Wednesday, August 16, 2017

RIP, My Jolly Green Giant

The day before we left Wisconsin my Fitbit stopped working.
The top and bottom halves split apart, and even when
pushed back together the device couldn't function.
I wore my Fitbit 24 hours a day for more than two years, so while I treated it well, I can't say its sudden death surprised me. I had grown quite attached to it, however, so when it kicked the bucket I felt both a little sad and a lot naked.

My first instinct was to immediately purchase a replacement, but when I slowed down and considered my options with a clearer head (yes, I had to clear my head after my Fitbit died), I decided that asking around for recommendations before making a purchase would be a better course of action. I narrowed the seemingly endless number of available fitness trackers down to three - the kind I'd had previously along with two others liked by friends - but kept getting hung up on the fact that none of the three (or any I've found thus far) could do everything on my "want" list. So I made another decision...this time to not replace my Fitbit.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, this decision rocked my world. Remember that I wore my Fitbit ALL OF THE TIME for more than two years. I moved it from my pajamas to my workout clothes to my regular clothes and back to my pajamas every day, checking it regularly to make sure I was on track to meet the day's step goal.

Speaking of, my step goals have always been 12,000 steps on weekdays and 10,000 steps on weekends, and in 24+ months of wearing my Fitbit, I met my goal all but eight days. Knowing that, I decided I could go about my daily life - as long as I maintained my regular schedule of walking the kids to and from school, working out at the gym, and going for long walks on the weekend - and still meet those goals. I don't need a Fitbit to tell me I reached 10,000 steps, or that I walked across Japan.

I still reach for my Fitbit multiple times a day, wondering for a split second when I don't feel it clipped to my clothing where I might have taken it off and left it. But with each passing hour, I feel a little less constrained...a little more free.

So RIP, my jolly green giant. You served me well as both a companion and a coach, but the time has come for me to make a go of it on my own. I could use a little more freedom in my life.
Tux will miss my Fitbit too... He used to carry it around while I was
in the shower, and once he managed to accumulate 100 steps for me.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Wisconsin Bucket List: The House on the Rock

For the last few years, the kids and I, along with my mom and sometimes my dad, have been working our way through a South-Central Wisconsin bucket list of sorts. Along with Madison's most popular attractions, we've visited Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Mount Olympus Water & Amusement Park in Wisconsin Dells, Little Amerricka in Marshall, Troll Lake in Stoughton, the sunflower fields in Middleton, Miller Park (where the Brewers play baseball) in Milwaukee, and Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds.

This year we crossed The House on the Rock off our list of small town adventures and excursions.

The House on the Rock opened in 1945 and over the years has become one of the most visited tourist attractions in Wisconsin. To give you an idea of its regional and even national popularity, we counted more than 20 different out-of-state license plates in the parking lot on the day of our visit.

Dreamed up and built by Alex Jordan, Jr. (who I might describe as a more eccentric, chaotic, and gaudy version of Walt Disney), The House on the Rock seemingly grows out of Deer Shelter Rock, a column of stone 60 feet by 70 feet by 200 feet nestled in a forested area near Spring Green. The house itself consists of an extravagant patchwork of dark rooms, narrow pathways, and cramped galleries that flow one to the next. The spaces were built like one might assemble a patchwork quilt: at different times, using different styles and materials, and without a master plan to guarantee a coherent final product. Beige shag carpeting meets - not at 90 degree angles but angles ranging from 60 to 120 degrees - walls of exposed stone and brick. (In some cases, these stone walls are made not by piecing together small, perfectly shaped stones but of the actual massive rock in which the house is situated.) Rustic wooden tables sit beneath hanging Tiffany lamps and next to a 1970s electric stove. A player piano cranks out an eery tune while the steady flow of a nearby waterfall keeps time like a metronome. Trees grow unimpeded through many of the dimly lit - but lit with electricity none-the-less - rooms. Nothing about the house makes sense, nor is it possible to adequately explain this cacophony of architecture in words...that's what makes it so ridiculously fascinating.
This harp, drum, violin, cello, and piano continuously
played a jovial tune next to one of the living spaces.
The kitchen space had appliances as well as stone and brick walls,
wooden ceilings, and windows facing out of the rock on one side.
One of the dining areas: a wooden table, Tiffany wall lamps,
and stone and brick walls all nestled in a cave-like corner. 
One of the sunken living spaces - lots of carpeting,
carpet-upholstered furniture, and stained glass windows.
One of the indoor waterfalls.
Trees growing up through the house.
The highlight of The House on the Rock is the Infinity Room, which extends an unsupported length of 218 feet and 156 feet above the valley floor. The kids could have played out there all day; I, on the other hand, walked to the point, turned around, and walked quickly back to solid ground...well, as solid as one could consider a house built into a rock.
A view of one of the Japanese gardens on our way up.
The view from the top.
He was willing to stand much closer to the windows than me.
Kind of looks like it goes on forever, right?

