Thursday, December 18, 2014

From Exchange Student to Family Member

When I was 16, I traveled to Denmark to become an exchange student for one year.  To do this, you complete an application where you can select 3 countries of choice, but ultimately you are placed where there's a willing host family.  I went to a family in Vejle, Denmark who lived on several acres of what had been a working farm at one time.  Now it was a house with a big yard, garden, and 3 buildings for storage.

There was a mom, dad, and sons aged 8 and 16.  The 16 year old was on his way to spending a year in Michigan while I took up residency in his bedroom. The younger son would become my teacher, playmate, and friend.  It was a fantastic experience and I grew to love that family very much.  Over the years we've visited each other many times.  Much has changed with our living situations- marriages, divorces, children added, different homes...but our bond with each other remains strong.

At my school 10th grade graduation with my Danish dad, Henry and little brother Jacob

An article the Vejle paper did about me coming to Denmark while my older Danish brother, Michael (right) and his friend Joergen (left) went to America.

A few weeks ago, my Danish mom celebrated her 80th birthday and I went over to join the family for a weekend at a Helsingoer hotel called Marienlyst.  This is a city about one hour by train from Copenhagen, and it's quite famous for its castle, Kronborg, made famous by the Shakespeare story of Hamlet.  Remember, "To be or not to be"?  My older Danish brother wanted it to be a surprise for the whole family, and to his credit, no one knew!  I showed up at dinner and there were smiles and hugs all around.  It was a fabulous event.  What made this a really fabulous weekend was that no one had to prepare meals or do any cleaning.  The hotel had a package that included 2 large meals and midday coffee and cake.  How often do you really get to enjoy your family without someone bearing the burden?  We even stayed up late playing cards.

We walked along the sea, where you can see Sweden just across the water.  At night it's glorious to see all the lights.  The castle was a must see.  They hosted an annual holiday market for vendors with a variety of home made goods.  Santa made an appearance. There was even singing around the enormous Christmas tree inside the castle.  What a memory!  It was a great weekend- one that I will never forget.  I'm so lucky to have this other family to call mine across the ocean!
You could travel by horse carriage from the city to the castle

Kronborg Castle
Some of the performers dressed for Christmas

Santa and his helpers.  He's sitting on a deer skin and the helpers pass out small gingerbread cookies

These hand made bags were very colorful on display at the holiday market

Christmas is celebrated by using lots of elves.  These had potato heads.
A family photo taken while we were all together

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Oregon Waterfalls along the Columbia Gorge

Oregon is a place with a diverse range of terrain and climate, depending on which part of the state you visit.  We went there in November to enjoy some of the waterfalls and were not disappointed.  this was the rainy season, and it did indeed rain every single day.  Many waterfalls are incredibly easy to access, so you literally just have to walk from a paved parking lot a few hundred feet to see the stunning views.  If waterfalls are your thing, you should put Oregon on your list.

If you fly into Portland and rent a car, the nearest place will be the scenic drive along the Columbia River Gorge.  Plan to take several hours so you can stop and enjoy all the falls.  Also be prepared for fog.  Though the river and falls were very pretty up close, the fog was so dense at times that we couldn't get a panoramic view of the area.  It's not a bad idea to use a restroom, and pack snacks and drinks to take with you.  There weren't many places along the scenic route to stop.  Travel Portland had a great article with links to all the falls along the way that we used to get initial information.  Truth be told, you really don't need directions once you're on the old Columbia River Highway though.  There is signage that takes you from one to another. You'll know you're nearby a waterfall when you see a pullout or parking lot.  This highway runs parallel to I-84 so if you're really in need of a pitstop, you can seek out the main highway and find a town.  I'll include some of the waterfalls we saw along the way.
Look for the ENORMOUS boulders in the creeks, covered in moss and leaves

Hiking trails are easy and many are paved

You can get close enough to feel the spray of the water

Look at the tiny people and you will realize how tall this waterfall is
For driving directions, there's a link at Travel Oregon that gives you turn by turn directions. You'll be starting at the Crown Point Vista House (below) where you can get a nice view of the gorge area on a clear day.  Not sure if and when that happens.  By our photos, you'll see lots of dense Oregonian fog.  Inside is quite beautiful.  Photos tell the story of the highway and the history of the people who came here in the early 1900s.  It really is a manmade marvel.

