Travel Tuesday: Drink like a local

A health nut might say “you are what you eat,” but a well-seasoned traveler’s credo might be “eat where you are.”

Why eat a burger on the coast when you can enjoy fresh seafood? Why seek out McDonald’s in Tokyo? Why not try sausage in Bavaria?

Having visited some of these places, I will say definitively that travel has opened my eyes to great foods I might never have experienced without the long drive or a flight.

But eating where you are is also true of drinking, and it’s true when you’re close to home, too. When in Minnesota or Wisconsin, drink as the Minnesotans or Wisconsinites do.

skal crawl

Earlier this summer I enjoyed the Skål Crawl in Central Minnesota. “Skål” rhymes with crawl, and it’s Norse for “toast,” that is, the kind of toast that involves raising glasses, not burning bread.

The Skål Crawl, the first Minnesota wine, liquor and beer trail, offers a T-shirt and cool drinking glasses for those who visit Carlos Creek Winery, Panther Distillery and Copper Trail Brewery, all located in and around Alexandria, Minnesota. It was a fun way for a couple of couples to spend a day while quenching our thirst. And I’m a sucker for a “free” T-shirt (the crawl costs $15 and entitles crawlers to souvenir tasting glasses, the T-shirt and discounted tastings).

fawn creek

And, having spent a bit of time in the Wisconsin Dells recently, I discovered Fawn Creek Winery, one of nearly 80 wineries in Wisconsin. Breweries, I knew about (among other, I have actually visited and enjoyed New Glarus, a well-known craft brewery in southern Wisconsin), but wine? Who knew?

The tastings at Fawn Creek are free, but even better is the atmosphere. Tucked among the pines, the winery is a pretty place to spend some time, especially when one can enjoy wine, beer, too, and pretzels that are 15 inches across. Oh, and live music on the weekends.

What else is Wisconsin known for? No, not the Packers. Well, maybe sorta, if Packers make you think of cheeseheads. It’s the cheese! The brochure from the Wisconsin Winery Association suggests a cheese and wine pairing for every month of the year. Because wine and cheese are delightful when consumed together. September’s suggestion? Mead with cheddar and provolone. October? Try hard cider with cheddar and colby. Just makes you want to plan a themed trip, right?

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Killing Monica doesn’t exactly kill it but it hits the mark

Would I have liked the book better if the title had been Amazing Monica instead of Killing Monica?

killing monicaNope.

The Monica in Candace Bushnell’s story is a fictional character (to be clear, she’s a fictional character in a book of fiction), so whether she lives or dies is of no consequence to my enjoyment of a book with my first name in the title.

Killing Monica was my trashy novel for the summer, and in a word, it was good.

About a third of the way into this book, I hated it. It read like a modern-day fairy tale only instead of a poor girl oppressed by her stepmother and forced to clean the fireplace while her Prince Charming roams the kingdom with her glass slipper, the protagonist was a victim of success, her cheating soon-to-be ex-husband and her very expensive shoes. In fact, I started dog-earring pages of Bushnell’s entirely implausible phrases and scenes. Like who pours themselves a “nice tall glass of white wine.” A “nice full glass of wine,” maybe, or maybe a character pours white wine into a milk glass, but wine glasses are not “tall.”

But I reconsidered when I read the book flap–I thought maybe Bushnell was writing something more semi-autobiographical (she created Carrie in Sex in the City), and I thought maybe she was trying to say something about feminism, pop culture and celebrity. I think she more or less accomplishes this, but I still wasn’t loving it (whatever Bushnell’s “trademark humor” is, I didn’t get it, but them maybe I’m too literal about tall glasses, too).

I hung in there until the bitter end and wow! Mind blown. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I found the ending to come out of left field and be very satisfying at the same time (even though Bushnell leaves loose ends all over the place).

For a trashy novel, it was definitely worth the summer reading time.

Throwback Thursday: An ode to the roof

Regular subscribers have noticed, I imagine, that Minnesota Wonderer hasn’t been posting very often. Hey, it’s busy around Wonderer’s house. But it’s probably busy around your house, too, so we can do without all the excuses.

