Hot, hot hot

If there's one thing I've learned during this round of summer heat: Never underestimate the fun you can have with a sprinkler.

We've had it out the last two weekends and it's created some undeniable weekend highlights.

(Update 8.01.11: After our outside fun and heading back indoors yesterday aftermoon, Phoebe fell asleep in Kates' lap at around 5 p.m. Waking her up later for supper was impossible and we ultimately carried her to bed, where she slept until 7 this morning.)

And to think that six months ago we were snowed in and dealing with bitter cold.


Dance fever

This, just posted by my friend Laura. It was too good not to share.

The headline says it all: 1973 called, laughed at us, and said we don't have a clue how to dance anymore.


The endurance of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"

So I'm catching up on my news reading tonight and stumbled on this story: ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and its 25 contributions to pop culture lore.

My favorite entry may be No. 14, A rash of re-edited trailers. The indie take on the trailer is genius. Like something Zach Braff should appear in. And if I saw the trailer as a TV commercial today, I want to see the film in a heartbeat. Because I'm a sucker for inspirational indie films with sweet soundtracks that include Simon & Garfunkel and Joshua Radin

And on another note, how did I not realize Jennifer Aniston played Jeannie Bueller in the TV version. I was one of the few in America who watched the show -- and I remember enjoying it. Then again, I was 11 and didn't know any better. 

Here's that indie trailer ...


For the love of Honey

We had another birthday to celebrate today. The wonderful and incomparable Kates.

Being the birthday girl, I made it totally her call when it came to how we’d celebrate today. While Pheebs went to school and I headed to work, she chose to spend the day at home, relaxing and reading for most of it.

For dinner, initially she suggested our favorite Chinese restaurant. But when her plans for a day of shopping in Joe Town didn’t work out, she suggested we head there tonight. Her idea was to go for a dinner at Cheddars -- a place we'd never been, a place that everyone we talk to raves about and a place we had yet to try because it’s always so busy we can't get in the doors. We would then do a little bit of shopping before hitting the 7:10 showing of the new “Winnie the Pooh” movie. A film the whole family could enjoy.

I surprised Kates by taking off of work a little early, she picked up Pheebs from the daycare, and we were off.

We pulled into Cheddars at almost exactly 5, just in time to beat the dinnertime flood, and finally got to taste what all of our friends and coworkers have been talking about. Kates had a chicken salad, and Phoebe got the kids plate, which came with three mini corn dogs and French fries. I settled on the steak and chicken fingers, with sides of -- two favorites -- sautéed broccoli and mashed potatoes. … I can’t speak for the others, but my plate was darn good. The chicken fingers were so tender and juicy they melted in my mouth, and my sides were just as delicious. The steak, however, was a little overcooked for my liking. Either way, I ate it all and the meal left me so stuffed I might have popped a button from my shirt.

After a couple pit stops to cross a few things off our shopping lists, we arrived at the movie theater.

From never having been to a movie theater before April, Phoebe has become quite the little movie-goer this summer. In addition to our “Tangled” outing last month, she gets the privilege of trekking to a movie with her daycare each Wednesday.

Best part of the pre-movie trailers: Seeing the trailer for the new Muppets movie. Jason Segel. Amy Adams. Can.not. wait.

The Winnie the Pooh film is absolutely charming. And its especially refreshing if you saw Disney's recent stab at a computerized X-games version of the Pooh adventures, which was plain awful.

The new film is so creative in its playful dialogue -- and not just the spoken kind. Like "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" the storybook illustrations and the book type are kay players in the film. And the adventures are just as whimsical and funny for the adults as for the kids.

A definite bonus is hearing Zooey Deschanel's voice on the music, which I had known but forgotten until that first song played in the film.

And watching Phoebe on edge of her seat, soaking in every word and scene never gets old.

Extra innings

I haven't had many opportunities to watch a lot of baseball this summer. You know, with Phoebe hoarding our TV to watch Dora the Explorer, Mickey Mouse, Little Einsteins and any other Disney movie she can get her hands on.

Then I missed the World Cup final yesterday afternoon because of another commitment.

So last night I put my claim on the TV and settled in for a little Sunday Night Baseball. Red Sox-Rays. It turned out I picked a good one.

The Red Sox won the game, 1-0. In 16 innings. On Dustin Pedroia's single to right field, batting in Josh Reddick from third base. The game lasted 5 hours and 44 minutes. It ended at about 1 a.m.

It may go down as the baseball game of the season. And I watched it from beginning to end.

Rays manager Joe Maddon was thrown out of the game. Then his bench coach and back up was thrown out in the 11th inning.

Boston nearly ended the game in the 10th when Adrian Gonzalez hit a ball to deep left field that fell just inches outside fair territory. Then the Red Sox loaded the bases in the top of the 11th inning with no outs, and they still couldn't get a run across.

Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine -- doing the ESPN broadcast -- were getting tired, too. One of my favorite lines came when they mentioned Tim Wakefield had left Tampa earlier for Baltimore. Said Hershiser: "He might need to fly back." 

