Wisconsinites Who Had No Business Changing the World but Did Exactly That.

(Published on - 3/23/2017 9:05:13 PM)
Quotation illustration shaped like Ghandi's head

I read a recent description of Madison as a small town masquerading as an international city. Someone else described Madison as an island of relative sanity surrounded by areas not so sane. Then there are those that describe it in exactly opposite terms as (then-candidate) Governor Dreyfus did in 1978 when he said “Madison is 30 square miles surrounded by reality.” The city’s mayor quickly advised a Dreyfus aide that candidate was dead wrong — not because the premise was inaccurate — because the city had grown to 65 square miles.

It got me thinking about Wisconsin in general. So much history that has impacted our entire nation has roots here in Wisconsin. Free-thinkers, leaders and ideas have been incubated in our fertile environment. Here’s proof:

Kindergarten Training School, Normal, Illinois, circa 1900

  • The first kindergarten in the US was established in 1856 in the Watertown home of Margarethe Meyer Schurz and her husband Carl. It was eventually moved to its own building because her husband couldn’t stand the noise. She was a native of Hamburg where she had learned the principles of a kindergarten from its creator, Friedrich Froebel. Two side notes: (1) Her sister founded the first kindergarten in London. (2) Her husband, Carl, helped Lincoln in his bid for president in 1860, became a Union Army general during the Civil War, and later was Secretary of the Interior under Pres. Rutherford B. Hayes. He later moved to New York City where he helped found the New York Evening Post.

The Kalachakra Temple at Deer Park Buddhist Center is decorated in traditional Tibetan style, is open to the public, and has seat cushions available for meditation and prayer. 

  • In all the world, the Madison area is one of the Dalai Llama’s favorite places to visit. It’s also where he authorized the building of a Buddhist monastery and temple. It’s called Deer Park Buddhist Center and is located just outside of Madison in the village of Oregon. The Dalai Lama asked Geshe Sopa to travel to the United States in 1952, two years after the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Eventually Geshe Sopa was invited to teach classical Tibetan language at UW Madison. He taught for over thirty five years and is the first Tibetan ever to be tenured at an American university. The Dalai Lama first visited the United States in 1979. Prior to his visit, Geshe Sopa requested that the Dalai Lama bestow the Kalachakra empowerment for world peace on a future trip to Wisconsin. It would be the first time it ever been performed outside of India or Tibet. Temple construction was completed in 1981 for the Kalachakra ceremony and is now the Deer Park Buddhist Center. Over thirty years later, during a public address to a packed audience at the Alliance Center in Madison, the Dalai Lama opened by saying “I’m happy to be here once more. Since I first came to America in 1979 this has become one of my favorite places to visit.” For the record, he has been here 10 times.

Milly Zantow at the first recycling center in the US, founded in Sauk City, WI. 

  • The woman who invented the global system for recycling plastics is from Sauk City. You know. Those three arrows in the shape of a triangle with a number in the middle? They didn’t exist until Milly Zantow came along. She came upon the idea during a trip to Japan in the late 1970s where she noticed bundles placed curbside. She eventually realized they were bundles of recyclable materials separated by type. At 55 years old and 2-months shy of an associate degree, Milly (and her friend Jenny Ehl) cashed in life insurance policies and started the country’s first recycling center: E-Z Recycling. Milly didn’t have all the expertise needed to do it single-handedly but she had the drive. It took about 10 years, but eventually The Society of Plastics Industry systematized products by identifying the polymer types and assigned each a number. FYI — Milly, Jenny and their families never made a penny.

Aldo Leopold and his family spent weekends at this rebuilt chicken coop on the Wisconsin River near Baraboo. Now it’s part of the Leopold Center and offers year-round tours.

