Chipmunk-Treachery: Battling Invaders in Your Garden

Some things you should know about me.

I am a person with a hat. Trust me, it’s a big deal.

Today I found a surprise stash of crazy straws when I was cleaning my apartment! My beverage game is unmatched right now.

And I have a garden that I talk about a lot.

…Oh my gosh! I’m so glad you asked! You see, my garden is going through something.

I seem to have unintentionally crafted a nature preserve on my 8 foot by 5 foot patio patch of cement.

Real things the neighbors get to hear:

  • “I only want the best for both of us!”- I yelled at a bee. To my credit, the bee was getting all up in my business.
  • “BIRDS! THERE ARE OTHER PATIOS!”- I yelled at a pair of birds who were either getting amorous or discussing the new Game of Thrones trailer on my patio as I was trying to eat breakfast.
  • “Nobody wants you here, cat!” – I yelled at a cat who was trying to climb on my patio.

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Milwaukee Chronicles Part 2: I am a person with a hat.

Hey team. Welcome back.

It’s been awhile! Unfortunately the job that pays me takes precedence over the blog that doesn’t, but I’ve missed you guys.

Some news! And before we go any farther, let me say, this is going to be a very important blog post. This is basically breaking news.

I am now a person who owns a hat!

Milwaukee is home to local millineries, the Hen House and Brass Rooster, two connected shops that make hats for women and men respectively. After two years of perusing the hats as a curious shopper, thinking they were too expensive for that particular trip, snapping a picture for Instagram, and running out the door, on my recent birthday extravaganza, I decided it was time to make a purchase.

 

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Milwaukee Chronicles Part 1: How to Exhibition Review

This weekend I went on my very first completely self-funded vacation.

I had really grand plans for this trip. At one point in the planning, I was just going to go for it. I was going to spend my entire tax refund on a plane ticket to Scotland, a dream of mine for years now.

And then I remembered my student loans.

And then I was going to spend a little bit less, and buy a train ticket to California! Stopping in cities along the way, seeing the best of America’s national parks.

And then I remembered my student loans.

And then I decided to spend the night in Milwaukee, a little over an hour away. And when I get back sit very very still as to not spend any money.

Yeah, that sounds about right. I could even listen to a whole episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross on the drive, and not have to spread it over three commutes like I usually do! That’s the dream right there!

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The Almost Travel Blogger: Milwaukee

When you’re on the hunt for a very particular escalator, you can’t mince words. It’s serious business. You see, this escalator plays polka music.

But I think I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bronze Fonzie. Bronzie.

Last weekend, I took myself on a day trip to Milwaukee. And if I were a travel blogger, I would probably have lots of really great tidbits and facts and itineraries and suggestions, but I’m the almost-Travel Blogger. I’m also the almost-good-at-cooking-blogger, but we’ll get to that a different day. (Spoiler Alert: I’m pretty sure my sourdough starter has sinister intentions.)

The Drive

For anyone ever driving through Wisconsin, I suggest doing at least part of your stretch on country roads instead of the interstate. It’s on the country roads that things get weird and awesome and then weird again.

Spotted on my drive yesterday:

  • A building reading “North Prairie Freedom” with the head of a smiling viking next to a cross underneath the text. I’ll never know what that building is, and it kills me a little bit.
  • A bright red barn with large text reading, “Mountain Man Guns!” I know what that building is, and there is no part of me that wants to know more.
  • A man wearing a Life is Good shirt, walking in the middle of the road with his dog. And when I gave him the “seriously?!” hands you give a person when you’re behind the wheel and convinced you’re in the right, he gave me a happy nod and wave and kept walking in the middle of the road. Classic city-dweller-mistake, self.
  • A yard with a series of flags with different faces of golden retrievers printed on them. Basically a vision from my future.
  • A church with a sign that said, “This is a church for families.” Don’t even think about it, single people!

The country roads take a little longer, but think of it like prolonged people-watching. And only the occasional avoidance of the mountain men with guns despite being in very much not a mountain range.