By the 15th inning the Red Sox had left 15 men on base, to the Rays' four. Just three hits for each team. With all the men they put on base, it was hard to believe the Red Sox had yet to score a run; I think it was Valentine who quipped, "The Rays, meanwhile, get a runner every couple hours."

In the top of the 16th, at 12:42 a.m., Dustin Pedroia, who'd been great all night with three hits and a couple defensive gems at second base, drove in the winning run.

The Red Sox bullpen held on for the win. And I could finally go to bed, knowing I would pay for it in the morning.

(Update 7.19.2011) Bob Ryan with a good read this morning about the game: "I hung in till the end. There was no excuse to do otherwise."


Joys of parenting: Day 1,190

So we set out this afternoon to look for some deals. Businesses along The 'Ville's throroughfare were hosting sidewalk sales. ... Except, as we drove past the businesses, most of them weren't selling anything on their sidewalks.

Hungry and ready for lunch, we ended up at Maid-Rite. I had a tasty hot dog covered with a heap of chilli and cheese. Kates had the classic burger. And Phoebe had the kid's meal with a corn dog, her new favorite food. Everything was going great.

During the course of our meal, the owner took a liking to Phoebe. When Phoebe was finished with her meal, she presented Phoebe with a free ice cream sundae, complete with sprinkles. Phoebe had eaten about a third of it when she started acting silly, swung her arm and knocked it to the floor. Top-down with a splat.

The best was yet to come.

We went to a store where Phoebe fell madly in love with a stuffed frog. We allowed her to carry it around the store with the intention of buying it for her. But  she proceeded to run around the store, shout across it, lay in the middle of aisles and generally misbehave -- even when we told her we'd put the frog back if she didn't listen. When the time came to leave, and thus return the frog to its rack, Phoebe threw a major tantrum that had all of the clerks watching and smiling nervously.

I swept her up and we left the store. In the parking lot, she cried for Kates, so I handed her off and opened the car door. Kates put Phoebe in her car seat while Phoebe sobbed uncontrollably. Once everybody was in the car and buckled, I started the drive home.

About a quarter of the way there, Phoebe, still sobbing, cried that she she couldn't find one of her sandals. Kates glanced on the floor behind her and couldn't see it either. So I pulled into a parking lot and got out to look for it. With no sign of it, we headed back to the store, where we found the lone sandal in the parking lot.


Saturday video

Some may call it corny and cheesy. I think it's adorable. And so catchy.


Summer vacation: The leftovers

Tonight we are back home in The ‘Ville and reflecting on what was a most glorious summer vacation.

We trudged out of bed at 6 this morning. Phoebe and I took one more walk through the Third Ward to a parking garage to find our car. A couple business owners, who were already at work, watering their outdoor gardens and setting up for the day, smiled and greeted us along the way. “Well, you’re up early,” one woman said to Phoebe as she walked happily beside me, dangling one of her teddy bears.

We had the car packed by 7, said our goodbyes and then headed for the interstate. As we merged onto the overpass, I took one last look at the skyline to my right. I sighed a happy sigh and said to Kates, “That was a great vacation.” She smiled and answered, “Yes, it was.”

Our journey back to The ’Ville was flawless. Phoebe is a pro now when it comes to long car rides, and we only stopped three times today for what probably amounted to about 20 or 30 minutes. We walked into the house at about 4:15 this afternoon.

It was an interesting and yet weird feeling driving back into town. “It feels so natural now, and yet in other ways it still doesn’t seem right,” I said.

“If only our families were closer,” Kates said.

* * *

When we leave places with which we‘ve established a connection, at least for me, it seems there’s always a burning desire to capture all of what makes the place so special. Or return to them to experience some of the things you might not have seen or done the first time around.

Our view
 We certainly did that the last few days.

With a second floor apartment in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward, thanks to Orrin and Kelli, serving as our home base from Wednesday until this morning, we got to feel for five days and four nights as though we were part of the Third Ward community. From our multiple stops for lunch or takeout at the charming public markets, Bella Café or The Irish Pub to the fact that after a couple days we began to recognize familiar faces as we walked the neighborhood.

The sights and sounds of the city life were pure bliss. Not to mention the sounds of Milwaukee city life and the roar of Harleys passing on the streets below. During the evenings as crowds descended on the Third Ward for Summerfest, the neighborhood really came alive.

Here’s some shots from our visits to the public market …

* * *

I spent Friday morning soaking it up by myself. I walked the entire Third Ward, marveling at the old architecture and snapping photos at almost every street corner. I also made a point to stop inside the Art Museum to admire its breath-taking architecture and interior one more time. I ended up with a walk along the Lakeshore State Park before circling back past the Summerfest grounds, picking up some Starbucks goodies for Kates and I, and returning to the apartment.

Here are some of my favorites scenes ... For more, check out my Flickr album.

* * *

As for Summerfest, I shall call this year “a cleanup year.” I saw artists I'd been wanting to see for a long time, and I'll be OK if I don't see them again.

It’s worth noting that while I was watching America last night, Britney Spears was performing at the adjacent Marcus Amphitheater. Occasionally, we could hear the roar of that crowd. … This video appeared today. Kind of cool.