  • Let’s stay crunchy for a minute. Aldo Leopold was an environmental activist whose conservation teachings literally grew in Wisconsin. He arrived here in 1924 when he began work in Madison. Later, he acquired a Wisconsin River farm near Baraboo — The Shack — which is where he did the sketches in A Sand County Almanac. He introduced an innovative idea known as the land ethic. He explains it as “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright chose to live here, work here and launch an entirely new architectural style in part from the inspiration he found. People a lot smarter than me have already said or written about this visionary’s legacy. Look him up and learn.
  • With April 15 coming right up, you need to know that you can thank Wisconsin’s pioneering role for this annual ritual. Wisconsin was the first state to have an income tax — even before there was a Federal income tax. Of course, it follows that our state was the leader in what eventually became the Sixteenth Amendment where all states were allowed to levy taxes separate from the feds.
  • With that tidbit of history in mind, the fact Wisconsin was the first to use progressive taxation (where the wealthier pay a higher tax rate) also makes sense.
  • Of course now that taxes have come up, we need to talk about bleeding. The blood thinner Coumadin was invented at UW and is the most widely prescribed blood thinner in the world today helping people with heart problems and blood clots. So what if it was discovered when researching why some cows in Deer Park, Wisconsin were dying? Double so what? that it is also one of the most widely used rat poisons in the world.
  • Poisoning, of course, leads us back to being crunchy for a discussion of Earth Day which was founded by then Wisconsin U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970. He had witnessed what had happened in Santa Barbara after a massive 1969 oil spill. The Earth Day site says Gaylord was “Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a ‘national teach-in on the environment’ to the national media … April 22, falling between Spring Break and Final Exams, was selected as the date.”

NAACP march with Father James Groppi (center) Milwaukee, WI 1968

  • Now that you know anti-war protests inspired the first Earth Day, you may feel better (or even more justified) that anti-war protests found firm ground in Wisconsin, you might want to know more. First of all, protests didn’t just happen in Madison. Have you ever heard of Father James Groppi, a white Roman Catholic priest? And the topics inspiring the protests have ranged from women’s voting rights, civil rights, political outrage, abortion, immigration, marijuana legalization, chemical use, child labor, gay rights — and just because it’s Wisconsin — fishing.

  • Protests are protected by the very first of ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights. Historically, Wisconsin is seen as a laboratory for democracy which resulted in legislation that served as a model for other states as well as the federal government. For instance, the 1911 legislature created a model workers’ compensation law to protect people injured on the job. It also passed laws to regulate factory safety, formed a state life insurance fund, limited working hours for women and children and passed conservation acts.

I find smart, tolerant, well-grounded, practical people here. I find it inspirational that plain old Wisconsin residents who have no business changing the world do exactly that.

We have real problems and you can find some pretty big jerks here, too. Yet, Wisconsin feels like a good place to be. For me that’s especially true in Madison where thoughts and opinions and tastes rage freely and I can buy into its international city masquerade.



Raised by Pepper Ass: Paying a Couple Hundred Thousand for a Fixer Upper Didn’t Phase Me a Bit

(Published on - 3/21/2017 1:34:45 AM)
As the old saying goes, I thought it had good bones. Some sprains but nothing broken. Except the furnace. And some windows. Oh. Two out of the three bathrooms, too.

Owning a home means more to me than it probably should. While we didn’t move around too much when I was a child, I had lived in 5 different cities/homes before I started kindergarten. My family stayed in the next house about 9 years — a record for me, until my husband and I bought our current home 16 years ago.

This wallpaper border was everywhere. You couldn’t escape it.

I fell in love with the lot and believed in the potential of reviving this property which was definitely on life support. The most recent owners had walked away from it three years previously and it had been sitting empty. Windows were broken; one of the furnaces was non-functional; the inside of the kitchen cupboards smelled like vomit(?!) and the floor in the upstairs bathroom was ripped up leaving the underlying lath exposed. Every single panel in most of the wood doors was covered in wallpaper as were the pull-down shades, fireplace mantle and stair risers. Oh yeah, there was a tree growing out of the toilet in the basement. No joke.

