Tag Archives: Wisconsin

3 Lessons Learned From the Listen To Your Mother Show

I can’t believe it’s been a week since show night already. I was working on the La Crosse production of Listen to Your Mother for six months. How can it be over already?

If you haven’t seen the bombardment of social media posts I’ve been doing about Listen To Your Mother (instead of blogging regularly), then you probably aren’t following me on social media, and you should because I like you.

Listen To Your Mother is a live, storytelling event that gives motherhood a microphone. The last shows have taken the stage, making the collection of 500 some unique, truth-telling stories, take place across 41 cities in North America.

That’s pretty cool.

It has taken me awhile to fully process what this show and its aftermath have meant to me. I’m still exhausted! But in the best possible way. Kind emails and handwritten notes are still coming in thanking our team for a beautiful, magical night of storytelling, for voices being heard and diversity represented. For making them laugh – so many laughs. And also for the tears.

So many inspired souls have said they’re going to audition next year!

And final numbers are in, so I cut the donation check for YWCA La Crosse today!!!

Here’s what I can sum up for you.

3 Lessons Learned From the Listen To Your Mother Show

1. Attitude is Everything

LTYM 2016 cast

The 2016 LTYM La Crosse Cast

When I first had the itch to apply and bring LTYM to my city, I had an entirely different production team and charity lined up. I also had a different job. When things went from bad to worse at that job (sometime I’ll tell you about it), no one was willing to put in the work anymore. But I KNEW this show could be amazing. I KNEW there were stories out there that needed to be told.

So, I did it myself.

I lined up a new production team, one that believed in the power of story like I did. And I found a new charity, one that said yes instantly and supported me from staff to director to board member. And I wrote up an application I hoped would make it really, really hard for the national team to say no to.

Channeling my energy into something that was positive and making a difference in the community saved me. Working on this show encouraged me to make big changes in my life because we all deserve to feel heard and appreciated and energized.

2. My Husband is Proud of Me

LTYM shot with hubs

The hubs, out to dinner, meeting the cast for the first time after our tech rehearsal. 

Let me tell you the ways my husband supported me. And, I’m warning you in advance, I’m going to get mushy about this.

In the beginning, it was advice on production stuff – venues to look at, performance things to think about. It helps he’s a musician and very familiar with locations. Then it was social media shares with the obligatory “Here’s this thing my wife is doing”. 

Next he went and offered to play live, acoustic music in the lobby for show day! Because he saw how hard I was working and wanted to support me in the best way he knew how, he helped make our debut show a little more special – a little more like a fancy night out on the town.

But folks, what really made me tear up and get “the feels” so hard was his response to the show. You see, I didn’t come home from rehearsals and talk about the show. I probably mentioned how many things I had to do for the show (more than once), but I didn’t tell anyone about the stories we shared. That magic and trust needed to be saved for show night. So, my hubs was that guy who got roped into attending because his wife was the one running it. Storytelling is not exactly “his thing.”

The reason I know the LTYM show is a gamechanger of a production is because it gets people talking. And my husband started talking and sharing his thoughts with me about the show and the stories he heard. And not just that night, but all week long.

My husband is not a big talker. He does not often share his emotions. Not many guys do. But after watching the show, my husband told me he saw me making a difference. He called me a rockstar. He had thoughtful, personal things to say about the show’s stories. He said he was motivated to make changes in his life. And he told me he was proud of me.

*wipes eyes, blows nose*

I told you, this one gave me ALL THE FEELS. I am so grateful for his support.

3. Perspective: Your Girlfriends’ Gonna Give It To Ya

LTYM production team

The LTYM La Crosse Production Team

When you work with talented people, you up your game. When you collaborate with them, you make lifelong friends.

I am eternally grateful for the amazingly cohesive production team that agreed to work with me without fully knowing how much work it would, in fact, be. I admired these women before the show production started, I have deep respect and awe for them now.

From start to finish, this group came in fully understanding the special-ness of a LTYM show. They appreciated and honored every story we heard in auditions, they put in countless hours of time away from their own families to work on the show and get to know our cast. They found local sponsors, made food for the cast, and helped make this show come alive.

We also had the help of our national LTYM team. All of whom are amazing mentors who know HOW TO RUN A SHOW that stretches its performances across a continent!

When little things seemed big or something made me worry, these women had my back. They responded quickly and succinctly and put everything in its place. They believed in me and one another. They support the kind of world I want to live in. I’m so proud to work beside them.

***

So, when next year Mother’s Day rolls around, run don’t walk to the nearest Listen To Your Mother show near you. Apply to bring it to your city. Audition. Get inspired. This show changes lives. 

