summer 2017 in wisconsin

I just finished a five-week visit back home to Wisconsin, and it may have been the best summer I’ve had… ever? I had more fun than a person should be allowed to have. I didn’t want it to end!
Early in the trip Nick and I spent a weekend in Chicago, where we had burgers at the metal-themed Kuma’s Corner with a cousin of mine and his girlfriend. After that, we stopped by Chicago Music Exchange to drool over all the amazing guitars, and later had cocktails at Reno where another cousin of mine works, to say hi to her. The next day, we brought our nephew to the Shedd Aquarium. He loved the sharks best! And of course we had to have Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza while we were there. I also hung out in Chicago later, the day before I flew back to Singapore, visiting the American Writers Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art, which had an amazing Takashi Murakami exhibit, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg.

It’s really, really hard to beat summer in Wisconsin, specifically Madison. I’m honestly not sure there’s anything better. (I realize I’m completely biased!) I don’t think I was bored for even one minute. I went for a hike around Devil’s Lake, something I haven’t done in years, as well as biked around Madison a lot, including the Monona Lake Loop twice. I played my own bass again; I missed it so much!! I spent a bunch of time on State Street and at the UW Memorial Union Terrace, went to the Dane County Farmer’s Markets and Concerts on the Square, and had a great time reconnecting with high school and best childhood friends. Not to mention enjoying all the Wisconsin food I’ve missed terribly—cheese curds, fish fry, dumplings and sauerkraut, ice cream, brats, the beer!! The gloriously cheap local craft beer. Sigh.

My dad retired the last day of June, and I was so happy to be there for him. His coworkers pulled out all the stops, throwing a big party and making special shirts, “baseball cards” with my dad’s “career stats,” a huge poster with all his signature workplace sayings, and a 10-minute farewell video that had my mother and me in tears. They gifted him a very nice new bike and two sunburst chairs you see at the UW Terrace. It’s just heartwarming to see someone you love so appreciated and loved by others.

Another highlight of my trip was framing and delivering three of my drawings to their new owners, my cousin, nephew, and niece. I’ll write another post about my drawings soon, but it was a pleasure to pick out a spot in my nephew’s bedroom for his transformer drawing, and my niece lit up when she saw the horse drawing, even “petting” it and giving it a kiss on the nose. D’aww. 

My best friend Lee and his husband Thomas came to see me in Madison, and they were a sight for sore eyes! We did all sorts of classic Madison stuff, including checking out the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, having a boot at the Essen Haus, and making a little trip down to the New Glarus Brewery, which is something I’ve wanted to do forever!

Two of the best weekends I had back home were in Green Bay and Antigo, for my family reunions. In Green Bay, I went to the Packers Hall of Fame and took the Lambeau Field tour, which I had done before but the HoF was all updated and redone—it’s incredible. I could do a whole post alone on Lambeau Field. Also in Green Bay, I visited the farm one of my cousins manages, and of course went to my mom’s side’s family reunion. I talked to extended family I hadn’t met and/or seen in a long time, and some great stories were shared. I hadn’t been to this side’s reunion in several years (I always had a gig in Kansas City the same weekend) so it was wonderful to finally make it this time.

My dad’s side’s family reunion is held at my grandparents’ farm just north of Antigo, which is a small city in the north-central part of the state. My dad’s immediate family (my dad and mom, his siblings and their spouses, my cousin and her son, and me) went to the farm a couple days early to enjoy some “us together” time and prep for the reunion. We biked around the country roads, went berry picking, had a fish fry, went swimming at Jack Lake, and of course held our reunion. This year’s theme was Disco (for the adults) and Toy Story (for the kids). I wore my new “Disco Demolition Night” shirt and played two songs on guitar for the skit show, ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” and my own original “Back to Antigo,” which I sing every year now. People go all out with costumes, we crown a new “Potato Queen,” and sometimes roast a family member. We always finish up the festivities with a softball game, bonfire, and fireworks.

I really needed to see my family and feel like I’m at home where I belong after all these months abroad. I just felt awake and alive, and I got a vital dose of love and attention that I’d been craving. Singapore is nice and I’m happy for the adventure, but it can be a little lonely for me here sometimes; I’m not used to being apart from family for so long. And besides, there’s no place else on Earth quite like Wisconsin. I already can’t wait to return.

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading? What am I NOT reading, is more like it! I’m having attention issues. And just busy—it’s the holidays after all, and for musicians that means lots of gigs. And I’m excited about some new developments, more on that at a later date. Anyway, as for reading, I was having a lot of trouble committing to anything for the last month or so but finally buckled down with my latest borrow from the library, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein. It’s really great so far, I’m about a third through it and can already recommend it.

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Last week for Thanksgiving I went up to Wisconsin with my husband to spend the holiday with my family. My mom’s side celebrated up in Green Bay, and I was lucky to go to the (nasty wet, cold) Packer game on Thanksgiving night! It was an ugly loss to the Chicago Bears but my dad, brother and I had a lot of fun anyway, as always. It was the night that Brett Favre‘s number was officially retired and unveiled in the stadium, so he was there, and Bart Starr was in good enough health to attend, too, so it was a really special, once-in-a-lifetime experience for us. The game was so bad that we teased: Brett Favre’s up in the box, suit him up! Haha 😉

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My husband and I had a great time tooling around Madison for a couple of days, too. First, we got old fashioneds and fried cheese curds at The Old Fashioned on the Capitol Square, hung out on State Street and shopped at Ear Wax Records, stopped by the Wonder Bar to say hi to my uncle and One Barrel Brewing Co. and Karben4 Brewery, a couple of newer joints. The next day, we played putt-putt at Vitense Golfland, shared flights at Capital Brewery in Middleton, and hit up my old stomping grounds on Willy Street, including Weary Traveler and Crystal Corner Bar.

