Recently in Madison Category

608 Sound and Light

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A quick entry here to share an important update regarding Pro Sound Madison:

I simply cannot believe how much this little business has grown, and how in demand it has become. I am fortunate to be working with a bunch of super talented people and am grateful for the repeat business, kind words, references, and support from everyone - thank you a million times over!!!

Because of the unbelievable (and sometimes overwhelming) demand for my little live sound and lighting production side project, a decision was made to change the name of Pro Sound Madison to something a bit more inclusive.

We have been expanding our lighting services and now have more than 35 LED PAR lights (RGBW/RGBA), 8 moving heads (spots and washes), 4 LED pixel bars, 2 multiple effects heads (laser/effects) and a killer fog machine that'll fill a stage in no time.

We have grown our FOH (front of house) system so that we can easily cover 3,000 people in an outdoor environment and support large acts in just about any setting, at a level of quality that can't be easily matched.

We are being asked to provide sound for a bunch of local festivals and events, and have established partnerships with numerous local musicians and groups. Thank you, again, for all of your support!!!

So... with that, our new name is:

608 Sound & Light and our new website is available at: www.608soundandlight.com.

608 Sound and Light offers live sound and lighting production for festivals, bands, bars, and events of all types, genres, and sizes. 608 Sound and Light is based in Madison, Wisconsin but serves the majority of our surrounding communities.

While the name may have changed, our service has not. We are still maniacally and obsessively committed to providing the best possible experience to everyone involved with your live sound production needs. Ask anyone who's worked with us, and their comments will echo this - we go above and beyond.

So... I'll share more about what's been happening with things in a future post (that hopefully won't take another 4 months to appear); until then, thank you again to everyone who has helped 608 Sound & Light become what it has. I couldn't have done it without you.

Until then... enjoy the new logo.

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Time has been flying

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Ok... I admit that I haven't kept the blog terribly current in the past, but wow - this may be a record for me. It's been about 3 months since my last update - crikey. Sorry about that.

So, what's been happening? Pretty much just "the usual" stuff - busy with work, and extremely busy with Pro Sound Madison. My day job has me working on a few large scale projects: the outsourcing of payment of our utility bills (we pay around 17,000 utility invoices per month) and supporting the FCC Auction 1000 - a multi-billion dollar auction where cellular companies are bidding on new spectrum. They've been fun, interesting, and challenging projects.

Pro Sound Madison has been going strong. I can't complain about how my first few months with the formal business have progressed. Over the past few months, I've provided live sound production services for AtwoodFest (a huge summer festival that's held on Atwood Street in Madison), an anniversary party for a local brewery, and countless acts at Kiki's House of Righteous Music and some local bands at various venues.

I've also made some significant investments in equipment. I added a new set of main speakers from JTR Speakers to help provide better coverage for larger events. JTR isn't a household name, but trust me when I say they make some absolutely incredible speakers. The owner, Jeff, was an engineer for Danley Sound Labs for years before starting his own company ten years ago.

Jeff is a master EE (Electrical Engineer) - his work is simply incredible. These new speakers can handle over 2,000-watts of power, will hit 133-decibels all day long, are super efficient, and are ridiculously light weight. They also sound just superb. So crystal clear and clean. I am in love with these things.

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To support the new speakers and to provide additional redundancy, I've also purchased several more amplifiers. The extra amplifiers necessitated the need for a better amp rack, so after much searching, I sourced a gently used rack from a guy in Verona. The result? Nearly 20,000-watts of incredible power in this rack:

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As you can probably tell, I am really digging the QSC brand of amplifiers. The PLX3602 has been superb on everything from subwoofers to mains to monitors, and that PL380 (on top, in black) is an absolute BEAST of an amplifier. It'll put out 8,000-watts all day long, which is insane.

I also upgraded my monitor amplification system, and chose QSC once again. My monitor rack includes another QSC beast: the PLD4.5, which is a 4-channel amplifier with full DSP. This means I can run 4 separate sets of speakers from a single amp, and DSP provides protection, monitoring, and countless configuration options. Here's a side view of the monitor rack (top) and mains rack (bottom) from a recent event:

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I've been focusing on branding and awareness - hence the PSM (Pro Sound Madison) graphics on the flight cases.

But with all of this great power comes great responsibility. While I have an elaborate network of DSP-enabled crossovers and speaker processing/management gear, it's still possible to damage my speakers. So, a few days ago, I took to the garage and spent the afternoon measuring output levels of the amplifiers (by voltage) so as to better understand the maximum, safe levels under a variety of conditions. Here's a quick picture of me measuring amplifier output while running "pink noise" through one of the amplifiers.

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As I mentioned above, I've been busy providing live sound for a bunch of venues, events, and bands. We spent the last weekend of July supporting AtwoodFest. It was a two-day festival, and on my stage, we had 13 bands/acts play over a total of 12-hours (6-hours each day).

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As you can tell, we used the EAW speakers for this event; I didn't purchase the JTR speakers until mid-August. I still have the EAW speakers, but only use them for certain events, as they are incredibly heavy when compared to the JTR speakers.

AtwoodFest was an awesome event - we ran sound for so many unique, diverse bands and performers - everything from classic rock to a drumline to folk and Latin music. It was a rewarding challenge to set-up, sound check, produce, and load-out a band every single hour, six hours per day. Whew!!!

I've also been working with several local bands, including "Your Mom" (a band that plays hits from the 80s, 90s, 00s, and today) and Thirsty Jones (a really popular country band). Here's a picture from Your Mom playing at a bar in Janesville:

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And Thirsty Jones playing outdoors at The Old Rock in Columbus:

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It's been extremely rewarding to work with so many great event organizers and bands. And, people seem to be enjoying Pro Sound Madison - I get tons of compliments at every event, both for sound quality and professionalism (I try to make things super easy for everyone, and provide extras like power outlets at both the front and rear of the stage, and so on). It's also rewarding to help people when they're in a pinch...

Next Door Brewing Company was all set to celebrate its third anniversary; they had booked a band, rented a huge tent, and hired a sound company, when the sound company backed-out at the last minute. They found my company via Google, called, and I was able to provide sound for their event. Here's a picture from under the tent:

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They were super cool and fun to work with, and extremely generous. And speaking of generosity, I couldn't be doing any of this without the help and support of Jenny, or my pals Tony and Jeremey N (aka "goat"). Those two guys are just about the best friends anyone could ask for. Here's a candid picture of them relaxing behind the brewery from a few weeks ago:

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And yep, I'm still doing sound at Kiki's House of Righteous Music. She keeps attracting bigger and bigger acts... a few weeks ago, I ran sound for Tommy Stinson (of The Replacements, Soul Asylum, and most recently, Guns-n-Roses). That was a trip!

Last night, I ran sound for Tommy Keene, who has played for The Gin Blossoms, The Goo Goo Dolls, and The Tommy Keene Group. I almost fell over when I arrived to Kiki's house and saw this in the driveway:

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That's a heckuva bus!! Besides being much more comfortable than a van, the bus also easily held all of Tommy's gear, which was substantial:

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The vast majority of Kiki's shows have been selling out nearly instantly, so I'll say it again - if you have any interest in attending a show, let me know so that I can get you on the list.

They are super cool shows; everyone who attends for the first time kicks themselves for waiting so long. Here's a shot of Tommy and his band playing last night (it was loud, but oh so good):

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So, there you have it... the past three months of my life condensed into a single blog entry. Jenny is doing great and is extremely supportive of this new side venture. Flea, on the other hand, remains unimpressed.

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Nothing to it!

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Back in July, I had to purchase and install a new range because my old 24" wide unit (that wouldn't boil a quart of water, even on high) decided to break in a nearly catastrophic manner.

Because the old stove was only 24" wide, the cabinet and range hood that were mounted above it were also only 24" wide. Making matters worse, the range hood was the type that doesn't vent to the outside, and despite making a ton of noise, it barely worked. The hood was also mounted quite low, as the old stove was much shorter than the new one. It was like cooking in a "slot".

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I grew tired of being gassed-out every time I cooked anything with some heat, so I went online and found a 30" range hood. I manged to snag a great deal on it, and before I knew it, there was a shiny new stainless steel hood sitting on my front steps. The dang thing weighed in at over 50-pounds, to boot!

I finally decided to bite the bullet and get working on replacing the old range hood. I started the project on Saturday (January 9), and figured it would take me the better part of a day to complete. Little did I know...

Quick aside... never buy an old house because it's "charming" or "has character" unless you enjoy spending four-times longer and at least twice as much money to complete minor projects. No matter what I try to work on in this house, it always seems to be riddled with unexpected challenges and surprises, and this was no different.

I started by removing the old cabinet and range hood. Those came down with minimal difficulty, although I was absolutely shocked to discover neither were mounted to any type of wall studs, but rather, the very thin lathe strips that live behind very brittle plaster. How they didn't fall down is beyond me.

As soon as the cabinet came off the wall, my heart sank, because of what I saw: wallpaper.

There were layers and layers of old wallpaper behind the cabinet. Ugh. So, I broke out my scraper and set-about peeling off at least four layers of old wallpaper. Joy.

4-hours later, it seemed I was down to the underlying wall. The wall was also odd (go figure), because part of it was drywalled, and part of it was plaster-and-lathe. Unfortunately for me, the plaster-and-lathe section were up high, which is where I needed to secure the 50-pound range hood... so, I cut out an area of the wall and installed a 2x4 brace. I then cut and fit some 3/8" drywall over the brace and filled in the seams with joint compound.

After engineering the proper support for the heavy range hood, I patched a few screw and nail holes and filled-in the hole where the old wiring for the previous range hood was. When the spackle was dry, I wiped-down the wall and applied a coat of primer.

I went to bed that night with the intention of grabbing some paint first thing in the morning, and then wrapping-up the project before the Packers-Redskins game on Sunday.

I woke-up nice and early on Sunday and went to check the kitchen. And that's when my heart sunk again... the primer was dry, but apparently I hadn't removed *all* of the wallpaper, because a section of the primed area was rippled and pulling away from the wall. Oye. So, I scraped again... and that's when I found another hole in the wall - it was punched (inexplicably) in the middle of the wall, and covered-up with some plain brown wallpaper. Nice.

After another 2 hours of scraping, I was confident that I had everything removed. I patched the big hole, made a new hole for the new electrical connection, and cut a hole in the ceiling for the vent that would eventually exhaust to the outside of the house.

I spackled again and then went down to the basement, where the previous home owner had done me a great favor by leaving all of the old paint cans for easy future touch-up jobs.

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As you can see, my kitchen is a citrus-like color. There were two very similar cans of paint in the basement, so I brought both upstairs and tried to compare them to the wall. I picked the one that looked closest, and ran to Home Depot to get a quart of paint. I returned home and re-primed the wall. Because it was getting late, I went to watch the Packers game and then returned home later in the night to apply the paint.

And... the paint that I purchased was completely wrong. It was more yellow than orange, and didn't match at all. Wasn't even close. So, I grabbed the other can, pried it open and dabbed a little of the old, gelatinous paint on the wall. When it dried, it was obviously the correct color... unfortunately, it was now 9pm at night, so I'd have to wait until Monday to score the correct color.

Monday came around, and I ventured off to work. On my way home, I swung through a Sherwin Williams and procured a quart of "Citrus Dream" custom-colored paint. As soon as I was home, I slapped on a coat of paint, strategically positioned some fans and space heaters, and waited for it to dry. Within 30 minutes, I was able to apply a top coat.

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I ran new wiring for the range hood and then went about mounting the galvanized steel ducting to the new range hood. And that's when the next problem came about. The range hood had a 6" exhaust duct. I was expecting a 4" exhaust duct.

So, I went to the hardware store and purchased a 6"-to-4" reducer. Yes, I know this will reduce CFM from the fan, but the exhaust run was only going to be about 4-feet in total, so I think I'll be ok.

When I got home, I discovered that the hard-ABS-plastic exhaust fitting on the range wasn't really 6"... it was more like 6-3/16", and that made mating my 6" reducer impossible without some additional engineering. I grabbed my tin-snips and cut reliefs around the base of the reducer, so that I could flare the bottom out enough to slip over the exhaust fitting.

With the help of some tiny sheet metal screws and some aluminum HVAC tape, I had the reducer secured to the hood. I cut and formed a length of galvanized steel ducting and secured it to the reducer. I was now ready to hang the range hood and hope for the best.

Things went fairly well with mounting the hood to the wall. It was nice and level, and it sat fairly flush with the wall. I installed flashing around the hole in the ceiling and was now ready to do my final wiring work. Things were getting close!

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Take note of the plaster ceiling in the above photo... oh how I loathe plaster. It is the devil. It is pure evil, because it's never level, it's super brittle, and it's not user-friendly. I discovered just how unlevel the plaster was when I went to install the final trim piece - a large piece of stainless steel designed to wrap around and hide the ducting.

Despite squaring and leveling everything as best I could, the ceiling is so uneven that the shroud cannot set square with both the range hood and the ceiling. No matter how I tweak the shroud, I can't escape having a gap somewhere (either at the hood base or at the ceiling)... I think I may cut some trim and install it around the ceiling end if I can't tweak it enough to fit nicely.

Anyway... I was done with the interior work at around 10:30pm last night. All that remains now is to connect the outside vent to the ducting, and I'll be finished. I'm waiting for it to warm up a bit before I venture out to do that piece.

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And in sadder news...

Amy's dad, Michael Brom, recently passed away, and it truly saddens me. He was such a great guy to me, and I'm really sorry to hear that he died. He had been fighting a strong fight against cancer, beating it into remission on two separate occasions. Mike was a fun guy - always cracking jokes, and always in good spirits. He was a strong guy, physically and mentally. I enjoyed playing Scrabble and other games with him - his knowledge of quirky words was second to none. He was also incredibly talented when it came to making just about anything. He helped us with our landscaping at the house in Arkansas, and regularly helped his brother, John with construction projects. He built decks, additions, and whatnot with complete ease. I was envious of not only his abilities, but his positive attitude and wonderful energy.

The world lost a really genuine, really nice, and really awesome person. They don't make them like Mike any more. Sending my thoughts and very best wishes to Amy and her family... :-(

6-weeks is far too long to go between blog entries. A lot has happened since the last entry, so here's an update on some of the more memorable events.

Work Stuff
I've spent the better part of this year working on a massive project that involves our SAP system. SAP is the lifeblood of our entire enterprise - TDS, TDS Telecom, US Cellular, OneNeck - all of our companies rely on our SAP environment for day-to-day functionality.

There's not a single person in any of our companies that isn't directly impacted by our SAP environment, so to say it's an extremely critical system would be an understatement.

I was asked to lead a project to re-platform our SAP system (all development, test, QA, stage, and production environments). Our legacy hardware was aging, and it was time to upgrade. I'm happy to report that the project went live (into production) during the weekend of September 11, and it went-in with little-to-no drama. The project team was absolutely stellar, and our senior and executive leadership teams were phenomenal with their support of the project.

There were some long weeks and one very long weekend involved with the project, but it was all worth it. To migrate such a massive system without major incident was awesome.

We're wrapping-up some clean-up and tuning work on that project. From here, I've got 4 new projects assigned... no rest for this guy!

Whole House Filtration

You may recall a previous blog entry about the installation of a drinking water system for my house. With plumbing that's 115+ years old (in spots) and a city water supply that leaves a little room for improvement, the drinking water system isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.

Well, the system is working great, but my filters keep plugging-up after just a month or two. You may recall this picture (new filter on the left, filter on the right is 3-months old):

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While it stinks to have to replace $60-$80 worth of filters every three months, it's downright scary to think about what may be happening with other water-fed items in my house (washing machines, water softener, other fixtures, etc).

So, I decided to install a whole-house water sediment filter at my water main. I did some research and determined that a 1-micron sediment system would capture most of the debris (rust, iron, etc) that enters the house. I also learned that a 20" filter should provide protection (under heavy use) for around 6-months.

I ordered a Pentair Big Blue 20" filter housing and a 20" 1-micron woven sediment filter. With bracket, PEX fittings, PEX tubing, and a few adapters and hangers, I had everything necessary to install the system.

The entire process took about 2-hours. I shut-off the water main, cut into the existing copper, soldered an adapter that would connect to the PEX tubing, mounted the filter assembly, ran the PEX lines in-and-out of the filter, and then soldered another adapter onto the existing copper to deliver the filtered water to the house.

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No leaks were detected, and I immediately noticed an improvement. Water "straight from the tap" tastes almost as good as the water from my drinking water system. After a few weeks of use, I noticed that the washing machine has almost no mineral stains. And, the real proof comes by way of my under-sink drinking water system. Look at how clean the filters are after nearly a month of use:

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Alarming

Some might say I'm a bit "thorough." Others might say I border on the "obsessive." And others may think I'm almost "paranoid" about certain things. And I'll admit it - all would be correct to a certain degree. :-)

After installing the whole house water filtration system, I began to worry, "What if a fitting or the filter housing were to fail? My entire basement could flood before I'd have any idea." It literally kept me awake for a few nights.

I also worry from time-to-time about a fire at the house when I'm not home. I couldn't stomach the thought of anything bad happening to Flea or my renter's cat. I have great neighbors, but I doubt any of them would be able to assist in the event of a catastrophe.

So, I decided to research home alarm systems with active monitoring. I stumbled across one company that really stood out: SimpliSafe.

SimpliSafe is light-years ahead of companies like ADT because: (a) the systems don't require any wiring - it's all wireless, portable (great for future moves), and self-powered via batteries that are designed to last 3-5 years at a time; (b) their system doesn't require any type of phone or internet connection to work - it uses cellular and wifi signals, so there's 100% coverage, even during power outages; (c) the monitoring service is *cheap* - $12/month - and will text, call, and e-mail you in the event of an alarm. It will also alert fire/police as necessary during an alarm event.

SimpliSafe allows you to customize your alarm system however you'd like to. I had no interest in motion detectors or glass break sensors or entry alarms; I was only interested in the water, smoke, and carbon monoxide detectors. So, I went online, ordered what I needed, and waited for the system to arrive.

Within a few days, I had a very small package waiting for me. Here's the entire system, after I unpacked it from the shipping container:

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Set-up was an absolute breeze. I installed the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in under 30-minutes. They install as any normal detector would/does.

From there, I placed the water sensor on the floor near my basement water filtration system. The sensor is smaller than a pack of gum - it's super crazy. I'm too lazy to walk down to the basement for a real photo, so here's what it looks like via SimpliSafe's website:

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After that, I installed the main keypad and base station. The base station runs off of 110V house power, but has a built-in rechargeable battery with 4-days reserve for coverage during extended power outages. The base station is the only device that requires any type of wire or power connection. Everything else is 100% wireless and self-powered.

Here's a picture of the base station/tower, main keypad, and the keychain remote:

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The keypad mounts to the wall with 3M adhesive, so it can easily be relocated if necessary.

With everything positioned and powered-on, I finished the set-up by using SimpliSafe's website. I named all of the sensors by location, sent test signals, and validated connectivity via test alerts. The entire process took under an hour.

The coolest part? I can monitor the alarm system from my iPhone, an iPad, or any computer, anywhere in the world, any time. You can also expand the system at any time. Need another smoke detector? Buy one for $29, power it up, and it's in the system. Want a motion detector? $15, power it up, and it's in the system. It's really ingenious.

And, now I can sleep easily. :-)

Concerts

I've been to a few concerts over the past few months. On September 10, my friend Matt from work invited me to attend an "Eagles of Death Metal" concert with him at the High Noon Saloon. I was a bit apprehensive about them (due primarily to the name and my lack of familiarity with them), but holy cats, was that a phenomenal show.

The EoDM is a band that was formed in part by Josh Homme (from Queens of the Stone Age). Their style of music is what I'd call "pure, honest rock and roll" - it's not metal, it's not fluffy - it's just pure rock. The frontman, Jesse Hughes was one of the most engaging and entertaining singers I've ever watched. It was truly excellent.

I got a few photos, but this one shows most of the stage, and all of the members. The show was so outstanding - if you ever get a chance to see them, go. Don't hesitate, just go.

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They were recently on Jimmy Kimmel live, and I believe they are now headed to Europe for a multi-month tour. As soon as they're back in the USA, I'll be looking for an opportunity to see them again. Here's a few links to some of their live songs via YouTube:

Speaking in Tongues (Live from 2012) (with different drummer and guitarist doesn't have full beard)

Whorehoppin' (Live from 2012) (again, different drummer & lead guitar has small beard)

Jenny and I also went to WJJO's Sonic Boom in Janesville on September 26. It's a massive, 2-stage day-long concert that's held at the regional airport. This year saw more than 15,000 people in attendance and featured around 10-12 bands. We didn't stay for the entire event, but it was a great show. We got to see some really excellent groups, including Godsmack and Five Finger Death Punch.

It's been 15+ years since I saw Godsmack, and I have to say, they still rock. Great show, for sure. Only stinker of the event was that Stone Temple Pilots didn't show-up (shocking!). They called-in sick about 15-minutes before their set was supposed to begin. Somethings never change...

The Egg

It's been a while since I've posted about my beloved Green Egg, but rest assured that it has been seeing regular use. I tend to grill food fairly regularly - chicken, salmon, some pork... and it's really great for that, but where it truly shines is smoking foods.

I know I've written some entries about smoked foods, but I don't believe I've ever shared 100% of the process and details... so, when I was approached and asked to provide 20+ pounds of smoked pork and 10+ pounds of smoked turkey for one of my best friend's 50th birthday party, I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to walk you through the entire process, start-to-finish.

1. I start with a brine.
I've tried all sorts of brine mixtures, but the one that seems to work the best and seems to be the most versatile is my trusty "Molasses Brine."

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In a large sauce pan, add 1.5 cups of pickling salt and a full 16-ounce bottle of Blackstrap (or "full flavor") molasses. Add 3-4 quarts of water and bring to a soft simmer, stirring regularly. Allow the mixture to cool completely. Done.

2. Soak the meat (pork shoulders or turkey work best) in the brine for at least 24-hours.
With the brine cooled, I transfer the meat into a larger stock pot or container and cover it with the brine. I add tap water to completely cover the meat, and then give it all a good stir. Let it brine in your refrigerator for at least 24-hours. The longest I've ever gone with the brining process is 36-hours. Here you can see the two 10-lb pork shoulders sitting in the brine.

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3. Rub.
I've tried dozens of rubs, and the best one I've ever come across is one that I've made myself. I wish I had a precise recipe... but I don't. The basics go like this: 1-cup each of: Turbinado sugar, smoked Spanish Paprika, hot chili powder, and packed brown sugar. 1/2-cup each of: garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper. 1/4-cup of cumin, and then varying amounts of: cayenne pepper for heat, instant coffee for flavor, celery powder, toasted coriander seed (ground fine), toasted cardamom pods (ground fine), turmeric, and some toasted fennel seed (ground fine). I've also been known to add a touch of cinnamon. Mix it thoroughly with a fork, and taste it - you can adjust seasonings as you see fit.

The important thing to note is the lack of salt - don't use it if you brine, or it'll make everything taste like ham.

With the rub mixed and the meat fully brined, it's time to remove the meat from the brine and dry it thoroughly. I then take a half sheet pan with a rack in the bottom and heavily coat the meat with rub. Here's what it looks like when done:

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The rubbed pork shoulders can stay in your fridge for up to 2-full days (48 hours).

4. Smoke
After the pork or poultry has sat in the refrigerator with rub, it's time to smoke. And here's where the Egg shines brightest. I fill the Egg with hardwood lump charcoal, light it, and get the temperature stabilized to around 225F (it's a good starting point). To enhance flavor, I also add chunks of peach wood (for pork), and apple wood (for poultry).

As soon as the Egg's fire is ready and stable, I set a disposable foil roasting pan on top of the ceramic diffuser and fill it with boiling hot water. I set the cooking rack on top of the pan, and then carefully position the meat over the roasting pan.

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For long, slow cooks, I'm a huge fan of the BBQ Guru DigiQ X2 system. It allows you to program temperature settings for the fire/heat and the finished temperature of the meat. It uses a series of probes/sensors and a small computer-controlled fan installed at the intake of the Egg to maintain an exact temperature for hours on end. No more monitoring/watching/babysitting the smoker all night - just set it and forget it.

With the Egg's thermal efficiency (200+ pounds of ceramic will do that), I can smoke a full 30-hours on a single load of quality hardwood lump charcoal. No need to refill!

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I typically cook bone-in pork shoulders at around 220F - 230F, and cook them to a finished temperature of 198F - 200F. This typically takes around 24 hours for a 10-lb shoulder.

Cooking a shoulder is a bit scary, especially if you watch the temperature of the meat as it smokes. The shoulder will usually "skyrocket" from 35-36F (starting temp) to around 130F in just a few hours. Then, it'll creep up to around 160F, where it will then "stall" for many, many, many hours. This is completely normal - just let it sit. Don't open the smoker, don't fret - just make sure your cooking temperature remains stable at a nice low temperature (220F - 230F), and wait it out.

After about 6-10 hours in the "stall," the shoulder's temperature will start to slowly rise, all the way to its finished temperature. As soon as it hits 198F-ish, remove it from the smoker and wrap it in 2-3 layers of heavy duty foil. Tightly wrap it - you want to preserve as much heat and moisture as you can.

Take the foil nugget of goodness and place it into a small cooler. Better yet, line the cooler with warm beach towels, and nestle the foiled shoulder/meat inside. Cover with another warm towel, close the cooler, and let the thing sit for a minimum of 2-3 hours. The longer it can rest, the better!

If you're worried about the shoulder "resting" for long periods of time in the cooler, don't. I've monitored the temperature of a foil-wrapped, towel surrounded, shoulder that's resting in a cooler for up to 8-hours, and the temperature of the shoulder stayed at or above 170F the entire time.

After a good rest, remove the shoulder from the foil. It should look like a meaty meteor of goodness:

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Shred it (I love the Bear Paws shredders), and then transfer the shredded pork to a crock pot for serving to your guests. It's better to have the pork ready early, rather than to rush through the rest period, so keep that in mind!

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And finally, here's a shot of my bone-in turkey breast from this weekend:

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I'm pleased to report that both the pork and turkey were hits at the party - folks seemed to really enjoy them, and that makes me happy. It's not easy, but the results are worth it. Be patient, give yourself plenty of time, and don't worry too much - smoking isn't a precise science.

Enjoy!!

And finally...

I, and several of my coworkers, had the opportunity to sit in the owners box for a White Sox game a few weeks ago. TDS owns US Cellular, which owns the field/facility where the White Sox play. We took a chartered bus down to Chicago, sat in the box, enjoyed a rain-delayed game, ate a ton of good food, and had a few adult beverages. It was a great time, to say the least!

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I don't understand people, and probably never will. Simple, common courtesies seem to have vanished over the past few years. I could go on-and-on about how poorly people drive their cars, how inconsiderately they ride their bikes, or how they fail to "share" sidewalks...

But the worst experiences manifest when virtual and physical worlds collide, and the absolute epitome for culturing moronic behavior has to be craigslist. I can't begin to tell you how many frustrating and/or awful experiences I've had when trying to buy or sell stuff on the world's largest online garage sale site.

Take for example my latest "interaction," when I attempted to purchase an extension ladder, so that I could clean the gutters on my 2-story house.

I need a ladder that's around 28-feet tall so that I can climb up to the roof and clear a clogged gutter. A quick spin around the local hardware stores had me reeling from sticker shock - even "cheap" aluminum ladders of this size start at well over $250; nicer ladders will exceed $400.

Since I envision needing to use this ladder maybe once or twice per year, I couldn't justify a $300+ purchase. So, I turned to craigslist.

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And I instantly found several ladders that appeared to suit my needs, including a really nice looking 32-foot version. The ad indicated it was located "near Wisconsin Dells" and the seller was asking $80 for their ladder. Pictures accompanied the ad - it looked great.

So, I fired-off the usual e-mail, inquiring if the item was available and if so, when they might be able to meet and sell it to me. Exactly 3 minutes later, I had a reply stating that the ladder was available, and that they could meet on Tuesday or Wednesday night. The person, "Tom," said he had a family commitment on Monday that wouldn't allow him to meet me at any time.

Fair enough. I responded and thanked him for the speedy reply. I said, "Tom - this is perfect timing. I can drive up to your place on Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon, whichever is best for you. Let me know your preference, and I'll be there, cash in hand. Thanks again."

I got a reply about 5 minutes later that said, "Steve - my pleasure. I'll see you on Wednesday at around 5:00pm if that works for you? I talked with my wife, and Tuesday looks busy for us. We'll see you Wednesday at 5:00."

Excellent. Done and done. I grabbed $80 cash, set it aside and looked forward to bringing home a 32-foot ladder from Wisconsin Dells.

Fast forward to this morning, when I figured I should send a quick check-in e-mail to 'ole Tom, just to make sure we were still good for the ladder sale tonight. I also realized I didn't have his address, aside from "near Wisconsin Dells."

Tom replied and said, "Hi Steve, my ad has the GPS coordinates on it. We live near Christmas Mountain, and most of the roads are unnamed."

Okee-doekee. Sure enough, there were the GPS coordinates. So, I plugged them into my phone and sent one last e-mail to Tom that said, "Got it. I've entered them in and will be there at around 5:00pm tonight. I have a white Ford Fusion, so when you see me in the driveway, you'll know who it is. Thanks again!"

And about 2 minutes later, I received a final e-mail from Tom.

"Steve - sorry, the ladder sold on Monday night."

Seriously?????

You tell me this after several follow-up e-mails? And, let's not forget that Monday was supposed to have been impossible for him to get together due to some other obligations... oye.

I wish this was a unique experience, but I've had different flavors of it occur more often than you'd think. Oh, and he still has the ad posted on Craigslist.

People. Ugh.

Speak up

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Recently, I've noticed that my hearing hasn't been as sharp as it once was. In certain settings, it's difficult for me to hear people talking; I've found that my ears ring for an extended period of time following any exposure to loud noise (like when I run sound).

While normal ear plugs do an adequate job of protecting your hearing in most situations, they're absolutely horrible for use when I run sound at a gig, or when I'm at a concert and want to clearly hear the performance. I've tried everything from generic foam ear plugs, to fitted foam plugs, to products from Earasers (a semi-custom-fit ear plug), to some really bizarre looking cone-shaped plugs, and they all stink. They simply muffle and muddy-up the sound too much. I can't mix a show when I can't hear various nuances from the performance.

I was about ready to kiss the last of my hearing good-bye, when I stumbled across 100% custom fitted, musician's ear plugs. The company that produces them is called Sensaphonics and they promise that their ear plugs will protect your hearing while still allowing you to hear the full range of sound.

I was a little hesitant to dive-in and purchase these, especially since I had tried "semi-custom" ear plugs before (with mediocre results), and more so because they require an audiologist to take a custom impression of your ear canal so that Sensaphonics can create a set of plugs designed solely for your ears.

I read as much as I could find about the custom plugs and then set about finding an audiologist that could make the impressions for me. I found Dr. Veronica Heide of Audible Difference was a local authorized representative for Sensaphonics, so I scheduled an appointment and went in for a hearing test and fitting.

Dr. Heide is awesome. She's very friendly, super knowledgeable, and excellent at explaining everything in understandable detail. If you're looking for a set of custom-fit ear plugs or in ear monitors, I cannot recommend her strongly enough.

Upon arrival to her office, she used an interesting camera scope device to examine my ear canals. As she peered in, I could see what she was doing via a computer screen. She said that my canals looked good; there was a little bit of wax located quite a bit into the ear canals, but she expertly cleaned it away with a little tool. I snuck a picture of the inside of my ear canal from the scope device.

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Dr. Heide explained that wax is a good thing; she used a model to show me how your ear actually functions, how your brain interprets air movement against very fine hairs that it then uses to activate your ear drum. It was so interesting to see and learn about.

With my ears cleaned and ready to go, she then inserted a special device into my ear that measures your hearing sensitivity. Forget about the "standard" hearing tests where you're supposed to raise your hand when you hear a certain noise... this device was super cool and quite high tech. Here's a graph that shows what my hearing response was like for my left ear:

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The lowest green line (with the boxes) shows my hearing response... not good. :-( No wonder I couldn't hear a lot of people's voices - the frequency range where my hearing dips is right about where most people talk. Ugh.

Dr. Heide explained that my hearing will never improve - once it's damaged, that's it. She did say that with the ear plugs that I can avoid additional damage and preserve what's currently there. So, my timing could've been a little better (I should've done this years ago)...

With the tests complete, Dr. Heide used a special silicone-like epoxy to take an impression of my ear canals. The product reminded me a bit of Silly Putty; she carefully rolled it into a thin tube and inserted it into my ear (with a piece of string so that she could remove it). The substance expanded and when removed, yielded an exact replica of my ear canals. She sent those off to Sensaphonics, and within a few weeks, I had my custom ear plugs.

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I went to Dr. Heide's office to have the fit tested and verified - everything looked (and felt) great. She told me how to care for the ear plugs and gave me a few tips and tricks about them as well. She suggested that I label the carrying case so that if I were to forget them somewhere, someone would hopefully return them to me; hence, the Sharpie marks on the carrying case. :-)

So, how do they work, and why do they allow the full frequency response to get into your ears while attenuating the volume?

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See the white part in the center of the plug? That's a filter, that actually behaves like a passive speaker. The ear plug itself is molded and fit so that it blocks 100% of the sound entering your ear, and the little filter allows a much smaller volume of air to enter into your ear canal, thus lowering the volume that you hear, while still allowing the complete frequency range to get through.

You can swap out different filters to allow for more or less hearing protection as required. It was amazing to have the ear plugs in place yet be able to hear perfectly clearly. They're also very comfortable, which is a major bonus - no more fidgeting around with ear plugs and trying to get them to fit just right. These can only fit one way, and it's the correct way, every time.

So... whether you're a fan of concerts, club shows, sporting events, shooting firearms, or working in a noisy environment, I'd strongly urge you to protect your hearing as best as possible. And, there's no better way that I've found than with custom-fitted ear plugs. It's money well spent, and Dr. Heide is really awesome - you won't regret the purchase!

I can't make this up.

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I must be a glutton for punishment, a masochist, or some combination thereof.

A few days ago, I was sitting at home when I heard a "POP!" followed by a whistling noise, followed by the smell of natural gas. I rushed into my kitchen, where I discovered the source of the issue - my super ancient, super ratty, super tiny stove had failed and was now spewing natural gas into the house.

I quickly turned off the gas supply and opened all of the doors and windows. Whew. That could've been a disaster... I then set about searching for a new stove to replace the "apartment-sized" stove that had just failed.

An apartment-sized stove measures 24" wide. That means you can't set two frying pans side-by-side... not very convenient at all. I measured the available space for the stove and discovered I could squeeze in a 30" stove, which was excellent for a number of reasons. I'd have more available cooking space, and ironically, 30" stoves are less expensive than 24" stoves.

After much searching, I found that Best Buy had a beautiful Samsung 30" stove, and it was in stock, and it was on sale. Double win!

Except for the part where I had to deal with Best Buy again. Those with sharp memories may recall that I had a heck of a time obtaining a washer and dryer set from Best Buy. To say I was hesitant to deal with them would be an understatement, but I didn't have many options, so I ventured over to the store to place my order.

The order process was simple and went off without an issue. I reminded the employee about my previous experience, and he assured me things would be absolutely perfect this time around. He gave me his business card, which included a direct line to him, and an e-mail address. Perfect!

Upon returning home from Best Buy, I discovered an e-mail and a text on my phone. They both confirmed my order, and reiterated the delivery time and date: Tuesday, July 7, between the hours of 10:00am and 12:00pm. Things were looking up.

Fast forward to Monday, July 6.

I received a second set of e-mails and texts, both of which once again confirmed the delivery date as Tuesday, July 7 between 10:00am and 12:00pm. Superb!

Monday night (July 6), at around 10:30pm, I received an "unknown" call (no caller ID) and a voicemail that lasted six (6) seconds. The message said, "Your appliances will be delivered tomorrow between 1pm and 3pm."

Huh? That's confusing... And, I couldn't return the call, because there wasn't a number to call. Great.

So, on Tuesday morning, I grabbed my sales person's card and called his direct line. Voicemail. So, I left a message and requested clarification about the delivery time. I also sent an e-mail, which was promptly returned as "undeliverable" - the address was invalid. Oye. This was not looking good.

10:00am to 12:00pm came and went, without any sign of the Best Buy delivery truck. I called the direct number again - voicemail. So, I left another message. After stewing for a bit, I decided to drive over to Best Buy and talk to them in person.

The guy in the appliance department did some research and said, "Yep, here it is - confirmed 100% - your delivery time is 1pm to 3pm today."

I showed him the 4 e-mails and texts that showed 10:00am to 12:00pm, and he said, "I don't know who sent those, but it's wrong. It is 1pm to 3pm today."

I pointed out that they came from Best Buy, and he said, "But I don't know who sent those." Ugh. This was going nowhere, and 1pm was approaching, so I cut my losses and returned home to wait.

1:00pm to 3:00pm came and went. No truck. So, I called the store and spoke to the same person that I met with in person just a few hours earlier. I told him it was beyond 3:00pm, and I didn't have my stove. He said, "Oh yes, our drivers are very busy today and are running late. They will be there by 7:00pm."

What? You didn't know this when I met with you 2 hours earlier? Unbelievable.

At around 3:30pm, the truck arrived. The driver came up to my kitchen, looked at the existing gas line and went out to grab his tools. He came back with a pair of pliers, and tried to disconnect the gas line with a pair of small pliers... needless to say, the line wasn't budging.

I said, "You don't have a pipe wrench or even an adjustable wrench?" He said, "Nope, this is what I've got. You may have to call a plumber to have this disconnected and installed." (insert huge eye-roll from me)

I said, "I used to be a mechanic; I'll get my pipe wrench - hold on a second." I went out to the garage, grabbed some wrenches and proceeded to loosen the line in about 10 seconds. The driver said, "You seem to know what you're doing here. We'll go grab the new stove and bring it up."

The stove made its way into my house, at which point the driver said, "Here, sign this delivery receipt." I read it over, signed it, and said, "Ok, should we work on getting it unwrapped and placed?"

The driver said, "We're running late, so since you know what you're doing, I think we'll get moving." (insert another eye roll from me)

After they left, I noticed they had left their delivery manifest behind...

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Notice the red part that I circled? Seems to show my delivery was supposed to be the 5th stop, and take place between 10:28am and 11:03am. Morons. Not only are they morons, they're lying and deceitful morons. A double crime.

Fast forward to me trying to connect the new gas hose to my existing gas pipe... thanks to my ancient, cobbled-together house, the new gas hose would not fit my existing gas pipe. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

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Not only was the fitting too small, the pipe was too tall to allow me to flush-fit the stove against the wall. I'd have to shorten it and get a properly-sized fitting on it. Joy.

Frustration #3 manifested in gas pipes that had been put together not with teflon tape, but with some type of cementing compound. This made removing the existing pipes nearly impossible. I say nearly because there's no way I could've gotten them apart, were it not for the invaluable help of my local plumbing supply store owner, who lent me a nifty new-style pipe wrench that actually locked onto the pipe and didn't slip, no matter what. I owe that guy about 100 beers...

$14 in parts later, including a safety valve for the gas supply line (it detects line leaks and automatically shuts off the flow of gas if a leak is detected), and I had a workable solution. Here it is all put together and leak tested:

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Looks a little nicer and is a little more simple, eh?

With the gas line sorted, I unwrapped/packed the stove, put together the burner assemblies and grates, and set the stove in place (leveled it, secured it, etc). The finished product looks like this:

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So much nicer. However, I vow to never, ever purchase another appliance from Best Buy, no matter what. Those jokers are unbelievable (literally and figuratively)...

I spent the rest of the evening doing some guitar work with my pal Jeremy:

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My ESP Eclipse was in need of some TLC. Jeremy polished the frets, oiled the fret board, replaced the bridge, restrung it, and adjusted the intonation and action. I loved the guitar beforehand; now I'm head-over-heels about it. It's such a drastic improvement from the way it was. Looks like I also owe Jeremy 100 beers or so. :-)

And finally, throughout the entire ordeal of the appliances and guitar repair, this thing remained unimpressed and non-enthusiastic. Go figure.

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It's been a while...

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I find myself saying this far too often with the old blog lately, but it sure has been a while since my last update. If memory serves, I think I last talked about some guitar stuff... well, guess what? I'm going to talk about that some more.

I have a problem

Apparently one can never have enough money, good looks, or guitars. I swore up and down that after my last purchase (a Fender Stratocaster Contemporary), that I was done buying guitars. Well, I lied.

One of my other good friends was in need of a new laptop, but didn't have the funds to procure one. He did, however, have a beautiful ESP Eclipse guitar that I really liked. And, he was willing to trade that guitar for a laptop.

Before I set about trying to find a laptop, I gave his guitar a test drive...

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Wow. What a beauty of a guitar. It looked absolutely gorgeous - slightly distressed, flame-top maple, tobacco sunburst color... It felt phenomenal - thin neck, nicely radiused, perfect action. And it sounded incredible - modified EMG 81/85 pick-ups (18-volt, instead of 9-volt)... it was really a beautiful piece of expertly-crafted, hard-to-find musical candy.

So, I started my search for a nice, pre-owned Apple MacBook Pro for him. I didn't want to plunk down $2000 on a new one, so I scoured the web, local resources, and my workplace looking for a gently used MacBook Pro. I stumbled across one that seemed like it would fit the bill. After some gentle negotiating, I managed to purchase the MBP at a good price. I upgraded a few items on it and selected a night for the two of us to meet and trade gear.

We met-up at a Buffalo Wild Wings on April 30, ate some wings, drank some PBRs, traded equipment, and both left happy. Mission: accomplished.

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(Those glasses were compliments of BWW - they had a PBR promo that night, and in addition to the guitar, I scored some cool 32oz mason jar/PBR glasses).

And here's the new girl, sitting in front of my absolutely incredible Mesa/Boogie Mark V rig. Talk about matches made in heaven.

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Astute viewers/readers may notice that something looks slightly different, and congrats - you're right! To better protect my baby, I had a custom ATA flight case made for the amplifier. I ordered it from a company called Kent Custom Cases and couldn't be happier. It's a live-in style case, which means the amplifier never has to leave the case. It sits in there, fully protected and ready to travel when duty calls. Well worth the money/investment!

What? "When would your stuff ever need to travel," you ask? When my other friend asks to borrow it for big shows, of course!

My friend Jeremy is in a band called White Empress; you may recall that they've been playing out a bit more (I lent him my gear for a show in October as well). Well, White Empress went on tour to Tokyo, Japan a few weeks ago, and prior to the tour, they played some warm-up shows around our area. I lent him my rig for use at the High Noon Saloon.

Here it is, up on stage, about to see some serious action:

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And here it is, in action. That's Jeremy shredding away on his ESP guitar, playing to a crowd at the High Noon Saloon.

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The show was fantastic - everything sounded super great, and it was awesome to see Jeremy playing on my rig. I wish I was good enough to play in public... and with a band... that rig is meant to be played loud and played in front of a big crowd. Maybe some day.

Until then, I'll be happy spending lazy evenings on my deck with a brew and this beaut.

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Other stuff

Other than working and fooling around on the guitar, I haven't been doing too much crazy stuff. Saw Chevelle again (this time at Madison's Orpheum Theater):

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And recently saw Sepultura at the High Noon Saloon in Madison:

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What's up next?

- Sound gig at Kiki's on 5/30/15
- Burgers and Brews at Capital Brewery on 5/30/15
- Isthmus Food Cart Festival on 5/31/15
- Royal Blood show at High Noon Saloon on 5/31/15

- Off to Palm Beach, Florida for a work-awarded vacation; all expenses paid, free gifts, spending money, limo rides... staying at the Four Seasons for about a week or so. I was lucky enough to be nominated for our company's "Inspiring Excellence" award, and somehow managed to win. It should be a good time; stay tuned for a blog entry about the trip.

Added another one to the stable

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Man, I love craigslist. Well, I love it and my wallet hates it... I was browsing their site the other day when I stumbled across a rather innocuous looking post. The title read, "Vintage Stratocaster mint condition all black" - nothing too out-of-the-ordinary, but for some reason I clicked on it to learn more.

What I found was equivalent to a white whale: a 1986 Fender Stratocaster Contemporary Series, Made in Japan, single pick-up, completely blacked out, with a Series 1 tremolo, and all of the original paperwork and case. And it was $400.

The reasons this particular Stratocaster is so rare are many, and perhaps best illustrated by a photo comparison. On the left is a traditional Stratocaster. On the right is the one I bought.

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All-black Strats (as they're usually called) are super rare. Even more rare is the single pick-up configuration. If you look closely at the two guitars, the one on the left has three "lipstick" (coil) pick-ups in the body. Mine has a single humbucking pickup (rectangular). The instrument jack is located in the body on classic Strat; mine is in the base of the body. The headstock on nearly every single Strat is always wood grain; mine is black. Even the tuning knobs are black.

Anyway, you get the idea. It's sort of unique and cool. And the price was ridiculous; the cheapest I've found these anywhere else online was easily twice the price that I got it for, and none were in nearly as nice of condition as this one.

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The guy who sold it was the original owner... he's had it for nearly 30-years, and he took incredible care of it. Kudos to him, and sorry that he didn't really realize what he had, in terms of value. But I'm not complaining. :-)

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I'm not normally a fan of tremolos (aka "Whammy Bars") because I don't really use them, and they require extra know-how in terms of set-up and maintenance, but this one is a bit special as it's a Series 1 tremolo that was licensed to Fender by a company called Kahler. According to my friend Jeremy from the Guitar Center, it's a pretty awesome tremolo.

So, there you have it. The thing is gorgeous, it's in like new condition, it's pretty rare, and most importantly, it plays like a dream. I'm still quite stinky at the guitar, but getting better every day. :-) I'd say I practice 4-5 times a week for around an hour or so each time. YouTube has been a big help with finding drills and songs to practice.

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Auf Wiedersehen

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"So long, farewell, auf widersehen, and good-bye!"

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The Mercedes has hit the road - on to someone else's garage.

I have to admit, I sort of miss the car, but not really. I don't think that 2011 was a great year for the Benz family. My car, while awesome for long road trips, and while comfortable and technologically amazing, was very unreliable, very finicky, and in the shop more than any other vehicle I've ever owned.

Here's a brief list of the things I loved about it:

  • 400+ horsepower = 0-60 in under 5-seconds
  • Super awesome 7.1 surround sound system
  • Very comfortable seats; heated and cooled/ventilated
  • Massaging seats with active bolstering/support
  • All glass, panoramic roof
  • The overall feeling of solidity - the car was a tank and tomb

Unfortunately, that "nice" list didn't outweigh the "naughty" list... there were so many issues with the car, most of which went unresolved due to the incompetency of our local Mercedes-Benz dealership, Zimbrick European.

I'm not able to recall the total number of times the car was in the shop, but looking back at my Yelp check-in history, I show 14 distinct check-ins to Zimbrick European... and I bought the car in late January of 2013. And it had 30k miles on it when I bought it...

Things that regularly didn't work or had gremlins:

  • Cruise control. It was radar guided, but the radar regularly had issues, and when it did, the cruise control wouldn't work at all. Mild rains/snows would render it useless.
  • Blind spot detection system and parking assist. Similar to the cruise; they'd quit working about 2-3x per week.
  • Navigation system. Quite possibly the worst system I've ever used. One of my friends commented that it seemed like it was based on the TRS-80 (an old 1980's Radio Shack computer system).
  • Bluetooth integration. It was essentially non-existent. It didn't work well with my iPhone at all.
  • Fuel economy. Driving down the interstate at 80mph, the car would return 30+ mpg. Driving any slower, or around town, and it would return at best, 19mpg. And premium fuel, only.
  • The 4MATIC all wheel drive. It was virtually worthless. I struggled, even with brand new tires, to make it up certain snowy inclines.

Some of the more comical problems the car had?

- Driving home from the twin cities in July and the climate control decided to go into full heat mode. It wouldn't allow me to turn it off, nor turn it down, nor turn down the fan speed... Stopping and restarting the car didn't do anything; it was quite literally like an oven in the car within a few minutes. And, after 10-minutes or so, the car announced to me that it "detected driver drowsiness" and that I should "pull over immediately."

I ignored the message, as it was around 2:00pm in the afternoon, and aside from sweating profusely, I wasn't drowsy. After ignoring the prompts for a while, the car decided I was unfit to drive and proceeded to pull itself over onto the shoulder and park. Honestly. I called Mercedes-Benz, who dispatched a tow truck to get me home... in addition to the climate control issue, the car had 17 computer issues - the cruise control, the blind spot detection system, and others (it has a total of 88 computers in it). Those 17 needed replacement and/or updating.

- Suspension issues. The car had "AIRMATIC" suspension, which combined magnetic and air systems to control the ride height and firmness of the suspension. Unfortunately, the air suspension was always failing. Earlier in the year, the car wouldn't lower itself to a normal ride height, so it looked like a jacked-up 4x4 all of the time. The dealer discovered that a $3800 manifold had failed and replaced it under warranty.

In November, upon my return from Boston, I discovered that the car had yet another suspension issue... I was at the Milwaukee airport, about ready to head home, when the car literally slammed itself to the ground. It was sitting so low that I couldn't have slid my wallet between the car and the ground.

I called Zimbrick, and their response was comical. "Hmm. Yep, that's a problem. We could maybe get you into the shop on December 9th."

I said, "But today is November 20, and I'm in Milwaukee, unable to drive the car."

They said, "Yeah. Well, sorry about that."

And that was it. No help. None. So, I drove it back to Madison, flat as a pancake, with it yelling at me to stop driving it the entire way... I called Zimbrick again and told them I was going to keep driving it, and they could deal with the damage that may occur. Miraculously, they were able to schedule me in later that week.

And then the car sat at the shop for nearly 3-weeks, waiting for parts and/or technicians. Apparently no one wants to work at Zimbrick because I received several calls that explained they were "short on technicians and wouldn't be able to fix my car until who knows when."

So, when I finally got the car back, it still had issues, and to make matters worse, the maintenance that they were supposed to have completed as part of the service schedule, was only partially completed. They didn't replace several filters, and they overlooked a few other items.

But the final straw that broke Himmler's back was that someone hit-and-run my car the very same day that I got it out of the shop (after it had been there for 3-weeks).

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I got a few estimates to repair the damage - it was right around $1500, all-in - but ultimately decided to ditch the car. Zimbrick European had become impossible to work with on any thing, and the thought of future suspension or electrical issues led me to trade it in on something else.

So, what did I buy?

A one owner, 25k-mile, certified pre-owned 2012 Ford Fusion, with all wheel drive and a V6, with every available option.

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So far, it's a decent car. The navigation and bluetooth work flawlessly - yay! The cruise control and blind spot detection are perfect - yay! The climate control system behaves as expected - yay! The all wheel drive is *awesome* - very sure-footed.

My only complaint is with the fuel economy... I'm getting around 22mpg at best, but from what I can tell, that's about normal for the car, so it is what it is. I'm just relieved that I can work on it myself, and that I'm not at the mercy of an incompetent dealership, nor am I held hostage at the parts counter (the brake job that I did on the Benz over the summer cost me over $800 in parts alone).

So, we'll see how this car holds up over time. So far, so good....

This Old House...

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...is going to make me mental before too long.

I have a love/hate relationship with my house. It's 115 years old, which means it's seen a few things... a couple of World Wars, a moon landing, the advent of central heating/air conditioning, and who knows what else. I love that it has character and I love the neighborhood. I hate having to fix anything on it, because even the most simple jobs turn into massive headaches.

Case in point: the plumbing.

