Monday, June 28, 2010

Bike love

   First there was that big blue bike on which I could hardly reach the pedals. Once it fell on my six-year old body in the school parking lot and I wondered if I would never get out from under it. Except for that, it gave me a great feeling of freedom and independence. A couple of other bikes came and went as I grew, but the biggest change came when I was 20 with my C. Itoh  that had "World's Finest Precision Instrument" painted right on it—braggadocio for a department store bike. It was my first 10 speed and it was the beginning of riding a lot, or my idea of a lot since I wasn't at all athletic.
  Next there were more serious matching bikes for me and Mr. Rududu that he customized to have 15 speeds back when that was a real oddity.  We rode them all the way across the US in 1976 on the Bikecentennial transamerican route, some 4300 miles (6880 km). The same bikes went several times to Europe for all summer bike trips: France, Portugal, France again. Newer bikes that disassemble to go into one suitcase each have been to Italy three times.
  Much as I respect my touring bike, my feeling is profound affection for our around town bikes—matching Bianchi Milanos designed by Sky Yaeger, a friend from art school. They are so cool even little boys are impressed. I love the celeste green and the red saddle, handlebar grips and sidewalls. Madison might not be mountainous but it ain't flat; in response to a serious wimp factor, Mr. Rududu lowered the gearing a bit on the 7 speed internal hub. Every time I go up that hill to the capitol, I'm so glad. The great thing about the Milano is that I love it so much I ride whenever possible: to the store, to the farmers market, to the library. I feel it makes a fashion statement so I like to wear clothes that go with it. Shown are circle socks designed by Anne Campbell.

Monday, June 21, 2010

My favorite tavern

  Wisconsin has a tavern culture; most small towns have one...or several. I never thought I would have a favorite bar; I thought of them as dark smoky places where perhaps a customer is drinking himself into a stupor. But for the past 15 years or so, I have had a favorite bar to hang out in: Sprecher's Bar in Leland. Leland is an unincorporated town with a handful of houses, an attractive white church with a steeple, a park, and two taverns. Typical small town Wisconsin. Leland also is a great place to start a bike ride over back roads that have hardly any traffic.
   The best thing about Sprecher's is the owner, Junior Sprecher, one of the finest raconteurs I've ever met. He's in his late 80s and has been working in the bar for 69 years. That's long enough to really hone your barkeep skills.  The Sprecher family has been in business in the same location for 110 years. First they had a general store and after Prohibition ended Junior's father opened a tavern and dance hall.
   During the day, there's no TV and rarely even jukebox music, just good conversation. Six years ago, Junior banned smoking because he suffers from asthma. We've only been there in the afternoon but the number of people knocking back a soda tend to outnumber beer drinkers. My favorite brew is the root beer soda he keeps on tap (Sprecher's from Milwaukee, no relation.) He keeps the mugs in the freezer, so they get all frosty. It's the perfect libation after a sweaty bike ride and you can pair it with a pizza from his freezer.
    A notable feature of the bar is that Junior sells guns and ammunition.  Most of the guns are for hunting—Leland is out in the country. Which reminds me of the story Junior told of going turkey hunting and falling asleep in the blind. When he woke up, an enormous male turkey was right near him, too close to shoot at. I suggested that he might market a recording of his snoring as a special turkey call.
   When a young friend from Brazil was visiting last year, we felt she wouldn't have a complete picture of Wisconsin until she went to Sprecher's bar with us and experienced root beer for the first time (a hard sell for people who haven't grown up with it) and beer nuts (which have no beer in them but go very well with either real beer or root beer.) She got to talk to both Junior and his daughter Amy who sometimes tends bar.
  Since his wife died a few years ago, Junior has started traveling. His first big trip was to Ireland. Next month he's going to Ireland and Scotland with Amy and 3 granddaughters. We wish them bon voyage and a speedy return—we're looking forward to hearing the stories Junior will have to tell.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Running to Chicago—or the end of the block

   I like watching runners. (I gave up running quite some time ago when it started to make my knees hurt.) There seemed to be a lot of running going on this weekend.
 Friday we saw many runners as we took our morning bike ride. They were in the Madison Chicago 200 Relay in which teams of 12 people took turns to run 200 miles (322 km). They started the teams according to expected times which varied by up to 10 hours. The slowest teams started first so that teams would finish at about the same time in Chicago. (Some of the runners we saw in the morning didn't look like super athletes. I really liked the spirit of the relay that it encourages people to try something so impressive and with the emphasis on having fun. The relay generates funds to support the Special Olympics of Wisconsin and Illinois.) Each runner had to run 3 segments totaling between 11 and 21 miles during the 36 hour long event. They limit the race to 250 teams (3000 people)! We biked past the starting point so we stopped and talked to some participants who were waiting their turn to start.
    Also this weekend was a big festival in the park by our house to benefit the neighborhood school. Besides a 10 km. and 5 km. race, they had a special Dandelion Dash (100 yards or 91 meters) for really little kids.
 Some of them were so little they didn't understand what all the fuss was about and had to be pointed in the right direction at the turnaround place and urged on.  Sometimes a parent ran alongside to show the way. They were definitely the most adorable runners we saw this weekend.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Socks all atilt

