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They Used To Be Called Pen Pals

June 27, 2011

Long ago and far away, when I was a young girl, I loved to write letters. This was a time when there were no computers, no cell phones, and… gasp… long distance telephone calls were very, very expensive. I wrote letters to friends in the city I had moved away from.  I wrote letters to my grandparents.  I wrote notes to classmates…. (antique style texting under the table) in class!  I also had three pen pals.

I don’t remember how I acquired these pen pals.  Debbi lived in Massachusetts and owned a horse.  I had a horse too, so we had lots to talk/write about.  We even exchanged black and white photos taken with our matching, Kodak instamatic cameras.

I also had two pen pals who lived in Japan.  I think I may have made these two friends through Girl Scouts while earning one of the badges that got sewn on my sash.  Both of their names started with T, but I don’t remember anything else about them, or what we wrote about to each other.  All three of those relationships slowly fizzled out.  When I went away to college, I wrote to my parents, my friends, my grandparents.  Eventually long distance got cheaper and I did more calling than writing.

Then along came blogging.  Suddenly I found myself with all kinds of new, far away friends.  At first, I thought it was very strange to be writing back and forth with people all over the world whom I had never met.  Then I realized, it was just like having lots of pen pals!

A few weeks ago, a long discussed and organized plan coalesced.  I reserved three hotel rooms.  I purchased my Amtrak ticket.  I took a day off of work.  We exchanged phone numbers.  At noon on Friday, as I sat in Union Station in downtown Chicago, my phone rang.  I looked at the caller ID: Jeanie.  When I answered, she told me her train was sitting totally still, somewhere in South Chicago. I told her I didn’t mind waiting.  There’s plenty of people watching to be done in Union station!  After clicking off, I realized that although I’ve been communicating with Jeanie for something like three years, I had never heard her voice!  I was a little surprised at how she sounded, though I hadn’t had any expectations about it.  When she walked in to the Great Hall I recognized her immediately.  Jeanie is not shy about using her smiling face on her blog, The Marmalade Gypsy. Of course she figured out who I was when I walked up to her with my arms open.

We set off for our hotel, checked in, stowed our bags, and headed back to the lobby. There was a crowd waiting near the elevator when we stepped off, but I knew immediately that the woman standing in the middle was Diana. Otherwise known as Oh! of This Writing Life.

From that time Friday afternoon until Sunday morning after breakfast, we were off and running. We were happy to go anywhere, eat anything, walk, sit, talk, shop and nobody had a single complaint.  What we did have, was fun.

When I stepped out of the car at the train station Friday morning at the very beginning of this adventure, my youngest daughter rolled down the car window and yelled to me, “I’m telling you Mom, you’re going to meet some 40 year old creep with bodies in his basement. Be careful!” I just laughed. I knew exactly what I was going to meet: old friends.

Three Amigas photo by Jeanie


Good times in Chicago –

Shopping the Magnificent Mile


Onion Rings and French Fries and Stained Glass! on Navy Pier


After the Blues Festival in Grant Park


Photo of the “Bloggies” by the friendly waiter in the Elephant and Castle Pub


May 22, 2011

Ladies and gentlemen, I am making a transition.  I have to rethink this blog, and in the meantime, I have set up a new site.  This is to be my “professional” site.  I am taking a course in travel writing, and I will be posting my assignments there as well.

Kerry Lee

Thank you for your support throughout the past…. I think it has been three…… years.  It has been wonderful meeting so many like minds!  Would you add my new link to your blog roll (or however you track the folks you visit)?  I would appreciate it.

And, of course, the adorable tt:



Art Lives Here!

April 23, 2011

A new day, a new venue, same old weather.  A repeat of cloud and misty rain; spring in the Midwest.  But in the writing place I was headed for…. the weather wouldn’t matter.

One enters the Milwaukee Art Museum into the magnificent cathedral-like space of Windover Hall, with its exquisite white marble floor, a vaulted a 90-foot-high glass ceiling, and above it the Burke Brise Soleil, a moveable sunscreen with a 217-foot wingspan that unfolds and folds twice daily. I flashed my membership card and walked directly to the magnificent windows to gaze out over Lake Michigan.





