July 2011 Archives

My apologies to Tom Petty...

I think I'm hooked on this skydiving stuff - I did two more jumps today and loved every minute of it. After my second jump, the jump master told me my form was "model perfect" and that I was ready to progress to the next level of training - practicing pulling my own pilot chute.

It was an absolutely beautiful day for diving today, if not a tad warm. I wish my altimeter was reading the humidity and temperature rather than my relative altitude...

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Although I suppose those zero-degree cold winter days will be here soon enough, so I shouldn't really wish too strongly for 'ole man winter to return.

With my gear all set and double-checked, we were ready for take-off:

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(I asked one of the instructors to take my picture before, during, and after my jump; you can't easily take a camera with you into the air... many thanks to Linda for snapping some pictures for me!)

On my first jump, I jumped from 4,000 feet; our plane's airspeed indicator died along the way up, so we didn't have any idea how fast we were going when we jumped. Normally, they want you to be going between 80-100 knots; the stall speed of the airplane is 75-ish knots, so our pilot dropped the speed until we stalled, then gave 'er just a little more gas. Getting out on that jump was super easy - the reduced wind speed made it less windy while climbing out onto the wing.

I jumped at 4,000 feet, my chute deployed by 3,000 feet (I had a long free fall for some reason), and then I played around in the air for about 5-6 minutes. Did lots of 360s, figure-8s, S-turns, and flares. Here I am coming in for my landing:

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I was at about 250-feet when that picture was taken; coming in on my final approach. I nailed the landing - hit the target on the dot. I did a light roll by accident - didn't land running... I gathered-up my chute and got one last photo:

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From there, it was into the "packing room" where I unloaded my gear and the instructors/jump masters work to repack the canopies (parachutes). Here are some folks working relentlessly and tirelessly to repack the rigs:

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I was really fortunate to have score a fast "turn-around" ride for my second jump; normally, there's a long waiting line for a spot on the plane, especially for students like me, but for some reason, I was able to hop on the next plane out... so, it was literally a "take off your gear, debrief, inquire about another flight, and 'hurry up - plane's ready!'"

Two jumps in less than 3 hours is a great pace. I'm not sure I'll enjoy luck like that again, so I won't be holding my breath for another rapid turnaround for a while. My second jump of the day went even better than the first - better form, more fun in the air, and a better landing. Winning!

Taking care

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By now, you're all likely to be sick of my constant complaining about bad dieting, working out too much, and so on... but, man, July 2011 may have been the single worst month in my diet history - something has to change, and it has to change pronto.

I failed on my diet for 21 days in July. That's simply inexcusable. I gave-up during this month... I had friends in from out of town, a house warming party, several work functions at restaurants/bars, a skydiving celebration, and a solid week of "I don't care about anything" self-pity. The net result? I gained 27-lbs in July. I'm sitting at nearly 185-lbs, which is ridiculous given how hard I had to work to get to a healthy weight.

I consumed 99,655 calories over a 30-day period in July. For comparison, in July of 2010, I consumed a total of 39,012 calories. I burned a total of 10,300 calories through exercise in July of 2011, compared with 26,455 in July of 2010. It's no wonder I'm blimping-out.

So, I vow to get back on track. I feel miserable right now - my joints hurt, my face feels puffy, my stomach is flabby like it hasn't been in a long time... I've eaten so many donuts and cookies this past month that I honestly believe I'm burned-out on them, which is probably a good thing. It'll make me less likely to want to binge on them over the next few months.

I spent yesterday re-mapping a viable, long-term plan for nutrition and workouts. I created spreadsheets, daily meal plans, daily workout plans, and scheduled 2 specific cheat meals for August. If all goes to plan, I should be back into the groove and taking care of myself in no time.

It started today with a 58-mile bike ride, followed by a 4-mile run. As heavy as I currently am, and as painful as it was to run, I hammered out the 4-miles at an average pace of 8:12/mile... that shocked me because I'm usually an 8:30/mile runner, and, I hit that pace after an intense 58-mile ride.

I rode with a group of folks from the Capital Brewery; we left from Madison at 7:00am sharp and wound our way up to Prairie du Sac. At several points along the way, we crossed the Wisconsin river, which was absolutely beautiful:

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A 58-mile ride sounds impressive, but we didn't ride "straight-through" - we stopped in Prarie du Sac for a breakfast break... I had a scrambled egg and 2 pieces of this awesome homemade cracked whole wheat toast. I gave 2 pieces away - my fellow riders thought it was "top 10 toast" (if there is such a thing).

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The breakfast was made all the better by the surroundings - we stopped at the Blue Spoon Cafe & Creamery in Prairie du Sac, and scored outdoor tables, which overlook the Wisconsin river. Even though it was approaching 80F by 9:00am, it was quite enjoyable out there. After our break, we hit the road for the return trip; the total ride took about 3.5 hours, with a 30-minute breakfast break. I averaged just about 19-mph, which was really pleasing.

After the ride, I ran (in Madison) on a nice trail - I forget how glorious it is to run on crushed pea gravel. I like the sound, I like the feel, and I like the softer impact. After my run was finished, I headed to the house, where I hung out for about 2 hours.

