Big City of Little Neighborhoods

Most of us have probably traveled to a destination, planned or unplanned, not having high expectations, only to be pleasantly surprised. We recently had one of those “ah, this is so nice” moments when we visited the “big city of little neighborhoods” – Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We knew Madison, the state capital to be special, as Terry had lived there many years ago, but we weren’t expecting Milwaukee to charm us like she did.

We were doing a housesit for three weeks in one the smaller towns nearby and when our hopes of hiking and biking the trails were quashed due to the plummeting temps, a visit to the big city situated on Lake Michigan rose to the top of our sightseeing plans, and we found it so inviting that we kept going back for more.

In no particular order, here are our top 10 picks of Milwaukee gems:

1/ St. Josaphat Basilica

Built in 1888 by Polish immigrants, this beautiful church was designed after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and is in the Lincoln Village neighborhood, on Milwaukee’s south side. When the plans for this spiritual house were nearing completion, the priest at the time, Fr. Grutza, was told that the Chicago Post Office and Custom House was going to be razed, so he purchased it for the sum of $20,000 and had the salvaged materials brought to Milwaukee by flat cars. For this reason, many of the doorknobs today bear the seal of the U.S. Treasury. It was the third church in the United States to be raised to Basilica status.

2/ Milwaukee RiverWalk

The Milwaukee RiverWalk meanders through the heart of the city, tying together three riverfront neighborhoods – the Historic Third Ward, Downtown, and Beerline B. The RiverWalk extends more than twenty blocks from north to south and is sprinkled with permanent and changing art exhibits. It was a delight to walk on a warm autumn day when the trees were sporting their deep red and gold attire. It is a wonderful way to discover so much of what Milwaukee has to offer, lovely boutique shops, craft breweries, and award-winning restaurants.

3/ North Point Lighthouse

Perched on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in Milwaukee’s Lake Park, the site of this picturesque lighthouse was chosen and built in 1855 to mark the north point of Milwaukee Bay. Located in the Historic Water Tower neighborhood, the height of its tower is not that impressive, standing at just 28 feet, but with its bluff-top perch, it hovers 107 feet over the lake, and its Fresnel lens projected out across the water 20 miles. Unfortunately in 1888 bluff erosion forced the government to build another lighthouse further inland. It stood vacant for years until the Friends of North Point Lighthouse brought it back to life as a museum in 2007.

4/ Historic Third Ward

The Historic Third Ward, a neighborhood onto itself, is one of Milwaukee’s more creative endeavors, home to studios and art galleries in former warehouses and performing arts venues like the Broadway Theater Center. Restaurants are trendy and boutique shops sell fashion and home accessories. The indoor Milwaukee Public Market, open all year, has a wide array of interesting shops, including the renown St. Paul Fish Company, where Terry had his first lobster roll and a long walk afterward to walk it off. 🙂

5/ St. Joan of Arc Chapel

In the Avenues West & Marquette neighborhood, tucked among a mix of modern and vintage architecture, a “sacred heart”, born of medieval France, graces the grounds of Marquette University. The oldest building in Milwaukee, dating back to the early 15th century, the St. Joan of Arc Chapel is the heart of this Catholic university community. In the 1920’s a railroad magnate and devotee of St. Joan of Arc purchased this chapel, had it dismantled in France, and shipped to her property on Long Island. Over the years she sold the property and the new owners in time offered it to Marquette University, where it now sits nestled among the towering trees. Today it serves as a spiritual community gathering place.

6/ Lakeshore State Park

Lakeshore State Park, situated in the East Town neighborhood, has a network of walking/jogging trails running along Lake Michigan. It is a great place to fish and has a marina where boats can be chartered on sunny days. For us, it was a great place to get some exercise while enjoying views of the city skyline.

