The Top Hats Cometh

Photo by Aaron J Hill on

Phil saw his shadow today, 6 more weeks…sigh…

February 2 is Groundhog Day each year. Why?

Most people know that we track seasons by tracking four dates by the earth’s position or tilt while orbiting the sun. These days mark the beginning of the four seasons. Summer solstice is June 21st, fall equinox is September 23rd, winter solstice is December 21st and spring equinox is March 21st.

Very nice Ramblin’ Ron, but what is your point? Oh! Yes, Groundhog Day on February 2nd.

Groundhog Day is equal distant between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. This day marks the midpoint of winter. Celebrating this day goes back to a Celtic pagan celebration called Imbolc. Celts were more optimistic than we are and marked this day as the begging of spring.

Later the Christians borrowed the pagan celebration for their own, renamed it Candlemas and marked the day to commemorate the day that Jesus was introduced to the Jerusalem temple. A sunny Candlemas was believed to indicate an additional 40 days of winter.

The German’s took this sunny Candlemas tradition and defined the term sunny as a day when the badgers and other animals could see their shadow. When Pennsylvania became inhabited by a large number of German immigrants, the tradition was extended to the United States. Groundhogs are native to Pennsylvania and quickly became the official Candlemas rodent in the US.

How’s that for bringing an odd tradition around to our seasonal science?

The first official celebration of Groundhog Day was on February 2, 1887 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and continues to this day. Upon watching a YouTube replay of the ceremony today, it was clear by the roar of the crowd after six more weeks of winter was pronounced that a live crowd was indeed present.

This is the 108th time that Punxsutawney Phil has predicted six more weeks of winter during his 135-year prognostication run. How often is he accurate? Roughly 50%, no different than any other weather forecaster…

Other bizarre methods have been used to predict the weather through the years. Some geriatrics claim to sense changes in weather by pain in their joints or muscles. To measure temperature the Farmer’s Almanac says that on a hot day to count the number of cricket chirps in 14 seconds and add 40. Low flying birds are an indicator of impending rain.

This may not count, but it is said that animals will act oddly by scurrying around and ‘freak out’ right before an earthquake. The USGA prefers to use electronic methods, but China and Japan give animals much more street credit as early warning systems by setting up zoos as early indicator stations. China was able to safely evacuate Wuhan in 1975 before an earthquake thanks to zoo animals banging their heads against doors.

It’s been a pretty mild winter temperature wise so far, at least in Wisconsin. We are a hearty bunch and should have no problem surviving the next 6 weeks.

The Farmer’s Almanac predicted what I just described in the last paragraph. As an old farm boy from Nebraska I will continue to heed what this periodical tells us each year. Winter enthusiast, enjoy.

Those of you hoping for an early spring. One thing I’ve noticed about living in Wisconsin, you don’t really have spring anyway. It may as well be a winter play-land until summer.

Gardening – Let 2023 Begin: Seedlings & Micro Greens!

Pea Shoot Micro Greens. Growing micro greens all winter helped to keep our green thumbs exercised.
Walla Walla onion and Red onion seedlings have emerged. Let the 2023 gardening begin!

Gardening in January! Crazy perhaps. But the grow lights will keep these onions growing strong until they can go into a garden bed this April.

Why start onions in January? The seedlings need to be 10 to 12 weeks old before putting them out in April. These seedlings were started on 1/16. Twelve weeks is April 3rd.

Timing with onion is important. We put them in too late last year and WAY too late in 2021.

Onion is one of the plants we have struggled to succeed growing. We love onion, and are committed to getting this one right.

Wish us luck.

We have been growing micro greens in the grow room all winter. Mostly mung beans and pea shoots. They make a great and healthy addition to our salad greens.

February we will begin leafy green seedlings. Specifically spinach and lettuce. These are cold loving plants. Giving them a head start for spring will keep us in leafy greens longer before the warmth of summer makes them bolt and bitter.

This oregano plant has really prospered indoors. It has been pruned and harvest many times over the winter for fresh oregano and dried oregano needs!
We didn’t pull our basil inside before the first killer frost. Basil does not do well under 50 degrees. Time to start over!
This Rosemary plant has been inside for over 2 years and is nearing the end of its life cycle. We will transfer it outdoors in May and hope for the best. Rosemary is a difficult plant to start from seed, with luck we will get some healthy cuttings to start a new plant…or take our chances with seeds…
Mung beans, day 4. We will ‘harvest’ them on day 5. They will be a delicious and nutritious addition to our salad greens next week!

Travel – The Big Apple: Day 4B The 9/11 Museum

Ladder 3 from the FDNY recovered from the scene 9/11/2001. There are a few emergency vehicle manufacturers in Wisconsin. R Dub has worked with all of them. I could not help but search for the manufacture of this one. The name plate simply read “grave”, which seemed like adisturbingly apt name for this vehicle. However, after a while, I did figure it out…Seagrave Fire Apparatus out of Clintonville, WI is the manufacture of this pumper.

It has been my MO to insert factoids into Ron’s Rambling’s that feature destinations or events. We will depart from that MO for this post about the 9/11 museum. This post is all about my thoughts and feelings the tour evoked both during and after our visit.

Each generation have moments in time that are remembered for a lifetime. The bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy, the space shuttle Challenger explosion, and 9/11/2001.