The upstairs kitchen (my kitchen) was plumbed at some point along the way with soft-walled, coiled copper tubing. This stuff has its practical applications, but it's finicky. It can't be bent by hand at any point, or it will kink, and those kinks will eventually leak (as well as restrict water flow). And that's exactly what happened... I was planning to change my drinking water filters (under my kitchen sink) when I noticed the copper tubing was leaking. Here's part of the mess I saw under the sink (the green stuff is corrosion/leaks):

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I had good luck running PEX tubing in my bathroom, so I figured I would fish new PEX lines from the basement up to my kitchen and remove all of the mess that was the combination of copper, galvanized steel, and lead piping (all of which made-up my current plumbing environment). So I procured all of the necessary tubing, fittings, and adapters and set about replacing the kitchen plumbing supply lines.

Problem #1 came when I couldn't remove the original plumbing. Someone had apparently routed it so that the pipes didn't run in a straight-shot from the basement to the upstairs. They made a stop (and bend) in my renter's kitchen, and then made another stop (and bend, through wall studs) somewhere in the ceiling of my renter's kitchen. Joy.

Rather than remove the tangled mess, I decided to bypass it and drill a new access hole so that I could route the PEX through a single wall cavity (sans bends). The drilling went OK, but when I went down into my renter's kitchen to feed the PEX through her cabinets, I encountered problem #2:

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Her kitchen counter was made from cheap butcher block (from IKEA), and was never properly treated. Water and wood don't get along too well, so the counter top was failing. And, when I went to lean against the counter, I managed to put my hand through a section of the counter top. Awesome.

I eventually got the PEX run; my pal at Howe Brother's Plumbing Supply provided me with these super nifty water supply valves - they connect directly to the PEX without the need for any adapters. SCORE!

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That same friend from Howe Brother's also hooked-me-up with a new faucet for my upstairs kitchen. The original one was leaking from where the faucet swiveled in the base, and the sprayer handle failed at some point, so that it wouldn't shut-off unless it was set in the *exact* correct location. He sold me an all-brass and real stainless steel Kohler faucet at a massive discount. Someone had special ordered it and then changed their mind, so I got what was essentially a $699 faucet for under $250. Here it is, fully installed:

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Last but not least, I decided to remove the garbage disposal; it never worked and it was always in the way especially when I would try to do any type of work under the sink. The disposal came out easily enough, but engineering a new drain assembly was anything but fun. I eventually got it figured out; I used a series of elbows and schedule 40 PVC to make it all work. Yay! No more stinky disposal and no leaks (on either the supply or drain side of things).

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Whew. That was a full day of fun plumbing work. I'm so grateful I'm not a plumber... you're constantly working in cramped spaces and contorting yourself into poses that are so unnatural... my neck still hurts from lying in that cabinet for a few hours.

But wait... there's more... I still had to address the counter top issue in my renter's unit.

I checked IKEA's website for a replacement section and was thrilled to discover they still offered the butcher block counter top. I was less thrilled when I realized they changed the thickness at some point. UGH.

Her original counter tops were about 1-and-1/8th of an inch thick. All of the new IKEA counter tops were 1.5 inches thick. Hmm. And, they were no longer solid wood; they were "laminated butcher block with a particle board core." Ick.

On a whim, I checked-out Menards, and was pleased to see that they sold true butcher block counter tops. So, I drove over, bought two sections, and headed home to start working on replacing the downstairs counter tops.

The sink-side of the counter came apart quite easily. I guess all of the exposure to water had really loosened things up.

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The longer section was another story... whoever installed the counter tops decided to glue the counter tops to the cabinets, which made it nearly impossible to remove them without damaging the under bracing. Yay. I managed to get most of the counter top loosened, but did end-up breaking several sections of the bracing. And, to make life even more fun, the original bracing was made out of: you guessed it - particle board.

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So, it was back to Menards for some 1-by Aspen wood that I would fabricate into new cabinet bracing. I took several measurements, broke-out the biscuit joiner, and made a few cuts. Here's a section of it being test fit.

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After I confirmed everything was accurate, I glued all of the biscuit joints, clamped them, and let them sit overnight to dry. The next day, I fit the bracing to the cabinets and everything looked good. Here's a section that I fabricated, for illustration:

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With the bracing in place, I was able to set the longest section of the counter top. It measured 26" wide by 96" long by 1.5" thick, and weighed about 150-pounds. Good times, setting that in place by myself...

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The next challenge I had was mating the two sections of the counter together, so that they'd form a tight seal that wouldn't easily allow water or debris into the joint. The original counter top didn't have any type of joint - it was just butted-together and that was it. No wonder it failed...

After thinking about it, I decided to biscuit and pocket-screw the joints. I bought this nifty little pocket screw jig for $40 - it was super cool and did the trick.

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The jig allows you to drill a perfectly angled hole that results in your fastener landing dead center in the joint of the two boards. It's a genius device. Here you can see the angled holes that it makes:

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I installed 4 biscuit joints, glued them, and then screwed the two sections of counter top together through the pocket holes using 3" screws. Perfect! A super tight seal.

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The next challenge (oh, there were plenty) came by way of the original cabinet installers (again). I'd like to find whomever installed these and have a few words with them. They were too lazy to notch the base board trim, so they set the cabinets against the trim, rather than flush with the wall. The result: a gap of about 1" between the wall and the counter top. So, I had to fabricate and fit my own section of butcher block to fill the gap. I planed, glued, and screwed butcher block pieces and made it all work. I'm still not quite sure how I got it all to align properly, but it did, so I'm not asking questions.

Finally, I had to cut an opening for the sink, and that's when the next problem arose: the new counter top was too thick to accommodate the original sink's built-in fasteners (it was also an IKEA sink)... another trip to the plumbing supply store netted me a new sink and faucet; the original sink and faucet were a nightmare, any way, as seen here:

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Here's where I got the most nervous... I had to triple-measure and then cut into my pristine butcher block so that I could drop-in the new sink. I had to be fairly precise, because the sink didn't have much of a mounting/drop-in lip. After many measurements and re-measurements, I used a hole saw to make a starter hole, and then carefully cut out the opening with my jig saw... the result:

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I had to make a new drain assembly again because the new sink's drain was in a slightly different location that the original... and, I fought with the supply line to the faucet, thanks to a galvanized pipe that snapped while removing the original water supply valve...

So... at the end of it all, I have new, non-leaking water supply lines from the basement to my kitchen, a new faucet, new counter top/sink/faucet for my renter, and new supply lines in the lower kitchen. Total time to perform the work? 3-days. Total cost: around $1200. Merry Christmas to me...

And... someone hit-and-run my car the other night... Yay again.

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OH - I almost forgot... this whole mess started with me wanting to replace the filters in my drinking water system.

"But Steve, why would you need a fancy drinking water system?" - I can hear you asking...

My filtration system has 4-filters: a pre-sediment filter, a finer-sediment filter, a charcoal filter, and a reverse osmosis filter. In the photo below, the white filter is a new pre-sediment filter. The one to the right of it is the exact same filter... after 3-months of use at my house. Gotta' love Madison water, eh?

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Happy Halloween

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Ahhh, it's that time of year again - Halloween. Changing seasons, colorful leaves, crisp air - all of the fall goodness.

As you can see, I carved a fun little pumpkin this year - the Deathstar. I decided on this because my pumpkin from last year was, well, quite honestly, a disaster. I went to last year's carving party without a plan, and the results clearly showed.

So for this year, I decided I was going to be a little more tactical. I researched "interesting pumpkins" online and stumbled across a few Deathstar examples. As a huge fan of Star Wars, I thought this would be a great option. Unfortunately, there are no templates for such a design... so, I went to the local craft store, bought a flexible tape measure and some clay carving tools, and did my best to design a Deathstar. I think it turned-out fairly well.

The Green Egg

I love my Big Green Egg. It's so awesome. Having owned it for a few years now, it was in need of a minor tune-up. There are two gaskets between the main body and the lid, and they were starting to leak fairly heavily. Apparently the original gaskets are made from wool, and need to be replaced quite regularly. I did some research and found that an aftermarket company makes a gasket set from Nomex and Kevlar, which are designed to last for several years. Nice!

What wasn't so nice was removing the original gaskets. Holy cats. The Big Green Egg makers attach their gaskets with some type of industrial-strength adhesive that apparently welds itself to the ceramic body and lid. I spent a solid 3-hours removing the original gasket and adhesive material... the process included scraping with a paint scraper and a single-edge razor blade, lightly grinding with a sanding/flapper wheel, sanding with 80-grit paper on a multi-tool, and soaking with acetone. Not fun.

But the results are stellar. I fired-up the Egg over the weekend and am happy to report that it is free of leaks, and it rocketed-up to over 800F during warm-up, and that's a truly great sign.

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Speaking of cooking...

I'm not sure if I mentioned it or not, but I started teaching cooking classes for a store in Stoughton. I was approached in the spring by the store owner (who knows me through Yelp) about teaching a series of grilling classes for her. She has a great little kitchen/house goods store, and offers nightly cooking courses (6-classes per week).

The facility is outstanding; the classes are held in the lower level of the store, where she has a large gas range, several in-wall ovens, tons of awesome cooking gear, and a large island that seats 12 students.

She wanted me to focus on grilling, so I came-up with a three-part series: BBQ 101, Mastering the Art of BBQ, and Earning your BBQ PhD. For each class, I had to develop a curriculum, complete with hand-outs, recipes, and lessons. I chose to focus on three meals/techniques for each class, which worked-out really well. I did all of the grilling on an outdoor charcoal grill, which was fun because we'd move around a bit during the 3-hour classes. The classes cost around $45 each, and included the food as well as free beer and wine.

My first three classes sold out in less than a week, so she suggested I add additional classes. I wound-up teaching a total of nine classes over the summer, including two private parties. It was great fun - I met some really awesome people (I had a group of "regulars" who attended every class and gave me a really cool gift at my final class). I later learned from the owner that I was the only instructor to receive a 5-star rating from every student in every class. That's crazy to me.

Here are a few pictures of some of the bounty from the classes... grilled ribeyes with garlic lemon asparagus and roasted mushrooms, followed by grilled pound cake with peaches (and a rum-butter reduction on the side).

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Packers Game

My friend Chris once again offered-up some Packers tickets, so we made the journey to Lambeau a few weeks ago and got to see the Packers route the Panthers. It wasn't much of a game, but the trip was fun, as usual. We had great weather and great seats - no complaints!

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Guitar

Man, I'm loving my Mesa Mark V set-up. I'm also loving the new strings that my pal Jeremy recently turned me on to. They're so smooth, so silky, and sound incredible. He came over a few weeks ago and we restrung all of our guitars in one sitting... He's a professional musician, so he knows the tips and tricks for restringing - this made short work of what would otherwise be a tedious task. Thanks, Jeremy!!

Here we are, about to begin...

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Even with only two strings on his guitar, Jeremy is amazing - he's also been giving me some lessons, which have helped a ton. I still stink, but I stink a little less than I used to.

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Here I am, enjoying the fruits of our labor. If I had a better way to post video, I'd share the actual sound... until then, you'll just have to trust that it's quite mediocre at best. I do also love that Gibson Les Paul.

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And finally, a shot of some of the guitars after the restringing. And with that, I bid you farewell for now... that's about all that's going on in my little corner of the world.

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I almost forgot... 10-years!

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Can you believe this crummy blog has been online for 10-years? Wowser - I can't. Thank you for hanging around and reading my mindless drivel. Who knows if it'll be around in another ten years... there'll probably be some newer, more awesome method of sharing ideas and thoughts by then. But seriously - thank you for the support and for visiting on a regular basis.

Righteous.

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What a great weekend.

It started with getting asked by my friends, Wendy and Tamara, to attend the Wollersheim Winery's "Port Release Celebration" in Sauk City.

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I've never been to the Wollersheim, even though I have ridden my bike past it countless times. Little did I know that the grounds were so expansive and beautiful. Who would've ever thought that Wisconsin could host great winery/destination?

The facility features a mix of rustic and modern structures; there's a cave for aging wine. Brick-paved walkways wind their way up and around a hill, guiding you to-and-from the various buildings. I can only imagine how picturesque this place is during the fall.

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The Port Celebration event showcased Wollershiem's "White Port" wine, of which visitors were provided samples of at one of the "Wine Stops" along the self-guided winery tour. I was driving the group, so I didn't sample any of the wines, but I'm told they were all quite good.

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I've taken several self-guided tours from various breweries; none have been anywhere near as good as this tour was. The course was well marked, and there were plenty of informative signs and trivia bits along the way. I was also impressed with how spotless the place was - to say it was immaculate would be an understatement.

After completing the tour (which took about 30 minutes), we assembled in a huge meeting room, where they had local musicians and more wine sampling. Wollersheim's winemaker, Phillippe, talked for a few minutes about the white Port, as well as their forthcoming Brandy (due out in May of 2014). The meeting room was one of the older, more rustic portions of the facility.

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We stayed at the event until around 3:30pm, and then headed back to Madison. They had to attend a birthday party, and I had plans to attend a very special concert.

Kiki Schueler has been hosting extremely small "concerts" from the basement of her house since 2005. She's a bit of a legend around the music scene in Madison - her venue, "Kiki's House of Righteous Music" offers the opportunity to experience live music like never before.

Kiki doesn't promote her shows outside of a very small network of friends and former audience members. I heard about Kiki's from my very good friends, Paul and Sallie - they never miss a Bottle Rockets show at Kiki's (that show sells out in less than 5 minutes). Thanks to their help and "endorsement," I was able to get introduced to Kiki, and before I knew it, I had an opportunity to attend a show.

I went to see Chris Mills, an alternative musician from Chicago, who has a very shaky/vulnerable sound to his voice. I'd never heard him prior to last night, but wow - what a great show. He was there with his band (2 of whom are from Norway); they're kicking off a fairly large world tour and decided to make Kiki's their first stop. Too cool.

Kiki opens her house to around 50 people, all of whom venture down to her basement, where there's a very tiny "stage" (basically a square tapestry) in one corner of her basement. Two long couches flank either side of the performance area, followed by 3 rows of folding chairs on each side. Late-comers (like yours truly) stand in the back, near things like washing machines and water heaters.

The shows are "donation only" - give what you can afford or want to. There are no refreshments; it's BYOB, although Kiki does provide coolers and a refrigerator.

The show started promptly at 9:00pm, with a soloist guitar player (from Chris Mills's band) singing painful, melancholy songs that were almost haunting. He only played 3 songs, which was too bad because while a bit "down," they were well written and performed.

After a brief 4-5 minute break, the rest of the band came out and played. They played for over 2-hours, without stopping, other than to share stories and experiences with the audience in between songs. It was so intimate and involved - you really felt a connection with the band and the audience.

I can't wait to go to another show. Truly a righteous experience.

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And now, I'm off to shovel some snow. Try to stay warm next week - I hear we're supposed to see a low of -22F on Monday!!!

This Old House

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So I love the idea of owning an old house, and I look forward to the things that I'll be able to do with it: convert it back into a single family house, create a large entertaining room upstairs, remove the upstairs kitchen and turn it into a wet bar, update the downstairs kitchen, install new flooring, replace the plaster and lathe with drywall, install central air, replace the garage... all in good time.

What I don't love is fixing things that previous contractors/owners have goofed-up. Take the rewiring of the house, for example. The previous home owner hired a contractor to do some wiring work on the house a while back. Unfortunately, the work was so poor, I had to redo it, which is time consuming, wasteful, and was potentially dangerous - whomever performed the wiring work didn't understand the very basics...

And then there was the upstairs bathroom. The hard plumbing lines are all exposed. There's an original lead hot water supply line that runs to the vanity and shower, and it's in decent condition. The cold water line, however, appears to have been "updated" some time ago. Unfortunately, whoever did the work was a complete ogre.

They didn't apparently have a tubing bender, nor did they have a tubing cutter. It looks like they bought a 15-foot length of 1/2" copper and just hand bent it into place. It was absolutely terrible. If you don't have smooth bends in copper, you'll end up damaging the copper, and it'll leak. When that happens, it looks like this:

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I was so nervous about the line bursting that I decided to replace it. Instead of messing with copper, I chose to go with a synthetic material known as "Pex." Pex is easier to work with, inexpensive, and is an ideal candidate for a job like this.

Before I ripped out the old stuff, I snapped one more photo of the quality installation job as done by the previous person. The copper line is the one on top, with all of the kinks and uneven bends.

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I spent $40 for 15-feet of Pex, a Pex line cutter, two 90-degree radius guides, and two "Sharkbite" connectors. The hardest part of the job was taking out the old copper. There weren't any shut-off valves upstairs, so I had to turn off the main water and hot water heater valves. Once those were off, I used a torch to loosen the old connections and then pulled everything out.

I measured my new Pex, cut it to length, ran it appropriately, made my connections, and gave it a test. 100% success.

Looks a little better, and now I can sleep at night without worry of flooding the house thanks to a burst water line.

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Cutting the Cable

I haven't had cable television for at least 5-years, and to be honest, I don't miss it one little bit. Well, that's not entirely true - I do miss having a DVR and channel guide; I didn't think I'd ever have such an option to me and my primitive antenna system.

That all changed when I was surfing the web the other day and discovered that TiVo works with antennas. They have a device known as the "Roamio" that allows you to record up to four different HD channels at once while watching whatever you want to. The device supports 1080i HD picture, Dolby surround sound, and is compatible with wireless networks. Score.

I purchased a Roamio, brought it home, set it up (a process that took forever thanks to what I imagine is a very primitive TiVo infrastructure; a software update for the device took more than an hour to download and install, which is ridiculous), and before long, was enjoying a full channel guide, a full featured DVR, and a universal remote that controls all of my components.

I'm in love with this thing.

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Baby it's cold outside...

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"Well, hellloooooo Wisconsin!" said that frigid b-word, Mother Nature.

What the heck just happened with our weather? When I woke-up to go to work this morning, my car's thermometer showed an impressive -1F. Wowser. While my car wasn't too pleased with the cold weather, I was nice and balmy warm, thanks to a few recent purchases.

Before I get too far along, you'll probably recall that I purchased a Columbia OmniTech jacket from the Columbia factory outlet store some time ago (around 4-5 years ago). It was a nice jacket, but... I felt like the Michelin Man every time I wore the danged thing.

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To make matters worse, it didn't fit me very well; it was a bit too short on my torso, and too puffy through the torso. It was also tan and brown. Every time I wore it, I felt like I was about to go on a quail hunt. But to quote Macklemore, "It was $99, yo."

Because I'm such a fashionista, I couldn't bring myself to break out the psuedo-hunting duds. Even as the mercury dipped into the single digits, I vowed to leave the thing packed away. So, I layered other garments under my trusty North Face Apex jacket. Unfortunately, I couldn't layer enough to stay warm... so, I ventured over to my local Erehwon store and directed the sales guy to find me the warmest coat in the store.

What he showed me was a neon/lime green super puffy jacket that cost $650. I tried it on, and while it felt great, the thought of walking around town wearing a glowing green jacket didn't exactly inspire a ton of desire. I inquired about other color options - there were none.

"Ok, so how about your second warmest jacket?" I asked.

He pointed me to a Mountain Hardware rack, filled with tan jackets. Ugh! He encouraged me to try-on the jacket. Reluctantly, I did. And wow. The jacket was very lightweight, athletically-cut, perfect length (in both the torso and arms), and it felt warm.

We talked details: the jacket was windproof, waterproof, featured a "Dry.Q" shell and "Thermal.Q" insulation. It had tons of pockets, welded zipper seams, and nice details such as forearm key pockets and an interior phone/mp3 pocket with headphone cord pass-through.

I was sold. Except for that tan color. "No worries," said my bearded buddy, "we have it in black."

SCORE. I bought it.

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I also inquired about some warm gloves, as I was sick of having my fingers feel like they were about to fall off within 15 minutes of being outside. I've spent in excess of $500 on gloves, and every pair has fell well short of expectations.

The salesman showed me a set of Outdoor Research mittens that he guaranteed would keep my hands balmy hot. So hot, in fact, that he recommended a set of glove liners to help prevent my fingers from sweating.

I scoffed at him. "I won't be needing those liners - my hands never get too warm in gloves," I said.

I bought the mittens, and as my coworker said, "Dude, they look like boxing gloves."

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So, how does all of the stuff work?

In a word: perfectly.

The jacket is simply phenomenal. It's almost too warm, even on days like today, when the temperature hung out in the low single-digits for most of the morning. I easily cleaned my car's windows and waited for it to warm-up without feeling the slightest hint of a chill. I took a little outdoor stroll, and actually got too warm... I had to open the "pit zips" (vents under the armpits) to cool off a bit. I think it's a winner!

The gloves were equally great. My hands were super toasty - no sign of chilliness, even when scraping windows and walking around outside for nearly 30 minutes. In fact, my hands were too warm...

I returned to Erehwon tonight and bought some glove liners.

And the award for...

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"Laziest Blog Updater In The World" goes to (drumroll) - ME!!

Folks, I apologize for not keeping things current around here. It wasn't until my friend Steve Wright swung through Madison last week and commented, "You need to blog more often," that I realized just how lax I've been. No excuse for it, other than being busy and not being home very often as of late. Excuses aside, let's catch-up, shall we?

October was a busy month. I'll share the highlights here - hope you enjoy them!

Early October: Packers vs Browns

Have I mentioned how awesome my boss is? Well, he is. And I'm not just saying that because I think he reads this (I don't think he does). His name is also Steve, and he's been the most supportive, generous, skill-building boss I've ever had. He's so good at building strong teams, challenging us to stretch ourselves and to learn as much as we can, and just generally developing strong leaders/professionals. He's been our boss for 2 years now, and it's been absolutely superb.

Aside from him being my immediate boss, he's also become a very good friend. Steve is the guy that I went to Austin with in 2011, he's the guy who generously hosted my 40th birthday party at his house, and has done countless other things for and with me.

He's a huge fan of the Green Bay Packers, so I was pleasantly surprised when he asked if I'd be interested in attending a game with him, his treat.

"Let me think about that for a sec- DUH, of COURSE I'd love to go!" was my response... (I'm so smooth and reserved)

The Packers were playing the Browns, and Steve scored seats in the north end zone, just 5 rows from the field. It was a late afternoon game, which meant we didn't have to wake up terribly early. Steve picked me up at around 11:30; we had an easy drive to the game, and we saw a great Packers victory.

The weather wasn't super great; it was coolish, rainy, and a little windy, but it was still a great time. Because of the weather, we didn't imbibe too much - I think we each had one adult beverage, and then I had a coffee at half time. We're party animals, eh?

Here are some random photos from the game, starting with this awesome tailgating set-up that the Browns fans had. It was an old school bus that had been extended to include a smoker/grilling station on the back. The front featured a PVC-made full face mask. There was a HUGE sound system cranking tunes, and nearly everyone seemed to be really enjoying the set-up. It was truly impressive.

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Here are some action shots from the game. Keep in mind that these were all shot with my iPhone, which is a great point-and-shoot, but it's no full-frame dSLR with nice glass.

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And while I said I don't think he reads my blog, I'll say it again, just in case - thank you, Steve for the great time and for being a great friend and awesome boss.


Mid October: The Big Apple - Revisited

I had the opportunity to visit New York for a training class; the class was held at the same location/venue as the class I attended last year, which was awesome because I had complete familiarity with the area.

I spent 5 days in New York, and man, I honestly love that city. I love staying in the Financial District ("FiDi") - it's at the very southern tip of Manhattan and is where you'll find Battery Park, Ellis Island, Wall Street, and a whole bunch of cool parks/businesses. I ran every single day - if I lived in NYC, I'd run 3x per day. Just look at the view from the running trail within Battery Park:

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Residents of NYC aren't as fond of living in the FiDi as they are other areas because the area largely shuts down after 6:00pm. All of the stock market folks, analysts, and financial folks leave at quitting time and don't return until the next day. That was A-OK by me because it made for very quiet nights in my hotel room (no horns or sirens). Residents also complain about the lack of "good food options," which is something I don't get... I found tons of great food in the area, including this awesome breakfast bagel:

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FiDi is about 40 blocks south of Times Square; I made my way up there a few times because where else will you see things like this?

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Aside from Times Square, I enjoyed the Midtown area because it's also home to a neighborhood known as Hell's Kitchen. Hell's Kitchen is a super gorgeous, happening part of town that's filled with incredible shops, restaurants, and innovative businesses. It's also where Parmilla lives, and I had a chance to visit with her on a few occasions.

Parmilla is my "cousin" - she's originally from Malaysia, but moved to NYC a few years ago. I know her through my Aunt Linda, Uncle Warren, and cousin Leanne (and hubby, Jeff). They hosted Parmilla when she was a foreign exchange student back in the 1990s; they've stayed close, and when she returned to the US a while back, they kept in even closer contact.

Parmilla works for a game company; she designs the user interfaces and graphics for a bunch of popular online games and mobile applications. She knew I was in town and invited me to stop by her apartment for dinner and to catch-up. I took her up on the offer. We started with a view from the top floor of her building - it overlooks the Hudson River; you can see the Empire State Building in the background as well.

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Her apartment is really cute, although it's a bit small at just over 425 square feet! Talk about having to be a master of efficiency and layout. I think she's done a good job - take a look for yourself:

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She made an excellent dinner that included a combination of Malaysian and Thai (I think?!) dishes. There were tuna cakes, a fish dish, omelette, and a chicken curry dish. Everything was absolutely divine - some of the best asian food I've ever had!

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We also got together later in the week for a few drinks in the Hell's Kitchen area. We stopped at a little pub that she was familiar with; a bartender snapped a photo of us, so here we are having a few beverages.

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It was great getting to catch-up with Parmilla and to hang out. If you have a mobile device and enjoy playing fun, challenging games, be sure to check out the offerings from her company, PuzzleSocial. They're great games, and they're FREE!

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While I was in New York, my boss happened to swing through town while on his way to a Pearl Jam concert in Hartford, Connecticut. He, along with his wife and kids, invited me to join them for dinner at the world famous Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn. It's been around for 125 years and is quite legendary.

We had an awesome meal; steak for four (a huge Porterhouse), potatoes with onions, house cured bacon, wedge salads, and some quality dessert. It was definitely an experience; I won't post a ton of pictures, but here's one of the steak plate, just after it was delivered to us:

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Talk about a good night! I don't think I would've otherwise had a chance to visit that place, let alone get reservations and pony-up the $200 for that steak all on my own. :-)

Before I knew it, my time in New York came to an all-too-soon end. I left on Saturday afternoon, but not before taking one more stroll through some of the awesome neighborhoods and grabbing some pizza from Lombardi's Pizza.

Lombardi's is located in the Nolita neighborhood and is considered to be one of the country's first pizza places. Nolita is a gorgeous neighborhood; here's a little alcove that I stumbled across while walking to Lombardi's:

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Lombardi's didn't open until 11:30am on Saturday, so I had some time to kill as I had arrived closer to 11:00am. I did a little shopping and returned to find a huge line, filled with hungry tourists, all hoping to grab some of that legendary pizza. Despite the line, I was immediately seated and promptly ordered a Margherita pizza - classic tomato, basil, and mozzarella.

They only sell whole pies, but I didn't care. I'd had Lombardi's a few years back, and I've been dreaming about it ever since. Here's the pizza, fresh out of their coal-fired brick oven:

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Belly full of pizza, back-pack stuffed full with some new clothes, I made my way to the subway, where I rode into Queens, transferred to a bus, and was dropped off at LaGuardia. A good trip, indeed.


End of October: Happy Halloween

A couple of years ago, I went all out for Halloween. Well, the bug hit me to do so again this year, so I set about plans for what I hoped would be an excellent costume.

I'm a huge fan of the (now retired) show, Breaking Bad. It's been a while since I've been so engrossed in a series... it was truly a great story with awesome actors.

So... I decided that I would be Walter White, the primary character. For those not familiar with the show, Walter White is (by day) a high school science teacher who contracted lung cancer and was forced to come up with an alternate method to pay for his treatment. So, he did what any upstanding citizen would do: started cooking crystal meth. Only, his was the best meth ever - 97.8% pure, and highly sought after. The show takes a ton of twists and turns; if you haven't seen it - you need to.

Walt went through several phases in the show. He started as a mild mannered, semi-bumbling, unassuming guy who wore bad clothes and had a dorky aura about him. Later, he turned into a ruthless drug king pin that was sitting on an empire and 80+ million dollars. He shaved his head, grew a goatee, and looked like a hardened criminal. Here he is, in a sort-of "before and after," from the television show:

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My plan was simple: attend a halloween party at the MidTown Pub, dressed as "pre-cancer" Walter White, and then halfway through the night, go into the bathroom, shave my head and change into the meth cooking Walter White badass.

Here I am at the pub, dressed as "normal" Walt. Members Only jacket (compliments of my good friend Marty B), tan khakis, plaid shirt, glasses, tan loafers, looking unassuming.

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I went to the party with a bunch of friends from work - Elden, Becky, Jen, Wendy, and Tamara. We had a great time. Here we are, all dressed up. That's (left-to-right): Elden, Becky, Jen, and me.

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Elden and Becky were the devil couple; their make-up was unreal. Becky did a great job with applying the horns and painting their faces - it looked really great, even up close. Here they are, a little closer:

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Jen went as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. Her costume was super impressive - she made the entire thing from scratch, including the leg holsters, and she looks nearly exactly like Lara Croft. Talk about a great costume - here she is, inside MidTown:

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Wendy and Tamara didn't dress-up, but they did take a ton of photos for me/us. So, about 2 hours into the evening, I went into the bathroom, found an open stall, and shaved my head over the toilet. I then changed into my meth cooking uniform, which was completely accurate, even down to the 3M full face mask with methylamine filter cartridges, and emerged as the evil Walter White. I had a Pyrex dish full of blue rock candy, meant to look like Walt's infamous "Crystal Blue Persuasion."

I don't think I need to state the obvious, but I won the costume contest. Here I am with my prize (cash):

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Here are a few side-by-side photo comparisons:

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A great night, for certain - good friends, good food, and my second MTP costume party victory.

Having a shaved head is odd. It's very cold - I had no idea how much having hair on the 'ole noggin' helps to keep someone warm. Oh well... it's only hair - it'll grow back in a month or so. :-)

...and that's it, folks. Thanks for reading, and let's hope I don't wait another 35 days before the next update!

Home Sweet Home

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Looks like I'll be staying in the Madison area for quite some time. After a few years of renting, moving numerous times, staying with friends, and even spending a few nights in my car, I pulled the trigger and bought a new house.

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I wasn't sure if I could afford to own a house here in Madison, as I still have the place in Arkansas, but after crunching numbers and talking with a few lenders, I got pre-approved for a second home, without contingency to sell the Arkansas home.

I started shopping around in March, and quickly discovered that most houses in Madison don't stay on the market for very long. On one particular weekend, I scheduled six showings; by Sunday morning, five of the six had accepted offers for full asking price. Yikes!

After viewing several dozen dumps and missing out on a few places because I took too long to see them or because someone else beat me to an offer, I was feeling pretty discouraged. Making matters worse, I was quickly running out of time on the lease at my rental house in Verona.

Thankfully, my boss's fiancee came to the rescue. A few years ago, I entertained renting her house, but decided to look for something on the west side of town (her place was downtown). But, after having lived in the 'burbs for a few years, I realized that downtown is where it's at... there are a ton of great restaurants, bars, events, parks - you name it - and I liked the vibe and feel of those areas, so I felt comfortable living a bit farther from my workplace.

So, we talked, and we worked out a deal that was good for both of us. A deal was struck, and we were off and running. But not without some challenges...

The house is 107 years old, and started its life as a single-family home. Some time in the 1950s, the house was converted into a two-flat home. Molly (my boss's fiancee) bought the house in the late 90s and performed a ton of upgrades on it - new kitchens (upstairs and downstairs), new bathroom (downstairs), all new mechanicals, a new roof, a new two-story deck, fence, and so on.

However, there were a few items that needed to be addressed before it could be sold. The house had "knob and tube" wiring, which was common until the mid-sixties, when it was determined to be unsafe for use with modern appliances and insulation methods. So, we had to update the wiring... I spent my Memorial Day weekend converting the place from knob-and-tube to Romex with 200-amp service. What a project that was! But, it knocked $5K off the price of the house, so that was good.

Then, the appraiser/inspector found the detached garage could possibly have had lead paint... so, we scraped and painted and fixed that issue. The inspector also made note that the garage was in need of major repair (I knew that beforehand) and that the basement needed a smoke/carbon monoxide detector (easy fix). Aside from that, the place received a glowing review.

Molly wasn't surprised by any of the news; she had lived in the house for 10+ years and worked hard to keep the house in good condition. When we closed on the house, she handed me a stack of papers about 1" thick - receipts for work/upgrades that she had done.

She also transferred the lease for the first-floor renter to me. There's a girl who has been renting the first floor unit for several years and has been a model renter. I met with her a few times and she definitely seems like a great renter (and person). When Molly moved in with my boss, the renter volunteered to take over responsibilities for yard work, snow removal, and general maintenance. Things looked great every time I was there, so I don't have any doubts that she's responsible and helpful.

My plan is to continue renting the first floor for a year or two; I'll use the rental income to fund replacing the garage, and will then focus on converting the house back into a single family home. I can envision converting the second kitchen to a wet bar, and possibly taking advantage of the huge attic as a master loft...

I love old houses - they have a ton of character, the hardwood flooring is always spectacular, and the little details/nuances are so cool and interesting. Sure, they're not perfect (the plaster walls are a bit uneven and could benefit from some patching, and the floors squeak a bit), but I do enjoy projects, so this should be a good fit.

I moved-in on Sunday and am busy unpacking and getting things set-up. Here's what the house looks like as of yesterday (no first-floor pics, as I didn't want to bother my renter).

Upon entering the front door, there's a landing. The door to the first floor unit is to the left.

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At the top of the stairs you'll find my door. Opening the door lands you into the living room:

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If you take an immediate left (toward the front of the house), you'll find yourself in the master bedroom, which is huge. It even has a full walk-in closet (not seen in this photo):

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From the front door, if you'd turn right, there's a hallway:

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The bathroom has a cast iron, true "claw foot" tub, with a shower attachment. My first project will be to update this bathroom - I'd like to work on it over the winter. I'll remove the tub and install a walk-in shower, and will update the vanity and toilet.

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The back room is a small second bedroom. I'll use it to store bikes and guitar stuff.

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The kitchen is a bit small; I'd like to install a larger range and a larger refrigerator, but the stuff that's in there is nice (it needed a good cleaning, which is why it's disassembled in this photo). There's a dishwasher as well, which is a bonus.

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And here's a photo from the backyard, which shows the two decks.

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So, there you have it. Even though I haven't fully unpacked and set-up my stuff, it's good to be "home" and to not have to worry about moving again. Flea seems to be enjoying the house - she likes the fenced-in yard, and has been making friends with neighborhood dogs.

I spent all day yesterday (from 8am to 11pm) packing, loading, moving, and upacking... I'm a little beat today, to say the least. I still have a solid week's worth of work to do unpacking and organizing... being in an unsettled house makes me a bit crazy. :-)

Oh... there's also a full basement (full height and full size of house), with laundry and tons of storage. I need to get some shelving down there so that I can organize better... that'll be project #0 (before the bathroom work). :-D

Way back in February or so, a coworker of mine suggested that we register to ride "an early summer charity ride." I foolishly committed to the ride without asking for more details about the event. When I learned he was talking about the Horribly Hilly Hundreds, my knees grew weak.

The Horribly Hilly Hundreds is not to be taken lightly. There are three distances offered - 100K (67 miles), 150K (~100 miles), and 200K (~122 miles). The ride takes place in and around the Blue Mounds area, which for those not familiar, offers incredibly challenging terrain - primarily in the form of long, steep hills. The 100K ride nets 7,500-feet of elevation gain; some of the hills are wickedly steep and quite unforgiving.

The ride limits entry to 1,300 people and is so popular, that they hold a lottery for entry. We all registered, paid the entrance fee and waited to see if we made it. Well, we did. Joy. That meant it was time to train...

My coworker mapped out some training rides so that we could practice on the tougher parts of the course. I started riding those routes a few weeks ago, and that's when I really started to regret my decision to enter this ride. His routes had us start at the highest point of the ride, in a place called Brigham park. To give you an idea of how hilly the course is, we'd leave Brigham and ride downhill (at an average speed of 40-mph) for 5 miles. Yep - 5 miles of constant descending at a high rate of speed. That first 5 miles took less than 10 minutes to cover. We'd then spend the next three hours climbing our way up and around the roads back to Brigham park. And that training course represented just one segment of the Horribly Hilly Ride. Told you it was fun.

Smash-cut to Saturday, June 15, 4:30am.

The alarm clock goes off, and I slap myself (again) for registering for this ride. I throw in an extra slap when I realize it's raining cats-and-dogs outside. Oh, and the temperature showed a balmy 54F. Wonderful.

I drove the hour or so from Madison to Blue Mounds State Park; I drank a coffee and had an energy bar along the way. When I arrived to the park at around 5:45am, things were hustling and bustling - the lots were filling up quite quickly.

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Thankfully, it wasn't raining heavily in Blue Mounds, but it was misting, and it was a bit chilly. I made the decision to wear my Gore raincoat; it's lightweight and compact enough that if I decided to shed it, I could easily roll it up and fit it into my bike bib's pocket. After airing-up my tires, donning my gear, and double-checking the mechanicals on my bike, I met-up with my coworkers and the rest of our little group. A fellow rider was kind enough to snap a picture of us, pre-ride, smiles-and-all. I had a feeling we might not be smiling so much after a few hours.

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From left to right, that's: Jon (coworker), Scott (coworker), Me, Christina (Jon's friend and semi-pro triathlete), and Daniel (old coworker).

We hit the road at approximately 6:15am. 25 miles and 2 hours later, we were at our first rest stop. The race organizers did an excellent job with the rest stops - there was plenty of food, drink, and mechanical support. I grabbed a pickle and a corn-tortilla with some peanut butter, topped-off my water bottle, and hit the road again. I believe we were at the stop for around 10 minutes.

The second segment consisted of approximately 20 miles and took about 1.25 hours. It was relatively flat, save for one fairly impressive hill near the end of the segment. Despite the relatively easy terrain, we did suffer one minor casualty - Christina's bike got a flat tire in the middle of the big hill... Apparently there's a back story from previous training rides where Jon made Christina fix one of his flat tires, so he repaid the debt by fixing her tire. Here they are working on the flat:

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And here's Scott helping by holding Christina's pink bike.

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After fixing the flat, we hit the road for the remainder of the segment. Thanks to the flat tire, we spent about 20 minutes on the side of the road. So, while we had ridden 3.25 hours, we were nearing the 4-hour mark for our total road/out time. We pulled-in to the rest stop, and again, the food/water/support were all great. The volunteers were friendly, the food was tasty, and the support was welcomed.

This particular stop offered Honey Stinger energy bars, GU energy gels, trail mix, beef jerky, pickles, hard boiled eggs, various sandwiches, chips, pretzels, granola bars, and plenty of water and electrolyte drinks.

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Erik's bike shop had a nice little mobile shop set-up at the stop. We used their services to top-off the air pressure in Christina's bike tires. I believe the shops all volunteer their time and services for the event - many, many thanks go out to all of the shops, volunteers, coordinators, vendors, etc.

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With our bikes set and our bodies refueled, we hit the road for the final (and toughest) segment. 24-ish miles of super hilly road, culminating in a climb up into Blue Mounds State Park. I had been riding faster than the group, but for some reason, on the last segment I really managed to "drop" them.

At one point, I turned around to see how far back they were; I rode back toward the group for about 10 minutes or so before deciding to turn back around and finish the ride ahead of them. Apparently Daniel had dropped some items and had to stop for a bit, so that slowed them down.

70-ish miles on a bike is never all that easy. 70-ish miles with unforgiving and neverending hills is not fun. The final 5 miles or so are all uphill, and man, my legs made sure I knew how unhappy they were. I'm happy to report that I didn't walk any hills, but wow - it was tempting to do so. I saw tons of people walking, crying, vomiting and tipping-over on the final stretches... it truly is Horribly Hilly.

I arrived into the park just around noon. My Garmin GPS watch showed that I had ridden 70.43 miles in 4 hours and 31 minutes, for an average speed of 15.33 mph. It recorded 6,033 feet of elevation gain. My PowerTap meter showed that I averaged 265-watts of output, with a peak of 898 watts. My top speed was 44.8 mph. My peak heart rate was 191 bpm; average was 154 bpm. I burned 4,314 calories.

I packed-up the bike, changed my clothes, and made an improvised clothesline so that my bibs could dry out. I'm pretty sure no one would've wanted to steal them...

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Jon and the rest of the gang made their way into the park, packed-up and posed for a group photo with me. Shockingly, we're all smiling.

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We hung out at the park for a bit. They had a DJ, a bunch of vendors, a complimentary beer tent and free food. My post race feast consisted of a grilled chicken breast, some Viking goulash (a mix of pastas, bulgur, beans, and veggies), a pickle, and two cookies. I may or may not have also enjoyed a Capital Brewery beer or two. ;-) I also apparently agreed to do the 150K version of the ride next year, so yeah - I must have had a Capital IPA or two.

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After hanging out at the park for an hour or so, I ventured back to my car and headed home for the day. Liz had a roller derby bout that night, so I showered, took a very quick nap (about 15 minutes' worth), and then went to the bout. She was part of the demo group (they demonstrate the rules/strategies prior to each bout) - it was good to see her out on her skates. Her ankle has been healing really well.

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The bout was a ton of fun, as usual, and I got to also hang out with a bunch of my friends - Paul and Sallie were there, as was Tony, as well as Kelly and Ryan. It was great to see all of you - thanks for coming out and having a great time.

On Sunday, we rode bikes to the Memorial Union, enjoyed the weather, and then had dinner at Forequarter. If you've never been to Forequarter, it's amazing. Truly unreal food; the menu changes every few weeks or so - it never gets boring.

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Enjoy the nice weather and the rest of your week!

Snowmageddon

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Wow.

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We certainly got a healthy dose of snow today, eh? Having lived in Arkansas for so long, and then with a few recent mild winters, I lost respect for how impressive Wisconsin winters can be.

My workplace was open today, but encouraged everyone to work from home, so I did just that. The photo from above was taken at around 8:00am, just as I was trying to coax the Flea to go outside. She had other intentions... here she is at around 10:00am.

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Sometime around noon or so, the snow picked-up again; according to the news, Madison had nearly 13" of snow by noon. While I was attending to conference calls and work-stuffs, I peered outside and was shocked to see the snow "falling" horizontally. This photo was taken at around 1:00pm.

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Flea had decided to move, but not by much... apparently she got too warm under the blanket, so she adjusted her position.

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With work winding down, I decided to go outside and attempt to tackle the snow. I opened the garage door and almost collapsed. The snow blower has a 22" wide opening and is about 16" tall at the opening.

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The best part about the snow? It was super wet and heavy and the snow blower could barely handle it. Oh wait - no, that wasn't the best part. The best part was trying to shovel the far end of the driveway, where the snow plows had deposited nearly 4-and-a-half-feet of packed, icy, dense snow that I had to move 100% by hand. OMG.

It took just over 3 hours to "snow blow" and shovel the driveway... and, it looks like I need to do it all again... oh, this is fun.

Here's what the back deck looks like as of about 5 minutes ago:

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I just turned to the local weather station, and they're reporting Madison has hit 19" of snow. Next up are the winds - 45mph gusts tonight. So much for the shoveling.

And guess who absolutely does not want to venture outside, not even for a second?

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But enough about the snow...

I had a good time this weekend - I helped a friend from work fix an electrical problem that manifested in headlights that refused to work. She was quoted something like $2500 by the local dealership to fix just one side. I did some research and found out the problem was most likely related to either the "ignitor" or "ballast," both of which are located inside of the headlight assembly.

With a little more research, I found the OEM part numbers and was able to order new parts from Amazon (love that site) for just $292. So, her and her spouse swung over to the house on Saturday and we tackled the repair. Here's her car at its "worst" -

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A few hours later and the surgery was a success. The lights all worked, we zipped-up the car, and they saved about $2100. To celebrate, they took me to Smoky's Restaurant - a very classic steakhouse in Madison. I hadn't been there since around 1989 - not much had changed, but the steaks were phenomenal. If you're in the mood for a good steak, I'd highly recommend Smoky's. Wow.

And with that, I think I'll sign-off. The power is now flickering, so I'm not sure how long I'll have an internet connection. Stay warm!

Ho ho ho! Merry - hey. Hold on. Let's settle down a bit, ok? There are still like 26 days before Christmas, right?

So, what's up 'witchyall? Me? I'm fine, thanksferaskin', if not busy with work and the whatnot. But, just because I've been busy busting my hump for the man doesn't mean that I haven't had time to enjoy the view for a bit. Let's see what I've been up to over the past month or so, shall we?

I took a little trip down south to visit Amy, the animals, old friends, and the house down in Northwest Arkansas. It was really nice to get away for a bit and even nicer to hang out with Amy, the critters, and my peeps from down south.

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Poor 'ole Mrs. Squid (Monica) - she's getting to be so old. Her back legs are super wobbly and unstable; it's difficult to watch her try to walk around because she stumbles a fair amount and drags her back feet as she tries to maneuver about. She spends most of her time sleeping and/or lounging around the house. Poor girl... I realize she's nearly 12 years old, but it's still hard to see such a magnificent creature degrade like she is.

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The cats were as goofy as ever... Sulley and Kramer provided plenty of laughs as they "did battle" with one another. Kramer is such a geek and Sulley loves to pick on him. Ernie provided comic relief by bounding through the living room, hurdling the ottoman and leaping in his vertical/sideways fashion. Kosmo sniped us from afar, while grunting little "meows."

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Riley and Regis were as good as ever - Regis is such a beast. Strong, solid, and that blockhead of his... Riley still looks like a little tick and craves attention moreso than ever. It was really good to see them.

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Amy's doing well; the animal shelter is as busy as ever. She got a call one night stating that the police had dropped-off a chihuahua in an outside pen; she dutifully got-up and drove to the shelter so the little guy didn't have to sit outside in the cold night air. She also woke-up extra early one morning (like 4:00am early) so that she could meet a transport group and send some dogs to better homes. I don't know how she does it.

I worked on the house for a bit; replaced a leaky wax ring seal on one of the toilet drains, cleaned the roof and gutters, cleaned the yard of fallen leaves, sprayed for weeds, treated for bugs, and did a few other odds-n-ends.

I also got to ride my bike for a bit as the weather was truly excellent. Day time temperatures were typically in the 60s and low 70s, although a few days did dip down into the 50s.

We ate dinner with friends nearly every night, which means my belly is bigger than ever... I must - MUST - get back onto a plan here, because my pants are seriously in dire shape.

After a week spent south of the Mason/Dixon line, I loaded-up the car and headed north, my trusty co-pilot resting comfortably (for her) the entire way home.

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Upon returning to home base here in WI, I decided to revisit my musical side. I had been contemplating another guitar purchase for quite some time... I knew that I wanted an American-made, solid wood, electric guitar, but I didn't want a Fender. So, I started researching and decided that a Gibson Les Paul might fit the bill.

I searched high-and-low online at places like Craigslist, eBay, and countless retailers before deciding to visit the local Guitar Center. After a few hours of shopping, I left with a beautiful Gibson Les Paul Studio, in faded cherry finish.

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The thing is silky smooth and an absolute joy to play. I was surprised by how well I remembered my old chords, riffs, and songs. I was back to pickin' the likes of Queensryche, Metallica, and White Lion songs in no-time, although they were a little choppy.

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The body features a solid build; the thing is heavy and very substantial. The neck is silky smooth; the action is perfect. If only my fingers felt the same - calluses are an important "must-have" when playing the gee-tar... it feels like I've been pinch-rolling razor blades all day!

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I did discover the world of online guitar classes. Holy cow are there some great classes out there! I spent a solid 2-hours last night online, following along with a teacher and really picking-up on things. I spent another hour tonight taking additional classes. And they're cheap!! Just $15 per month gets you unlimited class time and countless options.

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Huge thanks to the fine folks at the local Guitar Center for the smokin' deal on this new set-up and for their patience and help as I pondered my options, tested various guitars, and asked countless questions.

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You just can't beat that good 'ole Made in the USA stamp... Thank you, Gibson for crafting such a fine piece of machinery!


And finally, I got to attend another Yelp elite event earlier tonight. It was sponsored by a new local restaurant called "DLux" and it featured 6 - count 'em, six - new and intriguing burger offerings, tasty appetizers, extravagant french fries (truffle oil, bleu cheese, bacon, and parmesan, just to name a few options), and complimentary beverages. And, like all of the other Yelp events, this one was completely free-of-charge.

The staff at DLux went all out - they even drafted "Yelpy" greetings on various food dishes... here's their Alsum Farm Spicy Sweet Corn dip, adorned with a Yelp signature. It was served with Frito's Scoops, and was simply divine.

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Great event, great food, fun people, and free. What more could a guy ask for?!

And with that, I'm off to play on the guitar for a bit before I head to bed. Take it easy, everyone!

Schooled.

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I tell 'ya, I'm really digging Yelp. Aside from being jam-packed with tons of reviews for every type of business imaginable, they keep wowing me with some great events.

Case-in-point - we had another Yelp event last night, this time courtesy of Steepery Tea, which is located at 430 State Street in Madison.

The purveyors of fine, gourmet tea locked their doors and opened their store to a small group of about 12-15 Yelppers, where they literally schooled us about tea. From white tea (the most delicate and lowest in caffeine) to green tea (rich in EGCG and antioxidants) to oolong tea (the "tea lover's tea") to black tea (robust) to bubble tea (unique!) to chai - we were exposed to all of the ins-and-outs.

Did you know that teas and coffees deliver different types of caffeine? Coffee delivers water-soluble caffeine that results in a quick, intense, short burst of caffeine. It'll get you going, but it'll ramp down fast. Tea's caffeine is fat-soluble, so it's a slower, more consistent caffeine experience. Tea also delivers an average of just 5-20% of the caffeine that coffee does.

It was extremely interesting, because the tea mongers shared with us the proper methods for brewing the perfect cup of tea. White teas, being younger and more delicate, should be brewed at a lower temperature and steeped for a short amount of time - just 3 minutes. Compare that to a black tea, which brews at a higher temperature and steeps for 5-6 minutes. Steep any tea for too long, and you'll get a bitter cup, no matter how high in quality the tea leaves may be.

Steepery is a family business that started in the Twin Cities. They've since expanded to five stores in Minnesota; the Madison store is their first outside of Minnesota. The Madison location is run by Nick and his mother, Diana. Both were fantastically nice; the rest of the staff was incredibly friendly and accommodating as well.

Huge thanks to the Yelp staff for putting together this event, and even bigger thanks to the awesome crew from Steepery. If you enjoy a quality cup of tea (or better yet, if you've never had a great cup of tea), swing on over to Steepery and check them out. The stuff was really smooth, really flavorful, and will definitely be worth your time and expense.

My favorites? Hmmm.... The Taro Chai was unique and super tasty - like an oatmeal cookie - but I'd probably only want to drink a very small cup, and I'd probably treat it like a dessert. The bubble teas were shockingly unique and tasty, although a bit sweet, with their tapioca "bubbles."

In the end, I really enjoyed the oolong varieties along with the Fiji White tea. Yep, I'd say those were my favorites.

Here are a few photos from the event. I didn't take too many because I was so busy learning and enjoying my time there.

The wall of raw tea leaves, in their air-tight, UV-proof containers:

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A bubble tea, with tri-colored jellies. Super tasty, but a bit sweet & check out that straw:

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Mitch, one of the tea mongers, talks to us about herbal & oolong teas. Mini-cupcakes were compliments of Cupcakes-a-go-go:

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Steepery can seal-up your to-go glass so that it won't spill; the cellophane prevents splashes, but will easily open-up when punctured with a straw:

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By the end of the event, I had learned a ton more about the world of tea, and was extremely appreciative of the fine crew of folks working at Steepery. Yelp - another job well done! I can't wait for the next event.

Until then...

Yelp, yelp, yelp!

