NOTE: IN ORDER TO BETTER SEE PHOTOS IN THEIR FULL 1600 PX. RESOLUTION, VIEW THEM IN THE ALBUM FORMAT BY CLICKING ON THE LEAD PHOTO OR ANY PHOTO IN THE POST. This is especially true for landscape shots. Thanks to Mark for the idea of adding this alert so the photos can be seen at their best!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

And Then There Were Bugs

I've got 4 words for you.  Coolest..Art..Exhibit..Ever.

Wayne waiting for me to get my fill of insect art in the second floor hallway

The artist's name is Jennifer Angus and her art exhibits utilize insects from Southeast Asia.  She uses them in a variety of art forms and while the insects are real none of them are endangered and she tries to be as ethical as possible in her effort to bring attention to these species and their endangered rain forest habitat.  The exhibit "Tell Me a Story" is on view at Villa Terrace in Milwaukee until February 8th.

Her newest work features the insects in bell jars in a variety of interesting fantasy dioramas.  As I told the gal on duty, the children who recently visited must have been in heaven!

Hillary Clinton even viewed her exhibit earlier this year in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  That exhibit focused mainly on her well known work featuring the insects as wall art in patterns that evoke textiles and wallpaper designs.

The beetles look to be busier than bees in this display.  I laughed with delight!  Jennifer reuses her insects, pinning them to foam for transport and storage.  The possibilities are endless for what she could decide to do with them, right?  If I had disposable money and wanted to start an art collection this is the kind of place I would start.  Does it count as sculpture?

Imagine my surprise when I looked into a small room down one of the hallways and discovered some mammals gathered for dinner.

There were some insects present at the buffet, but I must admit it was the cleverly positioned mice that tickled my funny bone.

This exhibit we viewed will be at Villa Terrace until February 8th and there is much to see that I didn't share not to mention the color of the insects has to be seen in person to be really appreciated.  There are a few other things exhibited as well including some interesting ironwork by Cyril Colnik.   In March she will have an exhibit opening at the Textile Center in Minneapolis until May so if you'll be nearby stop and check one of her exhibits out!

Three more words for you  -  Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Little Piece of Northern Italy on Lake Michigan

My favorite of the 3 museums in historic Milwaukee homes that we visited was the Villa Terrace.

You can visit the museum Wednesday through Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. and admission is $5 for adults.  Well worth the price, in my opinion.

Hermes, messenger of the gods

Built in 1923 by architect David Adler it was designed to resemble an Italian Renaissance Villa.  The exterior is white washed pink brick with limestone trim that were carved and quarried in Italy.

The pebbles used in the garden walkway were supposedly gathered by the grandchildren of the owner from the Lake Michigan beach.  I'm glad that not all the building material was imported!

Tuscan columns and a brick walkway lead you to the front door.  Once inside you'll see that the main floor is devoted to use for events.  The views from the windows on both floors of the lake are magnificent.  Imagine this view almost a hundred years ago!  How much has changed, I wonder?

The Renaissance Garden behind the home we left unexplored and it looks like it might be worthy of another visit in early summer when everything is in bloom.

red Italian barrel tiles on roof

An unsupported circular iron stairway leads from the first floor to the second floor where we got to view the art galleries.  We had a delightful surprise in store for us that ended up being my favorite part of our get-away!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Have a Very Pabst Christmas

I probably should have posted this before Christmas, but with all the posts I'm behind on it kind of got lost in the shuffle.

When Wayne and I were in Milwaukee last month we visited the Pabst Mansion which was decorated for the holidays.  I love visiting historic homes at this time of year to see how they decorate them.  Sometimes they decorate in keeping with what would have been done in that time period but the Pabst Mansion's decorations were modern.

Photos were not allowed in the mansion, but were allowed in the greenhouse Pavillion.  The Pavillion is part of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 history.  I stumbled upon another piece of the history of the great Chicago World's Fair completely by accident!  The building is attached to the main mansion and is currently being used as the gift shop.  It is in a serious state of disrepair but funds are being raised to restore it.