I’ve also been reminded tonight that next year is the 45th anniversary. And it starts in 352 days.

Here's a full review of Summer Vacation 2011:

aSummer vacation: Day 1
aSummer vacation: Day 3
aSummer vacation: Day 7
aSummer vacation: Day 7; Summerfest: Night 1
aSummer vacation: Day 8
aSummer vacation: Day 9; Summerfest: Night 2
aSummer vacation: Day 10; Summerfest: Night 3

Summer vacation: Day 10; Summerfest: Night 3

I’ve said it a lot over the years upon crossing a band or musician from my concert bucket list. And I’m going to say it again: Dreams came true tonight.

After years of trying to catch one of their shows, tonight I saw one of my favorite classic rock bands. None other than America.

After a low-key relaxing day at the apartment with Phoebe, while Kates visited with some friends in suburban Chicago, we ordered another round of takeout from The Irish Pub for dinner. Then at around 8, I walked down to the Summerfest grounds for one more night.

I headed first to the Miller Lite Oasis to see some old friends. But not just any old friends. I went to see the Get Up Kids. I ran high school cross country with two of them and played drums in the high school marching band with another. ... The bottom line is, even though I don't identify well with their music, I've had a good time following them over the years and greatly admire the success they've had. Heck, I remember them handing out their first CD during breaks from classes. When I saw them on the lineup, I decided I had to check them out.

* * *

I stuck around for two or three songs and then I headed straight for the classic rock stage to see America and claimed a good spot about 20 rows off the stage.

Playing when I arrived was a cover band called Bad Medicine. Their name would lead you to believe they were a Bon Jovi cover band -- which they mostly were -- but they performed some crowd-pleasers from other rockers of the ‘70s and ‘80s. They gave the crowd a healthy dose of “Rock and Roll” -- sung by a female lead -- and finished off their set with “Play That Funky Music.”

Still, the Bon Jovi stuff easily drew the loudest singing and wildest dancing from the crowd of mostly baby boomers. “Wanted Dead or Alive.” “It's My Life.” “Runaway.” And of course, best of all, “Living On A Prayer.” At times, watching the crowd was more entertaining than watching the band perform.

But for me, the real fun started when America arrived on the stage.

They spun off hit after hit, and filled the middle of their set with a collection of songs from their upcoming “Back Pages” album of covers. Or “songs they wish they had written.” 

Age has hardly slowed these guys down. And if it has, I didn’t see it. Every song sounded better and rocked harder than the one before it. At one point, Gerry Beckley roared into the mic, “These aren't oldies. This is classic rock!”

Capping their main set before returning for a two-song encore, the band ran off three of their biggest hits.

“Lonely People.” With a slightly faster and punchier take that was arguably my favorite song on this night, especially with the harmonica and keyboard jam in the middle.

“Sandman.” With a raucous flare while images of the 1960s flashed on the screen behind them.

And finally, my favorite America song, hands-down, “Sister Golden Hair,” which needed little help to get the crowd singing along.

As a side note, it always amuses me how the crowds at the classic rock stage contrast with those that fill the rest of the Summerfest stage areas. Often, the classic rock crowds are either just unfamiliar with or have no desire to follow the traditions and virtues of the Big Gig. The crowds at other stages are diverse and carefree; the crowds at the classic rock stage can be repressed and unfriendly. They also get cranky if you dare stand for the show, and that was the case again tonight. … It starts a couple songs in with the name-calling and yelling, “Sit down!” Then, if you don’t oblige, you get bottles thrown at you, which happened to me and my buddies at a Steve Winwood show (Has it really been six years!? Reading that post makes me feel aged). … Thankfully, there were no bottles thrown tonight, but we did get yelled at for trying to watch the show standing.

Here’s America’s set list, with a few of my videos linked up.

“You Can Do Magic”
“Don’t Cross The River”
“Daisy Jane”
“I Need You”
Ventura Highway
“Woodstock (Joni Mitchell cover)
“A Road Song” (Fountains of Wayne cover)
“‘Til I Hear It From You” (Gin Blossoms cover)
“If I could make it to the border”
“Woman Tonight”
“Only In Your Heart”
California Dreamin’” (Mamas & Papas cover)
Lonely People
Sister Golden Hair

“On the Way Home” (Buffalo Springfield cover)
Horse With No Name

* * *

As the crowd dispersed after the show, I finally connected with my good friends Laura and Kevin who had come to the show, too. We had tried arranging to watch the show together and had been looking out for each other more than an hour before the show began. But cell phone signals were so overloaded that texting was useless. It wasn't until just before the show began that we spotted each other over the crowd. And they were a lot closer to the stage than I. Like four rows off the stage. Doh.

We strolled through the grounds as we caught up on each other's lives. Eventually, we came to a spot with a direct view of the Harley-Davidson stage, where the Flaming Lips were reaching the coda of their show. And it. was. spectacular. ... I've always sort of wanted to see one of their shows, if only to experience the spectacle, which I had only seen on televised performances prior to tonight ...