My boss and I then went for a 12-mile bike ride; he just got his first real road bike and wanted to take it for a spin, so I joined him for a quick spin. I returned back to the house and hopped in the shower, at which point I noticed that the sun had gotten the best of me, despite my lathering-up with sunblock. :-)

Here's my arm and leg (note the bike shorts/watch tan lines):

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Even my feet got tan/crispified... I ride my bike without socks, and here you can see where the sun worked its way through past the hooks/loops in my shoes:

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For dinner I had 2 grilled fish tacos (4" corn tortilla, broccoli slaw, grilled fish, cilantro, lime) and 1 smoked brisket taco (4" flour tortilla, smoked brisket, onion, cilantro) and an iced tea. So tasty. I really enjoy and feel better when I eat "clean" - I have no idea why I crave crappy foods when the good stuff tastes as good as it does.

After dinner, I went grocery shopping and prepared meals for the rest of the week. I then gave Mack a good brushing... how she isn't bald is beyond me:

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Tomorrow will be more of the same - ride/run and focus on getting back into taking care of myself. If the weather permits, I may try to sneak in a late afternoon/evening skydive... we'll see how things go.

What a day - I successfully completed my very first skydiving experience; a solo jump, nonetheless. It was so incredibly awesome - words cannot do this story justice, but I'll do my best to explain.

A few months ago, the MidTown Pub folks decided to get a group of people together and go skydiving. They had found approximately 20 employees and "regulars" that were interested in trying it; I was one of the 20, and the only one who wanted to do a solo jump (everyone else wanted to tandem jump, meaning that you jump while tethered to an instructor).

The differences? A solo jump is like driving a car; a tandem jump is like riding in a car. A solo jump requires that you take a 6+ hour class; a tandem jump requires about 30 minutes of instruction. And, with the tandem jump, you can free-fall for up to 30 seconds; with the solo jump it's limited to about 5-7 seconds. A solo jump also counts as a jump toward earning your skydiving license.

So, I paid the fee for my solo class, and arrived to the Seven Hills jump school at 7:45am sharp. The weather looked gloomy, to say the least.

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Our class began right on time; we started with the legal stuff (aka, "you could die during this and you choose to take the risk on your own."). From there, we learned about the components of a parachute "rig" (pilot chute, bridal, bag, canopy, lines, slider, risers, harness, reserve chute, etc), and how each component functioned.

We then went to a simulator to learn how to enter and exit the airplane.

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Believe it or not, when you exit the airplane, you step onto that small metal ledge above the wheel, while hanging onto the red/white strut. You then slide your hands into the white section of the strut, step completely off of the platform, and then "check-in" with your instructor as you hang from the strut by your arms. The instructor will yell "Skydive!" at which point you let go and arch your body backwards as much as possible, while yelling "arch-thousand," "two-thousand," (etc) and waiting for your canopy to deploy.

We practiced this several times, and were quizzed about it over-and-over. The arch is extremely important.

We then went back into the classroom and spent a tremendous amount of time learning about malfunctions and problems, and what to do in the event of either taking place.

A malfunction cannot be fixed; the solution? Release your primary canopy and pull the reserve. A problem can usually be corrected (twisted lines, stuck slider, deflated end tubes) - your goal is to fix it before you hit 2500 feet; if you can't, then you go into emergency procedures (release chute, pull reserve).

This part of the classroom took a really long time, and included a lot of repetitive drilling to help commit it to muscle memory.

From there, we learned about maneuvering during your ride; how to pull on the toggles, use the brake, flare the canopy, and how to approach the landing zone.

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By now, it was time for a lunch break; I had a nutrition bar while the rest of my class (about 12 people) had pizza. After lunch, we briefly reviewed a few items from earlier, and then practiced the "PLF" (Parachute Landing Fall). This was the hardest and most painful part for me...

They really want you to try to land-and-roll onto your shoulder, rather than try to perform a standing/running landing. Try as I might, I couldn't keep my head from slamming into the mat when I jumped from a small platform and attempted to roll. I actually tweaked my neck/shoulder after the second sample/training PFL. I was nervous about the landing... There was no way I could do a good PFL without hitting my head on the ground. I was also nervous about landing on my feet - the last thing I needed to do was injure my knee, ankle, hip, or foot...

We were then quizzed and tested in 1-on-1 sessions with jump masters; they gave us all sorts of scenarios with malfunctions and problems, while drilling the processes and reactions into our brains. We learned about obstacle avoidance, emergency landing, approach angles, and so on.

After the class was over, I received my jump ticket - this red ticket gave you access to the airplane; lose it, and it was game over.

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By now, it was after 2:00pm, and we were ready to jump. I got put into the last group of jumpers (there were four groups of us, 3 per group), which meant I'd be jumping at around 5:30pm... argh. Three-plus hours of waiting wasn't going to make me feel any better, but it did give me a chance to practice a bunch of things and to watch people as they jumped.

And then the weather stopped cooperating... the wind speed went above 14-mph, which is the limit for solo jumping as a student. And, worse yet, when the speed goes above 14-mph, there's a 1-hour waiting period before you can attempt to go out again. If the wind speed stays below 14-mph for the entire hour, you're good to go. If it exceeds 14-mph, it's time to wait again. We waited until about 4:30pm before the first group could go out...

Each group of 3-people requires about 1-hour to 1.25-hours to complete their jump. With any luck, I'd be jumping by 7:30-8:00pm. At least I had plenty of time to find my gear and get all set...