The Learning!

Everyone’s very favorite part of a day trip! I use Google’s Field Trip on these little excursions, to varying degrees of success. For those who are unaware, when you turn on Field Trip, Google accesses different historical and cultural databases to show you interest points that are in your vicinity.

I kept getting alerts on my drive that I was passing landmarks and history and interesting tidbits, but also, I was driving. I kept passing the history and the tidbits, so a good deal of my driving was spent figuring out how many roving mountain men I would run into if I parked on the shoulder and went on a little walk. I always chickened out. You win this one, Mountain Men.


Field Trip lends itself much better to walking, and speaking of… the Polka escalator.

In planning out my Milwaukee trip, I mapped out some oddities I wanted to see thanks to Roadsideattractions.com. Top of my list: the Polka Escalator.

There I am, in downtown Milwaukee, finally finding the Wisconsin Center, the location of the famed escalator, and the door is locked.

I came this far, I can’t give up. I try another door. And then another.

And you may be thinking, “Get a clue. Last weekend was a holiday.” I was saying the same thing to myself, but when a polka escalator is on the line- and when you can’t find a sign with hours printed anywhere- you keep trying doors! It’s your duty as an almost-travel-blogger!

It was on the sixth door that I got inside, and became immediate and best friends with the polka-enthusiast security guard.

Me (under my breath to myself): Yes. You’re about to say what you think you’re going to say…

Me: HI! I’m looking for the polka escalator!

Security guard: That part of the building is closed.

Me: I was starting to get that message after trying five locked doors! (Laughs)

Security guard: -silence-

Best friends! Then we high-fived.

No polka escalator? Enter Field Trip! (After the requisite 20 minutes and wailing to the tune of “Roll out the Barrell”, obviously.)

What’s near me? It could be history! It could be architecture! It probably won’t be a polka escalator, but it might be a film location for a movie you saw last month!

I saw that Old World Third St. was nearby, and thought I’d go check it out. The street signs were even styled in really helpful Old World calligraphy. Not at all difficult to read.


Old World Third St. review: Confusing. There was a Hyatt and a Cousins subs and then 9 or so German restaurants advertising sausage in large fonts.

A 12 year old boy is snickering somewhere.

Colonial Williamsburg may have spoiled me, but if a street is going to be “old world” someone better be wearing a costume and teaching me how to churn butter.

The Shopping

I’ve turned to Milwaukee several times for antiquing trips, and I’ve always come away with something fun without having to auction off my golden retriever flag collection OR my mountain-man guns.

Antique Center – Walker’s Point 

It wouldnt be antiquing without a healthy dose of creepy.

This is probably your best bet for reasonably-priced surprises. Another fun twist: It feels like half the building is tipping into the road below, so in a fun budget-keeping technique you can ask yourself, “is it worth dying to get the Queen Elizabeth II coronation commemorative mug?” Answer: Meh. Maybe next time.

Riverview Antique Market


This was the point in the day where the sun was at it’s peak, and I had already been walking for three hours. So when I entered Riverview Antique Market, my eyes zeroed in on- not the wide selection, not the cool vintage circus posters hanging from the ceilings- the free animal crackers. Gotta love an animal cracker.

 Of the antique stores I visited on this trip, Riverview had the nicest pieces- an excellent clothes and accessories section- and the best layout, but it also had the pieces that made you think:

“I sure did see that mug in a Starbucks last year.”

“Is this poster from Art.com really an antique?”

“If I speak in a different accent, could I get away with taking more animal crackers?”

This is the place for those who can spot the diamonds in the cubic zirconium. And even if you can’t, cubic zirconia are still pretty, so we’re all still ok.

Honorable mention: Antiques on Pierce, Tip Top Atomic Shop


On the drive home, it seemed like all the weirdos had gone inside. Maybe they heard about the armed Middle-of-Wisconsin men (because I don’t think anyone can be called a mountain man in the midwest. Vague-hillside men? One-of-the-forty-lakes men?)