I stuck around for several minutes before deciding to call it a night. I tried to take it all in once more as I left the grounds, and I stretched my arms above my head as I exited through the gates, waving a symbolic goodbye.
As I've left Summerfest each year, I've gone never knowing if and when I'd be back. This year, that was especially true.


Summer vacation: Day 9; Summerfest: Night 2

Today we soaked in the Third Ward for another day and capped it with another evening at Summerfest. Only this time we brought Phoebe along to get her first taste of Summerfest.

When we set out on this vacation, we figured we may take her for a couple hours one of these days. Then, when we strolled past the grounds yesterday, her curiosity got the best of her, and Kates and I started to explain to her the virtues of the great summer festival. The deal was sealed.

We were on a deadline to pass through the gates before 4 p.m. to get the afternoon discount -- aka half-price admission -- but got caught up in a charming paper store with its vintage postcards, greeting cards and stationary of all varieties. Then Kates wanted to check out a furniture store while I kept Phoebe occupied on the building’s front stoop. … With 10 minutes to spare, I dropped off our purchases at the apartment and booked it the three blocks to the Summerfest grounds for tickets. I think I arrived at the ticket counter at 3:57. And I ended up not only getting the discount for Kates and I, but they let us take Phoebe for free, even though admission for children 3 and up is 3 bucks.

The first things fest-goers come to inside the center gate is a set of fountains designed as a place for children to play. Phoebe led us straight to them, and after a few moments of trepidation, she slowly waded in. Pretty soon she was getting soaked and having the time of her life.

After Phoebe got a fresh change of clothes, we were off to the Summerfest playground -- arguably the largest and most extensive Phoebe’s ever encountered; although the children‘s area at the zoo Tuesday was pretty complex, too. Always daring, she navigated it with flying colors. She climbed ladders with ease, traveled staircases up to tall slides, and slid down long, winding covered ones. ‘Round and ‘round she went.

Then there was the case of the pole. She approached it from the ground and didn’t know what to make of it at first. She thought it was intended for climbing upward until a boy came upon it from above, hopped on and slid down. That sent Phoebe running to the platform to try it for herself. With me spotting her, the first four or five times she lunged for the pole and grabbed it with both hands, leaving it to me to lift her feet and wrap them around the pole. Then I’d support her behind as she glided down the pole.

As it always happened, she soon wanted to try it without my help. Again, she lunged for the pole and grabbed it with her hands. As she held on and prepared to jump, it was like that first time you try diving into a pool. You stand on the edge of the diving board -- in the dive position, knees bent and arms outstretched over your head with the palms together -- for what seems like an eternity, building up the courage to take the leap. That was Phoebe, holding on to the pole.

Just as I reached to help her feet again, she jumped and landed with her legs around the pole. She’d done it, and I guided her the rest of the way down the pole. … When she touched the ground, I burst out laughing and looked at Kates who was sitting on a bench along the sideline. I caught her smiling, shaking her head and patting the center of her chest. Unforgettable.

Watching Phoebe on that playground today was like noticing subtle hints of her adolescence and the weight of peer pressure all around her. I already mentioned the daring part. At another point, she came to the top of a staircase just as another little girl stepped to a slide and began swinging dangerously on a chin-high bar above the slide. When the girl ran away, Phoebe stepped to the bar and copied her. … Then there was the 5-year-old who befriended Phoebe as she was crossing a bridge. This girl was like the child version of an alternative chick, bandanna on her head and running freely. Not that I don’t admire the individualism of so-called alternative kids -- I admire that trait greatly. But the way Phoebe began following her and mimicking her, if this girl had offered Phoebe drugs, she would have downed them like candy.

The joys of raising a daughter.
* * *

After her playground adventures, Phoebe insisted on trying the sky glider that travels over and across the length of the Summerfest grounds. So Kates accompanied her on that ride, while I walked the grounds and met them on the other side. I was worried about whether Phoebe would get scared once the glider went up; Kates said she did well until about the halfway point -- the peak of the glider’s height -- when she said, “I wanna get down.”

For supper, I went German with a chicken cordon bleu sandwich and German potato salad from Mader’s. Kates got the fish and chips from John Hawks Pub. We got Phoebe a gourmet pretzel filled with apple filling and cinnamon, which is probably the healthiest thing she’s eaten since we arrived in Milwaukee.

I, of course, capped it with a large Mountain Dew, though it took me a couple stops to get one. Scattered throughout the grounds every year are these beer barrels that are just large enough for an adult to sit inside, while being surrounded by plastic cups and a soda tap. I hit up three of them before I found one that hadn’t run out of a set of this year’s souvenir Summerfest cups. When I inquired at the third one, a kid inside pointed to another station and told me -- like an undercover man explaining a top secret information -- “I think they still have some at that one over there.”

By 6, Parachute had taken the stage at the new and improved Big Backyard stage, and they were first on my list of artists to see tonight. While Kates was ready to take Phoebe back to the apartment, I encouraged her to walk to the stage with me and take in a bit of the music. We navigated the sea of people, and I imagine it must have been quite an experience for Phoebe riding in her stroller, low to the ground, through such a typically huge Summerfest crowd. … As soon as we pulled up to the stage, Phoebe was out of her stroller and dancing with Kates.