We didn’t move in until about 6 weeks after we bought the house thinking we’d have most of the extensive remodeling done by then. (For the record, we’re still not done.) Once, early on, I was sitting in the living room when suddenly the fireplace started growling and snarling. With visions of every haunted house movie I’d ever seen dancing in my head, we called an exterminator knowing that our home inspection had revealed something had been living in the chimney.

Our raccoons definitely weren’t from Ranger Rick’s family.

Multiple families of raccoons were living in the flues of the home’s two fireplaces. The critter catcher couldn’t trap all of them using his usual methods. Eventually he had one guy up on the top of the chimney pushing something down the flue forcing them out into the fireplace opening in the house. The sight of that guy coming up from the basement holding a large, live raccoon by the tail with blood dripping down his hand and onto the hardwood floors was, um, unforgettable. I’m thankful my cousin and I were both here together when this happened because at least one of us was feeling faint. The raccoon was fine.

Dad provided yet another memory. For background, you need to know that throughout his life, he was always up to his elbows in some project or another. He used to pull up the brick pathways in their backyard and lay them in a new pattern just because he was bored. And, he tore down at least one wall in every house my parents ever owned.

I remember late one Saturday afternoon when I was a just a kid, he was taking a well-deserved nap on the couch. Mom peeked in then left to go to an evening church service. Honestly, I swear she hadn’t even backed down the driveway when he sprung up and headed toward the garage. He came back in, gave each of us older kids a hammer, mallet or crowbar and told us to start swinging at the kitchen wall. By the time mom got back an hour later, there was an open stairway to the lower level?—?along with drywall chunks, wood and sawdust. Mom just stood there. She was speechless for a bit though that didn’t last long.

My dad in a rare resting moment. There’s a reason my sister-in-law called him Pepper Ass.

Now you know why he quickly volunteered to come help when he found out we were going to be knocking down five walls. Dad had a reciprocating saw and was merrily working away. Scott turned around to see what Dad was doing and found that he was cutting through the studs of a load-bearing wall! A few more seconds and he would have brought the ceiling down on their heads. Dad always did have too much enthusiastic energy when it came to demolition.

Speaking of dropping the ceiling: We walked into the house after dad’s funeral last January to discover an entire section of the dining room bead board ceiling had fallen down. It felt like a sign he was still around.

This is Airport Food! James Beard Chef Tory Miller Directs Madison’s Airport Food Revolution

(Published on - 3/21/2017 1:34:06 AM)

Photo by Michelle Stocker, Capital Times

Madison, Wisconsin. Foodie town. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Beard Foundation award-winner Tory Miller was hired as the consulting chef for the Madison airport by a London-based airport restaurant operator. Yes, THAT Tory Miller of Graze, Estrellon and Sujeo fame. The Tory Miller whose L’Etoile was just named a James Beard Foundation nominee for the top honor in the culinary world — Outstanding Restaurant.

Since 1999 the James Beard Foundation has included 24 Madison chefs among its nominee list for the very best in the industry. Tory Miller was nominated twice and once was awarded the coveted Best Chef: Midwest. And in 2016, he was singled out by the Beard Foundation as one of the 20 best chefs in the country.

Deja Food is what Tory named his restaurant group. It’s also a perfect description of his approach at the Dane County Regional Airport: familiar food but with a sophisticated twist.

Maryland crab ceviche. A breakfast omelet sandwich with cremini mushrooms and smoked Gouda. Pork belly sliders. French onion grilled cheese. Smoked turkey, Gruyere and baby spinach on a croissant. Charred beets and pickled green beans tossed with goat cheese. Hand pies with frozen vanilla custard. Fine dining meets comfort food created specially for the hurried traveler.

Tory’s devotion and dedication to local farm-to-table sourcing remains firmly in place. The cornmeal-crusted trout is from Rushing Waters Fisheries in Palmyra. Smoked whitefish, served on a bagel with dill cream cheese comes from Two Rivers. Door County cherries. The cheese curds are from Nasonville Dairy in Marshfield and are served one of two ways— in a poutine made with French fries, pork carnitas and beer stout gravy or fried then topped with a Korean chili.