View of the river from the Crown Point Vista House

Photo essay about the highway and the history

If you need a local spot for lunch, we went to Cascade Locks and got a recommendation from someone who lives there to try East Wind Drive-In.  It's the dictionary definition of a hole in the wall joint.  I think there were maybe 5 stools.  You order simple food- burgers, fries, ice cream, etc.  We had salmon burgers and they were fantastic.  The ice cream cones were so large you might have to hold them at your belly button to lick the top!  OK, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but you won't go hungry!  The locals add berry to the ice cream as it comes out of the machine and it's not only pretty, but creamy and fruity too.  Our entire trip took about a half day.  I would love to do it again in drier weather!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Victorian Tea at Schuster Mansion

If you truly want to feel elegant, a Victorian High Tea is a great way to do it.  We have a historic home in Milwaukee that is now a bed & breakfast, called the Schuster Mansion.  They also open the home for afternoon guests to relax with tea and a meal comprised of sandwiches, sweets, and homemade jam.  You can dress up for the occasion if you like, but it isn't necessary.

My friend Sue and I  came to the beautiful redstone home and were greeted by the gentleman of the house, Rick, who took our jackets and led us to the tea cup shelves where we could choose a cup for the tea.  There were plenty to choose from in both porcelain and bone china.  Lovely!  The tables were set with lace and china.  Rick went straight to work making a variety of teas which were on a sideboard where we could help ourselves, while the hostess, Laura explained a little about the mansion, teas in general, and the Victorian era.  It was so interesting!
Sue on the steps of the mansion

Many tea cups in floral designs

Rick preparing tea

Laura giving us a lesson
When it was time to eat, we were not disappointed!  There were cucumber sandwiches on buttered white bread, meaty croissants, pumpkin breads, pecan tarts, chocolate desserts, and much more.  The menu changes with the season and each month there's a different theme.  All of the food is made outside the mansion and delivered.  Laura used to do the cooking, but because they aren't a restaurant, they are no longer allowed to do it themselves.  She did make some lovely cream and jam though.
More than enough and elegantly presented
After we finished the tea, we had a tour of the lower floor of the mansion, which has been lovingly restored by Laura and Rick.  It's certainly a lot of work maintaining an older home with period decorations, so they have had their work cut out for them.  It was quite impressive with stained glass, chandeliers, hand sewn curtains to fit the oddly shaped windows, and beautiful wood throughout.  The kitchen ceiling was painted tin.  There's a gift shop with lots of interesting finds.  Just a lovely space for a great afternoon.  I have heard it's even better in December for the holidays.  I can hardly wait to go back to see it!
kitchen ceiling

The small gift shop

The owners in front of the beautiful fireplace

The Farm Art DTour

Sunflower fields near Reedsburg
Fall is lovely in Wisconsin, especially if you can drive through the rolling farmlands on the western side of the state when hay is being harvested and cows still dot the pastures.  There's an event that is well worth seeking out, should you want to see this for yourself- Fermentation Fest hosted at Reedsburg, WI.

The festival itself embraces all things fermented- kimchi, beer, and yogurt to name a few.  The classes fill up fast, but it you have time and plan ahead, you can learn a lot, judging by the classes they offer. There is also music and places in the community where you can bike, eat, and buy produce.

I went with a young friend and my son.  It was a pleasant day.  We drove across the state from Milwaukee, taking lunch and a short duck boat ride on the Wisconsin River at Wisconsin Dells to break up the long drive. If you've never done this, you have to try it.  It's an incredibly heavy machine that can drive like a tank, but then bring up the wheels so it can float on the water.  They were used during WWII, but not for long.  They aren't very energy efficient, but they can move troops and supplies.  These Ducks are surplus.  We also stopped by Madison to visit the Dane County Farmer's Market enroute.  This is the largest Farmer's Market in the US, but in fall is generally much smaller than summer.  There was still plenty to see and buy.
The capitol as seen from Monona Terrace at Madison