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I needed a size "Medium" jump rig and a "Large-Tall" jump suit. The medium rigs were popular, so I had to wait to get one until some of the first jumpers landed. And, as luck would have it, they began to land at about 5:00 - here's one of the first folks coming in for a landing:

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Long story made shorter, the three groups all went out - one of the people had a problem during his jump and ended-up in a cornfield about 2-miles from the landing zone... he was OK, but it didn't do anything to make me feel confident! I talked to folks about the landing and got some good hints/tips, so I felt better about the landing.

A rig became available, and I suited-up. After being outfitted and checked for safety/rigging/etc., I had to go through a simulator test where you're hanging about 2-3 feet off the ground and the instructor tells you your primary canopy has failed; the simulator allows you to feel what it's like to cut away your primary canopy and deploy your reserve. Here I am after getting out of the simulator (my helmet was a touch too small, hence the scrunched looking face):

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I received 2 additional safety checks from separate instructors, and then got the "OK" to proceed. A quick radio check (you can hear your ground spotter via a small 2-way radio that is secured to your arm), and we were making our way to the airplane... no turning back!

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We left tera-firma at approximately 7:00 on the dot. The plane took us to just under 4,000 feet, and the first person in our group exited the aircraft. He had some trouble with the platform, and hung-on to the strut for too long. The instructor had to push him out and away from the platform/strut. The plane circled around to approach the drop zone and I was up.

I was surprisingly calm and at ease. I didn't feel queezy, or anxious, or nothing. It was surreal - I was confident and excited. I asked my jump master, "Do you have my pilot chute?" He confirmed that he did. He then opened the door to the aircraft, and held one hand on my rig. He instructed me to "Standby," which means "step out onto the ledge and slide your hands out to the white zone.

The shock of the 100-mph wind was amazing. I was also too tall for the platform/wing, and my rig got hung for a bit on the wing. I had to crouch down super far to begin my slide out to the white zone; it was a little unnerving, but I was ready. Once in the white zone, I stepped completely away from the platform, hung for a second, looked at my instructor and shouted, "CHECK-IN!" (meaning I was ready) Here I am, hanging on the wing strut after shouting the check-in.

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He replied with "SKYDIVE!" at which point, I released my grip from the strut and tried to arch my back while yelling "ARCH-THOUSAND!" I say try, because I didn't do a very good job of arching... here you can see me yelling the "ARCH-THOUSAND!" but not arching... :-) It looks as if I'm screaming, and I am, but I'm screaming what I'm supposed to be screaming - the "arch-thousand!" count.

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And here I am, about 2-seconds into the free fall, failing to arch; you can see I'm more or less on my back at this point...

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So, because I didn't arch, I went onto my back, which is bad - it makes for a more pronounced "opening shock" (which is when your canopy catches the wind and opens). I also only got to about "three-thousand" on my count by the time my pilot chute pulled open my canopy. Here I am in the middle "opening shock" - the primary canopy is just beginning to open/deploy; the lines are tight, and the pilot chute is above me, pulling everything out of the rig so that it can deploy.

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The opening shock was extremely anti-climatic. The chute opened, and I immediately checked for shape and control; I had both, so then I checked for twisted lines and to make sure my slider was in the correct position. Everything was OK, so I released my toggles and gave a pull on both toggles to flare the canopy - this helps fill the tubes with air so that you can turn and brake, and also tells the ground spotter that you're OK. Here I am (way in the distance), making a slight right turn at about 3,500 feet.

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I drifted my way down from 3,500 feet, practicing turns, S-bends, and flares per my ground spotter's directions. The fall was so serene, peaceful, beautiful, and fun. It was dead silent - no noise, no wind noise, nothing, just pure bliss; save for the crackle of my spotter on the radio. At 1,000 feet, I began my approach to the landing zone; at 500 feet, I went perpendicular to the landing zone per instruction, and at 250 feet, I faced into the wind for maximum lift. I applied a little bit of brakes, steered my last little bit toward the landing zone, and then at 50-feet, put my knees and feet together and prepared to flare (stall) the canopy.

As you're falling, you're doing two things - falling "down" via gravity at about 16-18 feet per second, and "moving" into the wind at about 15 miles per hour. The goal is to keep that momentum steady until the last 8-12 feet, at which point you flare the canopy, which stops your forward motion and you drop straight to the ground from about 3-feet.

It worked perfectly, but I forgot to bend my knees, so I ended-up sliding a bit on my butt - at least I didn't have to do my dreaded PLF! And, the landing was super smooth/soft. Success!!

I gathered my canopy and lines, and made the short walk back to the classroom; I had nailed my landing position within about 10 feet of where I was supposed to be - winning!! Here I am, all smiles, with my canopy bunched-up and in hand.

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I waited for the last jumper and our jump master to land, took off my rig, and then debriefed with the jump master. I immediately knew what I had done wrong - rig got held-up on the wing/door and I didn't arch enough. Other than that, a great jump. I got my first jump certificate:

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I hung around for a bit to get my pictures from the plane, and then headed back to the house, where some hungry cats were waiting for me. I fed them, fed myself, and then made this entry. :-) I can't wait to do it again - it was so many things all at once - peaceful, calming, fun, liberating, and beautiful. After 25 instructor assisted jumps, you can earn your A-license, which allows you to do your own free-falls rather than using the pilot chute to automatically open your canopy. 1 down, 24 to go!