As I peruse my Facebook Newsfeed every morning (everybody’s got time for that), it’s replete with “memories on this day” that remind me, among other things, of all the blog posts I logged over the years. It occurred to me that I have hundreds of entries in the back list that I could resurrect in a Throwback Thursday sort of way. Sometimes those old posts pop up, and even I’m surprised by my depth of thought.

So, with 1,982 entries from which to choose (this post makes 1,983—you betcha we’ll be celebrating 2,000 in a big way!), I’m going to share some oldies by goodies in this space on Thursdays.

Today, as the sun finally shines in Houston after days of drenching rain, I’m offering this ode to a roof, first published June 25, 2015. Because it beats living without one over one’s head.

The sky’s the limit if you have a roof over your head

Of all life’s blessings, the roof over my head is one for which I rarely give thanks.

Roofs, after all, are so commonplace they are to be expected. And they’re dull. Very dull. Usually gray or brown, maybe black. Made with shingles — the ultimately hum-drum material, or maybe cedar or tile. Installed by competent, height-defying, tight-lipped pros who appear like flies and disappear a week later, leaving a few stray nails in the yard.

But mundane or no, without a roof, every day is a bad-hair day. Or a bad day in general.

I woke at 3 a.m. last night, thankful, so thankful for the roof over my head.

It was pouring down rain. Literally pouring, like God had a bucket he couldn’t wait to empty. Lightning. Thunder. A storm for the ages. But unlike many nighttime storms observed from the comfort of the bed in my sturdy house, this storm came to the campground where I slept in a sturdy, yes, but relatively insubstantial camper.

One never goes camping but it rains. Or at least that’s how it is with me. Most camping rainstorms are day-long drizzly affairs that make everything damp and never stop until everything is packed up and you’re headed home.

This storm, however, was more hard-nosed, like a pissed off cop with a gun at a pool party (kidding! all right, already! I know all cops are not angry and overbearing! It’s a joke!).

In any case, this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill storm. And we were camping next to a river.

My Beloved’s cell phone awakened us before the drenching rain did. It warned of flash flooding.

All I could think about was a flash flood filling the valley, and us, bobbing down the river in the camper until we were splintered against a bridge pier (thank you, Voice of Doom, but our flash flooding came in the form of big mud puddles, not a jökulhlaup).

That’s when the roof started leaking. Drip, drip, drip. A persistent sort of leak. Drip, drip, drip. Reconnaissance revealed the drops were coming from a light fixture (uh-oh). Drip, drip, drip.

Sounds restful, huh?

But actually, I said a little prayer of thanks for the roof.

Because 30 yards away, a family went to bed last night.

In a tent.

I didn’t care how fiberglassy our roof was. It wasn’t canvas!

* * *

The Percussionist's WifeBefore Minnesota Wonderer was Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant for that matter), she was The Percussionist’s Wife. I tell the whole story–every sordid detail–in my memoir, which I published five years ago this week. To celebrate the milestone, the Kindle version of the The Percussionist’s Wife: A Memoir of Sex, Crime & Betrayal is free this week and tomorrow’s the last day to snag a copy. Fans of memoir and true crime might agree with reviewers who’ve called it “remarkable,” “candid” and “compelling”; a friend downloaded it this week and read it one day! So “it reads like a thriller!” isn’t an exaggeration. See for yourself. If you like Minnesota Wonderer, this is her origin story. Download it here for free until midnight tomorrow.

Travel Tuesday: Water, water everywhere (and a freebie, too!)

Whatever it is about waterfalls, they demand attention. Maybe it’s the racket, as noisy as they are. Maybe it’s the danger (nothing like a sheer rock face to put a little scare into one’s soul). But it’s probably the beauty. Waterfalls can be so pretty.

I’ve had the opportunity to see quite a number of lovely waterfalls in my travels around the country this year, and I thought I’d share a few today.