I used to swear I would never knit socks because I didn't want to spend so much time making something for inside my shoes where no one would see them. Now that I am well supplied with sweaters, vests, and even a nether garment,  I've realized that socks don't demand space in my sweater closet. (I seem to be almost incapable of discarding a sweater I have knit.)
My sister says knitting socks lets you have a luxury that even rich people can't have (unless they knit)—socks that truly fit. If you wear them with sandals, they're even on view.
   Recently I was very taken with the free Rainbow Socks pattern I found on Ravelry. I don't like to follow instructions, so I used my current basic sock, the Discovery Sock by Cat Bordhi and did short rows to create the wedges with self-striping yarn—the brilliant idea of the Rainbow Socks pattern. (Incidentally, knitting these socks is are really good way to perfect one's short row technique.)
Here's the weird thing. I'm often compulsive about starting socks in the same part of the color sequence so they match. I decided not to worry about because theses socks are so wonky that one can hardly expect them to match. In a remarkable coincidence not due to any effort on my part, the socks are mirror images of each other, a special kind of matching.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Culture and cookies

Last weekend we went to Milwaukee on a day trip to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum. With a population of about 1,700,000 in the metropolitan area, Milwaukee is our state's largest city. The newest addition to the art museum was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and it beautifully fits its setting on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Calatrava said he was inspired by boats on the lake, among other things, but I think it's very birdlike. We happened to arrive at noon when they close and then reopen the movable sunscreen because people love to watch it move. (It also closes at night and in bad weather.)  Mr. Rududu, resident mathematician, pointed out that it's a good demonstration of a ruled surface. That is something that looks curved but is made up of straight lines.
 After a yummy and economical lunch at the museum cafe, we saw a quilt show and an exhibit of Raphael's  Lady with a Veil. We caught one of the last days of the Raphael exhibit. His beautiful lady will soon be back in the Pitti Palace in Rome after a three city tour in the US; we felt lucky to see her after just an hour and a half in the car. The quilt show will be up until September 6, 2010.
We also meandered around the museum for a while as it has a very interesting collection. I really liked this large glass sculpture by Beth Lipman. It's called Laid Table (Still Life with Metal Pitcher).
After our dose of culture, we headed to our other favorite place in Milwaukee, Brady Street. It's the home of Sciortino's Bakery, with its dizzying array of Italian cookies. Nearby is a fine Italian grocery store called Glorioso's. Could it be that our trips to the art museum are just an excuse for driving over to pick up Italian goodies?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Six lanes of bliss

Today was Ride the Drive in Madison. Six miles (10 km.) of downtown city streets were closed to motorized traffic from 10 to 4.
It's a wonderful alternate reality being out among tens of thousands of people cavorting on bicycles. Bikes ranged from high-end racing bikes to cruisers with fat tires.
There were high wheel bicycles, there were people with massive tattoos peaking out from Harley Davidson clothing, there were dogs in wire baskets, there were children of all ages. What joy and freedom to ride down the middle of a six lane road while enjoying the absence of droning car noise.
  I loved the Lake Line installation by Bird Ross and Brenda Baker. It consisted of a very long clothesline strung along the lake shore with clothing grouped according to the colors of spectrum. Here's part of the blues.
The next Ride the Drive will be Sunday, August 29.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Truly international in the countryside

Wisconsinites often feel our state is underrated. It seems that in movies,  characters that are supposed to be from an obscure backwater are often from Wisconsin. Perhaps I'm being overly sensitive. However quietly, some really important things happen in my home state. Consider the small town of Baraboo, population 11,000. In the nearby countryside is the most important crane conservation organization in the world.
Why Baraboo? The parents of one of the founders had a farm here and helped them get started in the 1970s.
If you visit the International Crane Foundation (ICF), you can see all 15 species of cranes—but this is much more than a zoo. ICF works in over 40 countries to conserve cranes and the wetland and grassland ecosystems that are so important to both cranes and people. Cranes are found on all continents except Antarctica and South America. ICF has done important research on captive breeding and reintroducing birds to the wild. If you visit, you can learn about these efforts as well as be incredibly close to cranes.
In a time when most wildlife news seems to be bad, it's encouraging to learn about successes with cranes. For example, in the 30's there were only about 25 pairs of Sandhill Cranes in Wisconsin. Now thanks to wetland restoration, Sandhills are commonly seen and the state population is over 12,000. We often seen them on a bike ride that goes only 10 km (6 miles) from our urban home.
    The rarest crane in the world is North America's Whooping Crane. In the 1941, the wild population of Whooping Cranes dipped to just 16 birds. Although still endangered, the population has gradually increased and  ICF is helping establish a second migrating flock.
At ICF, you can see a pair of Whooping Cranes in an enclosure that makes you feel like you are in the middle of a vast wetland with them. (The fence is behind a berm.)
 Several years ago we visited when they were raising a chick. This year, the pair on display has not yet laid an egg but they have built a nest. It's amazing to be so close to such majestic birds; at about 5 and 1/2 feet they are North America's tallest bird. If you are unable to visit Baraboo, you can go to their site to learn more about cranes, support ICF with a donation or purchase from their shop. I bought these handcrafted Nepalese buttons.