• Chapter 52- Aldo Leopold Nature Center (Travel Edition)

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    We made the trip to the Aldo Leopold Nature Center in Madison last week, and had a blast!

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    The lobby was home to some great interactive games, stations, and activities.  We hung out there while we waited for our friends to meet us.  And yes that’s the first time we’ve arrived early for anything.  Ever.

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    We played with puppets and frog figurines and planted flowers.  All for free!  The lobby and trails don’t require tickets, but the special exhibits do.  We didn’t make it to the exhibits because we didn’t have enough time, but they seem quite impressive.

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    We headed outside to the trails, which were pretty interesting because they had just done their annual burning of the grasses.  The landscape was mostly charred, and gave us a good topic to discuss with the kids.

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    We unpacked our lunches in one of the open spaces, and set up shop on the log stumps.  Pictured above is the frantic scramble for grapes that had fallen on the ground.  A little dirt never hurt anyone, right?

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    We spent the rest of the time running, jumping, playing and of course trying to get all of the kids to pose for a photo.

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    We stopped back in the lobby to regroup and change diapers and check out the gift shop, and slowly made our way to the cars.  None of us wanted to leave because it was such a great morning.  Old and new friends combined with fresh air and play equals peace.

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    What are your favorite places to explore outdoors?  We’re always up for something new, so if you have any suggestions or want to share stories of your outdoor adventures, please leave a comment!

    A. Storm

  • Chapter 51- Urban Ecology Center

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    Pancake breakfast at The Urban Ecology Center?  Count me in.  We piled everyone up in the car and made the short trip to The UEC’s Washington Park location for a morning of maple syrup and nature walks.  Pictured above is where the delicious maple syrup was made.  We learned the easy steps to making maple syrup.  Tap the trees surrounding the building, collect and boil for hours.  Strain and serve.

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    After we had our fill of pancakes, we looked around at the wildlife exhibits indoors.  Fish, snakes, turtles and salamanders kept the kids intrigued for a solid 20 minutes.

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    Did you know that members of the UEC can rent equipment like fishing poles, kayaks, canoes, skis, snowshoes and more?  All for free!

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    After burning off some energy running and discovering lots of geese and squirrels, we headed to the band shell.

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    Many Milwaukee parks offer free concerts, and Washington Park is included (sorry I can’t find a better link to help you locate the schedule for concerts.  But I know they exist!)  Head on over to this park on Wednesday nights during the summer, and you can find something more entertaining that what we provided….me and my kids singing “Edelweiss”.

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    Here’s to good weather and getting outside!

    A. Storm

  • Chapter 50- Dinosaur Discovery Museum

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    A family friend recommended the Dinosaur Discovery Museum in Kenosha, and since I mistakenly thought Kenosha was 20 minutes south, I decided to make a last minute trip.  The museum doesn’t open until noon, so at 11am I packed up the kids, stopped at Rocket Baby Bakery for some monkey bread, turned up Katy Perry’s “Roar” and cruised down to Kenosha.  My son thought the ride was the main event, because we saw a million different kinds of trucks and construction machines which basically blew his mind.

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    We got there with enough time to eat some lunch in the car, and run around the lawn before we hit the dinos (and yes, Little T dressed herself).

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    We headed in to the free museum, and since I did no research before we went, I was a little surprised to find out that it was more or less one room.  Don’t get me wrong, it was great, just a smaller than I was expecting.  But we went in and saw dinosaur bones, including a T. Rex!  When my kids are older and I’m able to do more than just keep them safe, we’ll incorporate some lessons about fossils to supplement their Dinosaur Train knowledge.

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    Then we went downstairs and saw a paleontologist working and played with crayons and books.

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    After about 45 minutes in the museum, we headed outside to run on the grass and wait for…

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    …the next street car to arrive!  I randomly saw it stop, so we jumped on.  It cost me a whopping dollar to take us all on it, and was well worth the extra dollar I gave the driver as a donation.  Initially, Little T & Little A had to help their brother be brave.  Because as awesome as machines and vehicles are, they can be a little intimidating to a 2 year old.  Once we got on and huddled in Mama’s lap, all was well.