Maybe they were at families-only church at a dog-flag rummage sale. Maybe they heard about the famed Milwaukee animal cracker.

Maybe they have their own white whale Polka Escalator, they’re seeking, and wondering when the universe will unite them.

I know I am.

A Floor-Person in a Strange Land

 

Air New Zealand, ca. 1960

Yesterday, as I was flying back to Wisconsin from my weekend from North Carolina, I hesitantly strutted in to the cabin.

How does one “hesitantly strut”? It’s a complicated walk that combines confidently walking with a face that says, “I ate a bad hot dog, but I don’t want anyone to know about it.”

Why the contradiction? You guys, I was bumped to first class, and was firmly convinced it was a prank. Up until the plane took off, I was sure someone would walk up and say, “ma’am, I saw you sitting on the floor earlier. We don’t allow floor-people in first class. I have to ask you to move.”

“Ma’am, your seat mates are complaining. I don’t think your denim jacket is hiding your airport-Popeyes stink as well as you think it is. I have to ask you to move.”

“Ma’am, we heard you don’t even own one horse. I have to ask you to move.”

I’ve always had mixed feelings about first class. It always seemed vaguely Hunger Games-y:

“Here is your five course meal, a warm towel, a bowl of artisinal nuts, and the blood of your enemies!”

 

basically, me

Why pay that much extra for a seat that takes you to the same place as the huddled masses two feet behind you? Coach isn’t that terrible. Your knee only bruise a little bit from being smashed into the seat in front of you. On some days, I even felt a little embarrassed for the first class passengers.

Is extra legroom, free snacks, free checked bag, and all the tiny paper pillows you can imagine really the best use of your money?


Ok, yeah. First class is pretty great.

And how do I know? You guys, I was bumped to first class! That never happens to me, and I’ve gotta tell you, I was not cool about it.

 

I tried to take a picture, but forgot my flash was on, so the whole cabin lit up because they dimmed the lights.

Let’s start from the beginning. I really wanted to fit in, so waiting to board, I was trying to think of my best first class conversation topics with which to charm my seat mates:

  • Yacht maintenance
  • Our respective horse collections
  • Specialty monogram stitching patterns
  • Ridding the world of floor-people
  • Gold

Except once I got on the plane, no one talked to me! No one even looked at me! Guys, in coach, the passengers become best friends (whether you like it or not)! A teenage girl just spent an hour and a half long flight telling me her favorite Anime characters. How will I rank the first class cabin’s favorite Anime characters?!

I was about to loudly announce as much when I got distracted by my first freebies. The red blanket and the tiny paper pillow. I’m used to viewing these waiting in the spare first class seats as I begin my trudge to what is inevitably the coach seat directly in front of the bathroom, and now I have a weird tiny paper pillow of my very own! Oh la la!

I ripped into my red blanket package- for it is still wrapped in plastic- the way one does with a rogue cherry Starburst from the bottom of your purse: Frantically while making panicked victory noises, afraid someone will take it away. And once wrapped in my blanket, I downed my freebie-sized bottle of Dasani in two gulps. Was I too excited to pace myself? Maybe. Is the bigger truth, travel-sized Dasani bottles are comically small? Yes. What up with that, Dasani?

Earlier I mentioned knee-bruises as a potential risk of flying Coach. I mention it because it’s real. I have an actual, real, purple on pale, bruise from being beamed with the reclined seat back in front of me while my legs were crossed. Because reclining your seat is always a jerk move. You are making the active choice to make someone else’s life less comfortable. That’s on you.

Except if you sit in first class. The older man in front of me reclined his seat, and while mustering the appropriate indignation I realized that I was fine. My knees still didn’t reach the seat back in front of me. I couldn’t enact the reign of jostling terror that usually accompanies a reclined airplane seat because my legs literally wouldn’t reach that far.

What is this place?