Two airport restaurants were shaped by Tory. Vinoteca Wine & Tapas is a wine bar with a menu of small plates and warm sandwiches made to order. It also offers cocktails and local beer. Mad Town Gastropub serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and features a draft and bottle list including international brews but leans toward leans toward local and regional breweries with New Glarus, Lake Louie, Capital, Tyranena and One Barrel.

The downside to these great restaurants is that both are behind security. You’ll need a ticket to fly if you want a taste.

I Followed the Breadcrumbs and Found a Buddhist Monk Sitting in My Car

(Published on - 3/21/2017 1:33:24 AM)

Sometimes seemingly random choices determine which direction your life will go.

I left the house ticked off and irritated. My husband had left the gas tank below E and a big, bulky bag of his stuff on the front seat. I thought I was just on my way to meet someone who needed some advice. Not to go all Timothy Leary on you, but what happened instead was a mind-altering experience.

On the surface, here’s what happened: I got an SOS call from a woman I had met just once over a year ago. She was in the process of buying a condo without the guidance of a realtor. Well, you guessed it, the deal hit some major bumps including the strong possibility of a black mold problem. She knew she needed help and — as a realtor — I was the first person who came to her mind. Oh-why-oh-why didn’t she call me before she went house hunting?! Ultimately, my advice was for her to call a real estate attorney and I gave her a handful of recommended contacts.

What really happened is that casual chit-chat led to stories of her world travels, her part in Madison’s Foodie movement decades ago, and the way her dramatic life had unfolded based on her reaction to a series of seemingly random events.

She met her first husband because of her decision to join a study group where a mutual friend then introduced them. She eventually found out he had been married twice before, yet everything between them was just so right. For 30 years they extensively traveled the world only because of her willingness to jump on opportunities that presented themselves with little notice.

Egypt afforded great rates with no sightseeing crowds. Southeast Asia — still thought of as war-torn and not a tourist destination — if she was willing to see the sights by rowing a boat on the Mekong River. She recalled an African river barge tour that had last-minute openings. There was a catch to all this travel, however. Her husband was wealthy. She wasn’t. In fact, if she wanted to join him on these adventures, she had to entirely pay her own way. Tickets. Lodging. Meals. Tips. Souvenirs.

After over three decades together, her husband was gone. She was left without a home and without basic living expenses covered. He alone owned the University Heights home they lived in. When he died, he left everything to his children and his siblings as she knew he always planned.

So she went apartment hunting. Almost unbelievably, she fell and broke her back while taking a look at a place by herself. After 3 hours of trying to reach a phone, the person she called for help couldn’t come but sent someone else she didn’t really know at all. He not only rescued her that day, they eventually married. And for years and years they lived happily ever after.

After her second husband died, she was once again thinking about a new place to live. On a whim one day, she followed some signs to an estate sale. The condo she ended up at was one she and her first husband always said they were going to buy to live out their retirement years. Oh, she wanted to buy it alright but was short on money. The next day, she got a call that some land she had been trying to sell for the past 12 years got one offer which was quickly followed by another. A bidding war ensued. Lo-and-behold, she had enough money for her condo.

©2010–2017 CheshireSpider

These are just some of the stories I heard in a long chain of what sounded like fated coincidences. A few of them made me tear up. Seeing my vulnerability, she told me to “always follow the bread crumbs.” She explained that you might not know why you had a spur-of-the moment thought to do something like hit an estate sale or join a new group or take a look at some apartments. But do it. Follow those breadcrumbs. Who knows what will unfold?

When I left for that coffee meeting, I thought I’d be helping someone out but expected nothing in return. Instead, I was gifted with a private session on how listening to yourself, being open to possibilities and following the breadcrumbs can lead to a life well-lived.


