2021 FAIR REFLECTIONS

Most of you know that this time of year is when I have the most fun. It is our local State Fair and I enjoy every minute of it. The length of the fair is 11 days and I go every day, or at least I have since 1996. I enjoy many different events including trying different foods and reviewing them for the website Chow Down in Milwaukee, which I highly suggest you visit. I also get to enjoy local bands, see some animals I don’t see often, enjoy gardens, works of art, do some shopping for things I never knew I needed as well as spending some quality time with friends.

At the end of these 11 days there is always a bit of sadness. My yearly vacation is over, summer is drawing to a close and of course this wonderful festival I enjoy so much is over for another year. Margie does her best to remind me things such as, “It is less than a year now until the next state fair” and “Think about all the fun memories we made this year!” It is the latter of those two statements that I would like to write about today. With the State Fair being canceled in 2020, I was interested to see how things would rebound in 2021. Would people return to the fair or would they still be a bit too cautious? I guess the answer turned out to be a little bit of both. There were several things I noticed that were different this year than the last few. I am going to note a few of the more optimistic changes here and hope they continue for years to come!

The food. Let us take a second to talk about the changes in food over the last two years. There were our regular favorites such as large pickles and choices from Krautland. There were some new options that dazzled our taste buds. There was several new quesadillas that we enjoyed. Specialty tater tots and, of course, all of the ‘Sporkie’ or award winning foods. These included a pork sandwich that was sandwiched between two glazed doughnuts, a deep-fried pineapple that was crusted with coconut and even bacon and cinnamon cheese curds. I felt stands really got creative, but their efforts were a little hampered by available staff. This caused wait times to be a little longer and food to not always be served at the proper temperature. Still, they did their best and I look forward to trying several of these dishes next year when we hope staffing will be less of an issue. Speaking of things to look forward to, there was one food that we got to sample that will be premiering next year and I can’t wait. Firehouse Chicken has created a dish that combines sweet potato fries with a sauce that will have you thinking you are enjoying an entire sweet potato casserole! The best thing is that you can do this as you walk along taking in many of the fun activities the fair has to offer.

All fun at the fair

Let us take a look at some of those fun activities you were able to do at the fair for the first time in two years. Although shortened hours and staff along with extreme weather tended to shorten or even cancel many events, there were still a great many things to enjoy if you knew where to look. Margie and I missed seeing one of our favorite bands, Here Come the Mummies, due to a weather event. However, my mom was able to take in a concert of the band Firehouse with me. They performed quite well. There was also the return of the always amazing bird show from the Schlitz Audubon Nature center. Great information, new birds and staff were also brought in the mix. The animal shows and judging gave the opportunity for children from the rural communities show and teach the city kids a few things. It was good to see their hard work rewarded. In the ‘Exploratory Park’ portion of the fair, there were new tranquil areas that provided an escape from the crowds and bustle of the main portion of the fair. There was also a complete transformation of the central area of the grounds that included additional seating and greenery. Also a few comfortable swings.

Some of the things I noticed that I thought were really positive at the state fair this year were a spirit of kindness and connectedness. Part of that was the relief at being able to gather and the precious ability to do so. I personally witnessed a young lady standing in line for the restroom with a toddler that obviously could not wait much longer. Even though every lady in line had the same pressing need, three women let this lady go ahead of them. There were more people holding doors and exchanging pleasantries. Considering all of the division we have been hearing about and even witnessing to some degree, it was great to see people happy just to be able to gather together again. There was almost a whisper of “We haven’t been able to do this in a while, and we don’t know how long we will be able to continue to do it so we better not screw it up.” Another awesome thing to see was people of all races coming together and having fun. Whether that was a couple, or just a group of friends, it seemed a more diverse community than ever before. Sometimes I feel it is good to block out the deluge of news and media reports on a subject and get out in the world and experience it for yourself. In this case it was people not caring where their ancestors came from or what their politics were and more about getting a cream puff, how to get the best seats at the pig races and what band they were there to see.

All that being said, my favorite memory of the 2021 Wisconsin State Fair was the memories I created. I was able to see friends I have not seen in a very long time and spend some quality time with them. There were people I see when Margie and I are working as DJs, that we often don’t get to see more than a minute at a time. Being able to sit down with them and watch a band, eat some food or just have a conversation was fun. For the second fair in a row, I was able to join up with Amanda, Margie and my mom to review some of the award-winning and new foods for the afore mentioned Chow Down in Milwaukee. My mother and I did both the ‘Garden Walk’ and ‘Art Walk’ which explore both the gardens and art in the park. These are fun because they take you to areas you do not normally see. Most of all, I loved the memories created with the love of my life. I know Margie does not have to be there and on many occasions I am not sure she wants to be there, but I love that we get to share memories at my favorite place. We got together later in life and this is one of the areas I feel myself trying to ‘make up for lost time’ as they say. I want to experience and create as many memories with her as I can. Even just the thought that she puts up with the hours of walking, the heat and the excitement of her crazy man is something that makes me love her more.