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Hey, buddy - do you happen to know where a guy could find the best hamburger in town? What about the best automotive repair center? How about a really gentle dentist? Or a really thorough house cleaner? Oh - what about a good fish fry?

Like most things, the answer to all of those questions is - "there's an app for that." That app (and website) is called Yelp, and it's a super cool service.

Yelp works like this - random people like you and me visit restaurants, doctor's offices, clothing stores, movie theaters, grocery stores - any number of local businesses - each and every day. After a visit, a purchase, or some type of interaction, those random people can login to Yelp and write a review of their experience.

Yelp reviews are great, because they provide an unsolicited, in-depth readout of a business by folks like you and me. Sometimes the reviews are great, other times they're not so great. Most reviews share tips and information that may not always appear in a traditional review; one fellow Yelper's reviews always deliver the low-down on seating at a restaurant - are the chairs comfy? Too close to one another? ...you get the idea.

So... I joined Yelp way back in 2009, when I was living in Austin. At first, I didn't write any reviews - I only used Yelp to discover new locations to visit while in Austin. I found many the great restaurant and shop, all thanks to Yelp. After a while, I decided to "pay back" the Yelp community by writing my own reviews, snapping pictures, and participating in the talk threads.

Well, after 3+ years of dedicated Yelping, I was awarded Yelp Elite status. Elite members are hand-picked by Yelp staff to serve as ambassadors for a city. Madison recently launched its Elite program, and man, did they do so in grand fashion. There were two nights of parties - a general Yelp launch on Wednesday night, followed by an Elite-only event on Thursday. I was invited to both; tonight's event really was excellent.

The Elite event was hosted at the Paoli Schoolhouse Cafe, presented by Tenth & Blake Beer Company and coordinated by Yelp Madison's Community Manager, Corey and his intern, Jessica.

A small group of about fifteen Madison Elite Yelpers were invited to attend an intimate night of socialization, dining, and drinking. Tenth & Blake is the craft and import division of MillerCoors - they bring us fine beverages from the likes of Blue Moon, Batch 19, Leinenkugels, Killian's, Crispin, and a few others.

Grant and Tyler from Tenth & Blake worked with Chef Krista and Chef Steve from the Paoli Schoolhouse to create a menu that paired some special beers with incredible food. But before we sat down to eat, we all mingled on the deck of the Schoolhouse - it was absolutely gorgeous; we were treated to a palette cleansing Summer Shandy as we chatted and got to know one another.

As the sun lowered into the horizon, the wind picked-up, and we moved inside, where we milled about some more - talking and learning about one another. Here's part of the group as we waited for the dinner bell.

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At around 6:45pm, we were invited to sit. Corey welcomed everyone, and introduced Grant and Tyler, who shared with us their intention for the evening. They hoped we would learn about how craft beers pair well with food. They asked us to enjoy ourselves, and they asked us to be honest in our reviews and assessments of the night.

The tables were small and cozy, especially with the array of various beer tasting glasses, but they were classy and appealing to the eye.

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The menu for the evening looked absolutely superb - my mouth watered as I contemplated the forthcoming courses. Thankfully, no one noticed the slobber, or if they did, at least they didn't say anything about it. ;-)

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The first course arrived just as Tyler was wrapping-up his talk about our first beer - Leinenkugel's Honey Weiss. He explained how the Honey Weiss (a wheat beer with a citrusy, slightly sweet note) was initially intended to be a seasonal offering, but due to overwhelming demand, it became a staple and is currently Leinie's best selling brew.

The crab cake was heavenly. It was served with mixed greens and a remoulade, and it was quite honestly one of the best crab cakes I have ever had. The crust was crispy and buttery. The crab was flaky and oh so fresh tasting. The remoulade complimented the cake and paired supremely with the fresh Honey Weiss.

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Our plates were cleared, and a second beer was introduced. Grant and Tyler talked about Blue Moon's Belgian White Ale - an unfiltered wheat ale. They required that we add a slice of orange to the rim of our glass, and told us how to best sample the beer with the food. The hints of coriander and clove were prominent and accentuated by the orange slice.

As we were smelling and tasting the Blue Moon, our second food course arrived - a truly wonderful salad of mixed greens, lightly tossed in a scrumptious citrus dressing. Folks, you'll recall that I'm not a fan of any type of dressing, but this was a dressing that I'd happily drink from a straw. WOW, was it good.

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Along with the salad came an incredible artisan-style bread that was obviously homemade. It featured a chewy crust and a totally airy, pillow-soft "flesh." When combined with a slightly salty, housemade scallion butter, the experience was sinful. I'm not a bread guy, but this stuff was insanely good.

For the third course, we were provided with a Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin beer. I enjoy me some pumpkin beer, but most are too heavy on the spice. This offering was the exception - it was perfectly balanced and completely drinkable. We were informed that the beer featured ever-so-light-hints of licorice, brown sugar, and nutmeg.

As we were hearing about the beer, the owner/manager of the Paoli Schoolhouse shared a story that was quite appropriate (and a tad shocking) - it turns out the Schoolhouse is haunted! She recounted stories of run-ins with "Gwen," the house ghost. Several servers validated and shared their own stories as well. It was a bit eery!

Our main course arrived, and it looked incredible. Beer-braised pork tenderloin, sweet potato and parsnip puree, braised red cabbage and a creamy spicy mustard. Boy oh boy - this was seriously delicious, even if my pork was a wee-bit overcooked (it was an end piece, so it's understandable).

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For the final beer offering, we were treated to a very special version of Leinie's beer, called "Big Eddy." It's named after the spring that provides water to the Leinenkugel's brewery, and it turns out that this particular brew was the direct result of Grant's brewing efforts - he and his team developed this Baltic Porter from scratch! Too crazy!!

I'm not normally a fan of porters, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that this was one helluva great beer. It was smooth and creamy, with a wonderful mix of chocolates and fruits, and just a hint of coffee. I will definitely seek out some of this the next time I go shopping, and I'll save it for extra special occasions.

I wish I hadn't been riding my motorcycle, because I had to limit myself to just a few sips of each of the beers... I seriously contemplated leaving my motorcycle at the Schoolhouse overnight so I could enjoy the entire glass of Big Eddy's Baltic Porter, but alas, I exercised restraint.

The dessert plate was by far my favorite (as usual) - an espresso cheesecake. I'll let the picture do the talking:

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I'm still speechless. That cheesecake was a one-in-a-million.

After we finished our meals, we were introduced to Chef Krista and Chef Steve - the folks responsible for our decadent meals - they gave us great insight into what went into the meal, shared some of their history, and thanked us for attending. Here are the two superchefs (on the right):

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With the tables cleared, we meandered our way to the door, but not before receiving one final surprise... GIFT BAGS!!! Inside each of our gift bags were a set of glassware that matched the glasses we used throughout the meal, along with a very special Yelp Elite old-school digital wristwatch. TOO COOL, YELP!

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So there you have it - an insider's view into my very first Yelp Elite event. It truly was a special time, and I'm still pinching myself for having been included. Yelp, Corey, Tyler, Grant, Krista, Steve, the fine folks (owner, servers, staff) from the Schoolhouse, and all of my fellow Elite members were all so cool and fun to hang out with. I really had a blast, and I'm looking forward to the next opportunity to hang with everyone.

This was a great event. Now, go visit Yelp's Madison Site and start reading (and writing) some reviews!

Red Meat Market

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Wow.

Friends, I had an incredible - nay, INCREDIBLE, experience tonight, thanks entirely to the fine folks from the Capital Brewery and Red Meat Market.

Wow. What a spectacular culmination of events. I can't even begin to explain how great this is, but I'll do my best. :-)

So... you like meat, right? What's better than pasture raised, all-natural, grass fed, organic meat? Nothing. That's right - Nothing.

Problem is, it's hard to find quality beef/lamb/pork.

If you're like me, you'll spend more time than you care to, browsing farmers markets and what not in search of that ever-elusive meat that's been sustainably raised, grass fed, and responsibly farmed.

Well, fret not.

The fine folks from the Red Meat Market have you covered. They work with local farmers that pledge (and can confirm) that they raise grass fed, all natural, pasture-grown beef, lamb, and pork; in turn, they butcher and sell the product directly to you. It's a WIN-WIN situation.

Their partners promise to honor the animals that provide us with life. What more could you ask for???

Well, the Red Meat Market partnered with the Capital Brewery to sponsor a launch event in Madison, and I was lucky enough to attend it. And boy howdy, am I glad that I did!

I arrived around 8pm, just as the sun was setting. After a 2-second check-in with Haley and her partner, I had all of the necessary tickets and paper work to proceed:

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I apologize for the dark pictures, but by the time I had finished riding and running, the sun was setting...

I registered at the front desk, grabbed my tickets, and hit the food line. The fine folks from Red Meat Market were offering up generous portions of chopped pork sandwiches or Berkshire pork spare ribs. Being the glutton I am, I ponied up for a serving of each.

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Oh. My. Gosh.

Both the sandwich and the spare ribs were PHENOMENAL. You seriously need to place an order with these guys - the meats were unreal. And it's super comforting to know that you're buying from a truly sustainable resource. Wow. I can still taste them... wow.

I purchased one of their packs, and I can't wait to fire-up the Big Green Egg and give them a shot... I'm sure they will all be unreal.

To top-off the evening, I was fortunate enough to meet the founders of the Red Meat Market, and they were super nice - incredibly thankful/grateful, and terribly welcoming. I truly believe in what these guys (and gals) are doing, and I vow to buy 100% of my beef/pork product from them.

Here we are on their "marquee" - they were super cool, and incredibly nice.

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I stayed for the entire event, and I had a great time. I can't thank the fine folks from Red Meat Market and the Capital Brewery enough. I wish everyone the best of luck, and believe me when I say this - check them out. They are STELLAR.

Reducing the variables

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If you haven't been able to tell, I'm absolutely loving my Big Green Egg ceramic grill/smoker. It has been seeing more than its fair share of action since I bought it a few months ago. The thing is truly amazing, and it gets better with every use - I seem to learn or discover something new with each cooking session.

The Egg is so versatile... as I mentioned earlier, you can load-up the fire box with some hardwood lump charcoal (my favorite so far is from Wicked Good), light your fire, and then configure the air vents to either slow cook for hours at 200F or rocket the thing up to a blast furnace level of 1000F.

With the cast iron grates in place and the fire rocking at 800F you can put a monster sear on your favorite steak. With the stainless steel grates in place, the diffuser set, and the vents nearly closed, I can smoke a pork shoulder at 225F for 10-12 hours, or until the meat literally falls away from the bone. Yum.

The challenge with smoking low-and-slow is maintaining a constant temperature. The Egg does a relatively good job of holding a consistent temperature, but variables such as wind speed and sun really impact the cooking temperature over time.

So, when I've smoked a pork shoulder, turkey breast (bone in), a brisket or ribs, I've always had to monitor the smoker. If the wind picks-up, I have to close the vents a bit. If the wind slows down, I have to open them a touch... it's a bit stressful, and it eats up the entire day. Babysitting the Egg for 12 hours grows old.

I did some research and discovered that the pros (competition BBQ cookers) use all sorts of gadgets to control their fire temperature. After careful consideration, I decided to purchase the DigiQ Controller from The BBQ Guru.

I placed an order with them, and within a few days, the UPS man delivered my DigiQ set-up. I raced home and set everything up. Here's what the assembled system looks like (along with my Thermowerks 2-phase digital temperature monitor (in yellow)):

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This system is pretty amazing. It consists of a computer control box (in red, above), two temperature probes (inside of the Egg), and a variable speed 10cfm fan.

You connect the fan's power/control wire to the computer controller, and install the fan into the lower "intake" vent on the Egg, then close-off all of the other vents on the Egg. This effectively limits the only oxygen source to the 10cfm fan, which will spin at whatever speed the computer tells it to. Here's what the fan looks like when it's attached to the Egg's intake vent:

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You then connect the "pit temperature probe" from the computer to the inside of the Green Egg. They recommend you clip the probe to the cooking grate. Some guys recommend you use a spot on the dome. I chose the grate, as I have another temperature probe connected to the dome (on a second unit).

The system is slick. To test it, I ran over to my favorite butcher shop (Knoche's) and purchased an 11-pound USDA choice brisket. I took it home, prepared a homemade rub, and let it sit in the fridge overnight.

On Saturday night at around 9:00pm, I fired-up the Green Egg and attached all of my DigiQ gear. I programmed the computer to set the Egg's temperature to 225F.

By 10:00pm, the fire was stabilized, and things were ready for smoking. I went inside, grabbed the brisket and put it on the Egg. With the DigiQ keeping tabs on the fire, I went inside and watched Saturday Night Live.

At midnight, I stepped outside to check on the Egg. I would've never left it alone for two hours for fear of a temperature spike or drop, but I trusted the DigiQ. Here's what things looked like at midnight:

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The temperature was sitting at a dead-steady 225F. No variation. Wow. That's slick! With complete peace-of-mind, I went to bed and slept like a log, knowing that the Egg was in good hands with the DigiQ.

On Sunday morning, I woke-up and took Flea outside. I checked on the Egg, and wouldn't you know it, but the temperature was still holding solid at 225F. The brisket had been smoking for nearly 10-hours at a moisture-inducing 225F, without a single spike or dip in temperature. AWESOME.

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My guests were due to arrive for dinner at around 6pm. My plan was to smoke the brisket to an internal temperature of 195F, and from everything I had read, the brisket would require about 16 hours of smoke time at 225F to reach that final temperature.

By 3:00pm (15 hours of smoking), the brisket was still sitting at 175F... hmm. I needed to let it rest for a full two hours before serving, so I was in a bit of a bind. I didn't think the brisket would gain 20F in an hour at 225F, so I bumped up the temperature on the DigiQ to 245F. I figured the extra heat would help finish the brisket in a timely manner.

Within 3 minutes, the Egg was sitting at 245F. No more, no less. WOW! And by 4:30pm, the brisket hit 195F. Both the DigiQ and the Thermowerks units alerted me that things were ready - nice!

Here's what the final product looked like after 16.5 hours of smoking:

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I wrapped that beast in foil and put it into a large cooler that I had stuffed with preheated bath towels. My guests arrived, and we nibbled on some awesome beer bread with an assortment of dips (thanks, Leanne!!), along with a few other appetizers while the brisket continued to rest.

Chris brought over his signature vegetable medley which we cooked on the Egg. After running non-stop for nearly 18 hours, the Egg was still going strong on the original load of lump charcoal! That Wicked Good stuff truly is wicked good!!

We rocked the Egg up to 500F, cooked the veggies, and then prepared for dinner. Here's the brisket after resting for two hours:

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I wish I would've remembered to take a photo of the entire meal, but trust me when I say it was awesome. The brisket had an awesome bark ("crust"), thanks to the combination of the rub and 16 hours of exposure to mesquite wood smoke. The veggies were slightly charred and delicious. Corn on the cob rounded out the meal.

With dinner finished, Leanne broke out an awesome selection of cupcakes from a new cupcake shop near her house. We sampled them all, and they were superb. What a great evening.

Even the Flea thought the meal was finger-lickin'-good:

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So... while the DigiQ may take some of the "excitement" out of using the Big Green Egg, I say "so what?!" - it works perfectly, and is a true asset to the smoker. Score (another) win for technology!

I can't wait to do some ribs or a pork shoulder with it next...

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IT IS OFFICIALLY HOT.

Well, that's not exactly accurate... It's not only hot, it's obscenely hot and it has been for quite some time now. According to the weather report from this morning, we've had temperatures in excess of 90F for thirteen days in a row, and we've exceeded 100F four days in a row.

Combine that heat with a complete lack of rain (June saw just 0.33" compared to more than 4.25" during a normal summer), and it makes for a crunchy existence. Just take a peek at my backyard, along with a squinty and hot Flea...

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That yard is brown. And crispy. And I'm sitting here, sweating as I type this.

So... it's been a busy few weeks... there's been a lot going on at work, a few motorcycle rides, fewer bicycle rides, even fewer runs, a tour of American Packaging Company, fireworks, and a concert. Let's recap, shall we?

I'll skip the bits about work, running, and riding. Those are necessary evils. Let's just say that I've been working much harder and longer than I have been running and riding as of late. I truly am burned out. I need to find a new activity to help keep my girlish figure in check.

The motorcycle has been doing quite well. I promised some photos a while back, and I apologize for not getting them posted in a more timely manner. I snapped these while on a ride a few weekends ago. I won't bother to describe them, I'll just post them.

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Much to my surprise, the Flea has taken a bit of a liking to the motorcycle. She really enjoys riding in the car, but it was a bit shocking to discover that she was interested in the Hog... here she is investigating the ride, looking for a place to sit.

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I got to thinking, and after some searching online, I found several options for taking your dog along on a motorcycle ride. There were backpacks, chestpacks, tank bags, and trunks. Some cost as little as $20; others cost as much as $600. I hated to spend serious money to determine if the Flea actually liked riding on the cycle, but I didn't want to leave her vulnerable to danger in the event of a crash or incident.

I eventually decided to buy a small crate and secure it to the luggage rack with heavy duty zip ties. This would allow me to keep her safe without having to spend a ton of money up front. I went to the local pet store and bought the smallest crate I could find - it cost $21.

I disassembled the crate and lined-up the bottom half with the luggage rack so that it was centered on the bike. I marked locations on the front and back of the crate so that I could drill my first series of mounting holes. With those marked, I grabbed some Vaseline and applied it to the top surfaces of the luggage rack. I then set the crate on top of the rack, in exactly the centered location.

When I lifted the crate off the rack, I could see exactly where the luggage rack rested on the crate (the Vaseline left perfect luggage rack lines on the bottom of the crate). I then drilled additional holes for the zip ties, in a manner that would allow me to completely secure the crate to the rack.

I purchased several dozen 3/8" wide ziptie packs and went about securing the crate to the rack. When I was done, this is what the base looked like:

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The next order of business was to put the top back on, secure it, and zip-tie it for additional security.

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With the crate secured, I placed an old quilted pillowcase inside, and my work was complete.

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I put the Flea inside the crate, and she seemed to like it. She spun around and sat down.

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We've taken a few test rides - started with a short ride of about 5-8 minutes, followed by rides that have been progressively longer. Aside from the oven-like heat, Flea seems to enjoy the rides. When I check on her, she's looking out the front while lying down. She doesn't seem anxious or upset, so I'm guessing she doesn't mind it too much.

I may take her for a longish ride this weekend, just to see how she does. If she likes it, I may invest in a more expensive, more professional-looking solution. Or, I may keep this homemade system... it assembles/disassembles quite easily, and it only cost about $25 with the 10 zipties.

Fireworks

My friend Matt (aka "Potato Man") invited me to watch the infamous Rhythm And Booms event with him, his wife, some family, and friends. Since he lives near Werner Park (site of the event), and since I really enjoy spending time with him and his wife, this was a no-brainer.

I met at their house, where they had a wonderful cookout underway, complete with roasted organic free-range chicken and a ton of goodies. We ate, drank, and chatted until it was dark, at which point we ventured a few blocks down the road and scored some awesome seats just across from the park. With lawn chairs and coolers in place, we sat back and enjoyed the show.

Here are some photos of the fireworks:

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One of the great things about watching the event with Matt and Jen was that I got to catch-up with Andy (Matt's brother) - I hadn't seen him for nearly 10 years. When the fireworks ended, I bid everyone farewell, packed-up my folding chair and headed for home. It was a great fourth of July, for sure.

American Packaging Corporation Tour

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My cousin's husband Jeff works for American Packaging Corporation, which is located in Columbus, WI. They're celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, and as such held an open house to demonstrate how and what they do. It was extremely interesting - APC produces the packaging (labels, wrappers, etc) for the majority of the world's leading consumer products.

Each time you crack-open a mini Hershey bar, or open a can of Pringles, or unwrap a piece of gum, you're peeling away the packaging that Jeff and his fellow employees produce at APC.

APC has several large lines, known as Roto lines - "Roto" is short for Rotogravure, the method by which the packaging is produced. The Roto process uses an engraved cylinder to apply ink to the paper at a high rate of speed. Some of the lines can run at more than 1450 feet per second. That's insane!

The factory is huge - something like 400,000 square feet in size... those Roto machines are massive. Here are some photos from the factory tour.

Roto 2 - one of the original Roto lines. It runs at around 1000 feet per second.

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Roto 2 makes Krackel wrappers, along with other things. Here's a roll of finished Krackel packaging, before being scored and cut into a final product:

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Here's where they mix all of the ink for the various packaging. They start with bulk dyes and then custom mix them to the client's exact specifications. The amount of Quality Control effort that must go into this process is unreal. They use more than 360 tanker trucks' worth of ink per year.

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Here's the area where they store, retrieve, and refresh the cylinders. The cylinders are stored in a large "silo" and are inventoried and retrieved by a computerized, robotic system.

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While slightly blurry, you'll still get an idea of just how large some of these lines are - this is the newest Roto line, and it's an absolute monster. I didn't catch exactly how long it was, but I'd guess it was right around 75-85 yards.

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Here's one of the control panels for that monster. The operators are responsible for identifying misprints, misalignments, feed problems, and so on. Imagine trying to track all of that stuff while it flies by at more than 1,000 feet per second.

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One of the Roto lines was printing labels for Pringles. In Chinese.

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It was a great tour that lasted about an hour or so. At the end of the tour, we were invited into a large warehouse area where APC had free food - brats, burgers, chips, cakes, and the like. Bucky Badger even made an appearance. Here's to another 40 years of success, APC!

Summerfest 2012

I vowed to never attend another Summerfest event, but when I heard that one of the world's greatest heavy metal bands was going to be playing the event, I had to make an exception.

Iron Maiden announced that as part of their Maiden England 2012 tour they would be visiting little 'ole Milwaukee. I purchased tickets as soon as they were available, and a small group of us made the trek to the shores of Lake Michigan to take in the show.

When we arrived to the Summerfest grounds at approximately 5:30pm on the 4th of July, the air temperature was well over 100-degrees. Yikes.

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The blistering heat didn't seem to deter too many people from attending... there were throngs of folks everywhere. Upon our arrival, we took a stroll through the grounds, just to get an idea of what had changed, where the hot spots were, and to see the various stages. This was one of my favorite free stages:

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Alas, there weren't any decent bands playing on the free stages (Summerfest saves the good bands until the late night hours), so we decided to find a place that would be cool(er), and preferably served brews. Within no time we were sitting in the upstairs pavilion for the Water Street Brewery, enjoying a beverage or two.

Here's a shot of our crew; from lower left, working counter-clockwise, we have: Mark (brother of my friend and co-worker, Chris), Mike (friend of Chris'), Chris, and yours truly. If we appear hot, sweaty, and a bit cranky, we were. Even with a cold beverage in hand, it wasn't much fun sitting outside, wallowing in a pool of your own sweat.

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Iron Maiden wasn't playing on a free stage - no sirree - they were playing in the Marcus Amphitheater, which sits on the far south east side of the grounds and requires you to buy a special event ticket to attend. Our tickets were $72 each... and the show was scheduled to start at 7:30pm. If you look closely, you can see the Amphitheater in the background - this was taken from our perch at the brewery's pavilion.

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We sat at the pavilion for as long as we could, and then made our way to the Amphitheater. Our seats appeared to be in a decent location; left of the stage, about 40 rows back. Little did we know the seats wouldn't be that great once the show started.

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As soon as the show began, we instantly recoiled in horror. The sound was absolutely dreadful - nothing but shrill, harsh, shrieking sound. You see, the Marcus Amphitheater has several design factors working squarely against it... it's an Amphitheater, so the stage is set low into the ground, with a shell placed behind it. This works great for non-amplified performances, but acts as a reverb chamber for amplified sound.

The Amphitheater also has a large metal roof that is quite low in relation to the venue. The metal roof helps bounce/reverberate sound even more than the shell behind the stage.

And finally, the entire facility is constructed from concrete, which only makes the reverberation problem worse than it already is. So... as a result, the sound was absolutely atrocious. We know every single Iron Maiden song there is, yet we struggled to identify which songs were being played - that's how poor the sound was.

The showmanship was fine; lots of explosions, good lighting, and props. Here's the stage, almost completely consumed by a controlled fireball:

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I felt really bad for the band - they were playing their hearts out, and they are a super talented group of guys. To be 60-years old and hammering away like they did is truly impressive. They didn't miss a beat, and they played non-stop for nearly two hours in the blistering heat.

Unfortunately, the sound was so bad that I couldn't wait for the show to end. It was literally fatiguing to listen to - it was pure reverberated static, and it was disappointing to say the least.

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The band also mentioned that because the Summerfest stage was so small that they could only bring out about 1/3 of their normal stage set-up. Further proof that the Marcus Amphitheater and Summerfest suck, and that I should've maintained my self-imposed ban of attending any events there. Oh well... lesson learned - never again.

My ears rang for an additional two days because of that horrible venue. UGH.


Bonus content: Clips of Faith

In an attempt to create my longest blog entry to date, I'll pass along one more story.

The New Belgium Brewery (makers of Fat Tire) are big supporters of bicycling. As such, they set up a small national tour called "Clips of Faith" and selected twelve US cities as host destinations. The events raise money and awareness for local cycling efforts - the brewery donates its proceeds from the event to local cycling organizations. Madison was selected as one of the twelve stops.

It's called Clips of Faith because it's essentially an independent film festival that serves some exclusive New Belgium beers along with local cuisine. Entry is free, but you have to pay for your food and drinks.

Chris (from work) told me about the event, and we decided to attend.

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The event was hosted at Olbrich Park, near downtown Madison. While it was warm, it wasn't scorchingly hot, so the event was tolerable. Here's the list of brews offered by the brewery; some of these were really unique and not widely available:

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In addition to the movie screen and beer tents, New Belgium set-up a little "village" of sorts. There were various tents with information, events, and social gatherings. It was really well done:

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We grabbed a few brews (they were available in small, 3oz sample sizes), found a seat on the lawn, and set about preparing to watch some short films. Here's me and the Flea, with a little beverage (they allowed dogs, which was extra cool):

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As soon as dusk landed, they fired-up the projector and started showing films. The films were truly short - I don't think a single one lasted more than 3 minutes. Some were as short as 20 seconds. And, none were very interesting... It's really difficult to "follow" a short film, and the subjects were all over the place... the best part of the show as the intermission - they left the projector set to a white screen and encouraged people to make their own shadow puppet show. That was fun to watch.

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I left the event a little early and was home by 9:30pm. Chris and his girlfriend stuck it out for the entire event, and I'm told it didn't get much better - the films were all equally odd and unusual. At least it was (mostly) free.

FIN

Some new wheels...

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Picked-up a new set of wheels today.

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That's a 2004 Harley Davidson Road King Classic. And it's mine.

1450cc's of good 'ole V-Twin American muscle, with a smooth-as-butter ride and a great, deep sound. Gloss black on gloss black with chrome, leather soft bags, and tons of accessories...

(For comparison, the Prius has a 1497cc motor - 47cc's more than the motorcycle - that's a Honda Spree moped's difference between the two vehicles)

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I've been itching to get another motorcycle for over a year - I started looking at Ducati touring bikes, then considered sport bikes, but something kept drawing me back to a V-Twin. They're torquey, smooth, and they just ooze cool. I wanted something really comfortable, yet not so "single-minded" that I couldn't cruise it down a boulevard every now and again...

I started to read the reports/reviews/magazines/web sites/message boards - you know how I am... I get into something and I go "binary" - from "off" to "on" - no real middle ground. I compiled "short lists" of bikes, complete with pros and cons.

And eventually I decided a Harley Davidson FLHRCI Road King was exactly what my OCD-driven research had prescribed.

I searched Craigslist, eBay, and the dealer websites from Minneapolis to Chicago. And, as fate would have it, I stumbled across this bike in Verona, WI. "Well, that's close enough," I thought. I sent off an e-mail, and within a day had began a dialogue with the owner.

Turns out he was trying to buy a dual-purpose on-road/off-road bike and had to sell the Harley to finance the new interest. We chatted for a week or so; and I eventually made my way over to look at the bike. It was immaculate, complete with service records, and more than $2k worth of extras (seats, backrests, windscreens, etc).

We haggled over the price for a few days, and struck a deal at around 2am. He offered me a test ride the following morning at 8am, and I arrived promptly at 8am, having only slept a total of about 23 minutes that night...

During the test drive, the bike felt great, until the shifter completely collapsed on my foot. I was stuck in 2nd gear, with no way to up- or down-shift... hmmm. Thanks to the Harley's massive torque curve, I was able to easily start-and-stop, even with only 2nd gear at my ready.

Once back at his house, we quickly discovered the issue - the shifter linkage rod that connects the shifter assembly to the transmission actuator had snapped at the heim joint. Of all the freaky things to have happen during a test ride...

A quick search of the internet revealed it was a common problem, and that it would cost around $20 to repair. The internet also suggested that a temporary fix could be applied through the use of zip-ties. Easy enough. We tied the linkage back-on; hit the bank to complete the sales transaction, and viola - I was officially a Harley Davidson owner.

Here's the broken linkage, as it sat on my garage floor (after I removed it from the bike):

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I called the local Harley Dealer, and they had plenty of linkage rods in stock, so I loaded the Flea into the Prius and we hit the road for Sauk Prairie. Here's a contradictory photo of my garage:

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The Flea and I hit the dealership, grabbed some parts (replacement linkage, a dress-up cover for the linkage, tune-up parts, fluids, a jacket, some gloves, a helmet, and a t-shirt), and then drove back to the house. 15 minutes later, the shift linkage was repaired, and looking better than ever, compliments of this chromed cover:

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I donned some riding gear and took the bike out for a jaunt to help warm the fluids prior to replacing them. It rode like a dream and I received more than my fair share of "thumbs-ups" and nods of approval from folks while out-and-about.

Back in the garage, I replaced the transmission fluid and did a light tune-up. I'll do an oil change and will drain-and-fill the primary gear drive fluid later in the week.

So... I now have some wheels that I'm not ashamed to drive nor am I worn-out after riding. I'm looking forward to some light day trips and the occasional ride to-and-from work. I'll have to find a side-car or something similar for the Flea to ride in. Can you see her with a leather motorcycle "helmet" complete with a traditional German spike on top?

Here are a few parting pictures, taken from the garage at around 9:30pm...

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And here it is with one of the windshields in place - this makes for a super comfortable highway ride.

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...and a final detail shot of the badging on the windscreen on the photo from above:

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Let's try this again.

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So my first attempt at smoking didn't go quite as well as hoped. Don't get me wrong - the food tasted ok, but I wasn't happy with having to babysit that Tinker Toy smoker for 22+ hours. So, I sold it.

Well, after having enjoyed more than my fair share of smoked foods compliments of my boss, I decided to give the smoker another go. I bit the bullet and bought my very own Big Green Egg.

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The Big Green Egg is truly impressive. It weighs in at nearly 150-pounds. The range of use is phenomenal - it will smoke "low-n-slow" (at 220F) for hours on end, without having to babysit it or restock the charcoal. Open-up the vents, remove the diffuser and it'll rocket up to 1000F.

It's efficient; a single load of hardwood lump charcoal (about 3-4 lbs worth) has lasted through 4 sessions of grilling and/or smoking. It produces almost no ash as the lump charcoal burns.

I guess that's what you get when you make a smoker from solid ceramic. :-)

Here's the Egg in action - this was from my first session:

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And, unlike that tin can Brinkman smoker from before, my first session with the egg when unbelievably well. I cooked-up some boneless skinless chicken breasts and literally squealed when I sampled the results. I've never had chicken that was so moist, tender, and delicious. Wow.

So, last weekend, I really put the Egg to work. I had purchased a few additional upgrades for the Egg; a set of heavy duty, pre-seasoned cast iron cooking grates (they weigh-in at 21-pounds), and a super precise dual-zone remote thermometer set from ThermoWorks.

On Saturday night, I threw in the cast iron cooking grates, added some hickory lump wood, opened-up the vents, and let the Egg get up to around 800F. The room temperature tenderloins were salted, peppered, and ready for the heat.

Within 6 minutes, the steaks were done to a perfect medium rare. I closed the vents on the Egg, tossed on some asparagus, let it cook/sear for 2 minutes and enjoyed a stellar dinner.

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On Sunday morning, I woke-up fairly early and prepped the Egg by removing the cast iron grates, installing the "place sitter" - a large ceramic diffuser plate, and setting the original stainless steel cooking grate in place. In went a handful of apple wood chunks, and I brought the Egg up to around 280F.

A well seasoned 5-lb pork shoulder went onto the grate, temperature probes were inserted, the dome was closed, and I went about the rest of my day, which included a nice 3-hour bike ride, some running, and some weight lifting. Thanks to Ian, I was able to have him make some critical temperature adjustments while I was out and about.

I returned home, checked the temperatures of the pork and the smoker, and made a few vent adjustments. This is the intake vent opening - as you can see, the vent is only open about 3/8" of an inch:

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And this is the top vent - it's barely even open:

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Even with those vents just barely open, the smoker was still running a touch warmer than I would have preferred - here, you can see that it was sitting at around 300F inside of the dome area. I would've rather had it at 275-280, but oh well.

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The shoulder was close to being ready, but the anticipation was killing me. It was all I could do to keep from lifting the dome and sneaking a peek, but I resisted. The only thing I could do was make the wait a bit more tolerable by grabbing a beverage and taking a seat on the deck. Thankfully, the weather was awesome.

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And, before I knew it, the pork shoulder hit a wonderful 195F, so it was finally time to open the dome and inspect the results.

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Doesn't that look amazing?

I carefully removed the shoulder from the grate, wrapped it in foil, and let it rest for a good 30 minutes. When I unwrapped it after the rest, the bone literally fell out on its own. Oh man...

A couple of forks made short work of the shredding duties, and before I knew it, there was a full plate of incredibly succulent pork shoulder waiting to be devoured.

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It was so moist and so flavorful that there wasn't a need for any sauce. I measured-up a 5-ounce portion and literally inhaled it. It took some serious will power to keep from eating the entire plate...

The leftovers were quickly consumed - a few salads topped with pork and a few lunches with pork and steamed veggies emptied the yield. :-)

I think I'm going to smoke a turkey breast this weekend, and will probably grill up a few other goodies as well. I can't wait.

It just goes to show you get what you pay for... a $59 electric smoker can't compete with something like the Green Egg... If you enjoy grilling, do yourself a favor and investigate a Green Egg for yourself.

I don't know if I blogged about it or not, but last year, I managed to miss the Crazylegs race because I overslept the race... ugh. I believe April of 2011 was the start of my downward spiral as it relates to diet and exercise... I was burned-out, injured, and just plain tired of running, riding, and eating like an angel all of the time.

After nearly a year of sluffing off, I figured I should try to get a little serious about maintaining my health (and girlish figure), so I registered for, and managed to wake-up in time for, the Crazylegs race.

The Crazylegs event is hosted by the UW-Madison Athletic department, with benefits and proceeds going to the school. It's named after Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, an infamous running back for the Badgers who eventually became the athletic director for the university. He advocated for general health and wellness; in 1981, the race was started, and it has been run each and every year since.

April in Wisconsin can be a dicey time to hold an outdoor event... and this year, the weather proved to be sketchy, at best. I awoke at around 7:00am on Saturday morning, and was greeted by a steady drizzle. The outside temperature showed just 36F... nice.

Undeterred, I suited-up, grabbed a container of water, and made the drive up to the capital square. The event draws nearly 30,000 participants, so parking was a bit of a challenge. In a brilliant move, if I do say so myself, I parked at a location that was about mid-way through the course... I had a mile-or-so warm-up walk/jog to the starting line, and a mile-or-so cool-down run from the finish line. Nicely played.

When I arrived to the square at 9:45am, I saw the crowds were already assembled...

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The challenge with organizing an event with 30,000 people becomes evident when you try to start the race... the race was scheduled to start at 10:00am, and it did, but I didn't hit the starting line until around 10:20am... I was in wave "X," so I got to spend a lot of time in the rain and wind waiting to start my race.

While waiting, I ran into my coworker, Brian. He was racing with his wife, who was racing with a group of her coworkers. They all had team t-shirts; Brian took the opportunity to modify his as shown here:

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From left to right, that's: Brenda (Brian's wife), Brian, and Katie (Brenda's coworker).

We all shuffled our way to the starting line, and before too long, we were able to see the actual starting point. There were tons of Badger players high-fiving and encouraging everyone as they approached the starting line. The UW band was playing, and I think I even spied 'ole Bucky himself running around in the crowd.

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Brian and I ran together for a bit. I don't normally run with people, so it was nice to chat and joke with him as we made our way around the square, down Langdon, and up Observatory Drive. I managed to snap a photo of us running - it turned out decent, considering we were cranking along at an 8:00/mile pace.

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Like the considerate husband he is, Brian decided to circle back and run with Brenda, so I bid him farewell, and told him I'd meet them once at Camp Randall (the finish line). I ran the rest of the race in good form - it was 5.02 miles from start to finish, not including my warm-up and cool-down.

Madison races tend to follow the same course... they run you through the campus area, out to picnic point, and back toward the arboretum area. This means part of the course is an "out-and-back" - something that I'm not really a fan of, but Crazylegs keeps it interesting, because in the out-and-back section they have some interesting characters, like this Uncle Sam that's on stilts.

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Before I knew it, the finish line was in sight - here's Camp Randall from the outside:

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And shortly thereafter, I was inside Camp Randall, approaching the finish line. According to my GPS watch, I ran the 5.02 miles in 40:08; according to Crazylegs official time, I was at 41:00. Not sure how or why there was a discrepancy, but oh well.

It was an interesting finish, to say the least... shortly after I snapped the following photo, a kid went sprinting by me, puking as he dashed past. Once across the finish line, he vomited the entire contents of his stomach... His dad (I assume) was behind him, and I overheard him say, "Good job! That's finishing strong!"

Seriously?

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When the weather is cooperating, the after-party for the Crazylegs event is usually a good time. There are bands, free beer, and people mill-about Camp Randall, enjoying the afternoon. As it was still only 45F with a brisk north easterly wind, I didn't really feel much like hanging out in the outdoors, but I did wait for Brian, Brenda, and Katie to finish.

With everyone across the finish line, we made our way up to the one section that was offering concessions, and were shocked by the massive line of people, all of whom were waiting for their free beer (and avoiding the cold). We stood in line for nearly 20 minutes...

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I "enjoyed" my 4 ounces of Capital Amber while shivering outside before hitting the bike trail back to my car. As mentioned, it was about a mile or so from Camp Randall, and it proved to be a perfect cooldown run.

Once inside the car, I immediately proceeded to fog all of the windows... from there, I headed home for a warm shower and some quality couch time with my pal.

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I used to think that Wisconsin had some decent drinking water. But then I moved to Arkansas, and I was shocked to find that no one in that area used a water softener. I even questioned my home builder about the lack of a softener, and he made some quip about us Yankees and our bad water "up there."

When I moved back to Wisconsin, one of the first things I noticed about the water was how "greasy" I felt while rinsing myself off in the shower. That's a side-effect of soft water, I suppose. I also noticed that the faucets in the kitchen of my apartment were covered in mineral deposits, and, that the water tasted odd. I chalked a lot of that up to the old age of my first apartment.

Apartment #2 had a refrigerator with a built-in water filter. That helped with the taste of the water, but I noticed the same mineral deposit build-up on the faucets, and, I found that I had to replace my water filter every two months or so - the water would slow to a trickle as the filter clogged with sediment.

The new house here doesn't have a water filter in the refrigerator, so I went back to drinking tap water. And, well, it stunk - both literally and figuratively. Some days it would taste literally like fertilizer. Other days it tasted like pure metal.

Having given-up diet soda in February, my beverage options are quite limited - water, unsweetened tea, and the occasional carbonated mineral water. I spoke to some neighbor friends about the drinking water, and all agreed it was of dismal quality. I mentioned it to my good friend Chris from work, and he told me that he "makes" his own reverse-osmosis-filtered water for his massive salt-water fish tank.

He showed me his water-making set-up, and I was impressed. It had a really complex-looking filtration system with large tubs of water, sand filters, pumps, coral pools and more. He needs to clean, treat, and prep the water so that his fish will stay alive. If that doesn't say something about the water quality here, I don't know what else does.

So, I asked Chris for some help with a water filter system at the house, and he suggested a system from Spectra Pure - the same company he uses for his tanks and his drinking water.

The price for this stuff was a bit shocking - it's not your $19 Brita or Pur system - but, it's effective and is the real deal. So, I bit the bullet and placed an order. Within a few days, the system arrived, and I was ready to install it.

Here's what the kit looked like after I unpacked it from the shipping containers:

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Four cartridge filters, including a reverse-osmosis membrane, a pressurized storage tank, a faucet, and a bunch of lines. Good times were in my future.

The system is sold as an under-the-sink unit, however, I thought it would be best to install it in the basement and then run the supply line up to the sink. However, upon closer inspection and in talking through it with Chris, it made more sense to install it under the sink. So, I cleaned-out the cabinet under the sink, made a mark for drilling the faucet hole, and got to work.

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I had to buy a special drill-bit to cut through the stainless-steel sink, and boy was that money well spent - the bit made short work of the stainless.

With the hole cut, I set about preparing the sink connections - I had to insert a supply-line ball valve, cut a small hole in the existing drain pipe, and run all of the lines.

The only downside to my new filter kit was the inclusion of some super cheap-o compression fittings. Rather than including copper fittings, the company used these skimpy plastic fittings that failed with every attempt to create a leak-free connection. One particular fitting failed in spectacular fashion - spewing gallons of water around the kitchen at around midnight. Ahh. Good-times.

The next morning, I stopped at the hardware store, purchased $0.92 worth of copper fittings, and within 30-minutes, the system was live.

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The supplied faucet matched the sink fairly well (although it didn't match the goldenrod wallpaper). :-)

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After draining and filling the system a few times to flush the new filters, I was able to enjoy the fruits of the new system - a fresh, clean, clear, and completely tasteless glass of pure water. Ahhhh.

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Settle in for another one of my "Oh, crud - there are 379 photos in my phone and it's been several days since I've created a blog entry so here goes nothing" posts.... :-)

When you live in Madison, you're surrounded by a seemingly endless number of microbreweries. From the top of my head, and limiting the radius to a distance of around 30 miles, one could visit the following breweries: Ale Asylum, Capital, Essers, Furthermore, Grays, Great Dane, Grumpy Troll, Hydro Street, New Glarus, and Tyranena. I'm sure there are more - but these are the better-known breweries... For those not keeping tabs, that was 10 breweries within 30 miles of Madison. Yikes.

Most of the breweries deliver some excellent brews, and nearly all of them do something to support their communities, either by way of "giving back" or hosting special events with proceeds going to a charity or organization.

One such event has become quite popular over the years, and it's known as "Bockfest." For the past fifteen years, this annual event has been organized and hosted by Capital Brewery, and has built-up a cult-like following while attracting a ton of people from all over the state. The event is so popular, in fact, that the brewery must literally ration ticket sales; the tickets are offered for sale on a certain date at select locations, and they sellout immediately.

I was lucky enough to score two tickets to the 2012 Bockfest event, so I grabbed my friend Chris (from work), and on Saturday, February 25, we attended our first-ever Bockfest event.

We began our day with an early morning breakfast at the Prairie Cafe & Bakery. Chris went with a big omelette, some hash browns, toast, and an orange juice. I went with a blueberry pancake and a scrambled egg with coffee:

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That may have been one of the best pancakes I've ever had in my life. Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and loaded with fresh blueberries - I barely added any syrup, it was that good. The only bad thing about the Prairie Cafe? It's cash only. Oh well.

With our bellies stuffed, we drove over to the Capital Brewery and tried to find a place to park. Despite arriving a full hour early, parking was nearly impossible to find. We parked close to our office and used the walk to help settle our over-filled guts. Once to the brewery, we hopped into line and began the wait. This picture was taken at around 10:00am - the entrance to the brewery was about 1/4-mile away...

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While it was a sunny day, it wasn't particularly warm... I'd say the temperature was around 25F with a strong and persistent wind. I wore my Sporthill 3SP pants under a pair of blue jeans, along with Icebreaker wool socks and Salomon prima-loft boots. On top, I wore a wool t-shirt, a 320-weight wool long sleeve, my Sporthill 3SP jacket, and my Columbia Omnitech jacket. The system worked - I was plenty warm all day.

Within an hour-and-a-half, we were finally able to enter the brewery grounds. Here I am, standing in-line for my sample of Capital's Blonde Dopplebock - you can see how many people were at the garden:

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Bockfest celebrates the beginning of spring with the release of Capital's infamous Blonde Dopplebock. It's a super-smooth beverage that's only available for a limited time; it also packs quite a punch - so much so, that the brewery limits the sale to one per person. You're given a wristband with a tag; the tag is used to redeem/buy a Dopplebock. Once the tag is gone, you're not allowed to buy any more Dopplebock.

The event was fun and surprising. Fun, because there were a ton of people, all socializing and enjoying a live band (which was quite good).

Surprising? Yep. While making my way into the brewery to use the restroom, I was nearly run-over by a group of cross-dressing men, complete with huge blonde wigs. Apparently, part of the event includes a 1K "race" that they call "The Running of the Blondes."

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The other "fun" part of the event involves trying to catch fish being thrown from the roof of the brewery by Capital's brewmaster, Kirby. I don't have any idea where this tradition started, or what relevance it has to the event, but everyone seemed to know what to do...

At around 2:00pm, Kirby rode a large dinosaur to the edge of the brewery roof and began tossing smoked smelt into the crowd. People were literally diving for the fish... I managed to catch a part of a fish... Not sure what to do with it, I tossed it into the garbage.

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We also ran into several other friends while at the event - I had a chance to see my pals from the Capital Brewery Cycling Club - we had a great time catching-up and chatting. It was good to see you guys (Mike, Ginger, Paul, Sally, and Helene)!!!!

The event was scheduled to end at 5:00pm, but by 2:30pm, we were tired and ready to head for home. We went back to the house and watched Tower Heist... I wasn't really a fan of the film - it seemed rather lame - so if you haven't yet seen it, save your money.

I was happy to have gone to Bockfest, but am not sure if I'd need to go again... it was an experience, but it was also sort of cold, very crowded, a little chaotic, and a little long. If I do go again, I'm bringing a camping chair and a cooler with party favors and snacks.

== Next Story ==

I've been spending a lot of time in Chicago, thanks to my latest work project. I typically drive down to the office on Sunday night and stay through Friday morning... our office is located near O'Hare airport, so I've grown used to seeing low-flying aircraft at all hours of the day. This photo doesn't do the proximity any justice, but the building to the right is a 15-story building...

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With the weekly travel, I've managed to accumulate a lot of points with the local hotels... I've also reacquainted myself with tricks for traveling - I take a full case of water with me for each trip, I've purchased suction-cup-activated clotheslines to line-dry my running gear, and I bought a small humidifier for the hotel bedroom (I stay in a 3-room suite). This little thing has made a huge difference in how I feel in the morning:

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While the humidifier was my secret weapon, on the last visit, this electronic door lock served as my arch nemesis. This thing was the bane of my existence:

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No matter what I did, the key never seemed to work in this particular room... The hotel sent maintenance at least five times - they replaced the lock's batteries, they cleaned the assembly, they re-coded it, and did a bunch of other things with it. I would've taken them up on their offer for a different room, but I had unpacked and cleaned the room with Lysol wipes, and I liked the location... so I suffered through it. :-)

My hotel and office are not only located near O'Hare, they're also located right "on" the Blue Line for the Chicago El (train) system. With each trip, I've been venturing out on the El and checking out various downtown neighborhoods. Thanks to the suggestions from friends and co-workers, I've fallen in love with the Wicker Park area. It's got a great selection of restaurants, bars, and shops - it's a really cool area.

One of the best places I've been to in Wicker Park is a taco place called "Big Star." Their menu is small - there are four or five tacos to choose from, along with guacamole. But the place doesn't need a huge menu because those few items are absolutely fantastic.

I met a few coworkers at Big Star last week - here's one of the plates of tacos:

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I believe that plate has a fish taco, two pork belly tacos, and a pulled pork taco... all were unmistakably delicious. They're simple, fresh, and tasty. They're also reasonably sized and priced. Double-win.

After enjoying some tacos, we headed over to a little bar called The Blue Line Lounge and Grill. The place reminds me of something from the Rat Pack era; it could easily stand-in for the set of Swingers or Goodfellas. It's located directly under the El's Blue Line track, so the name is appropriate. Here's a shot of it from the outside:

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I was incredibly lucky to catch-up with one of my old friends from my home town - Steve W. I had an absolute blast chatting with him while at the Blue Line; it's like we never missed a beat, despite not having seen each other for at least 6-7 years. Steve W is a super interesting and cool guy - Steve, if you're reading this, let's get together the next time I'm in Chicago!

On another night, I ventured back down to the Wicker Park area to sample some of the pizza from the infamous "Piece Pizza & Brewery." The venue was small and completely packed; when I stepped foot into the establishment, I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with nearly 200 people. Yikes!

After a fairly substantial wait, I was able to score a small table and promptly ordered some pizza and one of their brews. While I wasn't a fan of the brew, I did enjoy the pizza. It was a New York style pizza - the crust was chewy but nicely charred, and the toppings were very high quality. I opted for jalapeno, sausage and onion. A spicy combo, but it was delish:

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And finally, while visiting Wicker Park on yet another evening, I encountered this wonderful little guy.

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His name is Louie, and he's a handsome 2-year old American Staffordshire (aka "Pit Bull"). He was being walked to his socialization and training classes by a nice lady who stopped to chat with me about him. He's available for adoption and currently lives with a Chihuahua and a few cats (sounds familiar, eh?!). He was so sweet - I wish I could've taken him home with me, but I think I've got my hands full with Feef.

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As if I wasn't tempted enough by the fine dining and wonderful bars down in the Wicker Park area, one of my project team members brought these in for the last day of our last working session...

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Those devils!! I resisted, but it wasn't easy... they looked and smelled as if they could've given the Greenbush Bakery (in Madison) a serious run for its money. ARGH.

I returned to Wisconsin on Thursday night and was greeted by an awesome surprise snow storm on Friday... there wasn't any mention of snow while I was in Chicago - I guess they may have been spared. We, however, took the brunt of the storm - 5-6 inches of heavy, wet snow landed by 5:00pm on Friday. Here's the view from my car as I left work on Friday:

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Nice.


== FINAL STORY ==

With the fresh snowfall, I was able to get out and snowshoe for a bit. It was the first time I had been able to go this year; we've had a very mild winter, so I was actually happy for Friday's heaping helping of crystalized water...

I did a nice 3-mile hike in the snowshoes today - the weather was perfect, and the wet snow made for easy hiking:

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After finishing the snowshoeing, I grabbed Feef, and we took a trip into town for some cat and dog food. Here she is, riding in the car - she rides like a champ and can never wait to hop-in the car with me:

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...and finally... holy cats, I'm exhausted after writing this entry...

I've given-up diet soda. I quit it cold-turkey in mid-February, and haven't missed it since. I figured it would be much more difficult to quit drinking it, but I find that I really enjoy a glass of water or a glass of unsweet tea as much as, if not more than, a diet Mountain Dew or a Diet Coke.

The nice thing about quitting soda is the amount of room it clears in the refrigerator. Here's what my fridge looks like after dropping the soda.

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No Chicago trips this week; it'll be nice to stay home for a bit and enjoy the home turf. Especially this little thing:

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Wow. Winter sure did arrive in a big way, eh? For those not fortunate enough to be located in the land of frozen tundra, allow me to share a few of our fair region's weather events: moderate temperatures abruptly turned to bone-chilling cold, accompanied by strong winds, wrapped-up with an awesome dumping of super powdery snow.

Needless to say, FiFi has been less than impressed. I've been shoveling a path and circular area for her to use; the winds have been covering it with blown snow. I've had to coax her with copious amounts of treats, and I've been crating her during the day to avoid coming home to "presents."

