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Archive for the month “September, 2012”

Campin’ and Ranchin’

There are very few times in life when I feel like Dave and I are forced to sit, relax, read, talk, go on long walks, not check our email, and sleep a lot.  Camping is one of those times.  We spent the weekend at Kohler Andrae State Park. This wasn’t just camping, it was fall camping.  I love fall camping.  The crowds are generally smaller and the bugs are dead.  And if you are lucky enough to pick a weekend with weather as warm as it was this past weekend it will feel like summer camping.  This fall camping trip also meant the completion of my Milwaukee Summer Bucket List.  While technically summer ended last weekend, I am going to count this weekend as part of summer and cross off my last item, hiking at Kohler Andrae State Park.  

September 28, 2012: Our Camp

We have a very tiny tent, I love it.  It’s perfect for fall camping, it keeps the body heat inside the tent.  One major problem though and I’d love your help figuring it out.  We need a better mattress to sleep on.  We’ve tried an air mattress, this weekend we used very thin foam pads, both were major failures.  It’s going to take us a few days to work the kinks out of our backs, shoulders, and necks.

Friday Night Campfire Dinner

Saturday Morning Hike Over the Sand Dunes Along Lake Michigan

Saturday Morning Walk on the Beach at Sunrise

Saturday was a specific highlight of the weekend.  We went rollerblading (yeah, rollerblading, like we were something right out of the late 1990’s) on the Plank Road Trail in the afternoon.  Rollerblading was essential so we could work up a big appetite for the PIZZA RANCH!  Dave and I love the Pizza Ranch.  If you go, be warned, this food is not high quality, but they have a pizza buffet that is a particular favorite of ours.  I think Dave and I solidified our love back in the early 2000’s at a Pizza Ranch in South Dakota.  Both of us must have known that when two people can get together and put down that much food and not judge each other it’s a relationship built to last. 

September 28, 2012: Pizza Ranch

My favorite things about the Pizza Ranch. 

1)  When you pay at the counter they ask you if there are any specific types of pizza they can make for you and put out on the buffet.  If you request a pizza they will also bring the pizza to your table and serve you the first piece before they put it out on the buffet.  Great customer service.

2)  A pizza buffet is also a genius concept.  You might not want to eat a whole supreme pizza, but at the Pizza Ranch you can have one piece of supreme and all the other kinds you might want to try that night. 

3)  The macaroni salad and salad bar.  I honestly don’t really like pizza that much, but the macaroni salad on the salad bar is amazing!  Dave can eat pizza; I can have triple helpings of macaroni salad. 

4)  You get a “still grazin'” sign to put on your table to signal that you are at the buffet and they shouldn’t bus your table, which has actually happened to us at other restaurants.  The other side of the sign says, “time to clean the stall.” 

Dave, “Still Grazin'”

You may think it’s cheating to go out to dinner and not make it over the campfire when you are camping, but we couldn’t pass up a Pizza Ranch opportunity.

Sunday Morning, Breaking Camp

The one thing I don’t particularly care for about camping is that sunrise is your alarm clock.  Luckily for fall camping you get to sleep in until about 6:30 a.m., but on a Saturday and Sunday morning that is too early for the Grassl family.  We had literally made breakfast, cleaned up camp, gone on a two mile walk on the beach, and driven home all before 9:30 a.m. on Sunday morning.  That’s only about an hour later than we usually get up on Sundays.

September 30, 2012: Sunrise Hike (tired faces)



The last six weeks of my life have been consumed with events and activities at UWM to welcome and welcome back our students.  UWM has a universal message for students that follows the acronym PRIDE.  Each letter represents a behavior for success.  For example, I = Involve Yourself.  It’s a pretty genius message.

The last Fall Welcome event officially ended last night, and in recognition of a great six weeks here is my personalized, post-Fall Welcome salute to PRIDE.  Not genius, but fun.

August 23, 2012: Puddle

P = Puddle.  After participating in the UNITE neighborhood campaign where I delivered 28 bags of goodies to student residents in the neighborhood in 85 degree heat I felt like a puddle.  Puddle also describes what the sweat was doing in the small of my back and behind my knees as I was walking the neighborhood.

August 31, 2012: Rotate

R = Rotate.  This little piggy spent the afternoon rotating at the Fall Welcome Luau.  Delicious.