This post is written more than 21 years after the event, but the museum evoked strong emotion. Sure, we reflect each September 11 on what we were doing at the time of the attacks. The lost lives, the fear, the anger, the suspension of air travel, the beginning of Homeland Security, the dawn of TSA. The events of this day changed many things in our day to day lives. Younger generations have lived their entire lives with what our generation calls changes that 9/11 forced upon us. It is simply life to them.

We visited the World Trade Center on Tuesday, and saw both memorial pools, the survival tree and many other memorial exhibits, but the museum was closed. Wanting to see and know more, we chose to return on Thursday to tour the museum. For $8 each we rented headphones that narrated each area of the museum prior to entering the museum. The narration was helpful, but at some point, the intensity of hearing the sounds from the day became too much, so I took the headset off about 2/3 through the museum.

The experience combines narration, media recordings from the day, survivor interviews, dispatch recordings and cockpit recordings from the 4 planes utilized as weapons that fateful day.

Watching and listening to the network reports brought my mind back to the day. Initial reports told the world that a single plane had flown into one of the twin towers. What size plane was the plane? Single occupant we hoped. Perhaps a pilot that had a medical emergency or a person committing suicide. As we would soon discover, suicide was just part of the story.

By now reporters and bystanders were on the scene recording live when plane number 2 slammed into the other twin tower. This plane was caught on camera, speculation became revelation with the second impact. This was no accident; it was an attack.

Soon after, reports came from the pentagon. A third plane was used as a weapon. I remember wondering if this would go on all day. Fear set in. What was next?

Next was the flight intended for the White House or the House of Representatives or Senate. No one knows for sure, several brave souls on that hijacked flight fought off the terrorists who drive the plane into a corn field in Pennsylvania.

Video of people jumping from the floors above the crash to avoid being burned to death may be the worst memory of all.

The sights and sounds brought back many feelings, most of them not good. However, there one sound that evoked both bad and good memories of the event. The sound that a firefighter’s Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA or airpack or Scott pack) makes when the firefighter is motionless for too long. This device is called a Personal Alert Safety System (PASS or ‘man down alarm).

R Dub sold safety equipment in 2001, and SCBA was one of the items I sold. So, I knew, when watching video from 9/11, that that sound meant a firefighter was most likely dead. Video from the scene on 9/11 was riddled with multiple PASS units blaring. Those of us in the business knew there were MANY emergency responder casualties without the media telling us. When I heard the sound in the museum it brought that horrible reality to mind.

9/11/2001 also ushered in a new spirit of volunteerism. First responders and volunteer workers from across the USA converged on New York city in the hours, days and months post 9/11. Many to help search for survivors, and victims. Many to begin the clean up and recovery. Many to feed, provide medical assistance and generally be moral back up. Enlistment into the armed services spiked in the months following.

Without the museum, it is difficult to picture just how ugly the day was. The aftermath compared to the rebuild and memorials is stark. We are glad we went back on Thursday; the museum is a must see. Never forget, always move forward.

The slurry wall. Had the collapse made these walls fail, the entire area would’ve been flooded on top of all the other damage done.
Survivor’s staircase.
The last column standing.
Recovered stainless steel pedestal with engraved dedication: “In commemoration of the skill and industry of the thousands of construction workers and Port Authority personnel whose efforts created the World Trade Center | World Trade Center dedication day April 4 1973.” The pedestal is damaged with dents, deep scratches, and discoloration.
Historical Notes
This stainless steel pedestal, engraved with a dedication to personnel who contributed to the building of the original World Trade Center, was salvaged from its wreckage after 9/11.

Travel – The Big Apple: Day 4A Food!

Gelato at the end of our tour. Choices, choice…

Day four, Thursday. We are past the half way point. Plenty has been seen and there is plenty more to see. We are breaking day 4 up into 3 posts; walking food tour, the 9/11 Memorial, and The Music Man.

Beth was really looking forward to Thursday night’s performance of “The Music Man”. Not because of Hugh Jackman, but because of her favorite triple threat, Sutton Foster is playing the lead opposite Hugh. But I digress…there were many things to do, see and eat before the 7:00 pm show. First stop Chinatown for a walking food tour.

Our day started with a Lyft ride to Chinatown for a walking tour of Chinatown and Little Italy. The 3 hour tour would provide 10 tastings from 8 locations plus history of not only the businesses providing the food but also the history of the neighborhoods. It began in Chinatown and work its way to Little Italy. We enjoy many styles of food, Chinese and Italian being two of our favorites. This was right up our alley.

The menu for a 3 hour food tour.

Stop number one and meeting place for the twelve or so ‘tourists’ was for green tea and pork pastry.

Green tea with a pork pastry at our meeting spot in Chinatown.

Next up; dumplings.

Dumplings; one of R Dubs faves!

Final taste in Chinatown; sponge cake. What makes them green? Mung bean.

Mung bean sponge cake. I only ate a bite or two. Two reasons; the taste was hard to find and I wanted to save room for our final stops in Little Italy.

Next up; over to Little Italy. Our favorite stops on the tour. Flavors popped and the food was more aesthetically pleasing too. First stop; fresh gnocchi with marinara. Perhaps our favorite on the tour.

Our tour guide serving up samplings of gnocchi. Probably our favorite flavors of the day.
We didn’t taste the ravioli, but the gnocchi with marinara was first rate!

Next up; olives and cheese.