Construction of beer baron Captain Frederick Pabst's mansion was completed in 1892. Pabst was born in Germany and his parents immigrated to the United States when he was 12 years old.  At the age of 14 Frederick signed on as a cabin boy on a Great Lake steamer and by the age of 21 he was a Captain.  When he married his wife he took his father-in-law's offer to buy into the family brewing company and the rest was Milwaukee history.

restored wallpaper on the first floor

I was told I could take a few "detail" photos as long as I wasn't giving away what the mansion looked like.  While I was interested in the wallpaper and the plumbing Wayne was intrigued with the hand carved wood detail throughout the home including matching furniture.  Captain Pabst died in 1904 and the mansion was sold to the Archidocese in 1908 and since the church doesn't tend to put a lot of money into "updating" a lot of the original detail was easy to uncover for the renovation.

When you visit the Pabst mansion during the holiday season you can buy a pass to visit 2 other museums for an additional $5.00.  Our second stop was the Charles Allis Art Museum whose interior was nowhere near as grand but had a few nice original details to admire.

Wayne's favorite stop of the three mansions was the Pabst home...but mine was Villa Terrace on Lake Michigan.  Wait until you see what was on display!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Holiday Doings and Planning Ahead

It's no secret that I love cupcakes, right?  It's probably a good thing that there isn't a fabulous shop nearby or I wouldn't be able to keep fit no matter how much hiking I did.  Our family (all 6 of us) decided years ago that we would keep it simple at Christmas and all we do is get one gift for each member with a $25 limit.  Katrina played on my love of cupcakes and got me an iPhone cover cute enough to eat!

The most entertaining gift of the exchange was the speakers Wayne got for Cory that shoot light and water in time to the sound.

Cory's gift wasn't the only entertainment.  When Cory's gift to me turned out to be a pair of Big Bang Theory pajama pants I provided amusement for my loved ones by stripping off the leggings I was wearing under my skirt and pulling the pjs on right there in the living room.  Apparently my skirt didn't behave itself as well as I thought it would and my loved ones were all appalled.  What's a little panty-flash amongst family on Christmas?  At least I liked my gift, right?

Soft Kitty pj pants and bribing for chocolates

I liked Wayne's gift of Screech chocolates from Newfoundland that my mother gave him that I paid him $50 for one.  Which behavior of mine was more shocking?

The weather on Friday was gorgeous around here with temps near 50F, little wind and even some sun so of course I had to work and could only experience it through the store window.  The forecast shows a continual drop throughout the week so I layered up yesterday and picked a new section of the Ice Age trail to explore not far from home.  Already it's been 3 weeks since I got back from Kentucky and I haven't gone hiking once.

IAT and snowmobile trail parking lot on Esterly Road

I chatted for a moment with a couple of hunters about the weather (37F cloudy and windy) and then ducked into the shelter of the trees on the Whitewater Segment.  Within minutes I got my first surprise and was reminded that there is always something to see when out hiking, even when winter gets its grip on the Midwest.

Tophat might be a bit dressy for hiking but I like the mustache

Since I picked a section of the IAT that was sheltered from the wind and not out in the open prairie I knew that meant there would probably be a few climbs up and down the eskers, not to mention that pesky glacial till to look out for and not trip on.

Time went pretty quickly and before I knew it I was climbing up and knew I was probably nearing the viewing point for Whitewater Lake.

 It wasn't the prettiest of days, so maybe I'll camp at the campground at some point when everything gets green to see what it looks like when the sky is blue and the birds are chirping.

Whitewater Lake and Rice Lake just behind it

Whitewater Lake has a non electric campground that runs right alongside the trail with a few campsites having direct access to it.

Sites 611, 612 and 614 have direct access just steps from the trail.  Online reservations are available, but there is no electric and no shower or flush toilet facilities.  Nearest shower building is 20 miles away at Ottawa Lake and Pinewoods where I normally camp.

site 611 and the IAT on the left under a layer of oak leaves

 A little further along I looked up in time to catch a large owl take flight though I didn't get a chance to identify it.  So, of course I followed its path off the trail a short distance to see if I could catch up to it.  This led to the discovery that sites 775 and 777 in the west loop also have access to the IAT though the path is faint and might not be worth the trouble once the ticks come out to play.

