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.

denver anniversary trip

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know we’ve been through Denver before, when Nick was a fellow at the Aspen Festival in 2013, but we didn’t spend much time in the city—just passed through. This time, we went to celebrate our anniversary with a Slash concert, and we had a really fun visit.

We drove in on Thursday, and immediately went to the nearest brewery, Station 26 Brewing Co. They don’t serve food, but the Meatball. food truck was there. The next day we shopped at Tattered Cover Books and Twist and Shout and came out with a real nice haul of books and records:

tattered twitstmedia haul

After shopping, we hit up the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, which had a Marilyn Minter exhibit throughout the building (plus me in an egg):

mintermca 1

Before the concert, we had beers and dinner at Vine Street Pub & Brewery, just a mile from the Fillmore Auditorium where Slash was playing.
fillmoreThen on Saturday, we hit up Voodoo Doughnut for breakfast. Nick had already been to it in Portland, but this was my first time. We had the Pot Hole, the Diablos Rex, and a Memphis Mafia, which was so massive we saved it for breakfast the next day! Delicious. After the donuts, we wandered around the 16th Street Mall for a bit, where there was a zombie festival just getting started. There were djs, stations for makeup and accessories, fashion runways being set up, and tons of people in costumes all over the place. Generally, the area was a bit “touristy” for us, but all the zombie stuff was pretty cool.

saturday

After the mall, we went back over to Station 26 Brewing Co. to meet up with a couple of friends from grad school who had moved to Denver. We were having such a good time we stayed the whole evening.

I wish I could have had one more day in Denver! It was a wonderful trip.

hawaii

Last week I had the most wonderful vacation in and around Honolulu, Hawaii. We mostly stayed in the Waikiki Beach area and on Oahu (no island hopping) due to our reason for going in the first place: new baby in the family! My brother (who is in there studying at the university for a master’s in food science) and his wife welcomed a baby girl on August 13. (Sorry, no pics—I feel weird about posting photos of other people’s kids.) But I can tell you she is the cutest, sweetest little baby girl ever, of course! So says her proud auntie, at least! 🙂

Anyway, here’s a breakdown of our activities (besides baby holding, cooing, and cuddling) all week:

Lots of beach time at Waikiki, even squeezing in a little reading! Waikiki itself is an exceptional tourist trap—lots of high-end stores, chain restaurants, etc. But it’s fun, lots to do, and at the beach the salt water (and basically just being there!) is incredibly restorative.

Waikiki pics

Hiking up Diamond Head. This state monument is a dormant volcanic crater, which has a lot of military history and breathtaking views.

Chief’s Luau—cheesier than Wisconsin, pretty touristy—but a lot of fun nonetheless! Excellent dancing and drumming, and super entertaining. The best part was that it made me want to learn more. I wish I had had time to go up to the Polynesian Cultural Center. Maybe next trip!

luau

Yoga on the beach at sunset. I highly recommend Karen’s class if you’re ever there! I felt so centered and refreshed afterward.

Sunset yoga

And definitely the highlight (not counting my niece and family time, of course): Pearl Harbor. I was so moved by the memorial to the USS Arizona. Very emotionally powerful. Think of the Vietnam Memorial, if you’ve been there—it’s a similar vibe. You can see the ship below the memorial, which is propped above and has the names of the men who died on the day of the attack, December 7, 1941, including the 900+ men that are still below, inside the ship. Visiting the site was perhaps extra special for me since I went with my father, a Navy veteran. He gave me some insider perspective on what it was like to serve and live on a ship (although he was on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, not a battleship) and all the dangers you’d face, in the midst of forging bonds of camaraderie. He said that fire on the ship was always the greatest fear, because you’d be forced to shut the hatch doors on your friends, for example. Honestly, mere words are so ineffectual here—I’m not doing the experience full justice. But if you are ever on the island of Oahu please make a visit to Pearl Harbor a priority. I can’t recommend it enough.

Although I wouldn’t say Waikiki was necessarily a culinary destination, I did have poi (ok never having that again: taro root base, a pasty texture and particular sweet-and-sour flavor while still pretty bland), Spam musubi (like a big piece of sashimi with marinated, sautéed Spam instead of fish. Not bad!) and some really fabulous fruits and sushi. My parents were able to extend their trip for a second week, but I had to come back home after just one. But! I’m planning to return over the week of Thanksgiving with my husband if we can swing it, and I’m already forming a list of things I want to make sure to do when we go back!

Aloha!

[Photo credits: All © Kristin Shafel Omiccioli / mylittleheartmelodies.com, except top two photos in yoga collage from Beach Sunset Yoga Hawaii’s Facebook page.]