Yosemite valley

This is a long shot (because the view is that beautiful), but in the center of the photo you can see Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite National Park.

washington falls

We found this strange place hidden among miles and miles of grassy bluffs. Palouse Falls is the only major year-round waterfall remaining from the Ice Age floods that carved the landscape of southeastern Washington state thousands of years ago. The falls plunge nearly 200 feet over layers of exposed basalt that make up the Palouse River Canyon. Check out that eerie rock formation behind and to the left of the falls.

yellowstone falls

In a place like Yellowstone National Park, the falls are probably among the least interesting sights to see, but I caught a rainbow in the mist at the falls of the Yellowstone River.

Cascade Falls

The St. Croix River cutting between Wisconsin and Minnesota north of Stillwater is really quite beautiful. Cascade Falls in Osceola is breathtaking. I got to see these during a lingering Saturday afternoon drive earlier this summer. The hike to the bottom is worth it (and the steps back to the top are worth it, too, with a little ice cream at the top).

fountain.jpg

This is more of a fountain than a waterfall, but you take what you can get when you’re visiting central Wisconsin. I snapped this picture last weekend while I was was Fawn Creek Winery near the Wisconsin Dells. The fish in the pool at the bottom liked the liquid libations as much as I did.

* * *

The Percussionist's WifeBefore Minnesota Wonderer was Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant for that matter), she was The Percussionist’s Wife. I tell the whole story–every sordid detail–in my memoir, which I published five years ago this week. To celebrate the milestone, the Kindle version of the book is free this week. Fans of memoir and true crime might agree with reviewers who’ve called it “remarkable,” “candid” and “compelling,” and more than one “couldn’t put it down”; “it reads like a thriller!” See for yourself. If you like Minnesota Wonderer, this is her origin story. Download it here for free until midnight Friday.

A before-and-after moment at 4:15 a.m.

I’ve been reminded recently how life changes in a moment. One minute, life is one way. The next, it’s turned upside down.

We had such a moment at 4:15 this morning. This moment didn’t change my life so much as it changed someone else’s but it’s illustrative of my point.

We’re camping this week in my cousin-in-law’s yard. It’s idyllic. Nice level lot, protected from the wind, a well-manicured yard. The cousin-in-law offered to let me use her brand new washer and dryer and her husband shared the fresh produce from his garden–ah, the comforts of home one misses when one is living in an RV.

idyllic corn

The idyllic scene that greets me when I emerge from my camper in the mornings.

The cousin-in-law’s yard out is in the middle of a corn field. The front yard is a stretch of county road between Hither and Yon, but the other three sides are bordered by seven feet of corn. I swear, it grew a foot this week. The corn even muffles all sound except the birds and the bees. Literally, the chirping of the birds and the chittering of insects is the only thing you hear out here, punctuated occasionally by the engine noise of a car speeding by.

This story is about that placid corn and speeding cars.

At 4:15 a.m., my Beloved awakens me with an urgent question, “What was that?!”

“I didn’t hear anything,” I murmured.

He jumps out of bed, throwing on his clothes. I’m becoming more alert now.

“Honey, you’re dreaming,” I said. “You’re putting your underwear on backwards.”

“No, I heard a car go into the ditch,” he says. “I heard the tires squeal and a crash.”

“I left the flashlight where it belongs,” I said, rolling over.

I wasn’t interested in investigating a dream.

But a car did indeed go into the ditch and crash.

My Beloved called 911, and within minutes, 10 emergency vehicles were on the scene.

license plate

The “scene” was only 50 feet from my cousin-in-law’s house, between two light poles. Mr. E754145 left the pavement, entered the corn field and was launched airborne. This is where he went in, losing his license plate.

corn inside

And this is where he landed, roughly 30 feet further on.

crash scene

The bare patches in the foreground indicate where the car went off the road; the string of corn stalks trailing from the field to the road show where the car was towed out of the field.

I think Mr. E754145 is alive to tell the story. My Beloved heard him try the ignition as he was calling 911, so he was at least conscious after crash landing. He didn’t hit a pole. The corn softened his landing. But in any case, his car was intact and operational and so was he at 4:14 a.m. At 4:16, he had to be stretchered away, and the car was towed.