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    The ride was about 10 minutes and went a few blocks, giving us views of the water and a lighthouse and the police station.

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    And as it turns out it’s really hard to take a picture of yourself and four kids with a large camera.  Little A is behind J, you can see her hand.  Just to document that we did this.  We did this!  On the fly, and coming off of colds, without any planning.

    Here’s to getting out of the house,

    A. Storm

  • Chapter 49- Mitchell Park Domes (again)

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    I’m starting to think that The Mitchell Park Domes should have their own category over there on the right side of this page.  It’s really been a lifesaver for us this winter.  And this week we met up with a bunch of friends for an impromptu birthday gathering for one of Little T’s classmates.

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    We hit up the trains first, and started by oohing and ahhing over the trains.

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    Then we spent most of our time running around like crazy people.  The gentlemen running the trains were very tolerant and so were the other folks visiting the dome.  Well actually, they all left once we took over.   That was very tolerant of them.

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    Everyone under age 3 took at least one giant spill.  Luckily Little A had a few layers of leg warmers to pad the falls.

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    The birthday girl even got a ride on this sweet cart!

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    We went to the Desert Dome next, but I didn’t snap any photos because I was busy catching up with an old friend from high school while trying to keep one eye on my brood.  By then it was like 10am and kids were STAAAAARRRVING.  So we set up shop in the lobby and ate snacks and birthday dirt cake.  My kids will have chocolate faces in every photo from here on.

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    The birthday girl received the most unique present I’ve seen in a while…a hard boiled egg.  Amazing what 4 year olds come up with, right?

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    And she loved it!  I guess kids are more in tune than us adults sometimes.

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    And to clarify, there were 4 moms and a zillion kids (plus one attached to my person).

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    I wonder how many times a day the staff has to tell kids not to jump on the heaters.

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    Tropical Dome and it’s waterfall were next.

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    We forgot to bring coins to toss into the pond, so we used magical invisible pennies instead.

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    Then more running.  Played hopscotch on the sidewalk, and cooled down outside without jackets (it was like 90° indoors for some reason).

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    Happy Birthday to our 4 year old preschool buddy, and Happy Spring to everyone!

    A. Storm

  • Chapter 48- Madison Children’s Museum (Travel Edition)

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    On Sunday, we packed up the whole family and drove to the Madison Children’s Museum.  I’ll spare you details of the oh-so-enjoyable car ride from Milwaukee to Madison and focus on our time at the museum.  We got in for free because we have a Milwaukee Public Museum membership, and then met Theo’s brother and his family.  We dropped off our jackets and went straight to climbing, riding, running, playing, discovering and exploring!

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    J was feeling a little needy, and spent most of the time attached to Papa, so we’ll count that day as some sincere father-son bonding.

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    Cousin C was excited to have so many of her cousins with her.  She kept saying in amazement “ALL!?” as in “We’re all there together? There are so many of us!”

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    J and Theo tag-teaming it for the morning.

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    Little T made it up and through a climbing structure that had every parent wondering if they’d have to somehow squeeze themselves up it to rescue their child if the kid was somehow paralyzed with fear.  But no kids got stuck while we were there, and everyone enjoyed it!

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    There was some sort of vintage game section, with arcade games that Little T and Cousin C quite enjoyed.  We breezed through this part because it was next to the stairs and elevator that were beckoning our names.

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    Then we headed up the elevator to the rooftop garden.  After a few steps outside we were back inside looking at turtles, snakes, rats, chickens and more.

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    The staff in the rooftop garden were happy to help.  They let my kids pet the rats and chicken, taught us about what the animals eat, and made small talk.

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    It was a whirlwind trip.  We arrived late and at peak traffic times so there were a ton of kids in the museum and we didn’t have time to see it all.  I think I got in one mini conversation with my brother in law, and that’s it for adult interaction.  He asked how I possibly take all four kids out by myself.  I didn’t have much of an answer other than “it just works out…most of the time”.

    I’m planning on going again during the week.  I think it’ll be more relaxed and less rushed (especially if we leave Milwaukee at a reasonable time) so the kids can explore the many different sections and experiences.

