I Want To Be Buck Owens

October 6, 2010

Yes, I want to be Buck Owens. Here’s how it happened:

At World of Bluegrass 2010 in Nashville, I saw the Infamous Stringdusters (above). Never have I heard something so magically alive come out of strings, and I’ve groupied around for almost 50 years. Extreme talent, yes, but best yet, I could see these guys were in heaven–fused with their instruments and loving it. www.thestringdusters.com

Turns out there’s a place in Nashville to get the best strings around: Gruhn Guitars. George Gruhn (above) will get you set up, as long as you have money and a passion for the craft. A zoologist who has actually classified guitars according to zoological taxonomy, he sells to the likes of Hank Williams, Jr., Eric Clapton and many other greats–in Nashville and far beyond. http://www.gruhn.com/

 But I found the real thing…Buck Owens’ guitar. Believe it or not, it’s even in tune, hanging right on the wall at the house Barbara Mandrell used to live in. See it for yourself at www.fontanelmansion.com. So, newly inspired, my plan is to move to Nashville, hit the studio, and make a few of these:

I’ve even got a great hook for a song: “Well, I came to Sunday dinner, and all I got was chicken skin.”  Like it?


Northeast Minneapolis Pedal Pub

August 7, 2010

Now, this looks like fun! It’s the Pedal Pub in Minneapolis. With room for 16 people (10 pedaling), this is the perfect way to party on the street. Minnesota law says you can drink while enjoying this athletic activity, because there’s a company “driver” on each excursion. www.pedalpub.com

On a recent visit to Northeast Minneapolis, we happened upon a race between two Pedal Pubs, right in front of Surdyks Wine Store:

Later, we did a little shopping along Hennepin Avenue. Here’s a look at Parc Boutique, www.parcboutique.com with its cute collection of couture:

Bone Adventure, meanwhile, has everything your little bundle of fur could desire, including doggie bakery. Looks pretty good, doesn’t it? I seriously wanted to taste this stuff…..I know, it’s not right. www.boneadventure.com

I also hear there’s a new restaurant opening on 4th Street called Yak and Yeti, with Nepali, Tibetan and Indian cuisine. I’d love to hear about it, if you’ve been there! www.yakandyeticuisine.com

Heart of the North: Spooner Rodeo in Wisconsin

July 13, 2010

Giddyup, folks–it’s rodeo season, and although the Heart of the North Spooner Rodeo http://www.spoonerrodeo.com is over, there’s plenty more action to be found this summer throughout these United States!

In Spooner this past weekend, the buckin’ was the main event, and we weren’t disappointed. Here are a few shots of the bareback boys on their broncos:


The competition was fierce, since the fellers were after cash prizes.

The audience was mesmerized, including this little cowboy kid:

Calf ropin’ was next, with cowboys in hot pursuit of their li’l dogies. They have to rope ’em, jump off their mounts, wrestle the calf to the ground and then tie three legs. The calf has to stay tied for six seconds, which is an eternity, if you’re the ropin’ cowboy! It’s hard to see in this shot, but he’s using two ropes: a lasso in the air and another in the teeth.

Even the little tykes got a piece of the action: mutton bustin’ is always a blast to watch. Little buckaroos as young as five years old don their bike helmets and grab a couple handfuls of wool, each trying to be the champ.

First he’s on:

Then he’s off:

But he’s still happy!

At the end of the night, there’s always a dance–this year’s band was Ellie May Kay and the Boogie Junction Band. This here cowgirl enjoyed the music!

Here’s a website that will hook you up with the lowdown on upcoming rodeos, now through September, throughout the Midwest: http://www.greatlakesprorodeo.com. And if you want to check out the Heart of the North Spooner Rodeo next year, the dates are July 7-9, 2011.

Obama Town Hall Meeting Racine 06/30/10

July 1, 2010

Have you ever attended a live speech by a sitting president? No matter what your politics, you’ll never forget the experience. I’ve seen a few political candidates speak at various events, but yesterday’s town hall meeting in Racine, Wisconsin was so much more…well…presidential!

