterfront, it was time to turn the car around and head home. On the way out of Door County, we went down the bay side, stopping off at a few farm stands, sampling butters, jams, fudges, and salsas. I added to a jar of cherry salsa to my souvenir bag of food (coffee from the place we ate breakfast) and we were off home. We made one more stop for gas in Allouez, and had pho in De Pere, at a place which took way too long, and got back to Madison close to midnight.

Overall, I would highly recommend Door County. Hopefully I can go back soon.

17

Five Reasons Why Wisconsin is the Best State Ever

Today, I was on Facebook, and I found out that one of my close friends from when I lived in Israel is moving to America: New Jersey for a little while, and eventually, Philadelphia. While I’m not thrilled about him being so far away, it’ll hopefully be a great change for him and we’ll be in the same country again. Someone commented on his wall that he could come and stay on his couch in New York City, and I responded, “my couch is better.” And as I was redoing the Wisconsin refrigerator magnet puzzle (some of the pieces had gotten out of place) I realized that Wisconsin truly is the best state ever.

So here are Five (of the many) Reasons Why Wisconsin is the Best State Ever.

  1. I can point out where I live on my hand. Sure, so can Michiganders, but we don’t have the lake effect in the winter.
  2. We have some of the best produce and dairy products in the country. Go to any weekend farmer’s market and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Also, if you’re into dairy and not on a diet, Calliope ice cream is kosher and DELISH.
  3. Midwestern nice. Seriously, I feel like I’ve become nicer since I’ve been here. Or at least more social. People here are just so genuine.
  4. The best European cuisine outside Europe. Since my parents have been here, we’ve had Belgian food at Brasserie V, Norwegian food at Norske Nook, and Dutch food at Cafe Hollander. Not to mention the German restaurants and the Catholic-inspired Friday Fish Fry, every Friday, all year long.
  5. Concerts on the Square. Tonight was my parents’ final night here, so we went to Concert on the Square, which is a summer tradition here in Madison. About six Wednesday evenings every summer, when it’s light outside until 9 PM, everyone brings blankets and food and picnics on the lawn of the State Capitol building to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra play. People have fancy spreads and get dressed up, and it’s just such a fun time. Does your state capitol double as a marketplace, art museum, AND concert venue? I didn’t think so.
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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: A Park and a Half

Summertime is prime time for exploring Wisconsin, and with tomorrow being July 4th and therefore prime time for all the Wisconsin spots worthy of exploring to be full of people, we decided to spend today exploring one of our great State Parks.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 10: A Park and a Half (Roche-A-Cri State Park, Friendship, WI)

I wanted to spend the day, or at least part of it, doing something fun out of Madison. Unfortunately, I woke up with a splitting headache that had me on the couch until mid-afternoon, Fortunately, I was feeling well enough to rally by around 4 PM, and we were on the road to Roche-A-Cri State Park, a place I’d seen on the map and randomly picked to visit.

Roche-A-Cri (French for “crevice in the rock”) State Park is in the tiny town of Friendship (population: 725) in Adams County, about an hour and a half north of Madison. Fortunately, the park is open until 11 PM due to the campgrounds being so popular, so we had plenty of daylight and sunshine to explore.

Getting there was a little difficult at first. We took a back road through the Dells, and didn’t see any signs for the park until about one mile away. Once we got in and parked, though, it was a pleasant surprise at how peaceful this little park was. We paid the $5 admission fee and left it in an envelope at the park’s entrance (all WI state parks cost money to enter – if you park on the grounds) and set off on the shady trail.

Being a rather small park, we weren’t expecting too much. The longest trail, the Acorn Trail, is only about 3.5 miles long. But it was perfect for an hour and a half walk-around. We walked about half of the trail, only seeing a handful of other people, and then made our way to the observation point at the Indian mounds. The signs warned us of a strenuous climb – 303 steps, on an elevated staircase. The sign wasn’t kidding! Once at the top, though, we were treated to incredible views, and actually had the viewing platform all to ourselves – just as we left, a big family was coming up the stairs, so we crossed paths but otherwise it was quiet and serene.