September 2, 2012: Inflatable

I = Inflatable.  This dude is an inflatable mascot for the U.S. Military.  Notice that we just happen to be wearing the same hat?  Mascots freak me out.  If you are reading this and happen to be a mascot, please never try to hug me, sneak up and scare me, or get in my personal 3′ space bubble.  I also don’t appreciate it when you wave your oversized hands in my face.  I classify mascots in the same category as clowns.

September 26, 2012: Distinguished (or Dumas)

D = Distinguished (or Dumas).  We hosted Firoozeh Dumas (pronounced Fear-ooo-zay Doo-ma) for our fall 2012 Distinguished Lecture Series Speaker.  She is the author of Funny in Farsi and Laughing Without an Accent.  Firoozeh is one of the nicest and funniest DLS speakers I’ve worked with in a very long time.  In this picture she wanted us to all pose like we were in complete awe of the poster saying that she was speaking on campus (unfortunately my pose looks more like I am shielding myself from nuclear warfare or performing an awkward “raise the roof” motion).  She has fun and personality exploding from every cell in her body.  Read her books, you won’t regret it.

September 17, 2012: Element

E = Element.  At the UWM Union Art Gallery’s poster sale you could participate in the photo booth and be part of a poster.

Bike Rida

On Saturday, September 22, Dave, Dave’s dad, a family friend, and I participated in the Potosi Brewery Bike ride.  If you were anywhere near Southwest Wisconsin on Saturday you would have a crystal clear memory of the wind that was blowing through the region (at 30 mph).  I probably should have trained a little more and wasn’t completely prepared for the cold, but it was a great time.  I also give this race 100% credit as the reason the diamond in my engagement ring is safely back on my finger and that is priceless.  Here are some of the highlights.

September 22, 2012: Proud finishers, Don, Rick, Me, Dave

Best things about this ride…

–  The scenery was amazing.  If you don’t want to bike through Southwest Wisconsin, I’d suggest driving through it.  In a few weeks when the fall colors pop I bet it will be even better.

–  The roads in Southwest Wisconsin are perfect.  Really, not a single pothole or crack and I’m not exaggerating.  Southeastern Wisconsin could learn something from the west side of the state.

–  My water stayed cold all morning.  It was 40 degrees when we started and 55 when we finished.  Cold water all day long.

–  We had a great chase team.  Dave’s mom and friend met us at the rest stops and checked on us along the way.

–  It didn’t rain.  Thank goodness, I don’t think I would have made it in the rain.

–  We finished, and in a respectable time.

Dave and I

Things I would have changed…

–  I had Flo Rida’s “Whistle” in my head the entire ride, and just the chorus.  I replayed, “You just put your lips together and you come real close” about 2,000 times in my head.

–  It’s impossible to keep your feet warm.  The rest of my body was fine, but my feet were so cold they hurt.

–  Did I mention it was windy?  Just imagine going down a hill labeled “7% grade,” pedaling as hard as you can, and only making it up to 15 mph.  I was so mentally exhausted from fighting the wind I had to stop at the first rest stop just to keep sane.  Especially when I looked down at my GPS and saw I had only gone 16 miles, it felt like twice that.  I also would have skipped wearing the red MSOE windbreaker I did.  My “windbreaker” turned into something more like a sail and was pulling me in the opposite direction for most of the ride.

–  I thought I was lost.  I must have been daydreaming, singing some Flo Rida when all of a sudden I looked up and saw that there had been a turn a little ways back.  Of course I could have just turned around and done a little backtracking to double-check.  Nope, not me, for some reason I trundled on, only to spend the rest of the ride thinking to myself, “Hmmmm… if I am lost I don’t even have a phone, and if I stop at that farm house the only person’s phone number I have memorized is Dave’s and he’s riding his bike somewhere out here too.” 

I’m looking forward to another great ride next year. 

Modeling a camo hunting cap with beer logo on the front

Happy Birthday Dad!

Today is my Dad’s birthday.

September 16, 2012:  Early Birthday Celebration

To the man who gave me…

–  My blonde hair and freckles,

–  My love of the outdoors,

–  My competitive spirit,

–  My childhood nickname,

–  My favorite Snuggie,

and so much more.

Have a great birthday, you haven’t aged a day.

September 17, 1945


Post Like a Pirate

What a perfect day fer a sail!  Admittedly, I be knowin’ nothin’ ’bout sailin’ ‘n was not particularly helpful durin’ th’ trip.  I would like to take some credit fer neither Dave’o or I gettin’ seasick, I reckon that’s an accomplishment in itself.  ‘Tis another multiple photo ‘o th’ day day.  Heartly enjoy!