 7/ Milwaukee Art Museum

Also in the East Town neighborhood, the Milwaukee Art Museum is one of the largest museums in the United States. The museum’s unique design, sitting near the bank of Lake Michigan, is like none that I have seen, looking more like a futuristic airliner ready to take flight. It was one of our favorite attractions in Milwaukee.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Burke Brise Soleil, the museum’s signature movable wing-like sunscreen, can be raised or lowered to control heat and light in the glass-enclosed reception hall below it. Weather permitting, the wings open at 10 am when the museum opens and close at 5 pm when the museum closes. The wings also flap (open and close), at noon each day, to a musical accompaniment. The wingspan spreads 217 feet at its widest point, wider than a Boeing 747-400 airplane, and weighs 90 tons. It would be wonderful to see these wings from a sailboat on a warm sunny day on Lake Michigan.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

8/ Milwaukee Pierhead Lighthouse

Located in the Harbor District neighborhood, the Pierhead Lighthouse marks the location where the Milwaukee River flows into Lake Michigan. Built in 1872, the lighthouse had a keeper until 1926, and today is solar-powered and operates on auto-pilot. From the pier you can get a peek of the Breakwater Lighthouse as well, two for the price of one. 🙂

9/ Black Cat Alley

The Black Cat Alley had to be included on my top 10 list, due to my love of street art. Located in the East Side neighborhood, this alleyway was transformed from an unlit walkway into one of Milwaukee’s top photography destinations, thanks to the talent of a dozen local artists.

10/ Harley Davidson Museum

Located in the Menomonee River Valley neighborhood near downtown Milwaukee, this museum may well be the crown jewel of the city. Even if you are not a motorcycle fan, or not a Harley Davidson enthusiast, one cannot deny the rich history of this company, nor its staying power. This company most likely deserves its own post so I will leave you with just one photo to piqué your curiosity.

“Serial Number One”, the oldest Harley Davidson in the world, built in 1903, is a bit of a mystery and a Harley legend.

One thing that was for certain, we weren’t leaving Wisconsin without reconnecting with friends we met during our time living in Mexico, a lovely couple we haven’t seen in over seven years, who now live near Milwaukee. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at the historic Fox and Hounds Restaurant in nearby Hubertus and were thrilled to catch up with them. Theirs is the kind of friendship that neither time nor distance can diminish.

Although the photo quality may not be the best, the company certainly was. Thanks so much David and Les for taking the time to reconnect.

Advertisements

A New Way of Riding the Rails

Over 30 years ago, a group of like-minded individuals came together, railroad history buffs, conservationists, walking and biking enthusiasts, those dedicated to the concept of connecting communities, all with one common vision, to transform discarded railroad beds into something appealing, something useful, a place to build healthy spaces for healthy people. The initial seeds planted were spreading, so much so that these individuals felt a dedicated organization was necessary to foster their growth. This is where the non-profit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) was founded, in February, 1986, based today in Washington, DC. Their mission is to work with communities across America to convert unused railroad beds into a nationwide trail system, shared by walkers, runners, bicyclists, and wheelchairs alike.

Since the RTC’s start, more than 1,800 rail-trails have been developed across the country, spread across all 50 states, totaling more than 21,000 miles, with many other projects on the drawing table. These miles of now paved or crushed stone trails, once old rail beds, have been transformed into beautiful paths, almost always flat and almost always scenic – think mountains, rivers, and bridges.

This concept has become so popular, used by so many, that in 2007 the RTC decided to recognize model rail-trails across the nation, through its Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. Those trails selected are based on a number of qualities, such as usage, trail and trailside amenities, historical significance, scenic attributes, community connections, among others. Their first inductee, in July of 2007,  was the Great Allegheny Passage, 150 miles of trail running from Cumberland MD to Pittsburgh, PA, affectionately dubbed the GAP.

We have only had the opportunity to bike on a few of these wonderful trails, and have toyed with the idea of checking more of these off our list. Terry did some research and discovered that one of the more well-known, the Katy Trail, was nearby our midwestern travel route, so we made a detour and found ourselves in a state we have rarely visited, Missouri.

The Katy Trail, the longest rail-trip system in the  country, at about 240 miles, runs almost the entire width of Missouri, east-to-west, following a portion of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. It follows an old rail line for the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas railroad, the MKT for short, or even shorter, the KT, hence the name Katy (phonetic version).

We positioned ourselves in the little town of Rocheport, close by two of the favorite spots along the trail, towering bluffs overlooking the Missouri River and the V-shaped petroglyph on a cave east of the town.  We were only able to bike 50 miles of the Katy before the weather changed, bringing in rain, but the section we were on ran along the Missouri River and those towering bluffs, alongside deep woods and open fields and meadows, and through tiny towns. We met an enthusiastic group biking the entire length, who invited us to tag along. Had we not had previous commitments, we would have gladly joined them.

