Harried Poppins: Free Bowling and Racing…Worms?

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Two days of talk about all the details that go along with being the responsible adult.

Now for the good stuff.

If you haven’t heard about www.kidsbowlfree.com, you’ve been ignoring your junk inbox. It looks very spammy, but it’s a legit program that is exactly what it says it is. Kids get 2 FREE games of bowling A DAY for the whole summer. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. We don’t go that much, but we tried it out this week.

It’s an easy sign-up, just a bit of information and then pick your closest participating bowling alley. You’ll receive an e-mail every Sunday for the week.. We go to Ten Pin Alley in Fitchburg, but there’s a large list of centers in Wisconsin (and everywhere else). When you go into bowl, use your smart phone to follow the link in the e-mail and the employee will input the necessary code right on your phone. Adults can sign-up for a separate program, but it costs about $25 and we don’t bowl enough for it to be worth it.

You do have to pay for shoe rental ($2 at Ten Pin), and since I bowled 2 games I also had to pay for those, but for the 5 of us to bowl 2 games, including shoes, it was $14 total compared to the $38.50 we would have paid without signing up.

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One of our first stops after I had picked everyone up was our local library to sign-up for the summer reading program. This summer the theme in our library system, the South Central Library System, is Dig Into Reading. They each received reading logs, where they track their time in 15 minute increments and turn in levels at every 2 hours for great prizes (passes to Cave of the Mounds, the Milwaukee Museum and the Dane County Fair, dinosaur gliders, sticky lizards, etc). This was M’s first year getting to sign-up and she also got her very own library card. A paramount day in any young girl’s life, if you ask me.

In addition to the reading logs, the library hosts the occasional program relating to the theme. We are lucky to be in close proximity to about 8 other library branches, so we take advantage of the free activities when we can. Some of the same programs are featured at different libraries throughout the summer, which is nice because we have more flexibility in our schedule on when and where we can see it.

Later in the week we wound our way to Mt. Horeb for their Zoozorts program. This is the first time we’ve attended an event at the Mt. Horeb library, and as a bit of an unintentional, but overtly sassy library critic, I must say their facility, program, and, most importantly, librarian where impressive. They reserved a big space in the middle of the library for the program. I don’t know the layout of the library, but generally children’s programs are given the unused meeting room or slightly smelly conference area, so it was a nice change. The librarian was enthusiastic, which seems hard to come by in the children’s librarians I’ve encountered lately.

Yeah, I know, completely counter-intuitive, but some are just nasty. Down right Agatha Trunchbull.

Finally, the featured program was Zoozort. A live, animal education program by Noelle Tarrant. She had an amazing energy that kept the audience enraptured for the full hour. She filled every minute with information on each animal and allowed the opportunity for every child to touch almost all the animals, which included a fennec fox, bearded dragon, giant marine toad, 6-banded armadillo, a wallaby and more. If you get a chance, try to track her down at one of her events throughout Wisconsin.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed them up, but the Oregon Public Library 4th Annual Worm Race is exactly what it sounds like. The boys were paired into teams, each received a worm-petitor to compete for the coveted trophies and, of course, the glory of being a worm race champion. It was a fairly large event and included worm EMT’s (nurses from a local veterinarian clinic) which was a great way to include local businesses.

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Unfortunately, neither of the boy’s teams made it beyond the first round but they received a certificate, a pass for the Dane County Fair, and, a small bag full of their worm’s gummy counterparts.

The initial idea for our “lunch around the world” idea started during the Olympics last year. As with everyone, we spent those few weeks consumed by the events and the culture of the London Olympics, including making a lunch of Shepard’s pie. This year I decided to expand on the idea as a means of introducing practical skills and global thought.

A fantastic(ally) theoretical idea. The kids seem to think because I live in a space without my parents and that I’m big enough to be an adult that it must translate to a natural cooking ability, like their mothers. But in reality, it doesn’t reach much beyond the same pb&j’s they are capable of making.

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So when in our first week, the random selection was Saudi Arabia, I panicked. Middle Eastern cuisine is not one that I’m familiar with, so after I sent the boys to the computer to find recipes, I stealthily pulled out my phone to do some research of my own. In the end, our menu of falafel, pita chips, hummus, and laban (plain yogurt mixed with water and poured over ice) was easy to make, but less so to consume. Of the 4 kids, only A enjoyed the falafel, he was joined by J in the crunchy consumption of pita chips and hummus, but I was the only one who finished their glass of laban.

We started our first week with behavior management contracts and ended with an unpopular meal. A week book ended with low points for the kids, but really an opportunity for a growth in knowledge and experience.

