Living Wisconsinbly

So…Racine, Wisconsin. “Outdrinking Every Other State Since 1848. Drink Wisconsinbly.”


A lot has happened in the last two months. Dusty and I sold our Berthoud house and most of our belongings, got a kid off to college, took to a life of traveling, and landed in Racine to start things off. Now we’re settling into our sought-after unsettled gypsy life.

Here’s what Racine, Wisconsin has had to offer so far:

Weather: It sucks! But isn’t it precious that when I packed, I included one pair of shorts…just in case?

Personal: This last year has been such a whirlwind that it seems like Dusty and I are getting to know each other again. Over the last tornado of a year, we went weeks – sometimes months – without really seeing or talking or connecting meaningfully.

How we landed in Racine when we aimed for Arizona is a fun little twist to the story (if you ask me, not Dusty!), but I’m already halfway done with this nursing assignment, and then off to a land with more natural vitamin D and which does not require a down coat just to let the dogs out for two minutes to pee. Our whirlwind has calmed to a dust devil now, and we finally have time to talk again like married humans, plan for the future, ruffle each other’s feathers a little bit, and spend time doing stuff together.

While in Racine, our “stuff together” consists of grocery shopping, finding local hangouts, going to movies…. There’s really not much to do in Racine! We get excited about Festival Foods grocery story because it has a small Whole Foods-esque section and a deli with prepared meals so we don’t have to worry about cooking for two people. (The nearest Whole Foods, and Taco John’s for that matter, are more than an hour away.) Last week I made chili and, with only two people in the house, I only finished it off yesterday. We either grocery shop at Festival or the Piggly Wiggly, which I went to a handful of times for two reasons: 1) just to say I did in channeling Miss Daisy and 2) c’mon, the anticipation of shopping at a store that sounds like it came from a children’s book is fun, even though it’s realistically no more fun than trodding through the aisles of King Soopers.

Speaking of Kings, Wisconsin is home to Mars Cheese Castle. Yep, that’s a thing, and we couldn’t pass it up. The entire facility lacks a real identifiable theme, but there is indeed a large King’s roundtable and chairs stocked with overpriced Wisconsin-themed touristy paraphernalia. A bar welcomes customers through the main entrance, followed by a “restaurant,” which consists of about four booths with no visible kitchen or wait staff. Then there’s a small market with all kinds of random stuff that definitely wanders off track from the Wisconsin theme, which leads into the cheese store, the roundtable room, a gift shop full of modest to cheeky gifts, and, of course, a liquor store.

One of our goals wherever we travel is to partake of local fare as much as possible so Dusty thought the Meli Cafe pancake house would be a good one to try. “Meli” means “sweet or having to do with honey.” It’s called a pancake house so I expected kind of an IHOP theme but obviously more focused on sweet honey. The indoor decor was Buddhist, but certainly nothing to do with the sweet taste of honey as the large signs outdoors might indicate. On their lunch menu, they offer a variety of common lunch items, but also, oddly, in this Buddhist pancake house, Greek gyros and Mexican items. Anyway, nothing special about it, but it’s kind of interesting that we’re finding a theme of places that have no theme.

For Thanksgiving, we drove 40 minutes to Milwaukee and spent our day at the Potawotami Casino losing money together – valuable time connecting as the digital roulette game squandered our money. But we were together. Another day we drove 40 minutes south to Illinois and, as would predictably happen to my mother’s child, we ended up in a shady neighborhood by the railroad tracks in north Chicago. We had no plan; we were just driving. That is SO unlike my tour guide Dusty to just drive without a plan, so I my pride swelled that day to be married to a man of such adventurous spirit! Then, low and behold, as would also predictably happen to my mother’s child, we continued to drive through the neighborhood with bars on windows, bullet holes in windows, and kids playing on decrepit playgrounds and, quite by accident a few miles down the road, gracefully ended up in the parking lot of the Great Lakes Navy Bootcamp, which just so happened to be where Dusty attended bootcamp a mere 24 years prior. It’s like the universe just meant for us to land there that day. (I think I stopped being surprised years ago when universal synchronicities like this one seemed to be the norm growing up with my mother.) At my behest, we sauntered around the museum and talked about our own good ole days, Navy and otherwise.

