Note: This is my last day in my birth state of Wisconsin. I have enjoyed the many places I’ve stayed and appreciate the hospitality shown by Kris + Rusty Schoolcraft, Rick and Mary Burbey, Megan McLachlan and Tom Jenn, Ann, and Gretchen and her daughter Teddy. For the past week I’ve stayed with Gretchen in western Wisconsin—the experience was like living in a much loved sitcom. Special thanks to Gretchen and her ‘Kia car rental agency’ for allowing me to explore the state. Photos by Kate unless otherwise noted.

I stayed for a couple of days at the Happy Medium, an Airbnb rental in a family neighborhood in Middleton, a suburb of Madison. The first night there, it was the family’s cats Stanley and Kimber, who greeted me. After publishing last week’s story, Aug. 12, I took myself to the posh Marcus Theatre with its luxurious reclining seats, and watched the Barbie movie. Far from being a film solely about pink girl perfection, it probes corporate looniness—the Mattel Corporation co-produced the film and poked fun at itself—men’s and women’s relationships, how women want friendship with men, and men want so much more, the culture of perfection, and what real people are experiencing in their lives.

Bozho sea serpent in Lake Mendota near Madison as seen in the August edition of ‘Madison’

Sunday morning, I joined Airbnb owner Amy in her kitchen, where I learned about her world, working as a nurse for the UW Madison veterinarian program, raising home chickens and growing an herb/veggie garden. Enjoying breakfast in her sunroom, the cats and I watched as Amy’s chickens pecked in the yard for grubs among coneflowers growing under a shade tree.

Since I had a 3+ hour drive from the Madison area to nearly the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, I left Madison by late morning.

Stopping at the very popular Love’s gas station near the city of Tomah and I94, I was thinking about the Barbie movie, and men and women’s relationships. Exiting the gas station, I heard a woman saying to the man with her, “Sorry. I made you stop.” I saw his scowling face. Why should she be sorry for having to pee or having to stop, I wondered.

With my phone connected to Gretchen’s Kia Soul radio, I listened to my iPhone songs A-Z as I drove west at 70 mph.

Robbie Robertson sang Broken Arrow, followed by Bruce Springsteen singing, Burnin’ Train.  I played the songs, which made me appreciate my husband Bill. I felt so alive. This was a gift, since I’d been very ill with a gut infection for four months up until mid-June. I spoke a text to him, saying I missed him, while speeding along I94 with its silos with rounded and pointed lids, checkered borders lining the top of the silos, cornfields, Queen Anne’s Lace. A peak experience I will not forget. I felt exhilarated and so refreshed from the past two weeks on my own visiting friends and being a part of Wisconsin.

Arrived at Gretchen’s Sunday evening Aug. 13. I picked up some fresh corn at a little stand in Menomonie. I bought chicken sausage and fresh greens at Dick’s Fresh Market. I texted Bill that I’ve never smelled corn like this newly-picked corn in its husk. Oh, it was fun to have dinner together, with this pair of women, and laugh and catch up, along with the antics of Max and Chazz, their dog companions, who play tug of war and wrestle with each other.

Fresh fragrant corn at a corn stand in Menomonie WI
Chazz a long-haired Border Collie
Max a mix breed Pit Bull/Terrier

Since Gretchen has been experiencing back pain, we used a pair of her gift certificates for Massage Envy in nearby Stillwater, MN to have a spa moment. Gretchen said she felt relaxed from the experience—her first time, though she did feel some discomfort a day afterward. I’ve been told we can have some pain following massage as the toxins escape. We each enjoyed our experience and puzzled over a woman who resembled the character Cruella Deville, who stood out as an anomaly to the otherwise welcoming staff.

The evening after our massage, I met a friend TraceyJoy Miller in St. Paul. I met her years ago on Whidbey when we stood at the deli counter at the Star Store, which then had a satellite store at the Bayview Cash Store. Those years ago TraceyJoy and I got to chatting. I discovered she had attended Kettle Moraine High School—only 13 years after I did—and that she wanted a chef to prepare meals for a healing modality group she worked with, Reconnective Therapy. I then prepared custom menus for Reconnective Therapy retreats for years, learning how to tune in to people’s various diet needs.

Kiro the Husky, and Lira, a Catahoula Leopard dog, clients with TracyJoy’s animal care business
House in St. Paul neighborhood

Moving back to the Twin Cities, where she had lived prior to moving to Whidbey, TraceyJoy met me where she is caring for four dogs. She was walking Kiro, a Husky, and Lira, a Catahoula Leopard breed dog. Inside I was greeted by Nina and Ella, a pair of small white dust mops of dogs, who barked fiercely, protecting their space.