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Listen To Your Mother: Why I’m Bringing it to La Crosse

Listen to Your Mother is coming to La Crosse!

It’s safe to say I’m really excited to be bringing this national production that gives motherhood a microphone to my city.

If you haven’t heard about LTYM, it all started six years ago in Madison, WI with a mom and blogger named Ann Imig. She put the first show together in two months, folks! This woman is a woman after my gamechanger heart.

LTYMNow, La Crosse, WI is 1 of 41 cities across the country (and Canada) producing a live on-stage performance of original, true stories about mothers and motherhood!

Every city has a different show. Yet every city is recognizing the humorous, heartfelt, sometimes hurtful, hopefully helpful stories that come from our mothers or from being a mother.

But here’s another cool thing!

It’s really inclusive. So the show is open to women AND men. You can write about being a mother. You can write about your mother. OR you can write about the person who raised you.

Auditions are coming up all over! If you’re interested, check out the participating cities and see if there’s a show near you!

For my local friends, auditions are at the end of this month, February 20th, 22nd, and 24th by appointment. And the show date is April 30th. You can visit the Listen to Your Mother – La Crosse blog for full details. 

***

Why am I so happy to bring LTYM to La Crosse? 

Because we have a bustling arts community here with so much talent. And I’m sure a lot of people with great stories! No prior stage experience is needed. But what I truly love is the mission behind LTYM, who is committed to sharing diverse stories from all kinds of people. That’s what I love about freelance writing, interviewing strangers, performing improv, and working with my writers group.

Plus, proceeds from every show go back to an organization that benefits women and families. I’m thrilled to be working with the local YWCA for our show, whose mission is to end racism and empower women and girls.

IMG_5865My Local Production Team: L to R – Beth Erickson, Me, Molly Hilligoss

My production team is amazing! I’m super proud to be working with Beth Erickson, owner and editor of Jobe Communications LLC, and Molly Hilligoss, diversity and social justice advocate from the local YWCA.

We’ve been waiting a long time to hear your stories!!

Seriously, this is us gathering last November for an early Thanksgiving lunch production team meeting.

LTYM production team dinnerSince I had just signed them up for a lot of work,
I thought the least I could do was cook for them.

You don’t have to be a professional performer or writer to try out. You could have been on stage 100 times or 0 times. We’ll cast our show based on the full spectrum of stories we hear – kind of like making a great playlist.

So start writing, La Crosse!

***

Everyone has a mother story.
What’s yours? 

“Read. Read Everything. Challenge Yourself.” Author Interview with Nickolas Butler

IMG_6763This past fall, I had the pleasure of meeting Nickolas Butler, author of Shotgun Lovesongs, at UW-Madison’s Weekend With Your Novel conference.

Nick is a talented and humble guy whose writing is truthful and poetic. He’s a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and an advocate for aspiring writers everywhere.

Nick was kind enough to chat with me about his work. Because I’m a big fan of his book. 

And he’s giving a copy away to one lucky winner! 

*****

Me: Describe yourself in three words. 

Nick: Father, husband, friend.

What three words do you wish described you? 

Debonair, raconteur, smoldering.

Ha! Nice.
Describe your book in one sentence. 

“Shotgun Lovesongs” is a novel set in rural Wisconsin about the lifelong bonds of friendship, love, marriage, envy, and childhood.

book-shotgun-lovesongsShotgun Lovesongs tells the story of five friends discovering all the ways they’ve each changed, and yet how much they’re still the same. It’s a poignant and poetic look at growing up, surviving the messy bits, and owning your own life – good and bad. What parts of your life have you “owned” and what are you most proud of? 

I’m most proud of my family and the life we’ve built together, through some real challenges. I’m proud of my wife and her accomplishments, both professionally and in our community. I’m proud of my children, proud of the fact that I think they’re both kind-hearted and compassionate kids. I’m proud of my Mom, and her unflagging work ethic and generosity. Proud of my brother for being one of the best people I’ve ever met. My life has been extremely blessed. I feel very fortunate, every day.

“What parts of my life have I owned”? I think when I was about 27 or 28 I took stock of where I was, what I was doing, and just decided that I needed to work a lot harder at becoming a writer, at becoming the person I wanted to be.

Shotgun Lovesongs is written from five points of view. How did get into each character’s voice?

It was definitely a challenge. Some of the voices/POVs came very easily – Henry, Lee, and Kip. And I can remember finishing one of their chapters and having to transition towards Beth or Ronny, and just really taking about five minutes to close my eyes, and slip into another psyche, another character. And sometimes it was easier, and maybe I’d only need a minute or two. Other times I’d have to walk away from the computer and get a cup of coffee, sort of collect myself. But it was also a lot of fun because each character illuminates the others in the cast. If everything is working right, you should get a more complex portrait of a character.