My little knowledge of Parachute comes from hearing their songs on the radio, where I’ve likened them to Matchbox Twenty. Their live performance tonight, however, reminded me more of Augustana. Either way, I liked what I heard.

The crowd was comprised mostly of teenage girls who swayed as they mouthed the lyrics of “Kiss Me Softly,” and they watched admiringly as the band members played on.

For me “She is Love” and “Something To Believe In” -- two of their most widely known songs -- were the standouts during their hour-plus set.

The band also delivered a worthy cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” 

And when Parachute left the stage, their fans departed the benches and the Michelle Branch fans moved up. I seized a spot on a sixth-row bench, at the left side of the stage.

* * *

I remember vividly the first time I heard Michelle Branch on the radio early in the summer of 2001. I was interning for a newspaper in Independence, Mo., that summer and living in my college roommate's basement in Kansas City. Along with the 10-month old German Shepherd we foolishly adopted the previously fall, but that’s a whole different story.

The way I remember it, “Everywhere,” along with Lifehouse’s “Hanging By a Moment,” was one of the songs of the summer. They were the kind of songs that you could not turn on a radio without hearing a half dozen times a day. I was struck by Branch's lyrics and edgy sound then, and I've been a fan of hers ever since, especially enjoying her output as one half of the country duo known as The Wreckers.

I had long wanted to see her perform live and missed a chance to see her at Summerfest a few years ago. And yet, at the same time, I’ve sensed she’s better in the studio than she is live. Tonight, I got my wish to see her live -- and, sadly, she proved my theory.

She played a good mix of hits from her solo studio albums and her time in The Wreckers. She also threw in “The Game of Love,” one of her hits with Santana. … But she battled pitch issues throughout her set and never really varied from the bars of the original recordings.

Her banter between songs was charming and sweet. Backed by two guitarists and a beatbox rather than a drummer, she called the setup her “recession band.” And later she mused about riding on a tour bus with boys -- referring to her summer tour mates in Parachute and Goo Goo Dolls -- who don’t leave the toilet seat down. She also declared that she and Parachute would be forming a Tom Petty cover band before the end of their tour and told a story about the time she saw Tom Petty puffing on an electronic cigarette backstage.

Her show lasted an hour. It was about what I expected and nothing more. And then it was over. My wish to see her fulfilled.

Here’s the setlist:

Everywhere” (Summerfest performance)
Loud Music
Goodbye to You
Sooner or Later
Desperately” (Summerfest performance)
“For Dear Life”
The Game of Love
Leave the Pieces
Are You Happy Now?”
All You Wanted

* * *

Before Michelle Branch strummed her last note I had jumped off my bench and was heading toward the side of the stage to meet up with some old friends from K-Town. It was a thrill to see them all, if only for a few minutes, until each of us parted ways to see a different show. Rachel and Joe went to see Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Kevin went to Dropkick Murphys. Laura went to Leon Russell.

And I headed across the grounds to see the Goo Goo Dolls at the Miller Lite Oasis.

Like Wednesday night, I didn’t expect to get as close to the stage as I would have liked. Nor did I care all that much, since I saw a great Goo Goo Dolls show a just three short months ago.

But I didn’t expect to find the enormous crowd I ran into at the stage area. I worked my way through the crowd, along the left side of the stage. Then I worked my way through the crowd along the right side of the stage. Then I worked my way back to the picnic tables -- the equivalent in distance from the stage to the nose bleed section in an arena. I ended up standing next to a picnic table in the last row of tables surrounding the stage area, just inside the grounds’ main traffic way, settling on the fact that it might be my best chance to catch any of the show.

I have never, in all my years of attending Summerfest, seen a crowd so large at one stage. And for the Goo Goo Dolls!? Who knew they could draw such a crowd!? ... I figure tonight’s crowd could have packed three times the small college arena where I saw them play in April.

As I stood and waited for the show to begin, I overheard one older man and his wife, who were sitting at the picnic table, explaining to a pack of girls that they arrived at 7:30 and the place already was packed; the picnic table was the best seat they could find. (It's worth adding the wife revealed she had never been to Summerfest. Talk about being thrown into the fire. Between the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, pushy teenie-boppers and the revelation that, once the show starts, people stand on whatever they can to catch a glimpse of the stage -- man, the look on that woman’s face was priceless.)

Another man near me said, “I didn’t know the Goo Goo Dolls had this many fans -- worldwide.”

By the time the Goo Goo Dolls took the stage, I had made up my mind that I wasn’t staying for more than a few songs. I couldn’t see the stage and instead could only watch the video screen mounted to the right of the stage. If they played the exact set I heard in April, I could count down the songs, and I’d plan to leave after they performed “Slide.”

And that’s exactly what happened. “Sweetest Lie.” “Big Machine.” And then “Slide.”

It took me two more songs just to get through the crowd. When I finally reached an opening I turned back and caught this shot. The picture doesn’t even do the scene justice.


