Like-minded People

Imagine a busload of people who like Car Talk, get the jokes on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, and know the difference between Michael Feldman and Michael Perry.* This is a bus trip of people who are polite to each other, make friends readily, and enjoy intelligent conversation about issues that matter to you, er, them. Amigo and I took just such a trip last summer and the previous summer. Sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio, the trip goes to tiny Bayfield, WI, where the group takes in a show at the Big Top Chautauqua.

The most recent City Council meeting seemed like it was ripe for conflict. People attended to speak for the trees, speak for the right to raise urban chickens, and support an up and coming project that will turn a former country club and golf course into a large community garden. Despite the differing opinions, all in attendance had something in common.

Last, but never least, I attended two meetings at the local Organizing for America office. One was simply a monthly update of the citywide group, and the second a training in canvassing techniques for the upcoming campaign kick-off weekend.

What do these three have in common? I’ll give you a moment to think. Take a look at the OFA office windows while you’re contemplating.

 

Come on in and pose with the cardboard cut-outs!

Remember the question? I asked you to consider what these three examples might share in common. It’s the people.

In each example, you’ll see a group of like-minded people. The Public Radio bus trip was thoroughly enjoyable because of the camaraderie. In the second example, all three issues had to do with sustainability and the city environment. In the third, all of the meeting attendees were motivated to help re-elect the President of the United States to a second term.

Seeking out like-minded people is one way to stay calm and focused during difficult times. We share experiences, we share attitudes, and we share priorities. These groups will meet again, I’m sure. Trees, chickens, Public Radio, and elections are topics that inspire passion. Finding focus for a passion can lead to making a difference in the world.

Go ahead, readers. Find like-minded people. Talk. Then come back here and tell me: what will you do to make a difference?

Michael Feldman hosts a Saturday morning show on WPR called Whadya Know?. Michael Perry hosts Big Tent Radio on Saturday nights. Good enough?They’re both comics, hosts, and fascinating people. 

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>Road trip: California Dreamin’ again

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Amigo got an audio book for Christmas: Bill Geist’s Way off the Road: Discovering the Peculiar Culture of Small town America. He would laugh out loud while listening to the stories. As he finished, he recommended that I look for a print copy and read it myself.
He was right. I found a copy on Paperbackswap.com, thanked the swapper who sent it, and got a note telling me that the book might make me want to take a road trip. Sure enough, reading got me thinking about a long road trip on my bucket list: getting our kicks on Route 66.
I’ve realized that the Route 66 trip will happen at the earliest in summer of 2013, perhaps a year later. With that in mind, I can plan and dream and seek sponsors for the potential adventure.

Ideally, we’d rent or lease a vehicle to drive from our Wisconsin home to the end destination. At the West end of our journey, we’d turn in the vehicle and take Amtrak back to the Midwest. From Chicago we’d ride the Hiawatha to Milwaukee, and either pick up our own car or have family/friends get us to take us back to our own house and our own beds.

In a perfect world, that vehicle would be a roomy sedan or a minivan. If we all go (essentially, four adults), the minivan would be better. It would have to have good air conditioning: a minivan type would have the passenger climate control vents to make it easy. Given the long stretches of desert on the trip, that’s a necessity.

Taking into considerating the length of the trip, good gas mileage is important. A hybrid, perhaps? A sizable gas tank, too, so we don’t have to stop too often to fill up. Maybe a gas company will sponsor us; discounted gas or a gas gift card for the road? It could be done. It’s not a glamorous sponsorship, but it would certainly be one of the most valuable.

Cupholders! I request at least one cupholder per person, accommodating my coffee and the other folks’ Mountain Dew. Perhaps Starbucks would sponsor me; free or discounted coffee for the trip in exchange for blogging it? I’m in!

I know that I’m simply dreaming at this point. Driving Route 66 is definitely on my bucket list. Since Amigo enjoys road trips in general and we like road tripping together, we’d like to do it before I get too old or he gets too busy to enjoy the adventure.

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>Reading the walls

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Inspiration sometimes turns up in unexpected places. We stayed several days in this lovely inn and noticed messages in strategic places. Can you read it, or is the glare in the way?

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?”
Below is a little smaller, but worth the effort to read it, too. It’s from Vincent Van Gogh.

“If you hear a voice within you saying, ‘You are not a painter,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”
Look below — someone listened.

Her paintings are scattered throughout the inn.
For me, it was enough to see the quote beside the easel.
Now I think I’ll log off and work on my book manuscript.
All photos from Sweetfield Manor. Readers, you know how much I need peace in my life; Sweetfield helped provide that, and good coffee, too.