Did you have a favorite voice to write in?

I’d say Lee, when it comes to “Shotgun Lovesongs”. He’s very observant, in some ways, he thinks about the world musically, lyrically.

As someone who works a full-time job and gets writing in as a “side-hustle,” I appreciated your story about working lots of odd jobs along the way. What were a few of them and how did you carve out time for writing? 

There were so many…

When I was working at Star Liquor in Madison, I wrote after my shifts were done, around 10pm. I’d get home and still be wired, and just write short stories or poems. The thing is: when you’re trying to break through, you have to carve out time as aggressively as you can. This means sleeping less. Socializing less. Watching less TV. If you want something bad enough, you’ll figure out how to make it happen.

You’re a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. What tool or skill-set did you find most valuable from that experience? 

Iowa was definitely a life-changing experience for me in so many ways. But I think the thing that really pushed me forward was the competition; just going to classes and being surrounded by some of the world’s best young writers. I’d look around and think, I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to read more and work harder.

I think it’s hard to improve your craft without exposure to great writing – either through reading or through teachers or peers. I don’t think you can do it by yourself.

Your book is a love story about Wisconsin. What’s your favorite thing about our state?  

There’s a lot to love and I could literally go on for pages describing favorite cities, state parks, restaurants, sports teams, etc. But for me it comes down to family. I’m surrounded by family and that means everything to me. Family and friends.

Best piece of writing advice? 

Read. Read all the time. Read poetry and non-fiction and fiction and plays and screenplays. Read foreign writers. Read everything. Challenge yourself. Don’t discard any writing – there is something to be learned in everything.

Set a deadline for yourself. Write down your goals. Work when other people are sleeping.

book-beneaththebonfireWhat books are you enjoying right now? 

I’m about to finish Don Winslow’s “The Power of the Dog”, which is fantastic. Imagine George R.R. Martin writing an epic about The War on Drugs. Annie Dillard’s essays. I’m looking forward to reading Helen McDonald’s “H is for Hawk”. I’m rushing through both of Peter Geye’s novels, which are fantastic.

Tell us about your next project! 

My second book, “Beneath the Bonfire” came out in May and is still in hardcover and my next novel, “The Faithlessness of Men” will be published in early 2017 by Ecco.

Thank you so much for chatting with me, Nick! I can’t wait to get Shotgun Lovesongs into another reader’s hands; it really was a book that stuck with me awhile after reading it. 🙂

*****

photo-nickolas-butlerNickolas Butler was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, raised in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He is the author of the internationally-best selling novel Shotgun Lovesongs and a collection of short stories entitled,Beneath the Bonfire.  He is the winner of France’s prestigious PAGE Prix America, the 2014 Great Lakes Great Reads Award, the 2014 Midwest Independent Booksellers Award, the 2015 Wisconsin Library Association Literary Award, the 2015 UW-Whitewater Chancellor’s Regional Literary Award, and has been long-listed for the 2014 Flaherty Dunnan Award for First Novel and short-listed for France’s FNAC Prix.  Along the way, he has worked as: a Burger King maintenance man, a tutor, a telemarketer, a hot-dog vendor, an innkeeper (twice), an office manager, a coffee roaster, a liquor store clerk, and an author escort. His itinerant work includes: potato harvester, grape picker, and Christmas tree axe-man. 

He lives on sixteen acres of land in rural Wisconsin adjacent to a buffalo farm. He is married and has two children.

*****

Want to win a free copy of Nick’s book? 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*****

Have you read Shotgun Lovesongs yet?
How do you aggressively make time to write, or read?

 

Recalculating: Our Overnight Hotel Stay at the Don Q Inn

When your husband offers to take you on a road trip for the weekend, you say yes.

At least that’s what I did. After all, weekends where the two of us aren’t working are rare. He said something to me like “blah blah blah… ‘travel,’ ‘wine,’ …blah blah blah ‘bookstore’…”

I don’t know, that’s all I listened to.

We hit the road after work on Friday and stopped in a small town for book and music store perusal. We spent longer in the music store which must’ve been the “blah blah blah” part I tuned out.

But all was well when we stopped for dinner at an amazing farm to table cafe and gorged ourselves on charcuterie, fine cheeses, and prime rib.

And we checked out a winery as well.

Vernon collage

We were unsure of what city we would stay the night in. There were a few in between our route that would have sufficed and we figured we’d just hotwire it – as in, use hotwire.com to find a cheap hotel, not actually hotwire someone else’s vehicle.

And that’s when I hit the jackpot.

Behold…the Don Q Inn!

Don Q Inn

That’s right, my little travel munchkins. I scored us a room at the Don Q Inn – Fantasy Suites of Your Dreams Hotel!