Summer vacation: Day 8

No Summerfest tonight. Instead just a low-key, relaxing night at the apartment. ... And this vacation just keeps getting better.

Kates and I just finished watching “Julie & Julia.” ... I went into it with lowered expectations, knowing some reviewers and friends who weren't exactly overwhelmed by it. However, I -- as an obsessed and ambitious blogger myself -- really enjoyed it. The dedication and commitment Julie Powell gave to her cooking and blogging is an inspiration. And yet I totally relate to the angst that comes with it. Kates loves cooking, so there was something in the movie for both of us.

I've admired Amy Adams in everything she's done. And Meryl Streep aced her portrayal of Julia Child.

* * *
As for the rest of the day ...

We started with a short breakfast at one of the public markets and then ventured to the Discovery World Museum, which opened on the banks of Lake Michigan in 2006 -- all of it within a short walk. I’d visited the museum a couple times during my newspaper days and thought it would be fun for Kates and Phoebe, especially, to explore it as well.

It worked out better than I thought. A visit that I hoped might last a couple hours turned into nearly the entire day. The museum is loaded with hands-on exhibits. Phoebe made sure she pressed every button and turned every crank in the maze that makes up the science and technology wing.

I believe, however, a family really gets their money’s worth in the maritime wing, which includes a large scale model of the Great Lakes and surrounding lands. Plus, there are breath-taking aquariums that you can walk over and under. Even better, there’s a pool where visitors are allowed to touch the sting rays and sturgeon that swim by.

Then there's the museum's recreation of the schooner, Challenge. Phoebe climbed around every inch of it again and again, and even served a pretend tea-party in the ship's dining area ...

Summer vacation: Day 7; Summerfest: Night 1

And we walked and we talked
We don't have no time to stop that day
That day was a wonderful day

From the Brewers game this afternoon, we arrived in downtown Milwaukee this evening and settled into our Third Ward digs, compliments of Orrin and Kelli, who are letting us stay at their place through the weekend while they’re away on a vacation of their own.

And that means we are just blocks from the one, the only, the glorious music-lover’s paradise known as Summerfest.

Now, truth be told, I was on the fence about going tonight. We’d had our share of fun at the ballgame, and I would have been content to stay in for the night. The only band on the docket that I was truly interested in seeing was O.A.R., who I’d seen three times already. I had my sights set on taking in the Friday and Saturday shows.

But Kelli and Orrin left behind some extra tickets for us. The opportunity proved too good to pass up. The pull was too strong, and Kates actually ended up encouraging me to go for it.

So after some delicious takeout from The Irish Pub for dinner, I was out the door and walking down the city blocks toward Lake Michigan and the festival park. To say hello to an old friend.

Once through the gates, I was like a dog returning to his home. I nearly cried tears of utter joy and happiness. The sights of bands playing passionately on stages, surrounded by the Milwaukee cityscape on one side and Lake Michigan on the other, and crowds of people, young and old, fully enjoying themselves, soaking up the summer. The smells of grilled food, beer and other illegal substances. And the sounds of music, causing a vibration to run through your body like electricity. The atmosphere cannot be measured against anything else I’ve experienced, and it’s why I love going back year after year.

I began walking through the grounds and heard a spot-on cover of Bob Seger‘s “Night Moves” as I scouted out the new setup and stage at the Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard. And I checked out the new south entrance outside the Marcus Amphitheater, which doesn’t look a shade like it used to. The iconic giant instruments have been moved to the new entrance, and the string of lights combined with the painted fences give off a cool vibe.

Eventually I stopped at the classic rock stage to hear some of Peter Frampton’s set. I wouldn’t call myself a Frampton fan, and the way a certain Chicago station played “Show Me The Way” over and over used to drive me crazy. But I was intrigued by the fact that he’s playing his “Frampton Comes Alive” album from beginning to end during his tour this summer, so I decided to take in a little up his show. … As photos of his heyday flashed on a screen behind him, I was pleasantly surprised by the music, but it wasn’t enough to keep me around for more than two or three songs.

A little after 9, I headed over to the Miller Lite Oasis to find a spot for the O.A.R. show. Arriving so late, I knew I didn’t have a chance of getting as close to the stage as I usually might. Again, I’d been there, done that, and I had made up my mind that tonight I was purely enjoying the atmosphere. I eventually found a spot on the second to last bench in the front section between the stage and the sound booth. Still not a bad spot.

Every stage seems to have its own playlist blaring on the sound system between bands, and tonight the Miller Lite stage was playing The Monkees. I got chills as the young crowd belted out the chorus of “I’m a Believer.”

At 10, O.A.R. took the stage. And the ride didn’t let up until they stepped off for good.

The guys played a lot of new songs and stuff I wasn’t familiar with. But it didn’t matter. They were kicking off their summer tour in Milwaukee tonight, and it showed. Every song sounded fresh and full of energy. Jerry Depizzo delivered some absolutely fantastic saxophone solos, and Richard On reaffirmed my suspicion that he may be one of the most entertaining lead guitarists playing today. Depizzo also was joined tonight by a trumpeter and a trombonist.