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>Family Travel Tips

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Ten Tips from Daisy for Family Travel
Tip: Know your limits. Budget and plan accordingly.
These tips change as families get older. Chuck and I have traveled by train across the country from East to West, and along the East coast from Miami to Washington, D.C. Had we done this twenty years ago, we could have gone in coach the entire way. Now that we’re both 50 and, well, mature travelers, we prefer beds at night, so we paid a bit more for the Amtrak roomette. It was worth it.
Tip: Acknowledge that each family member has different taste, and respect each other’s tunes.
When our kids were younger, we’d bring our own music and take turns choosing what to play in the vehicle’s CD player. Now each person brings their own headphones, earbuds, and music player – MP3, mainly. Well, that is, each person except the driver.
Tip: Have enough cup holders. Seriously.
Cup holders are awesome. Each traveler should have his/her own. Mine, of course, will hold my morning coffee. Chuck, La Petite, and Amigo? Most likely Mountain Dew. We all have our chosen vices.
Tip: Travel eco-responsibly as much as possible.
Whenever we hit the road, I feel some guilt for not being as green as we are at home. Instead of cloth napkins, we’ll use paper. We’ll pull out disposable wet wipes for convenience. There is room for compromise, though. I often bring my own water bottle or travel coffee mug. Many places make it easy to recycle; go ahead, do it. And when all is said and done, don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect.

Tip: Pack light.
Somehow, dirty clothes seem to take up more space than clean clothes do. Pack with room to spare. And then there are the souvenirs; leave room if you plan to buy anything at your destination or along the way.
Tip: Choose souvenirs wisely.
Did I mention souvenirs? My favorites are those that are useful and fun reminders of the trip. Coffee mugs make great purchases; so do t-shirts and sweatshirts if you wear them. On our last trip, we picked up a lovely hand-made wicker basket. It became an additional carry-on for the trip home, and now it lives next to my recliner with my lumbar pillow and recent magazines in it. This lovely yet simple basket will always remind me of the trip.
Moving on a bit more quickly, here are a few tips for traveling families:
Tip: Bring pillows or blankets. My best travel-related purchase ever was a horseshoe pillow. I use it in the car, on trains, and on airplanes. These supplies are almost always cheaper at home than on the road.
Tip: Bring reading material. Last trip I packed two books, read them both, and left them in the Bed & Breakfast’s bookshelf for future travelers. One of my favorite reading tips? Buy a local paper.
Tip: Plan for the best, but prepare for the worst. If your plane is delayed, what will you do? If the car gets a flat tire, do you know how to change to the spare? If you’re stuck in a traffic jam at lunch time, do you have snacks to prevent starvation and (worse) crabbiness?
Tip: Look for simple pleasures. Scenery. Sounds. Plants. Animals. Regional foods. Time together to talk and simply enjoy each other. The best memories of the trip aren’t always those that cost a lot of money. After all, the key word in Family Vacation is Family.
I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Alamo blogging program, with the possibility of earning a gift card worth $25. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

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>Big Top Chautauqua

>Look closely – behind the gravel walkway, beyond the tent on the left, is a hill. It’s Wisconsin, so we can’t call it a mountain. But in winter, people ski here.

Imagine – at the bottom of the hill, a big tent made of canvas, striped blue and white, sturdy and secure, with a stage inside. This place seats 900+ people in its theater for shows that run three and a half months a year, when the ground is thawed and the snow is gone.

Also on the grounds is a tent for concessions and souvenirs. We had a fish boil – Amigo’s first. While he befriended the others at the table, I visited the souvenir stand and picked up a DVD and a t-shirt. Do you see the wires above the food tents? I wasn’t kidding about the ski hill. The lift wires are up all year.
This, my friends, is the home of Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua. Amigo and I have fallen in love with the home troupe, the Blue Canvas Orchestra, and their guest on this lovely night, author and humorist Michael Perry. We traveled to the Big Top for the first time this year, and we’ll definitely go back.

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>A radio – or a radio?

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The first thing Amigo does when we enter a hotel room is follow this routine: take off his shoes, stretch out on a bed, and fiddle with the clock radio. He did this on Sunday night, but all didn’t go as planned. Instead of music or news, we kept hearing frogs. And crickets. and babbling, bubbling water.
“Mom, how does this work? Can you help me get real radio?” This from the teenager who can figure out just about any electronic device, despite being unable to see it or read the labels.
Well, I took a closer look and found this:

The “Listen to” section was set to Brook. We had options of Ocean, Wind Chimes, or Music/Radio. If we used the clock’s alarm feature, we could choose to wake up to a standard buzzer, a high pitched bell, cathedral bells, or radio. I showed him the buttons, and he figured out what he needed – a country music station. Of course – we were on a trip sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio, and he was listening to Country.

Somehow, in the process of exploring all the buttons, Amigo must have set the alarm. Around midnight the buzzer sounded. In his sleep – he remembered not a bit of this the next morning – he rolled over, turned it off, and made himself comfortable again.