And while I don't know if anyone will appreciate this photo, it makes me chuckle - here she is "doing her business" in the cleared-out area:

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She's giving me a look that seems to say, "Why did you move me here? Why are you forcing me to be out in this cold weather? And, most importantly, why are you taking my picture right now?!"

When I woke-up this morning, my digital thermometer showed a temperature of -6F... nice. To Feef's credit, I was able to get her outside without too much hassle. Once back inside, she bolted for her favorite spot - the recliner with the Packers fleece blanket on it. She burrows herself into it, gets completely covered, and then growls if you try to move or disturb her. She loves this thing (I uncovered her to get the picture)...

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The cold weather and recent dumping of snow means that I've been running on the wonderful dreadmill... lucky me. I had to use it on Thursday, Friday, and this morning. I think I'd rather be water-boarded than to spend 40 minutes on a treadmill. They're so incredibly boring, and for some reason, my quadriceps always ache after I finish using it... I must change my stride/gate while on it.

The good news is that I've been staying extremely consistent to my plans - haven't missed a workout since 1/1, and haven't eaten anything bad since 1/1. I'm rock solid right now, and have dropped 17.4-pounds and 3.9% bodyfat since 1/1. I guess that's what happens when you're as strict as I've been - 900-1000 calories per day (primal foods: grilled lean meats, grilled non-starchy vegetables, no sugars, and no more than 1/2-cup of black beans). I've been running 6 days per week and cycling 4 days per week. TRX workouts take place 3 times per week.

So, with my diet and workouts in solid form, I was a bit nervous to accept a ticket to the Badgers hockey game - the notion of some pretzels, popcorn, or nachos could've been tempting. Alas, they didn't even appeal to me, and so I enjoyed the game with my co-worker Dan. Here's where we sat:

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The Badgers absolutely routed the UAA (University of Anchorage, Alaska) with a score of 4-0. Thanks again, Dan, for the ticket! I appreciate it!!

I spent today helping a friend that I used to work with at the MidTown Pub; Evan needed some new tires for his Tahoe, so we placed a call to my other friend Dan (Newhart episode flashback? No?) from Topel's Towing & Repair. Dan was able to get Evan some excellent tires at a great price, so we drove to Lake Mills this afternoon and I mounted and balanced the four new tires (Dan was the only one in the shop and was also on wrecker duty; he was called-out on towing jobs twice while we were there).

Here are the nearly bald tires that we removed from Evan's Tahoe:

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They were like slicks - I don't think there was even 1/32" of tread on them!!

Here's one of my old "friends" from my days as a technician... the Coates 20/20 pneumatic tire changing machine. Back in the day, this thing was an absolute beast! It's still more than capable, but I suspect newer versions are even better:

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And the fruits of our labor - new shoes on the Tahoe. There's nothing like new tires on a vehicle... they ride quietly, smoothly, confidently, and have such a great "feel" - it's truly awesome, even when it's not my vehicle that has the new tires. :-)

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We finished-up the work at just over an hour-and-a-half, then waited for Dan to return from a towing job. Evan settled his bill and we trekked back to Madison, where I had a little friend waiting for me back home. Care to guess where she was waiting for me?

That's right...

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And here's what we're doing right now:

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So there you have it... the past few days - bad weather, good dog, staying on target with the diet, a hockey game, and new tires for a friend. Not bad. Not bad at all.

My boss, Steve, is raising money for the Livestrong organization in honor of his wife who passed away from cancer about 18 months ago. While I never had a chance to meet her, I've heard nothing but truly wonderful things about her from many people; she had wanted to participate in the Livestrong Challenge, which is a 5K race held in Austin.

Since she wasn't able to do the event, Steve is carrying out her wish by assembling a team of people that will train, fundraise, and travel to Austin this fall. Each person on the team is raising money for the event, and each person will be responsible for their own travel expenses (no fundraising money is used for travel or entry fees). To date, the team has raised more than $5,000.

As a "last push" for the Livestrong challenge, we hosted a fund-raising event at The MidTown Pub in Middleton.

The folks there are absolutely superb - they literally bent over backwards to accommodate us and went above and beyond to help us put on a really outstanding event. Joel, Jamie, BK, Quinn, Stacey, Jeremy, Evan, and countless others took fantastic care of everyone in attendance, and they donated so many wonderful items for us. Thank you!!

The event was scheduled to begin at 5:00pm last night. Steve and I arrived early to hang-up some banners, post signs, arrange seats, and prepare the patio. The weather was absolutely perfect, if not a bit sunny... but, it sure beat the alternatives! Here's the entry way to the patio, where we set-up our event. Livestrong was kind enough to send banners and signage for us to use:

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Here's BK (on the left) and Jamie pouring ice on some of the beverages that we had available for the event. Thank you to Frank Beer, Wisconsin Distributors, General Distributors, UWP, and L&L Food Services for helping us out with food and beverages. Jamie did a great job of arranging the event and lining-up the providers for us.

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We arranged a table near the entry to the patio so that as people entered, they could purchase food, drinks, and tickets. We had a ton of great prizes available, all compliments of local businesses - there were some really great items available, including a Dell Netbook from TDS.

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With everything prepped and ready to go, there was only one thing left to do - pose for a picture while things were still calm. :-)

Here's Steve (my boss and friend), Jamie, and me, standing near the grill. Jamie whipped up some excellent burgers and incredible brats, and he did it while baking in the hot sun all afternoon, with nary a bit a shade. The guy is a trooper!

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We had a chance to sit and chat with a few folks before things became too busy. It was nice to grab a seat in the shade and catch-up with some of our co-workers. I'll admit that I was a bit nervous that we might not have anybody show-up... especially when 5:00pm rolled around, and there were only a few people on the patio.

But, before I knew it, the patio was jumping. There were people everywhere - our friends, co-workers, acquaintances, MidTown patrons, and passers-by filled the patio. We sold a ton of food and drink tickets, and people were really excited by the contests. Here's Shana (a coworker and friend of ours) with her son as they purchased some food tickets:

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The food was a hit with everyone - as I walked around, I heard nothing but compliments on the chow, but that's no surprise, considering we were at the MidTown Pub. Their food is really good in general, and it's impossible to not enjoy a freshly grilled burger or brat. Here are a few more happy patrons - this is Kate, the daughter of my coworker Brian:

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And her younger brother, Michael - looks like they're both enjoying their hamburgers. Nothing beats a satisfied customer. :-)

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And to go along with the great MidTown food, we had the super fine folks from Bloom Bake Shop in Middleton generously donate a few dozen cupcakes and a gift certificate to our cause. Their cupcakes are fantastic - I'm definitely a HUGE fan - and folks raved about them last night as well. Here's a picture of the few that remained; I only had one, believe it or not! Thanks again, Annemarie - you're definitely a star!!

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With folks fed and "hydrated," we fired-up a competition. We used a children's golf club, a driving mat, and marshmallows to conduct a "longest drive" contest in the parking lot. Each contestant got 3 swings with the club, and the person who hit their marshmallow the farthest won a Polar Heart Rate monitor, compliments of Orange Shoe Personal Fitness.

Here's Dan, one of the contestants, taking a swing:

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The contest was a success - we had a bunch of folks participate, and it was really a fun thing. The kids that attended made great "clean-up" helpers - they'd chase down the marshmallows and throw them into the woods for the critters to munch on. Andy C won the contest and took home the Polar Heart Rate Monitor.

Here's a shot of the patio, as it filled-up. Again, thank you to everyone who attended and supported the event.

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At around 8:00pm, we held the drawing for our prizes, which included:


  • A Dell Netbook, compliments of TDS

  • Capital Brewery Clothing, glassware, coolers, and koozies, compliments of Capital Brewery

  • Tattoo Gift Certificates, compliments of Ultimate Arts

  • Cupcake gift certificates, compliments of Bloom Bake Shop

  • Badger Football tickets and t-shirts, compliments of MidTown Pub

  • Golf balls, coolers, and a rolling duffel bag, compliments of TDS

The grand prize winner of the netbook was, ironically, the nurse that assisted Jodi (Steve's wife) throughout her illness. Talk about a good omen.

The event continued-on until around 9:00pm, at which point people began to head for home. I had a chance to sit down and chat with Dan and Tara, who made the trek all the way from Lake Mills! Thank you!! And I also had a chance to chat with my cousin, Leanne, my Aunt Linda, and my uncle Warren - all of whom drove down from the Randolph area. Thank you!!!

I felt bad that I didn't have much chance to socialize with everyone that I had wanted to - the time literally flew-by. I wolfed-down a plate of meatloaf at around 9:30pm, chatted with Dan, Tara, Leanne, Warren, and Linda, and then cleaned-up the patio for a bit. What a whirlwind.

All told, we raised a lot of money for Livestrong, all thanks to the generosity and support of our friends, families, coworkers, and our awesome sponsors. I don't know what else to say - it was a great event, and I hope that everyone enjoyed themselves as much as I did. To everyone who participated, thank you for coming down and helping us out. To our sponsors - thank you for the generosity. To MidTown, especially - thanks a million. Let's hope the Livestrong race goes as well as the fundraiser did!

Cheers, and hats off to everyone.

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!

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!

Weekend Update.

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I swear I'm getting very close to posting pictures of the new pad - it'll probably be next weekend when I have everything in place and worthy of presentation. I've got a few small tasks to complete first (mount TV in bedroom and update faucet in spare bathroom) - then it'll be picture/tour time.

With that little primer, you'd be correct to assume that I've been working my tail off at the new place. In the past few weeks, I have: replaced most of the overhead lighting fixtures, replaced all of the bathroom hardware and faucet (soon to be faucets) (including lighting), installed a new ceiling fan in the master bedroom, mounted the TV and soundbar in the living room, installed LED lighting around the back deck, organized everything imaginable (kitchen, pantry, linen closets, etc), installed a subwoofer in the living room, put together a new headboard/footboard, put together a kitchen table and 4 chairs, and a few other things that I'm surely forgetting... I also bought a loveseat and a recliner - both are nice additions.

I still need to find a sofa table and a console table for my entryway, but other than that, I think everything is just about set. Whew.

In addition to running myself ragged around the new place, I rode a 30+ mile bike ride on Saturday to benefit Multiple Sclerosis research and followed it up with a 6 mile run (the Achilles is feeling nearly 100%). While transitioning between the ride and run, I spotted what I thought/felt was something really amazing - I saw a single ant dragging a dead worm across the parking lot of my workplace.

Why was it amazing? The little guy was so determined; the worm was easily 6-times his size, yet there he was, pulling and dragging it across the bumpy lot without fail. He'd stop every few feet, run around a bit, and then get right back after it. Call me crazy, but it was a little inspiring. The pavement had to be 90F (it was nearly 80F and super sunny outside)... who knows where he started dragging that thing from or how far he had to go?

I watched him for a minute - I found myself cheering for him, almost wanting to help him out, but I figured if I did anything like that, he'd give up and take off. So I just observed. And, I filmed him for a bit - if you're as easily intrigued as I am, feel free to take a look at this 1 minute video from the phone (if you don't see a "Play" button, just double-click on the image and the video will start):

Edit: apparently Internet Explorer doesn't understand the HTML for embedded video, so here's a direct link to the video for download.

I was finished riding, running, and ant watching by 2pm, so I headed to the house, made a nice lunch and then went to my first Mallards game of the season. I joined my aunt, my cousin, and my cousin's nephew for a beautiful evening of baseball and wonderful conversation.

The game was completely sold out by the time we arrived; our only options were to purchase a $5 "standing room" seat, or a $32 Duck Blind (all you can eat/drink while standing in Right Field) ticket. We opted for the standing room seat and by the beginning of the third inning, had scored some awesome seats on the first base line.

One of the ushers told us that if no one claimed the handicapped seating by the third inning that we could help ourselves to a seat. No one needed the seats, so we took advantage of the offer, and wound-up with these incredible seats:

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Not bad for five bucks, eh?? I was an especially cheap date, as I've been determined to stick to clean eating for a full month, so I had two bottles of Diet Pepsi, and that was it. No beers, no brats, no curds... it was insanely tempting to indulge, but I didn't.

The game ended by 9:00pm, and I was home and in bed by 10. Woke-up early this morning, went for another 30-mile ride, followed by a shorter run of 3-miles (recovery run). Then I hit Menards for some house stuff and spent the rest of the day working around the house.

I guess that's it for now... nothing terribly exciting. Stay tuned for some home pics!

Tag, I'm it.

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Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. WIth as absolutely friggin' terrible as Madison drivers are, I knew I'd eventually have an incident while on the road. And my time came yesterday at lunch.

With my achilles tendon growing better by the day, I've been increasing my run distances slowly but surely. I've also given-up on waking up early to go run during the week - I'm just not a morning person, and I can't bring myself to consistently rise and run by 6:30am each day. So, I usually run during my lunch hour, which means I have to venture out in the downtown Middleton area.

Yesterday's weather was absolutely beautiful - mid 70s, light breeze, sunny and mild. A perfect day for running. I was about 3.5 miles into my route when I approached an area that has several restaurants, which means there are several driveways/entrances to parking lots. I've mapped my route so that I never run "with" traffic - I'm always running "against" it, so that I can better see people as they turn into and out of driveways and intersections.

So imagine my surprise when I suddenly felt like I had been tackled from behind and scooped up onto a hard surface. One second I was running, the next I was hitting something hard. My left hand went instinctively behind me to help catch my fall and I heard a "crunch" followed by a horn honk.

It scared the living daylights out of me, and I sprung straight up. I had been hit from behind by a car that was turning left into the entrance of a restaurant's parking lot - see the diagram of what happened:

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The car didn't knock me down - it scooped me onto the hood (partially). When I sprung up, I spun around and saw a lady in a white Kia sedan on her phone. I gave her a "what the heck just happened???" type of look as I got out of the way. Once clear of her car, I stopped and stared at her and said, "What the hell are you doing?!"

She was on her phone, and much to my surprise, she honked at me again and then took off, honking her horn the whole time. As she sped off, I took a swing at the side of her car with my fist, and managed to get a solid hit in the left rear corner.

I couldn't believe what happened. I also can't believe that I wasn't aware enough to get her license plate or anything - in fact, I'm not even 100% positive it was a Kia sedan. Everything happened so quickly; it was an unbelievable experience. Thankfully, the only bad things that happened were my left palm is nice and bruised from hitting the hood:

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And I've got a small, perfectly circular cut in my leg, near the back of my knee from what I assume was a license plate bolt. I'm guessing that's where the car first hit me from behind. How I was "scooped up" is beyond me - I probably should've been knocked down... I can only assume that she wasn't going more than 3-4 miles per hour because there's nothing else that hurts or shows any injury.

My co-workers laughed at me when I went back to work yesterday and sat at my desk like nothing was wrong. My boss even said, "So wait - you just got hit my a car, and here you are sitting at work?" Yeah, I guess so. :-)


I did also do the Capital bike ride last night, and was pleased to be surrounded by a bunch of friends from work and some really cool dogs. One of my project team members did the ride last night and then brought her dog, Piper to say hello. Here's Piper (he's a 3-year old Visla):

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And here's Piper with his owner, Carrie (my project team member) - she's an organizational readiness analyst who has helped us with communications and organizational change management for one of my really big projects:

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And then there were these two random buddies - a cute greyhound named "Nola" and an awesome Neopolitan Mastiff named "Madison." They were super sweeties.

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According to their owners, Nola got her name because she was rescued from New Orleans, Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina; and Madison is a 6-year old, 200-pounder. Crazy!

I believe it's the Boy Scouts who use the motto "Be Prepared." I say that I believe it's them because as a youth, I never actually graduated into the Boy Scouts. I did spend time as a Cub Scout, but never progressed beyond the Bobcat or (at best) Tiger Cub badge.

If memory serves, the last official event of my short-lived Cub Scout career was the infamous Pinewood Derby car race. And, from what I recall, my block-shaped-bares-a-striking-resemblance-to-a-school-bus entry didn't fare too well. I chalk it up to sculpting and building the thing with a limited set of tools and assistance (the family tool box doubled as our dinner flatware drawer).

So, for what it's worth, I can't feel too bad for often going "unprepared" into certain situations. But there's no excuse for what I managed to do on Saturday.

If you'll recall from my previous entry, I had planned to ride an easy 20-mile loop on Saturday, and to go for a 1.25 - 1.50-mile run. I say "planned," because when I awoke at 7:30am on Saturday morning, I was immediately disheartened by a light, but steady, misty-sort-of-rain. Argh. I don't mind running in the rain, but I really despise riding in the rain.

So, I checked a few weather websites, saw that it was going to continue to mist until around 10am, and made the decision to forge ahead, but that I would ride my Trek instead of the Cervelo. The Trek had spent the entire winter mounted to the trainer, so I felt it deserved a little road time. I prepped myself and my ride, and hit the road.

At right about the turnaround point (9.5 - 10 miles in), I felt as if I had lost a significant amount of control over the bike. Steering was sluggish and my speed was dropping. I looked down and sure enough... flat tire. My second flat ever (knock on wood, as that's an amazing record for 3+ years of riding). Sigh... looked as if I'd be patching my tire from the side of the road - in the rain. Nice.

But (and here's where we tie-back-in to the intro), in my haste to depart the apartment, I had forgotten to transfer my tool kit from the Cervelo to the Trek. And, for some inexplicable reason, I had chosen to leave my phone at home as well. There I was, 10-miles from home base, no tools, no phone, and a flat tire. Awesome.

I didn't want to hoof it 10-miles, given the situation with my Achilles, so I made the decision to ride on the flat for as long as I could. I honestly believed the tire would eventually completely dismount itself at some point, but any mileage in the saddle would beat the alternative. So, I rode at a gingerly 5-6 mph until I arrived at my first hill.

The hill proved to be another obstacle; the act of climbing caused the front wheel to "wash out," and by some stroke of pure luck, I managed to unclip from the pedals and prevent tipping over and disgracefully crashing at a very low speed. Thanks to the close call, I decided to take a new approach to my return trip - I'd ride the flat sections and walk the hills.

After the first hill, my Achilles was on fire, thanks to my cycling shoes and the cleats that sit under the front part of the foot. When walking, the cleats effectively "crank" your toes upward, which stretches your Achilles, which caused me great discomfort. Joy.

It took me over an hour to return home (it should've taken about 30 minutes). And once I returned home, I drove to the bike store and purchased a second tool kit, a new front tire, new tubes, new patches, and a second tool bag for the Trek. I'm confident that I'm now prepared, should I ever encounter a similar situation in the future. Live and learn... here's a picture of the dead tire and tube:

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While installing the new tire, I realized that the now-flattened tire was an original tire... circa 2001. Wow. I should've replaced that thing a looooong time ago. Truth be told, I actually replaced the rear tire earlier this winter, when it flatted while on the trainer. I figured (correctly so) that the trainer had worn it out (trainers generate a lot of heat in tires and cause them to prematurely wear); I should've replaced the front as well. But, some $140 later (tools, tire, tubes, bag, portable pump), I'm good to go (or so I hope).

I wasn't able to run yesterday; and my Achilles was still quite sore this morning, so I opted to rest it. I did manage a 25-mile ride (on the Cervelo), so all was not lost. :-)


And, for the second act, I present another bit of wisdom: Never Take Anything For Granted.

Again, I mentioned in an earlier entry that I've been working on the new house, and that I had been busy updating the electrical switches, outlets, and hardware. Well, like most houses, the new place is loaded to the gills with 3-way light switches.

What's a 3-way light switch? It's a "system" that allows you to control a single light (or outlet, or ceiling fan) from multiple switches. For example, you might have a light switch in your dining room that will turn-on or turn-off a set of lights in the kitchen; you might have another switch in the actual kitchen that controls the same set of lights, thus allowing you to control the kitchen lights from either location.

3-way switches aren't difficult to figure out; it's a simple parallel electrical circuit. What does make things tricky is when you're dealing with 30+ year old switches that don't follow the same configuration as today's switches. Add-in some "interesting" electrical wiring work, and things can get complicated, especially if you assume things.

And that's what I did when swapping out the old 3-way switches for new ones. Yes, I thought it was odd that on any given circuit, I would encounter wires of a variety of colors - the standard wiring code says that a black wire should be the "hot" wire (always has power, from the breaker, or supplying to the load (eg: a light/outlet/etc)), the white wire should be the common wire, and bare copper should be the ground.

When dealing with a 3-way switch, you have to introduce a fourth wire; a "traveler" that links the multiple switches, and conventional wiring methods usually define that traveler as being red in color.

Well... my new place had black wires connected to red wires, white wires connected to red wires, and some inexplicable others including tan wires and striped wires. Wow. Someone got creative at some point.

I had also assumed that the switch configurations were the same between the old and the new switches; the "brass" terminal should have been the "hot" terminal; the other two terminals should have been the "traveler" terminals.

And, as soon as I had finished swapping all of the 3-way switches and activated the breakers, I quickly discovered something was amiss. The switches didn't work in any manner or fashion that they should've. Everything was all jacked-up. Ugh.

So, I tried troubleshooting, but because I was flying solo and didn't have any extra wire for continuity testing, nor did I have a volt meter with me, nor did I have the energy to run up-and-down the stairs to the circuit panel 300+ times while testing, I called it quits. I put in a call for assistance, and thankfully, my friend Jed obliged my request for assistance.

He came over today, and together, we managed to sort out the wiring mess. After 2-hours of troubleshooting, tracing wires, tracking circuits, and continuity testing, we solved the mystery of the 3-way switches. Thank you, Jed - I owe you a huge debt of gratitude!!

Here I am, working in the garage, attempting to troubleshoot 2 different sets of 3-way circuits.

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Based from what we learned today, I'm confident that I can troubleshoot any 3-way circuit, no matter how complex it is; however, let's hope that I don't have to use those skills ever again. :-)

After wrapping-up the fix-it work, we stopped at a small microbrewery called "Gray's Tied House" for some late lunch; I stayed true to my diet plans and had a grilled chicken salad, some iced tea, and a MGD 64. Jed had some amazing looking wings (honey garlic) and a beautiful porter. Alas, I stayed strong.


And finally, upon returning to the craptacular apartment tonight, I prepared my meals for the week (lunch/dinner: 6oz grilled chicken, 1/2-cup black beans, 1-cup broccoli), and then kicked back with my new Kindle. I'm digging the little thing - it's so light (about 8oz), and despite not having a backlight, is amazingly clear and easy to read, even in dim lighting.

Here's a photo of the Kindle from about 30 minutes ago. The only light sources in the room were: the television (about 10 feet in front of me), and a very slight hint of sunlight from a quickly-setting-sun. You can tell it was fairly dim in here from the grainy nature of the photo:

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And so, there you have it. With any luck, I'll be able to jog tomorrow. Enjoy your week!

What a busy week; one that was filled with ups-and-downs. I'm not even sure where to begin, so I'll go in chronological order, starting with a diet/bike/exercise update.

I had been sticking true to the updated diet and workout plans - things were going really well in the kitchen, I wasn't having any urges or desires to eat poorly, even when my coworkers brought in a massive box of donuts and parked it in my cube:

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I'm proud to say that the donuts didn't phase me - I skipped them and didn't even indulge a single crumb. It probably helped that I had been riding the bike quite a bit; for some reason, I don't feel like eating poorly when I'm really hitting the exercise plan hard. Perhaps it's related to that infamous "endorphin rush" that exercise nuts (present company included) often refer to?

Speaking of biking... I spent last weekend test riding a new bike called the "X-Bow" from Ridley. Ridley is a rather legendary bike company from Belgium and they make some outstanding road bikes, tri bikes, and cyclocross bikes. Cyclocross bikes are a bit of a "hybrid" - they combine a road bike with a mountain bike to provide a blend of ground clearance, off-road capability, and on-road performance.

I had been contemplating a potential cyclocross purchase for some time... all of my road bikes are a bit "delicate" to serve as daily riders/commuters, not to mention a bit pricey to leave sitting in a bike rack for hours on end. A nice cyclocross bike seemed like a good fit, and the good folks down at Cronometro lent me the use of a Ridley for a week or so.

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After putting on 100-ish miles, and using it in every possible manner imaginable, I returned it to Cronometro and decided to wait on adding another bike to the stable. Why? I wanted to love the bike. I really did, because on paper, it seemed like a perfect fit. But, after riding it repeatedly, I didn't find myself feeling as if it suited my needs. I never got comfortable on it, and I never felt "at home" on it.

When I ride the Cervelo, everything feels "natural" - as if the bike is an extension of my body. The Ridley didn't offer that same feeling... Maybe I'm not a cross-bike kind of guy? It was somewhat disappointing to pass on the bike, but I'm convinced that it wasn't meant to be.

This week also marked my joining the Capital Brewery bike club, and as a newly minted member, I participated in two group rides. The brewery hosts 3 rides per week: Tuesday evening, Thursday evening, and Saturday morning.

I rode on Tuesday and Thursday night; the weather was gorgeous and a nice group ride after work seemed like a great idea. So, I ponied-up my $50 membership fee, got a complimentary Capital Brewery bicycle jersey and mug, and partook in the rides. After each ride, people gather in the Bier Garten for drinks and conversation. I met some really cool people, had a good time socializing, and managed to get a few extra riding miles in, which never hurts. Here I am on Thursday after our ride - you can see my road bike in the background:

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On one of the nights, someone brought down their Newfoundland dog, and he was an absolute beast of a creature. They said he was "just over 200-lbs," and I don't doubt it - he was mammoth. I wasn't able to get much of a picture of him as he was a young dog and quite "active" - he didn't seem to enjoy posing for any pictures, despite the many pleas from patrons of the Garten. Here's a head-shot of him, next to someone's belly... not sure who that is in the picture (it may have been "Dan" - a guy from the ride that I met), but the dog's name was Lewis:

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And for my last comment about diet and exercise, I managed to seriously injure my achilles tendon, and haven't been able to run since Wednesday night. Talk about bad luck.

The achilles started to feel "odd" during a run on Monday, but I chalked it up to carrying the extra weight, compliments of my "month of irresponsible eating" from April. I kept running on Monday and Tuesday, and it seemed to be bothersome but not debilitating. On Wednesday, I went out for a 5-mile run and with about 3 minutes remaining, I felt a massive burning sensation in my right ankle/achilles area. I couldn't put any weight on my foot, so I hobbled home, angry about what had just happened.

I wrapped my achilles, iced it, and limped into work. I tried to stay off my feet all day, and regularly iced the achilles. By Wednesday night, it was no better... On Thursday, it felt even worse; I was limping with every step, stairs were a nightmare, and ice wasn't doing much to help.

For some odd reason, I could ride a bike, and it didn't hurt at all... so, I rode the Capital ride, which in hindsight was a poor decision, because come Friday morning, my tendon was extremely tender - worse than it had been on Wednesday or Thursday. So, I did absolutely nothing on Friday, Saturday, or today.

After 3 days of rest, my tendon feels much better; I guess the rest is helping, but that same rest has resulted in my diet sliding completely off track. And by "sliding," I mean, "slipping, sliding, crashing, burning, and exploding" just like when a car would run-off the road in a cheesy 1980s made-for-television police drama movie...

How bad has the diet been? Well, let's see... there was a fritter, some fish fry, some soft pretzels, lots of cookies, some pizza, and even some Culver's. Oh man... no wonder my pants are fitting so snugly. I managed to consume nearly 15,000 total calories over the weekend; talk about disgusting. :-(

Although, I did have a stellar dinner on Saturday, compliments of some grilled bison from my boss's "Big Green Egg" smoker/grill. He invited me over to check out the infamous egg and to sample a few prized beverages with him and another friend. For those not familiar with The Big Green Egg, it's more or less the Mercedes of wood burning grills/smokers.

It's made from 2"-thick ceramic, which means it will heat-up and hold heat like nothing else. My boss uses it to smoke briskets, pork shoulders, turkeys, and so on, and he said that he can go 14-15 hours on a single load of wood (when smoking). That's unreal! Here it is, in all of its glory (and heft; the Egg weighs-in at more than 200-lbs):

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We fired-it up on Saturday, adjusted the vents, and within 20 minutes had a grill that was registering a rocket-hot 700F. We threw on the steaks, along with some asparagus, and before you could say "Doctor Seuss," the Big Green Egg had produced a perfect bounty. The steaks and food were so awesome that I forgot to take pictures... trust me when I say it was out of this world.

We finished the evening with a few of Steve's finest beverages - a 25 year old Scotch (I'd bet a bottle of this cost as much as my mortgage) and for comparison's sake, a 21 year old Scotch (think 2 car payments). I'm by no means an aficionado, but both were really good. Here's a photo of the 25 year old:

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And finally, I spent the better part of today prepping my new living quarters. Yep, I'm moving again, but this time, I'm truly excited because I absolutely will not have to deal with inconsiderate neighbors and intolerable noise-levels. How so? Well....

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Yep, I found a house to rent. It's an 1800-square foot ranch, with a huge garage, and a full basement (unfinished, but the basement is entirely epoxied and is absolutely spotless). It's got a new roof, all new windows and doors, brand new appliances (the refrigerator and dishwasher have never been used), and the furnace is about 2-years old.

I scored it from the aunt of a co-worker. The co-worker's aunt is stationed in Spain as a government contracts employee, and she'll be working there until around 2015. My co-worker lived in the house until October of last year, but then got married and moved to her new husband's house. As luck would have it, I was able to secure the house early so that when the lease on my craptacular apartment expires, I can move-in to the house.

I've been getting it ready by cleaning, mowing, and updating the inside of the house; the owner has agreed to allow me to replace all of the electrical components (switches, outlets, fixtures, fans, lights, etc) - she's paying for the parts, and I'm installing them. Why? Here's a before-and-after shot of the light switches from one of the bathrooms:

Before (switches from the 70s; I attempted to clean them several times prior to this photo):

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After:

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Not a bad improvement for less than $20 in parts, eh? It's amazing what an enhancement the "little things" can make - the house feels like "brand new," all through a simple update of some switches and outlets. It's been great working at the house for the past few weekends - I can get away from the apartment for a few hours, and I've been able to move small items ahead of time, which should make the official act of moving less painful.

And while I did try to stay completely off my feet this weekend, I did walk for a bit; I had to use my new mower:

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That's a Toro 3-in-1 Recycler that my good friends from Topel's helped source and supply to me. It's an absolute dream mower - starts on the first pull, makes short work of the large yard, and somehow manages to make mowing fun. I'm sure the novelty will eventually wear off, but I'm really enjoying it for now.

And that's all for now. I'll chat more in a bit - my goal is to start running by Tuesday or Wednesday and to get back on the diet wagon. Here's to hoping for a good week.

Eggs: Inspired to Share

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I recently stumbled across an interesting and fun blog called "The Healthy Everythingtarian". I found it while searching for information about Tera's Whey Protein Products, and discovered that I may have a female "twin" living somewhere in Madison...

The blog's author appears to have experienced some dramatic weight loss thanks to changing her lifestyle (started running and eating more responsibly) and now shares her experiences online, along with some interesting recipes and stories. Many of the stories resonate with me, as they often feature temptation, conflict, and redemption. Sounds familiar, eh? Now, if she reviewed fish frys on top of all of that, I'd really be spooked. :-D

Anywho... a few days ago, she posted something about eggs and eating them for dinner, and as luck would have it, yours truly was enjoying an egg dinner, so I felt it appropriate to share with you my very favorite egg recipe. You can eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or whenever - it's so tasty, super filling, and extremely good for you. So... without further ado, I present my "anytime eggs" dish:

Ingredients:

1tsp Macadamia Nut Oil (or less)
.5C chopped frozen spinach, preferably organic
.5C black beans (prepared "clean" from scratch - see end of entry for details)
2oz turkey breast (Applegate Organic); or substitute small grilled chicken breast
4oz grilled asparagus (optional, if available)
3 egg whites

Directions:

1. In a medium, non-stick skillet, add 1tsp (or less) Macadamia Nut Oil and heat over medium-low heat. Pan temperature should register no higher than 300F.

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2. When oil is heated, add the chopped spinach and cook until tender. It does not have to be "fully cooked" before proceeding to step 3.

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3. As spinach begins to become tender, add-in the black beans (this is .5C of black beans - there's a lot):

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4. Allow the beans to begin to "warm through" before adding the turkey (or chicken). Again, there's no need to worry about "cooking" any of the items at this point, as they're all pre-cooked. I usually grill 8-10 chicken breasts at a time, so I have plenty available for use, but tonight I felt like using some herbed-roasted turkey breast, so I diced it up and added it to the beans and spinach.

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5. I then added 4oz (about 4-5 stalks) of leftover asparagus from last night's dinner. I added this just a minute before the next step to insure that I didn't overcook the asparagus. There's nothing worse than overcooked asparagus!

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6. Add the egg whites, and season to taste. I'm really digging the Penzey's California Pepper, so I applied it quite liberally to the mixture. You can use as many egg whites as you'd like; I've made this with as few as one egg white, and with as many as five - it just depends on how hungry you may be. Three are quite filling.

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7. Stir/scramble the mixture until the eggs are cooked through. It usually takes about 3-4 minutes with my pan/stove combination - your cooking time will vary. Try to not overcook the eggs; you don't want them to be "browned" - they should be fluffy when done.


8. Plate, and top it all off with a little hot sauce, if you'd so like. My favorite hot sauce as of late is Uncle Frank's Extra Hot sauce. It'll set your mouth on fire, but there's just something about it that I love.

Here's the finished product:

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I apologize for the poor photos - as you know, I've been using my iPhone to take nearly every single photo on the blog, as it's so convenient. I didn't color-correct, adjust levels, etc, because I'm lazy. :-) I'll break out the old dSLR and Canon L-glass at some point to get some more "accurate" and "truly inspiring" photos at some point.

Nutritional summary: 1 serving (as prepared above)
272 calories
5g fat
665mg sodium
38g carbs
24g fiber
5g sugar
40g protein

Not bad, eh? And trust me when I say that it is f-i-l-l-i-n-g filling. And tasty, too. :-)

Try it and let me know your thoughts!


** "Clean Beans" recipe **

1-lb dry black beans (Goya or any brand will do)
5 bay leaves
1 bell pepper, quartered
1 onion, quartered
3 cloves garlic, minced
Ground cumin (to taste; I use a lot)
Ground black pepper (to taste; I use a lot)
Cayenne pepper (to taste; I use about .5-tsp)

Rinse the beans thoroughly, and add to a large, plastic container that provides approximately 3x the volume of the rinsed beans. Add all of the remaining ingredients and fill the container with water, until the water covers the beans by at least 2". Store/soak in the refrigerator for anywhere from 8-24 hours. Top-off with water as necessary to maintain 2" of coverage at all times.

When ready to cook, pour the entire mixture into a large stock pot (or dutch oven), and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for 5 minutes, then reduce to a very slow/light simmer. Skim any "scum" that forms.

Cook until beans are al dente; don't over cook them! It usually takes about 1.5 - 2.0 hours for my beans to cook in a Le Crueset 7Qt dutch oven.

Drain any excess water, remove the pepper, onion, and bay leaf remnants. Enjoy. The recipe will yield approximately 20, 1/2-cup servings; each serving delivers approximately 75-85 calories, most of which is protein and slow carbs (lots of fiber, no sugars).

And best of all, this recipe doesn't use bacon, fat, or extra calories, and yet they're super tasty. I make a batch of these once every 8-9 days, and store them in the refrigerator for use with just about every meal.

Is there anyone out there who feels like this winter season has dragged on relentlessly? Wow. I'm so ready for the cold, damp, dreary weather to go away once and for all. I realize this is Wisconsin, and that it gets (and remains) cold for quite a while... but, enough - ok? Uncle! Uncle! Uncle!

It doesn't help that we've recently had a few quick "breaks" of warm weather - I believe we hit the high 50s last week, with some low 50s on Saturday of last week. I took full advantage of that warm weather by firing-up the primary road bike and hitting the roads for a nice 30-mile ride:

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Nothing beats getting outside for a good ride in nice weather - it's liberating and invigorating. I love how quiet my bike is, and I enjoy the fresh air, the sunshine, and of course the speed and responsiveness of riding on a real road surface. As I mentioned earlier, the trainer hasn't been too terribly bad this year, but there's nothing quite like riding in the great outdoors, especially when the weather is so perfect.

But, being the tease that she is, Mother Nature didn't gift us with nice weather for too long... nope, because while last Saturday was stellar, Sunday was dreadful - rainy, cold, and windy. No riding outside... and my run was anything but fun. Ick.

Thankfully, I was able to take some refuge from Sunday's dreary weather - a group of us went to the Milwaukee Bucks game and saw the Bucks take on the New York Knicks.

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As you can see, the weather wasn't too appealing... but, we avoided most of the bad stuff by stopping at Saz's restaurant, snagging a free parking spot, grabbing a pre-game beverage and snack, and then riding their complimentary shuttle bus to the Bradley Center. You can't beat that service! The bus drops-off and picks-up directly in front of the Bradley Center. No parking fees, no traffic fights, just a quick 10-15 minute ride from Saz's to the center. Nice!

Once inside, we were pleased to discover our seats were pretty stellar:

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We were about 15 rows from the court, and I was amazed by how incredibly strong and conditioned NBA players are. Holy cats - those guys are tall, lean, and ripped - they looked like huge blocks of muscle flying up and down the court... You can't really appreciate their conditioning until you see them in person; the television doesn't do their speed and strength any justice.

The Bucks ended-up beating Carmello Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire (of the Knicks) by a score of 100 to 95. Turned out to be a decent game!

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After the game, we took the shuttle back to Saz's, then headed back to Madison, where we grabbed a late dinner at a local Irish pub. All-in-all, a good day/weekend.

This weekend is shaping up to be rather dull - nothing really going on. I transported a dog from Coloma, Wisconsin to Edgerton. He was a super nice little guy named Paxton. He rode like a true gentleman - calm, quiet, and perfect.

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It was an early morning transport; I had to leave the apartment by 7:00am to meet the other transport driver in Coloma, so I waited to ride/run/lift until I returned to the apartment. Spent 2 hours riding the trainer, an hour running in the freezing cold (it was 27F with 15mph winds), and an hour lifting weights at the gym. Exciting, eh?

I've got a massage scheduled for tomorrow afternoon - my calves have been killing me (cramping heavily lately, especially while sleeping), so I'm hoping a little massage therapy will help some of the adhesions and knots. Other than that, it'll be more of the same - ride and run in the morning, massage, and then a semi-cheat meal. I'm going to make a garlic- and onion-stuffed turkey burger with mushrooms and sprouted wheat bread. I'm really looking forward to it!

I used a slice of the sprouted wheat bread (it's 100% whole grain with less than 1g of sugar per slice - loaded with complex carbs and protein) for my afternoon lunch today, which consisted of 2 slices of Applegate Farms nitrate-free turkey breast wrapped in 3 egg whites mixed with chopped spinach and topped with cilantro-and-garlic salsa. Yum, and it came in at exactly 250 calories. A perfect post-workout lunch, for sure.

Catching some Z's

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My current apartment, while conveniently located, gorgeously appointed, trendy, and perfectly sized for me, isn't quite all it's cracked-up to be, especially when it comes to controlling noise between the units.

Without exaggerating one tiny bit, I can honestly hear everything that takes place in both apartments on either side of me, including: normal conversation (clear as day), coughing, toilet flushing, any kitchen activity (drawers/cabinets opening and closing, microwaves open/closing/beeping/running, garbage disposal running, water being turned on/off, pots/pans being moved, refrigerator door opening/closing), any television programs, music, and so on.

It is not pleasant at all - I know more of the nitty gritty and intimate details of my neighbors' lives than I ever would care to know. And I am not exaggerating at all - I know exactly what kind of Girl Scout cookies the one couple ordered; what their tax returns were; where they're planning their vacation; what they have for dinner each night; their cell phone bill, and so on... it's ridiculous.

I've tried everything imaginable to reduce the noise, but nothing works. I've got a fans, a humidifier, an air purifier, I leave the TV on a lot more than I'd like to, I use my iPod, I've used ear plugs... it really stinks. Granted, I am sensitive to environmental noise, but this is ridiculous - the walls are literally made of a single layer of 1/2" drywall, direct connected to a single 2x4 stud, with a very thin (1-2") layer of fiberglass insulation between the units. Impact noises and all frequencies are easily transmitted - think of the cheapest hotel you've ever stayed in, where you could hear everything between the walls, and that's my life, 24/7.

So at night, it's especially fun for me to try to fall asleep... I'm not into taking any type of sleep aids, so I've searched desperately for a sleep solution. After much trial and error, I finally found two items that work incredibly well - I've managed to get several nights' good sleep lately, and I'm convinced it's because of these two miracle items:

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It's my iPad and the Nightwave Sleep Assistant.

My iPad is loaded with iHome's Sleep application, which is essentially a fancy alarm clock that has a "sleep to music" function that I've loaded with a soundtrack called "Tranquil Nights and Peaceful Sleep sounds." It's 80-minutes of calming, soothing, interference noises - mostly running water, like from a slow moving, babbling creek in a very quiet wooded area. It plays for 80 minutes, then slowly fades out. At about 10-minutes prior to my desired wake time, the alarm function kicks-in; it slowly fades the volume up over 10-minutes, so there isn't that abrupt "jar-you-awake" sound that most alarm clocks deliver.

The Nightwave is simply awesome - it uses a calming blue light to help you fall asleep; it "pulses" in a breathing pattern that is supposed to help calm you and help you relax and sleep better. It really does seem to work - as soon as I try to match my breath to the rhythmic brighten/darken patter of the light, I quickly fall asleep. I'd say I'm "out" in less than 10 minutes on most nights.

I've been using this system for a few weeks and am thrilled. Well - I'm not thrilled that I pay more for my rent than I do my mortgage and am left to suffer with unacceptable levels of noise (the management company isn't willing to do anything, but did "test" the noise between units and confirmed my complaints)... but, at least I'm getting a little sleep. :-)

The best part of waking up...

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...is not a certain "brand-name" in your cup. No sir, contrary to what that catchy little jingle might want us to believe, commercial coffee is truly awful - I can tolerate it during an emergency, but much prefer a java that has been carefully and painstakingly roasted by a local entity.

You may recall my extreme fondness for Berres Brothers Coffee, which is a local roaster/purveyor of some mighty darn good coffee. They're based out of Watertown, WI, and if you haven't yet tried their offerings, do yourself a huge favor and go buy some. I'd recommend the Highlander Grogg and the House Blend. Both are absolutely fantastic.

So I didn't think I'd be able to find a better coffee than what the good brothers had to offer, and that was fine by me. But over this past weekend, I stumbled across another local roaster by way (of all things) of a small beer tasting that was held to benefit local arthritis research foundations.

I served as the designated driver for a group of friends from work for the "Festiv-Ale" event, which was held in Monona this past Saturday. While there, I drank my fair share of diet coke and water, but I also discovered some truly stellar coffees from Just Coffee Cooperative.

They were invited to serve coffee at the event, and they brought along two brews: Bike Fuel and Revolution Roast. This little shop carefully air roasts all of its fair-trade, organic, small farm grown coffee right here in Madison, on East Wilson Street, and man, they do a great job. The Bike Fuel was phenomenal - unreal with how delicious it was. I must have downed 5-6 cups of the stuff in less than an hour.

After a few trips back to the coffee pot, I started talking with Josh, one of the company reps, and he happily shared info about their business, their philosophy, and their mission, and I really liked what they do. They try to be 100% transparent with their business and focus on treating everyone fairly - from the grower, to the importer, to their employees, and to their customers. That's an idea that I can stand behind and support.

So support I did - I went to the local grocery store, located their coffees, and bought a few:

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Truth be told, I bought the Bike Fuel on Saturday night, and have been drinking it nearly non-stop ever since. So, earlier tonight, I returned to the grocery store and re-filled my stock, while adding a few new flavors to try. I can't wait to sample them all!

Each package features some of that transparency that Just Coffee tries so hard to promote - what other coffee vendor/roaster/seller shows you this type of detail?

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I'm digging the closely controlled supply chain that's as direct as possible, and I appreciate the detail about where each dollar goes along the way. I'm also really digging the coffee itself. If you're looking for a truly tasty cup of coffee that boasts some of the highest quality, direct from the small farmer, organically grown, locally roasted flavor, give Just Coffee a try.

Now the real trick will be trying to balance my two coffee loves - both the Berres and Just Coffee are really "one of a kind" in terms of quality and flavor, and both are quite honestly the best coffees I've ever had, so how do I decide which one to brew each morning? I guess that's a nice dilemma to face, and should make the mornings a bit more tolerable.

Me Irish Eyes (and legs) be Smiling

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Happy (early - really early) St. Patrick's Day!

Madison hosted a slew of festivities this weekend to support the upcoming holiday, including the Shamrock Shuffle, which consisted of a 2-mile walk, a 5K run, and a 10K run to support The Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. The race started and ended on State Street, and despite the fact that it was a chilly 30F at race time, the race was an enjoyable event. So many of the participants dressed in Irish garb - there were Leprechauns, kilts, St. Patricks, and dozens of people wearing all kinds of crazy green getups. It was really entertaining.

My time wasn't too great... I could only manage a 53:54 time (8:41 average mile), which was good for 332 out of 795 of the 10K racers. I'm so disappointed by my recent "slowdown" while racing - my legs remain uncooperative, sore, and generally feel heavy and thrashed. I'm fairly certain it's due to over training, but taking a few weeks off isn't an option - I remember taking a single week off last year due to my surgery, and the following weeks were almost back-breaking. So, I have to keep moving.

Once the race was finished, I headed back to the apartment where I hopped on the bike and trainer for an hour or so. Believe it or not, I'm not dreading the trainer as much as I did in years' past, primarily thanks to the Turbo Crank training program that I downloaded a few months ago. It's such a great program - solid workouts, some variety, and I think it's delivering results.

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I then hopped into the shower and made my way back downtown, where I met my cousin Leanne and her husband Jeff. No, we weren't there to protest or march around the square, but rather, to watch the Madison Saint Patrick's Day Parade, which was held on the capitol square. Jeff and Leanne (whom I really, really, really enjoy spending time with) secured a superb location from which to watch the festivities; we were in the sun, which helped keep us warm, and totally blocked from any wind, thanks to the buildings around us.

Here are a bunch of photos from the parade, starting with the beginning of the parade, which featured what appeared to be a 1952 - 1954 Chevrolet police car:

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The UW marching band (well, part of it) wasn't far behind. Although, no green? Someone's getting pinched. :-D

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And speaking of bands and lack of green/Irish spirit, what the heck was this guy doing in the parade?? (Truth be told, he sounded pretty decent)

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Ok, this is a bit more inline toward keeping with the spirit of the day:

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There were a few dogs making their rounds as well, including these two guys - that's an Irish Deerhound in the back, I believe - I love those guys!

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There were plenty of bagpipes and drum bands, all of which sounded great. I'm not sure why, but I really like the sound of bagpipes. Honestly!

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I was surprised by the number of Irish dance schools in the area; this was just one of four or five dance schools that marched (and danced a bit) in the parade - check out the Irish curls:

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And finally, a few odds-n-ends made their way into the parade, including this super cool contraption that looked like a mini-ferris wheel. It was entirely powered, steered, and controlled by the guy's momentum and movements - he'd climb around inside of it, sit on certain rungs, lean a certain direction, and so on, all to make it move or stop. He was really amazing:

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The parade was a bit long - I want to say that it ran nearly two hours - and, it featured more candy and beaded-necklaces than I've ever seen. The parade participants were literally covering the streets in candy. We joked that there should be a dentist's office in the parade to hand-out business cards... and there was!!! Genius!

The parade also had a lot of political overtone to it; I realize there's a lot of change and history taking place in Madison these days, but I wasn't sure if the parade was the best choice of venue for folks to share their positions about the recent legislative actions that have taken place (for the record, I'm 200% against the Walker agenda - it seems as though this is a personal battle for him, and it's been quite underhanded and full of what I would consider to be unfair practices). But, the folks were all very cooperative, friendly, professional, and peaceful, so in the end, it was AG (All Good).

After the parade ended, Leanne, Jeff and I went to the Old Fashioned for a late lunch/early dinner. I had a super excellent grilled chicken salad; Jeff had some incredible baked mac-n-cheese, and Leanne had a scrumptious sandwich. I did indulge in one beverage - a warped speed scotch ale - and it was unreal. Oh so good. But then I stuck with water and Diet Coke, so all was not lost.

We scored an ideal seat, near the front window, and talked for nearly 2-hours. It was really enjoyable, and I was shocked to see that it was nearly 4:45pm when we got up to leave. I was certain I'd have a parking ticket on my car (I plugged the meter in the ramp for 2.5 hours), but the luck of the Irish came through - no ticket to report!

So, there you have it. Not a bad weekend. I just returned from the gym where I lifted some weights and am about to eat a late dinner (the usual: grilled chicken, black beans, tomato, and broccoli).

Ice: 1, Steve: 1 + iPad

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You may recall from an earlier entry that Mother Nature recently dealt me, Wisconsin, and most of the country a weather-defeat by way of the "Storm of the Century." Well, the tables have turned, albeit ever so slightly, as we saw the mercury start to rise and much of the snow melt away. And that should be good, right?

For the most part, yes. But, as science 101 reminds us, water may take three forms: solid, liquid, or gas. And, as snow melts, it converts to liquid form, provided the temperature stays above 32F. So, at night, when the temperatures drop to below 32F, all of that wonderful melting snow quickly turns to ice - much of it "black ice," especially on sidewalks, as I discovered just the other night.

In my never-ending neurotic state of worrying about my weight, I decided to take a late night stroll to help work off a few extra calories that had been consumed earlier in the evening. And while returning back to the apartment I managed to encounter some black ice on the sidewalk, most of which was hiding underneath a shallow puddle of water.

I took a brief step onto the ice and immediately went completely sideways. In less than a second, I was lying on my side - my hip was hurting, my ribs were hurting, I had bitten my tongue rather impressively, and I had managed to knock the wind completely out of me. I stuck-out my tongue and realized I couldn't take a breath in. So, I tried to jump straight-up, but my hip and ribs didn't think that was such a great idea. I rolled out of the puddle and got on all-fours; I eventually caught my breath, spit out some blood (compliments of my now throbbing tongue), and took an inventory of my parts...

I gingerly stood-up and hobbled back to the apartment, where I immediately checked for broken bones. Nothing seemed broken, but boy oh boy, was I sore. I fired-up the internet and looked for information on rib injuries - the suggested course of action: RICE... Rest Ice Compression Elevation + immobilization. On went the compression gear (tights + top), along with an athletic wrap, and two large packs of ice. I managed to sleep on my good side and didn't move much throughout the night. Score another one for Mother Nature...

The next day was awful - I couldn't walk, I couldn't breathe in; my ribs felt like I had a knife in them, and my hip had a bruise the size of a notebook. Nice. I worked from home that morning, but was so uncomfortable while sitting that I decided to hobble into the office as my desk has the capability to raise up so that I can stand and work. Oddly, I felt good when standing; awful when sitting.

When I returned home that night, I did some more research about hip/rib injuries and an old familiar trick surfaced - the ice bath. I drew a nice, cool bath (about 55F) and took a soak. I sat in it for 20 minutes or so; that's all I could handle - and immediately noticed an improvement. I threw on the compression gear again, applied some fresh ice packs, and suffered through a poor night's "sleep."

The next morning, I was as stiff as a 100-year old barn board, so I decided to work from home again. I had several conference calls planned and had to create a boatload of documentation for my projects, so it worked out without much hassle. I took 4 additional ice baths as well - each one seemed to help a little more than the previous. And by the next morning, I felt really good. My hip felt almost normal, and my ribs were greatly improved as well.

By the next morning, I took one last ice bath and went to work, where I was able to maneuver around without much difficulty at all. I popped a few ibuprofen and even managed to go for a light jog, which was promptly followed-up with 2 more ice baths before bed.

I woke-up this morning and felt really good - good enough to ride my bike on the trainer for a few hours and manage a 45-minute jog. My hip feels like it's at 95%; my ribs at about 65-70%, but definitely manageable. I give full credit for the rapid and miraculous recovery to those ice baths. While not enjoyable, they seem to have helped quite a bit! Score 1 for Steve and the ice bath! Take that, Ma' Nature!