R Dub displaying his olives and cheese for Beth.
Olives and cheese. The first of two stops were we eat our samplers on the sidewalk outside of the business. R Dub and Beth are not big olive fans, but this may have changed our minds. Hardly a bottled grocery store olive! Very tasty.
Egg plant parmigiana with some Chianti. A close second to the gnocchi and marinara. However, this may not have been a fair review. By now we are getting pretty full. One more stop for a Cannoli, which was good, but the cart pictured first with 20 flavors of gelato looked MUCh better. Alas there was no room for both. Always leaving them wanting more, right? We didn’t take any photos of the cannoli, the gelato was speaking too loudly to us!

Would we do this again, if ever in NYC again? Probably not, but we wanted to go to this part of town. The tour was good and we do recommend it, but now we have a feel for the food. We will most likely return to Little Italy, the smells were inviting.

Next up…the 9/11 Museum at the World Trade Center…but that’s for another post.

Travel – The Big Apple: Day 3 December Rain

The orchestra took center stage after curtain calls for “A Beautiful Noise” the Niel Diamond story.

Day 3. Our only rainy day starts like the first two…sleeping in. We will meet our travel partners at the Broadhurst theatre in the Broadway theatre district for the matinee performance of “A Beautiful Noise”, the Niel Diamond story. But first a bite to eat.

We decide to try Junior’s Cheesecake on the corners of 45th and Broadway. It is a classic looking diner that had plenty of diners at tables and classic counter seating. There was immediate seating at the counter, so we bellied up.

Junior’s Cheesecake diner on the corners of 45th and Broadway. Good food in the heart of Times Square on a rainy December day in NYC.

We sipped on coffee while perusing the menu. Classic diner fare. R Dub ordered a cup of matzoh ball soup and a corned beef and pastrami Reuben. How NY is that?! Beth? Chicken salad Sammy, it was good too.

Junior’s corned beef and pastrami Reuben. The ‘thousand island’ was more bland than I’d prefer, but why hide the taste of the deli cuts? I’d order this again if given the chance. On the side is cole slaw, beets and dill pickles.

It was a 6 minute walk from Junior’s to the Broadhurst Theatre to see the 2:00 matinee of “A Beautiful Noise.” Keri stood in line at the Times Square TKTS Booth on Tuesday and got us half priced seats for the show.

The show begins while the curtain is still drawn by the sound of a recorded live cheering audience with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” booming through the theatre speakers in concert, the music and cheering fades out as the curtain rises.

In deafening silence the stage contains two figures. Each sitting on lounge chairs angled to face each other (and the audience), an elderly man and a 40ish woman…silently staring at each other. At first glance I think it is Neil and his wife Katie. But no…

After what seems like forever, the woman speaks. “If you are uncomfortable answering questions, you are free to leave anytime you’d like Mr. Diamond.” The old man snaps back; “Tell that to Katie!” The woman is Neil’s therapist, assigned to help him through the pain of no longer being on stage with his adoring fans.

“A Beautiful Noise” tells the Neil Diamond story through a series of therapy sessions, live concert performances and real life reenactments.

Awesome singing, dancing and orchestration ensues. We didn’t know what to expect, we got more than we thought we would. It’s like a really great night of karaoke. With songs you know by heart:

I’m A Believer, Kentucky Woman, Into The Bitter End, Solitary Man, Cracklin’ Rosie, Song Sung Blue, Cherry, September Morn’, Love On The Rocks, Hello Again, A Heavenly Progression, Sweet Caroline, Entr’acte, Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show, Play Me, Forever In Blue Jeans, Soolaimon, Thank The Lord for the Night Time, Crunchy Granola Suite, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, Brooklyn Roads, America, Shilo, I Am… I Said, and Holly Holy.

The cast and orchestra taking a well deserved curtain call after “A Beautiful Noise”.

Next up, Gutfeld. Entertainment took many forms for the week. Broadway musicals, Radio City, Stand Up Comedy, Diners and Bars with singing wait staff, plus the studio audience for the taping of Gutfeld. TSA type screening at the building entrance, seating outside the studio for 30 minutes or so, ushered and placed strategically onto the studio bleachers by the producers, given instructions prior to the show on what will happen and coached how to react during entrances by the guests and star, plus before and after commercial breaks.

We and our travel companions have been part of many local theater productions, so the process was just as fascinating as the event for us. How do nationally broadcast shows happen, what goes on behind the cameras? The process is well choreographed and looks seamless. It was fun to see and participate, even in a small way.

The topics? We really do not remember. The guests? Tom Shilllue who was the host of Red Eye after Gutfeld left that talk show and is a regular skit actor primarily playing the part of Joe Biden. Jamie Lissow a Canadian stand up comedian who is a regular comic guest, he comes armed with a sheet full of jokes for tonight’s topics. John Moody who hired Gutfeld to be host of Red Eye. Finally, Kat Timpf; a rising star who, as a libertarian tends to be the voice of reason most nights. Quoting Kat; “The government in general for me… All they’ve done is, ya’ know, assign me a number to be identified by, tell me I can’t do stuff, and take my money to spend it on things I disagree with…” On this night’s broadcast she quipped that she tells people that she gets paid to hang around with a bunch of old guys.

Standing at the end of the line outside of the studio building.
Waiting room prior to being ushered in the studio and onto bleacher seating.
Our entourage seated WAY back, but center of the stage. Beth and R Dub could be seen as silhouettes when the cameras panned to the crowd before commercial breaks.
In the heart: (L to R) R Dub, Beth. On the chairs: (L to R) Tom Shillue, John Moody, Jamie Lissow, Kat Timpf & Greg Gutfeld.

Next up? The lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The lines to get in wrapped around MANY NYC blocks. We had no intention of standing in line, so a walk around mid town and off to bed was in order.

