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!


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.


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:



That’s The Way The Matzah Crumbles

Well that was fun.

As you know, Wisconsin made it to the Final Four last year and lost against Kentucky, but this year, they managed to surpass that, defying all the odds (well, the odds of making it to the championship in general being rather slim, when you consider how many teams are in Division I basketball; they were a #1 seed this year) and it was really exciting.

Not so exciting was flying back to Madison from Baltimore and landing roughly at the time the championship was ending.

I changed planes in Minneapolis, and as soon as I arrive and make it to my terminal, the TVs are all tuned to the game. Since Duke is the opponent, and they’re based far, far away in North Carolina, the bulk of the terminal are Badger fans. They’re leading at the half, and then we have to board the plane, for what will be the weirdest flight ever.

First of all, it’s a flight from Minneapolis to Madison, which is pretty ludicrous in and of itself, since they’re only 3-4 hours apart by road, and it’s a tiny plane. Second, everyone on the plane is either wearing Badger red and glued to their smartphone/laptop/iPad or munching on matzah, or both, like the mother/daughter pair across the aisle from me. When the cabin crew announces the “turn off all electronic devices,” a few people manage to keep watching the game for a few minutes, until the captain says over the intercom:

“Listen, you all need to turn off your electronic devices. I know it’s the game, but it’s regulation. We’ll try to have you on the ground as soon as possible, but until then, just enjoy your flight. We will not be offering a complimentary beverage service, but

Mind. Blown.

An in-flight score service, who knew.

The excitement builds as we take off and sail over the two states. True to their word, the flight attendants keep us updated on the score, and it’s close to an even score as we land in Madison, and the cabin goes dark in preparation.

We land.

The lights come up, the phones go on, and the first thing I see it a text from my dad:

“Wisconsin loses.”

Oh gosh.

I don’t know what this means.

A big part of me is disappointed, but just as much of me is curious as to what will happen, if it’ll be a danger zone, and part of me is relieved, because all the crazies will be leaving Madison just as I’m attempting to get a ride in. Fortunately, a lady a few rows behind me asks me where I live, and turns out we’re a block from each other, so she called a cab for us before we even left Madison, which was super nice of her. We end up sharing with another guy, a stats professor, and get home rather quickly.

The rest of the night is quiet at least.

And again, that was fun.

On Wisconsin, I guess…?


March Madness

It’s that time of year again.

That time when people go absolutely bonkers over a bunch of lines on a piece of paper that they’ll forget about once April comes.

Yep, March Madness.

I was never a huge college basketball fan growing up, and that didn’t change once I got into college. I mean, it’s one of those things that I can understand other people enjoying, but I just don’t see much in it. And the obsession with brackets; call me old-fashioned, but when I think of brackets, the first thing that comes to mind is dental surgery. It’s all anyone talks about this time of year, and the chances of being even remotely close are quite slim, even if you buy a hundred brackets from ESPN.com.

And of course, one of the perennial hot-button issues regarding college athletic programs waits until this time of year to rear its ugly head.

You guessed it, I’m talking about salaries for college basketball players.

John Oliver did a piece on it last week, and while I agree with his viewpoints, coming from an American college background and seeing the direct effects of the economy on the situation at large, I think that something substantial needs to happen to finally put this problem to bed.

Before we start talking about salaries for college athletes, let’s look at who really benefits from NCAA and March Madness. First, a small circle of executives. Second, a slightly larger circle of merchandisers. Third, a slightly larger circle of coaches of winning teams. Fourth, a slightly larger circle of coaches of lesser teams. And if there’s any money left over, the schools.

Does this seem like a pyramid scheme to you? Because that is what it feels like to me. Honestly. Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus said it best in their phenomenal book, Higher Education? How Colleges are Wasting our Money and Failing our Kids – And What We Can Do About It (2010): however many teams there are, there can only be one winner. Everyone else is a loser, in more ways than one. Once a team is out, the buck stops there; merchandise is tossed into the furnace, the advertising offers disappear, and the coaches’ checks are written and distributed. Now, we’re not only hurting ourselves, but we’re hurting underpaid apparel factory workers in China who have to scrap their entire stock of Purdue University Final Four sweatshirts, t-shirts, and hoodies when the Boilermakers get knocked out in an Elite Eight upset. For the coaches, life isn’t so bad; they get to peace out with a sweet check and take a cruise to the Bahamas or whatever basketball coaches do the rest of the year. But the players themselves do struggle, and some of them sustain injuries that not only end their careers, but relieve them of their scholarships and possibly leave them with lifelong conditions.

I could really go on and on and on about this, but I guess what I’m getting at can be summed up in a few points:

1. Coaches’ salaries need to be cut. I’m probably preaching to the choir, but did you know that in the majority of states, the highest-paid private employee is a university coach? That’s pretty disheartening for someone whose work is as seasonal as a Macy’s holiday gift-wrapper. Or if not their salaries, then ban them from allowing to benefit from corporate branding and advertising.