This Town” was upbeat and it rocked the crowd the way I thought it should have when I last saw O.A.R. and the “All Sides” album was just out. “Delicate Few” proved to be an early crowd favorite as well.

Lay Down,” one of my personal favorites, opened with the twinkling guitar solo featuring On and a sweet brass jam at the front and center of the stage. They followed it with a new song, “Heaven,” that featured a hip-hop heavy beat -- but I really liked it.

And then “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker.” The excitement crowds show for this song never ceases to amaze me. I think lead singer Marc Roberge barely sang because the crowd carried the vocals so well. … I just don't get what makes the song so likable. Then again, I’m not a poker player.

The boys started to wind down -- actually wind up seems to be the more appropriate phrase -- with another one of my personal faves, “52-50,” featuring Depizzo on another grand sax solo. They followed it with “Night Shift” and then the rocking “About An Hour Ago,” with their splendid piano and sax solos.

That send them off the stage, around 11:45, for the standard break between the main set and the encore. … After a couple minutes, the band returned to play “Shattered,” which the crowd really dug into.

And finally, saving their best for last, “Hey Girl.” It was a knock-your-ears-out finale.

To the point, I’d been disappointed with my previous OAR-at-Summerfest experiences, but this one was different. Maybe it was that I’d lowered my expectations. Maybe it was my totally relaxed, vacation state of mind. Maybe it was that I was just that happy to be back at Summerfest. … Tonight's was a great show, and I had a great time. But mark my words, this was probably my last concert rendezvous with OAR -- unless they appear on a ticket that I would not pass up in a million years, which I don’t forsee happening.

It sure was good to be back at Summerfest.

And my ankles are killing me from standing and rocking on the benches. Another reason to love Summerfest.


Summer vacation: Day 7

Our vacation continues!

Saturday night we took in another movie -- “Eye for an Eye,” it was more grisly than I remembered it being. Sunday we attended the small country church down the road. We hiked up to the top of the bluff overlooking The Farm. We capped our stay at The Farm by grilling hot dogs and s’mores over the charcoal grill for supper.

* * *

We headed for my parents’ home Sunday night. Monday we woke up there to a gorgeous Fourth of July. And Phoebe took joy in running, jumping and singing from one end of my parents’ long living room to the other.

We spent the majority of Monday at the town’s Fourth of July festival. Phoebe played on the playground, slid down the inflatable slide multiple times and she got to ride a pony.

Dad and I broke away for a little while to share one of our favorite past times, looking at classic cars. …

Back at the house, Phoebe played some wiffle ball with Grandpa and I. But later she refused to take an afternoon nap and thus turned into a monster that night. … Once we finally got her settled in bed, Kates and I joined my parents to watch the Brewers game on TV. They lost. … Kates and I stayed up to watch The Late Show and turned in for the night.

* * *

Tuesday was a full day of fun in Madison. First, we ventured to the Henry Vilas Zoo, a place where Kates and I have many cherished childhood memories.

When we arrived, we gave Phoebe a choice of whether she wanted to play on the playground first or tour the zoo first. Of course, she picked the playground, with the same nursery rhyme shoe slide that Kates and I probably slid down when were kids playing in the same playground.

By the time we passed through the gates of the zoo, it was after 12:30. We stopped for some snacks -- Phoebe and I shared a corn dog, her new favorite food -- and then we started our round to see the animals. Phoebe took the most interest in the giraffes -- especially when one came right up to us at the fence -- and the turtles and snakes.

She wanted to and succeeded in doing it all. The train tour of the zoo grounds. The carousel. She fed goats. And climbed up and down the jungle-themed playground.

By mid-afternoon we were off to another iconic family spot in Madison: Ella’s Deli. Kates suggested it thinking Phoebe would be fascinated by all of the toys and robots that clutter and create the restaurant’s charm. … We dined on appetizers and then some ice cream concoctions to finish us off. We could have put Phoebe on the carousel there, too, but decided Phoebe had taken enough carousel rides for one day.

Back at my parents’ place, Grandma had Candy Land -- the 1979 version that was given to me as a Christmas gift around age 4 or 5 -- out and ready for a rousing game. The whole day had a vintage theme to it, so why not. It was my first board game and remains a simple, good one all these years later. Watching Phoebe play it -- and play it well -- with Kates and my mother was something special.

After some Pizza Hut pizza for dinner, we got Phoebe to sleep far easier than the night before -- she was tired -- and took in another Brewers loss on the TV.

* * *

And that brings us to today. Our return to Miller Park for a Milwaukee Brewers game, baby!

We dressed in our blue and gold -- Phoebe in her Ryan Braun No. 8 T-shirt -- and headed for Milwaukee, where we’re spending the rest of our stay in the grand ol’ Cheese State.

We made grand time to the city, even making time for a pit stop to take care of some things at Kates’ parents place in the suburbs, and we hit up a Chipotle for lunch. So good.

We arrived at the stadium around 12:30 and took our time traveling to our seats -- because we knew exactly where we were heading. Section 217, our favorite spot in the ballpark. I’ve sat high and low in that park and was convinced long ago, there’s not a bad seat in the place. But if you simply want to enjoy the game -- and not the alcohol or rowdy fans -- the view and family-friendly environment in 217 offer the best bang for your buck.