TraceyJoy, looking great with her head of curly hair, and I walked a few blocks through tree-lined streets and beautiful old homes to an Ethiopian restaurant she had wanted to try out.

Bole Ethiopian Cuisine offers traditional food from the east African nation. I enjoyed observing the restaurant guests—women in their hijabs and flowing dresses, as they chatted and scooped their food. I was surprised there were no forks and knives to eat with. TraceyJoy demonstrated how to tear a piece of Injera, the crepe-like GF teff flour pancakes, held with thumb and forefinger, and scooped up bits of food from our plate. We each ordered vegetarian specialities with potatoes, carrots, green beans and cabbage, all cooked in delicious sauces. The food encouraged a wonderful conversational flow.

TraceyJoy and I at Bole Ethiopian Cuisine in St. Paul. Vegetarian fare eaten with Injera, teff-flour crepe pancakes popular in Ethiopian cuisine.
Kate and TraceyJoy at Bole Ethiopian Cuisine in St. Paul

TraceyJoy told me of her enjoyment in St. Paul, her work still with Reconnective Therapy, and we each talked of our discovery of alternative lifestyles from those we once knew, being raised in traditional Wisconsin.

Our two-hour visit was brought to a close by the sky darkening and rumbling in thunder. We walked back to her home and I drove back to western Wisconsin watching lightning brighting the sky.

The following day I swam at the Centre, an athletic club in nearby New Richmond WI. The lifeguard on duty was a jolly bald man who played classic tunes from the 60s/70s. When finished with my half mile of laps, and exiting the pool, he said, “Well done!.”

Walking outside, I admired the giant cottonwoods, oak, maple and ash trees, listening to the rattle of their leaves in the breeze. Giant cumulous clouds towered above them. These clouds have captured my attention throughout my Wisconsin visit—they add dimension to the skies.  I sat in the car thinking about Gretchen and how, as a single mom, raised three girls. Her daughter Teddy lives at home still and, from hearing her stories, is a talented para-educator within the Minneapolis schools. She has recently taken a second job at a Montessori school to help meet the family expenses.

At Dick’s Fresh Market where I bought ingredients for spaghetti dinner, a woman with an attractive spiky silver hairdo approached me and offered for me to use her cart. I was carrying a basket, which looked to her like it was too much of a load. She added, “I use the cart as a walker.” Hearing that, I didn’t want to deprive her of her support, though the cart had just one loaf of bread, and thanked her for her generosity and said I was OK.

I had bought a tiny gnome figure with a coffee cup for Gretchen, who was raised in a Norwegian household whose art can include gnomes. Gretchen loves her coffee! With Gretchen’s family, the emphasis was on Swedish horses and Norwegian Tole art.

Holiday gnome collection of Teddy’s

Meanwhile, at the checkout, April, my clerk, loved my gnome and launched into a story about buying a gnome holding wine bottles for the store’s liquor dept. I learned that her mother and mother’s friend fashioned teacups glued together with scenes of gnome life inside.  I smiled as I exited the store, admiring the Wisconsin friendliness of folks just about anywhere you go. So down home and unpretentious. These qualities are a comfort.

Cornfields dot most of Wisconsin’s landscape

Back at Gretchen’s, we three ladies worked in coordination cleaning the glass terrarium for Dmitri, a Russian tortoise. Teddy and I scooped out raisin-sized dried turtle poop while Gretchen scrubbed Dmitri with a toothbrush under running water. Felt good to be working together and creating a healthy habitat for another family member of Gretchen’s.

Dmitri gets a bath from Gretchen
Dmitri after his bath

After watching the film Bad Education with Hugh Jackman, we sat around visiting quite a while before heading to bed. I will miss this family of mine. I have known Gretchen since she was a neighbor living down the street in our mobilehome park in Seminole Springs, in Agoura CA.  Gretchen was a lifesaver when my sister was ill and I visited her in the hospital. Gretchen watched our children, Gilli and Raymo, while I was at the hospital. We’ve been family ever since. When we moved to Whidbey, Gretchen, her then husband and three daughters, moved back to the Midwest. After the first wuzband left, Gretchen met Pat, and they were a couple until he passed earlier this year. Gretchen cared for him 24/7 and is just coming back to caring for her own health, which includes living with debilitating back pain. Yet, she maintains her humor, is a strong mom, finds relaxation in working with diamond art—a kind of needlepoint with tiny beads, and being homebound due to her health restraints. We spent much time talking story and visiting. I do love her.

Gretchen’s Diamond Painting of gnomes
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