We headed back along the trail to the car, stopping off at the petroglyphs for which this park is known. There is a huge rock, several stories high, with petroglyphs carved both by Native Americans and travelers from the 19th century (and probably some modern vandals, I’d suspect) and some fading red pictographs. We read the plaques about them, and were able to make out some of them, including a signature left by a traveler in October of 1845. It really was impressive and I’ll get the pictures up soon.

Upon leaving the park, I wanted to go a different way, so we could include more highway driving especially as it got later, but I ended up missing a turn. We were about 4 miles down the wrong road when we decided to turn around. To do that, we turned into a parking lot…and what do you know, it was Rabbit Rock – not exactly a state park, but one of the rock formations visible from the top of Roche-A-Cri, one that looked really interesting. Since we happened to be there, we poked around for a few minutes before getting back in the car. Apparently, visitors are allowed to climb this rock, and while it would have been fun, it was getting close to 8 and we needed to hit the road in order to be in Madison before dark. We backtracked, turned onto Route 21, and headed for the highway. About halfway there, Ship Rock appeared on our left; we didn’t stop, but it was really impressive and colorful, both with rock strata and graffiti. It took us about the same amount of time to get back to Madison, with a quick stop at the Starbucks on E. Washington for an iced coffee because I was fading (even though it was 9 PM and we only had like 15 minutes to go; wonder how I’ll sleep tonight). All in all, it was worth the 3 hours round trip to get out of town and walk around for an hour and a half, in a quiet park with beautiful views and ancient petroglyphs.

Oh, and in other exciting news…my third 2016 pen pal response showed up, all the way from Baby Ruth in the Philippines! Thanks for the fun letter; I got it out of the mailbox last night along with my other mail as I was flying out the door for Salsa Saturday, stuffed it in my bag, and ended up opening and reading it at the club during the break between the two sets. I thoroughly enjoyed the fan mail (which is what I’ve decided to call the response letters, heh) and I will write back soon! 13 other pen pals, take note.

10

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Say “Strawberry” One More Time

A beautiful Sunday merited some exploration, so today I drove to Oregon…Wisconsin, that is, to go strawberry-picking!

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 9: Say “Strawberry” One More Time (Carrandale Fruit Farm, Oregon, WI)

Strawberry season is over almost as soon as it starts here in Wisconsin; it’s only about six weeks, and we’re on the back end of it. After seeing some delicious Facebook pictures from friends who went last week, I decided to see it for myself.

It’s a pretty straight shot to get to the farm itself; just keep going down Fish Hatchery Road until Madison turns into Fitchburg, and Fitchburg turns into Oregon, and then follow the signs to this tucked-away little farm. We parked and checked in, and they gave us a basket, and told us that we pay by the pound as we exit, $1.80 per pound. So, we walked out to the fields and were assigned Row 8, and given a flag to put at the end of the row when we were done. We only had about 40 minutes until they closed (they’re open from 7 AM to noon), but we had the basket half-full with strawberries after 20 minutes bending over in the sun. The strawberries were tiny and bright red, and tasted like candies. After getting weighed, I handed over ten dollars and we went home.

And that’s how I spent the rest of the afternoon searching for recipes with fresh strawberries online, and ended up making sangria.

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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Because The Devil’s in the Details

I’m a little sunburned, a little tired, and a little itchy, but I had a lot of fun today with around 25 members of my ballroom team. Join me in:

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 8: Because The Devil’s in the Details (Devil’s Lake State Park)

After twenty long, hot minutes of walking in the sun, I made it to the ramp at Steenbock where the rest of the group was waiting to set off for a day of fun at Devil’s Lake State Park in Sauk County, near Baraboo. I squished into a car, and less than an hour later, we were in the wilderness. Well, us and a ton of other people, but none of us had phone service, so we all had to interact. It was a beautiful afternoon, and people were swimming, playing, and enjoying the sunshine.