As you can see from the pictures and what I have written, it was another successful run for my favorite time of the year. Sure, there are things I would like to do that I missed. That happens every year. As a whole, it was great to have the State Fair back again. I look forward to reviewing pictures and memories in the months to come. I would love to hear some of your favorite summer memories.

THE PARTY BEGINS!!

You may have noticed that last Friday’s blog post seemed to lack a little something…like being there. I apologize for that, but Thursday started our state fair here in Wisconsin. I have been attending this festival ever since I was born in 1975. Around 1996, I made a decision that was rather unique to me back then. If I really enjoyed every time I went to the State Fair, why not go as often as I could. In this case, that would be 11 days as that is how long our state fair lasts. Beginning that year I have done just that very thing. The Wisconsin State Fair became my annual vacation. I take those days off from my day job and make every effort to have other obligations either rescheduled or taken care of.

I have received my fair share of flack for this decision over the years. People ask me such questions as how do I not get bored going every day, how do I manage to afford it and certainly questions about the health aspects of such an adventure. These are all valid concerns and here are some quick answers. Doing something you love rarely tends to become boring. Doing it 11 days straight, for almost 20 years can bring that into possibility. For me, this has never been a problem. As a personal characteristic, I cannot remember the last time I was bored. It is a fact that if I had 3 lifetimes I could not do all that I wanted to do. Involving different people in my life makes each experience new and different. Margie likes to see bands and shop. My mother, she likes the baby animals and doing the garden and art walks. Everyone loves to explore new and exciting foods. Trying them makes each yea, and sometimes day, different and exciting. I learned I can apply this to anything I enjoy in my life. Going for coffee with my mom is one experience. Doing the very same thing with my friend Nick is something different entirely.

My love and I at the fair

Another question was how do I afford going to the fair every year? Several ways. They all involve planning ahead of time. In about April, they begin to sell tickets at a discounted price. This saves me $5 a day. They also have coupon books available. I purchased one for $4 and if I use the ones I plan to, that will save me a total of $70 on food, drink and items throughout the 11 days. It is also using my time there to discover where and what presents the best deals. Nachos may be a dollar cheaper at one stand, but you may get twice as much at another. I turn it into a fun game. Thinking of the different foods and drink and where is the best place to go.

Speaking of food, another concern, often voiced by my doctor, is the health aspects of spending 11 days eating fair food. I’ll be the first to agree this is not the healthiest 11 days I spend in a year, but there are several factors to consider here as well. The first being that this is an exception and not the rule. As Margie, Amanda, my mother and myself were sampling several of the new foods for a review on Chow Down in Milwaukee (which I will link at the end of this post) We all discussed how we do not normally consume fried food (Like the fried fish fry above, which was rather delicious) Another tip is while finding the best value at the state fair, I also look for several healthier options. There is a gluten-free stand for those that need those foods. There is a stand that serves grilled chicken over a bed of rice. Snacks such as dried tart cherries and cranberries can be found among all of the chocolate and fudge. Same holds true with beverages. You can always find soda, beer and cocktails. You can however find water, juice and even a stand for a business named Urbal Tea that serves…you guessed it, herbal tea. Not only healthier option, but refreshing one as well. Couple these tricks with the incredible amount of walking I do and a trip to the Wisconsin State Fair is not as unhealthy as it could be.

When you find something that does not harm you or others that you enjoy in life, I recommend incorporating it as much as you can. There are ways to make it exciting, economical and healthy. Try doing it with different people and notice how that can expand your enjoyment. You may notice things that escaped your attention. Find ways in which it can be planned and maybe done more economically. This could involve purchasing tickets ahead of time like I do, or joining and organization, going in with others or a host of other ideas. Find ways to make it healthier too. Is there a particular run/walk you do every year? Maybe get a group of friends to start training with you. Whatever it is you enjoy in life, think of ways in which you cannot only do it more, but do it better. I would love to hear what activities you enjoy doing every year.