Then we went back to sleep, eventually waking up to (drumroll) Amigo’s talking clock and its rooster alarm.

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>Hotels – a home away from home

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I enjoy a place with character: more than just a set of beds in a room that’s a clone on a hallway of more clones. Do you recognize the style of the room numbers? They’re old post office box fronts. We had one like this in Sister Bay Wisconsin before the Post Office upgraded the the newfangled boxes that opened with a key.

Must love a hotel that has a deck opening onto the Great Lakes – or at least onto a bay that comes out on Lake Superior. It was windy, cool, and totally gorgeous.

All in all, it was a great place to lay our heads overnight. Amigo demonstrates below.

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>Road Trip Sound Track

>First, whistle the theme to “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”

It should have been an easy trip home. Drive north, pick up La Petite at her summer “home,” drive north again until home. Somewhere in the first leg of the journey, grab lunch.
First: I got dressed in the morning and realized I hadn’t packed any shirts for myself. I packed an extra t-shirt for Amigo, so I borrowed it. Sigh. I’m not a fashionable mom, by any means. The teen looks much better in it.
Next: packed to leave, realized that the minivan front seats were not damp, but soaked. I’d left them open a crack – only a crack! – and the wild and woolly storms had made my ride home, well, a wet one. Sister-in-law loaned us thick towels and plastic bags to spread on the seats. My side, as luck would have it, was wettest. Sound track song? “Rain, rain, go away.”
On the road! Public Radio on, grabbed a McDonald’s drive-through lunch and onward! Note to self: never buy a quarter pounder with cheese again. At least, dear self, never try to eat a quarter pounder with cheese while driving. Self, that lousy excuse for ‘food’ isn’t good for you to begin with, but even more so, it’s sloppy. You guessed it, readers: ketchup and mustard on the borrowed shirt. The song to this sound track: “Pound sign, question mark, star, exclamation point.” Yes, #?*! was about my speed at the moment.
Speaking of speed, the route was fairly direct – on paper. As we entered one of the lovely towns on the way, the police directed traffic off the main road. I didn’t know the town at all, which made finding an alternate route tough, to say the least. At Amigo’s advice, we turned on the navigator on my phone. It led us in what felt like the correct direction, but into bumper to bumper traffic. A traffic jam on Saturday afternoon? This was not a Chicago commuter drive. Sound track song: James Taylor’s “Traffic Jam!”
Since we were stopped, hardly moving, I pulled out my Tide to Go pen to fix the stain on my borrowed t-shirt. Song: “(Kiss him) Goodbye” by the Nylons. Remember the commercial with Kelly Ripa? Great thinking, but no follow through: the stain remover was empty. I was stuck. Stuck in traffic, stuck in a stained, borrowed t-shirt. Song: Once again, Kevin Fowler’s “#?*!” If you haven’t heard this one yet, you need to. It’s bound to become a classic.
Amigo doesn’t handle situations like this well. He put in a folk song CD and we sang along to keep ourselves relatively calm. Theme song at this point? “Puff the Magic Dragon” – oh, how we wished for a flying dragon to lift us above the jam and onto the highway!

Finally (and I do mean finally; we lost close to an hour detouring and waiting to get back on Highway 31) We headed north. Song: Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again!” We took a quick bathroom break, I changed into the shirt I’d worn the day before (a little less dirty), and we hit the road again. I considered making a quick stop for a tacky tourist t-shirt from the mini-mart or one from the thrift store down the road, but Amigo was moody and it just wasn’t worth taking the chance of another delay.

Finally! We crossed the border (it’s okay, we’re legal Wisconsinites) and enjoyed driving along highways surrounded by corn “…as high as an elephant’s eye!” Yes, our sound track at this point was “Oh, what a beautiful morning!” from Oklahoma! Wisconsin farmland is really gorgeous in July.

We made it to La Petite’s temporary home away from home, picked her up, packed the van, and hit the road. I changed into a dry pair of denim capri pants; despite the towel, I was still soaking up the overnight rain and I was close to adding a few new verses to “#?*!” as the trip went on.
At last! The home stretch. I could almost quote from Over the River and Through the Woods; my “horse” knew the way to carry the sleigh, or at least the way to turn the minivan wheels. Homeward bound! (Wait, that’s another song. Maybe another trip.)

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>Move the spill – virtually

>As we edge into our fair country’s Independence Day celebrations, many families will be traveling. While you’re making plans and carrying them out, keep in mind the true cost of fuel.

How big is the Gulf Oil Spill now? Move it anywhere you wish, virtually. I moved it to Lake Michigan to put it in perspective.

Try it. If the size of the disaster didn’t worry you before this, it will now.

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