Many rural communities along the length of the Katy Trail have been resuscitated since its completion. This trail passes by more than 40 of these small towns. Rocheport, which once offered only a few antique stores, is now a recreational destination, sporting restaurants, B&B’s and even a winery, which we visited. In fact, I have read that you can find several vineyards just off the trail. In September of 2007 the Katy Trail became the second member of the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.

Riding the Katy Trail and reading more about how the rail-trails system began has inspired us to experience more of them. Before the Katy, we had only ridden three others – the Bizz Johnson Trail,  in Susanville, CA, the B&O Trail, in Brownsburg, IN (in its infancy), and 7 Capital Crescent Trail, in Washington DC.

“Great rail-trails very seldom sit still. They branch out; they bridge; they knit together communities.”

Have you ridden/walked any of these incredible trails crisscrossing the US? How about sharing your experience? Photos are always welcome. 🙂

Enjoying the Heartland with Family and Friends

Me & baby brother Al.

As we pushed farther into the Midwest, or what some know as the heartland of this country, we were hoping for some quality time with my youngest brother and family. We knew that with three very active children and two busy jobs, time would be limited, so we scheduled our visit accordingly. I was hoping that with the crazy schedule the kids have, we would at least get a glimpse of all three and a quick hug. As luck would have it, we got more than that. 🙂

A small town in Illinois, population 1,500, is where our road trip took us, a town next door to where I grew up as a kid. Even back there I guess I had wanderlust as I spread my wings and flew west right out of high school, but seeing this community again, and the tight group of friends my brother’s family has, it is obvious that it’s been a great place for them to raise their family.

Even before we arrived we discovered that our niece Paige was scheduled to play in an out-of-town volleyball game, one of just a few sports she excels at. As luck would have it, it was not far from where we were so we made a detour and joined mother and grandmother in the bleachers to cheer her team on. The night was a disappointment for her team, with a very unusual loss for them, but we were grateful that we were able to see her play.

And our nephews, being boys through-and-through, showed us their skill on their dirt bikes. Our youngest nephew Blake had recently healed from a rather serious break due to a dirt bike accident, but as is often the case with the youth, he “got back on the horse” as soon as he healed. His older brother Seth did much the same thing when he had a scary dirt bike accident a few years ago.

Getting kids to sit still at all, much less when aunts and uncles visit, is a tough job, so we were grateful they took some time to slow down while we were passing through.

We had good weather until that weekend, when high winds came through, damaging their new pool, followed by another storm later that day, bringing rain/snow showers. Looks like no Indian summer this year.

While in Patagonia earlier this year, a couple of dear friends, as well as neighbors, moved back to Evanston, IL to be closer to family. We were saddened by the news so we knew that, if within striking distance of their new home, a visit would be on our agenda.

Most of our time in Evanston was spent just catching up on our lives, but our friends, Kent and Cookie, also agreed to be our personal tour guides of the lovely city they now call home.

One of the more memorable stops was to the Bahá’í Temple in Wilmette. The grounds were lovely, even this late in the year, and the architecture striking, but the Bahá’í vision was what resonated most of all, a vision of hope and healing.

“All peoples and nations are of one family, the children of one Father, and should be to one another as brothers and sisters.”   ~  Bahá’u’lláh

As much as we enjoyed our visit with our friends, the four-legged member of their family, Petie, almost always steals the show, and this visit was no exception. I wondered if he would remember us after this long of an absence, but as soon as we walked into the door he jumped up on my leg, threw his head back and howled, a sure sign that he recognized us. Hugs to all three of our Evanston friends. We are grateful for your generosity.

Me and my buddy Petie.

Fear’s Tipping Point

Bruised sky, heavy clouds… As I peer out the window I muse that this day feels like the mood of our nation right now.

Fear…we’ve all experienced it. Fear of creepy, crawly things, fear of heights, fear of the darkness, fear of not being liked. Commonplace fear, although uncomfortable and that which can stop us in our tracks, is not what I am referring to. The type of fear that seems to have gripped our nation right now is irrational, rage-filled, a hatred so red-hot it feels one could be scorched just being in its presence. Has it always been here? I imagine it has. It seems someone or something has cracked open the door and given it oxygen to grow.