The Whitewater segment that I was on ends at a road and then you have to travel about 5 miles to pick up the Clover Valley segment.   At the terminus is Whitewater Creek and a nice bridge and bench where I stopped to have my trail mix before heading back.

Like most sections of the IAT in this part of Wisconsin the trail runs through sections of pine forest that were planted and oak forest that are indigenous.  I figure I did about 5 miles roundtrip since I started in the middle and had to backtrack.

The other half of the Whitewater segment goes through a section that is supposed to be pretty after a wet snowfall so I'm waiting for that to happen before tackling it.  The Clover Valley segment contains a lot of wildflowers so I'm saving that for May or June.  Yesterday I was pondering our travel plans for the year but until we get our days scheduled with the company it's kind of up in the air except for the fact that I'll be sticking around Wisconsin in March, April and at least part of May most likely.  I had wanted to combine the state parks of Minnesota lining Lake Superior with a trip over to Isle Royale at some point, but I'm thinking maybe this summer we'll just dart up to Two Harbors and see that area for a week and push through to Isle Royale and the parks further along another time to make it into two shorter trips instead of one long one.  Anyone spend any time in that area and have any suggestions?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Date Bars and Sugar Cookie Experiments

I enjoyed getting everyone's opinion the other day, thanks for posting even if you didn't agree!  Sometimes it just feels good to have a place to air your opinions.  Yesterday I thought I heard the mail truck going by way too early and it put the idea in my head to share some treats with our mail lady.  Guess she had a surprise when she put down the flag!

Katrina said "let's" make sugar cookies the other day.  We all know how that turned out, right?  For three days I've been dabbling at experimenting with cookie designs based on what she found on the internet.  I put my foot down at fancy shapes, told her I just wanted to some round ones.

The melted snowman would have turned out a lot better if I had used lemon juice instead of vanilla in the icing.  I didn't use a royal icing because I hate that overly hard coating, but the only alternative I found online contained corn syrup which didn't make me happy either since I had to go buy a whole bottle to use about a tablespoon.  Now I realize I probably could have asked a neighbor I'm sure someone on the block has it in their cupboard.

buttercream icing for the snowflakes...yum!

I will say the cookie tinkering has been a welcome creative distraction, but I wish I'd been making greeting cards instead.  Things have been tough emotionally here at home the past few weeks.  The weather is actually above freezing, but too cold out in the open with the wind so it's not likely I'll stop somewhere for a hike which is the best therapy of all for me.

This year I used real pitted dates and chopped them myself instead of buying the ones already chopped and coated in sugar.  It made a huge difference in flavor and texture in my opinion.

Here's the recipe, it's super easy and a joy to make and eat.


2 cups flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter

Mix the above ingredients and rub/crumble the butter into mixture by hand until crumbly.  Press 1/2 of the mixture into a 9x13 baking dish.

2-3 cups chopped dates
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup white sugar (less if using sugar coated dates)
1 1/2 cups water

Cook in small saucepan until thick.  Since I chopped my own dates it looked lumpy so I used my immersion blender to make it nice and smooth.

Spread date filling on top of oat mixture then top with remaining oat mixture.  Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 20-25 minutes.  Let cool and cut into squares. 

I hope all my followers have a nice holiday and if you overindulge don't forget to balance it out with some exercise! Today I'm making a batch of homemade bread and the work I'm doing with the personal trainer has made a difference because my arms and hands didn't get tired kneading 10 lbs of flour!

 Since the snow is passing to the south of us maybe I'll pretend I'm someplace warmer and go for a walk outside.  If I squint my eyes a little I might be able to fool myself...right?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Holidays...Or Not, Your Call

Okay, here's the thing.  The whole Christmas thing lost most of its charm for me many, many years ago.  It's just so overdone and so commercialized and so centered on spend, spend, spend and get, get, get.  Even when the kids were small it didn't take long before we wised up and we scaled back the gift giving and the decorating and all the excessive nonsense.