2. People just need to calm down about all this. If the media didn’t make such a fuss over March Madness, people would calm down considerably. The closest sporting event that I can think of that is on this scale while remaining amateur is the Summer Olympics, which happens only every four years. Give colleges a break; they’re under enough pressure from people like Scott Walker as it is.

And finally, the million-dollar question: should college athletes get paid?

My opinion is…it depends. I don’t think that college athletes should get a salary just for being on the team. I do think, however, that they should be allowed to benefit in a similar fashion to their coaches, and be allowed access to the same resources and endorsements from companies like Coca-Cola, Wendy’s, Nike, and all the rest, based on their merit, talent, and sportsmanship. I think that regardless of skill level or playing time, they all deserve to have health insurance covered by their university, regardless of how light or severe the injury; without them, there would be no team and no income for anyone, at all, period. (I mean, come on. Could you imagine people paying just to watch a bunch of older white men to stand around in headsets looking constipated?) I don’t think that they should be penalized for being recognized for their skills and talents; it’s what got them there in the first place. And finally, I think that the NCAA needs to crack down on the intensity of their program, both on and off the court. Coaches should be monitored more carefully to see that they are not over-exerting their players in practice/training to the point of exhaustion or physical/mental illness, and in games, rough play should be taken more seriously; after all, if you’re going to call them amateurs, don’t expect them to play like pros. Probably less than five percent of them will ascend to that level anyway, and though it’s nice to dream, I would imagine that most college athletes want to do something else with their lives than turn pro, even if it’s something as simple as living in a comfortable home, or getting married and having children, or having a less dangerous, better-paying job.

As for me, I’ll be casually following Wisconsin, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

Oh, who am I kidding, they’re a #1 seed and up against Coastal Carolina, so beat ’em, Badgers.


Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: It’s an Old, Old, Old, Old World

Another day of doing mostly nothing, but I found some brochures from my trip to Old World Wisconsin while cleaning out my car the other day, and realized that I never got around to updating my post from last July about my fun but exhausting day there, so here we go!

Theme Song! (Click Play):

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 5: It’s an Old, Old, Old, Old World (Old World Wisconsin, Eagle)

Last July, WeKache and I were bored on a Sunday, so we decided to have an adventure at a place I found on the Internet: Old World Wisconsin. So, I left Madison, swung to pick him up in Milwaukee, and off we went.

We had to do a little backtracking as Old World Wisconsin is in the town of Eagle. Eagle is a tiny, tiny town in the southeastern portion of Wisconsin (population: 1,950, according to Wikipedia) yet is home to one of the largest and most impressive living history exhibits that I’ve ever seen. Opened in 1976 by the Wisconsin Historical Society, Old World Wisconsin gives you an idea of what life was like in the 19th and early 20th century Wisconsin from the points of view of German settlers, Finnish settlers, and more. Getting there was a drive down country roads that almost got us hopelessly lost; there is not a lot of signage until you get very close.

Once there, you can’t see that much from the road. We drove down a long path to the parking lot, from which you can only see the visitors’ center, the cafe, and the bike shop. Once you go inside and pay admission, you get to pick up a souvenir tag with the name of a person on it, and at one of the homesteads, you get to do chores. The little kid in me was so excited.

The park is large but easily walkable, yet for the lazy and tired there is a shuttle bus that goes between the various homesteads that make up the park’s grounds. It was a nice day, so WeKache and I alternated between walking the wooded paths and taking the lazy bus.

We began at Crossroads Village, the Yankee Area. This was just a general “old world” area with universal things like a pharmacy/general store where you could see things that they sold there; a blacksmith shop and cobbler shop with live demonstrations; an old church; and a house where you could try using a washboard and clothesline to wash some clothes. WeKache and I had fun doing that. There was also a grease pole. We did not do that.

Next, at the Finnish Homestead, we came just in time for an ice cream making demonstration. We got to taste some; it was a little bland but good on a warm day. They had chickens running all around, and we took some funny pictures with farm tools. We also saw the Finnish home, and WeKache got a very interesting picture of me that he put in black and white. With the period-dressed farmer’s wife in the foreground and me looking at some objects on the table in the background, it looked like I had fallen into a time slip. No photoshop needed.

After walking to the Danish Homestead, we got to tour their home, which had some delicious looking food on the table. They had a water pump outside which we got to try, and a strawberry patch out back where we were allowed to pick and eat the tiny fruits.

The walk to the Norwegian Homestead was long, but that was probably the coolest one. They had this awesome one-room schoolhouse, with a real period-dressed schoolmaster talking about what school was like. We frolicked around the beautiful farmhouse, where I used an old hand-powered sewing machine that I was probably not supposed to use, but in my defense, it was all threaded and had fabric ready, and there were no signs saying not to use it. Whoops. I think that was also where we saw a lady cooking bacon over a fire, but that might have been at the German place.

Next was the largest one, the German Homestead. There was cows, pigs, chickens galore, and even a pie-eating contest. The cool chores thing was at one of the farms; WeKache and I tried our hands at sewing, grinding corn into flour, and chopping wood. The guy at the wood-chopping booth was helping the little kids do it, and even one of the adults too. I made it look easy; I’ve never chopped wood before, but I managed to get it in one quick slice. WeKache said I looked very manly doing it. He stepped up to try it and found out that it was harder than it looked. At least for him.