But, as the responsible adult, I have to say that.

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Sense of Adventure Scale from One to We’re All Going to Die!

Ngorongoro Crater (picture by Jonathan Dunn)

Ngorongoro Crater (picture by Jonathan Dunn)

I’ve never been comfortable rating one’s sense of adventure. It seems that where a cross-state road trip ranks somewhere near a crocheting injury on the risk scale, swimming with baited sharks is…well…swimming with baited sharks.

While listening to the travel stories of friends and reading blogs of the ever-departing, one begins to invisibly chart that sense. The scale differs. Miles from home, unexpected dining experiences, exotic animal encounters, it all factors into the weight you give their adventuresome ambition.

But why?

Isn’t any adventure simply to stave off complacency?

I realize that it’s inherent to human nature to feel the need to compete. To good, better, best your neighbors and friends. I may not ever be able to rail a successful argument against that need, but as travellists (it’s a word, look it up), our competition should instead be with that complacency.

In my circle there is palpable wanderlust. Each day, my Facebook feed is the equivalent of a “what-I-did-this-summer” photo essay. It makes me jealous. I have gone further than 100 miles from home once  in the last 6 months and that was as an airport chauffeur for someone else’s trip.

This may be one of the reasons why my upcoming trip to St. Louis feels like a bucket list accomplishment. But more than the notion that it is an overdue vacation with my sister, leaving my daily life heightens my sense of adventure.

Wisconsin Polar Plunge

Wisconsin Polar Plunge

I’m a difficult person to travel with if you value things like sleep. I find little point in spending time in a new place doing something that can be done at home. I’ve filled my week in STL with experiences that can happen in no other place.

We are going to eat our way through The Godfather at Tenacious Eats. Sunday will find us at the International Horseradish Festival in Collinsville, IL for a 5k and celebratory Bloody Mary contest afterward. A baseball and, subsequently stadium food, aficionado we will be taking in an evening game at Busch Stadium and I’ve talked my sister into a picnic dinner while watching the Twelfth Night at the Shakespeare Festival.

Oh, and the arch, the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour, Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site, the City Museum, the zoo, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Scott Joplin House, the Cahokia Mounds, Molly’s in Soulard, Calvary Cemetery, Bogart’s Smokehouse, Left Bank Books..like I said, no sleep.

Flying planes off the Astoria Column.

Flying planes off the Astoria Column.

I know very little of St. Louis. I’m imagining Midwest sensibility layered with that certain Southern charm and inland Eastern grittiness topped with a dash of Left Coast hipster. It’s easy to say that you keep an open mind when travelling to a new place, but media, blogs, friends, and research have forced me to cull certain opinions.

I’ve heard STL is “scary” and “rough.” I’ve been told to avoid certain neighborhoods or, in fact, the entire Eastern part of the city. I know there’s a musically rich history of ragtime and jazz, two genres absent from any of my playlists. Growing up in Olympia and now living in New Glarus, I understand brewery towns on a small-scale, but the way beer tycoons can shape a city.

It’s these preconceptions and questions that are the fuel for adventure. I won’t climb the world’s tallest anything or collect passport stamps , but by getting in my car and driving 300 miles, I’ve topped out on that imaginary sense of adventure scale.

I’ll be blogging about my trip starting next week, so check back for updates on our adventure.

Keeping it Simple: My Midwest Mayberry

Midwest Mayberry.

Midwest Mayberry.

 I live in Mayberry.

Hell, I’m a freckled redhead with the last name Taylor.

I AM Mayberry.

I once saw our small-town cop stroll up the block to break up a bar fight that had tumbled out the swinging tavern doors into the deserted street. We have 2000 people who every other summer weekend gather in a circus striped tent that closes main street to celebrate any and everything Swiss.

Things here are quiet and slow. More importantly, they are simple. And ideas that can further simplify life are lauded and loved. That’s why there was a collective, mild-mannered cheer when our small town organized a farmer’s market. A month ago, 4 pioneering entrepreneurs opened their trucks and unfolded their card tables, providing farm fresh produce and baked goods. I wasn’t able to attend in the first three weeks, but when I walked over this Thursday, the vendor count had more than doubled and now included tomato starts, woodworking crafts and pickled delicacies.

Farm fresh eggs

Farm fresh eggs

On my way down the block I caught up with my elderly landlord walking his high-strung, curl of a dog. I side-stepped a potential tangle of her leash as he filled me in on the latest town gossip, which included the exciting development of a local ice cream shop being renovated and slightly reinvented to 50s-style soda fountain.