All clutziness aside, I broke-down and bought an iPad. I couldn't resist. It's pretty cool, although, I must admit, I think the iPhone is better as a portable information device. The iPad is slightly too big to be truly portable, and slightly too small to be a truly productive device. It's great at certain things - browsing the web is easy, reading an eBook is amazing, and checking e-mail is a breeze. But aside from that, the iPhone does everything the iPad can do, and it does it as well, if not better than the iPad.

Here's a picture of the new iPad; it's next to my Logitech 880 remote for size comparison:

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And here it is, with a Kindle eBook on screen:

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There are also a few cool iPad specific applications out there, and I'm sure that as it matures and iOS continues to advance, the iPad will truly come into its own. But for now, I'm still a bit "on the fence" over it. I want to like it, but it hasn't wowed me as much as I hoped or thought it would. I'll give it some time.

Random things - Cinnamon & Ice Fishing

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A couple of random items for you... I've been super unbelievably busy with work - I've got a major project that's about to launch into production, so things have been crazy. We've had several all-day planning sessions and I've been putting in some extra hours to keep up with other projects that I'm involved in as well.

I mentioned in an earlier nutrition-related post about the benefits of cinnamon - it's been proven to lower people's blood glucose levels, reduce cholesterol (LDL - the bad stuff), and has shown itself to be anti-inflammatory. Sounds like good stuff, eh? Here's the catch - most of the supermarket cinnamon isn't true cinnamon. And most of it is quite old, which is bad because as cinnamon ages, it loses many of its positive effects.

Most cinnamon that folks buy is actually cassia, which is a close-relative of cinnamon, but may not be as effective as ceylon, which is considered true cinnamon. Ceylon is very expensive and is much more difficult to locate - it's grown primarily in Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Brazil, and a few other locations.

I've been using ceylon-based cinnamon in my morning coffee, which is an amazingly sweet, flavorful, and "mild heat" cinnamon. The only downside? It's a bit gritty as ceylon doesn't lend itself to a fine grind, but with enough stirring and swirling of the coffee cup, it's not bad. Only the last drink is a bit "sandy," but I suffer through it. It tastes great, it just doesn't have a nice mouth-feel.

Well, today, I stumbled across an amazing discovery. I had just finished running and riding, and was getting ready or breakfast, when it struck me - why not try adding cinnamon to my cereal? Hmm. Might be good; might be bad...

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I've been following my modified diet fairly well; I binged as planned during the Superbowl, but have otherwise been strict and true. I've really come to enjoy "slow carbs" like black beans, lentils, and select no-sugar whole grains. I've been eating Fiber One for years now, and truly enjoy it, but wow - with the addition of cinnamon it just became INCREDIBLE.

I took .75c of Fiber One (90 calories) and added 3/8th cup of unsweetened vanilla Almond Breeze (15 calories). I sprinkled-on about 1/2-tsp of cinnamon, stirred and took a taste - eureka!!! Just like cinnamon toast crunch, no lie. Wow. It was like candy - so incredibly good. Give it a try!

You may be hesitant to try the Almond Breeze unsweetened vanilla but trust me - it's awesome in cereal. There's no way I cold ever sit down and drink a glass of it by itself, but when added to cereal and/or coffee, it's incredibly delicious. Seriously! And, it's about 1/2 the calories of skim milk, and doesn't contain lactose or sugar. Win.

So, try it - fire-up a bowl of Fiber One, add some Almond Breeze unsweetened vanilla, and sprinkle with true cinnamon. You will be amazed!


In other news, I went ice fishing for the first time ever. Well, I didn't really fish, but I did accompany Dan to his ice shack, and I did watch him fish for a bit. Here we are, making our way to the middle of the lake - he certainly picked a remote location to claim his stake:

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So remote, in fact, that we actually got stuck (in a 4WD Jeep Cherokee, nonetheless!). A quick bit of shoveling and we were back underway. We arrived at the shack in no time; I was shocked to see the snow was completely cleared from the shack. Dan said it's because his shack is black, and the black absorbs heat, which causes the snow to melt as the shack creates a hotspot on the ice. Interesting!

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There's Dan, getting ready to fire-up the heater, which runs on propane and did an excellent job of heating the shack. While it wasn't "hot" inside, it wasn't uncomfortable by any means. After lighting the furnace, Dan went out and drilled a few holes so that he could place "tip-ups," which are essentially unmanned fishing poles. The tip-up has a flag that flips-up if/when a fish bites the bait/hook/line that is suspended from the tip-up. He uses an electric auger to drill holes through the ice (which was about 2-feet thick) - it went through the ice like a hot knife through butter.

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With the tip-ups placed and the furnace lit, there was only one thing left to do - "jig" for some fish from inside of the shack. The shack has a small hole in the floor from which you can fish with a smallish pole. Dan also used a sonar finder to help give him an idea of whether or not there were fish in the area. Here he is setting it up:

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The sonar was super cool - we could see fish swimming in the area, and while no fish were caught, there was one significant bite - Dan said the fish felt "like a tank." It would've been cool to see a monster fish get reeled-in, but alas, it wasn't meant to be. No worries; any time spent with Dan and Tara is good time, so I was happy just to be along for the ride.

And finally, I think I'd really like to get an iPad. I wasn't a fan of them at first, but after spending time with the Kindle application, I can really see the benefit of a nice tablet like the iPad. Unfortunately, the one that I'd like to get costs just under $700... and, there's a new generation of them that is due to hit the market in April... but man, they sure seem cool. I really do just need to win the lottery...

Hitchhiking... Georgia to Minnesota

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I spent my Sunday riding from Madison to Eau Claire with a newfound friend - a "hitchhiker" of sorts, if you will. His name was Bryce and he was the perfect traveling partner; quiet, relaxed, grateful, and really fun. I was lucky to spend 3 hours with him in the 'ole car.

What?! "Steve picked-up a hitchhiker? What next?"

Here's me and Bryce, riding along, somewhere on I-94 north of Tomah:

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Not quite what you may have pictured, eh? Hehe.

I had an opportunity to help a group of rescues transport five (5) dogs and one (1) cat from various locations in the south to a rescue and/or final homes in Minneapolis. It was my first-ever venture with transporting a large group of animals as part of a multi-leg "tour." It was pretty interesting, and the folks who coordinated the trip did an amazing job of lining everything up.

It started with an e-mail from the transport coordinator that was re-posted on a message board at my workplace. The e-mail begged for volunteers to help drive/shuttle these dogs and cat - they really needed drivers to cover the legs from Illinois through Minneapolis. I looked at the available legs and the approximate timeframes and figured, "eh, what the heck? I'll give it a shot."

So, I e-mailed the coordinator and volunteered to drive from Madison to Eau Claire. The only problem was that the Prius can only accommodate one or two dogs at the most, but I had nothing to worry about as the transport had lined-up at least two vehicles per leg to help accommodate the six furry passengers. It also turned out that the Madison legs were covered, but they asked if I could drive from the Wisconsin Dells to Eau Claire. I said, "No problemo," and prepared to meet the other transport drivers in Wisconsin Dells at around 12:15pm on Sunday.

We met at a convenient location near the interstate, figured out who would transport who, swapped leashes, handed-off paperwork, and prepared to hit the road. Here's a few of the other volunteers from the transport - I believe these folks drove from somewhere in central Illinois:

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Bryce, my passenger, was a lab-mix of sorts and appeared to be 2-3 years old. He was surrendered to a shelter in Georgia because he was supposedly "uncontrollable" and "wild." If he was wild, I'll eat my shoes. He may have been one of the sweetest dogs I've ever met - an absolute gentleman in every respect.

He immediately jumped into the car and sat respectfully near the back hatch. I sat down next to him and snapped a quick photo of us together. He's about 45-50lbs - perfect size.

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The weather was awesome, and the traffic was light, so the trip went really quickly. According to the GPS, I drove about 145-miles with Bryce by my side. I had him tethered to the inside of the car with a carabiner and a 4-foot leash, but he really wanted to sit in the passenger seat, so after a few miles I decided to let him ride shotgun with me. He curled-up into a classic "dog ball," rested his head on the armrest, and snoozed away. I'd pet him every so often, talked to him a bit, and enjoyed my time with him - I really do miss Monica, Regis, and Riley... dogs are simply awesome.

Before I knew it, we were in Eau Claire, so I started telling Bryce about what was going to happen next and that I was going to miss him. He sat-up and tried to talk a bit - I think I got him a little excited...

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We met-up with the next shuttle drivers just north of Eau Claire, I bid Bryce farewell (along with the other four dogs that rode in the other vehicle), and headed back to Madison. The trip back went just as quickly - 175.8 miles later and I was back in Madison - total mileage roundtrip? Just over 350. But well worth it. I'll definitely do this again - it was really rewarding and enjoyable.

The only unenjoyable part? Dealing with AT&T's horrible cell coverage. Man, are they awful - AT&T has to be the worst cell provider on the planet; if I didn't love the iPhone so much, I'd drop them in a second (and probably still will when my current contract expires). Here's what I saw for signal strength during 75-80% of my trip along I-94 from Tomah to Eau Claire (look in the upper left corner):

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Only about a year until I can switch to a reputable, reliable cell company like US Cellular.

Cleaning up

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I managed to pick-up a cold earlier this week and I chalked it up to everyone and his brother from my workplace being sick. If I didn't know better, I'd posture that my office is actually an infirmary filled with salaried patients who are carrying and sharing things like walking pneumonia, whooping cough, and countless other infectious diseases - everyone is coughing, hacking, sneezing, wheezing, and looking just miserable. I tried to fight it as best I could - I washed my hands a dozen times a day, wiped down every shared surface with Lysol wipes, used hand sanitizer, doubled-up on the vitamin C, but I still caught something... ugh.

To make matters worse, Mack (one of the cats) also came down with a really nasty cold as well. She'd been sleeping nearly 24/7, coming out only to eat a little, drink a little, and every so often to stare at me with her "I'm so miserable," look. We actually sat staring at each other for a number of minutes - me on the couch, sore throat just scorching; her on the floor, eyes running and green goo coming from her nose.

And then the humidifier kicked-on, and I wondered, "What if the humidifier made us both sick?"

It didn't really dawn on me that the humidifier could've been the culprit until that very moment. I pulled my Lasko humidifier from storage just a few days earlier, filled it with water, and set it to "high." About 2 days later, Mack was sick. About 2 days after that, I was sick.

So, I busted out the internet and did some research. Turns out you're supposed to clean a humidifier pretty regularly - like at least once every 2 weeks. Whoops! I'd never cleaned it (although I got it in January of last year, used it for 2 months, drained it, and then stored it in a box until last week). Hmm.

I learned that you're supposed to use a bleach/water solution to disinfect the tank, the reservoir, and any areas that hold water. A white-vinegar/water solution used after the disinfecting will help break down any scale or crusty mineral build-ups. And, you're not supposed to "run" the humidifier with either solutions in place - you disassemble the humidifier, clean it, rinse it super well, replace any filters, reassemble it, and enjoy the clean humidity.

So, I set about cleaning the dickens out of the humidifier and was shocked to discover how gross the inside of it was. I took time to wash everything with soapy water prior to using the bleach solution, and I used a toothbrush and some srubber pads to make certain I removed any crud from every visible area. I soaked the reservoir and tank in the bleach solution for an hour or so, rinsed everything, and then repeated the process with my vinegar solution.

A quick trip to Menards yielded a new filter (and for just $4.99). I reassembled everything, filled it with fresh cold water, and fired it up. It certainly smelled more clean, and now, 2 days later, both Mack and I appear to be doing much better. You might want to take a moment to clean your own humidifier - it's pretty easy and if it helps keep you healthy, it's worth the effort. Oh - I also learned that a lot of the commercial treatment products/additives may be harmful to your health, so if possible, take the time to use the soap, bleach, vinegar approach.

Here's my nice clean humuggity machine:

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I also cleaned the rest of the apartment from top to bottom - windows, cupboards, floors, light switches, the refrigerator/freezer, the stove/oven, dishwasher, and so on... Everything was moved, vacuumed behind, and thoroughly cleaned. It's so nice to have a clean place!

And finally, speaking of cleaning, you're all aware of my efforts to manage my diet/exercise/performance/composition ratios. I've talked about a bunch of plans and so on, and for the most part things have gone really well. But I'm trying to perfect and extract the last few bits of performance from myself - I know my ideal racing weight, but it's really difficult to maintain it. I usually undereat for a period of time, then overeat for a day or two - rinse/lather/repeat. It's really frustrating.

So, a while back, I bought a book called Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald. I read it, loosely mapped a plan, but never really followed it - I just didn't quite "get it" at that time. Matt is an elite coach and athlete, but I couldn't buy into his theories - I was convinced that eating less calories was the key to maintaining my racing weight (based on his theories, I would've needed to double my calorie intake to maintain my ideal racing weight). His theories seemed counter-intuitive, and my body is pretty calorie adverse - I can perform really well on a small number of calories; adding calories causes my weight to rise and my bodyfat percentage to increase as well.

It's terribly frustrating, because most nutritionists, coaches, etc. all preach that "carbs are king" for endurance athletes, and that endurance athletes of my size would need to eat around 2800 calories per day, just to maintain their current weight. I can all but guarantee that if I ate anywhere near 2800 calories per day, I'd balloon up by 20-30lbs in no time flat. Apparently my metabolism hates me.

Well, he recently came out with a follow-up book called Racing Weight: Quick Start Guide - A 4-week weight loss plan for endurance athletes, and I was intrigued. I read some reviews about it and decided to give it a visit.

While many of the underlying principles are identical to his original book, he has modified the approach, so I decided to give it a go. I sat down a few weeks ago to read the book cover-to-cover and to map out an appropriate plan. Some of the theories are still complex, but this most recent book offers more of a "step-by-step" plan which I found really interesting and (potentially) helpful. Here are some of my calculations in progress:

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I've been following the plan "to-the-T" for just over a week, and so far, so good. I have absolutely no cravings for any of my normal vices (donuts, cookies, cake, popcorn), and my composition figures appear to be starting to head in the right direction. We'll see how it goes as time progresses.

Strap-in folks, this is going to be one heckuva long entry - don't say I didn't warn you.

Story 1: The Bitter Break-up

They say that all good things must come to an end - be it a meal, a vacation, or in some instances, a relationship. And, sadly, I must report the end of what was at one time a very beautiful relationship - my love affair with the Tyranena Brewery.

Yes friends, I've officially "broken-up" with that infamous Lake Mills microbrewery. After the events that unfolded last night, I've vowed to never patronize their location, never purchase any of their beverages (be it from the brewery, a bar, or the grocery store), rid myself of all Tyranena-branded clothing, and never participate in another one of their events.

Why? What happened? I believe that I, along with many other folks, were effectively cheated on by the brewery. Here's how the story goes.

The brewery has what's known as a "mug club" that is a fairly exclusive "club" with some cool benefits. Members of the mug club purchase a limited-edition, hand-made, ceramic mug for $50 from the brewery, and for the period of one year, can enjoy $4 refills from the brewery via their personalized mug. Your mug stays at the brewery, and any time you come in for a beverage, they grab your mug, fill it with your beverage of preference, and you get about 1.5 pints for $4. When you're done, they wash it and return it to storage. At the end of the year, you get to keep your mug, and you're given a 1-day window/opportunity to renew your membership for the next year by purchasing another $50 mug (new design and all of that fun stuff).

It's a pretty exclusive club, as I've mentioned. So much so, in fact, that they hold a lottery drawing for the few available slots that open up each year. To enter the lottery, you must travel to the brewery and officially enter your name into the drawing. This "registration period" opens on Thanksgiving and closes on New Year's Eve. You're allowed to register yourself once per day, and you must do so in person - you can't have someone else register you; can't do it online; etc.

When I learned of this club, I decided to register. So, I made many, many, many special trips to Lake Mills for the sole purpose of registering my name as many times as possible. All told, I believe I registered nearly 20 times between Thanksgiving and New Year's. And, it's not a short trip for me to travel to the brewery - roundtrip, it totals at just under 100 miles. That's nearly 2,000 miles that I put on, all with the hope of having a fair shot at gaining entry into this club.

Complicating matters even more, the brewery holds the club drawing on a Saturday night in January, and you must be present at the moment they call your name, or you lose your opportunity. The drawing was held on January 8, 2011 from 7:00pm to 10:00pm. There were 9 slots available, and they drew the names approximately once per hour, on the hour.

Sounds like a fair system, eh? The more often you go to the brewery, the better your odds. And, since the names were to be drawn "at random," you should have a fair shot at getting in. Ah, but that's where you (and I) are wrong.

As 7:00pm approached, I watched the owner of the brewery get up from his table, navigate through the huge crowd, walk to his office, and return with a large mug that was filled with registration slips. I figured he would take it to the stage (where a band was playing) and begin the drawing.

But he didn't. He returned to his table and started fishing around in the mug, pulling out registration slips, examining them, showing them to his table of pals, and then either leaving them out of the mug, or placing them back into the mug. After fiddling through the slips for about 10 minutes, he carefully walked to the stage where the singer took the first few slips from the mug and "winners" were announced.

I turned to my friends, who were as dumbfounded as I was. We couldn't believe what we had just seen. We tried to justify it by thinking that the owner must have been "filtering" people that he knew weren't there. But, when the second drawing approached, he did the same thing, but this time, he kept digging through the registration slips until he found the slip that appeared to belong to someone sitting at his table... when he spotted it, he showed it to the girl who "owned" the slip, who nodded, and surprise - the slip went back into the "hat."

Wow. So much for a fair shot. We were all so upset by what we had seen that we debated an immediate departure, but decided to tough it out for the final drawing. And surprise, it went exactly like the other two... rifle through the slips, nod/shake your head as he looked at them, and "draw" winners... ugh. I felt as though I had been sucker-punched. It was simply unbelievable.

I can't confirm that he was actually "hand selecting" winners from the hat, but I can't figure out what else could've been happening... like I said, if he was pre-filtering non-attending folks, why? Why wouldn't the singer just reach in, fumble around, call a name, and if the person wasn't present, repeat the process until they found someone who was actually there? It all seemed pretty fishy to me (and my friends)...

We left, and I promised to never support, visit, patronize, or mention the brewery ever again. When I returned home, I rounded-up my brewery apparel and threw it in the trash. Seriously. Call me overly dramatic, or call it sour grapes, but that whole experience left a really bad taste in my mouth.

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Story 2: Taking Temperatures: Is it that difficult?

After last night's fiasco at the brewery, I felt the need to get out this morning and run. Really run - like Forrest Gump run - to get some of that anger out of the 'ole system. So, after feeding the cats, I took a peek at my indoor/outdoor weather station and saw that it showed 15F. A little chilly, but not unbearable.

I then turned-on the television and tuned to the local weather station, which showed the outside temperature was 8F. Hmm - now, that's a variance... Confused, I fired-up the computer, went to weather.com, and saw that they were reporting 12F. Alrighty, then...

I decided to go with the "average" temperature and dressed for what I believed was going to be a run in 12F weather. Yes, it was sunny, and there wasn't any wind, but 12F is still pretty nippy, so I put on a wool t-shirt, a wool baselayer, and my very favorite Sporthill 3SP jacket. I put on cold-gear tights, my baclava, gloves, and then hit the road.

Within the first mile, I was sweating like crazy. Not good. I unzipped the jacket, lifted the baclava, and removed my gloves. That helped a lot, but I was soon too cold, so I put the gloves back on and pulled down the baclava. So that's how it was going to be... oh well. I soldiered through the cycles of being too warm followed by being too cold, but I almost fell over when I ran past one of two banks and saw that their temperature gauge was showing 32F. Really? 32F?

As soon as I returned home (9.7 miles later), I flipped on the television and the computer... here's what they showed (this was at about 11:30am).

My weather station is first - the outdoor sensor is on my deck, in the shade:

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Up next is the televison - here's what NBC Channel 15 was reporting for Madison's current temperature as of 11:34am:

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Here's what Weatherbug was reporting via my phone - this temperature sensor is about 2 blocks from the apartment:

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And, to prove I wasn't making-up the bank's temperature reading, I hopped in the car and took a quick spin to document their temperature reading:

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Followed by the other bank that I run past - look at the "swing" between the two banks:

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And last but not least, here's what my pathological liar of a car was showing:

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Really? With all of the technology that's available to us these days, we can't even take an accurate, consistent temperature reading? It's no wonder the weather-guessers have such a bad rap... I personally believe it was about 20-25F outside, based on how warm I felt on my run, but what do I know?


The Elusive White Whale & The Most Useless Signs in Wisconsin

Speaking of running, every so often, I've spotted an unbelievable vehicle that I've tried to tell people about but always failed to convey how impressively grotesque this vehicle was... words simply couldn't do it justice. It was my elusive white whale - a tale of lore - non-existent or under-appreciated without a photo to document its existence.

So imagine my delight when I spied the white whale while I was running around taking photos of bank temperature signs. :-)

Folks, I present to you what may be the most filthy car in existence. A 1990s Mercury Sable sedan, filled literally to the roof, with garbage - mostly coffee cups and mail.

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As mentioned, I've seen the car several times over the past 1.5 years, but it's always been while I was running and didn't have a camera with me. I've seen it mostly at fast food restaurants, gas stations, and parked alongside the road. And, believe it or not, but I've seen the driver, who appears to be an otherwise "normal" looking person - if I saw him in the office, I'd never dream that he was driving around in what is literally a dumpster.

The last time I saw the white whale (my nickname for it), the garbage was about "headrest high" - there was still a gap between the garbage and the roof. But today, it appeared to be almost completely filled. I wonder what'll happen when it really does run out of available space?


And finally, I present to you the most worthless road signs in all of Wisconsin:

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I swear to you that not a single person in this state believes in following any posted speed limit. Everyone speeds and tailgates like the dickens... there's a school zone near the apartment that has a "your speed is:" radar thing, and I've never once seen it show less than 33 mph (speed limit is 25; 15 when children are present). I see it every day - cars fly through there without regard for the speed limit... and if I'm in front of them, traveling at 25mph, it's guaranteed that I'll be tailgated, flipped off, brighted, and on two occasions, passed.

The kicker? I was running through the school zone area yesterday and I saw the radar thing show a speed of 38mph. I turned to look, and sure enough, here came a minivan, barreling through the school zone. I kept running and saw a cop was sitting in the school parking lot, radar gun in hand. "TAKE THAT!" I thought to myself, certain the cop would bust the speeder.

Wrong again. The cop just sat there. The van slammed on its brakes as soon as it saw the cop, nose dived, and then crept past the cop as if it hadn't been speeding. The cop was sitting literally 10-15 yards "beyond" the speed readout sign, so he HAD to know the van's speed.

As I ran past the cop, I held both hands up in a shrug and said, "REALLY? NOT SPEEDING?" The cop looked at me, then looked back down the road. Nice. I'm going to wager a wild guess that had the speeder been anyone other than a suburban mom in a minivan (like say a kid, or a person of color), that there would've been a citation issued.

Gotta' love it.

Oh, and speaking of love (and irony) - as I was taking the picture of the speed limit sign this morning, I spied this sitting immediately in front of the sign:

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Perfect. Speeding + drinking + a major city street = WIN. You've got to love Wisconsin... or at least the awful drivers.

Is it 2011 already? Seriously?!

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Wow, where did the year go? It seems like only yesterday I was writing a blog entry about the Madison-to-Chicago 200 race... and that was in June or July. I guess time really does fly when you're having fun. Now if only I was having fun... :-)

Actually, I can't complain much (although it doesn't stop me). 2010 was a pretty decent year, all things considered. I'm lucky enough to have a job, a roof over my head, decent health, and a great network of friends - yeah, I guess everything is pretty much A-OK. It doesn't hurt that Sirius hit $1.69 today, either.

It's been a few days since my last entry; not much has happened, but I'll do my best to bore you with the mundane details of my uneventful holiday season. My offices were closed on Friday, December 24, so I had arranged to hang with Dan & Tara and to spend the night with them at their home. Due to some major miscommunication, plans fell through and I found myself stuck in Madison without any food in the apartment (I planned to grocery shop upon my return), and absolutely nothing open.

I understand it was Christmas Eve and all that jazz, but I honestly drove 40+ miles around Madison looking for something that was open and found nothing. Not a single gas station, not the WalMart, not the Woodmans, nor the Cub, nor Copps - nothing. Well, there were some Chinese restaurants that were open, but they were either slammed or completely dead (never a good sign)... and I'm not much of a fan of Chinese food, so I passed on them all.

So, I returned back to the apartment and enjoyed (not exaggerating) my last 1/3 cup of Fiber One cereal with 1/3 cup of water (I didn't have any milk or Almond Breeze) and a small bag of frozen peas for dinner. Making matters worse, I didn't eat much earlier in the day, as I was planning to eat dinner in Lake Mills. And to serve the final dagger - both of my obnoxious and inconsiderate neighbors were having raucous parties, so I got to listen to competing Christmas tunes and drunk people screaming loudly until about 3:30am. Fun. And people wonder why I dislike Christmas... (and my neighbors)

Things were quickly salvaged by Christmas morning, and I found myself over at Dan and Tara's where I enjoyed some of Dan's signature egg nog French toast (it was delicious) along with some good company. Dan's sister (and her husband and son) were in town, so we all hung out at Dan's parent's house and caught-up with each other. It was really enjoyable, and thanks for the gifts - you guys didn't have to get me anything!

I left Lake Mills so that I could catch-up with my Aunt, Uncle, cousin (and her husband), my cousin-in-law (and his son), and Parmilla (and her husband) for a late dinner. Parmilla is a person that I met back in the late 1990s when she was a foreign exchange student/guest of my Aunt and Uncle's. I hadn't spoken with her or heard from her in 12+ years, so it was a shock when I received a voicemail/invitation to meet-up with everyone for dinner.

Truth be told, I was a bit nervous to meet-up with everyone as I've not been getting along with the family for a while now, but it was extremely great to see Warren, Linda, Leanne, Jeff, David, Lee, Parmilla, and Daniel. I really - honestly - enjoyed hanging out with them, and I need to keep in better touch with them. They are all such wonderful people; they "get" me, they "accept" me, and I really appreciate their honesty and "realness." Here we all are at dinner - one of the waitstaff from the restaurant was kind enough to snap our picture (lighting was dim, so photo is blurry):

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We talked non-stop until around midnight and then called it an evening. I really did enjoy seeing everyone and it was great to catch-up with Parmilla (who is now living in the US with her husband, Daniel). Lots of good stories were shared, plenty of beverages were consumed, and I personally believe that I nearly cleaned the kitchen of all available food - a good night, for certain.

I spent the rest of the weekend recovering from eating way too much; did a little snow shoeing, a lot of running, and a lot of riding on the trainer. I had to work during the week between the holidays, but it was OK as nearly everyone else was on vacation so I was able to get a lot of things wrapped-up thanks to the quiet nature of things around the office.

On Tuesday night, I was invited to celebrate Dan and Tara's wedding anniversary, so I joined them and the family at the 1855 Saloon in Cottage Grove. We had a good dinner, great conversation, and a really enjoyable time. Here's Dan's brother-in-law, Mark, sharing a (lengthy) story about having to retrieve a vehicle from a shop in Watertown:

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We called it an evening at around 9:00pm; we all had to work the following day, and I was trying really hard to not overeat... I had an excellent grilled chicken salad - the food from the 1855 appeared to be good; the desserts looked incredible, but alas, I was good and took a raincheck on the sweets.

On Thursday, Amy stopped by to attend a hockey game along with our friends Jed and Jamie. Jamie won some really killer seats to the game (along with a parking pass - score!), so we agreed to meet-up at Jordan's Big 10 Pub for some appetizers before the game. Here we are in our booth, enjoying some cheese curds, some guacamole bites, and some mozzarella sticks:

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Jordan's has some awesome fried goodies, I must admit. I tried to be good and had a soup and salad, although a few curds did manage to fall into my mouth along the way... :-)

We headed over to the Kohl Center for the game, which Wisconsin handily won. They literally trounced Massachusetts in a 5 to 1 romp; there was tons of scoring which kept things really interesting. Here's the view from our seats - thanks again to Jed and Jamie for the tickets!!!!

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And here we are, in our row:

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We called it a night - we actually left the game a few minutes early - but not before heading over to the Come Back In for a beverage and some of that infamous popcorn. The stuff is so good, but oh so evil - it's pure crack, I swear. I could eat their popcorn every single day and be completely happy. It doesn't help that they cook it in oil and load it with butter and salt...

For New Year's Eve, I hung out with Amy at her parent's house and got to play some Scattergories, just like old times. It was really fun, I truly enjoyed it, and I really appreciated hanging out with everyone at the house. Thanks again for the hospitality!

New Year's Day started with a really chilly 8K (5-mile) race called The New Years Day Dash. It was hosted at the local Quaker Steak and Lube (wings/beer/burgers/sports bar) and kicked-off at 11:00am.

Oh - I forgot to mention that the temperature dropped dramatically on New Years Day... it was 48F when I left Amy's parent's house at 11:00pm the night before, and it was a whopping 6F when I left the apartment to start the race... that's 42F lower in just 12 hours' time! And, to make matters worse, there was a super strong wind - averaged 20+ mph, with gusts to 35mph. Nice! Here are the weather conditions as recorded just before the race started:

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I ran to the race, as I live about 2 miles from the Quaker Steak, and by the time I arrived to the race, my face was thoroughly frozen. Everything else was plenty warm, but the portions of my cheeks and nose that weren't covered by my "one piece" hat/face/neck warmer thingy were literally frozen.

I ran the race - started near the back of the pack (to avoid direct windshot) but quickly found myself working my way to the front. The wind was so strong that many people were literally walking, leaned fully forward, and cursing the wind. I was able to chug through, and thanks to my Sporthill 3SP windproof gear (jacket and pants), I never once felt the wind against my torso or legs. That stuff is worth its weight in gold, I swear! One single layer of the Sporthill 3SP gear is rated to 0F, is windproof to 35mph, and waterproof. Yet it breathes. It's amazing - buy some.

Finished the race in 65th place with a time of 39:23, for an average pace of 7:53/mile. Not bad, especially given the conditions. Here's a shot of my number and some of the cold weather gear - the Sporthill jacket is on the far left; my head warmer-thing to the right, and my super toasty gloves to the right as well.

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After the race, I ran back to the apartment, rode the trainer for a few hours, and then took a nice warm shower. I watched the Rose Bowl over at Dan and Tara's house, ate way too much food, and then called it a night.

Well, that's it for now... enjoy your 2011, best wishes to everyone, and I'll be back with another story sometime soon.

...er, or how about, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?" Nope, still not quite right... let's try, "A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water." (quote by Carl Reiner)

So what's with all of the cheesy sayings and quotes? Well, if you haven't yet heard, good 'ole Wisconsin got a semi-decent helping of the white stuff today. While the weather-guessers were calling for 8-12" in our area, I think we'll only end up with around 4-5" when it's all said and done. Areas north of here have reportedly gotten closer to the 10-12" amount.

Rather than fear and dread the snow, I decided to embrace it in a number of ways. I started by running in a 10K race called the Jingle Bell Run/Walk. The race was held this morning at the Vilas Park Zoo, and basically consisted of a lap around the Arboretum. The race went fairly well; I finished it in 49:26, which was good for 60th place out of 318 finishers. I was 11th in my age group (I think there were 57 people in my age group).

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The weather was actually quite nice for the race; if not a bit warm. There wasn't any wind to really speak of, and the temperatures were hovering in the mid-30s. It was so warm, in fact, that I had to partially disrobe at about the 4-mile mark... I took off my "outer" gloves (some wind/waterproof/insulated Pearl Izumis) and my fleece sweatshirt (a super lightweight but ridiculously warm "One More Mile" shirt). I also rolled-up my hat to let some heat escape from the 'ole bean.

After the race was done, I headed back to the apartment and cranked out a few hours on the trainer. I discovered a really cool training program called Turbo Crank, and it's actually helped take away some of the dread that I associate with the trainer. The developer of the program posted a link to it on a triathlon site, along with a discount code that dropped the price to around $10; I figured it was worth a shot. It actually makes the indoor sessions tolerable!

With my running and riding done for the day, I was looking forward (sort of) to helping a rescue group transport a German Shepherd by driving the dog from Madison to Black River Falls this afternoon. But apparently the dog was scared to death of men, so the rescue group called me at the last minute to say they didn't think it would be a good "fit" for me to transport her. Combine the man-fear with the bad weather, and it was unlikely that the transport would've been a fun experience.

So, with nothing on the radar for the rest of the day, I decided to go check out the new Johnny Depp movie, The Tourist. I was partially disappointed with it; it wasn't nearly as action-packed as I thought it would be, and it was incredibly predictable. If you're contemplating it, I'd probably save it for a rental.

The movie ended at around 6:00pm, and when I left the theater, I was greeted with a few inches worth of really dense, wet, and heavy snow covering the car (along with everything else). I had my doubts about how well the Prius would handle the snowy conditions, but it did shockingly well and was very stable; almost "confidence-inspiring."

After leaving the movie, I swung over to Fontana Sports where I scored some snow shoes. A few people from work had been talking quite regularly about snow shoeing and how fun it was, so when I heard we were due for a massive snow storm (earlier in the week), I did a some research about snowshoeing online and decided to give it a shot. Thanks to a very helpful (and patient) employee at Fontana, I wound-up with a set of Atlas 925 snow shoes:

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Pretty cool, eh? So much for the old "tennis-racket-style" snow shoes that I pictured whenever I heard people talk about them. I guess technology reaches even the most primitive of activities. :-)

I also bought a pair of "gaiters" and a pair of trekking poles. The gaiters are guards that go over your shoes/boots and run up to your knee to help prevent snow from filling your shoes/boots as you walk. The trekking poles are basically like ski poles, but not as robust (or lightweight) and aid with stability when you're covering uneven terrain. Here's a shot of the whole enchilada:

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I didn't dare put the actual snowshoes on while indoors because they have these pretty wicked "crampons" to aid with traction. The crampons are basically steel "teeth" that bite into the snow/surface as you walk so that you don't slip and slide. Here's a closer look at the bitey little things:

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With the snow falling at a steady pace, my new gear was just itching to go on a maiden voyage, so I headed out into the "blizzard" (the news stations were referring to the storm as a blizzard), eager to see how the new kicks would perform.

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And the survey says: "Fun. Cool. Interesting. Different. Effective." I walked in them for about an hour and a half and really enjoyed the experience. I can vouch for their effectiveness - they easily got me through some deep snow with minimal "sinking" and they provided an awesome amount of stability and sure-footedness. They're sort of like 4-wheel drive for your feet. They also provided a pretty stellar workout; despite it being just 20F outside and with a super strong wind, I worked-up a bit of a sweat during my hike. It didn't help that I was wearing two layers of wool shirts, an alpaca/fleece 1/4-zip pullover, an Arcteryx jacket, and a Northface shell... (I like to layer, if you didn't yet notice)

I enjoyed being out in the falling snow - it was both peaceful and beautiful, thanks to the extra wet nature of this particular snow fall. Trees were "frosted" with snow, and with a very heavy cloud cover, nearly everything appeared to be glowing. I walked through a neighborhood and saw this neat looking house, along with some holiday decorations:

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After the walk, I returned to the apartment, where I discovered my door lock had frozen solid. I couldn't insert the key more than 1/8-inch before it hit solid ice. UGH!!! So, I took off the snow shoes and walked over to a local bar to see if they had a book of matches. My plan was to heat the key with the matches and hope that it would melt the ice in the lock. I took off the snowshoes and walked the block to the bar; walking in the snow without the snowshoes was definitely a much slower prospect.

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I returned with a book of matches only to discover that my idea was virtually worthless. It was so windy that the matches burned-out instantly; all that resulted was a smokey/charred looking key and 20+ expired matches littering the area in front of my door. UGH #2.

I knew there was a small gas station not too far from the apartment, so I put on the snowshoes once again and trekked my way (another mile) to the PDQ. Thankfully it was open (it was around 12:00am), and just as thankfully they had lock de-icer. I bought a container of it along with a Bic wind-proof lighter (for back-up) and trekked back to the apartment.

I'm happy to report the de-icer worked perfectly, and after 3-shots of the stuff, I was able to get into the apartment. Win!

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Unfortunately, I'm wide awake, and it's about 1:45am... so, I decided to fire-up this blog entry. I'm also enjoying a glass of hot tea (decaf) and a water. I can hear the snow plows tearing around outside - my guess is those folks will be up all night and well into the morning... At least I've got company, eh?

Went on a "beer run" and a "tunnel ride"

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Howdy, folks! Sorry for the delay in providing an update on the weekend's events - the daylight savings change appears to have wrecked havoc with my internal clock; I found myself falling asleep on Sunday night at around 8:00pm, and I was extremely busy with work yesterday, so I'm just getting a chance to update the 'ole blog now (during my lunch hour).

Not much to report other than I ran another half-marathon on Saturday and then went on an awesome bike ride with a co-worker on Sunday. No fish fry updates - I've been working with a nutritionist to help level-out my diet a bit, and as such am on a rather strict and structured plan through Thanksgiving. So far, so good - not many cravings, added a few calories, and am seeing some subtle improvements with recovery and body composition.

So, about that half-marathon. I was really nervous heading into it because my legs have been so sore, especially for the last five-to-six weeks. I had cut-down on my long runs in an effort to help recover, and while it probably helped my legs, it made me a little uneasy about the race... I'd normally like to be averaging 45-50 miles per week going into a half-marathon; I think I was closer to around 35 miles per week. But, they say it's better to be slightly "undertrained" than "overtrained," so I took my chances.

The half-marathon was held in Lake Mills, and was managed by the Tyranena Brewery. For those who are paying attention to my online diary, you'll no doubt recognize that name - they hosted an awesome bike ride a few weeks ago and have also become one of my favorite local breweries.

Truth be told, I wasn't much of a fan of Tyranena's beverages until just a few years ago. And quite honestly, I never really enjoyed beer at all until around 2007 - for some reason I hated the taste, the smell, and everything else about it. I'm not sure what changed, but I slowly grew to "tolerate" a lite beer every so often... and then I got into appreciating the more complex beers: bocks, dopplebocks, cask-conditioned ales, Scottish ales, and eventually (gasp!) imperial pale ales. Somewhere along the line, I rediscovered Tyranena's offerings and really took a shine to their Rocky's Revenge and some of their speciality/seasonal offerings (Oktoberfest, Shaggin' in the Woods, and "Spank Me Baby" (odd name, fantastic beverage)).

So it turns out that Tyranena not only crafts some fine beverages, they also know a thing or two about sponsoring and hosting athletic events. The bike race, as mentioned earlier, was absolutely stellar, and this weekend's foot race was no different - it was superbly managed in every respect. Rob, Stacey, and the rest of the Tyranena crew definitely deserve a massive round of applause for their hard work on these events!

I loaded-up the car on Saturday morning and made my way to Lake Mills, where I was shocked to find cars lined-up on the Interstate's exit ramp - all of them were waiting to exit the Interstate and make their way to the brewery. Apparently the 1700 participants (900 in the half-marathon, 800 in the one-sixth-marathon) all planned on arriving to the race about an hour early, just like me. :-)

Rather than take the prescribed route to the brewery, I snuck my way down some side streets and scored a good parking spot while dodging most of that long line of cars. I grabbed my registration packet, adorned my race bib and timing chip, and did some light stretching. The weather was cool - about 40F, but sunny, and there was just a slight breeze.

The brewery had an excellent DJ on-site; he was playing great pre-race music, and folks really seemed to be enjoying themselves. The pre-race atmosphere was calm and relaxed - there wasn't any confusion or uncertainty; another testament to Tyranena's organizational skills.

The starting horn sounded at 11:30am and I, along with about 900 other half-marathoners, took off for our 13.1-mile trek around Lake Mills. We headed down Mulberry street to the town square, then headed west toward the north side of Rock Lake. I started about mid-pack and chuckled to myself for the first 4 miles or so... I was getting passed by a bunch of folks, whom I could only assume had no idea about the hills that awaited them...

We exited North Shore park and made our way into Shorewood Hills, which is an upscale neighborhood on the northwest side of Rock Lake and features some respectable hills - 4 large rollers, to be exact. I passed about 150 people in those hills - the very same folks who raced past me just a few miles earlier. :-)

I was averaging about an 8:30 mile and was feeling good. My legs were doing well, which was a pleasant surprise.

We left Shorewood Hills by way of Korth park, then made our way to the Glacial Drumlin trail. The trail took us past the south end of Rock Lake and dumped us out on the southeast side of town, near the industrial park. We weaved around the industrial park for a bit before heading east on Highway B. From Highway B, we turned onto Tyranena Road (Highway V) for about 1.5 miles, which brought us back to the brewery.

I finished in 1 hours and 54 minutes - good for #309 out of 859 finishers. I averaged 8:43 per mile - not great, but not awful. I had really hoped to stick closer to my 8:30 target, but considering how I had been feeling for the previous few weeks, I was content with the result.

Post-race conditions are usually what define the success or failure of an event for me, and here's where Tyranena excels - they know how to take care of the participants after an event. As we crossed the finish line we were guided into a "recovery tent," which featured tons of post-race-friendly food options, mylar heat blankets, Gatorade, water, and our finisher medals. It was such a smooth operation!

Here's the inside of the tent, just as I entered it:

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Here's one of the food/snack tables:

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And the ever popular peanut butter sandwich and cookies table (of which I didn't partake!):

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I regret to report that I didn't induldge in any of the post-race offerings, other than a bottle of water and the finisher's medal. I had planned to consume a recovery drink following the race (Hammer Nutrition's Recoverite), and then I was going to meet-up with the Topels for some dinner, so I passed on the goodies. Here I am with my medal and my Recoverite:

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As I made my way out of the tent, I was tempted by the thought of walking over to the general public tent, which featured a lasagna dinner and complimentary Tyranena beers, but alas, I was determined to stick with my nutrition plan. It was especially difficult to pass up the post-race meal because the DJ was playing tunes and people were obviously having a good time. Here's a quick shot of the crowd as I made my way to the exit:

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When I got to my car, I snapped a quick customary "post race" photo of my race bib and gear. You'll note the bags of pet food beneath my stuff - the Tyranena race also served to benefit both the Jefferson County Humane Society and the Lake Mills Food Pantry. The brewery requested that in addition to paying the entry fee that participants donate a few food items for the Food Pantry - which I did - but I also decided to donate a few bags of pet food to the Humane Society, too. You've got to take care of the homeless dogs and cats!

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After leaving the brewery, I went to Dan's shop where I worked on my car (oil change, transmission fluid flush, tire rotation, and so on), and then joined Dan for dinner at the local Mexican restaurant. Dan was on wrecker duty that evening, so we called it an early night and I headed back to Madison.


For Sunday, I had vowed to follow a "proper" recovery plan after the half-marathon and do nothing but rest and maybe "enjoy" an ice bath, but with the weather being as nice as it was (65F, sunny, mild breeze), I couldn't pass up the opportunity to sneak-in a final bike ride with my co-worker Dan (not the same Dan from Lake Mills). We had planned to do a ride the previous weekend, but things didn't work out... thankfully we were able to get together this weekend!

Dan had heard about a bike trail that ran from Madison to Monroe and included a journey through a train tunnel. It sounded odd but intriguing, so we met-up at Dan's house at around 1pm and hit the trail, headed south.

After riding about 18 miles south of Madison, we arrived at the tunnel's entrance:

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It was pretty interesting - the temperature outside of the tunnel was a solid 10-degrees lower than it had been on the previous portion of the trail. Granted, it was shady in the area, but it was odd that the temperature was so drastically different.

We turned on our lights (and phones for extra light) and proceeded through the 1200-foot long tunnel, which was absolutely pitch black inside. It was cool and a little eery.

Here we are making our way to the other side of the tunnel:

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I have to admit that I wasn't sure what to expect on the ride - I wasn't sure why Dan was so excited to go see the tunnel, but after visiting it I'll be the first to admit that the tunnel was extremely neat. Dan read that the tunnel was built in the mid-1800s, which made things even more cool. I'd love to go back through there with better lighting so that we could see what the inside looked like. With our minimalist lighting, we didn't get to see much other than a small patch of gravel directly in front of our tires. The sound of pigeons cooing around us was a bit unnerving because we didn't realize they were pigeons until after the fact. They sounded a bit like ghosts... :-)

Here we are on the other side of the tunnel - you may recognize Dan from previous photos/entries - he also did the Tyranena Bike Ride with us (back in October):

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With daylight fading quickly, we decided to turn around and head back to Madison; when all was said and done, we had covered just over 35 miles - not bad for a final ride of the season, and definitely not bad for an early November! Not what I had planned for a "restful kickoff to recovery," but it was definitely worth it.

When I got home, I donned my compression recovery gear, had dinner, and went to bed extremely early. Not a bad weekend, and even though I didn't do a fish fry, I didn't really miss it too much (nor did I crave it). ;-) I'll do my best to catch-up on some fish frys over the winter, but I really want to focus on good nutrition during the off season, so the reviews might not be as frequent as they were last year.

Enjoy your week - I'll check-in again soon. I'm looking forward to a quiet week (light exercise only (swimming, lifting) - no running until Friday).

Weekend update

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Greetings, folks. Hope everyone had a good weekend. I had a rather busy weekend; it started on Friday evening with swimming sinking for 45 minutes at the gym, followed by a trip to the grocery store to stock-up for the weekend/week. I've discovered that my favorite time to go grocery shopping is at around 9:00pm on Friday nights because there's no one in the store, and the stores are fully-stocked in preparation for the weekend rush. I can get in and out of the stores pretty quickly, and parking is plentiful, so it's a win-win.

I woke-up early on Saturday with the intention of going for a bike ride and a run, but the weather didn't seem to get my memo... it was cool with a moderate wind and a light rain, so that meant no riding outdoors. The alternative was the trainer, which I absolutely dread using, so I sat and stared at it for a solid hour before forcing myself to crank out a boring 1.5 hours on the thing. I'm not looking forward to winter...

After the ride, I hit the road for a run - I've been running shorter distances for the past week in an effort to rest my legs a bit, so yesterday I decided to resume some normal mileage - managed to get just over 10 miles in, and I missed most of the rain.

Made an awesome egg sandwich (english muffin, 4 egg whites, 1 slice apple smoked turkey bacon, 1 slice of 1% sharp cheddar, 1 Tbsp garlic roasted salsa) and then headed to the library for a few hours. I returned home only to find my neighbors in the midst of UW badger game parties, which meant my apartment was incredibly "noisy" - I could hear both neighbors hootin' and hollerin' clear as day. Joy.

So, I decided to go to the movies, where I saw The Social Network - a movie about Facebook. I'm not a fan of Facebook, but I really enjoyed the movie - it was well made, interesting, and it kept my attention for the full 2 hours. Win.

Today, I woke-up early and once again cursed the weather. It was raining pretty steadily and I had a race planned for this morning - a 15K run that's put on by the UW Running Club. I don't really mind running in the rain too much, and upon quick glance of the thermometer, I saw it was 55F, so I figured all would be ok.

I loaded-up the rain gear, filled a water bottle with my pre-race fuel (EFS with .25 scoops of whey protein), and hopped in the car for the short drive over to Werner Park, where the race was being hosted. I grabbed my registration packet and then went back to my car, where I waited for the race to start.

And that's when the light sprinkle turned into a downpour. Buckets of water seemingly fell from the skies. And it wasn't a comfy summer rain - no sir, this was your typical "bone chilling fall rain," and to make matters even better, a 15mph wind kicked in. This was looking a lot like my triathlon conditions from a few weeks ago... joy again.

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I waited until the last possible moment before getting out of the car and making my way to the starting line, where I was greeted with a 10-minute wait for the start of the race. The race was a bit disorganized to say the least... which was a shock because I figured the UW would know how to run an event.

The whole experience was weird - picking up my packet was complicated and time consuming, complete with a super long line (for no apparent reason). The race started late for reasons unknown. The actual start was unusual - some random guy walked up to where everyone was milling around, and without a bullhorn or anything like that simply yelled "GO." I think everyone was surprised to see the first few runners taking off, because there was quite a "hiccup" to the start - people were turned the wrong way and didn't see other runners leaving, so they got bumped into/run over a bit.

And so I ran 15K (9.6 miles) around the Werner Park/Mendota Hills area, and I must say that whomever designed the course was both unimaginative and sadistic. Hills galore - and not just small/medium hills, mixed with a lot of "repeating loops" - we ran many of the same roads several times, which is super annoying to me. I hate running "laps" in a race - I'd rather see as much new scenery as possible while out and about.

The race ended - my time was 1:16 (oh, they also didn't have any timing system, so my watch kept my "official" time). Not great, but not bad. Here I am in the car, soaked to the bone and feeling rather chilly:

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After the race, I drove over to the local farmers market to buy some bison, then headed back to the apartment. I debated between taking a shower or loading-up the bike and joining my favorite local bike shop for their final group ride of the year. The skies were clearing, so I opted to go for the bike ride, which was supposed to be an "easy 30-mile route at a comfortable pace."

Turns out it was slightly longer and slightly faster than I initiall thought it would be. Our small group did a 45-mile route that we rode at an average pace of 20.7 mph. And, to make my legs feel even better, there were plenty of hills. :-)

And, despite the mercury showing 62F, it felt like about 45F for some reason (probably the damp air + wind). We finished the ride with a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop, and then I headed back to the apartment. I was starving - all I'd eaten so far was my pre-race drink, a post-race recovery drink, and a Hammer Gel (compliments of Collin, the owner of Cronometro - thanks, Collin, I owe you one!!) while on the ride... total calories: about 375.

I can't say enough great things about the Cronometro guys - Collin, Scott, Andrew and the rest of the crew are just fantastic folks to deal with. They've done a great job of helping me out with warranty items as well as with general maintenance and purchases. If you're ever in need of some bicycling equipment or some excellent service work, go see Collin and the guys. I'm definitely going to do some more of their group rides next year as well.

Once at the apartment, I fired-up the shower and soaked myself in the warmest water that I could stand. I made some dinner (bison steak, roasted broccoli, black beans, and a scoop of corn) and am now sitting on the couch trying to warm up. I'm still freezing!

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The blaze orange hat was in my race goodie bag - it says "UW Running Club Fall 15K." It may be the best thing I've ever received in a goodie bag! And last but not least, I'm also watching the shoot-out between the Packers and Vikings - holy cats have there been some big throws so far!

Enjoy your week - I'll check-in with you later on.

Oh - I almost forgot to ask about this... while in the Dells last weekend, I spied a totally awesome motorcycle, but I have no idea what model or year it is. It's obviously a Harley, but I cannot determine the model or model year. If anyone has any ideas or info, please let me know!

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A hauntingly timely rant...

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Ok, so I don't know if this rant will be hauntingly good, but as it's been a while since I've done any public complaining about something that is (in all likelihood) very insignificant, I felt it was time. And, truth be told, this is actually two rants in one, joined by a common topic: pumpkins. Here we go.

There's a semi-upscale mall located near my workplace. It's a "promenade" type mall that, upon first blush, appears to cater primarily to upper-class, middle-aged women, as evidenced by the roster of stores: Ann Taylor, Bath & Bodyworks, Chicos, J. Jill, and so on. I can't imagine the mall is doing terribly well; every time I drive through the area, I'm hard pressed to see more than a handful of cars, and foot traffic appears to be light at best.

So, imagine my bewilderment when The Bruce Company (perhaps the most expensive nursery/landscape/outdoor equipment dealer in the area) started to fabricate and build what appears to be a "halloween tree" complete with hundreds of carefully placed pumpkins, in the center of the mall's "roundabout."

I can't begin to imagine what it had to cost the mall management company to have the thing fabricated and built, let alone what they're spending on security for the thing. Oh, that's right - you heard correctly: security. They post a guard at the pumpkin tree every single evening, and the guard stays there all night to ensure that vandals don't smash every single last pumpkin in the tree.