We backtracked to the Polish Homestead, which was just a house and some chickens, and then took the bus around to the African American Homestead. It was mostly just a cemetery (a real one, I think, although WeKache thought it looked fake) and an old church. I guess the African Americans didn’t have houses.

It was getting later and we were getting tired, so we caught the bus back to near the visitors’ center, where we went to the newly-opened bike shop. There, you could try riding an old-fashioned giant-wheeled bicycle around a curvy dirt track. I suck at riding bikes – I haven’t owned one since I was nine, and when I tried to ride a friend’s bike in college I couldn’t even keep myself up – but these were surprisingly easy and fun to maneuver, at least for me. The trick that the guide told us was to lean back, even though it seemed antithetical, but it actually worked. Once you did that, I guess your center of gravity changed. WeKache grew up in China, where riding bikes is basically a prerequisite for life, but he had a hard time getting the hang of it, even with me telling him “Lean back! Further! I promise you won’t fall!” I would love to ride one again one day.

Overall, Old World Wisconsin was really like a step back in time. Only at the bike shop, which was near the parking lot, did we see any type of 21st century life, and even though everyone there was dressed up in period costumes, I was the one that felt weird, wearing a t-shirt and jeans and taking pictures with my iPhone and WeKache’s SLR camera. The guides all really committed to their roles, and kept it very chill; they answered questions, but weren’t overly cheerful and did a good job of not reacting to cameras. It wasn’t flashy or Disney-esque at all; the buildings looked old, but well-kept, the animals were real and cute, and it was all a very low-key operation, just like a little village in the woods. Each area was completely separate, and completely unique (take that, World Showcase!) with different types of architecture, artifacts, plants, and animals. There were plenty of people there, but there were times that it was just the two of us, especially on the walking paths and at the smaller homesteads, and not a lot of people with screaming kids or babies. If you’re in Madison/Milwaukee, have time to spare, and want to have a fun, chill, and educational off-the-beaten-path experience, I’d definitely recommend Old World Wisconsin.

Come on, who doesn’t need a break from technology every now and then?


Halfway Point For Some

Today is my dad’s half-birthday.

Half-birthdays are weird; it’s kind of funny to think that tomorrow you will officially be closer to your next age than your current one.

Speaking of halfway points, this past weekend I headed to Milwaukee to pick up WeKache, then to Beaver Dam for the 2014 Cache and Release Challenge. For this event, 30 brand new caches were planted in Beaver Dam. 63 teams from all over Wisconsin showed up for a chance to find them and win prizes. We arrived only minutes before the event started; by the time we had our map ready, everyone had scattered. With WeKache driving, we found 15 of the 30 caches before 5 PM, not too bad.

Most were relatively easy, but we attempted two of the three puzzles and came through victorious, with help. We met up with a father/daughter team and combined clues which took us to an empty parking lot. We were about to give up when we see them drive up, letting us know that they had gotten some numbers wrong and gave us the correct info. We followed them to the real site (or what we thought was the real site) and searched fruitlessly for 15 minutes when a team all in purple showed up, heading in a different direction. We followed them, and the daughter spotted the cache. The second puzzle involved a cryptogram, which we cracked pretty easily. We spent about 15 minutes searching on our own, before seeing another group arrive and joining with them. The coordinates that the cryptogram led to were in the middle of some slippery rocks in a small grove of trees. I was leery of climbing them, but as soon as we walked up to the grove of trees about four other cars full of teams showed up and all of a sudden there were no less than twenty pairs of eyes looking. I was tired, so I hung back and watched while someone else found it and passed it around. My 1800th find was our 12th find of the day, a bottle attached to a plank of wood in the ground with a decoy cache nearby. Heh.

By 4:30, we were tired and thirsty, so we called it quits and headed to the cafe for the prize raffle. We had each received a raffle ticket for attending, then 1 ticket for every 5 caches (we got 3 each; the max was 6 for all 30, which 7 teams got!). Even though I lost my original ticket, one of the first tickets called was one of mine, then moments later, one belonging to WeKache…and then it happened again! 40 prizes were given out, as well as several cash prizes. All told, 4 of our 7 tickets were prize winners, so much so that the prize table staffers started calling me by name. WeKache let me pick all 4 prizes to share between us, so we ended up with a starter geocaching kit (which went to me), an orange ID badge holder (me again), a beer stein painted with a panoramic view of the pavilion at Swan Park, where we had been earlier (that went to him), and a cookbook set, 2 books (which I took) and a recipe card box (which he took). We spent the rest of the afternoon getting to know a married couple team from Devil’s Lake and a family team from West Bend.

All in all, it was exhausting but fun. I told WeKache that it felt like we were tokens/avatars in a giant board game with the town of Beaver Dam as our map, and he agreed.

Finally, speaking of halfway, I half (whoops, I mean have) several half-finished posts to complete, which I will link here when I’m finished. Off I go!