We parked about five blocks away, so we wouldn’t get stuck in a traffic jam. Thirteen hundred people had free tickets for the meeting, held at Memorial Hall in Racine. There were vendors selling political paraphernalia, volunteers escorting those who needed assistance, refreshment carts, lots of television news cameras, and police sharpshooters on the roof. It was, I must admit, rather exciting.

               Our tickets were to the right of the stage, in the “cut shot” section, meaning that when the cameras focused on the audience, we were likely to be filmed. The hall filled up, and a few minutes before President Obama entered, Governor Doyle and Milwaukee’s Mayor Barrett (who, by the way, is running for governor) took their seats.

At the last minute, a handful of photographers was allowed onto the floor directly in front of the podium. They all pointed their cameras at a curtain just right of the stage, directly in front of our seats! Finally, a presidential aide strode purposefully onto the stage and attached the presidential seal onto the podium–which actually gave me goosebumps–and then President Obama entered, shaking hands all around.

Here’s a link to the entire event: 


I can’t possibly cover everything that was in the speech, but here are some of the issues addressed: the ongoing legislation battle about new financial regulations, whether or not the stimulus package was successful, efforts to further our economic recovery, and assistance for college students. In his opening remarks, Obama made no bones about calling out his “friends on the other side of the aisle” for both contributing to the financial meltdown, and holding up efforts to tighten regulations so that it doesn’t happen again. Hmmm, must be coming up on election year…

In any case, whether you’re Republican, Democrat or independent, it’s true that you can move a lot closer to being involved with what’s happening in our world by simply listening to our leaders. It’s a good first step to knowing what the issues are; then it’s up to you to do further research and decide where you stand.

Columbia River Gorge: Hood River Restaurants and Bars

June 15, 2010

Our first night in Hood River, we decided to check out the local haunts, to find out what there is to do in terms of food, drink and fun.

This retro tandem bicycle is suspended over diners at the Sixth Street Bistro, and, according to John, the bartender, it once belonged to Steve McQueen. Now, I know McQueen was a biker, but I thought all of his two-wheelers had motors. If someone knows anything about his pedaling pursuits, please fill me in! Either way, the tandem looks pretty good in the restaurant.

John also turned us on to a fascinating new drink: the Pendleton Nutsqueeze. It’s sort of like a whiskey sour, but with nutty liqueur and a squeeze of lemon. The whiskey is Pendleton, which is a Canadian-style nectar of the gods made in Hood River. Everything about this drink rocks, including the name. 

After a fine dinner at the Sixth Street Bistro (we had Thai Chicken Sate and Red Curry with Tofu–both excellent), we strolled over to Brian’s Pourhouse. We simply had to have one more Nutsqueeze, so we taught Brian’s bartender how to mix it, and pretty soon it was Nutsqueezes all around, including a few guys who were in town for training–on flying military spy drones. Turns out there are several aircraft manufacturers in the area. Here’s the outside of Brian’s Pourhouse: 

We didn’t just eat and drink, of course…there was a lot of hiking and a bit of shopping during the week, and we indulged in Sundari Abhyanga massages at the Bonneville Hotsprings Spa across the Gorge in Washington. But one night, we saw an alluring sign at the Passport Pub & Cafe advertising their Wed. night trivia contest. Nothing could have stopped us from signing up, although our tiny team of two took last place. We did make some friends, though, and hooked up with them later in the week to watch a Portland indie band at a Hood River hotel. Best of all, I discovered–totally by accident–that some Hood Riverians enjoy episodes of Trailer Park Boys–those crazy, dysfunctional, lovable Canadians. My favorite Trailer Park Boy is Bubbles!

Toward the end of the week, we had a sushi dinner at Kaze–they have lots of good noodle dishes, too–and later found ourselves at The Trillium, a cheerful little place with a youngish clientele. Weird Al Yankovic was on the jukebox when we walked in, and by the end of the evening, Rush’s 2112 was blasting over the speakers–by request. At The Trillium, it’s possible to make fast friends with the locals–they’re quite friendly. Plus, the chips and salsa are excellent.

