Hello 2014

It’s a brand new year! I didn’t stay up until midnight, but that turned out to be a good thingPhoto of Alex and her son on New Year's Eve since a certain small fellow in my household woke me up at 2:45 a.m. and didn’t go back to sleep until the sun began to rise. So really, I just observed the turning of the year with the west coasters! Prior to middle-of-the-night wakings, we had a blast celebrating New Year’s Eve in downtown Bangor. Our evening was complete with Indian food, admiring the festive lights adorning the trees and streetlights, running around the Discovery Museum (after-hours at museums are the best), and attending a great New Year’s Eve Party at the Bangor Public Library. I am thrilled to live somewhere with such family-friendly activities and festivities! Sometimes having a very young child makes me feel…not like we’re missing out, that’s not right, because we’re partaking in a different kind of excitement at this stage of our lives, but it makes me miss staying up late and being out and about in the evening. So it felt NYE_Hinrichs_familygreat to be out with other families after sunset! It was also fun to see restaurants filled to capacity and everyone preparing for the street party later on. The sidewalks were buzzing, and I suspect that crowds might have been thinner this year even given the sub-zero temperatures. As we scurried from our car to dinner, the little one managed to lose a mitten. We had strategically parked closer to our final destination, and decided not to trek back looking for the too-big mitten. It was just too cold. When our bellies were full and noses warmed, we retraced our steps. And here’s what makes Bangor fabulous. Someone had picked up the mitten and placed it high up on a snow bank, balancing it on the cuff in a little wave so that it would be easier to see. We found it effortlessly. The reason I know this is a trait of this community and not just a coincidence is because this was the third time I have lost something belonging to my son (yes, I know…I really shouldn’t admit that. But honestly, how do babies and toddlers lose articles of clothing that quickly and quietly?!) and found it again thanks to the good graces of caring individuals. To me this was the most impressive instance because somebody stopped in the freezing weather and thought about where a worried parent might look. It would have been so easy to just continue walking. Thank you to that somebody. To all the thoughtful somebodies out there. You make parenthood a bit easier and more forgiving, and that’s quite an accomplishment.

At one point a news crew asked my spouse if he had any New Year’s resolutions (I was too busy trying to cover the little guy’s mitten-less hand to respond), and that got me thinking about resolutions in general. I’ve never been one to make specific resolutions. In some ways I stash them away in the same category of my brain as diets — things that seem temporary and often unpleasant and/or unrealistic– perhaps because diets are so often included in resolutions. It occurred to me that I shouldn’t do that, though. Where I dislike many specific resolutions because I think I would just set myself up for disappointment and dissatisfaction, I do find vague resolutions in the form of broad goals helpful. Last year was the first time I really made one, very casually, by saying out loud that I wanted to become a more organized and neater person. I feel like I achieved this, but given the level of organization I was at to begin with, that wasn’t hard to do! Our house is still a disaster most days, ha. Still, though, I feel satisfied that I made some improvement in that category of my life. Now rather than dirty laundry piling up, the clean laundry piles up! I should probably just keep organization and neatness as my resolution this year, too, given there is so much more room for improvement, but I think there are more urgent things in my life at the moment.

Namely, I would like to work on growing my patience. And I would like to size down my stress triggers and habit of worry.

So there you have it. My shiny new resolution that leaves me plenty of room for missteps and backwards steps, making me feel confident that I can fulfill it.

Happy New Year, everyone! May the year bring much joy and laughter. And, of course, many wonderful children’s books to read.

Photo of an icy shrub on a sunny day in Bangor, Maine

“Mainely” at home now

There have been quite a few changes in my life over the last few months. Primarily, when a fabulous job opportunity arose for my husband, we moved to Bangor, Maine. That last sentence makes it sound as though it happened quickly, and I suppose in some ways it did. We found out it was a possibility in January, knew it was happening as of February, and made the move in May. But those months in between were filled with preparations, flights to and from Bangor, minor surgery followed by prolonged illness for our son (nothing serious, just one thing after another), selling and buying a house, and waiting. Juggling graduate school, jobs (four between the two of us), and taking care of our dear baby boy led to quite a bit of stress. And our son decided to stop sleeping through the night during these months, which certainly wasn’t helped by the aforementioned health issues and our anxiety levels. We were exhausted to say the least. I finished up at work as best I could and made tearful goodbyes to my co-workers. I worried over the precious friendships I’d made in Madison and how lonely I would be in Bangor.