Then there are days off with nothing much at all to do. I don’t totally know why, but I’ve always have a lot of irons in lots of fires. I guess I just don’t like the idea of my mind being idle. Don’t get me wrong! I love a good lazy day of doing no mind work whatsoever, but, really, that can only go on so long. So, here I am, back to working three days a week, futilely debating politics with my husband on my days off, shopping for groceries…. When we sold the house, part of the master plan was to work toward being debt-free, and although we’re not debt-free yet, we put a respectable dent in the ole debt load. And what does one do when debt begins to disappear? Answer: Take on more debt! Since that’s obviously the answer, I’m taking out more money to start working on my second Master’s degree beginning in February.

No idle mind (or hands) here! Next year, which is just a few weeks away, I’ll be teaching online classes, working nursing contracts, starting a new website, and completing a graduate degree in 12 months. I’d like to take some time off in the summer to spend with Dusty in Ouray, Colorado to kick off some West38Moto changes. That’s the plan anyway!

Dusty brought his motorcycle up here, thinking there might be enough sunny days to get out and ride a bit. That’s almost as precious as me packing shorts. He asked me if I wanted my motorcycle, and I told him it wasn’t worth it hauling it all the way out for maybe one day of riding.

Local culture: Who’s heard of a kringle? Let me tell you: I hadn’t until I moved here, and kringles are all the rage! Kringles are a circular Danish pastry filled with all kinds of sugary goodness in so many flavor varieties. So far I’ve had the apple and pecan, but there are so.many.more.to.eat. Here’s to winter comfort eating in Wisconsin!

We’re in the heart of Danish immigration, surrounded by Lutheran churches on every corner, like Starbucks and Walgreens in New York City. I’ll probably go to a Lutheran service once while I’m here so my parents don’t disown me. Well, more because I promised myself to participate in local customs and traditions when we go places. I’m a partly Danish girl in Lutheran Land. When in Rome….

I have to say here that initially it was refreshing to be in a more culturally diverse area. Colorado is WHITE, and I don’t mean with snow. As we’ve been here for a few weeks now, Dusty and I have tried out quite a few local restaurants and hangouts, one of which came highly recommended for the corn dog menu. Yeah, corn dogs, but, like, duck and bacon, lobster tail, philly cheesesteak corndogs…you get the idea. Anyhow, other than the 4.2 stars reported on Yelp (likely only from local people because there aren’t many tourists here), it was really just another bar that I would rate about 3 stars. On a Sunday afternoon, we were enjoying some cold beers, watching a Great Lakes coastal snow storm come in, and engaging in deep conversation about what constitutes some football rule that I pretend to care about to connect with my husband. Beer makes me care about things like lines of scrimmage, forward passes, intentional grounding, and other football intricacies that my husband cares about.

So there we were, deeply connecting through football, when a man walked in with whom we thought was his wife (turned out to be his sister) and sat down next to Dusty. Already pretty lit, the man started slurring some random conversational pieces about local goings-on and casually segued into his own life story of pending divorce and an apparent life of addiction to alcohol and gambling. “Fred” otherwise began discussing his life choices to focus on white supremacy, including moving his family to a Wisconsin town known for white supremacy so he could raise his kids there. He not-so-eloquently spoke of carrying around his .357 with a six-inch barrel clearly for white supremacist reasons and openly asked Dusty about racism in Colorado and if Dusty was a white supremacist.

What I walked away from that interaction with was three-fold:

  1. I value being in a more diverse area of the country, but with a more diverse population, inherently there is also more opposition to the diversity I’m cherishing. There are Freds all over the place.
  2. As much as I wish what some modern “philosophers” spew were true, racism is not dead. It is alive and well. I am disheartened, disgusted, and disgraced by this ugliness.
  3. There must be an expected baseline level of alcohol in most people’s systems on any given day in Wisconsin. I think it’s required to function.

For convenience, there are liquor stores within a short walking distance of almost anywhere we’ve been in Wisconsin. This state has what I would be so daring as to call an alcohol epidemic, but from what I can tell, rather than seeing it as a problem, they’re actually very proud of their alcohol consumption. As a commemoration of the time we spent in Wisconsin, I bought the t-shirt in the photo above because it seems to personify Wisconsin just as much as, if not more than, cheese and the Packers. Wow…people told me about the drinking here, but it’s different seeing it first-hand.