People can walk to this point, at which they can look
through a hole in the floor straight down to the ground.

The view of the Infinity Room from a nearby highway.

In addition to the house itself, The House on the Rock is home to a number of galleries in which Jordan stashed his abundant collection of bizarre...stuff.

Jane Smiley wrote this about the complex in 1993:

"It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the House on the Rock. The sheer abundance of objects is impressive, and the warmth most of the objects exude, the way that the toys ask to be played with, for example, makes the displays inherently inviting. But almost from the beginning, it is too much. The house itself is dusty. Windowpanes are cracked. Books are water damaged. The collections seem disordered, not curated. In fact, there is no effort to explore the objects as cultural artifacts, or to use them to educate the passing hordes. If there were informative cards, it would be impossible to read them in the dark. Everything is simply massed together, and Alex Jordan comes to seem like the manifestation of pure American acquisitiveness, and acquisitiveness of a strangely boyish kind, as if he had finalized all his desires in childhood and never grown into any others."

To give you a small glimpse into our experience... After strolling down the cobblestone streets and past the old fashioned storefronts in the "Streets of Yesterday", we paused to listen to a massive calliope - complete with animatronic musicians - crank out a lively melody. We then entered a tribute to all things nautical: a cavernous space, the walls of which were lined with naval artifacts, maps of the oceans, and models of ships. In the center of the room stood a GIGANTIC - perhaps three stories tall and 100 feet long - statue of an epic battle between an octopus and a mythical sea creature. Next we passed through a room filled with bicycles and hot air balloons on our way to the World's Largest Carousel (elaborately adorned with 269 handcrafted animals, 20,000 lights, and 182 chandeliers). Finally we wandered through multiple rooms filled to capacity with dollhouses, circus displays, guns, armor, music boxes, old fashioned wagons, organs, and enormous ship engines.
The orchestra of life-sized animatronic
humans playing real stringed instruments.
The calliope in the Streets of Yesterday.
A model of the Titanic.
The sea creature vs. octopus battle, as
viewed from the third floor balcony.
Will and Hallie on the photo op carousel
horse (no one can ride the actual carousel).
The World's Largest Carousel.
Can you picture it? I certainly couldn't before we set foot inside.

I doubt I'll return to The House on the Rock anytime soon as I don't get the impression the exhibits change very often, but I highly recommend the first two "levels" (the house and the first series of galleries - my mom and I agreed that we could have skipped the second series of galleries) to anyone traveling through Wisconsin.

One more excursion crossed off the Wisconsin Bucket List!

The kids wanted to sit in every single one of these - and there were A LOT - fortune telling chairs. The Throne of Passion labeled Will as "brain dead" and Hallie as "out of control"...

Friday, August 11, 2017

High Five for Friday: 8.11.17

After a month away, today we return to our regularly-scheduled High Five for Friday posts!

1. We made it home from Wisconsin safely and with our sanity still intact, a remarkable feat considering we forgot our DVD players at my parents' house and didn't realize our error until we had driven more than 100 miles. Will and Hallie watched one movie (the only movie) on our iPad and played their Nintendo 3DS hand-held gaming systems, but for more than half of the 1,200 mile drive back to Texas they read, colored, played car games, and snacked. (They may have argued a bit as well...)