We did see the tree at Rockefeller Center on Thursday, Day 4. Stay tuned!

Travel – The Big Apple: Day 2

Day 2 was perhaps our most busy. Beth and R Dub in front of the south tower memorial and the new World Trade Center 1, AKA the Freedom Tower.

Day two in NYC. Perhaps our most busy day started the same as day one; sleeping in followed by coffee and a bagel near our hotel.

We mentioned in the first post that the food was a little disappointing during the trip. Tuesday morning’s food was the most disappointing. Our day 1 bagel was good, not so much on day 2. We will not name the disappointing locations, but will talk about food that we liked by location. These bagels were topped with butter and scrambled egg. The flavors were very understated. Bagels were purchased each morning at 4 different locations. This was the only ‘meh’ bagel of the trip. We think if we’d asked for shallot cream cheese, this place would’ve been good too.

After sitting down for breakfast we headed toward Times Square to buy bus passes for the remainder of the week. The group utilized a tour bus on Tuesday to see the downtown sights. We chose to get off at the World Trade Center, then walk to Wall Street, and Battery Park. At Battery Park we took a ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The ferry returned us to Battery Park just before sundown where we caught a tour bus back to Times Square for a short 3 block walk back to our hotel.

Upper deck of the bus. Not all of them have this protective clear cover. it makes a cold day tolerable on top. Scott checking out the route map for where we want to get off and begin the walking tour.
First stop, the World Trade Center. Beth and R Dub posing beside the Transportation Hub, with World Trade 1 in the distance.. If Wisconsinites think the Transportation Hub looks familiar, they should. Santiago Calatrava designed this building which looks very similar to the Calatrava in Milwaukee.

The 9/11 museum is not open on Tuesday’s so we took a walk around the area and took in the memorials erected to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11/2001 and to celebrate what was not destroyed on this infamous day in our history.

One obscure feature that survived the collapse of the twin towers is The Survivor Tree.

In October 2001, a severely damaged tree was discovered at Ground Zero, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

After its recovery and rehabilitation, the tree was returned to the Memorial in 2010. New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible demarcation between the tree’s past and present. Today, the tree stands as a living reminder of resilience, survival, and rebirth. Each year, the 9/11 Memorial gives seedlings from the Survivor Tree to three communities that have endured tragedy in recent years.

The Survivor Tree. Each year, the 9/11 Memorial gives seedlings from the Survivor Tree to three communities that have endured tragedy in recent years.

St. Paul’s chapel is a structure that survived the Twin Tower collapse.

St. Paul’s Chapel, constructed in 1766, is the oldest church building in Manhattan. Located less than 100 yards from the World Trade Center site, the church became known as “The Little Chapel That Stood” after it survived the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. It is widely believed the church was protected by a giant sycamore tree that was planted in St. Paul’s graveyard.

In the tragic aftermath of 9/11, St. Paul’s Chapel became a haven for rescue and recovery workers at Ground Zero. More than 5,000 volunteers worked long hours at the church, cleaning, serving hot meals, and providing comfort to all who came to the church for rest and refuge. 

St. Paul’s Chapel, constructed in 1776, somehow survived the Twin Tower collapse. Where President Washington came to pray after his inauguration in 1789.

Next stop, after a ten minute walk was Wall Street. Scott suggested that we touch the bull’s nose for good financial luck. Lately, we’ll take as much luck as we can. The markets have been brutal the past two years.

Beth and Scott in front of the New York Stock Exchange.

When we arrived at the bull statue, there were two lines for people to touch the famous NY Stock Exchange bull. One to touch his nose, that’s the one we stood inline for. Plus one to touch his testicles, this one had more people in line! To our surprise, these lines were not monitored by anyone in authority, the visitors to Wall Street were politely, orderly and calmly controlling each line.

Beth caresses the bull’s nose while R Dub is content just to touch it. There were two lines to touch the bull, one for his nose and the other for his testicles. We were content to touch his nose. If you are wondering, the line for his cojones than for his nose.

With faith that our investments were now protected by the Wall Street bull, we proceeded on a five minute walk from Wall Street to Battery Park. There were few crowds at any of our stops on Tuesday, including the line to buy ferry tickets to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and back. Cost of the ferry; $24.30 each.

The view of Lady Liberty and Liberty Island from the Miss Liberty Ferry.

We mentioned the TSA type security is used at many locations in NYC. So far it occurred during our day one visit to the Empire State Building. Today we were screened at St. Paul’s Chapel and now to get on the Lady Liberty Ferry. There would be another TSA style security check when we get off the ferry at the Statue of Liberty. Understandable considering that Lady Liberty is our most recognizable symbol of freedom.

The statue of liberty is much smaller than the Empire State Building, World Trade One and many other attractions in NYC, but she is beautiful and awesome. A must see.
A view of Lady Liberty’s structure from the inside of her base. On the left side of this photo is the spiral stairway that leads to her crown observatory.
The view of Ellis Island and downtown Manhattan from the base of Lady Liberty. The buildings in the forefront is where the medical facilities were for inbound immigrants to be medically checked out or treated if needed.
The second floor great hall where most of the processing took place.
This photo of loggers on the Wolf River in northern Wisconsin can be found in the right wing of the 2nd floor. Photos of migrants who passed through Ellis Island before dispersing to the greater USA are on display.
Photo of German migrants who were processed at Ellis Island setting up a hardware store in Watertown, WI. Circa 1888.