    Get ready for us, Madison.  We’re coming back!

    A. Storm

  • Chapter 47- Soup Brothers

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    I’d been craving soup, and had two out of four of my kids with me over the lunch hour, so we made our way to Soup Brothers for lunch.  They’re open at 11am Mon-Sat, staying open till 7pm Mon-Thur and close at 3pm Fri and Sat.

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    We ordered from a selection of 6 or so soups and sandwiches each.  Little T and I split a ham & cheese sandwich, and spinach & fennel soup.  Because I like strange things, of course.

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    Inside this small space is decorated with lots of oddities, complete with a Mac graveyard of old monitors and iPods.

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    We took pictures of each other and tried to catch the rainbows reflecting on our faces and the table.

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    Little T met her first 8 Track player and rotary telephone.

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    Then our food was ready.  The soup was amazing, served with sour cream, rice, green onions and pepper on top.  I was immediately excited to come back and have it again, but talked to some other diners who recommended the roasted red pepper bisque (with the tip to add shrimp for an upgrade).  I guess I’ll have to make a few visits so I can try everything.  I heard something about cabbage and cilantro  as a topping for another soup, so I’ll need to figure out which those go with and put that on the list, too.  Did I mention fresh baked bread served with all soups?  But back to the spinach and fennel…the fennel wasn’t overpowering, but Little T still wasn’t a fan.  And really, what 4 year old would be?  She did love the sandwich (though the toasted bread was a little hard for her mouth) which had mustard and cucumbers inside, along with her strawberry soda.  Lucky day!

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    By the time we left, the place was packed with about half of the customers taking their food to go.  We made small talk with Richard, the owner, who was impressed with Little T’s style,  and we made plans to come again.

    Have a good weekend!

    A. Storm

  • Chapter 46- Supermercado El Rey

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    I’d heard on Radio Milwaukee about the El Rey grocery store, and that you can get lunch within the market.  So while running some errands sort of near 16th and National, I made my way to the Nuevo Mercado El Rey.

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    There are a few different locations of El Rey, but this market has a deli, meat counter, produce section, bakery, dry goods section and restaurant.  I browsed around and looked at pinatas, then found my way to Taco Loco to get some lunch.

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    I wasn’t quite sure how to order, so I caught the eye of a woman behind the counter to ask if I should just sit at the counter.  She motioned “yes” and I took a seat.  She handed me a menu over the divider, and I decided on the tamale plate and a horchata to drink, just because I’d never had it.  A minute later the woman handed me some salsa (pico and hot) and chips, by reaching over the plexiglass divider.  Both salsas tasted fresh and bright.

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    A nice gentleman sat next to me at the counter, and we struck up conversation about the food.  Gil was familiar with El Rey, and we talked about the authenticity of the market and how it’s the right place to go for the best Mexican food in town.  I learned a little about him (he works for La Nueva Ritmo, a Spanish radio station), a lot about local food, and he was nice enough to pose for a picture with me.

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    Another few minutes and a waitress came by with my tamale plate and horchata.  Both were great.  The horchata was a rice water, flavored with cinnamon and other spices, and served over crushed ice.  The pollo tamales were soft and flavorful, and were just what I wanted.

    Gil and I continued to talk about other Mexican restaurants in town, and how Cempazuchi is known for their Oaxacan influence.  I learned that Oaxaca is famous for their seven moles, all different colors and made by different methods of cooking the peppers and adding spices.  When Gil comes to El Rey, he simply takes a look at what’s cooking that day and orders what’s freshest and most appetizing.

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    It was a really enjoyable and quick lunch, which combined fresh and delicious food, visiting a new community, and chatting with a stranger.

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    A. Storm

  • Chapter 45- Bucks Game at the Bradley Center

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    My dad won tickets to a Bucks game, and brought me, Little T, and my brother to enjoy the night.  The tickets included a behind the scenes entrance and court side seats to watch warm ups.

    I’m going to stop here and say that if you’re looking for an account of the actual game, or the players, you’re in the wrong spot.  This trip was purely about showing my daughter a professional sporting event, spending time with my family, and drinking expensive beer.