Joe was quite impressed with my knowledge and know-how of working the internet to find the most bizarre place for us to stay the night.

Let’s discuss the available amenities at the Don Q Inn, shall we? 

If you’re in the mood to wander a retired Boeing C-97 airplane that once flew in the Korean War and once was used in a car commercial with none other than Farrah Fawcett, you’re in luck!

The Don Q Inn has just such an airplane!

Boeing C97

And let’s face it, it makes the hotel incredibly easy to find from the road. 

Climb aboard and experience what years of abandonment and hopscotch patterns of bird poo smell like! Admittance is FREE!

Boeing C97-front

Joe inside the plane

inside the boeing C97

The Don Q Inn offers rooms designed to fill your deepest fantasies. Want to sleep in Sherwood Forest? You can! Rent a room with the bed nestled between real tree trunks!

Wondered what it’d be like to sleep in a hot air balloon? You can! Complete with accompanying cd of sound effects!

Perhaps you’re a traditionalist and want a heart shaped bed from Cupid. There’s a room for you too!

Extra bonus – many rooms come with their own whirlpool made out of copper cheese vats! Sure to impress your lover.

Standard rooms are available, each with their own eccentricities. Ours for example, had carpet on the walls and a giant cupboard that wouldn’t open where I think the zombies live.

Because we booked on hotwire, we didn’t get a fantasy room, but Joe – if you’re reading this – we have an anniversary coming up, and I think you know what I want. 😉

Act fast and book your fantasy suite now! (Inquiring minds always want to know what you’d pick, so do share your favorite room theme in the comments! Or better yet, design your own! … Though, how will you top personal cheese vats?)

If, like us, you only have a short while to stay, may I suggest exploring the interior of the hotel.

hotel lobby

The lobby is filled with vintage furniture and board games. Relax around the fireplace drum in a pick-your-own barbershop chair!

For the more adventuresome, you can explore the hotel’s 300 foot underground tunnel.

the tunnel

There are few things more romantic than a long musty walk through an unmarked, underground, low-lit, damp tunnel.

I like to outdo myself though, so I recited some of my favorite motivational quotes to Joe. You might know this one by Gollum.

“We’ll takes ’em to the tunnel, Precious. She can do it. She’s always hungry. She always needs to feed.”

It was a delightful surprise to learn that the tunnel, in fact, leads to a bar!

bar scene

Our last minute stay at the exotic Don Q Inn was all too brief. The staff was very kind and helpful. And there’s clearly more to explore here. I for one, would go back.

What would you explore first? The fantasuite? The plane? The tunnel?
Meet me in the bar and tell all! 😉
Happy traveling, road trippers! 

8 Tips from the Madison Writers Institute

Am writingLast weekend I attended UW-Madison’s writers conference, the Writers Institute. The conference is in its 25th year and has definitely grown. It’s two and a half days long and they have so many classes, the first two days go from 8am – 8pm!

My brain is now leaking.

Honestly, I love attending writers conferences because they are so energizing. It’s the best feeling in the world to connect with your peers, learn about your craft, mingle with people who “get it,” and return home ready and raring to write!

Plus, this year I won 3rd place in the First Page Contest for nonfiction. *does Peanuts character happy dance* It’s been a long writing journey the past 4 years, and now I feel like I’m writing what I’m supposed to when I’m supposed to be writing it. So overjoyed.

I’d have been even more productive had I not forgotten where the parking ramp I parked in was and spent 45 minutes walking around downtown Madison in heels for a wind-about, nighttime stroll. Oh well, I was sitting most of the day, so the exercise was probably good.  *grins sheepishly*

Here are my favorite takeaways from the conference.

1. From Opening Keynote, Nathan Bransford:

Rule #10: Keep writing.

Cultivate your failure. Be afraid of “If I don’t publish my book…” Use that to set deadlines, talk with other writers, be heard, find success stories, and write what you love.

2. From UW-Madison Creative Writing Program Coordinator, Ron Kuka:

Go through your pages like a camera. What does the reader see?

This may easily have been the best class on deep edits I’ve ever attended. Sharing examples of one page of work during four rounds of edits was so fascinating and he really nailed the points about giving our readers both a wide and close-up view of the story through all the senses.

3. From Author and Journalist, Roy Hoffman:

There is powerful emotion in home.

Roy’s class on Writing About Place was one of the most talked about sessions at the conference. He focused on adding details when writing about place to inspire memories and feelings in our work. I had a chance to chit chat with the Kentucky gentleman one morning, and he is so kind and supportive of writers. A great teacher.

4. From Debut Author, Dale Kushner:

Things around us beg to be experiences. Learn to relax and play to overcome block.