“Fear is the most debilitating emotion in the world, and it can keep you from ever truly knowing yourself and others – its adverse effects can no longer be overlooked or underestimated. Fear breeds hatred, and hatred has the power to destroy everything in its path.”  ~  Kevyn Aucoin

It is inconceivable to me that the leader of this country, a country whose ideals embody the strength of a democratic society, is that someone who has breathed life into this fear-based monster. It appears we have become an intellectually lazy society, choosing to believe whatever we see on social media, no matter how outrageous, so it shouldn’t surprise me that we are at this tipping point. Sadly, a constant barrage of lies, vitriolic rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and lack of moral character seem to be the framework by which the man who was elected to lead our country lives his life, and many of us seem to ignore what is happening around us.

Next Tuesday we in America have a choice, really more a civic duty, a duty to vote our conscience. It is time to take a hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to live in, and perhaps more important, what kind of country we want our children and grandchildren to live in. This is so much greater than what the stock market is doing, this must go beyond our own personal needs.

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”  ~  Pema Chödrön

Fear…yes, I feel it. I’d like to think mine is rational, the fear of the hatred that could continue to escalate in this country if we don’t choose wisely next Tuesday. It is time to find the courage to speak out, to speak with our vote the kind of country we wish to live in, the kind of example we want to be for our children and grandchildren. How many more lives have to be lost at the hands of those who fear individuals of different color or religious values? How many more bombs must be sent to those with differing views before we remove our heads from the sand?

“Our enemy is fear. Blinding, reason-killing fear. Fear consumes the truth and poisons all the evidence, leading us to false assumptions and irrational conclusions.”  ~  Rick Yancey

Please vote your conscience next Tuesday. Please vote as if our democracy depended upon it, because it does.

Header photo courtesy of exploringyourmind.com.

My Apologies Oklahoma

When we began this road trip I was determined to find some hidden gems in the Midwest and perhaps change misguided opinions along the way, particularly in the state of Oklahoma. In the spirit of full disclosure, Oklahoma is one of those states that has been difficult to wrap my head and arms around, mainly because of their weather. Sorry Oklahomans, but I do try to be honest.

A view of the Tulsa skyline at dusk.

Some fun “weather facts” about Oklahoma:

“Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain…”

  • Oklahoma is besieged with an average of 54 tornadoes annually and 15 of those are significant.
  • On 11/11/11, Oklahoma City reported both a record high temp of 83° and a low of 17°.
  • The nation’s first tornado warning was issued on March 25, 1948, when a tornado touched down at Tinker Air Force Base, with no injuries thankfully.

In early November, 2011, my husband experienced his first earthquake while sitting in our RV near Oklahoma City, a 5.7 magnitude, nothing to scoff at. At the same time he felt the shock so did the meteorologist we were watching on television. The look on each of their faces was interesting. This earthquake was followed by two rather significant after-shocks and after a day filled with hail storms, flash floods and several tornadoes reported in the area. So, perhaps there is a reason for my inability to fully embrace Oklahoma life.

Since we have children and grandchildren in Oklahoma, visits to this midwestern state are necessary, and during this visit we decided to do a housesit in Tulsa, allowing us more time in a relaxed environment to enjoy family. Our housesit was in a desirable area, right next to the bike path, which we had read had been expanded upon in recent years.

It was a trip filled with home-cooked meals and relaxing conversation, long bike rides, walks through local parks, a hike with Terry’s youngest son Keith, and a visit to a lovely historic site, the Philbrook Museum, which features lovely statues and framed artwork, as well as beautiful gardens reminiscent of a scaled-down Versailles in France.

And a few unusual Oklahoma facts:

  • Because of so many sightings, an annual ‘Big Foot Festival’ is still celebrated in eastern Oklahoma.
  • The World Championship Cow Chip Throw is held each April in Beaver, Oklahoma. No shortage of cow chips here I’m guessing, as Oklahoma is the 4th-largest cattle producing state in the US.
  • There are 200 man-made lakes in the state and a rule on the books that whaling is illegal in all of them…hmmm.

My opinion of Tulsa has been raised considerably with this visit, but not so much that I would want to make it my home. There is still that crazy, unpredictable weather to consider. 😉

Three generations L-R: son Keith, granddaughter Alyssa, and father Terry.

“We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand
And when we say
Yeow! A-YIP-I-O-EE-AY
We’re only say-in “you’re doing fine Oklahoma,
Oklahoma OK.”  ~  Oscar Hammerstein