Monona Archives

Spring Stoicism

meadow tree hannah

Its arrival every spring is as dependable as the sighting of spring birds and blooming daffodils: The utterance of “I refuse to turn on the air conditioning this soon.” I overheard someone say this when I was out and about during the recent April weekend of 80-plus degree temps and considered that the official first day of spring.

I wonder if our ancestors 100-plus years ago were similarly stoic during spring heat waves. “Son, I know it’s hot as blazes, but you can’t swim in the mud hole today. It’s too soon. Why, just two nights ago, we made a fire because it was so cold!”

Speaking of stoicism, stoic philosophy is all the rage right now among Silicon Valley types. But, really, there’s no need for these folks to read the ancient writings of Marcus Aurelius and Seneca the Younger when they could just visit Wisconsin during a spring heat wave or in the middle of the winter.

I have no qualms about using air conditioning in April, so on Saturday, I embarked on my own form of spring stoicism: coaxing a daughter to go to the Aldo Leopold meadow with me. When children reach a certain age, it takes persuasion to get them to agree to such an outing. I sheepishly admit that getting iced beverages from Starbucks beforehand was involved, even though it was rather oxymoronic to walk around a meadow carrying a Starbucks cup. I happily discovered, however, that when the wind blows through the top of an empty plastic Starbucks cup it sounds just like a loon.

“We’ll only stay for 15 minutes,” I announced as we stepped into the meadow. Almost immediately, it was as if we were in a playful nature scene from a Sunday Calvin & Hobbes cartoon. She became transfixed by a huge tree in a marshy area and figured out a way to walk on sticks to get to it, undeterred by how wet her Converse shoes and jeans were getting. Then she had the opportunity to experience exposure therapy when maneuvering past bees that normally frighten her. I binge-watched the baby geese as she explored all the wooden docks. 107 minutes later, we left, with plans made to visit the meadow regularly to monitor the changes in flora and fauna as the season progresses.

It’s entirely possible I turned on the air conditioning during the drive home, but I will neither confirm nor deny.

This Humor Me column originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on April 28, 2016.

West Broadway: 3:36 a.m.

Here we go again with the 3:15 wake up call,

because his car, which was supposed to be fixed by now,

is not. Very soon this will be over, but today, not


Yet, so I rummage through my little gray cells to recall a

Stoic philosophy mantra about obstacles. “What

stands in the way becomes the way.” Or


At least this rumination succeeds in keeping

Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” song

From running on auto-repeat in my head. So there’s


Then on West Broadway at 3:36 a.m. I see it,

The same shade of orange as the blinking caution

lights, and my mood finally brightens. Good Morning


Monona Drive: 3:30 a.m.


The surrealism of not
another car in sight.
Sunrise nowhere on the
horizon as of yet,
enabling you to notice,
there are undulations and
subtleties, with the glow of the street lights
like a nightlight, almost soothing.
Except not, because the blinking
yellow caution traffic lights are almost
blinding at this hour.

Certain of life’s mysteries, ones
briefly wondered about in
the past week, but no time to ponder them,
start to float to the top
of your consciousness.
Such as, why do cockatiels like to
eat cello rosin? A harkening to
their origins in the Australian wild?

What is it about the German word
for French fries, pommes, that makes
you hit repeat on the pronunciation button,
in Google, and repeat it over and over
again, but you can’t ever
pronounce it exactly right.

Left onto Frost Woods.
No light pollution here.
The leaves on the road swirl as if they are
A flock of birds taking off from the ground.
So much energy and early
Morning productivity.

Now pulling into the driveway.
The wind is howling.
But the large silver maple in back is
Barely moving.
You came to an understanding with this tree.
Last summer.
As Jung said, sometimes a tree tells you more
Than can be read in books.

You enter the house.
Fall back asleep almost immediately.

Jogging nuns in Monona


On Saturday afternoon I was pleasantly startled by the sight of nuns jogging in full nun apparel on the streets of Monona.

These must be the nuns that now live by Immaculate Heart of Mary Church; one of my daughters met them recently.

This sight immediately brought to mind the theory of “benign violation” in humor, whereby something is funny because it is outside the bounds of what we normally expect.

It also brought to mind a recent New York Times article about how a convent in New Jersey has succeeded in attracting several college-educated Millennials:

With all the technology, I think they’re just saturated,” she said of the curious. “And they see this life as really radical and they have a desire for it. Maybe their families are fractured and they see our life as really stable. Of course, people come to it from all different places. One of the friars told me his novice master decided to become a friar because friars had their own bedrooms and he hated sharing a room with his brothers at home. That is why he came, but it’s not why he stayed. If God is calling, you can’t be happy doing anything else.



Lagoon Walk: Cicada Memories

79 degrees.
No wind chill.
Humidity 46%.
Pollen count 11.5.
I conclude it’s high time for a Winnequah lagoon walk.

But you hardly ever go for walks!

She’s right.
I haven’t set foot by the lagoon since eldest daughter’s wedding at the gazebo there.
Back in early June.
I marinate briefly in regret and self-chastisement.
Then head out.

No Fit Bit.
Those are against my religion.
No pedometer either.
I don’t care how many steps I take.

There is no birdsong.
Unless you count the panicked quacks of the three ducks I startled.
Sorry ducks!

There are cicadas.
Of course.
It’s August.
Although these cicadas aren’t as loud,
They remind me instantly of August evenings on my grandparents’ back porch in Dwight, IL.
30 years ago and more now.
I pause for a few minutes under the tree canopy and remember.

Moving on to the more public part of the park.
A teenage neighbor boy is sitting on a park bench and reading.
A dead pulp book.
Not a screen.
He doesn’t see me.
I don’t dare interrupt him and send a silent salute instead.

Speaking of books, I bear right to head to the library where two holds are waiting for me.
The gazebo catches my eye.
There is a wedding there.
I remember again.

Library books in hand I start walking home.
Cicadas much louder now.
Almost Dwight level loudness.

Back home.
I find a Ted Kooser poem:

What cicadas leave behind is a kind of crystallized memory;
The stubborn detail of, the shape around a life turned


3:00 a.m. July 5th

So quiet it wakes me up.
No carnival noise in the distance.
No cover band music.
No backyard fireworks!

No crowds of people streaming past the house.
No utterances from noisy drunk people.

No birdsong.
Not even a crow.
Too early for bird happy hour.
I hope they weren’t too badly startled by all the backyard fireworks.
Well, of course they were.
Loud noises cause panic flying in birds.
I hope they are all OK.

After three minutes there is a noise.
A car.
Or is that a motorcycle?
Or maybe that red two seater thing seen all around town as of late?
I fall back asleep.

Happy July 5th!


Photo: Howard Ignatius / CC BY NC 2.0 via Audubon

Wedding in Monona!

There’s a faith in loving fiercely the one who is rightfully yours
especially if you have waited years and especially if part of you never
believed you could deserve this loved and beckoning hand held
out to you this way.

Our eldest daughter was married in Monona today at Winnequah Park. The appropriateness of both the location and the marriage sunk in more deeply with each passing moment of the day. This area of Monona has been the background of so many of our activities over the years. Here are some of the many charming details of the wedding:

The presence of the ubiquitous Canadian Geese:



The gazebo on the lagoon where the ceremony was held, which was festooned with flag decor that is required to remain in place through July, yet somehow added to the charm:


Peonies were used in the bouquets and the table decorations. The peonies were taken from my dear friend’s peony bushes. We have since discovered that peonies symbolize prosperity and romance and are an omen of good fortune and a happy marriage:


The bride made lemon bars (and gluten-free macaroni and cheese) the night before the wedding for the reception:


The music during the ceremony was a recording of Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major as performed by George Winston. This was the same song used during the processional of my and my husband’s wedding:

And I think of the story of the storm and the people
waking and seeing the distant, yet familiar figure,
far across the water calling to them.
And how we are all preparing for that abrupt waking
and that calling and that moment when we have to say yes!
Except it will not come so grandly, so biblically,
but more subtly, and intimately in the face
of the one you know you have to love.
So that when we finally step out of the boat
toward them we find, everything holds us,
and everything confirms our courage.

The ceremony was performed by our neighbor Carmela. She and Tom and their family were one of the very first families we met when we moved to Monona 16 years ago, so her presence was very fitting and appreciated.


The average couple spends $30,000 on their wedding. According to this research,  spending $20,000 or more increases the odds of divorce by 3.5 times compared to folks who spend $5000-10,000. For the best odds, spend $1000 or less, the price range this wedding happens to falls into, which hopefully bodes well for their future. It also pleases me that she was able to have the wedding she wanted with a minimum of interference and projections hurled her way.

According to the Gottman Institute, renowned for research into successful marriages, there are two things necessary for a successful marriage: kindness and showing genuine interest in your partner’s joys.  Fortuntaely I’ve seen plenty of both in this couple, both today and the past year, and no doubt will in the years to come.


and you want to live, and you want to love.
And you’ll walk across any territory,
and any darkness, however fluid,
and however dangerous to take the one
hand and the one life, you know belongs in yours.

– Poetry excerpts from the poem The True Love by David Whyte

A fitness room of one’s own

yogaThis morning, after a two week hiatus, I went to Anytime Fitness, which forced me to ponder yet again one of those ironies of middle age: not having any fond memories of gym class as a kid, yet now paying money to, essentially, go to gym class.

Immediately after I walked in the door I was confronted with the #1 thing that makes going to the gym tedious. Sartre said that “hell is other people.” I would rephrase that to say “hell is other people at the gym.”

I instantly noticed that there were far too many people at the gym, including people I’ve seen at the gym before, which reminds me that a more accurate saying might be:”Hell is other people you know at the gym.” This also explains why I can’t exercise at home, given that there are always family members around, plus exercise ruins the fun of being at home.

The only time I was at the gym when no one else was there was on a weekday morning with blizzard type conditions 3-4 years ago, a memory I still cherish. This past Mother’s Day there was only one other person at the gym in the late morning, which was a Mother’s Day gift of sorts. One would think a Saturday afternoon around 5:30 would be a time you could have the gym to yourself, but when I tried that a couple of months ago there were several young men there doing show off things with weights; two men insisted on doing vertical jumps onto a platform next to the machine I wanted to use.  I desperately wanted to say, “You are all reasonably attractive men, why aren’t you home getting ready for dates?”

WP_20150523_14_31_34_ProBut, Saturday morning it had to be today, because I had no excuse not to get in some exercise, because the rainy weather made it impossible to be outside mowing the lawn.  Last Saturday my hamstrings got a workout as I cleaned out the hall closet, which had become a purgatory for stuffed animals. The kids later had to do a “sheep and the goats” type of routine and choose which ones to save.  The Saturday before that my quads got a workout from the base running I did at the parents vs. kids softball game to celebrate the end of the girls’ softball season.

This morning, due to the crowd at the gym, I sought refuge in a 20 minute fusion workout in the special private fitness room. It is only in recent weeks that I’ve started using this private room and I’m thinking it is the best kept secret in Monona. There is a projector and you choose which Wellbeats workout you want displayed on the screen and follow along. By yourself. With the door closed. No one else there to notice if your yoga pants are accidentally inside out, or if you can’t keep up. I could just sit and read a book or the New York Times and call it a workout and no one would notice.

This room is larger than my living room. Surprisingly it is always available even when the gym is crowded. It is a perfect hiding place.  This is the smallest fitness center in town (with the largest monthly fee), but it feels like the roomiest when I slip alone into this room, which is why I keep going. Maybe next Saturday I’ll bring along some stuffed animals and softballs and incorporate those into the fusion routine.


Tree Friends


4585079045_5fdcfeb3d2_qFortunately it is easy to make the acquaintance of trees in Monona, thanks to all the mature trees here. My favorite is the huge silver maple in our backyard that has provided shade, counsel, and held my children in a swing when they were little.

“To make the acquaintance of a tree is to gain the counsel of a wise and compassionate friend.” – Kent Nerburn

“To understand and appreciate the message of an old oak means more for a good life than all the books of man.” – Jens Jensen


“No matter where I live, I always try to make friends with a tree. I find them so much like us in so many ways. They have their feet on the ground, their heads in the sky. They respond to the movements of the wind, the changes of the season. They have moods, aridities, joys. They like company.

“In scale they are perhaps our most intimate companions: their lives are understandable in years, not aeons; their size in feet, not miles. We can watch them grow, give forth their fruit, send forth their young…Like us their roots are unseen, and no matter how glorious the front they put up for the world, their true strength lies in the hard word that takes place unnoticed beneath the surface…And they have about them a deep compassion. They provide rest for the traveler, food for the hungry. They will even give up their own lives to provide warmth and shelter for others. They welcome weaker creatures without asserting their power.” – Kent Nerburn Visit-With-Max-At-College-autumn-2010-184


The July 4th festival in Monona is the highlight of the summer for my family. It’s when I turn myself into an ATM machine and the kids go on rides, play overpriced games, beg for cheap jewelry at the art fair and I indulge in as much people-watching as possible.

This year I somehow found myself playing two of the overpriced games, which was a first for me. There was a new game this year – Angry Birds. Because I’ve spent a fair amount of time (cough, cough) playing the computer version – there’s something therapeutic about pummeling pigs and bricks with angry birds – I couldn’t resist the opportunity to play real life Angry Birds. Loading plush Angry Birds into the wooden slingshots and knocking over plush pigs was almost as satisfying as the computer game. At least I got two plush Angry Birds key chains as prizes to show for my efforts, unlike when I play on the computer.

Then somehow my daughters thought I should play the game in which you throw three fastballs at a target and win a prize every time.  38 mph was my best speed and the carnie said “you’re consistent.”  Translation: “You throw like a girl.” At least the kids got oversized inflatable bats out of it. Later at home I looked on Google and found out the highest recorded fastball for a female is around 80 mph. I calculated that the last time I actually threw a fastball with a real baseball with all my might was probably way, way back when I was 17-years-old and I was playing catch with my 12-year-old brother. Each time I would catch his fastball it felt like my hand was on fire, even though I was wearing a mitt, so after our session I walked away somewhat wistfully, knowing I would never be able to play catch with him again, as he had reached the point where he was too strong for me.

On Sunday morning I took a walk along the lagoon, across from the carnival, before it opened. It was a very peaceful walk until I reached the portion of the lagoon where the hole-in-one competition is situated. There were people hitting golf shots onto the small makeshift green in the lagoon. I immediately gave the lagoon a very wide berth, knowing all too well how golf shots can go far astray. I started thinking how ironic it would be if I would get hit by a golf ball while on a quiet lagoon walk, when all the times I played golf as a young’un I never got hit by a golf ball. Immediately a golf ball landed just a few feet from me.

I was disappointed that my favorite photographer, Cassius Callender, wasn’t at the art fair this year.

The fireworks were fun, as always, and it’s a treat to make the one minute walk home after the fireworks and sit and watch everyone else drive by.

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