Train at dusk in Bangor, Maine

Train at dusk in Bangor, Maine

But it was all worth it in the end. Brian drove cross country with our two cats and, after living in a hotel for a couple of days with the baby, I flew out with him, and we even met Garrison Keillor on our flight. He was utterly charming and gave my little boy his blessing, which I took as a good omen. Despite my worst fears about traveling alone with a baby, everyone was friendly and helpful, and I, in turn, felt rather like super mom. I had planned and packed perfectly for once, although that was probably the first and last time that will ever happen.

Life in Maine is just swell. We love Bangor, and I’ll write more in the future about the city and all its offerings, because there is a lot to say. Our new neighborhood is fabulous. Our new house already feels like home in all its varying states of done and undone. The summer did start out rather lonely. There was a period where I avoided thinking too much about friends and co-workers back in Wisconsin because I was liable to burst into tears. I felt like I should wear a sign around my neck whenever I stepped out to the park (which is really just steps away from our house, so lovely!) with something akin to a classified ad for a friend. Despite (and probably because of) my lack of such an absurdity, I have slowly made friends. Conversations and visits with friends back in Madison make up for the day-to-day distance between us, and we’re now closer to old friends and most of our family.

View of downtown Bangor

View of downtown Bangor

The biggest transition for me has definitely been ceasing to work outside our home. I miss my job and co-workers something fierce. On the other hand, I love having more time to spend with my little guy, who began sleeping through the night again the day he turned mobile via an adorable monkey-type crawl. It’s funny to think about that now, because now he is walking, running, climbing, falling, sliding, dancing, and starting to talk. But then, we have been here five months already!

And actually, work has even popped up already, much faster than I was expecting. For now, all I’ll say is that I have an exciting opportunity still related to children’s literature. It might turn into something bigger, but even if it doesn’t, it has been a great experience and provided me with intellectual stimulation during naptimes.

Things are a bit crazy here yet. Our weekends have been filled with travel and visitors, a product of having family and old friends closer by again. While always fun, these activities make for a very different type of weekend than our weekends in Madison. Sometimes it feels like we can’t quite catch our breath!  But books are finally making their way out of boxes and onto shelves (organized by color nonetheless!), and we’re finding our groove.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ll have to change my site design to reflect the new locale soon. For now just know that I’ve been enjoying autumn in New England once again. And wondering how on earth it is that I have a toddler on my hands.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

One of my favorite places to take a walk in Madison is Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Every time we go the gardens look a little different, and they’re always spectacular. There is something utterly relaxing about the combination of meandering paths, fresh air, and ever-changing blooms. Here are some snapshots from today.

 

Madison Eats & Treats: Brunch Edition

One of the joys of living in Madison has been eating. Eating well is easy here, even on a grad student budget (with the occasional splurge of course). Whenever we have visitors in town, we take pride in escorting them from one great meal to another. I’ve decided to start a “Madison Eats & Treats” series in order to share some of my favorite dining experiences with you all. Let’s begin with brunch:

  • Madison Sourdough: My morning meal here on Saturday inspired me to finally write this post. Buttermilk sourdough French toast with fruit compote and maple sweet cream. This may have been the best French toast I’ve ever had because of the perfect balance in textures and flavors. From their scrumptious bread to the rhubarb compote…and the maple sweet cream?? The answer to my prayers! I love fruit on French toast and whipped cream, but sometimes I need a little something that the bread will absorb better and I find that maple syrup tends to be too sweet and overpowering in these cases. So their maple sweet cream was a dream come true, not as fluffy as whipped cream, and with just the perfect hint of maple sweetness to it! Also, their new patio looks great and offers even more seating.
  • Sophia's Bakery & CafeSophia’s Bakery & Cafe: Only open on Saturdays and Sundays, Sophia’s was one of our first loves in Madison, found by chance because the apartment we lived in our first year was right around the corner. The menu changes by season, and the line out the door is TOTALLY worth it for their delicious omelets and perfect pastries. Order at the counter, then pick your coffee mug and fill ‘er up while waiting for a seat in this cozy space (or grab one of the folding tables outside). A couple of the tables are large enough for community seating. Enjoy the quirky and charming decor: a spoon curtain of sorts above the counter, assorted china and cake stands, sometimes available for purchase. At the end of your meal, return to the counter to pay. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it. A true gem and unforgettable brunch.
  • Manna Cafe: Tucked into an inconspicuous shopping complex on Sherman Ave., this warm and inviting cafe has my favorite muffin in town (the sunrise muffin).  Their quiche is outstanding. I’m always a fan of their lox and shmear. Their morning buns and Collins House oatmeal pancakes are among my husband’s favorite breakfast items in Madison. Plenty of a seating and a fireplace to warm yourself/read by during the colder months!
  • 4 & 20: A new and welcome addition to the Madison brunch scene, this little bakery is on East Johnson across from East High School and tucked behind Milio’s. Wonderful baked goods of the morning and dessert varieties (scones, muffins, homemade pop-tarts, homemade oreo-type cookie/cakes, pies, etc.), and a great little breakfast menu. I’ve been on a strawberry and orange scone streak, myself. A random tidbit worth noting, they have the question & answer cards to the game TriBond out for patrons to play with — I hadn’t thought about Tribond since middle school when I was obsessed with it, and they definitely score points for the game’s inclusion!
  • Lazy Jane’s Cafe: A true Madison experience, you haven’t been initiated into the Madison brunch world until you’ve heard name bellowed over a 10 or 15-second time span — try that, it’s long, and that’s for 2 syllable names — while sitting on the second floor of Lazy’s. Their scones belong in their own class: beware of addiction! The SCC (eggs with scallions and cream cheese) and BLTP (BLT with red bell Pepper) are two of our favorite dishes. Upstairs they have a kid and family-friendly space  in addition to more tables.
  • Crema Cafe:  Located on Monona Drive, Crema also makes the cut to rank among my favorite brunch spots. Their ham & jam sandwich (fried egg, berkshire ham, tomato jam, red onion, and goat cheese on whole wheat bread) is perhaps my favorite egg sandwich around town. They’re also noteworthy for serving smoothies. In my pregnant state, I drink fruit and yogurt smoothies almost every day (made at home most of the time by my loving husband). But for whatever reason, few brunch spots seem to offer these delectable beverages! Plus, I fell in love with their lemon ricotta pancakes, a special one day that I hope they’ll offer more frequently.

What’s amazing is that there are so many fabulous brunches beyond this list to be had in Madison. What are some of your favorite brunch spots and memorable meals? Do share as we can all benefit!

Adventures in May and June

This past month has been a busy one! My sister-in-law and her significant other visited over Memorial Day weekend. In addition to eating our way around Madison, a favorite pastime whenever we have visitors, we made it out to Blue Mounds to explore Little Norway. The grounds of this national historic landmark are stunning, and the tour much more informative than I’d expected to be honest. Lots of great details. My only regret is that we were in such a large group (that’s what we get for going on the last tour of the day on a holiday weekend shortly after a Groupon had come for it!), it was a bit cramped in each of the small houses and buildings, and our poor guide had to balance explaining each place and artifact with preventing over-zealous observers (and a particularly roudy youngster) from picking up and bumping into some unique and fragile antiques. The flip-side of that, though, is that you’re really able to see everything up close unlike in museums where spaces and rooms are roped off. I’d definitely go again and recommend the site to others. Make sure you bring your camera, iPhone, or other picture-taking device.

Clockwise from top left: 1) one of many gnomes hiding on the property 2) our trusty tour guide leading the way 3) lantern 4) only complete set of this particular wash basin, pitcher, etc. known to exist in the world 5) spoons, including unity spoons (attached by wood chain in center) created from a single piece of wood. A newly married couple were expected to manage these at their wedding! 6) tools
Center: The stave-like building constructed in Norway and shipped on Viking ship to U.S. for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair

That Sunday the temperatures rose into the 90s (an oddity we thought was a fluke but turns out to be a pattern so far this summer!) and we headed to the only public pool opened in the area; most others didn’t open until June! Here’s what happens when you mix such high heat with a holiday weekend and one available public pool:

Monona Public Pool Memorial Day weekend 2012But let me tell you, it was worth the crowds to get into the water.