The ferry dropped us off back at Battery Park just before sundown where we picked up the bus for a long trip fighting evening drive time traffic back to Times Square and and a 2 block walk back to our hotel. We had just enough time to change clothes, find something to eat at an Irish bar near our hotel, and get to Al Hirschfeld Theatre in time for the 7:00 production of Moulin Rouge.

Broadway! Day 2 of the trip to NYC will result in R Dub’s first time at a Broadway show in NYC, and what a choice for a first…Moulin Rouge! Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, gets her back, then the twist. R Dub had seen the movie, but the Broadway rewrite is better. Modern music is featured, all ‘written’ by the show protagonist Christian which sets up tongue in cheek moments as he reveals new songs that we all know and love!

Enter a world of splendor and romance, of eye-popping excess, of glitz, grandeur and glory! A world where Bohemians and aristocrats rub elbows and revel in electrifying enchantment. Pop the champagne and prepare for the spectacular spectacular… Welcome to Moulin Rouge! The Musical.

Baz Luhrmann’s revolutionary film comes to life onstage, remixed in a new musical mash-up extravaganza. A theatrical celebration of truth, beauty, freedom and—above all—LOVE, Moulin Rouge! is more than a musical; it is a state of mind.

The first thing you see when entering the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Striking!
The right side second level of the set. Cast members will use the cage pictured above before curtain with what can be called erotic acrobatics.
The left side of the stage, second level. Again cast will utilize the cage for your erotic acrobatic pleasure.
This photo was taken before we realized that while this was before curtain call, it is part of the show and cameras should’ve been put away. Beth has a shot of these two actors ‘tangled up’ in a beautifully erotic embrace.

It had been a full day up to this point, and the show was magnificent. Great dancing, and great vocals and a campy story line. However, there was more to do and see during our first night on Broadway!

After the show we were hungry and looked for a spot for a late night meal, and did we ever. Jasmine’s Caribbean Cuisine. The food was great, LOTS of flavor exploding with each bite..and of course we enjoyed potent potables with rum and citrus juices. We split an order of Jerk Chicken and two apps; crab cakes and calamari.

Jasmine’s Caribbean Cuisine. A perfect spot to refuel after along day of sights and entertainment.

Final stop before heading back to the hotel on foot? In the same neighborhood as Jasmine’s, maybe two or three doors away towards Times Square was Don’t Tell Mama. Don’t Tell Mama is a piano bar that features a piano player who takes requests and three singing bar tenders who can really bring it.

There was a group of tourists in the back from Fond du Lac, WI. As a busy and great day 2 draws to a close, we realize that it is a small world.

Our singing waiter at Don’t Tell Mama.

Entertainment – A Christmas Carol At The Pabst Theater: An Old Tradition Begins Anew

The opening number for The Milwaukee Reps production of “A Christmas Carol” at the beautiful Pabst Theater in downtown Milwaukee.

It is said in the theater that no matter what calamity occurs “the show must go on”! This phrase is usually reserved for the cast, crew, set and properties. Today it refers to the risk of inclement weather.

The Rep just issued an email to patrons that regardless of how much snow the predicted SnowMageddon drops on the greater Milwaukee area Thursday into Saturday…The show will go on! So if you have tickets for any of the final performances 12/21 through 12/24, plan extra time getting to the Pabst Theater.

Beth and I attended this wonderful production last Saturday at the 2:00 matinee. Great seats; row E seats 3 & 4. Close to center stage, just off the left isle.

Our view of the stage. Lead actor Matt Daniels will use the partition on stage to transform from Charles Dickens to Ebenezer Scrooge between the prelude and the opening scene.

The Rep has been staging this Dickens classic every year since 1976. The character of Scrooge had been played by Lee E. Ernst for many years. However, this season there is a new Scrooge played by Matt Daniels. We loved Ernst’s portrayal in 2022. Daniels makes the character his own, and we loved this version of Scrooge too.

Daniels utilizes his long frame and cartoon like facial expressions well during freeze frame moments. What freeze frame moments, you ask? Each ghost has moments during the production when they ‘freeze’ Scrooge for the sake of asking the audience for permission to continue the lessons or haunting of Scrooge. In every instance, Daniels is stopped in the most uncomfortable and exaggerated blocking possible within the realm of physics. The result gives the audience both comic relief from the seriousness of the lesson and engages the audience at the same time.

Daniels also brings a realistic sense of remorse while attempting to interact and coach his younger self during the Ghost of Christmas past scenes. The visiting Scrooge desperately tries to plead with his younger self to accept an invitation from Thomas’ family and go on Christmas Holiday with them instead of staying at the school all alone. Similar scenes with young adult Scrooge when interacting with Belle. Daniels portrays Ebenezer’s wish to tell Belle how much he loves her is heart breathtakingly realistic.

However, no scenes are played with more compassion and care than Ebenezer looking in on the Cratchit family while they worry about the future health of little Tiny Tim and again during his end of the play scene asking Fred, while trembling with humility, if he is still welcome at their Christmas dinner table.

There are plenty of new actors in 2022 cast compared to the 2021 cast. But there are also several major roles with familiar faces from 2021 including memorable portrayals of Fred, Marley, Ghost of Christmas Present, Mrs Fezziwig & Mrs. Dilber, Bob Cratchit, Young Adult Scrooge, Mr. Fezziwig, Mrs. Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and Belle.

There are tickets remaining for all performances, but this is the last week of the run. Get them now, put on your snow tires and enjoy a great show. The moving set is awesome!