A huge group of us set off together, hiking on one of the trails around the lake. Hiking is fun when there’s a ton of people and everyone’s talking.

Until someone got the bright idea to climb up the rock fall.

So, as a group we clambered up an almost vertical rock wall on hands and knees. Of course, I ended up at the back, asking myself why we did this rather than just walking up on a trail. But after several close calls, I made it to the top, and wasn’t even the last one, and the view was beautiful: a blue-green lake just shining through the trees. After a short break, the only way to go was down, and fortunately for all of us we took a conventional trail. We stopped for several group photo ops, tripped a few times, and saw a snake, but we made it down in one piece, to the North Shore parking lot. We had been hiking for two hours, but were still less than halfway there. Regardless, we took a break at the concession stand there (yummiest strawberry shake ever) and then continued along the trail towards the South Shore parking lot, where we started. Half the group took the high trail, and I joined the other half, who walked along the lake on a lower trail. There were way more people, but the breezes were nice and cool and the rocks were all differently colored pastels. There were even a few balancing rocks. Just as the group of us (five at this point) were in sight of the end, somebody had the idea to wade through the lake…so we did. As the only person in the group wearing pants, I was worried, but surprisingly, I was able to roll up just enough so that I didn’t get them wet. We beat the high-trail group back, but by this point it was 5:30 PM, an hour past our reservation time at Farm Kitchen for dinner…whoops. But, we went there anyway, and although it took almost 2 hours, the 20 of us got dinner (or most of it) and headed back.

Now, I’m just sitting on the couch, pounding some popcorn. Despite the fact that I only got through maybe half of my reading goals for the day – just 1 book for prelims and 1 play over breakfast, no pleasure reading – I feel pretty accomplished. And a little exhausted. But not too exhausted to walk down to Capital Centre for some ice cream.

5

Antique Mall Haul

I don’t know if this should be another episode of Wonderful, Wonderful, Wisconsin, but today I woke up and thought, I want to go antiquing today.

So antiquing I went.

And when you’re in Wisconsin, and you want to go all-out for antiquing, you go to Columbus Antique Mall in Columbus, Wisconsin, about 40 minutes north of Madison, straddling Columbia and Dodge Counties. I think the actual mall is on the Dodge County side. Anyway, it’s five stories of great crap, from thumbed-through paperbacks to rocking chairs, plates with birds to TV trays advertising Coca-Cola. You never know what you’re going to find there.

Today, among my walks through the aisles, I picked up three items of note:

1. Erin, the green Beanie Baby bear. I remember when Erin and Princess came out, and the entire Beanie Baby world (myself included) collectively went nuts. Since then, I’ve managed to acquire a Princess in my collection of Beanie Baby bears, and spotted an Erin (actually, several) on the shelf, marked $2.50. If I could only travel back in time and sell it in 1996…

2. A black-and-white photograph. I always keep an eye out for interesting looking pictures, and I found one today. On one side is a couple, with the woman seated and the man standing behind her. On the right, another man and woman, holding a baby, only they are a little blurrier and lighter, almost light ghosts.

3. A new outfit! On the very last clothing rack, there was a black jacket-pants combo, men’s medium-large, cotton, from China. The sleeves in the jacket were a little big, but the frog buttons are awesome, and the pants fit perfectly, which I found out after I bought them.

A successful day.

7

Sytten Pretty on Syttende Mai

Happy Syttende Mai, everyone!

For those of you who don’t know, which is probably most of you, today, May 17, is Norway’s independence day, or as they say, Syttende Mai. Here in Wisconsin, we have a lot of people from Germany and Scandinavia, so in the three years I’ve lived here, I’ve become more aware of some holidays I did not have growing up, but until this year, I hadn’t a clue was Syttende Mai was.

Here’s how it happened: last week, I went to find some geocaches up in DeForest, a small town about 20 minutes north of Madison, and stopped in at Norske Nook, which is a chain of Norwegian restaurants in northern Wisconsin that opened here last year. I had a delicious salmon wrap in lefse, a Norwegian tortilla made of potatoes, butter, and magic. A table tent said that there would be specials for Syttende Mai, and it was coming up, so I made a mental note to come back.