    And watching an amazing pre-game performance by these lovely folks:

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    They perfected such moves at the Soulja Boy, the stanky legg, and twerking.  No joke.

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    Before the game started, Little T was starving so we headed to grab some food.  While she licked the pickle relish off her hot dog bun, I had a Blue Moon beer.  I’m not usually cool with paying like $8 for a middle-of-the-road beer, but it was a special occasion and totally worth it.

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    As we were heading in to our seats, these performers were on the floor.  I was immediately brought back to 8th grade when we won a cheerleading competition and got to perform at halftime of a Bucks game.  Big time stuff for a 14 year old!

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    The soda and spectating would have been enough for Little T, especially for a Thursday night.  I actually had a great time watching the big screen as it displayed fans who were unknowingly on camera.  Seeing their reaction once they noticed their faces was priceless.

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    I misread this sign, so I thought Coolio was performing at halftime that night.  Much to my and my brother’s dismay (my dad and Little T were oblivious to his celebrity (although a bit outdated) status), it wasn’t happening until the Saturday game.

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    The above photo is the first time that I payed attention to the game.  Until that point I had just been watching my daughter soak it all in, and doing some very entertaining people watching.

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    For halftime, we saw about 999 Jazzercise women and 1 Jazzercise man perform some fun and energetic moves.  They looked like they were having a blast!

    Unfortunately we didn’t stay for the second half.  Bedtime for a 4 year old comes early, and the minute we got in the car she fell asleep.  The city has some great night time scenes, none of which I was able to capture very well.  But these last two shots were just for fun.

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    While the Bucks aren’t having a great run, it was still an enjoyable evening.  My daughter had a great time and I got to catch up with my family.  Not a bad night!

    A. Storm

  • Chapter 44- Travel Edition: National Railroad Museum

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    We went to the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay this week.  This place was so fun!

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    We bought tickets in the gift shop, and the kids went straight to the train table.  Then, in the first gallery of the museum, there was an exhibit on graffiti on trains.  I wish I could have stayed to check it out but the kids had zero interest.  So we went straight past the gallery of train tail signs to the Lenfesty Center.  That large space is home to some well-preserved and beautiful trains.

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    One of my kids in particular was totally stoked about the trains.

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    After the initial amazement and excitement wore off, the kids were actually a little intimidated by the enormity of the trains.

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    There were benches in makeshift sit-and-nurse-your-baby area.  Because they were bored, I tried to keep the kids all in the same area by playing “Who can find the….red wheel?”.  Which went quickly to “Who can find the silver plate?  No, not a dinner plate, like a metal plate, like a hubcap.  With bolts in it.  Wait, you’re two, you don’t know what that means.  Screw it, go have a dance party on that stage over there”.

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    Breakdancing was the dance style of choice, and the other family that was there really enjoyed my a cappella version of Bruno Mars’ “Treasure”, I’m sure.

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    Next we went to the outdoor exhibit but we didn’t last long because someone insisted on taking her jacket off and running around like crazy in the cold.

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    So we had a race to the next stop, which was the children’s section where we wrapped up our tour the same way we started.  By playing with a train table.

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    Starting in May, they offer train rides.  Like on a real train.  It costs extra for that but I can only imagine it’s totally worth it.  They also have some special events, and I’ve heard about the Polar Express evening.  I can’t find information online about it, but it sounds like the event includes pjs, hot chocolate, a reading of the book by an actor, a train ride, and Santa.  Awesome.

    Looking forward to going back in the summer so we can play on the playground and eat lunch in the grass after our train ride.

    A. Storm

     

     

  • Chapter 43- South Shore Park/Stone Creek Coffee/Winter Farmer’s Market

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    For Valentines Day this year, Theo gave me the wonderful gift of a morning to myself.  Very romantic, I know.  But the opportunity to hit the refresh button is essential to being a happy wife/mother/friend/sister/person.

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    So I bring you to Saturday morning at South Shore Park.  I arrived just as the sun was rising, parked the truck and headed down the path along the lake.  I was bundled up, but not quite enough to be comfortable.  As you can imagine the beach was pretty quiet.  I only ran into two nice folks walking their dogs.