View of the stage as we walked down the isle. The house holds 1300 and it was a sold out show for last Saturday’s matinee.
View of the house from our seats looking up two balconies.

Travel – The Big Apple: Day 1

I have no clue what building this is, but it caught my eye. This photo was taken from the Bryant Park ice skating rink.

We’d rather be lucky than good. When it comes to weather, one must always rely on luck for a trip that is planned months in advance. We were luck on this trip. Five full days in NYC; temps in the 40s all week and only one day of precipitation. We walked in rain most of the day on Wednesday. Not too bad.

Our flight landed 3 hours late in NYC, but we did get checked into the Times Square Hilton Garden shortly after midnight, before the 3:00 am cutoff. So…we slept in on Monday morning then headed over on foot toward the Empire State Building. Roughly a 30 minute walk interrupted by one stop for coffee and one stop for a bagel with cream cheese and scallion spread along the way.

Street level view of the Empire State Building.

One observation to be aware of for NYC iconic sights and destinations. Security is TSA level at most places. The Empire State building is one of them. Other sights we visited that required TSA level security checks were the World Trade Center Museum, the Statue of Liberty Ferry at Battery Park, the Statue of liberty, Ellis Island, and Saint Paul’s Church.

There are two observation floors on the Empire State Building, floors 86 and 102. A ticket that gets you to the 86th floor is currently $44, while the ticket that gives you access to both the 86th and 102nd floor is currently a $77 investment.

We bought the $77 option to visit both floors and headed up the elevator. Interestingly, the 86th floor is open to the outside and inside for viewing and/or photos. The 102nd floor, however, is fully enclosed. Fully enclosed was great for protection against the cold December windy air at 1250 feet above street level, but not as good for taking photos of the city below. The windows were a little dirty (on the inside from nose and forehead prints) and there was glare plus a mirror effect that does not make for ideal photo quality.

A view of the World Trade Center from the Empire State Building
A view of the Chrysler Building from the Empire State Building
A view of the Hudson River from the Empire State Building

Next on the agenda was the Upper West side to visit with Beth’s cousin Denny at his place overlooking the Hudson River. Cousin is a bit of a stretch, Denny is Beth’s mom’s 2nd cousin whom she was a good friend of in Sheboygan where they both grew up.

Our appointment with Denny was at 1:30 pm. After charting the walk on our iMaps application we knew that walking would be both tiring and would take too long to make our date on time. Denny suggested taking the subway, but we didn’t feel safe doing so and chose Lyft instead.

The Lyft driver dropped us off in front of Denny’s place at a little after 1:00. The bagel we ate while walking from our hotel to the Empire State Building had wore off, and we had plenty of time so we found a quick bite to eat. Fortunately, we could see and smell a busy little pizza by the slice place just a block away. We made a bee line for it.

Pizza by the slice. Two distinct sizes of slices were offered. The small one was huge, the large one was inconceivably large. We chose to share a small (but large) slice of sausage and pepperoni. The flavor of the sauce was subtle, but good. We are used to sweet red sauce in the Midwest, this sauce let the flavors of the cheese, meats and crust come through. We liked it.
The menu. Unless your are REALLY hungry, the regular slice is plenty. In fact it was plenty for two to share. The term “jumbo” slice does not truly convey the size of the slice. It is massive. Well worth the $7.50 to $10/slice price.

Next stop, cousin Denny. We love chatting with the generation above us. They have much to share about our heritage and what that generation was like in their youth. Denny is Helen’s (Beth’s mom) second cousin, so that makes Denny her 2nd cousin once removed. Denny and Helen are not shy about letting you know that they were each the other’s favorite cousins growing up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Pretty cool.

The view of the Hudson River from cousin Denny’s 5th floor Upper West Side Coop. Nice! This is the area of the Hudson where Sully landed his plane.

The moment that Denny opened the door, his first question was; “So, I suppose you know all about the blue hair incident?” The answer was; “Of course!” Which was mostly true. The blue hair incident we knew of as the blue “dress” incident.

Denny and Beth’s mom and their siblings as youth were playing together at a family reunion when a bottle of blue ink was spilled. The story we knew resulted in Helen’s dress being stained blue. What we didn’t know was Denny’s hair being stained blue!

There was plenty of reminiscing about life in Sheboygan during the 1940s and 1950s. It was great looking at all of Denny’s family photos that featured him with Helen and the other cousins. It was clear that his memories of home and his cousins were fond ones. He treated us with a great bottle of champagne and sweet snacks, but the best part of our 2 hour or so stay was Denny’s wonderful collection of art and antiques.

The entire visit was an unexpected delight. Denny is an absolute sweetheart. We are better for knowing him. Even though the stay was so brief we feel like we have a better knowledge of Helen’s fascinating cousin and his journey from Sheboygan, WI to the University of Wisconsin to Alaska with the US Army to his career in advertising in NYC working with, among others; Pepsi and Coca Cola before, during and after the Cola Wars of the 90s.

Denny encouraged us to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and was quite instructive in suggesting which wings of the Met would be of most interest. Including a once in a lifetime opportunity to see an art piece called the Flaming June. The Flaming June is on loan from Museo de Arte de Ponce, an art museum located on Avenida Las Américas in Ponce, Puerto Rico while they remodel.