So this morning, I woke up early and managed to get over there by 10:30. Surprisingly, it was not that busy. They had a special on Norwegian Pancakes (pancakes topped with strawberries, lingonberries, and a dash of whipped cream) for just $5.17, because of the date, and it was amazing. I love lingonberries, and they had a lingonberry double-crust pie on the menu, so I spent until almost noon sitting there with warm pie and constantly-refilled coffee, a la Kyle McLachlan in Twin Peaks.

This is the life.

Happy birthday, Norway!

11

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Weekend in the Northwoods

A trip wouldn’t be complete without a trip log, so now that I’m back in one piece, here it is. Well, I’ve been back for a few hours now, but just spent the bulk of the time bonding with my bed after all of the brotherly bonding of the weekend.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 7: Weekend in the Northwoods!

Thanks for a very generous APO brother whose family has had this beautiful cabin for 5 generations, 15 people, including myself, set off from Madison for a weekend at said cabin, in Eagle River, a tiny town (pop. 1400) in Vilas County, in what is known as the “northwoods” of Wisconsin, not too far from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. And it is far, far north.

Day 1: We (me, Rachel G., Rachel P., and Becky) set off from Madison for Eagle River. I don’t know whether it was the adrenaline, the good company, or the huge Starbucks I drank, but the trip took just under 4 hours, and we got there just at nightfall. It didn’t seem so bad, until I turned off the highway and had to drive on curvy dirt roads through the, dark, dark woods where there are deer and BEARS (according to Rachel G., who grew up in north central Wisconsin). Once we got to the cabin, we met up with the first group to arrive, and had just enough time to put our bags in our rooms before we went back to town for dinner. I’m terrified of other people driving my car, but I’m even more terrified of driving on windy country roads in the pitch dark so I let Rachel G. take the wheel and rode in the passenger seat of my own car for only the second or third time in my life. We made it out of the woods and to a bar in Eagle River called Lumpy’s, where the eight of us had fried lake perch because it was Friday in Wisconsin. And it was delicious.

After going grocery shopping with the others, we drove back to meet the remaining two cars, one of whom we just barely beat. We made sleeping arrangements and then spent some time playing games before bed. I ended up sleeping in my own (very nice) bedroom at the bottom of the stairs, across from which was a large TV room, a room with six bunk beds, and a door leading out to a fire pit (which we tried using to make s’mores before giving up and using the stove), and the lake. Up on the main floor was a huge kitchen/dining/living area, with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, and upstairs was a loft with a huge bed and a futon. Even though the downstairs was kind of chilly, I just wrapped up in some blankets and snoozed the night away.

Day 2:

Woke up at about 9 AM for a delicious home-cooked breakfast, made by the brothers, followed by a trip into town to buy toys and things for our service project, which was creating gift bags for the children’s hospital. I got in a lot of good reading and actually finished a book by lunch, which was burgers and brats. We spent a few hours making packages and drawing cards, and spent most of the day just relaxing. There wasn’t really a trail or anything within walking distance, so people just played catch in the backyard, walked out onto the frozen lake, or hung out inside. I took a quick break to zip to town, get gas, find some geocaches, and call the folks, and came back in time for a delicious burrito dinner and a night of crazy card games, laughter, and a raucous game of hide and seek. Even though I was the oldest there by far, I outlasted some of the brothers who went to bed at 10:30. I turned in around midnight, and slept soundly until morning.

Day 3 (Today!):

How wonderful to wake up at 10 AM on a Sunday, only to realize that it’s 11 AM. At least we all had fun attempting to finish the massive amount of food we bought, cleaning up, and driving our cars through the mud. The trip back was about four and a half hours, thanks to a wrong turn I made, plus a stop in Rhinelander for Dunkin’ Donuts and a stretch-washroom-and-get-Jacob-some-caffeine break in Mosinee. It rained for the last two hours, which was great as it kept me awake and cleaned off my car.