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Now for the final stretch of the semester at work, holiday gigs and parties here in KC, and then back up to Wisconsin for Christmas.

What are you reading this week? Happy December!

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading?—a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Happy Monday, everyone! Today is my birthday, and I’m celebrating by watching the Green Bay Packers’s Monday Night Football game after work at my favorite restaurant here in Kansas City, McCoy’s. (Yes, I am wearing my Aaron Rodgers jersey at work today. Proudly!) My dad will actually BE at the game, which is so awesome! I wish I had been able to go up for this one! Anyway, it’ll be great to watch them WIN tonight, no matter where I am 🙂

I’m still working on The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (just over halfway through), and I only have 5% left of the audio for The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey (certain I’ll finish it tomorrow night on my drive to rehearsal), so after these are done this week I’m going to go with Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. The Ng will be my 50th book of 2014!

What are you reading this week?

when pride still mattered

In January I read When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss in my book group at the public library. From Goodreads:

More than any other sports figure, Vince Lombardi transformed football into a metaphor of the American experience. The son of an Italian immigrant butcher, Lombardi toiled for twenty frustrating years as a high school coach and then as an assistant at Fordham, West Point, and the New York Giants before his big break came at age forty-six with the chance to coach a struggling team in snowbound Wisconsin. His leadership of the Green Bay Packers to five world championships in nine seasons is the most storied period in NFL history. Lombardi became a living legend, a symbol to many of leadership, discipline, perseverance, and teamwork, and to others of an obsession with winning. In When Pride Still Mattered, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss captures the myth and the man, football, God, and country in a thrilling biography destined to become an American classic.

I was really excited and surprised that a book about Vince Lombardi was chosen for our book group—I would have never suggested it (well, not unless I was in a book group in Wisconsin 😉 ) since it’s 500+ dense pages—so I was also pretty curious to see how my bookish Kansas City cohorts would take to it. I knew off the bat that I would love it, and I did. Unfortunately, the book wasn’t quite up their alley. I can absolutely see why I had special interest in When Pride Still Mattered over the rest of the group, though—unless you are a fan of football (Packers or otherwise), or are interested in football (and Wisconsin) history, this book probably won’t do it for you.

But since I am a football fan, Packers fan, Wisconsinite, and interested in popular American history, When Pride Still Mattered was endlessly gripping for me. Best known as head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s who brought the team to an unprecedented five championships wins in nine seasons, Vince Lombardi has transcended mere historical figure to storied legend, surrounded by a particular mythology that began to develop even before his death in 1970. I absolutely LOVED the chapters about his time in Green Bay; Maraniss’s descriptions of the small industrial city are spot-on. I felt like I was living through every game recounted, and it was fun to read about Lombardi’s players—Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Willie Davis, Max McGee, Jerry Kramer, and more. I found myself becoming nostalgic for an era that happened 20 years before I was born!

Maraniss’s When Pride Still Mattered is the definitive Lombardi biography, covering his family growing up in New York to his Jesuit education (Fordham University), and career as an assistant coach (West Point, New York Giants) long before ever having a chance at a head coach position. Along the way Maraniss ties in historical events and changes in the United States and how they related to Lombardi’s career, like the rise of television (and how that changed professional football), the Kennedy family’s political reign and JFK’s assassination, and the cultural revolutions of the 1960s.

Beyond this broader scope, Maraniss objectively presents Lombardi the man as well, as a son, brother, husband, and father. Despite having a seemingly larger-than-life persona and air of success in the public eye, Lombardi was actually quite shy, lonely, and awkward, as well as a disappointing, frustrating husband and father. I felt like I knew the family intimately after reading When Pride Still Mattered. One part of Lombardi I found especially striking were his progressive, liberal social leanings, particularly with sexual orientation and race on his football teams.

When Pride Still Mattered hit home on a personal level for me, too, beyond just being a Packers fan. Lombardi lived just under a mile away from my grandparents’ house, where my mother and her siblings were raised, and where I spent a lot of time myself before my gramma moved out in 2010. Lombardi frequented Resurrection Catholic Parish in Allouez, where my mom’s family attended, where my parents were married, and where my grandparents’ funerals were held. I just felt extra connected having been to a lot of these places mentioned in the book and having times in my family’s history click with Packers/Lombardi history (my grampa taking my uncle to the Ice Bowl, for instance). I rarely cry over books and movies, but I cried at the end of When Pride Still Mattered, when Lombardi was dying of cancer in the hospital:

By August 31, Lombardi was slipping in and out of consciousness, but he remembered that this was a special day, their thirtieth wedding anniversary. “Happy anniversary, Rie,” he said to Marie. “Remember, I love you.” (page 497)

The day after my gramma died in October 2013, a few of us went on the Lambeau Field tour and saw the Packers Hall of Fame (because duh! That’s how we do in Wisconsin):

I can’t recommend When Pride Still Mattered highly enough! It’s a chunkster, but totally worth it if football history, the Packers, Lombardi, and/or American biographies are your jam.

Read from January 3 to 29, 2014.