The Flaming June is a piece from artist Frederic, Lord Leighton who painted it in 1895. According to Leighton, the composition was inspired by the posture of a tired model. He elaborated her sinuous pose and then added sheer orange draperies. Her skin flushed by the sun, she is transformed into a personification of summer heat. The image reflects Leighton’s allegiance to artistic ideals that emphasized harmonious color and form over narrative. This and Lachrymae (hanging nearby) were the last great pair of paintings he exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, in 1895. Critics raved, but tastes soon changed; Flaming June did not regain its fame until the Museo de Arte de Ponce acquired it in the 1960s. The frame is a reconstruction of the lost original designed by the artist.

Flaming June on loan at the Met from the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico. More on The Met in our Day 5 post.

We have had correspondence with Denny twice since returning from our trip. The first time on our drive home from the Milwaukee airport on Saturday evening. He was making sure we got home OK and asked how we enjoyed NYC. The second just this week, the week before Christmas, to wish us a Merry Christmas and to exchange email addresses. He is encouraging us to stay with him at his Long Island condo the next time we visit the city. How great is that?!

Monday evening was dinner at Times Square Italian restaurant Tony’s Di Napoli, followed by a walk over to the Radio City Music Hall to see their Christmas Spectacular featuring the Radio City Rockettes.

Tony’s featured family style Italian food, large portions intended to be shared. Our travel party of 4 shared two appetizers and two entrees. R Dub washed his down with a nice glass of Chianti. Our table was reserved and we had no trouble being seated the moment we arrived. The service was fabulous plus the food was tasty and filling. A great first sit down meal in NYC.

The Radio City Music Hall for a Monday evening showing of their annual Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes and an impressive special effects show.

The Radio City Rockettes and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. We know, this event is very touristy. But hey, we were tourists and this was a great way to start our entertainment adventure in NYC. Plus, Monday’s are dark nights for Broadway shows. The Rockettes were pretty much the only show in town on Monday…plus we enjoyed the show very much.

Not surprisingly, the Rockettes were choreographed well and their synchronization was up to the standard that they are reputed to have. Surprisingly, the spectacular features an excellent special effects visual show (with the assistance of 3D glasses) that we did not expect. This venue with 6,000 seats was by far the largest venue we would visit for a show during the week.

The Rockettes (and Santa on the far left) in their opening dance routine.

New York is known as The City That Does Not Sleep, so post Rockettes we needed to see more. First up was Bryant Park to visit the vendors and check out the ice skating rink. The Bryant Park skating rink is one of three rinks in Manhattan that we visited during the week.

Beth and R Dub posing alongside the Bryant Park ice skating rink. Rink time is sold by the hour.

Final stop before turning in for the evening on day one? The Stardust Diner for dessert and potent potables…and entertainment by the singing wait staff! Many former and some current Stardust employees have performed in Broadway shows. The voices were, of course, spectacular. The Stardust is located next door to the Winter Garden Theatre which is currently the home of The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster (Our Thursday evening entertainment).

Two of the many singing wait staff members at the Stardust. This wait staff has included many past and some current Broadway performers. A great way to end our first full day in NYC.

So ends day one. As diverse as the city itself; we enjoyed a tall attraction, street food, sit down food, walked the streets of Manhattan, hailed transportation, saw a professional show featuring the Rockettes, dancing, singing, an unexpected special effects show, ice skating, street vendors and R Dub ordered a Manhattan drink in the heart of Manhattan. Pretty cool, and it was only the beginning. Stay tuned!

Travel – The Big Apple: A 5 Day Bite

One World Trade Center AKA The Freedom Tower from in front of the south tower Memorial Pool.

Admittedly, there was some apprehension about this trip to New York City. We planned to stay midtown just 2 blocks off Times Square. News stories of violence in the subway, crime on the streets and pandemic related business closures made us uncertain what to expect during our 5 day, 6 night stay in the Big Apple.

In reality, the areas of NYC that we visited were quite safe, the locals were friendly and helpful, and almost all businesses were up and running and busy. Streets were easy to maneuver through as well. We walked most places, took the bus half days on Tuesday and Friday, and used Lyft when time was a factor.

We traveled with friends from our local theater with a heavy emphasis on seeing several Broadway shows in the Times Square theater district. Mission accomplished. One Broadway show each day on Tuesday (Moulin Rouge), Wednesday (A Beautiful Noise) and Thursday (Music Man).

The beautiful Al Hirschfeld Theater’s production of Moulin Rouge Tuesday evening. R Dub’s first ever Broadway show.

One bit of information that we all learned while riding one of the many tour buses in NYC is how shows in the theater district are defined. The location of the theater is not the defining characteristic of a Broadway show. It is the size of the theater that defines a show. Theaters that seat 500 or more is a Broadway show. Theaters that seat 100 to 499 are called Off Broadway shows. Theaters that seat 1 to 99 patrons are called Off Off Broadway shows.

The Times Square theater district was not our only locale for entertainment during the week. Monday was a dark night for Broadway, but the Rockettes perform their Christmas Spectacular seven days per week and multiple times per day at the Radio City Music Hall. We expected dancing and a live orchestra, but what we didn’t expect were some pretty cool special effects. More on that when we focus on the events of day one in NYC.

Scott, Keri, Beth and R Dub take time for a quick photo outside of the Radio City Music Hall prior to seeing the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular.

Rounding out ‘show’ experiences was the stand up comedy of Mike Birbiglia at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater Friday evening. Wednesday evening we were part of the live studio audience for the taping of Gutfeld. Then there were the almost ready for prime time singing wait staffs at the Stardust Diner and Don’t Tell Momma piano bar.

The stage is set for Mike Birbiglia’s presentation of The Old Man And The Pool
Two members of the wait staff at Stardust sing a duet as we enjoy sweet treats and potent potables in a corner booth.