Kitchen remodel complete with new paint, countertop and dishwasher.
Christmas decorating done too, I keep it simple and keep my sanity.

There is so much pressure for most folks to do the right thing, buy the right thing, give the right thing.  And for what?  From what I see everyone just makes a list or flat out tells you what they want and they expect to get it.  To what purpose?  Or give cash or gift cards so they can just get what they want.  Why?  If you want it, get it yourself, that's what we do around here.  What does spending money (mostly money people don't really have to spend) have to do with having a happy holiday?

I wanted the kitchen redone before winter set it, Wayne wanted a new place to put all his stuff
maybe not done by Christmas...but close enough that all the stuff has found its way inside

Such a fuss is made about gift exchanges (luckily we are not in a social or familial situation where we have to participate in any of those) and from the sound of it everyone gets something impersonal that they don't want and plan to re-gift.  Why can't people get together without spending unnecessary money?  What happened to cocoa, cookies and carols?

yearly gingerbread house competition at the Grand Geneva 

I got a small box of Harry & David pears for my "new girl" and our neighborhood friends some locally made goodies from River Valley Kitchens.  I'm not Scrooge...yet.

my favorite for 2014

These are the things that are on my mind when I'm out there hiking and this is sometimes the place those thoughts get dumped.  Feel free to skip ahead to the end where I talk about cookies if it's too deep for you.

I like ribbons and bows

What I really meant to get into was the whole "Merry Christmas" issue.  I'm always taken aback this time of year when perfect strangers ask me if all my shopping is done or tell me to have a Merry Christmas.  Am I the only one who finds this a bit overfamiliar and presumptive?  While over 70% of Americans identify themselves as Christian, 5% are Jewish and up to 20% have no religious identity at all.

No snow here after our "warm" spell and even a few geese still hanging around at the Grand Geneva

Even presuming the stranger you are addressing theoretically celebrates Christmas, what if they have circumstances in their life where assuming they have a happy family gathering just around the corner is painful for them?  What if your offhand enthusiasm to strangers is nothing but a reminder that they just lost a loved one or some other personal tragedy is interfering with their "merry" Christmas?  (I swear I'm not projecting....much.)  Katrina tells me I take this whole issue too seriously, but she gets the same way when a man makes the mistake of calling her a "girl" instead of a woman.  We all have our  issues, don't we?

Goofy's  issue is probably thinking "I just know they're going to drag out those
silly holiday hats and try to make us put them on again this year"

"I knew it!  Bah, Humbug!"
Just wanted to make the argument that it might not be that a person's aversion to "spreading holiday cheer" is about being politically correct.  For me it's about not assuming I have intimate knowledge about strangers' holiday plans, or lack of plans.  I'm perfectly happy to return the greeting to those who extend it, I just don't understand the need/compulsion that others feel to shout it out to every person they chance upon as they go about their day.  You do what you want, it's American after all and we have the right to free speech!

I do enjoy the light displays and the gingerbread houses and the ribbons festooning the gifts.  And let's not forget the only tradition we really have here in the Leonard household which is the annual viewing of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation".

Whatever your plans, I hope all my followers do something they enjoy this holiday season with people they like to spend time with.  Wayne's working double shifts from now until the New Year, he thinks he might be able to dart home long enough to enjoy a meal with us and open gifts the day after Christmas so that is our plan written in jello.

My tree is full of woodland creatures to remind me of things more pleasant
than holiday madness like hiking and breathing fresh air

A much more pleasant post about cookies tomorrow.  I'll even give you my date bar recipe!  I used to do the big cookie thing but now all I do is date bars for my mother, they remind her of her Newfoundland childhood and they taste yummy.  And Katrina talked me into doing some sugar cookie decorating experimenting too.  I haven't made sugar cookies in years...I'll post the results, good or bad.