If you need to work off all that food and drink, you can hit the water. Hood River is known, of course, for the wind surfing and sailing. Even on the coldest days of spring, hardy surfers are out there in their wetsuits, ridin’ the breeze:

Columbia River Gorge: Waterfalls and Wineries

June 3, 2010

It looks like a tropical jungle, but it’s right here in the Pacific Northwest: the spring vegetation along the trail at Falls Creek Falls in Carson, Washington. This place feels wild.

Once we approached the halfway mark of the 3.4 mile roundtrip trail, which at times can be a bit treacherous (especially during the rainy season, with its slippery,  narrow paths and steep dropoffs), we began to hear the roar of water, and could see the upper cascade through the trees. Suddenly, the two lower cascades of Falls Creek appeared, almost close enough to touch:

The dizzying drop of the three tiers is about 210 feet in total. Falls Creek Falls can be found 15 miles north of Carson, off Wind River Road on FR 3062.

And if you simply love large cascades of plummeting water, Multnomah Falls, although more populated with tourists, is a not-to-miss gem. With its drop of 620 feet, it’s impressive. But what I enjoyed the most, after hiking about 1.5 miles to the top of the falls, was the trail that heads east–it’s more remote, the scenery is gorgeous, and around every turn is another dramatic view.

But waterfalls are not the only reason to come to the Columbia River Gorge; there are dozens of wineries, many with scenic views of Mt. Hood, that produce high-quality wines. Washington’s Maryhill Winery, across the river and about 15 minutes east of The Dalles, has great wines–try the 2007 Zinfandel Reserve–and terrific scenery from its lovely open-air patio, plus a small amphitheater for concerts. http://www.maryhillwinery.com/ourwine.asp

The vineyards:

and the view:

In the next post, I’ll tell you where to eat and drink in the area surrounding the Columbia River Gorge, especially in Hood River. Meanwhile, here’s a website that will tell you more about waterfalls in the Gorge: http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/columbia/forest/

Pecha Kucha Milwaukee

May 12, 2010

Twenty slides, 20 seconds each. That’s all you get to explain your idea when it’s Pecha Kucha night.

Now happening in more than 300 cities across the globe, Pecha Kucha (Japanese for “chatter”) is a hot, swirling current of ideas and new approaches to life and work. The process unleashes the minds of innovative thinkers and provides a non-threatening stage for emerging artists and other original types to showcase their work. From taverns to trade shows, presenters—each with 20 slides and 6 minutes, 40 seconds of talk-time—speak on virtually any topic. Simple idea…but very compelling.

The process was dreamed up in Tokyo in 2003 by architects Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, to facilitate concise presentations for their designers. The events, now held worldwide, provide a setting for intelligent people to present their ideas—for free—to an audience. To watch ten presentations in Milwaukee, audience members each pay $10–the money goes toward the Pecha Kucha non-profit organization, for website upkeep and such.

Last night’s set of presentations at the Sugar Maple bar in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood was an artsy mix of creative exploration, cultural celebration and seemingly impossible mathematical equations. Topics ranged from building out-of-this world bicycles with disadvantaged kids to exploring Puerto Rican heritage to creating an architectural masterpiece out of clothespins and electrical wire. The audience leaned forward intently, laughed, shook their heads and learned. Oh, and they drank beer. Then they networked with presenters afterward to discover more about their ideas.  Here’s the website–check out a Pecha Kucha night near you: www.pecha-kucha.org

Devil’s Lake State Park

April 29, 2010


This is the sign you see while you’re waiting for the state’s only free ferry, the Merrimac Ferry. Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait long–it takes only about 10 minutes or so for the ferry to unload, make its way back across Lake Wisconsin (part of the Wisconsin River) and open the gates for more passengers. We were on our way to Devil’s Lake State Park, so we had our pull-behind camper with us. It was a tight fit–I mean inches–but we made it.

This time of year, Devil’s Lake State Park is gorgeous. There are very few people, lots of birds are migrating through, and the trees are just beginning to leaf out. Here’s a shot of Parfrey’s Glen, which is a nice, relatively level stroll of about .7 miles.