Neighborhood: My nursing travel company put us up in a great little house in a family neighborhood just down the street from a school. By happenstance, my neighbor two doors down has a dog who came to meet Zeppelin after I first moved in, and now her dog, Brewster, comes down to the front door at least twice a day to ask Zeppelin to come out and play. We hear him jump up on the door, and then find him standing with his two paws up on the front door looking in the window patiently waiting for Zeppelin. Oh, and incidentally, I get good conversation with a generous neighbor who shares similar values, has an interesting diverse background, and isn’t afraid of bossing around Sadie, the older dog, when her stubbornness gets her into trouble. I interact more with this one neighbor during a temporary contract than any of my closed-in neighbors where I lived for 11 years in Berthoud.

When people rake leaves, no one has to bag them up and haul them away. They just rake the pile into a heap in the gutter, and the city comes to pick them up. Genius! But then there are obscure street parking rules in the winter, on certain days, which affect only certain sides of the streets. Not so genius, but maybe I just think that because I have to pay a parking violation now.

Houses are not ticky-tacky suburbia blah boring Barbie structures. I love that there’s personality and character in the neighborhoods, like flip-top mailboxes on porches. When’s the last time you saw that type of mail delivery system still functioning? No HOAs dictate people’s decorations or paint colors or shingle types. Behaved dogs can run around in the front yards without neighbors calling cops or animal enforcement. Our nextdoor neighbor just laughed when I told her later about my husband and other neighbor using a ladder to access the the top of her tree after I got the dog’s ball stuck up there. It’s really nice being in a neighborhood where being decent to one another is more important than keeping up with the Joneses. It’s just more simple that way.

Nursing: Same old shit, different place. However, the hospital where I’m working recently underwent a corporate takeover in the face of a possible closure. In the last year, there has been so much change that the hospital is using SO.MANY travel nurses because full-time staff made a mass exodus after the takeover. Now the nurses’ frustrations have shifted from failing community hospital processes and anticipatory change and are now more in alignment with other nurses around the country related to corporatized healthcare. They just joined the ranks of America’s nurses who are frustrated with corporate healthcare.

I was trying to get out of clinical nursing, but I have to admit that going back into it fuels my fire to call out corporate healthcare even more because I feel it more viscerally when I’m in the trenches, so to speak. It’s one thing to remember “how it was,” but it’s quite another to recall current experiential information from my own aging data bank. I’ve often been challenged by people in power positions who have lost touch with the real climate of the work environment so I figure I better walk the talk.

Some days are better than others, just like anywhere, but walking the talk is harder than it used to be, even on the better days. My age is telling me to slow down, but my mind is telling me there’s even less time to rush and jam pack a bunch of important stuff in. My back and feet hurt; my mind fatigues in processing problems I see; my heart aches watching how nursing is an industry of skilled professionals trained to perform tasks but held to well-aged standards of compassion and caring that they’re not supported in doing.

When I was in nursing school, I despised nursing theory classes. I mean, seriously, how many 20-somethings in college really care about nurturing, showing love, having compassion, etc.? They’re out there, so I don’t want to dismiss the ones who are mature and self-aware enough at that age to recognize the importance of these things. But I’d venture to say most 20-somethings just aren’t there. I fell into those ranks; I only cared about learning cool skills and banking away clinical knowledge and being a bad-ass ER nurse. Life (and life through nursing) taught me the importance of all the other stuff, but I’m realizing that current nursing leaders don’t have a grasp on how to blend it all together and make nurses successful on all counts.

Now nursing theory is creeping back into my life as I focus more on the caring aspect of nursing. I’ll be pulling out some Jean Watson stuff soon, and my 20-something self cringes at seeing today’s 40-something typing nonsense like this! Even if it’s a little hard for me to admit that nursing theory has its place, it’s also pretty timely that I want to use it now to advocate for caring for nurses.


I’m okay with being in Wisconsin, but I’ll be pretty happy to leave. In the meantime, I’ll blend in with everyone and ‘Drink Wisconsinbly.’

2 thoughts on “Living Wisconsinbly

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