Perhaps my assumption that the mall isn't doing well is unfounded and inaccurate? I mean, the tree had to cost several thousand dollars (maybe as much as $10k, as it took a full week for them to build it), and they must be spending thousands of dollars on security... I'd love to know if there's any measurable return on that investment.

And, speaking of pumpkins, I was listening to the radio yesterday when one of the newscaster folks shared a story about a shortage of pumpkin pie filling. Apparently, there's one farmer who is located just outside of Peoria, Illinois that is responsible for supplying more than 90% of the pumpkins that are used to make pumpkin pie filling - for the entire United States.

There's a shortage because he had a bad pumpkin crop last year, and as such, the processors were in short supply of pumpkin and had to scramble to find additional suppliers.

The maddening part of this story isn't that there's a pumpkin shortage. It's that the professional newscaster mispronounced the word pumpkin throughout the entire 3-minute story. Instead of saying puMPkin, she said, "pun-kin." And she didn't just say it once, she said it at least 31 times.

31 times? Yep - I started counting every single use of the word "pun-kin" in her story; it was like nails on a chalkboard. "Punkin shortage," "punkin supplier," "punkin processor," "punkin pie filling," "punkin patch," and so on. And, like Cool Whip on the proverbial punkin pie, she also mispronounced "Illinois" - yep, added the dreaded "noise" to the end of it.

So... if you can't find any punkin pie filling this year, blame it on the farmer from Ill-in-noise. And, if you absolutely must have some punkin pie filling, maybe we could get the local mall to donate a few of the punkins from their punkin tree.

Over and out.

As mentioned in the fish fry review (below), my friend Nat from Arkansas came to visit this weekend. It was super awesome that he was able to make the trek from Arkansas to Wisconsin - he's started a new business venture, so his time is incredibly scarce right now. The fact that he was able to make it up to Wisconsin was excellent, so I made sure to plan a "best of the best" weekend.

Nat flew in to Milwaukee late on Thursday afternoon, so I took off from work at about 2:00pm to go pick him up. First things first: some quality Wisconsin pizza, along with cheese curds and of course, a Wisconsin micro brew. After escaping the airport (and Milwaukee traffic), we set our sights on Jefferson's legendary Ken's Town Inn Pizza. I gave Dan and Tara a call to see if they could join us, and as luck would have it, they were available, so we agreed to meet at Ken's for some grub and good conversation.

We arrived to Ken's at around 6:30pm and were pleased to find the place just moderately busy. We easily scored a great table in the bar area, ordered a few $1 Supper Clubs, and caught-up on things.

Nat knows of my blogging penchant, so I suggested that we take a photo of us holding a beverage at every single event/place we visited over the weekend. It all starts here, at Ken's:

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Dan, Tara, and their kids arrived shortly after that photo, and we promptly ordered some food. Dan, Tara and I were starving; Nat had grabbed a light bite at the Chicago airport, and the kids were more interested in finishing their homework, so we decided to order three pizzas (two small, one medium) and some curds. Ken's has some excellent curds - they're surprisingly good, so when they arrived, I snapped a quick picture and then we destroyed them:

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The pizzas arrived shortly thereafter and while they were good, they weren't as great as they've been in the past. The sauce was a little heavy, and the bottoms were a little burned. Oh well - even bad pizza beats most other good things, so we didn't complain too much. Here's our pizza feast:

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After devouring the pizza, we decided to head to Lake Mills so that Nat could take in his first "brewery tour" of the trip. So, we hit the Tyranena Brewery for a beverage in their tasting room - not quite a tour, but the spirit was in the right place.

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Not the greatest photo (it's always quite dark in there), but you get the idea. We chatted with Dan about the Aztalan indians and their role in the Rock Lake pyramids, survival in this climate, and the carnivorous nature of fish (Dan's really knowledgeable about local history, hunting, fishing, and general survivalist-type subjects). It's always great to visit with Dan; it was even better to have Nat along to participate and share in the conversation. After a few hours, we bid farewell to Dan and hit the highway.

While driving back to Madison, I asked Nat if he had ever sampled a "boot," to which he responded, "I don't believe I have - rugby players used to drink from their shoes, but I can't say that I've ever tried a boot."

With that, our next destination was determined: The Come Back In for a boot of microbrew. We were fortunate to find a good parking space and even luckier to find a place at the bar. We grabbed a few bowls of the complimentary popcorn, ordered a boot of New Glarus Naked, and snapped the obligatory photo (backlight = bad photo, sorry):

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We spent a lot of time catching-up on things at the CBI, and we also had a chance to chat with some of the staff, all of whom are super friendly and fun to be around. I think I ate about 39 bowls of popcorn while there... not real good for me, but the CBI pops a mean corn. With the clock pointing far into the evening hours, and my belly overly full with popcorn, we decided to head back to the apartment. We had a busy day ahead of us, so rest was definitely the best order of business.

Friday morning came and I hit the road for a run. I pointed Nat toward a local bike/walking trail, and was happy to hear that he managed a 5-mile journey - not bad! With the miles under our belts we hopped into the car and headed toward New Glarus for a "hard hat" tour of the New Glarus Brewery.

It's become a tradition that we tour a brewery whenever Nat's in Wisconsin, so I scored us some reservations for the limited-availability hard hat tour at New Glarus. The tour is held once a week, on Friday afternoons, and is limited to 15 people. It's sold out for months in advance because you get to tour the brewery with one of the technical staff, look "behind the scenes," meet the owners, and sample some of their "R&D" beers along with a bunch of high quality local cheeses.

We met the tour group at the 'old' New Glarus facility:

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That's where it all started, back in 1993, when Dan & Deb Carey decided to start mass production and sale of their beloved home-crafted brews. Dan is a master brewer, of which there are just a handful in existence. Our tour guide gave us the details as to how it all started, and as to why the brewery has insisted that its beer never be sold outside of Wisconsin (quality control - they can carefully monitor how far it travels and under what conditions).

It's called a "hard hat tour" because you're required to wear a hard hat. The tour literally takes you into the production areas, so the hats help protect your gourd from any falling items and also serves to identify you as a member of the tour. Here's Nat and I, complete with our New Glarus hard hats:

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After some background information, we headed into the first brew room, which houses two copper vats that came from a small family-owned brewery in Germany. These are a rare find, as they're 100% hand-hammered copper; such devices are no longer manufactured because it's so time consuming (approximately 30,000 hours per vat) and expensive. Dan was able to score these from the failed German brewery and bought them for scrap value because the German brewmaster that was selling them was pleased that Dan would actually use them in production. They were disassembled, crated, loaded into a ship, and sent to the United States, where Dan and his crew reassembled them here in New Glarus:

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These two vats produced 100% of the New Glarus brewery product from the 90s through 2007. They're still used today, but primarily as R&D vats and limited edition production vats. The majority of the standard New Glarus brew is produced at the new facility in one of the four copper-clad (but stainless steel) vats.

We were shocked to find someone inside of the vats - Dave was inside of this vat, cleaning it, as it had just completed a batch of an "unplugged" limited edition beer earlier in the morning.

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From the "kitchen," we made our way through the rest of the old facility, where we saw their pre-world war II era grain mill (it still grinds all of the grain they use today), their old bottling line (it processes 16-bottles per minute), and their old quality control lab. We got to see the old cold storage tanks as well, which were impressive nonetheless:

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While we were there, the crew was bottling and packaging Raspberry Tart, which is a sparkling ale. It was pretty neat to see the bottling process; after spending an hour or so at this facility, we headed to the "Hilltop" facility, which is their brand new $20-million brewery.

We made the short drive through New Glarus and reconvened at the brewery's main entrance. Here's what the new place looks like:

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Before resuming our tour, Deb Carey came out to introduce herself and to share some information about the brewery with our group. It turns out that she created all of the design and architectural elements of the new facility, and she's also the person responsible for the artwork that you'll find on their bottles. She talked with us for about 10 minutes before resuming her normal duties as a co-owner/manager. Here she is talking with our group:

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After bidding farewell to Deb, we made our way into the new facility, where we saw their four new vats. As mentioned earlier, these aren't solid copper like the old ones; they're copper clad, with stainless internals. The stainless internals are easier to clean, and hold-up better to constant use. Look at these monsters:

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What struck me as so interesting about the New Glarus Brewery was that the place is spotless. Not just "clean," but surgical sterile clean. You'd be hard-pressed to find a speck of dust or dirt anywhere. I guess it goes without saying... "cleanliness is next to godliness."

From the cooking area, we headed through the rest of the facility, where we saw their yeasting machinery, new cooling tanks, new bottling line (the new one can process 100+ bottles per minute), and their "small sample batch" areas. Here are photos from each of those areas:

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After seeing all of the production facilities, we headed into the Quality Control center, where we learned that New Glarus employs more QC-related people than production employees. Dan & Deb are obsessed with quality and consistency - they triple check every single detail and personally oversee most (if not all) of the production aspects. It's probably one of the reasons their product is so fantastic.

Our guide, Dan (not Dan Carey) is one of the QC folks and we were impressed with is knowledge of not only beer but science and chemistry. He was rattling off tons of information about metabolic rates of various yeast strains, chemical reactions as related to yeasts and hops, cryogenics and so on. Here he is showing us one of the tests they perform as it relates to yeast content:

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I took about 20 additional photos while on the tour, but I don't want to bore you with every single detail, so I'll stop here. Suffice it to say that this tour was by far the best tour we've ever seen - the level of detail and the amount of information was staggering. If you'd like to take an in-depth tour of a brewery, look no further than the New Glarus hard hat tour. It's well worth the $20, just be sure to sign-up well in advance!

The tour concluded with a beer and cheese tasting - here's the cheese table, which featured six local cheeses, each of which was designed to be paired with one of six New Glarus beers:

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And here's our tasting table:

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The tasting flight included everything from Cherry Tart to two of the R&D beers, one of which was described as having notes similar to those of a "wet horse's saddle blanket." Despite that less than appealing description, we braved a taste - here's Nat pouring a small sample:

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And it was pretty good! The odor was a bit "unusual," but it didn't have a bad flavor by any means. And, it went really well with this ultra-exclusive cheese:

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I think I was more excited to have the opportunity to sample that Dunbarton Blue cheese; I'd read about it in several magazines, all of which raved about its earthy flavor and ultra-exclusivity. The folks who make it are extremely picky about where and how it's sold, so finding it is quite tricky. Nat agreed that the cheese was stellar - we both loaded-up on it before heading back to Madison.

On the way out of town, we stopped that the Glarner Stube in New Glarus so that we could see the midwest's largest urinal. Apparently it's quite a site, and I figured it would make for a good story, so we stopped in, ordered a quick drink, snapped the obligatory photo:

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...and then checked out the restroom (at separate times, of course). I'm not sure that it was all that impressive - to me, it seemed like a standard urinal with really huge sides. I had pictured something taller/wider - this was a bit of a disappointment. But, oh well - it was just a urinal, after all. It was a popular site, however. While we were there, several groups came in just to check out the urinal. Go figure.

We headed back to Madison, where we made a quick stop at Brennan's market so that Nat could pick-up some cheese to take back to Arkansas. I also grabbed some "zip dip" to snack on, along with some fresh blueberries for my breakfast cereal. If you've never been to Brennan's, it's quite the place - they have an incredible selection of farm-fresh produce, cheese, and meat, and they allow you to sample nearly everything prior to buying it. Here's one of their many cheese coolers:

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With pockets full of cheese, we decided to head down to the UW Wisconsin's Memorial Student Union to enjoy the wonderful weather while getting in a dose of people-watching. The weather was fantastic - the temps were in the low 60s, with just a slight breeze. Unfortunately the sun was setting, so we enjoyed a quick beverage and snapped the obligatory photo before the light ran out:

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With respect to the rest of the evening, as you saw in the entry below, we hit Cahoots for some mediocre fish, and then called it an early night. Saturday would prove to be a monster day.

I woke up at around 7:00am, went for a run, and then we ventured in to Middleton to visit the National Mustard Museum:

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The National Mustard Museum recently moved to Middleton; it had previously called Mount Horeb "home." I'd visited the store portion of it once before, but had never toured the museum, so I figured it might be fun for Nat and I to give it a quick "once over." Besides, when else would Nat be able to boast that he had toured the National Mustard Museum?

The place features a ton of mustards from around the world, most of which are available for sample and/or purchase:

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They even have a mustard vending machine:

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We ventured down into the basement, which is where the museum is located. It's primarily a collection of mustards from around the world, organized by region/location, along with a small movie theater that plays mustard-related movies/commercials/information. One of the best parts of the museum, though, were the old mustard advertisements. Most of them were from the 20s and 40s, and one of our favorites was this one:

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Some of those ads were absolutely hilarious - they used language like "beguiled" and "epicore" and phrases like, "men deserve a hearty meal and will appreciate your thrifty nature." It was an absolute hoot to browse through them all.

With the museum thoroughly explored, we headed west, toward Black Earth, where we had a date with a wiffle ball field. Along the way, we spotted something "unusual" along the highway, and it almost caused us to have an accident. Not from traffic, but from laughing so hard.

We spotted these halloween toilets at a local farm:

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We saw them, kept talking "as normal," paused and simultaneously started laughing. We both said at exactly the same time, "We have to turn around and see those again." So, we pulled a safe (and legal) u-turn to go back and inspect the hallowed stools. What a genius yet quirky idea. I loved them:

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After seeing those, we decided the rest of the day would be a "bonus" - things couldn't get any better. But, little did we know...

We continued on along Highway 14 and within a few minutes arrived at Rookie's Pub in Black Earth, which is home to a regulation wiffle ball field. What is a regulation wiffle ball field? Well, it's basically a scaled down version of a baseball field... the outfield fence sits at 81 - 105 feet; the bases are closer together, and pitchers "mound" is 42-feet from home plate. Seems like it would be a great place for a bachelor party or something like that. The field had been rented out to a group for the day, so we snapped a quick photo and hit the road:

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Where were we headed? Well, if you hadn't already guessed, the theme for this visit was "Oktoberfest," so we were headed to Wisconsin Dells, where their Autumn Festival was in full swing. And part of that festival included a brewery festival, wherein thirty Wisconsin microbreweries would be in attendance to handout samples of their wares.

We made our way through the downtown area, found the park where the festival was located, stood in line with a few thousand people, ponied-up $35 for a ticket, and scored a tasting glass:

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And with that, we were thrown "into the mix" - the place was insanely busy with beer enthusiasts from around the United States:

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To say it was absolutely crazy in the place would be an understatement. We had no idea where or how to begin, so we started with some cheese - Carr Valley Cheese was there with a bunch of cheese samples - all of which were available for purchase. We sampled the various types and selected a bag of curds before moving along:

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With curds in hand we decided to just "dig in" and sample a few brews. I really like these types of events because it gives you an opportunity to try things you might never otherwise be willing to order. For example, I'd never dream of ordering a pint of "pumpkin spice ale," but thanks to this festival, I tried a 2oz sample of it and discovered that it was incredibly delicious - in fact, it may have been the "best in show" beverage for me.

All of the breweries in attendance had one thing in common: they were from Wisconsin. That's right - 30+ local breweries, all gathered under a single tent. One of the breweries that attended is a favorite of mine: Lake Louie. They're located in Arena, and crank out some seriously delicious and crafty offerings. They also have a sense of humor, as evidenced by their slogan:

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In addition to the creative slogans, there are some equally creative "costumes" and "accessories." If you'll recall from my report from the 2009 Quivey's Beerfest, there's an invention known as the "pretzel necklace" that consists of a large string fitted with dozens and dozens of pretzel twists. Well, the folks at this festival stepped things up a notch (or two) by including cheese dip on their necklaces (a pint-sized cup of dipping cheese), string cheese, gummy pretzels (for the sweet tooth), and summer sausage links. Talk about serious.

They also crafted some unique accessories, including this cowboy hat as fashioned from a Miller Lite box. How in the world they accomplished this is beyond me:

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We wandered around the festival, sampled a few New Glarus offerings, tried some true microbrews (Rush River?), and then took a stroll around the craft fair, where I spied this cute little guy taking a breather:

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We thought the crowd would eventually thin out, but it never really seemed to slow down. It was hard to navigate our way around the fest and we were growing tired of fighting the crowds (plus we were getting hungry for some "real" food), so we snapped the obligatory picture and headed out in search of some grub:

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As we made our way down main street in the Dells, we stumbled across a bar/restaurant with a rather unique name... Now, before you get upset by the name, it's not what you may think. The story goes that the owner's name really is what it is. I'm not going to post a picture of the place on the blog - you can click here to see the sign; the place has been a Dells institution since 1947 and draws tens of thousands of people every year. Despite the "backstory" it was a bit odd being in that place, so we took one quick photo and continued on our search for some food:

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Our search eventually landed us at Moose Jaw Pizza Company, which is a Canadian-themed "up north" type of place, complete with some rather uniquely outfitted delivery vehicles.

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I think Nat questioned which one was the "butt" - nice... :-D We really enjoyed the pizza, which included an order of beer bread. The bread was super dense, slightly sweet, and perfectly chewy. Along with the pizza, it made for an excellent feast. If you're ever in the Dells and in search of some quality pizza, be sure to check out this place. Here's a picture of our delectable pizza:

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We raced back to Madison with the hope of meeting up with Jed & Jamie so that we could watch the Badger game. Jed and Jamie were going to be downtown with friends, so Nat and I did our best to meet up with them. Turns out they were at Jordan's Big 10 Pub, which is located about a block from Camp Randall. To say it was a zoo would be an understatement:

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Nothing like trying to watch the Badger game with a few thousand of your closest and rowdiest, drunken college student friends... We did manage to find Jed, Jamie and Tony, so it was a good time, even if it was loud and far too busy. These places must make an absolute fortune on game day weekends - the line to get a drink of anything (soda, beer, wine, whatever) was ridiculous. I stood in line for a solid 20 minutes before getting service, and they must have had 30 bartenders working the outdoor area alone!

Here we are with our prized beverages:

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We tried to stay and chat with Jed and Company, but it was just too crazy. It didn't help that the Badgers were up 21-0 while we were there, so we decided to head up to the square to see if we could find a more comfortable environment in which to watch the game. We eventually settled on The Old Fashioned, which is located on the capital square.

Generally speaking, I'm not a fan of The Old Fashioned, primarily because I found their fish fry and cheese curds to be a supreme disappointment, but they had seating available, and it is a bit of a Wisconsin institution, so we swung in and grabbed a seat at the bar. Here's the obligatory photo:

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We did order some of The Old Fashioned's homemade potato chips, and I'm pleased to report that they were quite tasty. They were served piping hot and included a side of ranch. Think "kettle chips" but not as crispy, and you'll get the idea of what they were like. We stayed at The Old Fashioned through the third quarter, and then decided to head down to one of the campus establishments so that we could get the true "university experience."

We decided to try Brothers, which is more or less the epitome of the "hey, I just turned 21 and want to go hang out at a college bar where everyone will think I'm really cool" college bars. Believe it or not, we managed to score a seat at a small table, where we had a clear view of the televisions and didn't have too many obnoxious college kiddies to deal with.

For those not familiar with the outcome of Saturday evening's Badgers vs. Ohio State game, the Badgers pulled a major upset and beat the #1-ranked Buckeyes. When the game ended, Brothers (and most of Madison) erupted with celebration. Here we are at Brothers just as the Badgers were sealing their victory with a last minute interception:

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For those daring enough to download a video, I shot a quick video of the post-game celebration as well. It's in QuickTime format, so you may need to download a player or plug-in from Apple to view it. I like the crutch that's "dancing" - it makes me chuckle every time I see it.

College kids are a crazy bunch, and we quickly started to feel a bit "out of place" so we decided to leave Brothers and find a more adult location for one last hurrah before calling it a night. The fine folks at the MTP took excellent care of us (as always); Nat and I took a final picture, paid our meager tab, and bid farewell to the MidTown Pub:

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We went back to the apartment, watched a little AppleTV, and then went to bed. I forgot how great the air mattress is - I really missed that thing. I may have to leave it aired-up so that I can sleep on it from time to time... Shiloh seemed to miss it, too - I found him sitting on it every time we returned back from our travels.

Nat's flight was due to depart Milwaukee at 2:30pm today, so I woke-up at about 8:00, went for a run, took a shower, and then fired-up the car to take Nat to the airport. We made a quick stop at the farmer's market (I needed a few tomatoes) and another quick stop at Culver's for a final dish of that infamous frozen custard.

We made great time to Milwaukee - just about an hour and a half from Madison, thanks to a light traffic load. There wasn't any wait at the airport either, so Nat was able to quickly check-in and make it to his gate with plenty of time to spare. He just sent me a text to report that he made it home safely, and that Tanner (his dog) was happy to have him back at the home.

Talk about a great weekend, if not one filled with a bit of over-indulgence. I think I probably gained about 15-pounds, thanks to the gobs of bad food and drink... but, it was worth it. I hadn't seen Nat for quite some time, and he and I were/are good friends thanks to our time together at the bank. We talked about another visit - perhaps for the Milwaukee Mile next year? My waistline and cholesterol should be recovered by then... :-D

Nat - if you read this, thanks for stopping by to visit - I hope you had a great time. And to everyone else who helped make the weekend such an enjoyable success, "Thank you," as well. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get some rest!

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To borrow from the opening of a famous novel, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

And that pretty much sums up this past weekend - a really horrible time (the disappointing triathlon), and a really excellent time (Green County Cheese Days).

My friend Jed and his wife Jamie are both from Monroe, and ever since I returned home to Wisconsin, they've been raving about the cheese curds from the Green County Cheese Days. We've gone on several "quests" to find comparable curds, but as good as some of the curds have been, none have met the high bar as set by the GCCD curds.

Now... the problem with GCCD curds is that they're only available for one weekend - EVERY TWO YEARS. That's right - the GCCD festival is held every-other year, which means curd lovers have to wait a whopping 730 days before they can enjoy the infamous GCCD Optimist Club curds.

I made sure to plan my weekend around the GCCD festival; I woke-up extra early on Saturday and went for a short run. I had the triathlon on Sunday, and yes, I should've rested, but I feel better if I get up and move around a bit. So, I did 3 easy miles of running, took a shower, and then headed down to the Monona Terrace to watch another airing of Michael Feldman's Whadya' Know radio show.

I love the show for a number of reasons, not least of which includes the free donuts they give you before the show:

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There wasn't much of a crowd on this particular weekend; I'd estimate there were maybe 60-70 people watching the show, which meant I was able to grab a decent seat near the front of the theater.

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I only stayed for the first hour of the show - I had several other errands to run before heading down to Monroe, and time was of the essence. I left the show just after hearing the weekly memo, and made my way over to one of the local bike shops where I purchased some Nuun electrolyte tablets and a new water bottle.

From the bike shop, I took off toward Watertown, where some delicious coffee awaited my arrival. I stopped at Berres Brothers to pick-up some of their scrumptious Highlander Grogg and House Blend coffees. If you've never tried their stuff, do yourself a favor and pick some up - it's amazingly smooth coffee. It's so good that I also grabbed a cup "to go."

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From Watertown, I back-tracked to Lake Mills so that I could take a quick bike ride with my friend Dan. We had planned to ride our bikes to Delafield last week, but a surprise back injury prevented Dan from going. He wanted to get out and ride for a bit, as he was feeling better, so I stopped by and we rode for about an hour on the Glacial Drumlin trail. It was a nice, easy-paced ride; the weather was fantastic, and it was great to hit the trail with Dan for some good conversation and relaxation.

With the clock showing 3:00pm, I loaded my bike into the Prius and made my way back to Madison, where I showered, changed, fed the cat, and hit the road once again. I pointed the car south, toward Monroe, and let Jed know that I was "on the way."

Jed responded with an invitation to a friend's house - he and some other folks were enjoying some food, drink, games, and fun in the backyard of a friend's house in downtown Monroe. The house was apparently just a few blocks from the Green County Cheese Day epicenter.

I arrived to Jason's house (Jed's friend) at about 5:00pm, and was immediately welcomed and made to feel "at home." The hospitality was incredible - they had pulled pork sandwiches, brats, cheesy casserole, apple-pie pizza, chips, and a bunch of other really good food. I offered to make a donation for the grub, but they'd have none of it - I was told to dig-in and enjoy. Talk about great folks! Thank you Jason & company!!

After stuffing my gourd, a group of us decided to head down to the festival. As we were leaving, I snapped a quick picture of Jason's backyard - complete with two bagg-o games:

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As we walked closer to the square, the crowds began to grow. Monroe isn't a huge town by any means, but there were people everywhere. I guess the festival attracts tons of people from all around the state; I was getting excited.

We quickly located the "ticket line" so that we could purchase what are referred to as "the golden ticket." The cheese curd tent requires you to exchange tickets for curds; $4 gets you one ticket and one ticket gets you an order of cheese curds. After standing in line for 10 minutes or so, I scored a couple of tickets:

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And with tickets in hand, it was time to... stand in line again. Yep - there were two separate lines, and the line to acquire the actual curds was incredible. The tent had about a dozen serving lanes, and each lane ran at least 100+ people deep. We waited in line for our curds for another 10-15 minutes. The pay-off was worth it:

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Here's a close-up of the curds:

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And here we are, enjoying those succulent curds:

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I feel bad for not being able to recall the name of the lady to my left, but that's Tony in the middle, Jamie, and then Jed. We inhaled those curds, and for good reason: they were spectacular. Easily the very best cheese curds I've ever had.

What made them so good? Everything. The cheese is incredibly fresh - the curds were made that morning. The batter is unbelievable - if it were applied to a piece of cod, it would rate as the best fish fry ever. That batter is then perfectly fried; the curds aren't over-cooked, nor are they under-cooked. There wasn't a hint of grease anywhere, and the curds finished with a slightly salty taste - oh so superb.

Here's a sneak peek behind the curd-assembly line; look at the bowls of curds, sitting in batter, awaiting their turn to bathe in that hot oil:

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As excellent as the curds were, I sort of wish I had never tried them, because now I have to live with the curse of having to wait for another two years before I can enjoy them again. Words and pictures don't do those curds justice - they're so unbelievably good.

With our bellies full of curds, it was time for us to... walk around and sample some more curds. :-) Monroe is not only a beautiful town, it's also the Mecca for cheese manufacturing - some of the state's (and country's) best cheese comes from this area. Cheesemakers abound, and they all convene on the gorgeous downtown square to sell their goods.

We entered into a massive tent, where there were approximately 10-12 cheesemakers set-up, all with free samples available for the hungry masses to taste:

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After sampling several dozen varieties of cheese, I settled on three purchases:

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These cheeses were all reasonably priced; I think the most expensive "chunk" that I purchased was $5, which is quite a bargain given the high quality. That's not to say that all of the cheese there was cheap... Take this $1800 wheel of cheese for example - I'm not sure who would buy such a beast, although I sure would like to be their friend:

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With my supply of cheese firmly in hand, we continued to make our way around the festival grounds. There were beer tents, bands, a carnival, crafts, authentic swiss yodeling groups, and all sorts of other interesting activities taking place. You'd be surprised to learn that Cheese Days is quite a fun event - it's easy to see why so many people flock to the area for the festival.

Jed was quick to point out a local bar that's famous for its Limburger/onion/rye sandwich. I didn't have the heart (or stomach) to try it, but I did wander in to check it out. While there, I snapped a quick photo:

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On my way out of the bar, I spied a Saint Bernard, complete with the iconic "keg" around his neck. He appeared to be on a mission of sorts (perhaps he detected a stray curd), so the photo isn't that great:

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The sun was starting to set, the temperature was beginning to drop, and it was getting late. I had thoroughly enjoyed my time at the GCCD festival and I really enjoyed hanging out with Jed, Jamie, and their friends. The entire event was really awesome - everyone was friendly, accommodating, and just plain "great." So, despite not wanting to leave, I forced myself to call it an evening. I bid the crew farewell and made my way back to the car, but not before doing two things: getting one final order of curds, and snapping a picture of the town hall:

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Thanks again to Jed, Jamie, Jason, Tony, Matt, and everyone else for the wonderful time, and thanks to Green County and the city of Monroe for hosting such an excellent event. I've already started to count the number of days until Cheese Days 2012!

No Great Taste / ...and in other news

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Folks, I'm somewhat upset to report that I did not attend this year's annual Great Taste of Madison.

I thought about attending, almost to the point of fantasizing myself silly over it, but ultimately decided against it for a couple of reasons: there would likely be a ton of people that would eventually get on my nerves; the food is always sub-par (mix "tent" cooking + cranking out a ton of food and what would you expect?); the cost to attend would be a bit outrageous when weighed against the net experience; and, the weather was a bit chilly.

The news stations and newspapers covered the event in great detail and really made it sound like "the place to be," but at $5 for parking (minimum), plus $5/drink, plus an average of around $4/food item (most of which is deep-fried), it just didn't make sense. So, I stayed home for all of my meals this weekend, which is actually a good thing - I've been sticking to the diet really well and I've had zero cravings for anything bad. I credit the focus on low-glycemic load foods for my stability. :-)

I had to make a new batch of black beans today, and man, I can't get over how much I love these things. They don't look real good while cooking, though:

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But they taste absolutely amazing. Plus, they're easy to make and are really, really good for you. Here's the recipe:

16oz bag of Goya Black Beans
1 green pepper, cut into quarters
1 onion, cut into quarters
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp black pepper
4 Tbsp minced garlic
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
A few pinches of kosher salt

1. Wash the beans carefully - I like to use a salad spinner; I put the beans in the basket, rinse them with a ton of water, and then spin them to shake out any particles.

2. In a large sealable plastic container (I have a 4-qt Lexan container), add all of the ingredients, and then fill with water until the water is about 1" above the height of the beans.

3. Place the beans in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Check them periodically and add water to keep the level at least 1" above the height of the beans. I usually have to top-off the water 2 times.

4. Transfer the entire contents of the plastic container to a large stainless steel pot or dutch oven.

5. Bring the beans to a boil and allow to boil for five (5) minutes, then reduce heat to a very slow simmer. Allow beans to simmer for about 2-hours. Keep water level just at "bean level" - I usually have to top-off with warm water once.

6. At the 2-hour mark, check on the beans - you don't want them to get mushy... they should be just ever-so-slightly firm. Remove them from the heat and strain them when they have an "al-dente" consistency. Pick out the bay leaves and any really large pieces of peppers and/or onions.

7. Enjoy. I usually eat .5c of cooked beans at dinner - I hit them with a little pepper for just a bit more "kick," but it's up to you as to whether or not you add any additional seasoning.


Aside from making beans and eating at home, I managed to take advantage of the weather by riding 200-miles this weekend and running a bunch.

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Not bad for a 3-day weekend's worth of riding, eh? :-) True, it was chilly - especially in the early morning hours, but I know that fall/winter are coming so I'm trying to sneak in as much outdoor riding as possible.

I rode about 75 miles on Saturday - left at 7:00am (temperature = 49F, with a strong westerly wind) and got back in at about 10:45am. I rode 75 miles on Sunday - same deal (7:00am - 10:30am) but the temperature was nicer and there was less wind. And I finished things off with a gentle "cool-down" 50-mile ride today - left at about 9:30am and got back in at 12:45 or so.

Why a "cool-down" 50-miler? I ran a 10K race in Randolph today - the same race I ran last year on Labor Day - although my race absolutely stunk. I did too much riding and running on Sunday, so my legs weren't as rested or fresh as I would've liked for them to be. I think my finishing time was 52:13 - about an 8:30 mile pace... not great by any means.

As evidence of my tired legs, consider that my time for this race last year was just over 45-minutes... so, I was 7 minutes slower this year - ugh!!! I think I got 4th or 5th place, but there weren't as many participants this year, probably because it was raining cats-and-dogs (complete with countless lightning bolt strikes). I didn't get any photos from the event because of the rain (and I forgot my phone... that'll happen when you leave the house at 5:15am), but here's the customary race bib follow-up photo:

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They changed the race course this year - it was run nearly entirely in-town - Randolph is so small that we had to run two laps to hit the 6.2 mile mark... That's ok, though, as the race benefits the local humane society, and I'm always happy to help a group that supports animal welfare.

Let's see... what else took place this weekend? I saw the movie, The American with George Clooney. A lot of folks complained about the movie being "slow" and "boring" but I found it rather enjoyable. It had a definite "foreign" feel to it, and there were a lot of subtleties to it. If you're looking for an action-packed "shoot-em up" film, look elsewhere.

I saw the movie at the phenomenal Sundance 608 theater in Madison; man, I love that theater. All of the theaters are big, comfortable, feature excellent sound and picture, have reserved seating, and allow you to bring in food/drink (including beer if you so desire).

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And lastly, the cats (Mack and Shiloh) have been especially rambunctious lately - they chase each other around all of the time, ambush one another, and have taken to biting each others' necks (nothing major - one of them will get a little too wild and the other will let out a yowl before they retreat to their respective corners for a breather). Here they are just a few minutes ago in one of their infamous neck-fights... and they're sitting about 10" from my head.

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It's back to work tomorrow - hope everyone out there had an enjoyable (and more exciting than mine) Labor Day Weekend.

Don't really have any good, concise stories to share so I'll just do a brain-dump of sorts... we'll start with training, eating, and recovering.

It's no secret that I probably have some type of eating disorder... I love food - looooove food. And I really seem to love the foods that are just awful for me - donuts, cookies, cupcakes, fish fry, fritters, popcorn, and peanut M&Ms all come to mind as some of my favorite "binge" foods. Without exaggerating in the slightest, I could easily eat a dozen donuts in a sitting, or 5-6 huge cookies, or pounds of deep fried fish.

So I force myself to stay away from these foods, but about once a week, the cravings get the most of me, and I go on a massive food bender. I track every single thing that I eat on Livestrong, and after a day of pigging out, it'll be nothing for me to have consumed 7,500 calories. Not real smart, and not real good for me...

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I then get angry with myself and vow to stop eating badly, and along with the internal lashing that I dole to myself, I crank-up my training efforts while becoming extremely strict with my diet for the rest of the week. Immediately following my binge day, I'll usually do a massive "brick" workout (60+ miles on the bike, followed by 10+ miles running) with the hope that by spending 5 hours working out I'll undo some of the damage that my pig-out caused.

And that leads to over-training, which leads to me being ridiculously sore, which when combined with the low calorie intake for the rest of the week leads to me wanting to eat more to help with recovery, and thus the cycle repeats itself. I can't give myself time to recover because I know that a binge is just around the corner, and so I'm always in a state of hurt... In an effort to treat the hurt and to aid recovery, I use all sorts of "crutches" - recovery drinks (glutamine/protein/carb blends), compression gear, glucosamine supplements, and so on. Rather than treat the symptoms, I need to address the issue and get back into a more realistic regimen.

I've gone back and looked at my old training and diet logs and discovered that as soon as I started to ramp-up my running (to 8+ miles per day), my binges became more frequent and severe. My theory is that running 50+ miles a week while eating around 800 calories per day for 6-days out of the week must deplete something and cause an imbalance of some sorts (highly technical terms, I know), which leads to my monstrous cravings for really bad food.

Prior to the 50+ mile/weeks, I was able to manage my diet really well. I didn't have such crazy cravings and I was able to be responsible. So, after this season's racing is over (I have a few big-distance races remaining), I'm going to rollback my running to around 4 miles per day.

With any luck, that'll help with the cravings, will cause me to eat more responsibly, will ease my overtraining pains (my back is a wreck, and my knees/hip flexors are always killing me), and should result in an all-around better situation. I'll still try to maintain a 800-1000 calorie/day diet, but by reducing my mileage it should be easier to manage over the long-term.

Granted, I won't be in "half-marathon" form all year round, but I'll definitely be in "easy 10K" form, which will allow me to get back up to a half-marathon with 5-6 weeks of training should the need arise. I'm also going to pack on more biking miles, because biking seems to be a lot easier on the body than the 50+ mile running schedule.

We'll see how it goes.

Changing gears to topic #2...

As I didn't have to work this weekend, I took a trip to some of the local farmers markets, as well as a trip out toward Black Earth for some sweet corn. I stumbled across this family farm that has the absolute best sweet corn I've ever had in my life - it's literally like candy - you can eat it 100% raw and it's still unreal.

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I bought 4 ears of this heavenly sweet corn for an unbelievable $1.50. The folks that run the stand are super nice and very knowledgeable - I asked a bunch of dumb questions about the differences between sweet corn and "field corn" and they happily shared their knowledge with me. I also asked how many acres they tend to and how much of it is sweet corn vs. field corn; they pointed to the field 5 yards from where I was standing and said that they usually plant their sweet corn "within" the field corn.

They go "about 9 rows in" and plant "3-4 rows" of sweet corn, which they then harvest completely by hand. They can pick about 100 ears per hour per person, and they pick it each day, early in the morning. The corn that I bought came from this very field just earlier in the morning:

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From Black Earth I made my way back to Madison where I hit a few farmer's markets. I scored some Bison tenderloins, some locally grown chicken, dirt-grown tomatoes, organic mushrooms, and some freshly made pretzel rolls. I scoured the markets for some asparagus, but alas there was none to be found. Oh well, I still had the makings for a really nice dinner... but what to have for dessert? How about grilled peaches? I stopped by Brennan's and grabbed a peach and a pint of blueberries (for morning cereal use).

I roasted the mushrooms, along with some Penzey's Spices California Pepper for a flavor boost.

While the mushrooms were roasting, I brought a pot of water to a boil for the sweet corn and also preheated the grill. While those were coming up to temperature, I made a glaze for my peach - I took 1.5 ounces of Appleton Estates 12-year spiced rum, stirred in a tablespoon of brown sugar, and reduced it over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes. I finished it with a touch of local honey and left it to simmer, until I had about 2 tablespoons of liquid left.

I salted and peppered the Bison and threw it on the grill for a total of 6 minutes, which brought it to an otherworldly medium rare (123F). I let the bison rest as I boiled the sweet corn and sliced a tomato. I cut the pretzel roll in half, warmed it in the oven for a few seconds, and was ready to dig-in:

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6 ounces of grilled Bison tenderloin = 200 calories
6 ounces of roasted cremini mushrooms = 60 calories
1 large ear of boiled sweet corn w/ butter spray = 180 calories
1 pretzel roll = 190 calories
1 medium tomato with Mrs. Dash salt-free seasoning = 33 calories
Total calories = 663 calories

A little more than I would've liked to have eaten, but I (you guessed it) rode and ran a lot today, so I'll be OK. I washed it all down with a Diet Root Beer from Point Brewery (man, that's some awesome root beer), and then dug into my dessert - a glazed and grilled peach with 1 tablespoon of my brown sugar/rum/honey glaze (total 179 calories):

peach.jpg

So, even with my monumental dinner feast, I'm still sitting at 1,278 total calories consumed for the day (Recoverite formula following my workout; cereal + protein drink for lunch; and then this dinner), with 3,812 calories burned.

Changing gears again: I saw the movie Inception with Leonardo DiCaprio, and while it was decent, it was incredibly long. I found myself wishing it was over after about 2 hours. Yes, it's intelligent and really well produced, but it got old after a bit; or at least it did for me. I did get to watch it at one of the best movie theaters ever, the Sundance 608 theater at Hilldale. That place is awesome - reserved seating, always nice, perfect sound, and a more mature crowd.

Shifting again: I bought Apple TV for the apartment. I figured that since I don't have cable, I could justify spending a few bucks on the Apple TV unit and renting a season of Man V. Food in HD - the unit and season rental cost about what 2 months of cable would cost...

The Apple TV unit is pretty neat - it allows you to upload all of your iTunes and MP3 files to it, so it not only plays movies and TV shows, it'll play your music as well. It also has a photo album system for your pictures and a bunch of other things. It's pretty nifty and despite only being 720p resolution, the image it produces is fantastic.

And finally, to bring it all home, I finally finished mounting my TV and soundbar, and I believe the apartment is about 99% set-up. I'm not totally crazy about this arrangement, but it seems to work:

lr_setup.jpg

That's it for now. I'm sitting on the couch with the windows open, enjoying the nicer weather (71F, low humuggity), watching a really dumb show on ABC, reading Men's Journal, and crafting this blog entry. I'll catch you later this week.

It ain't as easy as it looks...

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For reasons unknown, I thought it would be a really good idea to pick-up a part-time job... at the time, I thought that I had a lot of "free time" on my hands, and that I might enjoy something like cooking or bartending, so I put out the feelers and eventually landed a part-time job cooking food at a local restaurant.

...and that "career" lasted about 5 weeks.

Folks that visit my blog know that I love food and love to cook, so it seemed like an ideal opportunity for me to combine something I loved to do with something that would pay a little bit of money and get me "out of the house."

But what many folks may not appreciate (myself included) is how much more challenging and different it is to cook in a "commercial" environment than it is in a "home" environment. I certainly under-estiamted the skills required to cook during a busy breakfast or lunch - when you've got 80-90 people ordering all sorts of different things all at once, things get crazy in no time. And I quickly went crazy - I couldn't keep up with orders, I forgot things, I obsessed about things that didn't matter... and after this past weekend, I hung-up my spatula.

I really enjoyed the experience; it was interesting to see how things work in a small kitchen and I very much liked the people I worked and interacted with. They tried to show me tips and tricks, but as one of the guys put it, "You can't be as detailed oriented as you are and hope to survive as a short-order cook." I think he was right.

It also didn't help that I worked primarily on weekends, which meant that my schedule would go something like this:

3:30am - wake-up, dress, stretch
4:00am - go for a run
5:25am - return from run, take a quick shower, feed cat
5:55am - drive to pool
6:05am - swim for 20-25 minutes
6:35am - rinse off at pool, dress
7:00am - work at part-time job
3:30pm - finish part-time job, head home
4:00pm - hop on bike
7:00pm - return from bike ride, shower, feed cat
8:00pm - eat, rest, watch TV

(Repeat for Sunday)

Definitely made for long days and short weekends, and got to be rather stressful. I also noticed that it took a toll on my legs - something about exercising for 5 hours each day and then standing on your feet for 8 hours straight didn't work out too well.

Part of me wishes I could've "cut it" as a cook, but ultimately it's for the best. I'm a better patron (and part-time fish fry critic) than I am a cook. :-) So now it's back to the normal weekend routines, which should be nice. And the next time I get to thinking that I have too much free time on my hands, someone pass me a book or a puzzle instead.

All I need are some Birkenstocks...

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It looks like I'm officially a "tree hugger" - all I need are some Birkenstocks and a few more Phish songs on my iPod.

Why?

I bought a Toyota Prius. I almost can't believe I typed that; let me explain what happened to prompt this purchase.

As most of you know, I had been driving a gorgeous (but large) Chevrolet pick-up truck. I found it at a local dealer with really low miles, loaded with options, and more or less in perfect condition. I installed a Line-X bedliner, detailed the heck out of it, and planned to keep it for a long time. It was nearly ideal - it could hold my bikes with ease, it was comfortable, it had a great sound system, and it ran like a top.

But, it was nearly impossible to maneuver the thing around town and it was really impossible to park it in my new garage - I literally had to have the front license plate of the truck touch the front wall of my garage so that I could close the garage door (and even then I only had about 1.5" of clearance behind the truck).

Every time I parked the truck in the garage, I went through a 5-8 minute "dance" that involved me pulling-up as close to the wall as I possibly could, jumping out of the truck to check my distance, inching forward a bit more, jumping back out to check, and so on. It quickly grew old. Before you suggest that I hang a tennis-ball to mark the ideal parking location, know this: the ceiling in the garage is 15+ feet high.

It also grew old trying to find parking spots - whether it was at the grocery store, the parking garage at work, or at one of the many ramps in downtown Madison... parking that beast was always a chore, primarily because the turning radius was so poor. I've never done as many Y-turns in my life as I have over the past six months or so.

So, I put the truck on craigslist, and wouldn't you know it, but I sold it in just two days to a super nice couple from Mount Horeb. They picked-up the truck early last week, which left me without a vehicle. The weather was nice, so I didn't mind biking to work, nor did I mind walking to get groceries and other things.

I didn't know what kind of car I wanted to buy... part of me wanted a station wagon (Audi A3, Audi A4 wagon, VW Jetta Wagon, or VW Passat Wagon) because I'd be able to put a bike or two in the back and still have room for other things like a small toolbox, a small suitcase, and so on. The Audi options offered all-wheel drive as well.

Part of me wanted a sedan (Chevrolet Malibu, Subaru Legacy, Saturn Aura, Ford Taurus, or a Ford Fusion) because it would be practical, roomy, and there were plenty to choose from.

Part of me wanted something really fun (Mercedes Benz E350, Mini Cooper S, Subaru WRX STI, or an older Corvette).

And then I stopped to think about how I "really" used my vehicles; truth be told, I hauled my bikes in the truck on exactly two occasions... I didn't really use the 4WD feature... I didn't use the back seat for anything other than holding groceries... but I did enjoy the low monthly payment (I got a really good deal on the truck and loan), and I did spend a ridiculous amount of money on gas every 8-10 days ($65 per fill-up), and I did hate parking it.

So it was evident that I needed something that was affordable, got good mileage, could haul some cargo if necessary, and would prove to be reliable and, if possible, slightly fun.

Purely on a whim, I searched for used Toyota Priuses, and wouldn't you know it, but I found a 2009 Prius at the local Toyota dealer - a one owner car, loaded with options, certified-pre-owned (which meant it came with a 100,000 mile warranty from Toyota), and with a decent number of miles. I checked Carfax for the car's history and it came back clean - the records showed regular maintenance, no accidents, and all looked good.

So, I haggled on the price, got an excellent deal, and an excellent interest rate. As mentioned, it's a 2009 Prius with "Option package 5," which means it has: voice-activated GPS navigation, JBL premium sound system with iPod interface, Bluetooth, automatic climate control, leather seating, and a few other items I'm forgetting. The original sticker price was $29,855. I got it for about half of that, and it came with Toyota's certified-pre-owned hybrid warranty, which gets me a really nice extended warranty.

After getting the car home last night, I washed it and set about detailing it. Here it is, sitting in the garage (in which it fits nicely), getting ready for a good buffing:

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I taped off the plastic and rubber trim so that I could really get after things with the buffer. Once the taping was complete, I clayed the car, buffed it with Meguiar's #101 and #201, polished it with Zaino Z-PC, washed it again, and then applied 3 coats of Zaino Z2 (with ZFX) and finished with a wipedown with Zaino CS (Clear Seal). I dressed the tires, cleaned the interior, and treated the leather. The whole process spanned two days (I started last night at around 6pm, worked on it until around 11pm; woke-up and rode/ran this morning (7am - noon); then finished the detail at around 7pm this evening).

I snapped two quick photos - the lighting was bad, so I'll take some additional photos in the near future.

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And here's some of the fun stuff from inside - the touchscreen computer is pretty cool - it serves as the climate control center, information center, and navigation hub. Check out the mileage I've gotten so far:

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Here's a picture of the entire "dash" area - the layout has most of the items in the center of the car... it's going to take a bit to get used to it.

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So there you have it. I'm a tree-hugging hybrid driver. :-) And while it's not the most exciting car I've ever owned, I should enjoy the lower car payment and the incredible fuel economy (most of my trips are in-town at speeds below 40mph, which is where a hybrid shines). I predict I'll spend about $30 on fuel every 3 weeks (versus $130+ with the truck).

And finally, as I was driving to take a photo of the car, I witnessed an accident in downtown Middleton. Further proof as to how poorly people drive around here... picture this: it's 80-degrees outside, it's sunny, there's not a cloud in the sky, the pavement is totally dry, and there's barely any traffic. Perfect conditions.

A Buick SUV, heading east on University Avenue in the right-hand lane, suddenly decides that it's going to cut across three lanes of traffic to turn left at an intersection that doesn't allow left-hand turns. The driver cranks the SUV violently to make the turn (I'm guessing they were speeding as well), and next thing you know, I'm watching a SUV roll on to its side and slide before coming to a rest. I just shook my head and stopped - the traffic in front of me stopped as well...

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...sort of scary.

Even scarier is that I cross that intersection every single day while running.

Here's the aftermath - just as I was taking this picture the tow-truck got the SUV right-side-up... I was so angry - I wanted to get a better picture, but this is the best I could manage.

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You've got to love the drivers around here. Truly, truly awful.

No fish fry reviews - sorry. The 'ole waistline needs a serious break from that Friday night ritual, so I've been actively avoiding that temptation.

I did however attend a Mallards baseball game last weekend with my friend Dan and his family and we had a blast. Dan and Tara purchased some awesome seats that were located literally behind home plate:

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Not a bad seat for $7!

The game quickly became a lop-sided trouncing as the Mallards went ahead of their opponents (from LaCrosse) in the second inning to the tune of 9-1... So, we had to find other sources of entertainment and the most obvious option was to watch and shout along with a Mallards staple: The Beefstick Guy.

He sells a variety of items, but as he climbs up and down the stairs and makes his way through the seats and bleachers he shouts, "Peanuts, sunflower seeds, caramel corn," (and then with heavy emphasis on the "EE" and with the crowd of 7,000 people joining him) "bEEEEEEEEEEEfsticks!"

You'd think it gets old... but it never does - the whole crowd yells along with him and before you know it, you're joining the crowd. I figured I'd take a picture with his legend:

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I also took a picture with Dan; upon review of the photo we promptly noticed two things - one, we're getting old, and two, we got "photo-bombed" by a little kid in the background... classic!

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The night quickly came to a close and was capped-off by some fireworks and live music. We weren't able to stay for the music as Dan was there with the entire family (including his nephew who was visiting from New Jersey), so we watched the fireworks for a bit and then called it a night.

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In other news, I'm continuing to get the apartment "in order." I got a magnetic knife holder and a few Victorinox Fibrox knives:

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And, I finally got around to mounting the TV on the wall... what a difference that made. I'm waiting on one more component to arrive and then I'll be done with the set-up of the living room entertainment pieces (and I'll be able to get the last cardboard box out of the area).

I also bought a "cat sitter" DVD (I'm embarrassed to admit it) to help entertain the cats a bit. At the old apartment, the cats enjoyed watching birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other critters as they scavenged bird seed from my upstairs neighbor's (aka "Psycho") porch. Here, they don't have that luxury, so I hoped the DVD might be a nice diversion from time to time. Turns out Shiloh loves it:

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...Probably the best $5 I've ever spent on a DVD.

And finally, here's one last shot of Shiloh sitting on his favorite toy. I'm not sure why he chose to sit on it like this, but I thought it would make a fun picture.

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Left-overs...

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I realized that I forgot to include some additional details from last week, so consider this a "pot-luck" entry of sorts...

If you'll recall from a previous entry, I stopped by Art Fair On The Square last week, and saw some really neat artwork. One of the artists that really stood out was this guy - he had these mean-looking dogs and cats featured in his work:

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I would've loved to buy some of his stuff, but if I recall correctly, he was asking $3,000 or $4,000 for that painting... yikes! I realize it takes talent to conceptualize and create something like that but wow.

And speaking of wow, we (Mark, his friends Chris and Brenda, and me) donated a few bucks to a charity so that we could get our pictures taken in some crazy hats. I chose this viking number -

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Our group photo was taken and posted somewhere online... I've managed to misplace the URL, so I guess I'll never see the fruits of our donation. Something tells me it's not a big loss.

Changing to another subject, I met some really nice folks (Kevin and Kelly) down at the MidTown and we got to chatting about documentaries; turns out we had all watched the "Beer Wars" documentary (I mentioned it here in a previous blog entry). One of the things they did in Beer Wars was demonstrate that nearly all light beers taste identical, and that when challenged, even the most die-hard beer fanatics couldn't tell the difference between 3 beers in a blind taste test.

We decided to give it a try ourselves, and the fine staff at MidTown proctored our test - they set-up 4 blind samples of light beer for us:

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We blind-tested the 4 beverages; I took time to smell them, inspect them, cleanse my pallet between samples, and everything imaginable to try and better my odds of guessing correctly. Kevin and Kelly did the same; we all laughed heartily at how difficult (read: impossible) it was to differentiate between them.