If you've ever considered going skydiving - DO IT. It's so incredible. It's nothing like I had imagined (I thought it would be like falling from a high-dive or riding a roller coaster) - it's not like anything I ever expected. My stomach didn't go into my throat or into knots - it was so relaxing. Sounds odd, but it's true. Blue skies, my friends!

As mentioned in my "House Guest, Part II" entry, I had a chance to sample the fish fry from the Water Street Brewery, in Milwaukee. Quick review: terrible service (complete with horrible, snotty attitudes); decent fish; expensive. Won't be back.

Detailed review:
With an out-of-state guest in tow, a tour of the Miller Brewery under our belts, and an evening of Summerfest lurking just ahead, the only "pure Wisconsin" activity left un-explored was that of the traditional Friday fish fry.

We hopped in the car and made the short drive from Watertown Plank Road to Water Street, where I figured we would find a decent selection of fish frys to choose from. We parked the car and tried a few pubs/restaurants, only to be disappointed by the fish offerings. The first few places we stepped-into offered "fish and chips;" none appeared to have a proper Friday fish fry.

We walked our way down Water Street and stumbled upon the Water Street Brewery. A quick iPhone query of the web about their fish fry indicated the WSB did indeed offer a proper Friday fish fry, complete with cod, perch, and walleye choices. Score!

We asked for a table and after some confusion/hesitation were seated in the back corner of the restaurant, near the bar area. The booth was large and flanked by plenty of dark wood, lending to an almost Irish Pub theme/feel. There were two other couples seated nearby; the rest of the brewery was empty.

A waitress stopped-by to let us know that she'd be "right with us" and then scurried off, leaving us to explore the WSB menu, which is more of a newspaper (ala The Great Dane in Madison). After about 5 minutes or so, our waitress reappeared. Before we even got her name, she complained about people not knowing which door to enter the brewery from, and proclaimed that "today was the day where every idiot in the world has ventured into the brewery."

Nice to meet you, as well.

Neither of us felt like having any beers, so I ordered a Diet Coke and BJ ordered a water. We were ready to order our food, but our waitress left before we could place orders for the fish. She returned after another five minutes or so, and as she sat our drinks down, she said, "You wanted regular Coke, right?"

"Nope, sorry - Diet Coke, if possible," I responded.

She yelled over to the bartender (who was on her cell phone complaining to someone about her new Coach purse and how it wasn't what she wanted), "Do you love me?"

The bartender said (direct quote), "Not if you're going to request a f#&@king beer sampler - I'll kill anyone who orders one of those."

Nice customer service - great attitude and way to help promote the brewery's offerings...

"Remember that Coke? Now they want Diet," said our waitress. Great - blame it on me; I was preparing to filter spit from the replacement...

With a sigh, the waitress looked back at us and said, "What can I getchya'?"

I asked about the fish fry choices and explained that BJ was from out-of-state and was looking for the best fish fry offering. Our lovely waitress responded, "I'm not sure why people up here like their fish fry so much. I mean, it's like fried fish, right? Oh wow, like that's new or something. Where I'm from, we had better fish - bass is so good compared to cod."

Not really the answer we were looking for... BJ tried to be nice and picked-up on the "where I'm from" comment by asking where she was from. She responded that she was from Wichita, Kansas and had been in Wisconsin for about a year.

After a few minutes of really uncomfortable banter about Wisconsin and how it's full of fat people that love cheese, beer, and fried food, we ordered fried food - I went with the lake perch, and BJ went with the battered cod. Our waitress left with our orders. My replacement Diet Coke arrived after a few minutes, sans spit, so things were looking up.

As we were waiting, a group of older folks walked-in to the Brewery through a side door (the same door that BJ and I entered through) and seemed confused by the whole brewery. They were looking to buy some bottled beer to take with them back to their home (out of state); the staff was less than accommodating, to say the least.

Our waitress walked over to the side door and locked it, then walked over to our table and said, "I'd like to shoot anyone that comes through that door -it's not like the main entrance, so why are people so dumb?" We pointed out that we came through the door because it's on the main Water Street sidewalk, and it looked like the only entrance... she rolled her eyes and went back to the kitchen to check on our food.

The fish eventually arrived, and it looked to be good. The perch plate featured four large, butterflied filets of breaded perch, a nice accompaniment of fries, an interesting marble rye, and an Asian-inspired slaw.

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The perch was slightly soggy; hints of grease became more evident with each bite. The fish itself was meaty with a perfect perch texture - slightly firm, slightly chewy; substantial if you will. The breading wasn't too heavy, although it was (as mentioned) on the greasy side.

The fries were cold, but not bad. The rye was delicious and featured a salted-crust, which was an unusual surprise. I even sampled the slaw, which was slightly sweet and actually quite good, even for a slaw-hater like myself. :-)

BJ's cod plate featured several thick pieces of cod, a handful of fries, and the same sides as the perch plate.

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I was lucky enough to sample the cod, and found the batter to be quite heavy, very crispy, and slightly over-powering. It was good, but it took center stage over the delicate cod, which is a bit of a shame. There was also a substantial amount of grease, which didn't help things. Alas, we were both starving, so the fish was more than acceptable.

As we were about half-way through our meal, our lovely waitress returned and proceeded to talk to us for a solid 15 minutes about the differences between Wichita and Wisconsin. We learned most of her life's story, at the cost of our fish growing cold and more greasy. But, at least she wasn't berating us and the bartender wasn't complaining about having to sell beer...

After she left, I went to the restroom, which was located next to the kitchen, and is where I overheard our waitress complaining to someone (I assume a manager) about all of the idiots that she had to wait on today, including some old people that were "clueless" and two guys that were "dorks" - I'm assuming that was us...

I slinked back to our table and suggested that we leave as soon as the bill arrived, which did promptly did - as if on cue. The total damage: $38. Wow. For two mediocre fish frys and a soda... I left a $2 tip, which is something I'd never, ever do, but the service was truly terrible.

Water Street Brewery = FAIL

Service = -100 stars (perhaps the worst service ever)
Food = 2.75 stars (the fish was decent, but not great; fries were cold)
Value = 1.50 stars (extremely pricey for what we received)
MISC = 2.75 stars (place has potential, but vibe/service kills any hope)

Summary: I'm not sure if we hit them at a bad time, or if we drew a bad straw with the server, but I'd be hard-pressed to return to the Water Street Brewery. There has to be better fish offerings in the area... Thankfully I don't get to Milwaukee very often, so odds are that I won't be looking for a fish fry in that area any time soon.

Spend any time in Wisconsin, and you'll quickly identify several common threads that run amongst many of the communities, including: summer festivals (nearly every town has one), the ratio of bars/taverns to churches runs approximately 1-to-1, and the ratio of fish frys to bars/taverns is nearly 1-to-1.

Lake Mills fits this assessment to the "T" - they have an annual summer festival known as "Town and Country Days" (held on the downtown square, complete with carnival rides, parades, and so on), and they fit the bill for the church/tavern/fish ratio.

So, it was with great pleasure that I found myself in Lake Mills during Town and Country Days, and even more so that I ended-up at Hering's Sand Bar, enjoying a fish fry with some friends (truth be told, we skipped the festival and went straight to the fish fry).

Hering's Sand Bar is located on the far south side of Lake Mills, near the entrance to Sandy Beach. As such, the restaurant/bar is perched approximately 25 yards from the shores of beautiful Rock Lake, which affords some spectacular views, especially from the outdoor patio/deck.

We arrived at approximately 7:00pm - the height of fish fry feasting time - and put our names in for a table. We were invited to have a seat outside and to wait for our turn at a table. The bar was jammed - it took several minutes to grab a bartender and order a round of beverages. Tap selections were limited - Spotted Cow, Capital Amber, and a few of the typical "classic" beers (PBR, etc). Drinks in hand, we settled-in for the long wait.

We were eventually seated; I believe it was around 8:15 or so when our table became available. Luckily, we scored an outdoor seat, so it was worth the wait as the sun was setting, and the views were outstanding.

A frazzled waitress arrived to take our drink orders; we refreshed things and also placed an order for some cheese curds. She scurried off and returned approximately 10 minutes later with our drinks. The curds arrived shortly thereafter and were quite good, even if they weren't handmade - they were the battered white cheese variety, and were cooked quite well.

We placed our orders for fish - two orders of beer battered cod, one order of baked cod. Our waitress rushed back to the kitchen, order in hand, while we kicked back, sipped our beverages, enjoyed the weather, and shot the bull.

The food arrived after a fairly long wait - I believe it took approximately 30-35 minutes for our orders to appear. The baked cod looked great - generous portions of lightly seasoned cod. I sampled a piece and it was indeed quite good - flaky, firm, and fresh. Just the way it should be. The dish was accompanied by deep-fried green beans (which I didn't sample, but am told were "good.").

The beer battered cod came in two sizes: a 3-piece and a 5-piece. As I was starving, I went with the 5-piece and am glad that I did. My plate sported 5 average-sized pieces of heavily battered cod and a small accompaniment of standard-cut battered fries.

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As you can see from the picture: the batter was rather substantial (although well cooked), and, the fish looks quite nice. Once I crunched through the crispy beer batter (which was slightly salty and just ever-so-lightly "charred" tasting, but in a good way), I found the cod to be excellent in every regard - flaky, firm, fresh, and super tasty. Despite the heavy batter, the fish still presented itself well, especially with a hit of lemmon and a spot of malt vinegar.

I made short work of the 5-pieces and the handful of fries. My dining companions polished off their dishes as well, and when our waitress reappeared, we all ordered some of Hering's infamous homemade pie. It is literally made from scratch on a daily basis by the owner's wife - and it is unreal. I had the peanut butter silk pie and was floored by how delicious it was. I'd make the 50+ mile drive for a slice any time. The crust is flaky, light, and obviously homemade. The filling was fluffy, airy, and not too sweet - it was perfect, and complimented the crust perfectly.

The 5-piece cod ran $14.95; a bit steep. The tap beers ran about $4 each, and the pie was $5.00, but worth every penny. We finished-off the evening with a pontoon boat ride around the lake.

Herring's = WIN

Food = 3.75 stars (pie = 5 stars)
Value = 2.5 stars (pricey, all things considered)
Service = 2.5 stars (rather slow; didn't see our waitress much)
MISC = 4 stars (great atmosphere and view)

In summary, I'd return here for fish, fries, and homemade pie any time. It's not really a top-10 fish spot, but it is quite solid. If you're looking for a solid fish fry outside of the Madison area, Lake Mills is easy to get to and I doubt you'll find a better restaurant in terms of view, atmosphere, and general food quality.

The new house (finally!)

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Ok, Ok - I apologize a million-times over for taking so long to post pictures and details of the new place. It's unlike me to have been in a new house for 2 months and to not have posted any real information about it, but I've been super busy with updating the new pad, along with everything else...

So, without any further ado, here's the new pad. It's located in the Madison area - I have less than a 10 minute drive to work each day, which is really nice. I had posted a picture of the outside in an earlier entry, so I'll re-post that picture here (all other pictures are "current" as of today):

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As you can see, it's an older ranch-style house. It has a nice-sized yard (it takes about an hour to mow in total), but doesn't have much by way of landscaping... I believe the neighborhood suffered some type of tree sickness, as it appears that a majority of the yards have recently lost very large trees. My backyard has three bare areas that I'm guessing once hosted some large trees; now there are only remnants - ground-up stumps and dead grass.

There's a nice deck on the back; it's not huge, but it holds my grille and patio table without any troubles. I also mounted some LED rope lights around the perimeter of the deck - it adds a nice amount of light at night, along with some ambiance.

Inside, the house has a very distinct 70s look and feel; there's lots of dark-wood trim, harvest gold kitchen counter (and wallpaper), and plenty of shag carpet. But, it beats an apartment, and I've been slowly but surely updating the interior.

When you walk-in through the front door, you enter into the living room:

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You can see the TV and soundbar are mounted; the new subwoofer rests in the corner. I bought the matching loveseat to my couch, along with a leather recliner and ottoman. Here's another view of the living room, from the dining/hall area:

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You can see the large window - it's a huge picture window, which (along with all of the other windows in the house) was replaced a year ago with fiberglass, double-pane, gas-filled energy efficient windows. They're super nice - quiet, cool, and great.

From the living room, you walk into the dining room, which has my new pub-height table. The table measures 42"x54" and expands to 54"x54" (it has a built-in leaf system).

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You can see some of the deck and backyard, along with my new light fixture. I pulled down a dingy old (and noisy) ceiling fan and replaced it with an oil-rubbed bronze fixture. Here's another shot of the dining room (from the kitchen):

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And speaking of the kitchen, here it is, in all of its golden-rod/harvest gold beauty... the cabinets are the classic dark wood deals as well, but they offer a ton of storage space:

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All of the appliances were literally brand new when I moved-in; the refrigerator still had all of the styrofoam blocks inside of it, the dishwasher had the sample pack of detergent hanging from the rack, and the stove looked as if it had never been used. So, while it's dated, it's in great shape.

On the back side of the kitchen is a large laundry/mud room, complete with a utility sink and a ton of storage space (a full closet and another cabinet):

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Here's a view from the other side of the laundry room. I'm not sure why they put in a stacked washer/dryer - there's plenty of room for two separate units. Oh well, beggars can't be choosers, right?

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The garage is located just behind the laundry room, and is huge - it's an extra-deep, 2+ car garage, complete with an epoxied floor:

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Back inside the house, there's a hallway that runs just off from the living room/dining room area. There's a linen closet in the hallway, just across from the spare bathroom, which looks like this:

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The bathroom has a full-sized shower/tub, which is nice. I replaced all of the hardware (towel bars, lighting and faucets) with oil-rubbed bronze units. I'll show some before/after pictures at the end of this entry.

Across from the bathroom is one of the bedrooms. This one is completely stuck in the 70s - the carpet is shag; the window shades are gold, and the light fixture is an awesome fishbowl-looking unit. But, the room houses my biking gear and I'm sure it doesn't care how new/old the carpet and hardware is. :-)

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At the end of the hall are two bedroom doors - one is for the guest room (again, classic 70s window coverings, shag carpet, old ceiling fan):

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And on the opposite side of the hallway is the master bedroom:

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I updated the ceiling fan in the master bedroom with a new Hunter fan, complete with a remote control. I also mounted my smaller television to help clean-up the look-and-feel. You can see my clothes-drying rack, complete with workout gear (shirts, shorts, riding bibs, etc):

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As you can sort of tell from the last picture, there's a bathroom off the master bedroom. It's slightly smaller than the hallway bathroom; it has a walk-in shower and a small vanity:

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I installed the floating shelf and also replaced all of the hardware (towel bars, lighting, and faucets). Here's a picture looking "out" of the bathroom - you can sort of see the new light fixture and faucet, both of which are brushed nickel:

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And last but not least, there's the large basement. You've got to love ranch-style houses... they all have these massive basements, and while this one is unfinished, it's no slouch. They epoxied the floor and walls, so it's really easy to clean and take care of. It has a bunch of built-in storage under the stairwell, but I didn't take photos of that.

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And there you have it! That's the new house, in most of its glory. I've got plans to replace the ceiling fan and lighting in the spare rooms, and at some point I'll pull down the wallpaper, but that's about all that remains on my "to do" list. Whew!