‘N if ye want to speak like a scurvy pirate, find ye extra own scurvy pirate translator here.

SeptembARrrrr 15, 2012:  I lust sailin’, Cap’n Victoria in th’ background

Skipper Megan, she kept th’ jib in line

Dave’o, not pukin’

Out past th’ breakwater, high winds, we rode that boat like a bull at th’ rodeo

Milwaukee Skyline

I signed a waiver sayin’ I could swim 75 yards, not sure what jolly that would have done when we were 1.5 miles out

Thank ye CaptainVictoria fer a great day ‘o sailin’.

Behind the Scenes

On Friday, September 7th UWM hosted our annual campus-wide fall celebration, Pantherfest.  B.o.B. and J. Cole performed, you may have heard of them (if you are under 25).  It’s a lot of work and there are hundreds of people who play an integral role in making this event happen.  I need to reemphasize the “a lot of hard work” and the “hundreds of people” who are involved part of that sentence.

I think many people think that putting together a big concert event involves a lot of glamour, it doesn’t.  In fact, it’s anti-glamorous.  At the end of this event I was so dirty, wet, and smelly the whole idea of anything glamorous was as far from my reality as it could possibly be.  50% of the event involves sitting in meetings or meticulously thinking through every possible scenario of what could happen and then planning for it.  Another 48% involves policy and politics.  Only about 2% is event implementation, and 1% of that 2% is even a shred of glamour and I don’t experience that part.  Here is a little of the behind-the-scenes action from my perspective.

First, the Pre-Show, a three-hour celebration on campus.

We Had Food Trucks!

Gouda Girls, they have A LOT of insurance

This year we had free food at this event, served by local food trucks!  We hosted the Gouda Girls, Eats & Treats, Streetza, and Hardwood Cafe.  What I’ve learned about food trucks is that insurance is important.  I guess that’s reasonable.  If you are going to drive around with hot oil, knives, and cash, prepping and serving food you need a lot of insurance to do it.  Remember that 48% policy and politics piece I mentioned in the last paragraph.  Food trucks were 40 of the 48 percent.  Even more than contracting with two nationally known hip hop artists.

Setup and Sound Check

Overall, the setup and sound check portion was boring for me.  I leave this part entirely up to the experts.  It is interesting to see what a venue looks like entirely empty before a show.  It looks much bigger empty than when it is filled with people.

J. Cole: View from Backstage

B.o.B.: View from Backstage

Being backstage is not cool, for everyone out there who thinks it is, it’s not.  It’s loud but you can’t actually hear the music because the speakers face the other direction, you can’t see the show, and the only view you have of the show is obstructed.  If you go backstage you don’t actually get to meet the artists.  You are much better off with seats in the front section with the chance that your favorite artist will reach out and touch your hand or arm, forget dreams of backstage.

It rained the night of Pantherfest this year so I spent about 5 hours standing in a puddle.  My role is a cycle of standing, waiting, and then experiencing five minute bursts of intense action.   I walked 56,952 steps on Friday, that’s over 28 miles; those bursts of action involved a lot of walking.


I did get to see fireworks and cross that off my summer bucket list.  This time I was sitting (not standing) in a puddle on picnic table bench getting the final turnstile count.  I think the only thing worse than standing or walking in a puddle is sitting in one.

And now for my two favorite photos from Pantherfest.  I didn’t take these, Peter Jakubowski from UWM Photo Services, full credit to him.

Pantherfest Freak Out!

September 7, 2012: Pantherfest, There is Some Fun Mixed In

Lights Out

I’m currently recovering from the first few weeks of school at UWM.  I feel like this…

September 4, 2012: I actually took this picture

Luckily I am an expert at the perfect recovery activity, napping.  I can nap in a heartbeat.  I have also just acquired a new napping location in our backyard… my hammock.  Most people install a hammock for lazy summer days, I’m a little late on this one but I’m going to take advantage of every fall hammock nap opportunity I can.

September 9, 2012: Hammock Napping

Here are some key napping tips I employ…

–  Start with a book.  I call this my nap appetizer.

–  Whether indoor or out, snuggle up with a Snuggie.  That outer space, synthetic Snuggie material will keep you the perfect temperature in any weather.

–  If you nap after 5 p.m., just go to bed.  I actually do that, especially on Friday nights.

–  Cars naps are important.  I’ve perfected this.  Dave marvels at how I can always automatically wake up five minutes before we get to our destination.  If you are car napping on your way to someplace important, make sure you keep gum in the car to keep your breath minty fresh.

Happy Napping!