2. We fairly quickly reacclimatized to Texas' summer weather, another astonishing feat given that the temperature climbed all the way to 105 degrees just as we rolled back into our garage. (I guess I should say that Tom and the kids reacclimatized to Texas' summer weather. For me, "reacclimatized" is just a fancy way of saying "remembered how much I hate".)

3. For the first time in my entire life, I hired someone to clean my house. Actually I chose a company (rather than an individual), and set up an appointment for the employees to come in and clean from top to bottom one day prior to our return home. Regular readers might recall that during the summer months the kids and I spend quite a bit of time up north while Tom remains at home to work. During our absence he lives the bachelor life in our house, and while I appreciate his efforts to tidy and clean before I walk back through the door, the house is just never where I want/need it to be. This plan cost me a fair amount of money, but coming home to a freshly vacuumed, dusted, mopped, and wiped house was worth every one of those pennies. 

4. It took a few days, but Tux finally forgave us for leaving him. He decided he could once again sleep in the Beyblade stadium on Will's bed, snuggle with Hallie on the couch, and ride on my shoulders, and he stopped pooping in our closet. You read that right...during our absence Tux pooped on Tom's pants (pairs that lay in a heap on the floor) multiple times, pooped on the floor of our closet multiple times, and peed in a variety of places that were not his litter box, including the couch, the floor of our closet, and in a suitcase. He strongly dislikes it when we leave him behind. (We may need to start boarding Tux. Local friends, we boarded once at our vet and didn't find their accommodations nice or spacious enough to leave Tux there again. Any recommendations?)

5. As soon as we returned to Texas we hit the ground running. The last two weeks have included a swimming birthday party, quite a few trips to the pool, multiple play dates, a sleepover, a piano tuning, an orthodontist appointment, Bengal Belle dance camp, a soccer tournament, a lengthy and complicated work assignment, hours of PTO planning and meetings, and tons of paperwork, errands, and school supply shopping in preparation for the new school year. I also enjoyed two day-long excursions: one with friends to see IMOMSOHARD in Houston and one with the fam to Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels. (As both trips were on my bucket list, they'll each receive their own post in the coming month.) August is typically one of our busiest months of the year, and this August is no exception - cheers to keeping our heads afloat!
Having the swimming pool - with waterslides
and other activities - all to ourselves was incredible! 
Play date treat from the new Bahama Buck's!
These three besties loved their fourth
year dancing together at Bengal Belle camp!
And we always need a pic with their big girl besties as well.
Hallie and her Big Belle, Lacey.
Brody, Will, and Aaron at the Cavalry 3 vs. 3 soccer tournament.
Mom besties at IMOMSOHARD - best show ever!

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here:
  Cup

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Delicious Gift From the Sun

I vaguely remember as a child wondering why my mom's lemon pitcher (a clear glass pitcher with etched lemons on the exterior and a yellow plastic lid) frequently sat perched on the railing of the back deck. Eventually she explained the process of making sun tea and let me sample her brew; I much more clearly remember that it tasted terrible.

Since living in Texas we have (slowly) developed an affection for Texas' signature beverage: TEA. We've sampled sweet and unsweet, and while Tom, Will, Hallie, and I each have a preference for one over the other, tea in general has become quite popular with the four Ferri.

While in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago, I asked my mom to remind me of her "recipe" so I could brew my own sun tea when we returned home. She walked me through the process, and then a few hours later... Tom, Will, and I drank tea until we had emptied the pitcher, and then I brewed a second batch.

If our eagerness to drink my mom's sun tea didn't confirm our status as Texans, my still-Midwestern sister's distaste for the same drink did - she thinks tea tastes like soap.

In case you'd like to try brewing your own sun tea (because after all, what else do we have around here these days but sun), here's how!