I took a photo of the Harbor House – tres chic restaurant, and then headed over to my office.  The Coffee with a Conscious café is just off of the hall, so from my desk, I could see the hall, out the windows next to me, or I could look at the Chihuly sculpture, which is one of my favorite pieces in the museum.


Dale Chihuly (American, b. 1941)
Isola di San Giacomo in Palude Chandelier II, 2000

I arrived just a little after 10:00 and was the only customer in the café.  The latte was very tasty.  The bakery, from a variety of bakers and restaurants in the city, looked wonderful.  I resisted!  This is probably the most international scene in Milwaukee, and I heard many different languages.

It was a productive morning of writing.  There was a soft hum of conversation in the café and in the hall, but it wasn’t distracting.  As it got crowded around lunchtime, I gave up my table to ravenous-looking art lovers.  I strolled through the long hallway of the Quadracci Pavilion to the gallery space of the main collections.  My favorite spot is on the third floor, which hosts the Bradley Collection, containing important European and American painting, prints, watercolors, and sculpture from the late 19th century to the early 1970s. Works their include Fauve paintings by Georges Braque and Maurice de Vlaminck, Expressionist paintings by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Vassily Kandinsky, works by Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti, and a handsome collection by another one of my favorites, Georgia O’Keefe.  There is a room at the corner of this floor with comfortable chairs and a magnificent view.



No pens allowed in the museum, so it was fortunate my writing instrument of choice is a pencil.  There I sat for a good long while, taking notes about my morning, and trying not to get caught up in the meditation of the view.

Many positives for this venue: free wifi, good coffee, wonderful views, comfortable seating.  What more could a writer ask for? The only tick against, once again, was parking.  The meter I plugged ate my money and didn’t give me any time.  I was very pleased to find there was no ticket flapping under the windshield when I went back to retrieve my car.  In the summer, I could ride my bike there, or park a bit down the lakefront and walk back.  There is an option for members to park in the garage below the museum, five passes for $25.  Not a bad deal.  Either way, I will definitely go back, not only for the art, but for my desk!  And I continue to ponder, does  the muse “make the contact, [do I] become the conduit, or [do I simply] engage in this mysterious process?”


April 22, 2011

It was quiet.  A sacred quiet. Tranquil. The spaces were large, with gentle air flow from muffled fans running somewhere behind the marble columns and arched ceilings.  I climbed the carpeted steps to the second floor of this sanctorium and made my way to a large open area designated for microfiche, business, and periodicals.


The huge windows on the north wall over-looked MacArthur Square, which is surrounded by the Milwaukee Police Department’s downtown station, and the imposing, Neo-Classic Revival County Court house (which architect Frank Lloyd Wright called “a million dollar rock pile”).  Red brick walks surrounded the plots of bright green grass in the square, though it was sleeting/snowing out.  Inside it was toasty, however, and I found an empty table with a chair facing the window.

There were twelve long shelves of current periodicals a few feet from my desk.  I roamed up and down the aisles.  It was like being in a candy store where everything is free, and I chose three I’d never read before to bring back to my table. There were computers available for public use, but I had my laptop with me.  The wi fi immediately put me in touch with the World Wide Web, so that was definitely one tick in the positive column for this writing venue.

In The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz, Toni Morrison talks about her writing place: “…well there’s a ritual.  This ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space that I can only call nonsecular… Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process.”  What delightful ways to describe the writing process!  I don’t know which I prefer, which best describes me.  Do I make contact?  Do I become the conduit?  Or do I simply engage in a mysterious process?  Maybe each one at different time; I will have to ponder that. And how would this particular writing place work for me?

In this hushed space, the occasional dropped book or scrape of chair was all the louder for the quiet surrounding it.  Those periodic noises were not distracting, however.  The library was a favorite of the homeless, too, on this un-spring-like day.  Security personnel were very tolerant of these sad people, fortunately, only asking that they not snore, and that they at least give the impression of reading, with a book propped in front of them.  Most do read, and it is interesting to see the wide range of taste distributed on the tables that have been vacated.


I spent an hour writing, and then I definitely needed that first cup of the morning.  It’s unfortunate that one couldn’t bring drinks into the library, but I certainly understood.  I walked the long hallway back to the grand staircase, passing the Art and Music Reference Room and the Humanities Reference Room (a repository of wonderful maps).  Down the stairway and out the main door to reach The Book Seller; used books for sale and a café that has decent coffee, and also serves food.


This is a very friendly space, with great prices on books and volunteers manning the cash register for any sales.  I’ve purchased many books for tt here, at twenty-five cents each.  I went into the back room to pick out a few paperbacks for a homebound friend and then secured my latte and a table.  The tables were the small round, garden style variety, just big enough for my cup and computer.  I spent another pleasant hour there, before heading out to my car.

On the negative side of this wonderful venue, parking downtown is at a premium, and the meter takes $1.50 per hour.  I also prefer to be able to drink my coffee while writing, so that includes the café, but excludes the library itself.

The free wi fi was definitely a plus, however, and the huge windows let in gorgeous light.  All in all, a great place to write, but it wouldn’t be my daily venue.  It was a lovely morning, though.

A Nice Place to Visit, But I Wouldn’t Want to Write There

April 19, 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing lately.  Notice, thinking, not writing.  One can think anywhere at any time: driving the car, tossing and turning in the dark at night, walking the dogs, or jogging on the treadmill.  One does not have the same freedom in writing.  I could list a million excuses, which only a few are really valid, for not spending enough time writing.

But quite simply, I have not been spending enough time with pen in hand.  I do sit in front of the computer often, but that usually spirals out of control and I get lost in the vortex of the worldwide web universe, and lose two hours of my life in the blink of an eye.

I have the exercise discipline thing under control (for the moment…. don’t want to jinx myself).  Now it is the butt in chair with words flowing out of the fingers that must be disciplined.  I have a very comfortable place to work at home.  The room is freshly painted, there are new bookshelves with glass doors, there is a new old desk I painted and the drawers are lined with matching paper, and the space is organized and completely de-trashed.  But there are my children popping in and out of the front door needing a grilled cheese sandwich.  There is a granddaughter that must be played with and read to, bits of trash blowing around the yard are calling to me for spring clean up, and then there are the dogs.  The dogs are my biggest nemesis.  They are accustomed to their walk at 6 am, at noon, after work around 4 pm, and then the after dinner walk.   This is the Monday through Friday regimen and they get plenty of exercise.  When Saturday, Sunday, or a holiday rolls around, it is very confusing for the dogs.  If I am home, they figure it must be walk time.  Nine o’clock, ten o’clock, two o’clock, “bark, bark, bark it’s walk time.”  When I say no it isn’t time yet, they say “BARK, BARK, BARK YES IT IS.”

Quite ridiculous, but I have to leave the house if I want to accomplish any writing during the day.  So I came up with a brilliant plan.  This week is spring break, and it is time to change up the routine.

I have two coffee shops I frequent regularly.  At one, I am friendly, know all the workers, half of the customers, and regularly talk to strangers.  As you can imagine, it is rather like working at home!  At the other coffee shop I am very self-contained.  I don’t make conversation with the baristas, I don’t chat with the person sitting at the table next to me, I don’t even make eye contact with anyone.  I get a lot of work done here.

So I thought about all of the places I could go to write where a cup of coffee is also available (a requisite for this writer).  The first venue on my list was the Milwaukee Public Museum, which also happens to have a free day for Milwaukee County residents.

I am very comfortable in this museum:  I’ve been visiting it since I was a very young child and my father donated the fossils that we found along Lake Michigan and are now on display in the Paleozoic diorama.  So the museum is an old friend.  I took the escalator to the third floor – I figured the school groups wouldn’t be that far up yet, and I was right.  In the back corner of the third floor is a stairway that leads up to floor 3 ½.  It’s kind of a secret floor because it is rather out of the way, and there are never crowds there.  It is also houses my favorite displays.

When I went to college (the first time around) I planned on becoming an archaeologist.  My junior year I found out that archaeologists generally have to continue on in school until they have their Ph D, and when they went on digs in the jungle they slept in tents and were subject to whatever insects might be crawling around in that particular locale.  I added an English and a History major, and graduated with three majors and the ability to make great cocktail conversation.


As a budding archaeologist, my area of focus was Mesoamerica, and this is what is displayed on floor 3 ½ of the museum.  There are life size dioramas of cenotes filled with offerings, gold discs engraved with the scenes of hearts being cut from the enemy’s writhing chest and offered to the gods, and miniature replicas of the incredible buildings, ball courts, and pyramids built by the pre-Columbian societies that flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas.

I found a bench in front of the Nazca Culture and the Tiahuanaco Influence displays.  While I sat for an hour, only a couple families and one day care group trouped past.  It wasn’t quiet, however.  The museum also has sound effects for its displays, so there were birds shrieking and wood flutes weaving sweet, rich, and deep between the bird calls.  Further off, I could hear the mariachi band playing in the village square on market day.  The noise was a nice background, and I spent an hour writing in my notebook.


Ten thirty rolled around and I still hadn’t had a cup of coffee, however, so I headed down.  I swung by the shrunken heads exhibit on the second floor because it is fascinating in all respects, and then jumped back on the escalator to the first floor.  There is a small coffee kiosk in the lobby which serves Stone Creek Coffee, a local business. I ordered my usual drink of choice, a large latte.  It was not a latte that I would go back for.  It was made with French Roast beans, of which I am not fond, but will drink in a bind.  I took my coffee and gear and went out to the garden room, which is simply a glassed-in room next to the garden at the entrance of the museum. The light was nice.

No wifi.  I can live without it, but it would have been nice to take a quick peak at my email.

The school groups started filing in for an early lunch.  I can ignore most distractions, but the kids reminded me too much of work!  At noon, I packed up my gear and headed home.

The museum was a nice place to visit, but I decided it would not make my list of venues where I can write.

Strikes against: lights too low in the exhibit halls to write comfortably, you can’t eat or drink in exhibit halls, not my cup of choice for coffee, parking was $3.00 for every two hours, uncomfortable café, no wifi – but that’s probably a good thing!.

I’ll be visiting a new venue tomorrow.

Spring is here (sort of) along with………Once Upon A Time!

March 27, 2011

Once Upon A Time is my favorite of all the yearly events hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings.  And it is here just in time as the snow melts away, even on the north side of the house where it was piled high by the shovel.  I am starting my participation of the event with Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.  I’ve read this book a few times, and also listened to it on CD.  It’s one of those books that never loses its je ne sais pas quoi.

If you are not familiar, please do treat yourself to a peek at SSD and join the event.  It’s fun, it’s collegial, and it will carry you right into summer!

On a happy note for me, I’ve had an article published in The Literary Traveler, titled Colin McPhee’s Musical Life in Bali.  It sat in the queue on the editor’s desk since last summer, so I am very pleased to see it in print.  There is also a short interview at the ezine’s blog site, Behind the Article: Colin McPhee in Exotic Bali.

And of course, I can’t leave without a few words about tt.  What a growing up girl!  She is already one, and getting into a heap of trouble, as all one year olds should.  What a treat her company is!!

Where’s the cake??



Mmmmm, that was really good.  Is there more?

Happy Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2011

Red is so cheerful in the cold,

white of winter.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Isn’t winter grand?

January 31, 2011



Remember my office from way back when, a disaster and then organized?  Well, eat your heart out Carl, I am revamping the office, using the above inspiration for color.

Out with the old…….

That looked like this, more often than this:

I am in the process of down sizing, simplifying, organizing, lightening…. results to follow soon.



And of course I have to throw in a picture (or two) of tt!



Read! You don’t have to ask me twice…

January 16, 2011

thanks, Linda:




Read the Printed Word!






Requests for the adorable tt…..

January 3, 2011

Calm before the storm.



Watching for Santa.



tt with adoring aunt.



tt with adoring uncle.



tt with adoring mama.



The adorable tt.



Happy New Year!

My most sincere wishes for health, happiness, a wonderful year with loving family/friends and good books,

and may all your plans come to fruition!