If you want something more challenging, try the East Bluff–you’ll have to climb, but the views are worth it. Unfortunately, the day we hiked it, I left my camera battery in the camper, where it was happily recharging as I lugged around the camera and two heavy lenses. Drat.

We also checked out the Balanced Rock trail (descending from the East Bluff), then walked around the lake and followed the Tumbled Rock trail back to our campsite on the north end of the lake. Balanced Rock is not for the faint of heart–you’ll climb roughly 1,100 feet, on a huge pile of rocks. One misstep and you’re a goner. Tumbled Rock is an interesting trail–flat, but it feels a little bit like you’re on the moon, with unusual boulders on every side.

At night, the campfires dotted the grounds and we spent the evening listening to crackling flames and taking in the view. My legs hurt from all that climbing…but it was worth it. www.wiparks.net

International Bowling Museum & Hall of Fame

April 15, 2010

I visited the International Bowling Museum & Hall of Fame (www.bowlingmuseum.com) in Arlington, Texas last week to do research for my upcoming book, Milwaukee’s Historic Bowling Alleys. It wasn’t what I expected, beginning with the outside:

Seriously, you gotta love a huge, see-through bowling pin. I guess everything really IS bigger in Texas…

The museum is part of a large complex that houses the United States Bowling Congress (USBC), which is the result of a merger in 2005 between the American Bowling Congress, the Women’s International Bowling Congress and the Young American Bowling Alliance. In addition to the museum and administrative offices, the USBC’s International Training and Research Center is also on the property.

I expected a collection of relics from the past, presented in display cases, with lots of trophies and medals from great bowlers throughout history. There IS some of that, but the museum is up-to-the-minute modern, with interactive displays, computerized bowling games and a real live pair of alleys for keglers to practice their hook. The balls are small enough to fit in your palm, and each of the mini-pins is tied to a string, allowing for automatic resets.

Interactive games such as The Coach’s Corner (above) let you challenge a couple of friends to see whose skills are up to par. Wait a minute, that’s golf terminology. Sorry…

You’ll see plenty of historical information on bowling champions throughout the ages, bowling in other countries–it’s huge in Korea–plus details on the intricacies of competitive bowling. Did you know, for example, that there are many different patterns of oil application that can be used to increase or decrease the difficulty of the lanes? Each pattern has a name: Scorpion, Viper, Cheetah, etc.

Bowling pins, meanwhile, have several forms, from small duckpins and candlepins–both of which are still in use in some areas of the country –to the kind typically used today, with all those sexy curves.

The museum is located in the entertainment center of Arlington, right across the street from Six Flags, and close to both the Texas Rangers ballpark and the Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

International Bowling Museum & Hall of Fame

621 Six Flags Drive

Arlington, Texas 76011



Charro Restaurante in Brookfield, Wisconsin

April 6, 2010

Except for the devil-in-disguise feel of it, the movie Charro was a bomb–I’m sorry, Elvis; you know I love you–but I can’t help falling in love with the two restaurants of the same name. I went to Charro (www.charrorestaurante.com) in downtown Milwaukee a while back and enjoyed it, but this visit to the Brookfield location was even better.  It has the same casual, sleek atmosphere, but felt a bit more personal and friendly.

First of all, when we walked in, we were greeted immediately by a smiling bartender. The manager offered samples of tequila–two different kinds–to help us with our libation selection. I wanted to make the world go away, to get it off, get it off, my shoulders, so I really enjoyed his pour of Oro Azul. I’m developing an affinity for reposado tequilas.

Are ya looking for trouble? The Spicy Scallops were true to their name–covered with a hot Serrano pepper rub and served with corn, butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds and cilantro ragout. I would choose it again–it was truly burning love. My dinner companion chose Fideo, which is the least Latin item on the menu, but also a winner: pasta served with chorizo, chicken, asparagus and manchego cheese. 

But the thing I like best about Charro is the decor–red and black, with barn-salvaged beams, and brooding religious overtones–crosses everywhere. On the walls are lyrics from the King. It gives me fever.

Charro Restaurante

17800 W. Bluemound Rd.

Brookfield, WI 53045