Fill a large pitcher with water. We used filtered water in
Madison, but I would just use tap water here in Texas.
Add five or six tea bags (we used Luzianne iced tea bags, but any
green or black tea bags would work) to the pitcher, making sure the tea
bags are in the water and the paper tags are hanging outside the pitcher.
Place the pitcher in a sunny spot...
...and return a few hours later to enjoy!
If you like tea even a little bit, I promise this sun tea will not disappoint.

And yes, my mom still has and we used the same pitcher she made iced tea in when I was a little girl. "Vintage Iced Tea" has a nice ring to it... 

Monday, August 7, 2017

That's a Wrap (Leg #3)

In some ways, these month-long summer trips to the Midwest have gotten easier: easier travel both in the car and in the skies, easier (and lighter) packing, easier (and more flexible) scheduling once we arrive. In other ways, our four weeks spent on the road have gotten harder: harder to leave our friends back home, harder to work around the kids' busy schedules, harder to leave our families once we've settled in during our visits, harder to fit in all we want to do now that the kids are older and want to experience more than just the zoo and the park. We make it work, however, and will continue to do so as long as it makes sense for everyone involved; spending quality time with our extended families while the kids and grandparents (and parents, for that matter) are in the "sweet spot" is invaluable.

The last leg of our Wisconsin trip included a few day trips - including a bucket list visit to the historic and architecturally stunning House on the Rock (post coming next week) - as well as plenty of fun in and around Madison.

We played at the park, swam and built sandcastles at the beach, and visited the animals at the zoo (including once with friends of mine from high school and their kiddos) multiple times. The boys fit in a few rounds of disc golf, one round of miniature golf, and one round of stick and ball golf, the highlight of which was Will driving the golf cart against the rules and like a pro. Both Will and Hallie "skied" on our waterski trainer (though Will has now surpassed the trainer's weight limit by a full 10 pounds and we pulled the trainer 10 MPH faster than its speed limit) and Will not only got up on skies like he did last summer, but stayed up long enough - about the distance of two football fields - to have earned the right to call himself a water skier. Will and Hallie, as well as niece/cousin Lily, learned to dive off the diving board. All four grandkids rode their new scooters (thanks Grandma!) and raced popsicle stick "boats" in the street streams with Grandpa. We (kind of) learned how to play pickle ball. We toured The House on the Rock and spent an afternoon at the Dane County Fair. And as always, we ate too much Chocolate Shoppe ice cream and Union popcorn and the adults drank too much beer and wine.
They mastered diving off the side first...
...and then moved on to the diving board.
Ready for the high dive? I most certainly am not...
Sand Angels...is is weird that when I saw this pic my first thought was
that someone photoshopped the background to make snow look like sand? 
Cousins hanging out at Lake Wingra's Vilas Beach. 
Jumping off the Union Terrace dock into Lake Mendota. (The lifeguard
was surprised at how well Will and Hallie could swim in water that was
both above their heads and rough because of the wind. Proud mama.) 
Ready to tour The House on the Rock.
Visiting the lion family - mama gave birth to twin boy cubs earlier
this summer (you can see one of them trying to climb the tree to
the right) - at the Henry Vilas Zoo.
With Laura and Emily, two of my oldest
friends dating back to middle school. (6th grade?) 
Hallie showing off her tricks on the water ski trainer.
She would literally ride all day if we'd let her.
Serving as spotter for her brother on skis.
And he's up! In last summer's pic of
Will up on skis he looked nervous and
timid; now he looks strong and confident.
Another proud mama moment!
We had low expectations for the motocross showcase at the
Dane County Fair...as you can see from the pic, we were
wrong - the show was incredible!
Following their boats down the street stream in the rain.
Gramps and his rugrats.
New scooters!
Just three orangutans hanging out at the zoo.
Our last night in Wisconsin spent at the Union Terrace.
Oh, and we put more than 3,200 miles on my car.

We feel tremendously grateful to have spent many of our summer days with family, and just as grateful to have returned safely to the place and people we now call home.
We may not return tomorrow, Wisconsin,
but we will always come back.