Second keynote speaker of the conference, Dale is a fabulously intuitive and spiritual writer. She recognizes that to be creative, we mustn’t lose our sense of wonder in the world. A poet and now novelist, Dale believes in learning from your writing and embracing the emotions that go along with that. Each revision we do teaches us more about our writing.

Ken Krimstein, Michael Perry, and Dale Kushner

Ken Krimstein, Michael Perry, and Dale Kushner

5. From New Yorker Cartoonist, Ken Krimstein:

Accept that you have no idea how good your work is. You never know what will sell, just do it, and do it, and do it.

and…

Step into your artist’s pants.

One of Ken’s rules is to “knock dignity off its pedestal.” When it comes to writing comedy, you have to be willing to rework the rejections. Never try to explain a joke. If you have to explain it, it isn’t working. Write the draft and then color it in.

6. From Wisconsin Author and Keynote, Michael Perry:

Don’t overlook the exotic in your own backyard.

In both his keynote address and author panel at the conference, Michael Perry talked about the strength in writing what you know. He left his hometown in Wisconsin to work as a cowboy on the ranches of Wyoming, and he intended to write a book about that. As providence would have it, that book would never see print, but what would become his first book was the story about the people in his hometown, New Aubern, WI.

I had the pleasure of meeting Michael at a book reading last year, and I interviewed him on my blog as well. You can check that out here if you like. He is a delight to hear speak and a very humble man. 🙂

Michael Perry

7. From Former Writer’s Digest Publisher and Author Resource Extraordinaire, Jane Friedman:

 Seduce the agent into requesting your work. Make them feel special and say why you think your book is a good fit for them.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jane in one the conference’s new “Fireside Chats,” a small group Q & A session and got her view on trends in the publishing industry.

Me and Jane

Me and Jane

*Note to self: Check out wattpad. Have you all heard about this? It’s popular among young writers (teens-early 20’s) and allows you to post portions of your work at a time and readers can comment on the work and wait to read the next installments. Jane says it’s a more positive environment than Goodreads right now. And I LOOOOOVE Goodreads, but there are some mean folks out there leaving reviews without ever having read the books they’re reviewing. What do you guys know about this?

I also attended Jane’s class on writing queries and it was PACKED! She kept the class simple and said to lead with your strengths in your query letter in order to wow the agent.

8. From Creative Writing Educator and Public Speaker, Sue Roupp:

One word will unstick you.

First off, Sue has the greatest laugh ever. It’s big and bold and it fills the room with her excitement for storytelling. Sue taught a class on memoir writing and emphasized that you are the hero of your own story. Through you, the reader learns that it’s ok to fail, to learn, and to gain knowledge.

That’s what inspired me this past weekend.
Who or what inspired you this week?

 

 

What To Wear When Visiting the Tundra

Hey Peeps! I’ve about had it with this -40° weather we’re having.

I must say it’s really put a cramp in my style. I’ve yet to find a pair of gloves that keeps my fingers warm enough, and my car is having an identity crisis. It thinks it’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and has taken to bouncing its path to my work each morning.

This morning I considered using a beach towel to dry off after showering…you know, just to pretend it was summer.

*sigh*

This past Sunday was an adventure as Joe and I traveled to Green Bay for the Packers/49ers game. Though it was a disappointing loss for sure, it was still a good game and we enjoyed being part of the teeth chattering cheering crowd!

Lambeau Field

Hello, Lambeau!

Packers

Scoreboard

Neither of us had been to Lambeau before, so this was our first NFL game! Holla!

I'm Freeeeeezzzziiiiiing!

I’m Freeeeeezzzziiiiiing!

If you’re planning on attending an outdoor function in single digit weather, here’s what I recommend wearing:

2 pairs of long underwear pants +
1 pair of knee high socks +
1 pair of fuzzy warm socks +
1 pair of tall thick wool socks +
1 pair of jeans +
1 pair of thick fleece pants +
1 pair of snowpants
+
1 pair of boots +
3 foot warmers =
Bottom Layer

*Note: Try to go shopping for snowpants at the beginning of the cold weather season, otherwise, like me, you’ll end up purchasing a boys pair of snowpants. And let me just say, I’m a bit hippier than an 8 year old boy. Nothing like 5 layers and the outermost one being the smallest to make you feel like a stuffed sausage!

Almost all my layers are on!

Almost all my layers are on!

1 long underwear top +
1 turtleneck +
1 long sleeve Packers shirt +
1 Packers sweatshirt +
1 Columbia puffer jacket +
1 face mask +
1 scarf +
1 nylon lined runners cap +
1 fleece lined yarn hat +
1 pair of fingerless gloves +
1 pair of fuzzy gloves +
1 pair of industrial strength rubber mittens +
2 hand warmers =
Top Layer

Are you cold? I'm not cold!

Are you cold? I’m not cold!

Somewhere during the 2nd half…

This is fun, but I can't feel my limbs.

This is fun, but I can’t feel my limbs.

Yep, Packers fans know how to deal with winter.

Cheers!

Cheers!

Hope you’re staying warm out there!

What are your favorite tips and traditions for staying cozy this season?

 

 

 

 

Local Vampire Attack Causes News Headlines

If you thought small towns were boring…

On Tuesday, May 13th, a vampire attacked a group of musicians in my town.

True story.

A man by the name of Scott Mehtala, 23, claimed he was a vampire when being arrested for assault and battery charges against guitarist, Nik Slimp.

Slimp’s band, American Fangs, had been playing in the local La Crosse Center, which Mehtala described as filled with “normals.” A “normal” is anyone who is not a vampire. In case you needed clarification.

After the show, Mehtala picked up a barricade and hurled it through the band’s tour bus window. When confronted by the guitarist, Mehtala punched him in the face. Slimp is reported to have a chipped tooth and required stitches. No confirmation has been made whether he was turned into a vampire or not. But if so, I suspect the chipped tooth is going to make dinner a messy one.

Police picked up Mehtala, who was high on heroin truthfully, and suffering from vampire attacks that were imaginary. Claiming the headlining band, Hollywood Undead, was actually a group of vampires forcing him to act out destructive behaviors like rip off a side mirror of a random vehicle.

flickr image courtesy Mrs Inman

The vampires made me do it…

New paranormal trend unearthed as Mehtala reportedly kept whispering to the police “Where are your tattoos?” No previous information about the fad of vampire inking is yet known.

Fortunately for Mehtala, if a vampire attack was to ensue, he confessed to police that his “super human hearing” would save him. He would be back in tip top shape in no time.

All he needed was a nap.

For the full article in the La Crosse Tribune click here.

What do you think? Is La Crosse, Wisconsin the new Mystic Falls? Should I start stocking up on garlic and wood stakes?

And where ARE your tattoos?

Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival – Part 4: The Festival

Welcome back to the fourth and final installment of our Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival! As promised, I said I’d take you on a tour of a real, live festival!  That’s just ahead, but if you’re still in the mood for tasting, please visit!

Beer, Wine, and Cheese FestivalWe’ve a fine selection of beers here.

Twelve of the tastiest wines here.

And six different cheeses you’ll want to add to your shopping cart here.

You can also prep for your next party by picking out your favorite wine accessories or learning How to Host a Tasting!

Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine, and Cheese Festival

This past weekend I attended the Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine, and Cheese Festival in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Being the second day so far this year where temperatures climbed to a nice 70°, the festival was packed!  Held on the historic Oktoberfest grounds, the festival hosted a Wine Trail tent, three different beer tents, and a smattering of greasy and grilled cheeses to fill your gut!

Beer Wine and Cheese FestivalYes, that’s a picture of me wearing a pretzel necklace.  It was made by my festival attending friend, Cat, and it’s an accessory I highly suggest you don should you attend a festival like this.  The festival lasts for 3 hours and if you’re planning on walking out of there on your own two feet, you’re gonna need some food at some point!

There was live bluegrass music, a food and shopping tent, and good times had by all!  Now in its 11th year, the number of attending breweries has increased from 11 to 70 different vendors!  Many of them local to Wisconsin, however some were national brands such as California’s Barefoot Wines and Louisiana’s Abita Brewing Company.  The food and shopping tent had t-shirts and beer gloves aplenty, but what we hit up were the jalapeno cheddar brats and some fresh Wisconsin fried cheese curds!  Mmmm

Jess’s Video Making Debut!

Ok, this part requires a little introduction.  First off, I’ve never made a video before, and it was REALLY really loud at the fest grounds, so hopefully you can here what little info I share.  But mostly you should know that because I’d been drinking for almost an hour when we started taping these clips, that my “reporting” skills are practically nonexistent.  But hey, welcome to the festival!

Riveting live action reporting, isn’t it folks?  Well, I’ve got good news and bad news:  the good news is there’s a closing statement video in which I give directions around the festival that slightly resemble the ones Scarecrow gave Dorothy in Oz.  And then the bad news is I couldn’t get my actual interview with some festival attendees to upload here, so if you’d like to see the interview, please bounce over to Facebook where I’ll share the video on my page!  The gentlemen offered their favorite drink choices and how best to enjoy the festival as a new attendee.

Thanks guys!

How was your weekend? Did you wear a pretzel necklace? Would you like to? They’re delicious!