The Unofficial End of Summer

While fall doesn’t officially begin until September 22nd we have been trained to think of Labor Day as the end of summer.  I have great memories of saying “goodbye” to summer during my childhood with a final swim in Elkhart Lake with my girlfriends.  This year I ended another great summer season with a nostalgic celebration.

September 3, 2012: Coffee with the Girls

I started the day off with coffee with the girls.  Then… I headed to the beach.  Despite the fact that going swimming in Elkhart Lake is on my summer bucket list and I really wanted to go, heading to the beach alone is an intimidating undertaking (Dave was at a bachelor party).  I risked becoming “that woman at the beach.”  You know, the one who is there alone, sitting in a low chair, close to the water, slathered in oil, smoking a cigarette, reading a trashy romance novel, and whose skin is a dark leather brown from years of over exposure.

Woman at the Beach

Well, I think I became the 21st Century version of “that woman.”  You can find me about 50 yards from the water, sitting solo under the shade of tree, reading Bossypants, and slathered in SPF 100 without so much as a freckle poking through my pale skin.  The 20th Century version (the lady with the leather tan and cigarette) was also at the beach today, right next to the water where you would expect to find her.

My time at the beach reminded me of some key beach-going wisdom that I had forgotten over the years.

1).  White is not a good color at the beach.  It isn’t slimming and becomes translucent when wet.  Unfortunately, for me the white can be found in the pasty white color of my hips, thighs, and stomach.

2).  No matter what the water will always feel cold.  It feels even colder when it hits strategic locations on your body.

3).  I will always burn.

4).  I will always love the beach but hate sand in my toes. 

5).  Nothing is more amazing than swimming in Elkhart Lake.  Today the leaves on the trees were starting to change to their fall colors and the water was crystal clear, like usual.  It was beautiful.

Beautiful Elkhart Lake

Also on my summer bucket list was a stop at Gessert’s Ice Cream for a frozen treat.  So I hiked from the very south end of town all the way over to the  west side (a whole 3 blocks) only to find out that they were closed.  So was the other ice cream stand in Elkhart Lake.  This actually turned out to be great news!

I stopped at my parents’ house before heading back to Milwaukee and my Dad was there.  He asked me if I wanted to head to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard for my post-birthday celebration.  Of course!  Luckily I can selectively forget the fact that I have a mild dairy allergy and off to Dairy Queen we went.  Did you know that at DQ “strawberry cheesecake” is listed under the fruit section of their menu?  I love you Dariy Queen!

I also love summer and will cherish every warm day we have until Memorial Day arrives and we can once again welcome back summer (unofficially).

Under the Covers

This summer I embarked on a “10 Book Challenge” and I am proud to announce that on September 1st I completed the challenge, just in time to meet my deadline.  For those of you out in the world who are readers you are probably thinking that 10 books in one summer is a pretty pathetic goal.  It might be, but this summer 10 books are all I could handle.

August 12, 2012: Rainy Day Reading

In general, I read books like I watch movies… rarely.   The bright side of being a late adopter when it comes to pop culture and entertainment is that the world has already judged what is junk and what is worth my time.  For this summer’s reading challenge that really worked out in my favor.  I read 8 AMAZING books this summer, one disappointment, and one dud.

I’ll spare you a full blog about each book, but here is a quick review.  I read a few that are definitely worth checking out and have graded them based on my level of enjoyment (yes, I am provided you my unsolicited opinion whether you want it or not).  In order of completion…

1.  Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert:  B

This is Gilbert’s memoir of her year-long journey around the world to find herself and happiness.  This book received rave reviews and was even made into a movie.  For me, it was just a solid book, nothing life changing.  I very much appreciated the author’s openness about her personal struggles.  Depending on where you are in life and what you are going through, the impact this book has on you could vary significantly.  I read it while traveling, so the part that resonated with me the most was the excitement of her physical journey across the world and how that changed her physically, mentally, and emotionally.

2.  Imagine:  How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer:  D+ [this was the disappointment]

This book was a roller coaster of emotions for me.  Initially I gave the book a B+.  That all changed at the end of July.  Lehrer admitted to making up quotes in the book, which makes me question what other parts of the book are fabricated or embellished.  It’s the little, nuanced aspects of a book that take it over the top for me and I question if Lehrer made up some of those nuanced aspects.  I can’t support plagiarism, so I don’t support this book.