Anyone selling has to be the producer so you can get canned products from farms

Colorful peppers for sale

View of Wisconsin River from the Duck
We went only for the driving tour, called the Farm Art DTour.   This was a 50 mile route through the agricultural area surrounding Reedsburg.  It's well marked by signs for the event, and you could download a map with narration about each of the stops.  Just because it's 50 miles, don't believe you can do it in an hour.  If you plan to stop at every installation (and there were more than 30 of them), it could take you all day.  We talked to someone who had done all of them in 6 hours.  We drove the entire route but only paused briefly at a few.  We began the tour later in the day when most of the live performances were already done.  There was a fuel pitstop included in the tour, so don't worry too much if you're hovering low on the gas gauge.  They are changing the route for next year, so you won't see the same farms or art installations.  This will give you an idea of what you can see.  It's free to do the tour.

Decorated Corn Cribs

A collection of historic tractors put out by a number of local residents

Pigs escaping their fence- these were huge!

A plein air artist painting the pigs

They made the local waterfall part of the tour

There were a variety of these signs telling you about local history, scenery, and lore

A lovely throne encased in mirrored tiles

At an Amish farm, my son fell in love with the goats

Amish Laundry

Amish mules ready to take people on a ride through the woods

We saw many creative uses for these large hay bales

Yes, it definitely is wealth

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Miracle of Acupuncture

I've been fighting a "frozen" shoulder for just over a year now.  I tried all the normal channels to get relief: pain medication, MRI with an orthopedic surgeon to see if it was more serious, physical therapy, stretching exercises, essential oils, and lots of massage.  Nothing really seemed to make a big difference.  As a last resort, I bought a Groupon to try acupuncture with a Chinese clinic.  For $85, you could have a consultation, treatment, and massage.

I have never tried acupuncture, so I didn't really know what to expect.  The Dr. asked me some questions over the phone before the appointment, and seemed confident he could help me...maybe even fix it completely.  That was exciting news!

I had to complete a lengthy health questionnaire before we began.  Nothing unexpected here, but I mentioned that I also had trouble sleeping and sinus congestion.  I was guided into a room where the doctor could assess me.  He asked me additional questions about the movement in my shoulder, congestion, insomnia, etc.  I showed him the limited motion in my arm.  Then he asked me to stick out my tongue-  I thought it peculiar since we were dealing with other body parts.  Apparently from the swelling, discoloration, stuff growing on your tongue, and the nature of the edges, a good acupuncturist can see what problems you might have. Aha!  I thought that pretty amazing.  It would not be the last amazing thing I learned that day.

Next, he had me roll up my pant leg on the same side as my frozen shoulder.  (I was thinking, "what"?!!!)  He asked me if I was afraid of needles, and I said I didn't think so.  Then he took what seemed like a very long, very narrow needle and inserted it into my shin, asking if it hurt.  I really didn't feel it.  He took another needle and inserted it near the same spot.  Oh yeah!  That I could feel.  Then he asked me to move my arm, and miraculously it moved much more than before!  WOW! So how is the leg/shin connected to a lack of movement in the shoulder?  Beats me, but there is a connection.

From here, I put on a gown, and he put about 15 needles into my foot, shoulder, back, scalp, and all over my face.  Each one was supposed to help with the problems I mentioned earlier.  I laid on a massage table on my side for about 20 minutes with soft music playing.  Then a technician came and removed the needles.  A vigorous massage ensued with intense pressure being applied to the knots around my shoulder.  When it was over, I felt a little beat up, but she assured me, it would be better tomorrow.  The general advice, "drink lots of water" was given, with a request from the doctor to come again later in the week for another appointment.
My face full of needles

So did I have results?  Well, yes, for the first time in a long time, I was really tired at bedtime. The needles in the scalp were supposed to help with melatonin production, and it must have worked. Almost immediately after the appointment, I could feel my sinuses draining and it has continued for the past couple of days.  The arm has more motion, though it still feels a bit stiff.  It was overall a great value for my money!  I would definitely recommend it to anyone with almost any problems.  The crazy thing is that all the treatment I had that didn't work was covered by my medical insurance.  Unfortunately, acupuncture is not.  I'll have to pay out of pocket, but at least it's giving results.  Something is wrong with our health system when we don't quantify results for alternative treatments. My insurance company would have saved a bundle by sending me to this doctor in the very beginning.  I'll definitely consider acupuncture as a tool for future medical needs.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lake Michigan Charter Boat Adventure

Milwaukee behind us as we head out to find fish in Lake Michigan
When I was making a list of things I'd like to do in Milwaukee a couple of years ago, I had fishing on there, but never got around to it.  I've been writing a new book, "The Milwaukee Bucket List: 101 Real Milwaukee Adventures" so I decided it should be in the book and therefore, I needed to do it now.

Lucky for me, my son-in-law, Luke, enjoys fishing, so we booked a charter boat with Ray's the Limit for 4 people and he invited his dad, Pete, and a mutual friend who is one of the best/luckiest/awesomest fishermen we know- Rob.  Rob is the guy who always has a Facebook photo of him with some huge sexy fish posted about every other week.  We figured with him along, we had to have some great fishing tales to tell!  I didn't have a fishing license, but I found it was easy to get on line at  We also had to get a salmon/trout stamp since we were fishing on Lake Michigan.  Anyone over the age of 12 needs a license.

We showed up at 1 PM on a Saturday for a 5 hour tour.  The boat was docked at Milwaukee's McKinley Marina.  It was a short trip out to the place where we'd troll all afternoon.  The Captain, Andy, is a firefighter and does this in his spare time.  His wife, Becky, was along as first mate for this trip.  They both made it very easy to relax and were willing to answer all kinds of questions I had.  Since this was my first lake fishing experience, I knew very little about fishing.  He supplied all the heavy duty poles and set everything up.  All we had to do was wait for a nibble on the poles and he coached us as we needed it.  We brought along drinks and snacks.  In fact, we offered some trail mix to the fish as a way of bringing them in.  It was all in jest, but it actually worked...well, I guess it did!
First Mate Becky and me
It didn't take too long before one of the poles started "dancing" as Capt. Andy called it.  Luke grabbed the pole and brought in the first fish.  It was a lake trout!  A net was needed to bring it in for the final landing. We were all pretty excited to see the catch, but Luke's smile pretty much says it all. There was a cooler on board with an ice pack where we could put all the fish for the day. There's a lot of science involved in the fishing.  There was a fish/depth finder on the boat, so we could see how deep the lines needed to be as well as when we were near fish.  The lines were very sophisticated too.  I'm not sure I can even explain it, but there were lures on some of the poles and others had balls and shiny devices.  You definitely have a lot to learn if you're going to be a fishing charter captain.  Andy said he'd been fishing on Lake Michigan for 30 years, so he had quite a bit of experience.
Luke reeling it in and Capt. Andy helping with a net

Luke looking pretty happy with his catch

Gotta have a cooler for the fish
The afternoon went by quicker than I expected.  We had such a good time chatting and reeling in the fish.  I was a bit apprehensive after watching the guys have so much success.  Of course, Rob had the biggest catch of the day!  We were happy it was him though.  It's a lot of work reeling in these fighting lake trout.  He seemed to know when to reel and when to let the fish take line.  I had to have some coaching.  Lucky for me, Pete and Capt. Andy were there to help.  I had a special belt put on to help hold the pole.  That made it a bit easier, but it was harder than I expected.  By the end of the afternoon we had 7 fish- all lake trout.
Rob with Capt. Andy and Pete showing off a huge fish!

My catch of the day, which Capt. Andy held for me

Rob does it again!

Our catch of the day
We headed back in as the sun set over Milwaukee.  It was a pretty ride in looking at the city.  When we docked back at McKinley Marina, Capt. Andy filleted the fish for us and bagged them up so all we had to do was collect our belongings and our fish.  The total cost for the day was $425, which was one of the cheapest charters you can get in Milwaukee.  What a great way to spend a fall afternoon in Wisconsin.  I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys the water and wants to try some fishing.  None of us got seasick.  We caught fish.  We had a great time talking.  It was a picture perfect day! If your plans include a trip to Milwaukee, be sure to pick up a copy of my new book, downloadable as an e-book as well, at my author website.