Now, if I learned anything from grad school, I learned how to never waste a snack. I flew immediately after a meal, so I knew I wouldn’t be getting the five course meal/whole roasted chicken/three-tiered cake, but I would milk the snack basket every time it made the rounds.

Or as it turned out: round. Our flight attendant brought out the basket, and at first glance, it looked mostly filled with peanuts. Airplane peanuts. The normal non-artisinal kind.

I almost threw my tiny paper pillow on the floor in a fit of first-class rage. And for the curious, first-class-rage manifests itself as me gently placing my paper pillow on the floor, and shrieking, “poppycock!” And slapping the flight attendant across the face with, not a glove, but my red Delta blanket.

As it turns out, the basket held more than airplane peanuts. Phewf! Am I right? I picked out the citrus-chili roasted corn. And as a funny coincidence, that’s my favorite of all the roasted corn snacks.

 

Spotted: free red Delta blanket

When it came time to pick out a drink, I consulted the Sky magazine food menus to determine “which one looks the most expensive.” (My actual thought process.) Guys, drinks were free. This is no time for flat ginger ale.

Now is when I’d like to call out our flight attendant. She was lovely, and did a great job, but I wonder how she feels about carrying snacks around in a tiny-paper-pillow sized basket instead of the typical obelisk-esque cart? Having to remember drink orders and deliver them to people five minutes later, one at a time? Collecting trash on a tray?

Because I’m not going to lie to you. My trash can go in a bag. I’m pretty sure everyone’s trash can go in a bag. That’s why trash bags are so popular.

….

What is this? The rambling of a floor person?

DRIVING SHOES! FUR COATS! TRICKLE-DOWN ECONOMICS!

“First thing I’m doing when the plane lands is buy a trash tray!”

I seriously got so befuddled by the trash tray that I never actually threw my trash away. I panicked every time the trash tray made the rounds. I actually think the trash is still in my purse.

My multiple showings of the trash tray made me think that my ride was coming to an end. I decided to end on a high note, listening to a podcast. (That’s a high note for me.)


It was the New Yorker Radio Hour. I held my phone up prominently, so people could tell I was cultured. My previous assault on my roasted corn bag did not indicate that this was the case.

Seriously, it’s a great podcast. I recommend it.

Would I recommend first class? Yes, but only if you are slapped in there through fate’s precocious twists. If you’re paying for it, don’t pay for it.

It’s super comfortable, and your knees don’t get bruised and there are free blankets involved, but yacht talk is boring especially when there is no talk and one can only assume that everyone is thinking about yachts. Thinking about yachts, and playing the game “Daughter or Trophy Wife.”

That being said, Delta, I’m totally down for round 2.

 

I like my Face Masks an Unsettling Grey

Earlier today I posted a rant about Windows 8 trying to start conversation with me. I decided I shouldn’t be the absolute grumpiest* person, and deleted the post. Then I decided I was overthinking things, and reposted it. (I’m really fun to be around right now)

So in an attempt to dig myself out of my mood, I decided to try a new face mask.

And can I just say, what’s the deal with these paper face masks? They’re suddenly all over the place, but at the same time, terrifying. There’s going to be a new horror movie about a gang of young women in their 20s, that roam the streets inciting violence wearing paper face masks and leggings as pants.

One is a famous character from horror movies. the other is cleansing her face. i cant tell which is which either.

I did not use a paper mask. I used Que Bella repairing charcoal mud mask. My In-Target logic: “Charcoal. Science. I’ll take it.”

I started buying Que Bella face masks because I have a habit of talking myself into buying everything when I’m in any degree of a bad mood. Que Bella masks are not expensive, and they are not something I would buy in my normal routine. The damage is minimized.

The latest needless purchase: plaid tissue boxes because they are plaid.

See! I can adult! Budgets and stuff!

I was disconcerted from the moment I opened the packet. I know anything with charcoal in it is not going to be the typical face-mask-pastel, but I tend to grow wary of putting things on my face that are the same color as smog.