Sights, NYC’s got em. We took in as many as our legs and our bus passes would allow on ‘off’ days. Monday morning Beth and R Dub walked to the Empire State building and in the afternoon we visited Beth’s second cousin once removed D. Frederick (Beth’s mom Helen calls him Denny) at his co-op in the upper west side.

D. Fredrick has many wonderful pieces of art and collectibles plus an absolutely gorgeous view of the Hudson River from his 5th floor abode. Went spent about 3 hours talking to him about growing up with Beth’s mom Helen in Sheboygan, his awesome collection of art, his career in advertising with BBDO. This agency is famous for, among others, for winning the cola wars and gain Coca-cola’s business for the 1995 Super Bowl.

The Hudson river from Denny’s living room window. Spectacular!

Tuesday morning we took the downtown bus to the World Trade Center. The WTC Museum was not open Tuesday, that would need to wait until Thursday. From the WTC we walked to Wall Street and touched the bull’s nose for financial luck. From Wall Street to Battery Park for ferry tickets to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Beth and R Dub below Lady Liberty. Green suits her.

Wednesday was a rain day and the least amount of steps we walked all week. Most days were 17,000 steps, Wednesday was just over 10,000. Two shows that day, but not much sight seeing. The crowds for the lighting of the tree were unreal, so we skipped the lighting and headed back to the theater district for a late dinner at Jamine’s. Jasmine’s is a Jamaican restaurant near Don’t Tell Momma Piano Bar. Jerk chicken at Jasmine’s was easily the best meal we had all week.

Thursday late morning to afternoon was a food tour in China Town and Little Italy. Six stops and food from eight different venues on a 3 hour guided walking tour with roughly a dozen people. Our favorite, Little Italy for Gnocchi with marinara sauce and Eggplant Parmigiana.

The four of us during the walking food tour in Little Italy.

Back on the bus Friday morning. This time the Uptown. We got off a the Met for some art appreciation in the morning, a street vendor lunch, then a stroll through Central Park in the afternoon before walking back to the hotel near Time Square.

R Dub with Scott in the background on the front steps of The Met.
The view from Central Park’s Belvedere Castle overlooking the Turtle Pond and NYC skyline.

Overall thoughts? We enjoyed the Big Apple greatly. The shows were outstanding, the sights were awesome, the people were friendly and helpful, the crowds were not intimidating at all.

Any disappointments? The food. Flavors were greatly understated at most restaurants. The bagels were good at all locations, the Italian food in Little Italy was good. The Jerk Chicken at Jasmine’s, however was outstanding. The food trucks were..meh and the diners were bland. We will ask around before our next trip to NYC for local favorites.

Food in Chicago is much better, and Seattle and San Fransisco…and Milwaukee for that matter.

All in all. We will return. There is much more to see and do. This is the first of several posts on our NYC adventure.

Gardening – Putting the Garden Beds to Rest

Bed C was a tomato bed from June to October is now the home of 20 garlic cloves and about 6” of straw mulch. The garlic will share this bed with tomato plants in June, roughly a month before the garlic will be harvested.

2021 was our first attempt at gardening. We were hardly the lone rangers on this front. The pandemic brought grocery shortages. Many people started gardening during the pandemic. For some is was just in case, for us it was also because society encouraged people to stay at home more. Restaurants were mostly closed, store shelves were unreliably stocked.

For us it was more than just a perceived need, it was a way to utilize a backyard space that once held our pool and gardening something to do during our free time. We are not getting any younger, gardening is a safer hobby than rock climbing, and it produces tasty food.

Year two is mostly in the books. From 3 raised garden beds in 2021 and a dozen or so containers to 11 raised garden beds, one 5 tier Greenstalk vertical container, one 8’x8′ cattle panel trellis and 25 or so containers by the end of 2022.

All of the beds are ready for winter. Here’s a pictorial of the 11 beds and cattle panels and Beth’s plotted plan for our 2023 medicinal herb garden beds. March will be here before we know it, time to begin plotting the beds for next spring!

New for 2022 tomato bed was home to San Marzano and Beef Steak tomatoes now has a cover crop of fava beans.
Bad A is over wintering 4 rows of carrots. They will be ready to harvest just in time to amend the soil and seed more carrots. We love carrots!
Bed C is overwintering bunching onions. Look closely at the bottom right hand corner, carrots transferred from a fabric container.
New to the garden in 2022; cattle panel poll bean trellis. Kentucky Wonder beans cut at soil level leaving the roots to decompose this winter. All vines dropped on top of the soil as mulch during winter. Early spring 2023 we will put peas here, then follow up with more poll beans in June.
New bed added late in 2022. Home to transplanted asparagus. Good news, bad news. The good news; more sunlight for the plants. The bad news; we will now have to wait until spring of 2024 to harvest…
New beds late season 2022, two hoop house beds that should continue to produce during the winter. Bed to the left; herbs…cilantro, parsley, oregano, dill and basil. Bed to the right; leafy greens…two rows of spinach and two rows of lettuce.
This bed was home to asparagus; now it is overwintering Egyptian Walking Onion (thanks Lacey Luell!).
Added late in 2022; three medicinal herb beds. In the fall we seeded chamomile and echinacea. Next spring 2023 the remaining herbs will be seeded. Beth plotted out all herbs on the next image.
Planning is an important part of gardening. This graph represents what will be planted in each medicinal herb bed based upon which herbs are compatible and how tall the mature plants will be.