The following weekend we headed to central New York for our 5-year college reunion at photos from Colgate University reunion 2012Colgate University. We were happy to see a new brewery in town: Good Nature Brewing Company. While my tasting was quite limited due to the baby belly, everyone else tells me the beer was outstanding. At $2 a tasting, it was an inexpensive and fun way to spend the afternoon! Other highlights of the weekend included partaking in Colgate’s traditional torchlight procession, and dinner at one of our favorite spots: Dinosaur Bbq in Syracuse. YUM. We have managed to eat there for all the major landmarks in our relationship: first date, the night we got engaged, and now with baby #1 on the way!

The following weeks were filled with housework (of the repaving and patio-adding variety), house cleaning, working weekends, and a lovely baby shower that our parents made it out for! Now that the craziness of that month is over, I plan to be back and at it here on the blog. Stay tuned!

Small town mini-vacation – Sheboygan Falls

The budget of part-time work and a graduate school stipend does not allow for many of life’s luxuries, including an extended vacation. Nevertheless, my husband and I determined to get away even if it was just for a night. After finding a special discount at a charming-looking inn, we made our way to Sheboygan Falls. We encountered many raised eyebrows when we told people we were doing an overnight trip to Sheboygan Falls just to get away – it is a small town with admittedly little to do in the immediate vicinity. And it was Rochester Inn just what we needed. We stayed at the Rochester Inn, where each room is actually a two-story suite, composed of a lower-level sitting room and an upstairs bedroom. Of course, the bathroom was outfitted with a lovely soaker tub, a reminder of the nearby Kohler factory. The innkeeper was very friendly, the rooms as charming as we had hoped for, and having breakfast delivered to us at the time of our choosing truly made it a relaxing stay.

Kohler Andrae State Park cordwalkWe spent our first morning at Kohler Andrae State Park, one of our favorite Wisconsin parks. We walked along the cordwalk lining the dunes, taking in Lake Michigan’s sparkle and strong breeze, picnicked at one of the beach tables, and hiked through the woods. After checking in to the inn, we walked around Sheboygan Falls, which satisfied our wanderings with its quaint downtown. The falls themselves are picturesque. We browsed shops, our favorite being Evans Variety Store with the most Close-up of old mill sign reading Brickner Woolen Mills Co. in Sheboygan Fallsincredible selection of boardgames that I have ever seen. To our delight we found domino trays designed for Mexican Train dominoes, a family favorite. We ate dinner at Firehouse Pizza, so called for its location in an old firehouse. Delicious thin-crust pizza and chicken parmesan, cherry pie, and a great atmosphere.

The following day after our in-room breakfast we headed to another Sheboygan gem, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. Some of the exhibits were in transition, but the ones we saw were captivating, and since the museum is free, the roped off spaces didn’t bother us! We then debated going into Milwaukee, which would have been easy enough to do. But we opted (or perhaps I should say my sweet husband indulged my wishes) to do some baby errands, instead, looking at furniture and strollers and car seats and the like.

We ended the day back in Madison with dinner at one of our all-time favorites, Brasserie V. Best moules et frites in town. And an awesome beer selection (not that I’m able to partake of that these days).

As mini as our vacation was, it still felt like a vacation. Even though everything we did could have been done during a day trip. We both felt relaxed and refreshed. And we were still happy to return home.

A (hardly) winter walk

Robert Moses BeachMy husband, Brian, and I just returned to Madison after a luxurious three weeks spent back on the east coast with family (including our brand new nephew!) and friends. During the last leg of our trip I hung out with my fabulous in-laws on Long Island while Brian attended a conference in NYC. One day we went to Fire Island to take a walk. While cars Boardwalk to Fire Island Lighthouseare not permitted on most of the island, there is access from mainland to Robert Moses State Park, a gorgeous strip of the island complete with public beaches, boardwalk, and
Young Deer on Fire Islandthe Fire Island lighthouse. Not only was the weather unseasonably mild for January, but the sun shone and the sky was blue blue blue. Our walk turned into something of an adventure: we happened upon a young deer who munched away on some yummy plant or another next to the boardwalk, we discovered the newly opened Fire Island Light Station, which houses an original 1858 Fresnel Lens, and we finally strolled along the beach where a couple of brave souls waded into the water. Thankfully, my in-laws tolerated my picture-taking. Still adjusting to a new camera, I didn’t realize the time stamp was on until after the fact. Nevertheless, I snapped a couple shots that captured some of the day’s shining essence. If you ever have a chance to visit Fire Island, do. No matter the season.

Fire Island Lighthouse  Photo of 1858 1st Order Fresnel Lens on Fire Island