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As you can see, I received a perfect score of 100% misses. While Kelly and Kevin both correctly identified Miller Lite, Kevin was the clear winner with 2 correct answers. I encourage you to try the test for yourself - it's really quite funny/ironic/eye-opening.

Speaking of funny - it's been a while since I've posted or shared something from failblog.com and/or icanhascheezburger.com... as if trampolines weren't dangerous enough, check out this handy work:

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What an excellent day.

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Sorry for posting two entries in a single day, but wow - today was a good day in every sense of the word.

It rained cats-and-dogs last night - some areas around Madison reported 6+ inches of rain in the 'ole rain gauge. I don't know about you, but I sleep really well when there's a good rainstorm. So, with the A/C blasting cold air, the rain pouring down, and with a cat curled up near me, I slept like a million bucks. It's been a long time since I had a good nights' sleep (too many things going on - the mind races all night).

I woke-up extra early to ride the trainer for an hour or so; watched the news, felt refreshed, had a good sweat going, and felt really good (I normally dread the trainer). Had the usual breakfast (.5c Fiber One, .25c Skim Milk, 1oz fresh blueberries, supplements, and coffee), then hit the "Beltline," only to find that traffic was non-existent. I easily made my way over to Fitchburg, where I had an early morning Trigger Point/Deep Tissue massage scheduled.

My legs have been trashed lately (probably due to overtraining), and I figured a massage might help loosen them up and recover a bit. The therapist did an absolutely amazing job on the 'ole levers - and while moments of the massage were quite painful (especially the calves), I felt awesome afterward. I hopped back in the truck, drove to work without any traffic once again, and had a great morning of work - got tons of things done.

At lunch, I stopped at a local farmer's market and scored some super fresh local sweet corn - 3 ears for $1.

Near the end of the day, Phil (co-worker) and I went to a local market where we scored some really good cheese (English Hollow Cheese??), some produce, and some Wild Blue Popcorn kernels. I figured I would try my hand at air-popping some corn in the microwave.

I drove home and went about making dinner. I had fresh, organic, locally sourced chicken, fresh locally grown sweet corn, and a fresh, dirt-grown, locally sourced tomato with some roasted broccoli, a Diet Root Beer (from Point Brewery), and 1 Tbsp of an all natural BBQ sauce:

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I used my new favorite seasoning for just about everything: Mrs Dash. It's salt-free, and the Chicken seasoning is amazing, as is the "Extra Spicy" (use it on veggies), and the "Table Blend" (use it on tomatoes and eggs).

Best of all, I enjoyed this guilt-free, 364 calorie feast out on the deck, because the weather was incredible - mid-70s, no humidity, sun in just the right place, iPod playing some good dinner music... bliss.

I'm still out on the deck now (at 8:30pm), enjoying my air-popped popcorn (it's super good; hit it with some Mrs. Dash as well) and browsing the web. I really wouldn't mind if today never ended - it's been a good day!

Getting closer...

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I had to take a work-related trip to Chicago yesterday, where I had an opportunity to visit our corporate headquarters. The HQ is located in the heart of downtown Chicago - on LaSalle Street, near the Washington Street intersection. It's a gorgeous area; I really do enjoy big cities.

I arrived a bit early for my meeting, so I grabbed a seat at the Starbucks "patio" that was located in front of our building, settled-in, did some work, and took a few minutes to do some quality people watching.

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So much personality in the city - the buildings are majestic, the shade makes things seem more inviting, and the hustle and bustle makes you feel like being active - like you should be working harder. And work harder you'd have to if you wanted to live in downtown Chicago - I almost choked when I saw the hourly parking rates for the ramp I had to park in... $27/hour!!!

I made my way up to the 40th floor of the building and was stunned by the incredible views. One of the folks pointed-out this awesome "green space" that sits atop the City of Chicago's City Hall building:

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Apparently that rooftop is indeed part of city hall - pretty impressive.

The meeting went well and wrapped-up at around 5:30pm or so. I then made my way over to IKEA where I bought a desk and a bookcase for the apartment. The desk turned out to be a major failure - it's far too large for the apartment, so I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it.

But the bookcase/entertainment stand seems to be working well:

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The stand measures about 6' long and stands about 32" tall. Within the next few weeks I'll mount the TV to the wall and shuffle some things around. With any luck, I'll also sell that small 13" TV in the lower left corner of the photo, and will find a place for that box in the lower right corner of the photo. I can't wait to be 100% settled-in.

Now... does anyone need an oversized desk that's never been used? :-)

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Weekend Wrapup

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If you'll recall from my previous entry, I was contemplating the idea of heading to Summerfest. Well, after much deliberation, I decided to make the 80-mile drive to Milwaukee and check out Summerfest 2010.

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The adventure began with the fight to find a parking spot, and after 20 minutes of driving around looking for lots with open parking spots available, I settled on one near the festival, ponied-up $25, and... got door-dinged by some moron who flung his door open and directly into my passenger door. I was in the truck when I heard that sickening "thud" noise - I looked over at him and all he could muster was a feeble "sorry." Ugh.

From there, I made my way to the ticket window and paid $15 for an entry ticket, then stood in a long line so that I could get frisked by some Neanderthal who when finished frisking me asked, "Do you have any illegal drugs or weapons on your person?" Um, yeah - I've got a whole boatload of drugs and a couple of Uzi's in my pocket... seriously?

Once inside, I made my way over to the US Cellular stage - it's one of the companies that I work for/with on a daily basis, so I figured I should see the stage and snap a photo (and I have no idea who the two random folks are in the middle of my picture - they just walked through as I was taking the picture).

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The neat thing about Summerfest (and particularly the USC stage) is that the entire event is located quite literally on Lake Michigan - the shoreline is just a few feet away from the grounds; I took this photo from the "other side" of the USC stage:

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Since there wasn't a band playing at the USC stage, I decided to walk around for a bit and check out some of the smaller stages, the vendors, and the various food stands. I stumbled across this tropically-themed stage where a band was playing some really catchy music. I have no idea who they were, but they attracted a decent crowd and they were fun to listen to. I stuck around for about 15 minutes or so, then grew tired of getting bumped into by drunk people while being cooked by the sun (there's not much shade at Summerfest).

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I continued walking around the grounds, where I passed twenty-odd food vendors... and eventually settled on getting a "sampler platter" that consisted of cheese curds, chive fries, and mozzarella sticks. All for $9.

I found a seat at the Harley Davidson stage where I snapped this photo of the sampler platter:

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After devouring most of that plate (it was actually quite tasty), I walked around for a bit more - I was thirsty and needed a beverage ($6 for a bottle of Lite!!!!), and I still had another section of the park to check out. I thought about taking the sky cars - they have these mini-gondolas that run from the north side of the park to the south side of the park - but decided a picture of them would suffice and a walk would do me better.

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I quickly started to realize that Summerfest isn't as great as my mind likes to remember it... it's expensive, it's hot, it's crowded, the crowds are annoying, and there's far too much "downtime" between acts. And, for some strange reason, they schedule most of the bands to play at the same time; for the most part, all of the stages run on a 2-hour schedule, so at noon, all of the stages are "live." Then at 2pm, the stages are "live" again; 4pm - live; 6pm - live; 8pm - live; 10pm - live. Why they don't stagger them so that there's always a show going is beyond me...

I spied some kids playing chess - I thought the huge chess board was pretty neat:

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Having covered the grounds end-to-end, I was ready to sit down and settle-in for a band or two. The Counting Crows would be playing the Harley stage, so I figured I'd go over there, stake out a good seat, and wait for the 10:00pm show to start. Two bands played prior to The Crows - the Nick Howard band and Katzenjammer. I took a decent photo of Nick Howard (who was actually quite good):

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Katzenjammer played next - they're an all female group from Norway (I believe) and they were sort of neat because they all played all of the instruments at one point or another - pretty talented group to say the least.

And finally, at 10:00pm, The Counting Crows started their show. Blurry photo - I was standing on a bleacher seat getting bumped by dozens of people.

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And I stayed for exactly one song. Modest Mouse was playing next door on the Miller Lite stage; I checked them out for a second, but their area was even more packed than The Counting Crows area was. And so, after driving for 80+ miles each way, spending almost $140 on parking, ticket, and food, and sitting in the hot sun for 5 hours, I left early.

Just as I was leaving, the fireworks began:

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And they carried on into my drive home - a "gang" of motorcycle riders were in front of me as I left the grounds and for some reason or another we got into a "heated discussion"... I think they weren't moving for anyone and were busy revving their engines and trying to look cool... so I honked at them to get them moving, and they took exception to it. So, we had a little chat. And then a traffic cop came over and told them to move along and told me to leave them alone. Fine - in fact, I'll leave Summerfest alone all together next year. To say it was a supreme disappointment would be a major understatement.

Summerfest is a "free" concert that tests your patience, your wallet, your resolve, and your cardiovascular and digestive systems... I ate way too much junk food while there. :-)

So, yeah - next year, Summerfest will be a big "no go."


Finally, in other news - I bought my first Blu-ray DVD this weekend: Batman: The Dark Knight - and all I can say is "WOW." I'd never seen a true Blu-ray picture before... it's absolutely unbelievable. I cannot explain it and do it any type of justice - the colors are so vivid, the contrast amazing, the motion looks almost 3D, and the sound will blow you away. I tried to take a picture of the experience, but it's not going to be fair... trust me that you need to get a Blu-ray player if you haven't already.

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Deckin' it.

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Woke-up at 7:00 and hit the road for a 65-mile ride today, followed by a nice 7-mile run. I wanted to beat the wind (it's due to get windy today) and heat (it was in the low 80s when I finished the workout). Took a shower, threw on a pair of shorts and am now sitting on my deck, enjoying a bowl of Fiber One with blueberries and an Optimum Nutrition Strawberry Whey protein shake while listening to some music and reading the WSJ on my laptop.

Ahh.

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Apologies for the dark photo; it's super sunny today and I'm sitting in the shade so the contrasts are all messed-up...The deck measures about 180 square feet (10'x18') so it's got a decent amount of room; it offers a fair amount of privacy, thanks to the solid walls, but still allows you to enjoy the outdoors. Wonderful.

I might hit Summerfest tonight... it ends tomorrow and I'm thinking it might be fun to go check out a few of the bands there.

What a week - I'm beat.

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Oh man, what a friggin' week it's been. I can't tell you how happy I am that the weekend is upon us and that it's a "long weekend" to boot. I definitely need some time to rest and relax!

I moved this week; it's hard to believe that I've been in Madison for a full year now. Seems like only yesterday I was in Austin. But, time flies when you're busy and having fun - definitely experiencing both of those scenarios with the new job and life here in MooTown. So with a year under my cheese-filled belt and the lease expired at my old apartment, I decided to find a new apartment - one that didn't have a crazy old lady as an upstairs neighbor...

And I found just such a place; smaller than the old place, just as expensive, but newer and (hopefully) a lot nicer. Bonus: no upstairs neighbors to wake me up at 4:30am as they vacuumed or did laundry - I'm on the second floor. Yay.

The moving process began about 3 weeks ago, when I started to pack-up the "non-essential" stuff. I packed "off-and-on" for about 10 days, then really turned-it-up and got to some serious packing during the last 10 days of June. I also cleaned the heck out of the old apartment - I absolutely didn't want to sacrifice any of my security deposit, so I made certain the old place was operating-room-clean.

June 30 arrived and by 5:00am I was wide awake, ready to get moving. Jed helped me pack-up the U-Haul on the previous night (thanks, Jed - I really owe you one!!!), so all that I had to do was deflate the air mattress, throw the cats into their crates, grab my cooler from the refrigerator, and head over to the new place.

And that's where things went sour. The cats (god love 'em) absolutely hate their crates. I knew this, which is why I woke-up so early - I had to be out of the old place by 9:00am, so I figured 4-hours would be plenty of time for me to get them into their crates. No such luck... they're wise little kitties, as they heard me move the crates into the bathroom.

They instantly sprung from the air mattress to the top of the cabinets in the kitchen, where they sat for 3+ hours, refusing to budge despite my best efforts to coax them down. I tried playing it cool - ignoring them; I tried putting out some "wet food" for them; I tried throwing turkey to them... nope, they were on to my plan.

So, with 15 minutes to go, I grabbed a big bath towel, climbed up onto the counter, and snagged Shiloh. As I was stepping down from the counter (with Shiloh screaming/yowling/yelping like he was possessed), Mack sunk her teeth and claws into my leg - beating me like I owed her money. She was apparently upset that I was "harming" Shiloh.

I flung her from my leg, which was now gushing dark red blood, only to have her "box me in" to the kitchen. She was "halloween cat" (arched back, hissing, swatting); after a brief stand-off, I lept over her and ran for the bathroom, where I closed the door and flipped Shiloh into his crate. He was not happy.

But I still had Mack to capture, and I was pretty certain she wasn't going to play fair. After chasing her around for a few minutes and taking some heavy battle damage to my ams, I had Mack in her crate. I locked the bathroom door, raced over to the manager's office of my new apartment, picked-up my keys, and raced back to the old apartment where I was able to check-out just in the nick-of-time.

I put the cats in the back of my truck (in their crates, of course) and drove to the new place, where I proceeded to unload the cats and the rest of the stuff from the truck. I then drove back to the old apartment, picked-up the U-Haul, and made my way back to the new place, where I was supposed to meet another friend who was going to help me unload the U-Haul.

Well, due to some extenuating circumstances, he wasn't able to make it on time, so I began unloading the U-Haul myself. I had to return it by 3:00pm, or I would've been charged a significant late fee. So, I hustled up and down the 24 stairs that connect the ground floor to my new pad. The new place is about 20-feet above ground; it's nice for views and TV reception but it stinks for moving!

After about 100 trips up-and-down those stairs, I had everything out of the U-Haul, save for the "big stuff:" a couch, the grill, the bed, and my brand spanking new 55" Samsung LCD television.

My friend was still M.I.A., and time was ticking down, so I unloaded everything by myself... I used the ramp to slide the couch down from the U-Haul and into my garage; I carefully slid the TV and grill down the ramp as well. I slipped a moving blanket under the mattress and box spring and slid them down the ramp and into the garage - pure genius if I do say so.

And just as I was wrapping-up, my friend arrived and we raced back to the U-Haul center where I returned the truck at exactly 2:59pm - a full minute ahead of the due-in time.

We drove back to the apartment, carried the big stuff upstairs and then went out for a bite to eat. I think I went to bed at around 2:30am that night.

I've spent the past 2 days cleaning and organizing the place... I've still got a ways to go - I need to mount the new TV to the wall, figure out what to do with my furniture, determine where to place cat boxes, and eliminate some unnecessary crap, but I'm making progress... I went from this:

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(notice Shiloh doing his best impression of "Where's Waldo?")

...to this (sorry for the dark photos; I took them this evening at around 11:30pm without a flash):

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The new place is much smaller - it's only about 800-square feet (compared to 1200+ square feet for the old place), and it's only a one-bedroom, so I'm having to get creative and efficient with my organization.

Here's a shot looking "in" to the living room from the kitchen:

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Those windows open to a large deck that I absolutely love - I scored a cheap, used patio furniture set from a co-worker and can't wait to sit outside with a cold beverage and my laptop, enjoying a nice summer's evening.

Here's the massive flight of stairs that I've really started to hate:

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At the bottom of those stairs are two doors - one to the left that leads into my garage, and the one straight ahead that leads outside. It's nice not having a shared hallway/entryway like the old place did. I won't have to listen to people coming and going at all hours of the day/night.

At the top of the stairs is a small "intersection" - hallway to kitchen/living room is to the left. Bathroom is the first door on the left; laundry room straight ahead; bedroom to the right.

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Here's the bathroom - I found the shower curtain on Overstock.com and just bought the rugs from Bed Bath and Beyond today.

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And here's the bedroom - it's a bad picture because it doesn't show much detail... there's a huge walk-in closet to the right, along with a big "nook" that currently holds my other TV (37" Panasonic LCD).

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I've also got my bikes in the bedroom, and I love the 10-foot high ceilings with the tall windows. I get a phenomenal breeze here - I've yet to turn on the A/C. Granted, the sun does make things a bit toasty in the late afternoon, but the view and breeze makes it all worthwhile.

I only wish the place had more storage - I don't have a pantry, nor do I have a linen closet or storage closet... I've got a large 1-car garage (it's more like a deep, 1.5 car garage) directly below my apartment that has some storage in it, but aside from that, there's not any extra space.

I'll be happy when everything is all set to go - I'm hoping to mount the big TV to the wall this weekend, find places for everything else, and arrange my furniture in an intelligent manner. I'll share additional photos when everything is all finished.

I still need to buy a bunch of stuff - night stands, a desk, some bar stools, a book shelf, and so on... moving is expensive! But, the great things about the new place outweigh the costs: I'm upstairs, I have a total of 3 neighbors (which I've yet to hear a peep from), I get a great breeze/view, and my television reception is stellar. And, I've got my own private entry and my own garage. Woo Hoo.

I am draggin', though... between the packing, moving, unpacking, cleaning, organizing, running, riding, swimming, and working, I'm about ready to collapse. Speaking of which, it's 12:38am and I've got a long day of riding/running/organizing ahead of me tomorrow.

iPhone 4 - Yep, I scored one!

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Unless you've been living under a rock or in a cave (or just don't care about technology), you've probably heard all about Apple's new iPhone.

And that means you've probably also heard about how ridiculously difficult it is to get one - when the phone was made available for pre-order on June 15, it literally crashed both Apple's and AT&T's web servers - their systems couldn't keep up with the demand for pre-orders. AT&T's web servers took several days to recover from the hit.

I tried to pre-order a phone on June 15, but didn't have any luck; by the time I was able to login to see if I could even attempt to place an order, Apple had sold out of phones and was predicting that the next batch would be available by July 14. AT&T announced that it wouldn't be offering any phones for sale in its stores to "walk in" customers, and worse yet, pre-ordered phones wouldn't be available until late June at best.

I wasn't too concerned; my current iPhone (the 3G) has served me very well - it's been ultra-reliable, handy, and I've really enjoyed it. So, if I had to wait for the 4, no biggie.

Well, then I started visiting forums and reading the preliminary reviews. People were getting their phones earlier than the official launch date (today - 6/24). People were reporting that Apple stores would have anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred phones available for "walk in" sales (people who didn't successfully pre-order).

So last night, at about 8:55pm, I decided to race over to the Apple store in Madison to see if there would be a line of people. With new Apple product releases, the faithful (or nutty, depending upon your point of view), often camp out the day before the product launch. Apple was going to open its stores at 7:00am on 6/24/10 to offer the new iPhone for sale.

When I arrived at the store, there was a line of about 10 people - these folks were committed to standing in line, overnight, for at least 10 more hours... just for a phone. I figured there was no way I was going to spend all night in line; if anything, I would come back early in the morning and re-check the line - but I wasn't keen on that, since I wasn't sure if the store would even have any phones available.

I didn't sleep much last night and found myself wide-awake at 4:00am, so I hopped into the truck and took a spin down to the Apple store where I found about 200 people waiting in line. YIKES!!! "No thanks," I said as I turned around and drove back home.

I had another opportunity to drive past the Apple store at noon and again, the line was massive - at least 200 people were still waiting. I was doomed - no shot of getting a phone today, but oh well.

And then at around 4:00pm, I checked the Macrumors.com website to see if anyone had information about the Madison Apple store's stock of iPhones. And wouldn't you know it, someone posted at 3:15 and stated that they had just left the store. There were apparently "at least 400 phones" on the counter. I figured, "What the heck, I'll go check the line once more." So, a 4th trip to the Apple store led to me standing in a relatively short line of about 100 people.

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The line was divided into two groups: "Reservations" (meaning you had a pre-order) and "Walk-in" (meaning you might get lucky enough to get a phone). I stood in the "Walk-in" line and was immediately annoyed by the guy in front of me - he wouldn't stop fidgeting, shifting around, craning his neck to see "how much longer" the wait would be, calling his buddies and saying, "Dude, this line is so long - it's not moving - the other line is flying, but this line is slow," and so on...

He even started pestering the Apple store employees, whining about how slow our line was moving, wondering why it was taking so long, and all sorts of other annoying stuff. The staff was getting perturbed, as were the other folks in line. He tried to talk to me a few times and I dismissed him with a, "Complaining about the line isn't going to make it move any faster - it is what it is."

Well, after about an hour and a half of waiting, I was 4th in line - only 4 "walk-ins" to go and I'd be in the store. An employee came out and looked perplexed. She studied our line and then went back inside. Now we were getting nervous, and the annoying dude was really starting to redline - I thought he was going to explode like a piece of popcorn... he was bouncing up and down, rocking back and forth, and repeating, "No, no, no, no - don't run out, no, no no, no - don't run out."

She came back out and asked the first person in our line how many phones they were buying. "One." She asked the next person. "Two." She asked the nervous guy. "One - just one - all I need is one." She asked me. "One." Then she went back inside.

She came back out a third time and said, "We might have enough for you. It's going to be close." Well, now I started to get nervous... I was so close - but yet so far.

Thankfully, after another 15 minutes or so, I was inside of the Apple store with this sitting next to me:

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According to the associate who was assisting me, I scored the 3rd-to-last "walk-in" phone they had. There were seven phones left when they asked how many phones we needed - oh man, that was close! I feel bad for the other folks that were standing in line behind me.

The purchasing process was painless, quick, and very enjoyable. Apple had their system down to a "T." I was in and out within 10 minutes - they managed the entire transaction from a modified iPhone of their own (it had a barcode scanner and a credit card reader built-in to it), e-mailed me the receipt, established the AT&T service, and sent me on my way.

I got the phone home and here are some comparison shots to the iPhone 3G. The old phone is on the left, the new one on the right:

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And here they are stacked on-top of one another (new phone on top):

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And the desktops compared, side by side (old phone on left, new on right):

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And finally, a sample web-page (old phone on left, new on right):

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So, what are my initial impressions (not that you care)?

The phone feels heftier and more solid than the old 3G - it just has a more "precise" feel to it, even though it's lighter and slightly smaller than the old 3G.

The screen is definitely much improved - the text is sharper, the colors are more accurate, and the feel is better.

The speed is greatly improved - applications launch instantaneously. The extra storage capacity (32GB vs 16GB) is appreciated - I was nearly out of room on the old phone, so now I've got some space to grow into.

And that's about all that I've tested so far. The camera is supposed to be much better (it includes a flash and will also shoot HD video), but I haven't snapped any photos with it yet. Maybe I'll break it in on a fish fry tomorrow night... :-)

Would I go through the trouble to buy it again? Hmm. I don't know. It is just a phone, afterall - it's not going to change my life, make me run faster, or help me win any popularity contests... it is a nice piece of hardware, but I don't know if it's as revolutionary as the hype has made it out to be.

So long as it serves me as well as my old iPhone did, I'll be happy. I guess that's all that really matters.

Drinking Made Easy: The Tour

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So I was minding my own business late last week when I received an e-mail from the Majestic Theater - Zane Lamprey, comedian and host of Three Sheets was going to be playing a show on Friday, and tickets were still available.

With nothing else on the evening docket, I figured it would be worth my time to make the short drive downtown to check out the show. The Majestic is a storied theater that's located about a block from the capital building - it's also not too far from The Great Dane or the Monona Terrace.

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Problem #1: I didn't have a ticket to the show. The box office opens an hour prior to show time, so I figured I would get into line early and buy a ticket. Just as I was nearing the box office window (the line wrapped around the block), a guy walked by asking if anyone needed a ticket - he had an extra and wanted $10 for it. I flipped him a $10, got the ticket and saved myself $11 (face value on the tickets were $20 + $1 service fee).

Once inside, I quickly found a small two-top table in an ideal location - dead center of the stage, about 15 rows back, directly in front of the sound board. Win! Problem #2: I didn't have anyone with me, so I wasn't sure how I would "hold" my table while using the restroom or grabbing something to drink... and that's when a waitress came by and asked if I needed anything to drink. Win! I probably should've bought a lottery ticket as well!

So, I had my beverage, and a great table. The place was starting to fill up; the music got a little louder, camera crews buzzed around (they were filming the show for Zane's latest television series called "Drinking Made Easy"), and I was.... getting tired.

The show didn't start until 10:00pm, and I've come to realize that I may be too old for such late night ventures. The first comedian, Marc Ryan, got onto stage promptly at 10:00 and did a great job - he entertained us for about 25 minutes, and then introduced the second "comedian," Steve McKenna.

Steve didn't do much other than drink a handful of beers and tell a few jokes. But, he did bring out Zane's "drinking character/buddy," Pleepleus.

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Pleepleus has developed a bit of a cult following; Zane usually takes the much smaller, stuffed-animal version along as he tours the world and then strategically places him in various shots/scenes during filming. I'm not 100% familiar with the entire story behind Pleepleus, but I believe it's a vague reference to "getting that monkey off your back."

So, by around 11:00pm, Zane came onto stage (there was a minor set change after Steve finished), and by now I was really getting tired. The crowd was also becoming quite rambunctious and a bit restless. Zane came out and the first thing that people "demanded" was that he imbibe a bit:

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Zane told a few jokes, shared some stories, and then transitioned into an educational bit about various alcoholic beverages. It was really quite interesting - he talked about various types of wine, whiskeys, beers, and so on. But, he was really losing the crowd... I wasn't sure what to expect from such a show; it became clear that most of the people there didn't really want to be "educated" about the fine differences between an Anejo and Reposado Tequila.

And so, I left early. I was simply too tired to hang around, which was a shame because I also scored a free pass to the "meet and greet" after the show. I think I would've passed out had I stuck around much longer - by the time I got home, I could barely keep my eyes open. I guess I'm not much of a party animal these days. :-D

So, I'm glad that I went to the show; I just wish they wouldn't start them so late! Had the show started around 8:00 or 9:00, things would've been perfect. But alas, I'm just an old fogey - the kids probably enjoy those later start times.

I spent the rest of the weekend doing the usual: riding and running. I've found that I seem to run better after a ride... not sure why that is, but my legs feel better when I run immediately following a ride. In fact, I'm pretty certain that my Saturday morning ride (65 miles) helped me recover from the Chicago race.

My legs had felt pretty sore all week; I didn't run on Sunday or Monday, and then I ran "lightly" on Tuesday through Friday (averaged about 5 miles per day). But after my Saturday ride, I felt brand new - I ran 9 miles without any problems or difficulty. It's so odd... I also got one heckuva sunburn on my arms - I forgot to wear sunscreen... yikes!

I rode and ran this morning (45/10, respectively) and have spent the rest of the afternoon lounging on the couch, reading a book and "watching" a little television. The cats have been keeping me company - here's Shiloh as he sits next to me:

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And Mack has been watching/hunting a chipmunk that keeps running around on the patio (if you look carefully, you can see her behind the bike):

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I've been debating dinner options... I'm still not certain what I'll have. Nothing really sounds good, and I'm not terribly hungry, but I've only had a bowl of Fiber One and a protein shake today, so I should eat something... pizza? Thai? Sandwich? Argh - nothing sounds good.

So, I've lived most of my life in Wisconsin... as such, I've eaten my fair share of brats - in fact, there's a story that involves me, seven brats, and a fourth of July celebration, but that's best saved for another time.

But as much as I consider myself a true "Sconnie" (Wisconsinite), I'd never heard of Bratfest until this year. Apparently, it's been taking place since 1983, and has really "taken off" in recent years. What started as a small bratfry in a grocery store parking lot has transformed into a record-setting 4-day festival that includes 200+ music acts, a carnival, fireworks, and over 200,000 brats served.

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I met-up with Jed and his wife Jamie (sorry if I'm spelling her name wrong!), and promptly made my way over to the "heart" of the affair - the brat tent. Bratfest does a smart thing and sells their brats at a reasonable price - $1.50 will get you your choice of: a brat, a veggie brat, a hot dog, or a soda. For $3.00, you can get the infamous "Double Johnny" (two brats on one bun).

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In addition to the intelligent pricing scheme, the logistics of Bratfest are excellent. They can move a ton of people through the lines without much delay - we stood in line for maybe 45 seconds, placed our orders, and were walking away with a bag full of brats in no time. Ballparks and other events should study this festival - the efficiency is top notch. How do they do it? Here's the grilling station, affectionately known as "Tastyville" - they had about 50 people grilling brats non-stop on more than 20 5-foot-long grilles in this area.

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With brats and beverages in hand, we made our way to one of the three music stages, staked out a spot, and listened to a few bands. My only issue with the entire event stems from the music - the sound systems weren't loud enough (we could barely hear the band), and there wasn't enough seating available. Other than those two minor gripes, the event was quite enjoyable. Here's me and my brat, listening (sort of) to a band:

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We stayed until about 8:30 or so; the festival closed at 9:00pm. Definitely a good night - it's always great to see Jed and Jamie; throw in some brats, beverages, and bands and you've got a winning combination. Speaking of winning combinations, it looks like Bratfest is on track to break another world record - as of last night, they had sold 172,600 brats, and only need to sell another 36,000 today to beat their previous best.

Learn more about Bratfest here - there are some interesting stats!

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Sorry folks - no fish fry review this week as I had a 20K race first thing on Saturday morning, and I didn't want to be loaded down with a gut full of fish. I did enjoy a nice "carb load" on Friday night, by way of a bison steak, a sweet potato, some grilled asparagus, tomatoes, and a nice huge bowl or two of popcorn.

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The race came about with short notice - I discovered it purely by accident on Tuesday of this week and was fortunate enough to secure a spot in the race. The race began at 9:00am on Saturday, with the start and finish lines located at a beautiful park in Monona.

The race course consisted of one lap around Lake Mendota for a total of 20K (or 12.45 miles). About 950 people entered the race; I thought about carrying my camera to snap some pictures along the way, but decided against it as I didn't really feel like lugging a camera around for nearly 13 miles of running.

The weather was nice - mid-60s at the start, sunny, but incredibly windy. And by "incredibly" I mean sustained winds of around 20mph, with gusts in excess of 30mph. There were a couple of times where gusts of wind literally stopped me in my tracks - I nearly fell over and/or came to a complete stop while running. It was brutal at points, for sure.

Wind aside, the race went well, although I need to remind myself to stop lining up near the back of the pack during the start of a race. I spent the first 3-4 miles weaving in and out of people, which was tiring and aggravating. By around mile 5, the herd had thinned and I was able to settle-in to my normal 8-minute mile pace.

Only surprise of the race was a rather unique "aid station" that was set-up around mile 9 or 10... two guys set-up their own table with cups, but rather than filling the cups with Gatorade or water, they had them filled with beer. I started laughing as I approached and saw their sign. I thanked them as I ran by, but declined a "cold one" - there was something about drinking a beer while running that didn't seem too wise.

I finished the race with a time of 1:44:15, which was good for #278. Not too bad, I suppose, especially given my bad choice for a starting position and the strong winds.

Here I am at the finish line, just after completing my race:

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The park was really quite cool - it was huge and gorgeous, and it even had a small pond/lake in the middle of it. The race directors arranged for a band to play after the race, and they also had after-race goodies, including pretzels, trail mix, fresh cut fruit, animal crackers, and of course: beer. I just don't understand the fascination of drinking a beer after a race, but as the saying goes, "When in Rome..."

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I had about 1/4 of a cup and wished I hadn't. Normally I would enjoy a frosty beverage, especially on a gorgeous sunny day, but like I said - after expending about 2,000 calories worth of energy a beer just doesn't "hit the spot."

I stuck around to watch the band for a bit:

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Then I headed back to the apartment and rather stupidly went for a bike ride. Holy cats - that wind was ridiculous on my ride... I almost got blown off the road (literally) so many times that I lost count. Riding with the wind at my back, I averaged 32mph. Riding into the wind, the best I could muster was 8mph! It was absolutely insane!! I called it quits after 20 miles, admitted defeat, and fought my way back to the apartment.

When I got home, I refueled with one of my favorite post-workout meals:

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1 cup of Fiber One cereal, .5 cups of Silk, some blueberries, and a strawberry protein shake. 250 delicious, refueling calories.

I joined my friends the Topels for dinner in Delafield - it was great to see them, and we had a tasty dinner at the Delafield Brew Haus.

Today, I lounged around for far too long, and then went for an 80-mile ride - I love riding out here because it's so gorgeous:

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After my ride, I went for a 8 mile run, and then cleaned the apartment... nothing too terribly exciting, I'm afraid. Dinner tonight was a bison burger with a sweet potato. I'm counting down the days until Friday - I'll definitely hit a fish fry!

Crazy Saturday!

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I ran the semi-infamous Crazy Legs Classic race today. It's an 8K (5-mile) race that starts on the Capitol Square and finishes on the 50-yard line of Camp Randall Stadium (home of the Badgers football team). The event attracts about 20,000 people and is more of a party than a race... take for example the pre-race "gathering" - I met some friends (Jed and his wife Jamie) at Genna's Lounge (a bar):

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The place was packed at 9:00am with people that were running the race. And everyone was drinking bloody Marys, beers, and even mixed drinks! I was a bit surprised, to say the least. It was great to hang out with Jed and Jamie (I'm spelling her name wrong - apologies!) and some of their friends from Jed's workplace. We socialized for about an hour or so before making our way out to the Capitol Square to line-up for the race.

The race started at 10:00am with the fastest runners leaving in group "A." I was in group "W" - quite a way from the front pack. Next year, I'll request a faster group, because I spent the majority of the race trying to weave my way in and out of people as I passed them. Here we are, "in line" and waiting like cattle to hit the starting gate.

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After about 20-25 minutes of standing in line, we were near the starting line. The starting line was really cool - it was filled with Badger players who were high-fiving everyone and wishing them luck. The marching band was there playing music, the cheerleaders were rooting for everyone, and Bucky was wishing everyone well. I didn't get a great picture because we were already starting to move, but you'll get the idea:

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The bigger guy (#68) was obviously a lineman for the Badgers frontline... :-)

Once on the road, I tried to get a few photos, but none really turned out too well. We went from the square to Langdon Street, past the Memorial Union, up Observatory Hill, down through the dormitory area, around the hospital, under University Avenue, and then into Camp Randall. Here are a few shots from the race:

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That's Langdon Street, near the Memorial Union.

And here's the "back side" of Observatory Hill:

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And here's the finish line area. I tried to take a photo at the actual 50-yard line, but my iPhone camera goofed-up and the photo didn't turn out at all. :-(

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I finished the race at about the 40-minute mark (update: results were posted - my official time was 40:45 and I finished #3141 out of 20,450). Not a great time by any means (about an 8-minute mile pace), but with 20,000 people to deal with it wasn't a bad race. My hat is definitely off to the Crazy Legs organizers - they know how to run a race. Everything was well organized and easy to follow, and they managed the huge group of people with absolute perfection.

Following the race, there's a big party at Camp Randall, complete with bands, brats, beer, and all sorts of goodies. I stuck around just long enough to take a few photos, including this shot of the spectators:

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After snapping a few photos, I ran the course in reverse back up to the Square (people were still running the race, and after hearing "you're going the wrong way!" about 300 times I removed my race number), where I took a stroll through the Farmer's Market.

It was quite nice - not too many people as the weather wasn't great - and I scored some bison steaks from a local farmer, along with some organic tomatoes, all for less than $15. I also got a picture of the capitol with these about-to-bloom tulips:

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So, all things considered, not a bad Saturday morning. I ran just under 11 miles, had a decent race, picked-up some bison, and am now relaxing at the apartment. The weather is supposed to be crummy tomorrow as well, so I'll probably be stuck riding the trainer. Argh.

A good weekend

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Happy to report that the weekend treated yours truly quite well. It started with a decent fish fry (review will be coming shortly) and ended with some gorgeous weather. I had a chance to hang out with my friend John from Minneapolis - it's always great to see him, and it's even better when I can combine a visit with a trip to a local brewery.

On Saturday, I met-up with John in Potosi, WI. Potosi is near the Iowa/Wisconsin border - it's about 1.5 hours south west of Madison. John was there diving in a flooded mine shaft (John is an accomplished SCUBA diver) and invited me to drop by and check things out. So, I hopped in the 'ole truck and made my way down highway 151 to Potosi.

I arrived at about 3:00pm, just as John and his dive buddy were surfacing from their dive. Here they are, coming out of the water:

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The area that they're exiting from once served as the main entrance to the mine. From what John said, the mine flooded in the 1960s; it provided both copper and lead back in the day. John said they had to swim about a half-mile into the mine before they got into the actual tunnels. It sounded really interesting; he also provided me with a DVD that of dive footage from the mine - I can't wait to check it out.

Here's John exiting the water - check out that diving rig:

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He uses what's called a "re-breather" - that's the large thing that's hanging on his back. A re-breather captures the expended air bubbles as you're diving, cleans the carbon monoxide from the air, salvages any remaining oxygen, and then uses a chemical reaction to create new oxygen. It's all computer controlled; it allows you to dive for longer periods of time without having to carry several extremely large oxygen tanks. It's a cool device, but is extremely pricey (and quite complex).

Here's a closer-shot of the dive rig:

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He wears a dry suit so that he can dive to some incredibly deep depths without getting too cold. Under that suit, he wears an electrically-heated jacket/pant suit as well. It's a really cool set-up.

Finally, I mentioned that John had some video footage of his last dive to the flooded mine. He also has an amazing video camera set-up... check out this crazy contraption:

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So after leaving the mine site, we headed into Potosi for some dinner and a brew, compliments of the Potosi Brewery. The Potosi Brewery has been around since 1852 - it's one of the older breweries in the area, and from what John was saying, the brewery just recently re-opened, thanks in part to a government grant. The place was apparently left in shambles after closing its doors in 1972; the new owners have done an amazing job of restoring the buildings, which include a museum, the brewery, a restaurant, and a gift shop.

Here's the outside of the brewery:

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When you walk in to the brewery, you cross over a glass covered portion of the floor; the glass shows the spring that feeds the brewery's water supply. It's pretty neat:

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The bar's no slouch, either - it's very nicely done:

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We took a seat at one of the tables and promptly ordered some cheese curds, some root beer (which Potosi makes onsite), and an Imperial Pale Ale (also made onsite). The curds arrived after a short wait - they were ok; nothing great... a bit greasy and slightly over cooked.

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After wolfing down the cheese curds (I had ridden 45 miles and ran 15 earlier that morning), I ordered a grilled chicken salad. John opted for a grilled cheese with chef's vegetables. The salad was super good - one of the best I've had:

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It was extremely fresh tasting; the chicken was perfectly prepared, and the veggies were crisp and of extremely high quality. John reported that his grilled cheese was excellent as well - it looked incredible. We chatted for a bit and then called it a night. John had a 5 hour drive back to Minneapolis; I had a 1.5 hour drive back to Madison, so we called it good.

Finally, I mentioned the weather - wow, what a gorgeous weekend we had. I woke up fairly early on Saturday morning and hit the road for a nice ride, followed by a good run. I threw on the compression recovery tights and socks in anticipation of Sunday's weather, and thankfully I wasn't disappointed...

This morning, I was greeted by a beautifully sunny morning, with temperatures in the high 50s, light winds, and not a single cloud in the sky. Donned the bike gear and hit the road - I had planned to do another 45 mile ride, but the weather was so incredible that I just kept going. Here I am at around the 55-mile mark:

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It was so nice to be out on the open road rather than stuck on the trainer. One of the best things about living in Madison is that you can go from city to "middle of nowhere farmland" in about 10 minutes, as evidenced by this picture from the bike:

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I made my way back to the apartment and was surprised to see that today's ride spanned 65 miles. Not bad, especially for such an early-season ride. My legs felt pretty good, so I hit the road for a short run. I didn't want to overdo things, so I kept the run on the comfortable side. I'll get up tomorrow morning and do my normal circuit.

So, that's about it - the weekend in a nutshell. I'll crank out a fish fry review tomorrow; we hit the Alchemy Cafe on Atwood - not a bad place!

Dinner: Doing it right, part II

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I mentioned that I've been trying to reset my diet - so far, so good. I did eat a bit of pizza yesterday and may have had a donut or two, but all things considered, the new meal plan seems to be working well.

I also mentioned that I've been addicted to documentaries, and that I recently watched a movie called "King Corn." Well, one of the things they talked about in King Corn was the impact that corn has had on livestock and consequently our nutrition. They compared a cut of grain-fed (aka corn) beef against a cut of grass-fed beef - the grass-fed beef had about 10% of the fat that the grain-fed beef did. The grass-fed beef was also free of hormones, antibiotics and other undesirable stuff. It takes longer to "finish" grass-fed beef (the cow is more active and isn't ingesting insane amounts of sugar), and as such it's more expensive to purchase, but the result is better for everyone.

So this past weekend, I set about finding a local farm that raised grass-fed beef; I didn't have to look far - turns out there's a small farm about 30 minutes from the apartment that raises organic, grass-fed, free-range cattle (along with ostrich, buffalo, poultry, and pork). I stopped in and purchased a couple of beef tenderloins, some chicken breasts, and some organic, locally grown vegetables.

I waited until tonight to sample the grass-fed beef, and all I can say is: wow. It was excellent. The farmers told me that grass-fed beef cooks faster than grain-fed beef and instructed me to cook it to "no more than 125 degrees." I followed their instructions and all went well.

Here's my plated dinner:

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There's a small, organic tomato (20 calories), 4oz of roasted broccoli (25 calories), 6oz of roasted mushrooms (40 calories), 6oz of beef tenderloin (240 calories), and 8 spears of asparagus (40 calories). A grain-fed portion of tenderloin would've come in at 410 calories - the difference all stemming from fat content.

So, if you have an opportunity, I'd strongly encourage you to locate a local farm that offers grass-fed meats. You'll cut down on the amount of fat that you ingest, you'll support a sustainable, locally operated business, and you'll enjoy a wonderful meal.

Almost forgot - SuperBowl details

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I almost forgot to include details about Phil & Shawn's Superbowl party from last weekend and what a great time we all had. Phil and his wife, Shawn have a lovely home just outside of Sun Prairie that they share with their three daughters. They invited a few folks over to watch the game - I was lucky enough to be invited and really enjoyed it.

Why? Well, for starters, the game was entertaining and engaging, although I must admit I didn't watch it as closely as some did, and I also managed to miss a lot of the commercials... bummer. But my reasons were valid - there was a ton of awesome food, and when I wasn't busy munching on all sorts of goodies, there were plenty of new folks to chat with - Phil's friends and neighbors were in attendance as well, and they were all a lot of fun to hang out with.

I guess I wasn't the only one who wasn't tuned-in to the game as much as I should've been:

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Quite a mix - adults, kids, infants, dogs, Mark... (ha!)

They put out a great spread of food - everything from sausage and peppers to a warm beer-cheese dip to pumpkin bars... one of my favorites was this monster cookie that I believe was a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie, covered with a cream cheese frosting. Yummo.

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And as easily as I could have eaten the entire cookie, I only had a half of a slice, so I tried to be good. :-) I also sampled some incredible peanut butter/chocolate bars, and a mess of other tasty things.

Of course, the other secret to a good Superbowl party can be found in the fridge... you have to love being in Wisconsin:

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Lots of New Glarus offerings, along with MadTown Nutbrown Ale, Rathskeller Amber, Founders Proper, and the 'ole standbys of Lite and Leine's.

Despite all of those offerings, Phil had us try one of his favorite beverages: Grappa. From what I understand, it's a brandy liquor that's made from the grape remnants of the winemaking process. It smelled like pure gasoline, but it's one of Phil's favorites, so we had to sample it. In the end, it wasn't horrible, but I probably wouldn't ask for it by name... I'd much rather stick with something like this:

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(That's Phil in the background asking if anyone would like some more Grappa)

So, all in all - a great party. The game didn't turn out too badly, either. Thanks again Phil - I can't wait for the next Superbowl party (although I'll probably pass on the Grappa).

Fish Fry tomorrow... I'm just sayin'...

Screw the shoes!

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Moving north has had its advantages (fish frys, cheese curds, donuts, etc), but it's also had its fair share of disadvantages (snow, cold, bad drivers, etc). And with last week's blizzard event, I came face-to-face with one of the biggest disadvantages: running in the snow.

I don't mind running when it's cold out, but when mother nature serves a healthy dish of icy and snowy goodness, running becomes not only difficult, but dangerous. As soon as we knew for certain that snow was imminent, I made sure to sneak in a long "final" outdoors run.

The day of the blizzard, I ran indoors on a treadmill (our office has a nice gym available for free), and I was immediately reminded of how much I loathe treadmills. Grinding out six or seven miles on a treadmill is pure torture - it's so boring and dull, even with headphones and a television. After the third mile, I would've given anything to be running outside... but, with 16-18" of snow covering every passable surface, my wishes were unlikely to be realized.

So, I trudged out 3 more days on the dreadful treadmill... in the meantime, I looked for solutions to help me get outdoors to run again - I looked at snow shoes, trail running shoes, slip-on spike systems - you name it, I looked at it. None of the solutions got rave reviews from online sources; fewer fit my shoes (size 13). I was growing desperate...

I had stumbled across an article about using sheet metal screws as replaceable spikes, but was afraid to try it for a number of reasons. After careful consideration, I ventured to the local hardware store and bought a handful of 3/8" long sheet metal screws. I placed 10 screws into each shoe (6 on the front, 4 on the heel) and gingerly stepped into them. I didn't feel anything sharp or pointy, so I donned the rest of the running gear and hit the outdoors.

Success!! The screws worked like magic. They gave me ample traction when the going got rough; they worked best on icy or hard-packed snowy surfaces. On dry sections of sidewalk, they're a bit noisy and you can feel that the shoe isn't completely "normal," but it's not uncomfortable by any means. Winner, winner chicken dinner!!

I've done 5 runs on the current set of screws, and it's looking like I'll have to replace the screws with some fresh ones. Although, to be honest, the sidewalks were about 98% clear today, so I may run without the spikes until the next snow storm hits. Here's what the screws look like after about 45 miles of use:

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It's amazing how well that $0.70 solution works, especially when it's compared to other solutions that cost upwards of $40. It's also refreshing to know that when the next snow storm hits that I won't have to spend too much time on the 'ole dreadmill. :-)

We're off to a fish fry tonight, so stay tuned for an update later on!

Oh the weather outside is frightful...

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... and the fireplace is anything but delightful... (the apartment has a fireplace, but it's not in use)

So, for those who may not have heard, Madison (and most of Wisconsin) got socked with a true blizzard last night! The weather-guessers are reporting that we've had 16-inches of snow so far, with another pile due to arrive today.

Here's what it looked like from the living room this morning at around 8:00am.

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Nearly everything is closed, which is quite unusual as Wisconsin can usually deal with a lot of snow. Even the Metro Bus was delayed; malls are closed, as are all of the schools. But my workplace is open, and since I live about 3 miles from the office, I decided to venture in.

Finished my bike ride (on the trainer, in the living room - I'm not quite that crazy to ride outside), and then laced up my new winter boots. Bought these a few months ago - people laughed, but who's smiling now? My feet are nice and warm, and dry, even after trudging through a solid foot-plus of snow. :-)

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Thank goodness for underground parking! The car was clean, dry, and toasty warm - they keep the garage at 65F, so there was no dealing with any scraping or "digging out." Did have a tough time getting up the hill that leads you out from under the building; it was pretty icy. These poor folks didn't fare as well:

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The most treacherous part of the commute was the apartment's parking lot - seriously! The roads weren't too bad, but they were pretty empty. This is University Avenue, which on any other day would be packed with cars. Today it was packed with snow and not much else:

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Normally, dealing with a lot of snow isn't too much of a challenge, but what's going to make this storm interesting is that they're calling for gusty winds that'll start this afternoon - gusts up to 50mph, with steady wind speeds of around 30-35mph. Blowing snow = large drifts, and the drifts can create a real headache.

It's been a little breezy today - here's what the stoplight near my office looked like as a result of "light" winds.

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Combine all of that snow with gusty winds and falling temperatures, and you've got a recipe for an unpleasant environment. It's currently about 30F outside, which isn't too bad, but the temps are dropping. They're saying it'll be a low of around zero tonight, and tomorrow's high temperature is supposed to be 8F. Yep, that's EIGHT. 8F with super windy conditions, and the windchill should hit about -20F.

I may have to run on the treadmill tomorrow. :-(

Anyway, I made it in to the office - here's our parking lot:

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I have to laugh - I just overheard someone who came in from outside say, "It's not too bad out there, I've seen worse." Gotta' love it.

Gobble, gobble - Oh my goodness!

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Has it really been more than two weeks since my last blog entry? Wow, I guess it has been! Time flies when you're busy with things; I apologize for not posting an entry for so long.

So let's get caught up. First things first: I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, and that the turkey was tasty, the stuffing scrumptious, and the pie perfect. Mine was, well, interesting... but more on that at a later date. I need to relax a bit and look at things objectively, but let's just say that I won't be heading north of Madison or over toward Fitchburg for any events of any type in the foreseeable future.

But enough about that. What's been happening? Well, I'll tell you what hasn't been: fish fry. Yep, you heard that right. We've taken a break from gorging ourselves on fish each Friday because it's been setting us up for an entire weekend of bad eating. So, an executive decision was made: we're taking a small hiatus from fish frys.

In other news, many of you may recall that I have a favorite radio show that's hosted right here in Madison and is called "Whatdya' Know with Michael Feldman." I've been to a few live showings and have always wanted to participate in the show, either as a contestant or as a "contributor" by way of a funny story or odd-ball question.

I had my chance to participate two weekends ago, when Michael chose me to play in the Whatdya' Know Quiz. The quiz usually occupies the last 15 minutes of each hour of the show (it's a 2-hour show), and it works by pairing an audience member with someone who calls in via telephone and correctly answers a qualifying question.

Once the "team" is identified, Michael asks up to 5 questions from categories that include: current events, people, places, science, odds-n-ends, and "things you should've learned in school had you been paying attention." The questions are usually quite random and odd, but most folks seem to win (thanks to Michael's guidance toward the correct answers).

Winners take home a "treasure trove" of prizes that are usually as off-the-wall as the questions from the quiz. It's the highlight of the show, so if I was ever to be selected, there was certain to be pressure to perform.

Well, I was selected and I bombed. Michael usually walks around the audience looking for volunteers to play the quiz, and tons of people raise their hands. I raised mine and he immediately walked over to ask my name and where I was from. Ok, no problem. Then he asked for "one good reason why you should play the quiz."

Now... this is where you can shine or bomb. I had dozens of witty replies prepared - everything from, "because it'll make a great blog entry" (thus setting up a segue to a discussion about my blog) to "because I'm not wearing underwear" (thus setting the tone for a wacky dialogue)... I'd practiced my response for years.

But, when the time came, I choked. I mumbled something about the Badgers football score and that by winning the quiz it might motivate the team. Michael looked at me as if I was from another planet, and from there it went downhill.

I tried making a few jokes; poking fun at myself, suggesting a cheesy name for my team, and so on, but it all failed. ARGH - nothing like bombing on a nationally broadcast radio show.

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That's me up on stage, playing the quiz. I was paired with a gentleman by the name of "Mac" from Ohio, who was on a crummy cellphone connection in his garage - he was hard to hear. I was also incredibly distracted by Michael's computer screen - it was constantly being updated with information about the telephone lines (via an Excel spreadsheet). And, I could see the answers to each of the quiz questions - Michael held the cards in a way that I could easily read the correct answer...

But, I didn't answer a single question. I felt guilty for being able to see the answers, so I let Mac, Michael, and the audience sort of "fill-in" the blanks. I was a miserable contestant - boring, uninteresting, and a complete downer.

Alas, with the show running out of time, we won the quiz, and my treasure trove included this little bounty of goodies:

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The haul included some concentrated cherry juices (tart cherry, cranberry mix, blueberry mix, and one other), the Whatdya Know home game, and an eclectic mix of greeting cards from a fabric museum in Missouri.