Before and after.

Life can change in a minute.

When it’s hot, think cool

Coping with summer’s heat requires air conditioning, swimming gear and the right attitude.

Statistically, we’re smack dab in the middle of the hottest two weeks of the year in Illinois, Iowa and the southern halves of Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Coming right up, July 15 through August 1 are the hottest two weeks for the northern halves of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

If one has a mindset that these days are Old Man Winter’s answer to our prayers in March that he get the heck out of town, then one can endure the dog days of summer better.

We asked for days like this. Days like this are a gift. Days like this will be go away eventually.

That’s the right attitude. It’s hot now. But it will be cold again.

With that in mind, I’m sharing an image taken a year ago in June when my Beloved and I visited Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona is the type of town that inspires night life, so one late evening we stopped by IceBarcelona (get it? Ice? Bar? Celona? I love wordplay like that) for a drink.

On the way in, there’s a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea for an al fresco cocktail, the perfect respite from the 20-degree atmosphere inside the ice bar. Patrons can borrow natty parkas and gloves. Everything, including the bar and the furniture, are made of ice; drinks are served in glasses made of ice, of course. Elaborate, seasonally changing ice sculptures decorate the place.

Naturally, it’s called the coolest bar in Barcelona.

Here’s a shot of my Beloved and I on the ice couch in front of a sculpture of an Imperial Walker (it was a “Star Wars” theme when we were there). That’s an icy cold screwdriver in my hand.

icebarcelona

Here’s to hot July days. Cheers!

Impressive natural and manmade wonders abound along Columbia River Gorge

There’s something I keep forgetting to tell you, my faithful readers.

Wait, let me think a minute.

Rodins The Thinker

The Maryhill Museum of Art, on the north bank of the Columbia River in Washington state, features an entire room of works by Auguste Rodin, including his “The Thinker.”

Oh, yes, this is it: Don’t miss seeing the Columbia River Gorge marking the border between Washington state and Oregon. While it may not be on list of the Seven Wonders of the World, it is worth a visit.

My Beloved and I traveled through the area in May, and we were awed with the natural beauty in many of the same ways other visitors have been. I remember descriptions of the place in Stephen E. Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and, more recently, in Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Columbia River 2

When we visited, we stayed in the wooded and shady KOA Kampground in Cascade Locks, Oregon, which gave us nearby access to the Bridge of the Gods. The river crossing gets its name from an American Indian legend describing the strange and fantastic geologic changes wrought by the Earth’s moving tectonic plates.

Bridge of the Gods

Bridge of the Gods

The manmade version of the Bridge of the Gods was built in 1920, one of only 17 Columbia River Crossings along almost 300 miles of river in Oregon. At this point, the Columbia is wider and more ominous than say, anywhere along the Mississippi north of the Twin Cities.

It’s also quite lovely and astounding, surrounded as it is by the Cascade Mountain Range. The roadways on the both the south and north sides hug the river for the most part making for spectacular views as one drives along.

Further west, the river passes through treeless plains. “The face of the Countrey on both Side of the river above and about the falls,” wrote Meriwether Lewis in his journal, “is Steep ruged and rockey open and contain but a Small preportion of herbage, no timber a fiew bushes excepted.” Different, but no less beautiful.

Here, we visited the aforementioned Maryhill Museum of Art, a formidable architectural structure originally built as a mansion by Samuel Hill on the Washington bluff at the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge. Besides the impressive works of sculptor Auguste Rodin, I was fascinated by the gallery of international chess sets on display in the basement. Every piece was a tiny objet d’art created by artists from around the world.

Maryhill Museum of Art

You can see the Maryhill Museum of Art on the left, overlooking the river and, in the foreground, acres of grape vines.

While we were there, my Beloved spent one day fishing for salmon in the Columbia River, and he landed a whopper, on which we are still dining, thanks to the wonders of the modern freezer in our RV.

Add a visit to the Columbia River Gorge to your bucket list. You won’t be disappointed.