We parted when we reached the railroad depot parking lot that is home to the market and I went on to find farm fresh eggs, a mini apple pie that had all the taste with half the guilt, and the most addictingly delicious herb and cheese bread that may have ever existed. Happy with my purchases and ready to get home to carb load, I bagged my finds and started back down the block.

Mini-pies from Bridget's Family Bakery in Evansville, WI.

Mini-pies from Bridget’s Family Bakery in Evansville, WI.

As I crossed through the middle of an intersection, quite literally right in the middle, I was stopped by a couple in a car waiting to turn.

“Are you from around here?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond succinctly, as technically I’m not FROM here but I live here now.

“Yeah.”

“How do you get to the Glarner Stube?” he asks, while she points to the ad in a local tourism guide.

“Take a right here, then another right at the next block. When you get to the main street, take a left and it’ll be right there on your left.”

“Is the food good?”

“Great.”

Now, what I really want to say here is, “They have the Midwest’s largest urinal and not that I’ve seen a lot of urinals, but it’s not THAT impressive.” But doing that ruins the moment. I’ve integrated myself well enough in this small town that I’m perceived to be a local. I don’t need to ruin it.

They make their right turn and I continue home, purse resting on my shoulder and mentally whistling the theme song of small towns everywhere.

Your Complacency Causes my Unicorns and Rainbows

I won’t ever apologize for my beliefs or for putting them into words. However, this post comes with an apologetic caveat. Included are generalizations presented in a far more aggressive tone than usual. I tried to edit it to lighten it up, but couldn’t manage to balance the humor and sincerity of the argument.

I’ve written a few posts now about the pessimism of people who consider themselves “realists.” They hold the idea that by being optimistic or hopeful, we are disconnected. And, quite possibly, naïvely think we are living in a world of unicorns and rainbows. I write these posts for two distinct reasons.

The first being the need. Not the need for it to be said. There have been disciples of these ideas for centuries, but the need for it to be repeated, reworded and read. What’s new is the individual perspective which ignites new theories and ideas on how to instigate the necessary change.

The second reason I continually write about my personal views on subjects like community or the responsibility of global citizenship is because I can’t see the incredulous faces you make when you read and disagree with it. I get those quite often when I choose to share my opinions in person  By posting, I’m getting to share my opinion without having to tactfully pretend I didn’t see the deep creases set in on your forehead.

I get it. I understand that my ideas constitute a certain amount of desire for tree-hugging in a communal neighborhood. Or that they are somehow considered on the fringe. But unfortunately I also understand the disturbing nature of the ability for people to classify issues with the encompassing blase scoff: “it is what it is.”

You’re right, it IS what it is. But it’s because you choose to respond to issues with that clichéd retort that they are. Instead of acknowledging that the situation is not fair or a disgusting invasion of human rights, you are content with complacency. You shrug and recoil back into your own life. While your ignorance is most definitely your bliss, your neighbors are dying in wars against perceived terrorism, drugs, and the economy.

Teaching empathy is difficult. It may be that it is something inherent and can’t be developed, but one thing that can be acquired is perspective. Challenge yourself by responding to issues. Question how it you can change it or what you can do to help, rather than consider it an ugly, but inevitable part of the world.

Beyond developing new perspective, constantly question the point of view you’ve already developed. How many of your established beliefs are a result of direct experiences in your life and how many are inherited from friends, family, or the media? I’m not promoting a decline to paranoia, but consider where your strongly held beliefs originated. It will be uncomfortable to confront these ideas, but the goal in life isn’t to reach a peak of thought and then recline in comfort. Instead it is a constant pursuit of knowledge. The insatiable nature of wanting to know more and to know why.

Tell Me How Much You Hated History Class…or Didn’t.

I never understood the polarizing quality of history. It’s not like you had to have the exact answers like math or science, or English, if you had a Jane Austen-obsessed teacher, who couldn’t possible understand my disinterest. (I will go to my grave arguing the pointless quality of reading Pride and Prejudice AND Sense and Sensibility back-to-back as a 15-year old.)

But history. It was about revolutions and events that created ideas. It was about great people writing heroic stories. Except when it was about June 27, 1880 or Milan, Ohio. Turns out there were right and wrong answers, which is apparently why some people just really don’t like history.

I’m doing a little research on these early notions of history. A short 8 question survey to determine whether a theory I hold about early history education is worth pursuing or simply a misguided resentment at the educational system.

I know we all love to share our opinion. Why else would be blog..or troll blogs to disagree with other people’s opinions…

Help me out by taking my survey here. And look for a future post about the results.