Other than that, there's not much exciting news to share... I ran a 10K race on Thanksgiving morning, called "The Berbee Derby." I did pretty well - there were about 5000 runners; I finished 460th, with an average pace of 7:56/mile. Not my best time, but it was only 32F and incredibly windy - I think the steady wind speed was about 18-19mph.

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And finally, I ventured out to a "Black Friday" event early this morning... a local sporting goods store had advertised Smartwool socks at 50% off, and since they're some of my favorite socks, I figured I'd grab a few pair.

Came to discover that the "sale" only included "select" styles and sizes from a specific rack... so, after standing in line for more than 30 minutes with six-pair of socks, I was told that none of my selections were on sale. And so continues my luck... :-)

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Field Trip to Taliesin

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The company that now employs me is a pretty cool place for a number of reasons, but perhaps one of the best things they do is place a big emphasis on the importance of maintaining a proper "work-life balance." They do a great job of recognizing people's hard work and efforts, and are extremely supportive of everything, especially team-building exercises.

So, each department is allowed a budget for team-building activities, and as the "new guy," I was tasked with planning a group outing/event for our department. After floating several ideas out to the group, we decided to tour Taliesin, which is Frank Lloyd Wright's home, studio, and school - it just so happens to be located in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

We selected October 21 as our "outing day," booked tour tickets, made lunch reservations, called "dibs" on some of the company vans, and cleared our calendars. The 21st came, and off we went. We started the day with some donuts, bagels, coffee, juice, and milk at the office, then hit the road.

The weather wasn't too cooperative at first; it was warm (mid-50s) but rainy... and we were all a bit scared by the general condition of one of our vans - it looked a bit "urban" to say the least.

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That's Phil in the front seat; he's inspecting some of the van's safety equipment. I'm not sure if he did that because I was driving or if because the van didn't do much to bolster our confidence?

The drive to Spring Green is relatively short - it took about 40 minutes to travel there, and thanks to the fall foliage, the scenery was absolutely beautiful. I forgot how lovely it is when the trees are changing color. Here we are at the entry gate to the Taliesin visitor center.

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Taliesin is pronounced "Tahl-EE-ess-in" and it's Dutch for "Shiny Brow." Mr. Wright's parents were Welsh, and he apparently knew a few words here and there, so he selected Taliesin as the name for the 600 acres on which he built several homes (for himself, his parents, and a few of his aunts), his studio, a farm, and eventually a design school.

Contrary to popular belief, he did NOT build "The House on the Rock." That structure, while located within close proximity to Taliesin, was actually built by Andrew Jordan, Jr, and is an interesting story by itself... You can read more about the story over at Wikipedia.

We spent some time in the gift shop, then headed over to the school. The tour folks don't allow anyone to take photos of the inside of the facilities (probably because the place is quite rundown and in dire need of restoration), so the photos that I took are all from the outside.

Here's the school facility, as seen from our tour bus:

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The school features a large social/gathering room with an upstairs study/library, a theater, a dining hall, a design/learning studio, presentation rooms, and dorm rooms. Believe it or not, the school is still in operation today... I say that, only because none of the buildings are heated, and none of the buildings have doorways with any type of threshold.

FLW was big on incorporating nature and surroundings with his work, so he did things like source all of his building materials from local resources (local to the property), and to really focus on making the structure be "one" with the landscape - his buildings followed the landlines; he didn't clear a site and build on "flat" land. He also liked to carry outside elements to the inside, and that's why there aren't any thresholds on his doorways - he felt a threshold created a dividing line... so, as such, there are gaps of an inch or more under every door. He also liked to use unrefined rock as flooring, on both the outside and inside - hence, no "sealing" under doorways.

Here we are, about to enter the school's entertainment hall:

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The students were all in Arizona, which is where "Taliesin West" is located; it's a satellite school where the students study during the winter months. The interesting thing about this school is that it's more of a "community" - the students are required to contribute efforts as laborers for the community by assisting with farming duties, cooking, cleaning, and caring for alumni members who come to visit or may still reside at Taliesin. Interesting concept, to say the least.

The students also help with designing commissioned projects, which turns out to be a good thing. FLW, while a talented designer, placed a preference on "form" over "function." As such, many of his structures haven't aged real well; although many have. It seemed to be hit-or-miss... this particular building appears to have held up well - check out the date on the cornerstone:

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From the school, we headed over to his residence, which incorporated his living quarters, his primary design studio, his entertainment areas, and a farm - all in one building. The building survived (well, portions of it did) three fires; that's another interesting story to say the least... it's massive and very cool, but alas, very rundown.

Here's part of it, as seen from our bus:

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And here's the parking area - the architecture is so cool:

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We spent a good hour and a half inside of his home, and then wound-up in the backyard, where we were allowed to take a few pictures. This is a photo taken from the mezzanine of FLW's bedroom:

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Pretty spectacular, eh? FLW was big on having "uninterrupted views" of the surrounding nature - he didn't want to look out from any window and see another structure. I'd say "mission accomplished" in this case.

Here's a view of part of the house and the back courtyard:

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And one more:

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The tour came to an end, and we made our way over to The Old Feed Mill in Mazomaine, where we enjoyed a nice group lunch. After lunch we drove back to Madison and called it a day.

For those that may be interested in learning more about Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin, check out the Taliesin Preservation website, and if you have a chance, take a tour. It's really quite interesting stuff.

What a week. Work has been absolutely crazy; didn't have much time to do anything all week, so when Friday came along, no one had to twist my arm to lead the way to a fish fry.

Decided to head down to Belleville to check out Borland's Tavern. I had been to Borland's about 15 years ago and really enjoyed it; I hoped it would be as good as the 'ole memory bank made it out to be. Belleville is about 15 miles south of Madison - about half way to New Glarus, and aside from Borland's, there isn't much else in the town, so if the fish wasn't decent, we'd be hiking it back toward Madison for dinner.

After the short drive south, we hit Main Street Belleville and there she was - the familiar Borland's sign. Shining like a beacon, beckoning us to come on in and sample the fish.

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We walked in and everything was exactly as remembered - the bar with the old fashioned stools, the fluorescent lights, paper placemat/menus, the paneling; this place had all of the ingredients to be fantastic!

The Borland's menu is fairly limited - it's first and foremost a bar - we didn't see any cheese curds on the menu, so we ordered an Old Fashioned Sour and the fish. Borland's offers one type of fish: deep fried cod. Take it or leave it, thankyouverymuch.

The Old Fashioned arrived and it was...... well, a good effort.

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Can you spot what's wrong with the Old Fashioned? That's right - no muddling, no cherries, too light on the bitters, and far too heavy on the whiskey. They did use Squirt, so the potential was there. Thankfully it was only $2.50.

Shortly after we finished sampling the Old Fashioned our plates arrived. I was starving, as I didn't have a chance to eat anything at all on Friday (thanks to work being ridiculously busy), so I went with the "double order" of fish.

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What you're seeing here is: six pieces of fish, a huge side of coleslaw, some bread, and an order of fries. But you came here for the review, so let's get on with it. The fish was absolutely great (or at least my plate was). Yes, it was breaded (loses points), but the breading was light and crisp and didn't overpower the fish. The fish itself was excellent - light, flaky, moist - all of the things you'd expect or want from great fish. My only complaint is that it wasn't all you could eat, although that's probably for the best - I would've probably run them out of business if it was.

I skipped the slaw (I'm not a slaw fan), so nothing to report there. The bread was great - most likely homemade, very soft, slightly chewy, and delicious. The fries were excellent as well - I have a feeling Borland's knows their way around the fryer because the fries were perfect.

With the belly full of fish, it was time to call it a night.

Saturday night brought a Badger hockey game - found some tickets via Craigslist and ventured over to the Kohl Center to watch Bucky do battle with the Colorado College Tigers. The seats were pretty phenomenal - right behind the goal.

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During the warm-ups, the players rifle the pucks toward the goal and a lot of them miss, which results in the loudest "WHACK!" noise you've ever heard as the puck flies into the plexiglass barriers at about 100mph. It was a bit unnerving to say the least, but sitting a few rows from the ice made the flinching worthwhile. Here's the Zamboni in action:

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The game started and it was pretty cool - the action, the speed, the tenacity of the game - it's quite a fun time. Got to see a few scuffles, including this little tiff... I wish I knew hockey rules a little better - the game would've made more sense.

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Here's Bucky during one of the "halftimes" - I'm not even sure what they call the downtime that takes place between the three periods.

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The Badgers wound-up tying the Tigers: 1 to 1. The game was a lot of fun, though - there'll definitely be more hockey games in the future!

Rather than fight the masses that were leaving the Kohl Center, it sounded like a good idea to hit the local watering hole for a beverage. Nothing to really report from here, other than I saw my first "stein" - check out this monster:

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That's a 5-liter stein, next to a "normal" 1-liter stein. There was a group of guys that staggered in to the bar and wanted to order a boot, but because the bar was so busy, they were out of boots and suggested the stein. All I can say is - WOW. The thing is massive. I'm not even sure how they picked it up, since it's ceramic and had to weigh 20 pounds empty!

Finally, had a chance to ride the bike outside today; the weather was gorgeous, if not windy. It was sunny, in the low 40s, and a perfect day to hit the road. 2 minutes on the trainer seems like an eternity; 2 hours on the road, on the other hand, feels like 2 minutes, even when it is cold and windy. I'm not sure how many more opportunities there will be to ride outdoors... and that makes me a bit sad.

So there you have it - not a bad little weekend. Oh, and for those scoring at home - there were actually 4 Bs (if you count the beer in the stein).

Oktoberfest - Starting off right

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Happy October, folks! Although I don't know how happy things can be when the high temperature so far has been about 50.000F! The past few mornings have been especially chilly - during one run earlier this week, the thermometer said 34F. Nice!

Work has been busy - my projects are in full tilt mode; phase one of one of the projects is due to launch next week and there's still a ton of things to take care of, so I kept my head down most of the week and focused on getting as much done as possible. We sent nearly 2700 "grid cards" out on Tuesday alone - that was an interesting day!

So, when Friday came and the opportunity to eat two - yep, you heard right - two fish frys came about, I jumped at the chance. First stop was to the local watering hole - Paul's Neighborhood Bar. We had heard the fish at Paul's was phenomenal, so we stopped in for lunch to check it out.

Unfortunately, the fish fry at Paul's doesn't start until 4:30pm... so, we were "stuck" with having to find an alternative. I spied a baked cod special for $6 and decided to give it a try. The fish was great - but the plate was doused in butter... argh.

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And as if covering the fish, the potatoes, and the beans in butter wasn't enough, they serve it all with a side of butter. You have to love Wisconsin.

The good news is that the fish was quite good. I sandwiched it between a few napkins in an attempt to soak up as much butter as possible, skimmed as much butter off the potatoes as possible, and enjoyed the lunch.

For dinner, the crew hit Norm's Hideaway Bar and Grill, which is located on Lake Koshkonog, just outside of Fort Atkinson and not too far from Busseyville.

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Some coworkers had told us about Norm's, and after checking with a few other sources, Norm's earned a shot at being reviewed/rated by The Friday Night Fish Fry Fanatics.

The place sits literally "on the lake" and has a great northwoods/rustic feel to it. The only downside is that they allow smoking inside, but thankfully it wasn't terribly busy and therefore it wasn't terribly smokey.

Here's a shot of the bar area - we sat here for a bit while waiting for a table to open up (it's first come, first served for seating, and you order all of your food/drinks/etc at the bar).

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The bartenders were friendly, fast, and helpful. We chatted with one of them for quite a bit - she gave us some tips about the food, and later shared some appetizers with us.

While waiting for our table, we ordered some appetizers - white cheese curds and mini corndogs. They were pretty tasty - the curds were good; not homemade, but good.

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A table opened up, and we ordered fish - I was the only one to go with baked fish, and decided to try the Fiesta Poached Cod. It was three pieces of poached cod, topped with a roasted garlic salsa and served with potato pancakes. It looks odd in the photo, but trust me when I say it was absolutely delicious. The fish was light, flaky, flavorful, and tender. The salsa and potato pancakes were great as well. The potato pancakes weren't as good as the ones from Palmyra, but they were a close second!

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Other fish orders included Walleye, which earned rave reviews (no photo, sorry!) and the deep fried cod, which was extremely tasty. The fried cod was served nice and hot; it was lightly battered, moist, delicately flavored, and not the slightest bit greasy - not even after it sat for a while, which is a great indicator of a well-fried piece of fish. And, it was $9 to boot - talk about a bargain!

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We'd highly recommend Norm's Hideaway - great fish, great location, friendly service, and outstanding value. It's definitely worth the 25-30 minute drive from Madison.

I woke up this morning to weather that was, well, not so great - low 40's and raining. So, it was time to break out the dreaded trainer. I don't hate the trainer at all; in fact, I really like it, but I don't enjoy riding on the trainer because it's quite boring. Nothing like riding on a bike treadmill for an hour or so.

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The other thing that scares me about the trainer is that I'm still not convinced that it's OK to use a carbon fiber bike on the trainer... the bike's bottom bracket seems to "flex" a lot while riding, and that makes me nervous - I'm afraid it's going to crack or become damaged. I really need to get a second bike for trainer/commuter use.

After riding for 70 minutes, I hit the road for a run, then went over to Oktoberfest at Quivey's Grove. Quivey's Oktoberfest is quite an event - they invite 35 microbreweries to their grounds (Quivey's is a restaurant) and for $30 you get a small tasting glass and the chance to sample as many of the microbrews as you wish.

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The event is quite popular - it sells out months in advance, and people arrive early to get in line - this is the line, nearly 30 minutes before the event was due to open, and with the weather not being real friendly (rainy and cold).

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Once inside, it was a madhouse. People everywhere, all eager to try the different microbrews. Tried a bunch of different offerings - some were really good, others not so much. Quivey's did a great job of thinking of just about everything - they had this ingenious little "washing station" where you could rinse your glass between tastings. So simple, yet so effective - a horse trough, some PVC pipe, and a garden hose.

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There was even a band that played a nice variety of music; mostly "rockabilly" type music, but they were pretty decent. The funny part of it was they kept stopping the band so that the Badger football game could be played over the PA (the Badgers won, by the way).

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Quivey's also had food offerings that included bratwurst, soft pretzels, pulled pork, chicken sandwiches, and cheese curds. Tried the pulled pork sandwich (absolutely phenomenal) and a brat (decent, but not amazing). But perhaps the coolest thing at the event were these pretzel necklaces. Here's Jed showing off his edible neck ornament:

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With nearly 1000 people crowded into the tent, a belly full of pork, brats, and microbrew, and the weather not giving any sign of getting any warmer, it was time to call it a day. Headed back to the apartment and am sitting on the couch, watching some football. Hope you're all having a good weekend - we'll see you next week.

Here's one final shot of the people inside the tent at Quivey's. If you look really closely, you can see some of the breweries around the perimeter of the tent.

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Can you believe that September is almost behind us? It seems like just yesterday when we were celebrating the 4th of July... it's incredible how time literally flies by.

Speaking of time, I'll keep this entry brief; for those that are keenly aware of my blog and past entries, you may recall a post or two about a book and author that I stumbled across some time back while listening to Michael Feldman's radio show. The book was called The Omnivore's Dilemma and it was by Michael Pollan. The book was amazing; everyone should take the time to read it because it really will open your eyes about food - where it comes from, how it impacts us (economically, environmentally, nutritionally, and so on), and how there are responsible and irresponsible ways to produce and consume food.

Anyway, Michael Pollan has a new(ish) book, and he stopped by Madison to promote it. He spoke to a group of about 7,000 people at the Kohl Center on Thursday night, and as luck would have it (and time allowed), I was able to stop by and check him out.

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The "show" was free - just had to park, walk in, and find a seat. It lasted for about 2 hours and it was really interesting, as you can likely imagine. Apparently the new book, In Defense of Food has caused a stir - it's got people taking sides for a number of reasons, which is probably good because it ultimately means that people are reading the book, digesting the message(s), and feeling strongly about it. I managed to score a copy of the book at the show - autographed and all - for $9. A nice find, for sure, and I've just started to read it so I'll report back on it when I finish it.

Having spent Thursday night with Mr. Pollan, Friday night was just around the corner, and that meant another fish fry was in order. The crew decided to try Christys Landing, which is located on the western "coast" of Lake Waubesa. It's a tricky place to find by car; by boat it would be quite easy.

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Christys has an unusual layout - it's similar to The Stamm House; you enter at the "bar level," with all dining taking place upstairs. There's a hostess who waits at a makeshift hostess station near the bottom of the stairs, and when you're ready to eat, you walk over and request a table from her. She takes you upstairs, where there are about 10 tables and just two waitresses.

Upon being seated, we ordered some onion rings and cheese curds - the crew was starving, and the service was a tad on the slow side, so we "over-ordered" in the interest of staving off our hunger as quickly as possible.

Here are the curds and the rings:

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As you can tell from the photos, the appetizers weren't anything special by any means - just your standard "from the freezer to the fryer" Sysco offerings. But, they were cooked well, and being as hungry as we were, they did a fair job of satisfying us. We placed our fish orders - cod all around, and also ordered an Old Fashioned (as is tradition).

The Old Fashioned wasn't muddled (strike one), and didn't come with olives (strike two). Despite these two strikes, it wasn't bad - the crew thought it was a decent effort, but definitely not noteworthy.

We also sampled the chicken chili, and were pleasantly surprised - it was extremely hardy, with huge chunks of pulled chicken and just the right amount of zing. Despite the great chili we were still a bit nervous about the rest of the dinner... the service was slow, and with the exception of the chili, nothing really "stood out" as spectacular.

But alas, our concerns were for naught - the fish arrived, and it was outstanding. Here's the fried cod with cheesy home fries (red potatoes with onions) - sorry for the bad photo... iPhone... you know how it goes...

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And here's the cod with curly fries:

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The fish was easily top three quality fish - huge, thick cut portions of cod with a perfect beer batter, all flawlessly executed - no grease, no odd taste, just fantastic fish, plain and simple. Served nice and hot, the fish was delicate, "meaty," and flaky without being crumbly. Excellent job on the fish, for sure.

The curly fries were delicious as well, but the final pleasant surprise were the home fries - boiled and grilled red potatoes, mixed with onions, peppers, and cheese - yummy. Very good.

The bread basket was also great; the first round of bread included mostly wheat and potato buns; the second round featured Asiago cheese-enhanced rolls.

Value was great - the plates of fish were $10.95 and included salad/soup. We'll definitely go back to Christys.

Have a good week, everyone. We're still working on the new site (wisconsinsupperclubs.com); it'll be a few weeks before it's up and running, so until then, you'll have to suffer through fish fry reviews here at geekysteve.com... :-)

First things first - I realize that most of you are getting tired of reading about fish frys and biking and running, so it's time for a brief announcement: the fish fry crew has decided to venture out and start our own website, dedicated strictly to reviewing fish frys and supper clubs. We purchased a new domain name and I'm in the process of putting together the site. It'll be a month or so before things are up and running, but keep your eyes open for the new site - it's called www.wisconsinsupperclubs.com. It's got "place holder" text there now, but as soon as we can figure out how to organize the site, lay it out, and get some Google AdWords running, we'll have it live.

So, with that said, it's time for another fish fry review. :-)

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The crew hit The Stamm House in Middleton, and despite looking good on paper, it failed to deliver. In fact, it may have been one of the worst fish frys ever. Why?

Simple - the fish was icky. There's no better way to state it than "icky." It had the most ridiculously strong fishy (and not in a good fishy way) taste; I'm pretty sure that even the worst cafeteria fish would blow away the Stamm House fish. It took a lot of ketchup and a lot of lemon to choke down their fish. Ugh. So disappointing...

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It wasn't terribly greasy, and it was breaded quite nicely. But aside from that, it was downright awful. The restaurant itself was pretty cool - lots of history, lots of charm, good service; but that was about all they had to offer.

Didn't do too much on Saturday - went to Johnson Creek and bought a winter jacket (!!!), then went to the Come Back Inn to watch some football, and prepare for my triathlon. ;-)

I did the Devil's Challenge Triathlon today, which is held at Devil's Lake State Park, just outside of Baraboo. The park is beautiful - here's a shot of the lake about an hour before the race started:

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The weather was cool at 7:00am - about 50-ish. By race time (8:00am), the temps were in the low 60s, so it wasn't too bad. Here we are, getting ready to hit the water - I think the race started about 30 seconds after this photo was snapped:

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For some reason, that photo is just hilarious to me - I look like a 1930's bomber pilot with those goggles on. :-) So, the race went about as I expected - the swim was terrible (go figure), and it was complicated by tons of seaweed and extremely shallow water. Here I am coming out of the water, with my wetsuit already about half-off:

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That wetsuit was more trouble than it was worth - the water wasn't too terribly cold (72F) - it really slowed me down in the first transition... it took me over 4.5 minutes to get out of that wetsuit and onto the bike. I don't know how the other guys change so quickly - most folks were done with their swim transition in 2 minutes! Anyway, with the wetsuit off, it was time to head out on the bike:

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The bike course was super hilly - just what I like. The first 2 miles of the ride are essentially up a steep hill. I passed dozens and dozens of people on that hill - some people were throwing up, others were crying (men and women alike); it was pretty odd. I'm so glad that I torture myself each weekend with a super hilly 60+ mile practice route. :-)

Finished the bike section pretty easily - here I am coming in from the ride, running my bike back to the transition area:

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The bike transition went fairly well, but I'm still quite slow in transition... my T2 time was nearly 3 minutes; for comparison, other guys did it in under a minute. UGH!!!!

I ran well, despite the hilly run course, and finished the run portion (3.1 miles) in just over 23 minutes. I felt really good during the entire run - I could've kept going without any trouble, but time was up and here I am coming across the finish line:

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I managed to finish in 1:30:07, which was good enough for 161st place out of 620 people. In my age group, I finished about middle of the pack - 24th out of 46. The transition times literally cost me 5 spots in my age group alone... if I would've had an "average" transition time, I would've finished 19th out of 46. I really need to fix those!

So, that's it for now... oh, almost forgot - celebrated the finish with some breakfast at Mr. Pancake in Wisconsin Dells:

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Yum! Time to be good again - cold weather is coming, and that means I'll have to curb the binge eating on the weekends. :-(

Early review - surprise!

Started the weekend by attending special party at my favorite bike store, Cronometro; they had a bit of a customer appreciation/new product line introduction gala, and it sounded interesting, so it was over to Willy Street to check out the party and to check out the Ridley line of bicycles.

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Ridley reps were there, which was cool, because Ridley has a great line of "Cyclocross" bikes that have caught my eye. I'd love to get another bike to use for commuting to and from work, riding on trails, and using on the trainer during the winter. I really liked this model, the X-Fire:

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Unfortunately, that bike is quite a bit out of my price range. As shown above, that bike runs right about $6,000. Yikes!! Thankfully, there are some that are a bit more affordable, like this interesting Crossbow model, shown here with a fender kit and the latest Ultegra components.

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After spending about 30 minutes oggling the new bikes, chatting with folks, and sampling some Belgian beverages (Ridley is based in Belgium), it was time to head out for the fish fry.

The crew decided to hit Toby's Supper Club, which is located just outside of Madison, on Stoughton Road. The place received stellar reviews from several web sites, although some of the folks from work warned us that it might be a bit "local" or "townie."

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The place is tiny - hardly bigger than an average living room - and as such, was absolutely PACKED full of people. We arrived at around 7:30pm, and the place was jumping - we could barely find a place to stand while waiting for a table. And while there were obviously a bunch of "locals" there, the crowd was friendly and enjoyable, and thank goodness for that - check out how packed the bar was:

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The entire time that we sat at the bar, the bartenders literally flew around, multitasking like crazy. It was nothing for them to be filling two drink orders (mixing several drinks at the same time), while making change for someone at the bar, and taking a new drink order from someone in line. And they never once missed a beat - it was pretty fun to watch them work their magic.

Toby's has a unique ordering system - while seated or standing at the bar, one of the bartenders somehow notifies a waitress that you'd like to order food. Out of nowhere will appear a waitress, who takes your order, and tells you that she'll get you once the table and food are ready. With so many people stacked in the place, we found it hard to believe that this would actually work, but it did.

Our wait was long - about 2.5 hours - but well worth it! While sitting at the bar, we started off with the customary cheese curds, which were solid. Top 3 rank for curds, for sure:

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We generally prefer a battered curd to a breaded curd, but the cheese in these curds was so good that it made up for the non-battered-nature. The ranch was also spectacular. Curds = WIN.

And before we knew it (the clock had struck 10:00pm), our table and fish were ready. The table was outfitted with the customary Supper Club fare: a veggie bowl and a bread bowl.

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And then came the fish. Toby's offers: Baby Pike, Cod, and Lake Perch. And the prices are more than reasonable - no more than $13 for a plate. Here's the cod:

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It was superb. Unbelievably good - easily Top 2 fish. Why so good? Once again, the fish is breaded, which is normally not a point-scorer for us. But, the breading is light, the fish is fried perfectly (not a hint of grease anywhere), and it's served piping hot. The flavor is unreal - the fish is the actual star of the plate; it's not overwhelmed by breading or spices, or anything unusual. Simple = good, and Toby's cod is GREAT.

Here's the combo plate (Lake Perch on the left, Baby Pike on the right):

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Just like the Cod, these two offerings were stellar and beyond compare, and for the same reasons as the Cod. Lightly and perfectly breaded, expertly fried, and packed with wonderful, yet delicate fish flavor. Well worth any wait, plain and simple.

And the service was equally fantastic - our server, Rhonda, was great - super fun, helpful, and tolerant of our boisterous crew. Here's me and Rhonda:

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We called it a night and left Toby's content, happy, and raving about how incredible the fish was. We'll definitely be back!

Saturday morning came much too early, especially given there was a 54-mile bike race in Fort Atkinson that I had entered. It's called "Ride the Rock" and it benefits the local literacy council (I think). The race started at 8:30am from Jones Park in Fort Atkinson. Here we are leaving as a group to start the race:

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The race went horribly. I've discovered that I absolutely hate bike racers - they're some of the most self-centered, inconsiderate, unnecessarily aggressive riders on the planet. I was basically run off the road within the first few miles of the race by the "teams," all of which were trying to jockey for position by literally elbowing and bumping people out of the way... all within the first 3-4 miles of a 54-mile race. Really?

Factor in that the race wasn't a sanctioned event and that it was basically a charity ride, and it's just all the more silly to risk crashing and wrecking your bike, breaking bones, or causing harm to other people. Yet these guys don't apparently care... you'd think they were trying to qualify for the Olympics or something. To heck with that. After I hit the gravel, I let the group get ahead of me, and I rode out the "race" without worry of getting in a wreck.

Unfortunately, the group will always ride faster than a solo rider, by a pace of around 4-5mph. So, within the first lap (18 miles), I had completely lost site of the pack. That was fine by me. Here I am passing through a little town on my second lap:

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And here I am at the finish line, giving a solid "thumbs down" to the group. The race was generally well organized, the course was well marked, and the support crews were good, I just wish my "fellow riders" shared some of those qualities.

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So, yeah - no more bike races (or more specifically, bike racers) for me. I'll just enjoy my triathlons, where the emphasis is on the individual's effort, and not impacted/driven by mob mentality.

Interesting title, I know... but it sums up the weekend and might (?) make some sense... Had another busy weekend - with the weather being as nice as it has been, it only seems reasonable to try to accomplish as much as possible, even if it requires a finely-tuned schedule. It's only a matter of time before these beautiful 75F days are a distant memory, and brutal cold + tons of snow become a harsh reality.

The weekend started with the customary fish fry. This time our crew hit The Old Fashioned, which is located on the capitol square in downtown Madison.

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The Old Fashioned is a bit of an institution - it's known for its huge selection of locally brewed beers, great drink menu, and diverse menu that features burgers by number. The bar certainly didn't disappoint; we arrived at around 6:00pm and were informed that the wait for a table would be approximately 30-45 minutes. So, we bellied-up to the bar - check out the numerous taps:

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They have approximately 150 different locally made beers; 30 or so of which are available on tap. We tried a few offerings from The New Glarus Brewery, primarily because they were on special. We were also pleased to find that The Old Fashioned apparently knows how to honor the drink from which it's named - they muddle their cherries, which is key to a great Old Fashioned:

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While waiting for our table, we decided to order the "Number 3 Cheese plate," which featured Ghost Chevre cheese, which is a nutty-flavored soft cheese, along with some 16-month Gouda and some 10-year Cheddar. The cheese plate was awesome:

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We were eventually seated, and promptly ordered some cheese curds. Cheese curds are a yardstick by which we evaluate a restaurant and its fish fry "package." The Old Fashioned's curds were obviously homemade, but despite that, they failed to impress. Sure, they looked great:

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But in reality, they were super greasy, relatively flavorless, soggy curds that oozed grease with every single bite. The batter barely even stuck to the curds - that's how greasy they were... Truly disappointing, even more so when you consider the cost: $7.

We ordered a round of old fashioneds to try and wash down some of the grease from those curds. And once again, we were disappointed. The old fashioneds were ok, but they weren't spectacular by any means. Average, at best. Cory from The Oakcrest still holds the honor of making the best old fashioned.

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Soon after downing our old fashioneds, the fish arrived. Baked cod for me, and deep fried cod for the crew. We had high hopes for The Old Fashioned's food - it received good reviews from friends and from internet sources. But yet again, the result fell quite short of our expectations.

Here's the baked cod:

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Notice how miniscule those pieces of fish are??? They're barely bigger than the lemon wedges. The flavor was ok, but it wasn't anything spectacular... it was also greasy (too much butter) and slightly overcooked. Definitely not worth $14, that's for sure! ARGH.

Here's the deep fried cod:

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Notice how dark it is? Yeah - they way over-fried the fish, and as such, all you could really taste was the super-done batter. They also served far too many of those greasy onion strings with the fish; perhaps The Old Fashioned could go lighter on the greasy sides and focus more on properly cooking their main dish (and serving a more reasonable amount).

All-in-all, I would not recommend The Old Fashioned for to anyone looking for a good fish fry or decent curds. Truly underwhelming, overpriced, and simply not worth the long wait and high price.

At least there was a friendly little guy waiting outside as we ate:

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And with the sun setting, the capitol building looked fantastic - picture perfect:

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After the disappointing dinner, we called it a night. Good thing it was an early evening - with Saturday's forecast calling for calm winds, clear skies, and temperatures in the high 70s, I was anxious to hop on the bike and put some miles under my tires. Woke up fairly early on Saturday morning and hit the road for a 77-mile ride. It was absolutely glorious. I stopped at around the 65-mile mark and snapped a quick picture:

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After the ride, I went for a quick 3-mile run, just to help loosen up my back and quads. I find that by running after a ride I feel so much better the rest of the day. If I don't go for a run, I tighten-up and feel really stiff the next day.

With 80-miles under my belt, it was time to head out to the Taste of Madison. This annual event attracts several thousand people, several dozen local restaurants, and several dozen bands from all over the country. In past years, I remember really enjoying the event - there were tons of local restaurants, good bands, and reasonable prices.

This year, there were too many chain restaurants (Red Lobster, Abuelos, Little Ceasars, and so on), the prices were too high (most "samples" were $4 each), and the bands weren't too interesting. Candlebox was there on Saturday night, and while they were interesting, it wasn't a "great" concert by any means. :-(

So... here are some photos from the event:

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A bunch of people, for sure.


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Tried some Buffalo Chicken Pizza from Toppers - it was ok. Nothing great.


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Tried some Sesame Chicken from Hong Kong Cafe - meh.


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Tried some fried mac-n-cheese bites from Bluephies - they were decent. The cookie dough eggrolls were also decent (no picture, sorry).


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Enjoyed watching the cooks prepare food for the throngs of rabid eaters.


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Tried some Bruschetta - once again, meh - so boring and tasteless.

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Got a free hug from two really stinky (BO) kids. Had to give them credit for their ingenuity, though.


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And wrapped-up by watching Candlebox play a mediocre show on the WJJO rock stage. At least the weather was gorgeous, and once again, had a chance to hang out with Jed and Jamie (friends from an old job), so it wasn't a complete loss. Although, speaking of loss... I managed to lose my very favorite sunglasses! UGH!!


Sunday was a relatively uneventful day - rode the bike about 25 miles, went for a run, and then ran errands the rest of the day. I've been craving waffles like nobody's business, and was lucky enough to find a "classic" waffle maker (non-Belgian) at Tuesday Morning. It made some really killer waffles:

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Nice and crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside - perfect and delicious. The batter was a whole wheat/rolled oat combo that was fantastic. Roasted some bacon, scrambled a few eggs, and had a glorious Sunday night dinner (of breakfast foods). I'd normally worry about the number of calories associated with such a feast, but the fuel was put to good use - I ran a 10K race the next day in Randolph, to help benefit the Dodge County Humane Society.

Here I am (in the orange shirt), running my way to a 6th place finish, with a time of 45:21. That's one of my better 10K times - my previous best was over 50-minutes!

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Upon returning home and resting for a bit - my legs were cramping like crazy during the race - it was over to the local triathlon supply store for a new watch. My Garmin GPS watch has been a bit unreliable lately - it doesn't want to "take" a charge, and it goes dead quite often, so I needed a back-up. I scored this Timex Ironman watch for a really reasonable price:

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I really like it so far; it's nice and light, waterproof, and it allows me to "rest" my primary daily watch - the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean.

Finally, check out this other recent score:

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Several stores were running crazy specials on Pepsi products this week, so I took full advantage of the deals. The sodas ranged in price from $1.77 - $4 per case. Made a few trips, but it was worth it - there shouldn't be any soda shortage for quite some time!

Better Late than Never...

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I'm a bit late with this update; it's been a busy week - lots of things going on at work that have been taking a tremendous amount of time and effort. Had a busy weekend last week, and it started oddly enough on Wednesday night with a trip to Lake Mills for some pizza.

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Went to the Blue Moon restaurant, which occupies the space once held by Anna Maria's. Anna Maria's was a great, great, great pizza place. Man, I miss that pizza. So while at the Blue Moon, it only made sense to order the pizza; the hope was that it wouldn't disappoint... and while it wasn't horrible, it wasn't anything like Anna Maria's pizza. To add insult to injury, the service was quite possibly the slowest and most painful service I've ever endured. It took nearly two hours to get out of there... and the place was virtually empty. Wow. Never again.


Friday included a fish fry (of course). Rather than try something new, the Friday Night Fish Fry Fanatics decided to revisit a favorite - The Avenue Bar. And, we're happy to report that the fish was once again stellar. Started with a bowl of Hungarian Beef Noodle soup, and it was unreal. Wow - so good.

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And followed-it up with the usual - beer battered cod with fries. Yummo!

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The pictures simply don't do the fish justice - it's so amazing. I think it'll be difficult, if not impossible, for any other establishment to knock-off The Avenue's fish. If you're ever in Madison on a Friday, be sure to check out The Avenue. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday included what else - lots of running and riding.

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The Middleton Good Neighbor Festival was underway, and it included a 5K run that started and ended at The Capital Brewery. For some odd reason, the city of Middleton had placed barricades along University Avenue, which led me to believe the road would be closed come Saturday morning. I also figured the Capital Brewery wouldn't have much parking available, so I decided that rather than drive and try to fight traffic/parking, I'd just walk and/or jog the 2.5 miles from the apartment to the Brewery and then do the 5K race.

So, I woke-up about an hour early, got dressed, and started my walk toward the Brewery. The race started at 9:00am; I didn't hit the road until about 8:30am... so, that meant I had less than 20 minutes to walk 2.5 miles. Nearly impossible, so I decided to run to the race.

Got to the race with about 5 minutes to spare. Thankfully it was only about 45F outside (in August!!), so I wasn't overly warm... The race started and 194 of my fellow runners were off!

I finished in under 22 minutes, which was good enough for 31st place out of 194 people. Not bad! I was pretty happy about that. I didn't spend much time celebrating, though - I still had some more running to do. I finished off my run-filled-morning with an 8-mile loop around western Middleton. Total miles covered by foot: 13.9.

Hopped on the bike and took a 35-mile spin through the countryside; it was 11:00am or so and the temps were still in the low 50s... and the wind was absolutely brutal - gusts of up to 30mph, with a near-steady northerly wind of nearly 20mph. Not fun.

After all that running and riding, I was ready to unwind, so it was over to the Come Back Inn for a beverage. The CBI has these excellent authentic German glasses; I ordered a "Totally Naked" from The New Glarus Brewing Company - it was oh so glorious:

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From the CBI it was over to The Oakcrest for some Mahi Mahi. How a tiny, little hole-in-the-wall bar can cook such amazing food is beyond me! Their burgers are unreal, their steaks are amazing, and their Mahi Mahi is unbelievable. This photo is blurry (it's so dark in there), but trust me when I say the food is really, really superb.

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Also happened to have the best Old Fashioned ever, compliments of Cory - a young (21 year old) bartender who provided some of the best service I've ever had at any restaurant. He made great conversation, mixed a mean Old Fashioned, and served a killer plate of fish. Here's Cory working his muddling magic:

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Hit the road first thing on Sunday morning - rode 67 miles, did a quick little jog, and then rested for most of the day. Hit the Great Dane for dinner - I had a burger, but my dining partners were a little more adventurous- they enjoyed a chicken pot pie and a brat plate:

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And finally, went to this little Taqueria tonight for a burrito - and it was incredible. It was also huge, but cheap - just $4 for this monster:

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Their salsas were amazing as well; even bought some to take back home. I can't wait to try it on a breakfast taco and/or some turkey wraps.

This weekend will include some more bike riding and then there's a 10K race up in Randolph that I think I'm going to enter. We'll see how it goes. Oh, it's also "The Taste of Madison" this weekend, so since it involves food, odds are pretty good that you'll be reading about it during next week's update. :-)

Sunday Wrap-Up

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By now you know the drill - it's Sunday night, I've got a bunch of food pictures to share, so let's just get on with it.

Started Friday night by visiting Kavanaugh's Esquire Club.

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Astute followers of my blog will recall that I visited Kavanaugh's not too long ago... well, it's so good that a second visit certainly wasn't going to hurt my feelings. So, the fish fry crew made its way to Sherman Avenue for some Esquire Club fish.

The Esquire is always quite busy, especially so on a Friday night, so we bellied up to the bar and enjoyed a few Spotted Cows while waiting for a table to become available. The bar at the Esquire is your typical "Supper Club" bar - oval-shaped, dark wood with heavy chairs, and tons of people gathered around it.

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After a forty-five minute wait we were shown to our table, where we ordered the house specialty - all you can eat Ocean Perch with fries, and the beer battered Cod with cheesy hashbrowns.

I've got to give credit to the Esquire - despite the fact that the place was packed to the gills (pun intended!) with people, they get the food out at a record pace. Within a few minutes of placing our orders, the fish arrived. Here's the Ocean Perch:

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And here's the cod:

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Both were amazing by their own right. The Ocean Perch has a wonderfully delicate fish flavor, features a corn-bread breading, is served piping hot, yet has no hint of grease. It flakes nicely when cut - it's really great fish.

The Cod was delicious as well. Slightly more mild in flavor; flaky, moist, tender, and wrapped-up in a crispy beer batter. Really, really good - and unfortunately, not eligible for the "all you can eat" promotion. :-(

I downed about 3-pounds of the Ocean Perch. It's so good.

Went for a long (64-mile) bike ride on Saturday morning; the weather was cool - in the low 60's - and windy, so it wasn't a terribly enjoyable ride. I fought a 20mph headwind for about 50-miles worth of riding, and boy, talk about frustrating. It literally sucks the life from you - it's relentless and disheartening, but, it makes for stronger legs, so it's not all bad. Returned from the ride and went for a quick 5-mile run. Calories burned: 3700-ish. Nice.

After all of that riding and running, I was ready to refuel. So, as a fan of sweet corn, it only seemed natural to venture over to Sun Prairie for the Sun Prairie Corn Festival. For $1, you get into the festival, and then for $6, you can get a "tote" that the good people of Sun Prairie will fill with as much corn as the thing can hold. What's not to love?

Apparently, I'm not the only person who really enjoys corn on the cob... While the SPCF people have a heckuva system down for getting folks in and out of the corn serving area, there was still an impressive line:

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Now this is what I like to see:

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With an empty tote in hand, we made our way into the barn, where we were ushered to one of a dozen or so people that were ready to fill our tote with freshly picked-and-steamed corn. Here's the corn as it's coming into the barn (hot out of the steamer - they steam over 70 tons of corn in a single weekend):

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With the tote full of corn (they fit 10 ears in our tote), you make your way over to a "shucking table" where the husks are removed and the corn cleaned and prepped for buttering:

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Once your cobs are shucked and buttered, it's time to make your way out of the barn and to the "salt tree" - certainly not good for the blood pressure, but it sure is an ingenious system:

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And the net result of all of that work:

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YUMMO!!! We left the corn barn and made our way up to the "beer tent," where we purchased a few Miller Lites, found a place to stand, listened to some music and ate some corn.

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While the corn was outstanding, we managed to wolf down another one of my favorites, beer-battered cheese curds. These were from "Wittenberg's Blue Barn" and they were outstanding.

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Oh so good. Aside from being a bit windy, the weather was nice - it got into the low, low 70's... just crazy for August weather. I always remember July and August in Wisconsin as being hot, humid, and semi-miserable. This summer has been anything but - it's been cool, and downright cold on some days. I think the high on Friday was 65F!

With our bellies full of corn, it was time to trek on down to Oregon to meet the newest member of Jed's house - Rocco. Rocco is a baby Boxer, and he may be one of the cutest little guys on the planet!!!

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So cute, and maybe a tad-bit naughty. But in his defense, he's only 11 or 12 weeks old, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. It's obvious that he loves being around people - here he is waiting and watching as Jed cooks some shrimp:

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Jed and his wife Jamie made some awesome Shrimp Tacos with an out-of-this-world avocado salsa; while our bellies were still a little full from the corn fest, it was hard to say no to this incredible feast. (That pile of red sauce is homemade salsa with habanero - yummmmmm!)

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And, we washed it down with a delightful pineapple upside down cake. I'd never before had pineapple upside down cake, and I must admit - I'm a fan. I'm sure it's not very good for you, but it's so good that it's well worth the calories (and guilt).

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We chatted for a while, watched a few episodes of Man V. Food (what a fun show), enjoyed playing with Rocco, and then called it an evening. Rocco was obviously pooped - here he is, wishing us farewell (look at those cute but oh-so-heavy eyes):

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Woke up this morning to 50F temperatures (again, it's ridiculous!!), waited a bit for the weather to warm-up, and then went for a shorter ride (35 miles) and a shorter run (3 miles). Spent the rest of the day running errands and hanging around the apartment, and am now waiting for Entourage to start.

I've got a 5k race next Saturday, so that'll be fun.

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. I can't believe it's Sunday night already - almost time to return back to work... the weekends definitely go by too fast. This weekend was a pretty good one - lots of things happened, so let's get started.

I've decided to enter another triathlon, which means I have to start swimming again. Argh. Biking and running - no problem. I'm regularly biking 70-ish miles at a time, averaging just around 23 mph, and my runs are doing great as well - I just finished a 13-mile run today, at an average of 7.5mph. So, those are fine. But swimming? I hate it!

So, I started taking swimming lessons. I found a great swim instructor who lives in Portage, so I snuck out of work early on Thursday and drove up to see if she could help my horrific swim stroke. We hopped in the lake and she took a look. The initial verdict? She claims I'm not that bad, but I'd disagree. We worked together for about an hour and I learned some great drills, tips, tricks, and exercises from her. It was well worth the drive - she was super knowledgeable and helpful, and I think I'll be making a few more trips before the race.

Friday brought about another fish fry, this time compliments of The Mid-Town Pub. It's located just a few blocks from the apartment, and it got decent reviews from people, so it was worth a try.

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They have an odd menu/system - there's all you can eat fish offered from 3:00pm - 7:00pm; otherwise it's a "one plate" dinner. Got there at about 6:00pm and ordered some cheese curds; they weren't anything special - typical "drop n fry" frozen curds that probably come from Sysco. Sad, but I'm becoming a curd snob...

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Look familiar? Yeah. They're pretty much the same exact curds as one can find at: The Avenue Bar, The Oakcrest, and Paul's Neighborhood Bar. Decent curds, for sure, but once you've had great curds it's hard to get excited by run-of-the-mill curds.

The fish came out after a lengthy wait, and it was decent. Beer-battered cod with fries. No other side options. Very mild flavor, decent batter. Better than some, but not as good as The Avenue Bar or Jordan's.

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Unfortunately the service was so slow that there wasn't much chance to take advantage of the "all you can eat" offer, as it took nearly an hour for the first batch of fish to arrive and another 25+ minutes for the second batch. By then the window for all you could eat fish was closed, and I was bored and aggravated, so it was time to leave.

Saturday morning saw a welcomed change: I got rid of Charter and got AT&T U-Verse. U-Verse is "TV by IP" - everything comes to your home via a fiber optic internet connection. So, my television comes via fiber optic to my phone line, and then into a mini computer/gateway. The gateway then transmits the TV signal to the television. It also broadcasts a wireless internet signal for my laptop (so I get my internet connection via fiber optic - fast!!!), and if I had telephone, it would go through the same device.

The signal quality so far is fantastic, and the services appear to be much better than Charter's. Charter was a disaster from the start, so I was glad to make the switch. It's slightly less expensive as well, so that's a bonus.

With U-Verse installed, I went for a quick bike ride and run, and then hit the road for the Packers vs. Browns pre-season football game. Mark, my friend from work, has season tickets and wasn't able to use these tickets, so it was the perfect opportunity to see a game.

Did some tailgating before the game with Dan and Tara:

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Scored a decent parking spot near the stadium for just $20, and traffic was light, so we had time to enjoy some snacks and beverages prior to the game. Our modest tailgate was nothing when compared to some of the other set-ups at Lambeau field... this one was particularly "interesting" -

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Once inside the stadium, Dan's alter ego came out:

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They had handed out pom-poms but Dan, not having spent time as a cheerleader, obviously didn't know how to properly use the pom-pom. That's ok - I think his interpretation was just fine!

The seats were awesome. We were in the south end zone, in row 60, but, our seats were on the aisle and, they were the very last row in our section, so we had a built-in seatback, thanks to a concrete wall. We also enjoyed a wonderful breeze; the weather was in the low 80's, sunny, and humid, so the breeze was definitely welcomed!

The Packers more or less dominated the Browns (go figure); we saw a touchdown early in the first quarter - it happened in "our" end zone, so that was cool - here's the touchdown (not that you can see much, but it gives you an idea of where the seats were).

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We were also seated next to some younger folks; I think they said they were from Utah, but I could be wrong - maybe only one of them was from Utah... They were cool guys, and it was fun to hang out with them during the game. Here's a shot of the rowdy bunch:

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With the game well in control of the Packers, we were desperate for some additional entertainment, so when the opportunity to Polka struck, Dan and Tara jumped at the chance:

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And after the game ended, they fired-up some "YMCA" by The Village People, so here's Tara and I doing our interpretation of that timeless classic:

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The Packers won, 17-0, and rather than sit and fight traffic, we decided to hang out and tailgate for a few hours to allow for the roads to clear. Since it was a night game, that meant we didn't get back to Madison until well near 3:00am... a late night indeed, and as a result, today was quite lazy, aside from going for a 30-minute swim and the 13-mile run (as mentioned earlier).

That's it for now. If you're able to take advantage of it, check out AT&T UVerse - so far, so good. Great picture, great internet signal, a small DVR, flexibility, and decent pricing.

Well food fans, it's been another full week, so let's just jump right in and update you on the weekend's eating results.

Friday night: Hit Jordan's Big Ten Pub to check out their fish fry. There had been numerous write-ups about this place; some great, some good, some mediocre, so there was a bit of hesitation about trying it. Happy to report that the experience was fantastic! A very solid fish fry, complimented by two surprises: the cheese curds and the old fashioneds.

Background info first; they don't accept reservations, and there isn't a host or hostess to be found anywhere. It's strictly first come, first served, and normally that wouldn't be an issue. However, this past weekend Madison played host to The Great Taste of the Midwest, and as part of the festivities, Jordan's was one of the sites that was hosting a few of the microbreweries that were invited to attend the Great Taste event. So, that made for a rather packed establishment - finding a table proved challenging, but we were seated in a booth after about an hour or so.

We ordered the cheese curds, and I'm happy to report that these curds were excellent. Definitely top notch curds - obviously handmade; squeaky yet chewy, and perfectly battered. All of today's photos are from the iPhone, so apologies for the poor quality!

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Jordan's has an impressive selection of Friday night fish entrees - there were three kinds of baked fish available, fried cod, fried perch, shrimp, and about a half-dozen sandwich options. I decided to be "good" and ordered the Cajun-grilled Walleye. It came with a salad, which was delish; I chose onion rings for my side. Check out this monster slab of Walleye:

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The fish was great. Once again, it wasn't all you could eat, but it was tasty! The onion rings were excellent as well. Thankfully, my dining partners weren't afraid to order the good stuff - the fried cod was every bit as tasty and excellent as the walleye:

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And, as mentioned - there were a few Old Fashioneds consumed, including this Old Fashioned Sour:

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We learned something new on Friday night - the key to a good Old Fashioned Sour is two-fold... a good sour has seven shakes of bitters, and the fabricator must "muddle" the cherries and sugar prior to adding any liquids. Oh, and you use Squirt as the sour. So, I guess that's a "three-fold" key. Regardless, I'm not a fan of the Old Fashioned, but Jordan's Big Ten Old Fashioned were pretty amazing. I wouldn't hesitate to order one in the future.

Saturday featured bad weather in the morning - heavy rains - that ruined my iPod Shuffle... I tried to sneak out for a run during a brief sunny spot, only to get caught in a massive downpour 15-20 minutes later. Try as I might to protect my iPod, it fell victim to Mother Nature and died. ARGH.

And, as luck would have it, just after my iPod was wrecked by the weather, the sun came out and the weather was gorgeous. 90F and not a cloud in the sky. Go figure. Someone really hates me.

So it was over to the new Thai place to try some of their grub. Egg rolls, steamed dumplings, and chicken Pad Thai. All were excellent! No grease, good flavor, great service, and good value - win, win, win.

Here are the photos (egg rolls, dumplings, Pad Thai):

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After downing some Thai food, it was time to hit the highway - picked-up some cheese and some coffee from Beres Brothers (their Highlander Grogg is unreal). Ran a few more errands and then headed over to Paul's Neighborhood Bar to watch the Brewers game. Paul's is near the apartment and is a pretty friendly place with good food, good service, and great prices. They also serve breakfast, which seemed odd - a bar that opens at 6:00am to serve breakfast? Wow. But, who am I to argue or question things...

Started the evening with some cheese curds and deep-fried mushrooms:

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And wrapped it up with a cheese burger (add lettuce, tomato and onion) and cajun fries:

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So good. There's nothing like good, greasy bar food. Unfortunately, that little event counted for an ungodly amount of calories, so on Sunday morning I hit the road on my new bike frame - yes, the local shop came through and warrantied my beloved Cervelo (although there was a fee for assembly).

I did just over 70 miles (burning 4500 calories), and then finished with a 5-mile run (burning 580 calories). So, by 11:00am on Sunday, I was back to "calorie neutral."

The new bike frame is wonderful - I was quick to love on the Seven, but the Cervelo is really an awesome bike. It's so fast - it accelerates and climbs like a friggin' race car - it really does. And, I believe Cervelo tweaked the ride quality a bit with the '09 version (my replacement frame is a 2009 model, rather than a 2008) - the ride was a bit more smooth than I remembered it, and that was a welcomed surprise. It wasn't nearly as velvety as the Seven, but it wasn't as bone-jarring as the '08 ride.

Upon closer examination of the new frame, it appears as though Cervelo changed the seatpost geometry and diameter, which may explain the smoother ride. Here's the newly reconditioned steed, in all of its glory: