Archive for May, 2011

Dubuque (or how we spent our last furlough day)

Yes, Dubuque. Aaron and his friends are in the habit of heading to Dubuque every now and again. The city boasts two full-blown casinos and, I was told, other charms. Those charms weren’t really specified, but it doesn’t take much to coax me into a mini-vacation an hour and a half away on what promises to be our last furlough day. We cashed in our change jar for 145 hard ones and off to Dubuque we went!

We left the comfort of our Madison condo shortly after one o’clock on Friday and rolled into the old river town around 2:30. Famished, we entered Paul’s Tavern and claimed a small booth. It was not hard to decide on what to order because the menu is succinct: burger, cheeseburger, tuna, grilled cheese and one other item I’m forgetting. For $2.65, I was sold on the cheeseburger. It did not disappoint. After our meal, we headed out to explore the downtown. Armed with my camera, I happily snapped pictures of the city’s old architecture. As you can see from the pics, some is very well-preserved while some is not so much. I hope someone will come along with enough money and sense to restore it to its intended beauty. It’d be a shame to let it deteriorate further; the town must have positively sparkled once.

After we deemed our exploration complete, we checked into our hotel: the Hilton Garden Inn, which happens to be connected to what Aaron calls the “good” casino, Mystique. As you know, Dear Reader, I am not much of a gambler, but apparently 2011 is the year of gaming for me. In the past month, I have quadmultiplied the number of casinos I had previously set foot in. Anyway, the hotel room was nice, but the walls were quite thin and we were treated to the sounds of other tvs and vacuum cleaners. But, you rightly point out, we were not there for rest. We were there to make money. Aaron clearly delineated our mission: money for our bar dues (or around $900 for the both of us, due July 1). After watching a bit of tape-delayed French Open, I put on some lip gloss and was ready to hit the floor. We walked the long hall connecting the hotel to Mystique and entered the Promised Land. The lights! The sounds! The costumes! Ok, maybe it’s not Vegas, but make no mistake – this is a casino. And it will take your money. Or, at least our money. After wasting time playing five cent Jacks or Better video poker, there were finally enough people at the craps table to make us feel comfortable to join in. Aaron went first. $100. And…cold table. That, of course, did not deter me. I’m in. $60. And…super cold table. We’re all out, except I insist on saving my $1 chip. So, we’re out $159 in about 30 minutes. Drat.

We regroup at the bar where two drinks are about $5. At least that’s something. We strategize. I suggest more five cent Jacks or Better to get our confidence up. Aaron (skeptically) agrees. Ten minutes later, we’re down another $4. Hmm. Ok, Aaron says, we’re going to go to Diamond Jo’s. I looked at him with confusion. But you always say Diamond Jo’s is the “bad” casino; you say they’re mean there. Well, they’re not mean, Aaron responds, they’re just rude. What’s the difference? I ask. Aaron pretty much shrugs off my query and confidently tells me Diamond Jo’s is our ticket to again being licensed attorneys. Off we go! A short car ride later, we surreptitiously enter the “bad” casino. I say surreptitiously because Aaron parked the car in some far-off lot and we had to crawl through bushes to get to the front door. He insisted this is normal. After being carded and stamped (and, in my memory, wanded), we hit the floor. The place is seriously electric. If the mood at Mystique was a sedated octogenarian with a twist of zombie, this place is the opposite. We do a quick tour of the place and settle in on a hopping craps table. Aaron sets $100 on the table, and we divvy up the chips. We’re instantly raking in the dough. Come on 9! 9 hits! Come on 4! 4 hits! The old man in the White Sox jacket next to me is rolling like crazy. The young guy with the pretty wine-drinking wife (she asked for a red like a Chardonnay and then laughed at herself) on the other end of the table keeps calling the White Sox gent, “Blue.” “You’re my man, Blue!” I laugh. Old School is a great movie and this is our table. Until it isn’t. After Blue craps out, it’s downhill. We cash out. We’ve made more than $100, though. Hooray! For reasons neither one of us understand, we headed back to Mystique, put our new $100 back on the cold craps table and lost the money in about five seconds. Oops.

Oh well. It was fun. We got a drink, went back to the room and decided upon room service and a movie. We ordered sandwiches and The Company Men, with Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones. The sandwiches were decent and the movie was ok, but should have been better. I had serious insomnia and didn’t really fall asleep until about six in the morning. Was I overstimulated? Was it too much adrenaline? Was Dubuque too much for me? I don’t think so. I think I just couldn’t sleep. I think part of me was just awake, thinking about craps. Thinking about how you do everything right but it doesn’t work out for you. And about how someone else bets all wrong, but they win big. Thinking about how many things I have absolutely no control over. Like dice. Like the weather. Like other people. Thinking about how, despite all that and despite my horrible gambling luck, I am extremely lucky. I have a husband whom I adore; I have a family that makes me really happy; I have friends that are family; I feel safe in the morning and at night; I have a dog that I can’t imagine living without; I have a home that I love being in; I live in a city that’s home; I have a job that makes me intellectually and emotionally satisfied; I have coworkers I trust and enjoy; I have the ability to go to Dubuque for a night in a trusty car; I have, with the assistance of Albuterol, the ability to breathe in and out every day. Even if we lost our change jar savings, I have come out ahead.


Romantic weekend

Because Aaron and I are so in love, we spent this weekend doing home improvement projects I had sent my mind upon. Or, rather, we spent Saturday on projects and I spent Sunday recovering from Saturday. We decided a few months ago to replace the toilet on the main floor. The old toilet was impossible to get truly clean and Madison is offering $100 to any household that replaces an old toilet with a new, low-flow toilet. We were promised this project would be easier than it turned out to be. Although the new toilet is in place and there has (knock on wood) been no leaking thus far, it is the second toilet we bought yesterday. The first was both too big (ie the door couldn’t close once it was installed — not good for a prude like me) and not a low-flow toilet, as it had said it was on the box. Plus, the initial installation led to water coming out of a light fixture in the basement. Oops. Turns out that wax ring really doesn’t like to be moved. But, after an evening return trip to Home Depot, a new toilet and my assistance in reading the directions (strangely absent in the previous box) we are in the business of having a new, environmentally-better, clean toilet. Of course, the door still can’t close when the toilet seat is down, but we’re saving that issue for another day.

The other project of the weekend was my insistence, inspired by a recent Real Simple article (subscription given to me by my lovely mother-in-law), to reinvent the coat closet in our condo. I think of the closet as large for a coat closet, approximately 48″ wide and 24″ deep, but according to virtually any closet organizing system, it is apparently the smallest closet any closet artist contemplates. Undeterred, we spent a significant time in the woefully understocked closet section at Home Depot. Despite what it may seem like, I am not in love with Home Depot. Frankly, I wish we had a large, local hardware store. Or a Lowe’s. In any event, yes, we shopped at Home Depot and bought lots of metal accoutrements to remake this closet.

Before closet

Before closet

Ok, so in my haste to remake my world, I forgot to take pictures of the closet with all of the coats and crap in it, but you get the idea. Aside from one hanging organizer, the closet was the same as it was when I moved in in 2005. There was the high shelf, as you can see, a closet rod, as you can also see, and two of those white wall-mounted organizer things. And, with the addition of the hanging organizer from Ikea I added, that was the closet. So, I decided that I first needed a little more wow in the closet. Taking my cue from the Real Simple article, I ordered self-adhesive wallpaper. Although the pattern choices were few, they were really great. Because the closet is on wall painted a lemon yellow, that meets a wall painted grey, I opted for a darker grey wallpaper with a lemon yellow tree-bird pattern.


Now, this wallpaper was not nearly as easy to install as the company — tempaper designs — makes it seem. At least not for me. But, because I was installing it in a closet that was going to contain a million things, I figured the bumps I couldn’t get out would not be really visible. I really do recommend these papers. They are gorgeous and look so amazing. This is my first experience with any kind of wallpaper and I would buy it again in a heartbeat.

Next up, the installation of all of the crap. This is where things got even harder. We bought these screw-anchor things that are meant to be used so that you can hang heavier items without having to drill holes and without having to find studs in which to drill holes. Genius. But they really weren’t working for us. I don’t really know what the problem was, but it seemed as though the holes in the anchors were not large enough for the screws to fit through. Hmm. Anyway, after total frustration and the use of two different types of these screw-anchor things and me asking Aaron for help, the base structure of the closet organizer was finally affixed to the wall. Then I added the shelves and the drawers. I filled the shelves and ┬áthe drawers. I added the cubby boxes from the Ikea organizer and filled them with bike lights, tennis balls and camera equipment. My purses are upright and in cubby boxes. All of our scarves, hats and mittens are in sliding drawers. Spring coats and an umbrella hang from the high shelf.

After closet

I realize it might look a little chaotic, but it really doesn’t feel chaotic. I want to redo all of my closets now.

After closet

Drawers and shelf

It really feels much more calm, contained and useful. I know I could swap out all of the winter items and store them in the basement, but I like minimizing how much I need to change things around with the seasons, if I can. In Wisconsin, we know winter can come at a minute’s notice, so having a toasty scarf nearby makes sense to me.

After closet


Ok, I swear I’ll really try to stop after this. But, come on…I mean, this is sheer genius.

Aaron makes Gracie homemade bacon

Well, more precisely, he makes all of us homemade bacon, including Graceface. Aaron makes Gracie lots of her own treats, though. He makes her chicken livers and scrambled eggs and all sorts of tasty treats large parts of the world would feel lucky to be able to feed their children, let alone their dog. Although, I should say, I feel very lucky to be able to eat Aaron’s cooking. Gracie? I think she might be grateful if she slowed down enough to savor the flavor but she just doesn’t seem to be that kind of animal. A dog who may be grateful? This one.

I still intend to do Vegas Part 2, but I have watched this video too many times in the last week not to share it. You’ve probably all seen it already, but on a blog with Gracie in the title, I felt compelled to post it.

My first (real) trip to Vegas – Part One

I was in Las Vegas once before. The year was 1995 and I was 20 years old. My friends Angie and GW and I drove out to the desert following our sophomore year finals for a Dead show. It didn’t seem a very Vegas-y thing to do, but hell, why not? I don’t remember being particularly nervous about the situation, but then again, I was 20. We stayed at some awful, awful motel. We made the mistake of shutting off the air conditioning when we went out to explore for the night. When we returned, we realized why the air had been on full blast — in the absence of a freezing condition, dozens of bugs had come out to cover the walls. We quickly turned the air back on and slept with our heads under the sheets in total fear of living things dropping on us throughout the night. I don’t remember how many nights we were there, but it must have been at least two because one night we could afford to stay in a run-down casino instead of the motel. It must have been a Sunday night when rates are cheaper. All I really remember about the casino was people staring and sneering at us, knowing we were there for the Dead show and not for Vegas itself. The most memorable part of the trip, though, was not the show, but getting caught playing the penny slots with GW’s fake ID. Go big or go home was not our motto. While go big is still not my motto, last weekend’s trip was a tad different.

My friends and I headed out to Vegas to celebrate Mollie and her waning bachelorette status. Stephanie and I were to arrive first, at 10:30 pm on Thursday night. Instead, we arrived last, at 7:30 am Friday morning. What a drag. Our Frontier flight was delayed out of Madison almost three hours due to mechanical problems on the flight coming from Denver. “Mechanical problems” is not something I ever want to hear in an airport. By the time we landed in Denver it was 11 pm and there were no more flights to Vegas until the morning. Frontier had reserved us a room at the Ambassador hotel, put us on the 6:40 am Friday flight to Vegas and given us a $200 voucher should we choose to fly Frontier again. Annoying, I thought, but fine; these things happen. We arrive in the hotel shuttle area of the airport around 11:30. I call the hotel and ask if the shuttle comes regularly or if we have to ask for it to be sent. I am told, “Oh no, you definitely have to call for it if you want it to come.” I am a bit surprised, as there are dozens of shuttles making the rounds right in front of me, and there are certainly dozens of us that just arrived on Frontier waiting for the Ambassador’s shuttle, but I politely respond that I am at the airport and would very much like a ride to the hotel. We wait. And we wait. And we wait. Stephanie asks a cab driver how much it would be for a ride to the hotel. Disturbingly, he does not know where our hotel is, but estimates it would cost us $35. Zoinks. So we wait. Shortly after midnight, a young man who was in line behind me in Madison says to the crowd (which has waned down to the sad lot of us that are waiting for the Ambassador — we had looked longingly at the people who had gotten on the shuttles for the Marriott, the Comfort Inn, the Holiday Inn, even — gasp! — the Hyatt), “Are you guys waiting for the Ambassador? I just got off the phone with the hotel and she told me it would be a half an hour until the shuttle gets here.” ARGH!!! Is this a joke? Unfortunately not. A cab driver who had helped us earlier when we did not know where to wait overhears this and says, “I can take 6 of you there for $8 a piece.” Well, Stephanie and I are sold! Done and done! It’s after midnight, we don’t actually know when this shuttle is coming, we certainly don’t know whether we’ll all be able to get on it, and our flight leaves in 6 hours. Apparently, though, not everyone in the crowd sees it that way. One annoying, mathematically gifted woman says, without making eye contact with the cab driver, “Six times eight is a lot of money.” With gas at $4 a gallon, the driver’s megacar and the hotel 12 miles away, I want to tell her it’s really not so much money, but all I think is, “Who cares? It’s not $48 for you and I’m exhausted!” Instead, I say nothing but watch with increasing regret as the bartering cab driver walks away. We wait. Finally, Stephanie — ever the savvy traveler and savvy all-things woman — says, “I’m going to ask him if he’ll take us for $20.” I quickly say, “Make it $25!” She does, he does and we’re all smiles! As I walk toward the cab, a desperate man nearly grabs me and says, “Are you going to the Red Lion???” I sadly inform him, “No. The Ambassador.” I felt bad — he clearly would have paid $8 to get him safely to his bed. We drove off as the wannabe Ambassador crowd watched on.

Twenty minutes later we were at the hotel (it is not close to the airport at all). We started to check in when the hotel’s phone rang. The woman said, “Yes, he’ll be there any minute” and hung up. We already knew we’d made the right choice, but that was the icing. Twenty minutes later and the group was still waiting for the shuttle. When we arrived at the airport at 6 the next morning, I half expected them to still be waiting. I suppose by that time, though, they were in line for security.

May 2011

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