We got seated just in time for the first pitch, only to see Yovanni Gallardo give up a home run to Diamondbacks leadoff hitter Kelly Johnson to start the game. It looked like we were in for a repeat of the games we watched Monday and Tuesday.

But that was all the D-Backs would get. The game turned into a pitcher’s duel with some great defensive plays, too. Rickie Weeks made a diving catch on a line drive up the middle by Johnson in the third.

Finally in the bottom of the seventh, after two pitching changes by the Diamondbacks and with two Brewers on base courtesy of a pair of singles, Casey McGehee came in to pinch-hit for Gallardo. McGehee drove a pitch to deep center that just cleared the fence for a home run giving the Brewers a 3-1 lead.

The crowd went nuts. Fireworks erupted from the top of the stadium. And Bernie Brewer took his trip down the slide from his hut above left field.

On a day when we were sad we couldn't see Braun in action -- he was resting a strained calf muscle --McGehee's home run was the indelible moment of the game. Phoebe had started to get antsy and was nearing a breaking point. We’d explained to her before the game the history of Bernie and his slide, which led to her asking during seemingly every other at-bat, “Is Bernie going to slide down the slide yet?” … McGehee’s home run created the perfect diversion. Kates lifted Phoebe to her shoulders so Phoebe could see above the standing, cheering crowd -- and a huge smile broke over Phoebe’s face.

The Brewers won the game, 3-1, capped by closer John Axford striking out the side in the top of the ninth.

As we drove away from the stadium, I asked Phoebe if she had a fun day.

She replied, “Yeah, it was a fun day because the Brewers were good winners today!”


Summer vacation: Day 3

It’s been said many times that the only things we do during our trips to The Farm are eat, sleep, read and watch movies. The lack of cable television, let alone the poor reception for any network television, and no Internet connectivity, have a lot to do with that. There’s no cell phone reception and the nearest town -- I said town, not city -- is about a 20-minute drive. The home-cooked food is always filling and the sleep is sublime.

We do our share of hiking and exploring, too. And I suppose doing puzzles and playing games should be added to that list of things we do as well. I finished off a fun 1,000 piece puzzle yesterday afternoon. The photo depicted a spread of colorful yarns and needles and other knitting accessories.

Having Phoebe around adds a whole new element to The Farm escape. Phoebe’s Aunt Jessi and Cousin Isaac -- or, as Phoebe is calling him, “Little Brother Isaac” -- were at the farm to greet us Thursday night, and they spent the better part of their time together chasing one another, filling the house with loud shrieks and giggles.

As for the movies, Phoebe is getting her fill of Disney thrills. She’s watched “Cinderella” multiple times, “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.” “Fantasia” is playing as I write this. And there’s a whole lot more in the media cabinet where those came from.

At night, once we can get Phoebe to bed, we bring out the adult movies. At the farm there’s a treasure trove of blockbusters and unknowns, thanks to a lot of video store clearance sales and second-hand store pickups.

So Thursday night, we laid a handful of nominees on the table. We settled on “Rachel Getting Married,” the 2009 flick starring Anne Hathaway as a sister-of-the-bride who’s navigating rehab and trying to put behind her a history of personal crises.

I admire Anne Hathaway and remembered being interested in seeing the film when it was in theaters. So my anticipation was high going-in.

The film didn’t quite live up, however. I appreciated the artistic value of it and it’s depictions of diversity and one family’s life. But …

I’m not quite sure what the film was about. Nothing was resolved. There was no closure to the story. … The scenes felt terribly disjointed, too. There is a scene about halfway through the film with people performing and toasting at a wedding rehearsal dinner, where Hathaway’s Kym gives a cringe-worthy toast. That scene dragged on for so long, it felt as though it made up half the movie.

And what was up with all of the random people throughout the house without any explanation? And oh, did that violin music grate on me. … No, us. As the credits rolled, no one had made an issue of it until finally Kates moved for the DVD player to turn it off and helped us realize all of us were thinking the same thing.

I give it a D.

Last night, we popped in “Vantage Point.” It was unfamiliar to Kates and I, but the description on the back of the DVD case was intriguing -- not to mention a strong cast that includes Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker and Sigourney Weaver.

The plot revolved around a counter-terrorism summit in Spain, where the U.S. president is struck down by an assassin. As the movie plays out, the final minutes before the assassination are played out repeatedly, each from a different character’s point of view. It’s a thriller from beginning to end, with each twist more surprising than the last.

The film’s only downfall is the high number of truly unbelievable feats. There’s no way that some of the characters should be walking after an explosion that takes place in a courtyard packed with people there to see the president. Then there’s an intense car chase where Dennis Quaid’s character inexplicably keeps his car in one piece and even avoids a crash when a truck is catapulted and dropped at what appears to be a few feet in front of his car -- which is traveling 90 mph.

Nonetheless, it is a movie and the far-fetchedness isn’t enough to take away from the twists and thrills that carry the rest of the film. I give it a B+.