On my way home, I knew I had to get fuel the car. A few blocks from the gas station I could see someone walking on the sidewalk wearing the most vibrant clothing. The short yellow-gold parka was a beautiful contrast to the rich burgundy on the lower torso especially with bright white snow all around. It popped into my head that I should offer that person a ride. Then I realized it was a Buddhist monk or nun. A very cold looking monk or nun.

But I had to get gas first. While filling the tank I hemmed and hawed about actually turning around to offer that ride. It was out of my way. I needed to get a contract written. I just wanted to get home. Instead, I reversed course, found the cold monk and offered him a ride. It struck me as I was moving that bulky stuff my husband had left in the front seat that it was ironic I was moving meditation cushions to make room for a Buddhist monk. Along the way he commented that I seemed to radiate happiness and urged me to keep that light shining. I thought I was just driving.

Who knows what, if anything, will come of my chance encounter with one of Madison’s many Buddhist monks. The experience will stay with me as will the inter-connectivity of the events of my day.

Here’s to following breadcrumbs.

These Eight Men Wrecked Our Rec Room. They Were Happy to Do It, Too!

(Published on - 3/21/2017 1:32:51 AM)

I don’t go in our basement if there’s absolutely any way I can avoid it. In fact, years ago I decided that I’d take my chances and stay put when the tornado sirens are blaring rather than head to the basement and face the chance I’d be trapped down there. But I’ve always realized that lower level space is a diamond in the rough.

Our house was built in 1941 and the original builder had the foresight to spec oversize basement windows that let in an amazing amount of light. There’s an arched stone fireplace, too.

Unfortunately, a previous owner built a poorly executed rec room down there using thick knotty pine boards for the walls, doors, closets and stairwell. The result is an awkwardly shaped room that makes using the fireplace pointless. It also blocked off a rounded wall that provides the foundation of the bay window wall in our living room. As a bonus, the wood-lined stairwell blocks off the light ensuring a dark descent into cobweb-land.

Believe it or not, we’re ready for a change.

It’s embarrassing to even post this picture of our lower level in its pre-remodeling state.

That started at 9:00 am this morning when a deconstruction crew from Habitat for Humanity showed up exactly as scheduled and removed all of that vintage, authentically-aged wood from the walls. Not knowing how many people would be coming over, I was expecting the work would take about a day. Wrong! One hour later, the 8-man crew was packing up and getting ready to leave. I managed to grab a quick picture before they left but didn’t have the foresight to take any as they were getting started.

The whole process was so easy. During my first call to their deconstruction manager, Frank Byrne, he asked for a few photos of the walls to get a sense of their condition. After taking a look at the pictures, he set an appointment to come over and evaluate whether the wood truly was salvageable and not rotted or extensively damaged. Frank explained that a $200 donation per work day is requested and that you’d immediately receive a donation receipt for tax purposes.

Then we set an appointment for the work to be done. The crew showed up as promised?—?on time with smiles on their faces and tools in their hands. The crew was experienced and very efficient (as well as insured). When they left, the only sign they had been there were the missing walls.

A kitchen remodel done with materials from Habitat for Humanities Restore

I’ve always had immense respect for Habitat for Humanity’s mission of providing affordable housing. Their Restores help fund that mission by reselling donated materials?—?sometimes new stuff, sometimes old stuff?—?which also keeps it out of landfills.

Everything is at unbelievably low prices and is a great resource for remodeling jobs and project work. Vintage light fixtures, old and new furniture, cabinets, tile, high end bath fixtures, appliances, windows, doors… you get the idea.

It’s fun looking at project photos people post on Restore’s facebook pageshowing what they’ve been able to do with materials bought from one of Madison’s two Restore locations. Of course, Habitat for Humanity is an international organization so the odds are fairly high that a local Restore and demolition crew is in your community, too.


Habitat for Humanity Restore literally has tons of materials to choose from whether your projects are fanciful or practical.