Hexxus: Doesn’t not look like my face mask


 I continued to be disconcerted when basically Hexxus from Fern Gully my face mask smelled like toothpaste.

So I’ve got something that smells like toothpaste and has the consistency of toothpaste gone bad. Am I rubbing toothpaste on my face? I mean…possibly.

But you know that old phrase: There is no bravery like covering yourself in grey toothpaste!

  1. Application – You start applying the old-eraser-color-face mask, and you can feel the menthol starting to work immediately. And by “feel the menthol starting to work immediately”, I mean, your whole face burns off, Indiana Jones style. Say goodbye to your eyeballs because this stuff is strong. Reading the description on the back of the package, calls it a “refreshing sensation.” I call it immediate regret. But to Que Bella’s credit, the stinging starts to taper off. And you realize you are a wuss you prevailed.
  2. Wait for 15 minutes – A suggestion for ways to spend your 15 minutes: think of different names for the color of what’s cooking on your face. Sickly fish? Dead man’s toe? Angry elephant baby? Yes, that one.
  3. Rinse off and pat dry – My personal technique is spend ten minutes cleaning my face off because the mud mask has hardened into actual cement. I’m actually part mud mask now, you guys.

Ultimately the mask is pretty refreshing when all is said and done. Only minor face-burning-off-potential. I will mention however, I will be cleaning my sink after this because what once was white is now a striking splotchy grey.

But you know that other old phrase: A splotchy grey sink is the sign of a lazy 27 year old who may or may not have a face left.

Recommend? I would probably recommend other Que Bella mud masks before the charcoal, but all in all, not a life-ruiner.** Try their Deep Sea Mud Mask.

Where? Your nearest Target

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*That honor should be reserved for my neighbor who got to hear me sing along to the soundtrack of The Muppets. That doesn’t mean I’m not laying claim to the absolute coolest person. Because I’m all over that. Just ask my neighbors.

**A top notch qualification for face masks.

 

Review: The Food Lab Does Breakfast

 

Queen Victoria also likes science based recipes

A few months ago, I was gifted The Food Lab by Kenji Lopez-Alt. It is a big honking, beautiful, brick of a book. If cooking is not your thing, it also works as an effective weapon against intruders.

If you like knowing the science and mechanics behind your food, this is the book for you. If you like to go off book when you’re cooking, maybe stick with “Do What You Want” Stew. His recipes can be meticulous, and specific, and frankly, a little involved, but having tried a good number of his dishes, the results are typically amazing. His recipe for extra-crunchy fried chicken is still some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.

I’ve mentioned previously, I use my Sundays to prep my food for the whole week, and all signs point to this being a long one. Cue breakfast! Breakfast is the best, you guys. I don’t understand people who don’t like breakfast.* There is nothing more comforting than a breakfast sandwich, a cup of coffee and a book, preferably about Queen Victoria. She was a weirdo, but she’s my kind of weirdo.

I digress. I remember once as I child, my mom saying, “we’re having breakfast for dinner,” and thinking it was truly the ultimate rebellion. Breakfast for dinner?! Get out of this town. Breakfast is for morning time!

I always was a rule follower.

So with a little help from my culinarily-rebellious half, let’s see how Kenji does breakfast. This week’s agenda: lemon ricotta pancakes, potato hash with corned beef, and bacon. Because of course, bacon.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes:

Why is my stove always so dirty? Also, I’m realizing now, white blobs aren’t super appetizing.

Both the good thing and bad thing about The Food Lab is Kenji includes the recipe for everything. Everything. You get excited about a recipe, and get ready to cook, and suddenly you realize that you were supposed to make your own fresh ricotta and dry pancake mix for this recipe, as well as craft your own mixing bowl from clay you gathered during your travels.** But don’t worry, those recipes are all included.

Ultimately, I don’t think you’re going to ruin anything by buying pre-made ingredients from the grocery store, especially if you have a track record of not making cheese very well, but I tend to get a little paranoid about that, given how specific his instructions are.