CLICK HERE TO READ OUR REVIEW OF THIS YEAR’S FAIR FOOD ON CHOW DOWN IN MILWAUKEE

WHILE THEY ARE HERE

Here is a picture of my mother and I. While at least the bottom part of my head. As you can see we are out to eat. The place we were eating at, Crawdaddy’s Roadhouse, is a local favorite here in the city of West Allis where I live. They feature amazing Cajun cuisine, live music and super friendly service. Sadly, the owner of this establishment, Jonathan Klug, recently passed away at the young age of 51. Before he opened this amazing restaurant, Jon messaged me and asked if I would come and do a review. It is not often a restaurant owner would welcome a food critic, but so confident was Mr. Klug that he did. Let me tell you he had the right to be. Crawdaddy’s Roadhouse became a favorite with the group of coworkers whom I brought there the first time I went. Groups of family and friends I entertained there always walked away full and happy.

This post is not only to honor that great man, but to share with you something very important. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, that is my mother sitting next to me. She joined a group of coworkers as well as Margie and myself to dine and review the restaurant that day. We joked and laughed as the night went on. She has attended other restaurant reviews I have done in the last few years as well. She always has interesting and insightful things to offer. Being a former personal banker, she knows the importance of great customer service and how it can impact the overall experience you have in a business.

This is yet another picture of my mother. I have to be sneaky and catch these moments because she is NOT a fan of having her picture taken. What is even more important than capturing such moments is sharing them. Sure, parents can drive us crazy as I am sure we can do to them. They are forever worrying about us making the same mistakes they made and we are forever wishing they would let us live our lives unfettered. Especially when we are teenagers and think we have this whole living life thing down pat. The truth is, those who have come before us have the benefit of experience and are offering advice they think will only add to our joy in life.

This picture was taken during an event called the Soup Crawl. It was a brand new event our city wanted to start. Area businesses made soups and offered them at locations up and down main street. For just a few dollars you could sample ten soups all while seeing the city and meeting your neighbors. My mom and Margie even were able to make a bracelet at a local jewelry store. My mother has taught me the value and pleasure of experiencing and being involved in local community activities. We often dine at local places like Urban Joe’s Cafe and even work out at the gym in our city of West Allis.

We also enjoy getting out in nature. This is a local park we walk in. Being physically active as a family serves many benefits. It can do a lot to help us prevent and limit the effect of some genetic issues our family is predisposed to. It also can be a great stress reliever. Nature is a great therapy providing physical fitness, oxygen, scenery, a sense of well-being as well as allowing us to meet some of our unique animal friends. Doing so with your parents can help both of you to be around to enjoy those pleasures for years to come. Being able to relax over a cup of hot coffee after a walk in the woods on a chilly spring or fall afternoon allows us a chance to discuss all of nature and it’s wonders.

Celebrate important events together. This is us at a ‘birthday party’ for Smokey Bear. It was taken at the Wisconsin State Fair, which my mom and I have been going to for…oh…the last 44 years together. We enjoy attending the food awards they do there every year as well as fun events like a 75th birthday party for a bear that helps us prevent wildfires. This year she also came over to Margie and my house for New Year’s Eve. We all were able to toast in the new year, enjoy a wonderful meal Margie created and watch a movie. A few years ago she even stopped by as we were working to bring in the New Year. These are memories that will be cherished. If not always with pictures, due to her not being a fan, at least in memories. We are working on planning a vacation together as well.

It is important to create memories with your parents as often as you can. Just as the untimely passing of our good friend Jonathan Klug reminded us, time can be more fleeting than you know. Take time to enjoy the company of those you love before either one of you is gone. Creating memories and capturing them can be one of the most valuable treasures in life. Something all the money in the world cannot buy once someone is gone.

30 DAYS OF GRATITUDE (DAY #23)

Welcome back to our celebration of 30 days of gratitude. Each day we will focus on one area of our life to be grateful for. If this is your first day doing this I invite you to go back and do the days before this. You can do them in your head, write them down and home, but it is my hope you decide to share what you are grateful for with our community here on Secret2anamazinglife.com. There are no rules. Do one day or do all 30. Let us now look at today’s area of gratitude.

As we continue our journey of gratitude into the new year, we take a look at traditions. This is something I think changes a little as we age. When I was younger I used to find certain traditions archaic at best and ridiculous most of the time. Fast forward many years to my current state looking over this keyboard as I watch the sun set as I write. Now, I find myself looking forward to taking part in certain traditions and even creating others.

To me, traditions offer us a chance to mark time when it comes to certain aspects of our lives. When you are younger, you have little or no choice in what traditions you take part in. I think parents could benefit greatly by allowing their children to have more of a say in the creation of traditions the family observes. As we grow older, however, we more or less choose what traditions we wish to observe and which ones no longer serve us.