3.  Zeitoun by Dave Eggars:  C

This historical nonfiction is the story of Zeitoun, a man who stays behind during hurricane Katrina to watch over his properties, only to find himself falsely imprisoned by the U.S. government over unfounded suspicion that he is a terrorist.  If I had read this book two years ago I probably would have been raving about it.  Unfortunately, the main character in this book, who was celebrated in initial  book reviews as a man of compassion, was arrested last year for assault and battery on his wife.  Knowing this it is hard to see Zeitoun as a man filled with compassion and love, the basis of much of the storyline.

4.  The Submission by Amy Walden:  A

If you are looking for a book that will really make you think and reflect, this is the one for you.  While this book is fiction it is based on what could be the very real story of building a memorial in New York City in honor of the victims of 9/11.  Walden does an amazing job intertwining the stories of all the characters in the book in a way that is just magnificent.  The ending is also top notch.  If you let yourself, you will spend the whole book reflecting on how you would react and what you would do.  The end will keep you thinking long after you enjoy the final sentence.

5.  Life of Pi by Yann Martel:  A+  [Winner of the “Becca’s Favorite Book of the Summer Award”]

This is the perfect summer read.  Martel knows just how to keep a reader hooked, he uses short chapters and every page is action-packed.  You will find yourself imagining that you are lost at sea sharing a lifeboat with a Siberian tiger, just like Pi, the main character in this book.

July 23, 2012: Started East of Eden

6.  East of Eden by John Steinbeck:  A

There is definitely good reason why this book makes it on many “best of all time” book lists.  Steinbeck is a master.  The Biblical parallels in this book really make you think.  All characters and aspects of this novel are also interwoven beautifully.   Steinbeck has also mastered the short chapter.  After my summer reading I’ve concluded that the best authors know that a chapter should never exceed 10 pages.  This book is a monster of a read at 600+ pages though.  My only concern with this book is that you can get addicted to it quickly and then you realize you have another 525 pages to go!

7.  Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi:  C- [this was the dud]

I just never got into this book.  This memoir is a graphic novel about growing up in Iran during the revolution and Satrapi’s journey to find her identity and find herself.  It took a lot of effort to get through the first 154 pages, luckily things pick up a bit in pages 155-341.  Honestly, I’m not a fan of graphic novels so I’m 90% confident that is why the overall allure of the book was lost on me.  The book is also a movie; I might suggest watching that instead.

8.  Born to Run by Christopher McDougall:  B+

This is the first book about running that I’ve ever read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I gave it a B+ because the first 50 pages are a little slow and if you are not a runner I don’t know if you will appreciate it as much as I did.  Essentially, this book will give you a thousand reasons to be a runner and love running.  Here are a few of my favorite quotes/bits of wisdom from the book… “You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running” and “If you don’t think you were born to run you’re not only denying history.  You’re denying who you are.”  This book’s mantra is that running makes you a better person, I couldn’t agree more.

9.  Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas:  A-

I loved this book, probably because the author writes like I think.  I would never have picked this book up on my own, but since Dumas is speaking at UWM in September I felt obligated to read it.  I’m glad I did.  Every chapter is a short comedy, like the one where Dumas, at the age of 7, moves from Iran to Whittier, California and is subsequently asked by her new classmates to teach them swear words in Persian.  She teaches them to say, “I am an idiot” but tells them that what they are actually saying is the foulest Persian word you can imagine.  She then proceeds to listen to them run around the school yard yelling, “I am an idiot.”  Her last chapter of the book is also a statement about how she believes that everyone’s story counts and you don’t need to win a Nobel Prize before you can share your story.  I guess that’s the reason why I blog.

10.  The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini:  B+

Some books are hard to read, this is one of those books.  Not because it’s boring or has an underdeveloped plot, or isn’t thoughtful.  The book is brilliant, but some parts are so hard and sad and tragic you just need to stop, put it down, and cry a little.

July 1, 2012: Making Progress

Unfortunately I still have 7 books on my “Books I Want to Read” list and I’ve been told they are all amazing:  1,000 Splendid Suns, Bossypants, The Immortal Life of Herietta Lacks, Devil in the White City, The Happiness Project, The Secret Life of Bees, and Brain Rules.  I was 100% ready to take a long break from reading and spend some time watching TV and letting my brain atrophy.  Then God played a nice little joke on me.  Two of the books on my list that I had put on my library request list earlier in the summer both came in on August 30th.  One of the books, Bossypants, has a waitlist that goes on for what feels like years.

I guess I need to head back under the covers and read a few more books before summer officially ends.  I am still considering this accomplishment crossed off my summer bucket list.

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