That was probably some of the most boring travel writing ever, but at least the trip went off safely, my first APO trip as an advisor. The best part of it all was being without wi-fi and making fun of all the people who acted like the world was ending; at least we had electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing. It was quite peaceful, with books, games, and other people as company, rather than computers and phones. Other than wanting to update my blog, I didn’t really feel the need to check my email when I was in the cabin; on trips into town, I was on my phone, but not that much. Maybe I’m more of a wilderness person than I thought.

But now I just realized that I have to, like, teach tomorrow. Gross.

6

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Taliesin, The Tali-essentials

As you may or may not know, for the past two weeks I’ve been on this tour with the show, and have commuted between Madison and Taliesin four times now.

I’m kind of sad that the tour is over. But just kind of. As in, kind of a little bit. Not for the hour-long ride each way in a van that may or may not be full of cool (or conscious) people, but for the novelty of performing at one of architecture’s most beloved sites, and one of three “official” homes of Frank Lloyd Wrightthe other two being Taliesin West in Arizona (which I got to see last summer) and Oak Park in Illinois.

Each time has been a little different, but rather than boring you about all the details of all the shows (like the time when one of the actresses’ cell phones went off and it was a slo-mo run to get to it, or the times when actors walked around in flesh-colored bodysuits backstage), here’s a brief tour of my tour.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 6: Taliesin

Thanks to the Wisconsin Idea Grant, we got the chance to perform at the Hillside Theatre, on the grounds of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in Spring Green, WI. There is nothing in the town of Spring Green itself, so I’ve nipped that in the bud.

But as for the theatre itself.

Not a bad theatre at all; it’s beautiful, for one thing. The seats are comfortable. The acoustics are fantastic. The set looked wonderful.

The problem…was pretty much everything else. The sight lines are terrible; FLLW clearly designed the space so that he had a great view, and no one else. The sound and light system is practically prehistoric. The stage’s curtain is on loan from MOMA in NYC, I think, and is so expensive that we were not allowed to touch it. There is a ladies’ room, but no mens’ room. And here’s the best part: it’s 50 degrees. The stone absorbs all the heat, we can see our breath, and we are actually huddling for warmth. The actors actually put their costumes on over their clothes, and the kids in the audience shivered under blankets.

Behind the stage is a storage area that is basically a dungeon. It’s damp, colder, wet, and has a dirt floor. Two of the actors found a secret tunnel/passageway thing that is actually the Black Hole of Calcutta because they crawled down it far enough to not be able to see the dungeon anymore and they still didn’t know where it was going, so they scurried back before encountering any mythological monsters. Upstairs is a kitchen and dining area which is lovely, and even lovelier is the fact that it’s about 15 degrees warmer than the rest of the building since it’s above ground level and has lots of windows, so whenever people weren’t inside the theatre, we knew they were thawing up above the stage.

Working in Taliesin is slightly different from being a tourist. For one thing, I couldn’t leave the backstage area, so I spent several mornings resenting Frank Lloyd Wright and the lack of heat. I had limited mobility; because of sight lines, there were about 3 places I could sit backstage and not be seen. I did manage to get a short nap in during Friday’s show, but during today’s show I was totally peaced out for the majority of the duration. Afterwards, one of the kids asked me what I do backstage, and I resisted the urge to say nothing. But resistance proved futile, and I did, indeed, say “Nothing.” Isn’t higher education great? But still, when we got a free tour of the main house, the big house that FLLW lived in, you could really tell that it is a special place, with gorgeous views and questionably interesting but always visually pleasing household decor. And for architecture enthusiasts, it’s a cultural mecca.

Here’s the stage, just so you can see how awesome it looked.

003Oh, and I thought I took several pictures of the Black Hole of Calcutta, both with and without flash, but apparently only this Flash-version survived. Still, it gives off the creepy vibe. The hole is about four and a half feet tall and three and a half feet wide:

003