Can’t wait to hear how you all spent your weekends! See you in the comments section.

Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival, Part 3 – The Cheese

beerwinecheesepicIt’s the third installment of our Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival as this month’s Guinea Pig Diaries series!  If you’re just tuning in, fear not, there’s still plenty to go around!  You can learn about beer by going here, and/or about wine by going here!

Today’s post is about a subject which I’m quite fond of:  cheese.

Growing up in Wisconsin, this tasty dairy treat comes in all shapes, sizes, consistencies and colors.  I wish I could’ve sampled them all and shared with you, but my digestive track would sooo be on strike if I did that.  When sampling cheese, moderation is key, but there’s really no better partner for a good beer or wine than a nice, flavorful cheese, is there?

This post won’t even begin to cover all the yummy cheeses out there, but here are 6 kinds my friends and I tried and all agreed, we’d gobble them up again!

Six Tasty Cheeses You’ll Want to Try for Yourself

1.  Boursin Garlic and Fine Herbs

Creamy and spreadable, this cheese goes amazingly with crackers and I recommend it with Pita Bites Black Olive and Feta crackers.  YUM!  I was first introduced to this cheese through a Boursin Stuffed Mushrooms appetizer at my Oscar Party, and they were delectable too.  Some herb cheeses can be overwhelming in their salty spices and overpower the cheese itself, but this one was downright addicting!  I couldn’t stop eating it!  It’s light, not too salty, but definitely savory and you’ll want to let it melt across your taste buds!

Boursin2.  Laughing Cow Light Mozzarella, Sun-Dried Tomato & Basil

The second of our soft cheeses we sampled, this brand favorite is the one I buy when I’m looking for a guilty pleasure treat.  Organized into perfectly portioned wedges, I dare you to eat just one!  This was my first time trying the sun-dried tomato and basil mozzarella and I must say I’m particular to the plain old Swiss one, but this was tasty too.  The key flavor is definitely the sun-dried tomato.  You won’t really need a flavored cracker with this one, it’s pretty strong on its own, and I think best with pretzels.

Laughing Cow3.  Crystal Farms Havarti

Not sure how wide-spread the Crystal Farms brand is across the country, but it’s pretty common around here.  If you’re a fan of simple, light, medium-soft cheeses that go well with anything, this could be the one for you.  The process for making havarti cheese involves washed cheese curd, so the flavor is typically on the subtle side.  I think this would be a good cheese to add into your favorite mac and cheese recipe as it’s a comforting flavor.  And it complements both sweet and salty sides.  We tasted it with wasabi sauce, bavarian mustard and bumbleberry jam!

Havarti4.  Kerrygold Blarney Castle Gouda

Another brand I seek out to indulge in guaranteed goodness!  I highly recommend the Dubliner cheese from this company, but we tried their gouda this time.  Joe was a big fan of this one.  Smooth and mild, gouda cheese is similar to a havarti in that it’s also made from washed curds, but then it’s placed in a brine solution to age and the amount of time a gouda cheese has aged is what gives it its flavor.  This gouda was creamy, despite its solid form, and delicious.  It has a slightly sour aftertaste and went best with cracked pepper crackers or a roast beef sandwich.  The adventure seekers could throw on some wasabi with it!

Kerrygold Gouda5.  Market Square Raclette

Raclette cheese is a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese that is most commonly used for melting, but I don’t know if I could wait that long!  This crumbly cheese was the standout during our wine tasting and I would say is similar in consistency and taste to a parmesan or romano cheese.  It has a little bit of a nutty flavor and was amazing beyond words with jam!  To find this particular brand of raclette, you’d need to visit Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin – a popular tourist city with theme parks, shopping and places to eat galore!  Market Square features various Wisconsin gift items, but the owners also make their own cheese and offer tastings.  Should you find yourself driving through Wisconsin, I encourage you to stop at any number of “Cheese Chalets” and pick up some real Wisconsin cheese!

Raclette6.  Sartori Bellavitano w/ Merlot

Saving the best for last (in my opinion), if you can find Bellavitano at your grocery store, GET IT!  I am quite possibly in love with this cheese, at least my admiration falls deep.  Made in Wisconsin, this family-owned and operated brand combines the savory cheddar you love with the boldness of a  parmesan and then soaks it in the wine and berry notes you’d find in a merlot.  I think the taste of this cheese is a slice of what Heaven would taste like.  Again, if you can find it, buy it!  Cause I’m not much for sharing when it comes to this cheese.  😉

Bellavitano

Those are some of my favorite cheeses, how about yours?  Have you tried any of these before?  What is the first one you’ll go looking for? 

And inquiring minds want to know, if you were a kind of cheese, what kind would you be and what is your best food pairing? 