For example, the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of melted butter, that has been slightly cooled. How slight is slightly? Or the instruction to, “heat 1/2 teaspoon oil in a 12-inch heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers.” Until it shimmers? What if I have a generally-shimmery outlook on life? I don’t, but what if I did??

In my kitchen shimmers=when I’m worried the pan is getting too hot, and my kitchen lighting isn’t conducive to shimmering so just do it already!

Snark aside, this was a pretty straightforward recipe, and truthfully, pretty lovely to prepare. Zesting lemons always leaves my studio apartment smelling nice and clean. And the reality is, my apartment is kind of nice and not at all clean. I chose to save the rest of the batter, and fix the pancakes on the spot throughout the week. That also allows me to change it up a little bit, if I want to mix in some blueberries and raspberries.  Would I make it again? Definitely, yes.

I’m pretty sure I burnt them, but the pancakes had a nice subtle flavor that paired with the potato hash really well. And speaking of…

(Here is the recipe, so you can try it on your own. )

Hash(tag): 

(You don’t have to tell me how clever I am. Unless you want to. Then send it to me in an email because compliments make me uncomfortable.)

Sigh. I am once again microwave-less when a recipe calls for a microwave. According to the recipe, I’m supposed to cook the potatoes in the microwave till “slightly undercooked.” I employed the Meredith “Poke it and See What Happens” method. If you are unfamiliar, and you are cooking potatoes in an oven, when you should be cooking them in a microwave but you don’t have a microwave, preheat the oven to 400. Leave them in there for 8 minutes. Then, poke them to see if they feel slightly undercooked. No? Stick them back in the oven. Yes? Awesome. Thanks for using the Meredith “Poke it and see What Happens” method. It was a pleasure to have you.

Don’t be intimidated, I’m just very good at food.

I’m less good at deli counters. I was trying to buy corned beef today at the deli counter, and asked for “8 ounces of corned beef in thick slices,” what I got was 8 slices of corned beef in “very thin slices.” Come on, deli guy! I just mastered the meat counter! Don’t ruin my confidence!

So this recipe, originally advertised as potato hash with corned beef, has turned into potato hash with dreams of corned beef. A corned beef after taste. An air of corned beef. The corned beef is basically a garnish.

As for the recipe, it’s pretty good. It’s hard to mess up what equates to a big skillet full of stuff. Because I’m pairing this with the lemon ricotta pancakes, I plan on adding a cup of spinach to the pan when I reheat it to try to calm down carb central. On that note, I also went 50/50 on the russet potatoes and the sweet potatoes. The recipe calls for all russet, but when you eat sweet potatoes it at least looks like you’re trying to be healthy. Would I make it again? Yeah, if I had a craving.

Bacon: 

Pretty much what you would expect out of a recipe that explains how to cook bacon.

  1. Have frying pan.
  2. Put bacon in frying pan.
  3. Wait.
  4. Eat bacon.

So I don’t have a lot to say on the matter. Much like the hash, it’s hard to mess up bacon.

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Timeout: I’m eating these things as I type this post. I’m not a big pancake person, but I HIGHLY recommend them. I cooked two servings of the batter for dinner tonight, and I want to go make more. I’m definitely going to make these again.

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 Overall:

If you want a cookbook with specific dishes that you can quickly make on a weeknight after work, this is not the book for you. If you want a cookbook that will teach you technique and culinary staples that, once mastered, you can use over and over again, The Food Lab is more your speed.

And if you fear intruders, I’m telling you, it’s got some heft.

You guys! This was pretty successful! I love when recipes don’t end in me wondering if I should just throw away a pan!

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*I don’t know if we’ve discussed this, but I don’t actually like chocolate. When people discover that, I always grow weary with the inevitable response, “but it’s chocolate!” But when I hear people don’t like breakfast, an indignant, “but it’s BREAKFAST!” is not far behind. I stand by my indignation. Chocolate continues to be mediocre.

**That last one is a lie. But if you do make clay mixing bowls, I think it would probably help.