When it comes to creating traditions these days, I focus on those that bring joy and togetherness. One of my favorite yearly traditions is the Wisconsin State Fair. Not only to I literally jump out of my skin when the first day arrives and it is time to go with the love of my life, we found ways to create traditions throughout the year. I enjoy taking a day off of work and going with Margie to purchase our tickets in advance and then go out to breakfast. We make rough plans for the things we look forward to seeing and doing together once the time arrives. In the summer there is a 5k run that Margie, her daughter Siraya and I have done the last few years. It is great fun and gives us chance to see where we are at physically. It also gives us something to work toward in these cold winter months.

Another tradition I love is the yearly bike expo here in April. By this time my Seasonal Affective Disorder has usually gotten the best of me and quite often there is still snow on the ground. When I walk into the expo hall to attend this great event held by local bicycle company Wheel & Sprocket, it is as if the warm weather has arrived. There are many bikes to choose from all at good values. There are clothes, helmets, and accessories to purchase. There are also bicycle clubs to join and rides to sign up for. It gives you hope and something to look forward to in the warmer weather. Walking hand in hand through this event with Margie gives me the resolve to make it through the remainder of the cold weather.

What traditions are you grateful for? Being that we are reading this in the beginning of the new year, what traditions would you like to start this year? How do you think traditions can be used to positively affect our lives and bring more joy to them?

IT IS THE SIMPLE THINGS


This picture was taken at ‘Harvest Fair’, a local celebration of all things fall. I am one who is a great fan of fairs so Margie and I generally attend this festivity every year. There is an exquisite farmers market where you can purchase squash, vegetables and many other delicious and local items. There are bands, food stands, vendors, friends and everything that makes a fair…well…a fair.

This year there was something new, a smores truck. Everyone was issued a plate with the ingredients for smores. You then took your ingredients and ‘roasted’ them over a small coil. This was a little less gratifying than an open fire, but accomplished the same task.

Everyone roasted their marshmallow to their liking. Some just enjoyed having it warm. I prefer a nice golden brown color with a slight caramel flavor bestowed upon it. Margie, on the other hand, believes without a little bit of charring the marshmallow is not done.

I watched the collection of people all gather together on what was an unseasonably cold September evening to do something simple like making smores. That was great to begin with but there was more. As you can see on my plate there was a sticker instructing me to give someone there a compliment. Each plate had its own positive suggestion. I thought that was a very nice touch.

My compliments to the fine folks at Hershey’s for sponsoring this. Not only did they add a special activity to an already special event, but for going the extra mile and encouraging people to do random kind things. I wish I had taken the time to look at more of the plates. A special shout out to the great people at the Wisconsin State Fair for deciding to make this a part of Harvest Fair.

I am looking to do something similar to this and am asking you, dear reader, to help me. How can we encourage people to do positive things like the stickers on the plates did? I feel attaching them to something positive like Hershey did with the smores was a brilliant idea. I am asking all of us to put our heads together and come up with a way to do something similar and bring positivity to our neighborhoods.

This blog is followed in over 100 countries and I can just imagine how amazing it would be if in every city, in every country where this blog is read we all start random acts of kindness and positivity. The ripple effect would be world-changing! I would LOVE to hear your ideas in the comments below!
I will also include an instructional photo of my lovely lady’s marshmallow so you can see how it should be done according to Margie.

HOW CAN I LIVE WITHOUT YOU?

HOW DO I LIVE WITHOUT YOU? For those of us who have lived an appreciable amount of time this is a question we have asked. Maybe to ourselves, maybe to God, maybe to the universe or maybe to those who have passed away. We are left with words we wish we would have said, or things we wish we would have done with those we have lost. Even more often we see things that remind us of those who have passed on and we wish we could share those things with them.

What do we do with all of these thoughts? What do we do with all of this love? Let me begin by saying there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Whatever helps you get through is what you must do, as long is it does not bring harm to yourself or others. What I am about to share with you is what I feel not only helps me deal with loss, but helps others and honors those I am missing. If it doesn’t work for you that is ok. If you are looking for something to help you, it might be worth giving a try.

Why I am sharing this with you today? Last week I attended the Wisconsin State Fair, one of my favorite places to be. I even was fortunate enough to write several articles about the fair, including one for chow down in Milwaukee in which I mentioned going to the State Fair with my grandfather at least once a year. That sure made me miss that. It started to bring to mind people I have lost and what I always do to honor them.