Cheese Tasting

Happy Tasting!

 

Writing Heroes: A Letter to Michael Perry

Once in a great while we’re given the chance to meet our heroes.  As a writer who keeps a gratitude journal, I know that everyday we get to meet heroes.  Our parents, our siblings, the woman who helps shuffle students safely across the crosswalk on their way to school, the gentleman who holds the door open for the mother pushing a stroller – these are all heroes we see everyday and most of us take them for granted.

But what about the ones that inspire us?  The ones that remind us of the things we dreamed about as kids!  Recently I attended a book reading and signing by Wisconsin author, Michael Perry.  Having interviewed Perry just a few weeks ago, I know he thinks that living as a writer is no big deal.  In his words, he told me:

I always say I’m a writer with a small “w”, and I figure most critics and people would agree. My family is just as interested in my writing as they are interested in my brother’s corn crop or my sister’s factory job and that’s how it oughta be. My daughters know their dad is self-employed and gone a lot, but they also know that truckers and soldiers are gone a lot more and under much tougher circumstances. I love what I do, I’m grateful to do what I do, and it may be a calling, but it’s not a HIGHER calling.

Little does he know, it’s his humble attitude that inspires me.  At the reading, he was very down to earth and welcoming – the traits his writing voice creates as well.  A woman sitting next to me asked, “Is he really as good and kind as his books make him seem?”  I answered, “I think so.”

Meeting Michael at the Visiting Tom book reading!

A Letter to Mr. Perry:

Dear Mr. Perry,

Thank you for taking a chance on a stranger who read your books, and for agreeing to be interviewed by her.

When I was growing up in a small Wisconsin town, I thought nothing interesting ever happened in Wisconsin and I couldn’t wait to travel elsewhere.  I burrowed away in my room with my mom’s old typewriter that the ‘n’ key didn’t work and wrote stories that were then acted out by puppets.  I built forts out of blankets and pretended I was an orphan, running the streets, stealing food to survive and living dangerously – but that’s probably because I watched Aladdin everyday for months. 

When I got to school and started writing, it was my teachers who acknowledged my skills and encouraged me to write more.  This lasted, I am grateful to say, through my college years.

But when classes were over and the “real world” hit, I stopped writing for awhile.  Years, even.  When I started blogging, a desperate attempt to write something, anything, it was one of the scariest things I ever did.  But, something wonderful happened.  I found a whole community of writers and readers and people who shared my dreams and were going after their own!  Over time, this little old blog became my place of respite.  And with some courage, I threw myself out there to various writers whose books I’ve enjoyed and asked to interview them.

Thank you for saying yes!  It is meaningful to me that you shared your story and your time with me.  Each and every writer (established and new) is an inspiration and a push to go after my own writing dream.  And, Mr. Perry, writer with a small ‘w,’ I intend to return the favor.  Meeting a gracious and giving person such as yourself, inspires me to do the same for others.  For now, I’m only able to offer that camaraderie that comes with plugging away at the writing process as any new writer knows is full of trial and error.  If and when I can accomplish publication, I fully intend to be that person that says “Yes” to new writers, thank you to those that come to see me, and chat with everyone that is willing to stand in line just for an autograph.

Thank you from the small town, Wisconsin girl who thought her mom’s old typewriter was the coolest thing ever.  It was a pleasure meeting you.

Best wishes,

Jess Witkins

*****

And just for fun:

It’s only one week away – the next edition of The Redhots!

Next friday, Marcia and I interviewing our first author for The Redhots!  His book has been getting lots of 5 star reviews!  Tune in on October 26th to see who it is!

Until then:  We’re kicking off Halloween with a fun photo contest!  You could be a winner of one of 6 prizes!

My “orange” inspired Halloween table! The napkins had a skeleton on them that said “I’m Starving!”

What you need to know to enter:

1. There are three categories you can enter one time each:

  • Costume – your best ever, be it scary, cute or funny
  • Outdoor decorations – your scariest or most creative
  • Party room decor – you can include your Halloween tablescape, your unique pumpkin carving, and your room decorations

2. Post your pictures, up to 3 only, at our Twitter hashtag: #TheRedHots between October 19th and October 30th. The winners will be announced on Halloween!

3. For extra chances to win, you can choose to do the following:

  • “Like” Marcia’s and my Facebook pages
  • Tweet about the contest three times between the 19th and the 30th linking to our posts
  • Subscribe to our blogs

The prizes:

  • Grand prize will be an autographed print book by our indie author plus a Halloween Goody Bag.
  • 5 bonus prizes of a Kindlegraphed ebook from the author

Excited?  Inspired?  Halloween plans?  Heroes that inspire you?  What’s on your mind?

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