I'm having a house-warming party with my co-workers later this week - it should be a good time. I'll be eating "clean" and won't be imbibing - as I mentioned earlier, my pants are fitting quite snug at the moment thanks to the debaucherous weekend with my friend from Arkansas... :-)

Oh - and here are the before/after photos that I took of various items. Here's what the dining room fixtures looked like before and after:

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And the master bedroom ceiling fan:

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Here's the bathroom towel bars before/after:

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Check out the awesome "hanging chain" lights that I replaced in the spare bathroom:

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And finally, here's a sample of the hallway/entrance lights that were replaced:

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Not bad, eh? All told, I replaced:

2 ceiling fans
7 light assemblies
3 faucet/drain assemblies
7 towel bar/towel hanger assemblies
23 light switches and plates
28 electrical receptacles and plates
2 smoke detectors

Whew.

House guest, Part II...

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It's been a busy week! In addition to Amy and Riley being in town, another friend of mine from Arkansas took a visit to Wisconsin and I played host. BJ was a guy that I worked with for a number of years while at the bank; we hung out quite regularly and I even stayed at his house for a few months. We lost touch for a while, and then got back in-touch last year. I extended an open invitation to him to check out Wisconsin, and as luck would have it, the stars aligned and he was able to spend a week or so "up north."

He arrived on Tuesday night, and we promptly made a stop at the Capital Brewery for some pizza and a Wisconsin microbrew. We also met-up with Amy and one of our other friends, Jenny. We made a full night of the brewery, and I think BJ was duly impressed with his first true Wisconsin beverage and a proper pizza.

Wednesday morning came along quickly, and after changing the oil in Amy's Tahoe and wishing her well, she departed for her parent's house. I went for a run and then BJ and I hopped in the car and headed down to New Glarus to tour the infamous brewery.

We weren't able to take the in-depth tour that I took with Nat; we did the self-guided tour, which took about an hour or so. It wasn't nearly as impressive as the full "hard hat tour" that I took last year, but it was good, nonetheless. After the tour, we sampled a few of the beverages while sitting in the brewery's tasting garden, which was absolutely beautiful.

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After sampling their offerings, we headed into New Glarus, where we visited the infamous Glarner Stube (home of the midwest's largest urinal) and took a stroll through the town. I then suggested that we head back to Madison to take a walk up-and-down State Street, and to check out two Madison staples: The Old Fashioned and The Memorial Union.

We hit the Union first, where the weather was unreal - mid-80s and sunny, with a slight breeze. The view was spectacular.

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Here we are, enjoying a New Glarus Spotted Cow:

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After sitting at the Union for a bit, we made our way up State Street to the Old Fashioned, where BJ was introduced to two Wisconsin delicacies - a proper "Old Fashioned" (whiskey sour) and a Sheboygan Bratwurst. The Old Fashioned received a mediocre reception (truth be told, I'm not much of a fan, myself), but the Brat was commended for being "much better than a Johnsonville brat from WalMart."

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We stayed downtown for a bit longer - walked around the capital square, toured a bit of the University area, and then headed home.

On Thursday, we got up early and went for a decent bike ride - we rode from the new house to some of Madison's bike trails, eventually winding our way around to John Nolen drive. Again, the weather was unreal - mid 80s, sunny, light breeze. Perfect for riding and running.

Following the workout, we jumped in the car and headed for Waterloo to tour the Trek factory.

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We almost didn't get to tour the facility; Trek only offers "tours" on Wednesdays - we missed it by a day. They did allow us to tour the museum, which was neat. We got to see all of the various Trek road bike models, including a bunch of Lance Armstrong's Tour de France rides. One of the neater bikes was this model from the mid-90s, which suffered a broken chainstay from a crash. Despite the break in what may be one of the most critical areas, Lance powered his way to a crushing 10-minute lead/win over the rest of the pack.

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As we were leaving the museum, we spotted a super sweet Honda CB400T Hawk - this vintage 70s motorcycle was super awesome looking - a real tribute to the cafe racer bikes of old:

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Following the Trek tour, we drove over to Jim's Cheese pantry and purchased some of their infamous cheese curds along with some 15-year old cheddar and various other dairy delectables. Jim's has a large mouse in-front of the dairy; we posed for a quick picture with the little fella:

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From Jim's, we drove to my old hometown, where we took a spin around the lake and saw the "major" sites - the brewery, the square, and some of the neater old houses. It was getting late into the afternoon, and we were both starting to feel peckish, so we headed back toward Madison for some pretzels, popcorn, and a boot at the Come Back Inn.

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Not sure what to do for dinner, we made the decision to get pick-up some brats and to have a little cookout at the house. We swung through Jacobson Brothers, grabbed four Bavarian beauties, some Claussen Bakery buns, and some chips and salsa.

We also made a quick stop along East Washington Avenue to snap a picture of a little-known, but super important landmark and modern day music icon - Smart Studios. This little red brick building was responsible for recording such albums as "Nevermind" by Nirvana and a handful of Garbage albums, along with countless other game-changing musical works.