In addition a few of the days I had parked a few blocks away next to a lady I had known for years in the neighborhood. This wonderful lady had lost her son a few years ago and was really having a tough time coming to terms with it. I cannot imagine the pain a parent would feel losing a child. It is something I wish no parent ever had to feel or go through. On a few occasions she stopped me to share stories about her son and how much she was still missing him. These moments often resulted in tears shared as well. She also shared stories with me from support groups she attended and what others in situations similar to hers were going through. Some of them were so painful I am not even going to share them here.

Needless to say, there are far too many parents going through this pain. With the rise of the opioid crisis, sadly the numbers look to be climbing. What solace can we offer anyone who has experienced a loss? That is the question that kept bouncing around in my head as I was hoping to offer something to this lady that would bring her even a measure of peace. What I told her is simply two things that I find work. Again, I am not sure they will help her, although I hope they do.

First, I mentioned keeping a journal in which she could write to her son. When she was having an especially hard night she could sit down and have a ‘conversation’ with her son. Sure, it is really a one-sided conversation, but it can be quite rewarding. From a practical standpoint it can help us get a better handle on what exactly we are feeling. The act of writing something down can bring a great amount of clarity. Especially it such an emotionally charged situation as death and grief.

It can also be a safe and healthy place to share our feelings. Sharing our feelings of sadness and grief each and every second can leave us wondering if we are being emotionally draining to others. Even if we have to most wonderful people in our lives who are extremely supportive, there are things we may not be comfortable sharing with others that we would want to say to our loved one who has left us.

The other idea I shared with her is an idea I began to put into practice when I lost my Grandmother. It has seen me through several moments of loss. That is doing what the picture above advocates. Taking the love that you have for that person you have lost and spreading it around. How do we manage to do this? Make sure you share what you feel with others. Never let a day go by without bringing light to another’s life.

The best way that I have found to honor others while healing myself is to do my best to replace some of the light the world has lost with their passing. I recall my Grandmother being welcoming and hospitable. So now I do my best to be that way. Whether it is when I DJ shows with Margie or even having people over for dinner, I do my best to get them what they need and be a gracious host. Certainly, you will not be able to do everything the person who has passed away could do. That is part of what makes each person in this world such a special gift. My Grandmother made a great cheesecake. I simply do not share her talent for that.

I humbly offered to this lady there might be a way to share some of the light her son shared while he was alive. She thought and mentioned how at his funeral people in a wrestling chat room he belonged to told her how much he always cheered them up. She said, “Maybe I could join that chat room and cheer up those young men.” I told her that was one great idea and she could always come up with more as time went on.

Nothing will ever replace the loss of a loved one, nor should it. We feel sadness and pain because we loved and loved a great soul. If there are ways we can honor our loved ones and bring a measure of joy and happiness to our souls and the world around us I believe it is worth a shot. Again, I put this forth to you with humble suggestion. There is no right or wrong way to deal with grief, this is merely what works for me and I share it with you in hopes it may help you as well.

If there is another way you use that helps you with the pain and sense of loss you feel, please share it in the comments below. There are a lot of others who are hurting and by coming together we may be able to bring a measure of peace to them. At the very least we can let them know they are not alone.

WHERE TO FIND A PERFECT WORLD

What is your definition of a perfect world? Mine is one of coexistence. One in which there may be problems, but they are approached with a sense of innovation and true desire to solve them. A world in which everyone can share their story and we can learn from those different from us.

I do suppose this is why I like the Wisconsin State Fair so much. At its core, it is a celebration of agriculture. It is held in an urban location. This brings different breeds of swine in front of people who may have only viewed a pig named Porky in a cartoon.

There are also the blends of music. Musical acts that this year range from The Temptations to Alice Cooper on the main stage. There are also more than 23 side stages that feature rock, pop, country, soul and even a band dressed entirely like mummies.

Of course any State Fair would be incomplete without food. From deep fried green beans at Krautland to salad on a stick you can find it here. Sweet to savory it is only a stand away.

Developments in agriculture, forestry and many sciences are featured here. Just yesterday I was able to view a slide showing neurons in the brain and how they are affected by environmental factors. I learned what the farming industry was doing to combat the effects of a changing climate.

Even the shopping is diverse. I have seen stands featuring products from Africa, the middle East and even different parts of our own country. These stands are usually manned by people who represent those cultures. Here to me is the beauty of it all. Differences in race or culture are often put aside for the sake of commerce. It little matters what the person across from you is wearing out believes so long as they are giving you the best deal.

If we can all coexist and put our differences aside for 11 days in August, why can we not do it for the remaining 354 days? Can we not use the example of the Wisconsin State Fair as an example of the good we are capable of?

If I happen to see you in this version of the beauty of humanity and you mention this blog, I just might share a beer or cream puff with you.