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    From this park, you can get a great view of the city.  It’s right in Bay View, so it’s not a far drive from downtown at all.

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    And on my way back up to the truck, I heard the sound of birds chirping from the trees.  You know that feeling when it’s been winter for years, and the light in your soul is set to “dim”?  And then you hear the glorious sound of birds when you’re least expecting it, which means that SPRING IS COMING!  And it doesn’t even matter if it’s another 6 or 8 or 12 weeks away.  You’re reminded that another season is on its way, and with it will bring a renewed sense of life and adventure.

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    And to put into perspective how cold it was, check out the Allen Bradley Clock Tower.

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    After taking photos, I needed desperately to warm up so I went to Stone Creek Coffee.  I was greeted by T. Ben, a genuine guy who is enthusiastic about the art of coffee.   I was the only customer at 7am, so I got a one-on-one lesson about the different methods of pouring coffee, and the company (did you know they have their own bakery?), and Radio Milwaukee (they share space in the building).  I also got to have a conversation with an adult, which was very refreshing!

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    If you’re coming to this manual-pour coffee shop, be prepared to enjoy and savor your coffee.  The different methods give a different flavor to the coffee, and because it’s poured with such care, it gives you more reason to sit and relax.

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    If I were still in college, this would be a great place to bring my books and pretend to study.  Because that’s basically what I did in college (sorry Mom and Dad).

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    They take their coffee seriously here.  Not in a pretentious way, don’t worry.

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    Glad to see they take drinking booze seriously, too.

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    So we all know that Radio Milwaukee moved locations this past fall, right?  And this Stone Creek cafe is in their new building.  I’m going to try and tour the new digs and let you all know about it.  For now, this is what you get.  A sort of blurry photo of the floor, because I had had so much caffeine that I couldn’t steady my camera.

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    Next I headed to the Milwaukee County Winter Farmer’s Market, located at the Mitchell Park Domes.  It was super crowded and there’s no way I could tell you about many vendors without this turning into a novel.  So I’ll highlight just a few.   I’ll also add that I had to park behind the domes, where I didn’t even know a parking lot existed.  I was SO thankful I didn’t have my kids with me because they certainly would have frozen to the pavement on the long walk in.  However, I’m glad it was a hike because I may or may not have had a ridiculously huge hot ham sandwich from Blue’s Egg while browsing inside.

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    Ted Ballweg from Savory Accents introduced me to his world of chili pepper products.  I sampled some spicy jams, which were delicious.  My favorite was the Chipotle Cranberry Chutney.

    Now if you would have asked me to try this even a year ago, I’d have said no.  Because for most of my life I’ve disliked the mixing of things sweet and salty, and this would have fallen into that description.  But once I gave in and had a Monte Cristo recently, my mouth rejoiced in the wondrous mix of flavors.

    Back to the chutney, though.  It was amazing.  Spicy and tart,  not too sweet but sweet enough.  It was great just on a cracker, but can be used as a spread for sandwiches, or straight up for your Thanksgiving meal.  And Ted was so great about sharing the story behind their farm (yes they grow all the peppers they use) and the local food movement in Wisconsin.  He invited me to check out the farm next time I’m in the Verona area, and consider it done.

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    Do you remember last year when I met Christina Ward of Kick out the Jams?  She’s a really cool lady who makes such delicious jellies as Brandy Old Fashioned, Blackberry Vanilla, Tomato Spice, and Ginger.  I tried the orange-vanilla jelly, which was like a calm and subdued version of a dreamsicle.  It was great.  Not candy-like, or too sweet,  but just enough flavor to make you pause and ponder what’s happening in your mouth.

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    Christina also writes for Edible Milwaukee Magazine, which has some beautiful photos and really great information in it.  Read all about some local folks who are taking food to heart, and spreading the joy of all things food.

    This adventure got me thinking about food, and how I could get involved with experiencing locally sourced products.  I’m also interested in getting the kids to know more about where their food comes from.   Edible Milwaukee and meeting such great folks like Christina, Ted and T. Ben are a good way to start.

    As always, it’s a pleasure to have you read and join me in discovering our city.

    A. Storm