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From East Washington, we headed to another game changing institution - the Greenbush Bakery. I had to show BJ what a true apple fritter looks like (notice the can of soda for size reference):

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Upon arriving home, we fired-up the new fire pit and enjoyed a Capital Blonde Dopplebock, the brats, and eventually the fritter (what's sickening is that I usually eat one of those by myself... it was good to share it rather than scarf it by myself):

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Friday morning arrived, and once again, I hit the road for a run - I had to do something to try to burn-off some of the eighty-billion calories I'd consumed so far. With a few miles under my ever-tightening belt, we headed to Milwaukee to tour the Miller brewery. They have updated their tour since my last visit; it was a much better tour than I remember. Here are a few pictures of the tour:

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The free tour took us about an hour to complete, and included three free sample tastings. Neither of us felt much like indulging, so we only had one as we filled-out surveys and sent some complimentary post cards to folks:

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From the brewery, we headed down to Water Street, where I introduced BJ to yet another legendary Wisconsin delicacy - the Friday Fish Fry. Despite some super awful service, the fish fry was pretty tasty. I had the lake perch:

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And BJ went with the traditional cod:

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Both were really good - I'll do a full review in a separate entry. Following the fish fry, we made a short drive down to Chicago Street, where we hit another Wisconsin summer staple - Summerfest!

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I believe we hit the grounds at about the perfect time - there wasn't much of a line for tickets or for entry; we breezed through the entire process in less than 15 minutes, which is a miracle. I believe it took me at least an hour to get through the line last year.

Once inside, we walked a few laps to help get our bearings about us, and to help work-off some of that fish fry. We stopped to listen to the occasional band; BJ visited the Sony PS3 truck/demo, and we drank a boatload of soda and bottled water - it was 90+ and sunny!

We watched a few good bands, including "The Heroes Lie," "Middle Class Rut," "Sevendust," "Crash Kings," and "Goo Goo Dolls." We didn't watch much of the last three, as it was getting really late, and we were tired of standing/walking - I'd say we watched about 15 minutes of Sevendust, and about 10 minutes each of Goo Goo Dolls and Crash Kings.

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We snuck out of the fairgrounds at about 11:00pm, grabbed a burrito for dinner, and arrived home at around 2:00am. Talk about a full day!!

Saturday was our last day, so I had to make sure we ended on a high note. We hit Williamson Street for some breakfast at Wallaby's Cafe. I had a pancake (my pants will not fit any more); BJ had a skillet. Look at these bad boys:

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From Wallaby's, we made our way up to the Capital Square where Madison's great Art Fair on the Square was taking place, along with the infamous Farmer's Market.

The square was absolutely packed with people and vendors - it took us a solid hour of plodding behind slow-moving strollers, lane blocking grannies, and screaming kids to complete a lap of the event.

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It didn't help that the temperature was well into the 90s, the humidity was hovering around 100%, the sun was relentless, and there wasn't a breeze to speak of. Sweaty, frustrated, and still full from breakfast, we decided to trek up to Wisconsin Dells.

I didn't take any pictures of the rest of the weekend; our Dells trip was rather uneventful - we walked up and down the old downtown strip, took a spin through the newer attractions, and visited a few of the novelty shops. I tried to talk BJ into buying a pair of moccasins, but he claimed he didn't have a need for them.

From the Dells we headed back to Madison, where we stopped-in at the Sprecher Brewing Company for some dinner. Ooops - I lied; I took one final picture while at Sprecher... they have an amazing patio area complete with fire pits, covered bars, and a stage. The evening's entertainment came by way of a band called The Mustache - a funk tribute band, where every member was sporting a classic 1970s mustache.

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The band was totally awesome - I loved them. They sounded great, the music was excellent, and they were really fun to watch. The patio was packed, which made it difficult to spend any time watching them; we felt bad "hogging" a table to watch the band... which is why luck was on our side - a coworker sent a text inviting us to a "neighborhood bonfire" at his house, so we hopped in the car and drove to Fitchburg, where we closed out the evening with a really nice bonfire and some great company.

We arrived home at around midnight, watched a little television and called it a night. BJ hit the road early this morning, and apparently just arrived home, so all ended well.

What a weekend. I'm sure to have gained at least 15-pounds, so I'll have to hit the diet and workout routine hardcore again. It's a shame because I was doing really well, but it was worth it to fall off the wagon while showing an out-of-state friend the finer sides of Wisco.

House guest...

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I have a house guest for the weekend.

Amy came up from Arkansas to visit her folks and her sister (who is also visiting from Colorado), and she was kind enough to bring Riley along. I spent Friday evening with Amy and her family - we had a cookout and caught-up on things; it was a super nice time, even if it was nearly 100F outside!

On Saturday, Amy and Kelly drove in to Madison so that Kelly and her son could go to a birthday party. Amy dropped them off at the party, then came to the new house, along with Riley. The cats aren't too sure if they like Riley or not, but thankfully they all get along without incident. I wouldn't say they'll be exchanging any Christmas cards this year, but things could be worse. :-)

Amy and I had a cookout, with some absolutely phenomenal steaks from Wyttenbach Meats, a sweet potato, and some stellar grilled asparagus. After dinner, we took Riley for a walk (I think her ears just perked-up again), then went to a local pub for a beverage. Amy had to run to pick-up Kelly by 8pm, so it was an early evening.

Riley is staying with me for the weekend while Amy and Co. head up north to her parent's cabin. I'm pleased to report that Riley slept like a dream last night - no whining, no whimpering, no roaming around. She hopped into bed, went under the covers, curled-up into her usual "hot pocket" position, let out a groan/sigh, and slept the entire night.

We woke-up at about 6:15, went for a walk, had some breakfast, and then I went for a run. We're now sitting on the couch watching the Early Show on CBS. Plans for today: bike ride at 10:00am, followed by taking pictures of the house (for the blog), and that should be about it.

Enjoy the holiday weekend!

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This page is an archive of entries from July 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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