Six weeks ago, I flew from San Diego to my parents’ house in Wisconsin. I decided that I needed to spend more time with my grandparents, and also, I wanted to embark on the mammoth project of writing a book. But good grief, with all the mayhem going on around here, sometimes I feel like I could get more writing done sitting in the middle of Times Square.

I exaggerate. There’s no mayhem, per se, but the events calendar here at the Schroeder household has definitely been jam-packed.

Case(s) in point:

Summerfest. Too many years have gone by (five?) since the last time I’ve been in Wisconsin for Summerfest. In case you’re out of the loop, Summerfest is The World’s Largest Music Festival. That’s right, you heard me. It’s The Big Gig, baby. Over 700 bands perform over an 11 day period, on 11 stages throughout the park on Milwaukee’s lakefront. Nearly 1 million people attend each year. Nothing makes me more proud to be a Wisconsinite. Other than the Packers. Or my love for cheese.

Dad and I drink Leine’s while we wait for the Goo Goo Dolls. Favorite band? Not exactly, but their stage happened to be near the place with pulled pork sandwiches.

Lil’ Sis and Mom.

The crowd packs in.

Dinner table before, concert-viewing platform after.

Photography Lessons. What’s this now? Baby birds?

My mom recently bought a Canon Rebel XS, her very first SLR camera. I’ve been teaching her about aperture, shutter speed and how they relate to exposure. Mommy Robin decided to build her nest in the dwarf crabapple tree next to our front porch. A measly three feet off the ground. Naturally, these babies are an easy target subject. Sorry about your lack of proper attire guys, but your fifteen minutes of fame have started.

Nature is a popular subject:

On one of our brisk morning walks, Mom and I saw a bunch of toads sunning themselves next to the water pooled in the cul de sac ditches. When we got back home, I made her get her camera and ride back via bicycle (and I, via my sister’s old scooter) to get some shots.

She also caught this slinky guy warming himself on the stones in our front yard.

And her skills with the macro lens are, dare I say, blooming? (Ouch, I know.)

Freeman Friday Night Live. On Friday nights in the summer, businesses stay open late and the music is live in downtown Waukesha. While the bands rock out, the retail shops spill their wares onto the sidewalks, and people come to drink and be merry.

One of the best spots to catch the live music is out on the patio of Sprizzo Caffe’. The biggest band of the night sets up right across the street. Being at just the right distance, you can enjoy the music and hold a conversation at the same time.

Plus, there’s waitstaff to bring you tasty refreshments like this one:

After dinner and drinks, we perused the shops.

Artsy stuff was everywhere. Like this giant knit garbage can koozie.

Sweets make me loopy.

After catching some music another Friday night, we headed indoors to Sakura for sushi. My aunt Lindy joined us.

The sushi was good, but the dessert was my favorite. This is the first time I’ve had Mo Chi ice cream, and it was fascinating. It wasn’t indulgent like chocolate cake or comforting like warm apple pie, but rather, it was smooth and refreshing, chilly and minty. The green tea ice cream was surrounded with a sweet rice cake, although the “cake” was more the consistency of gelatin. It sounds weird, because it was weird. It was a leap for the palate. But it was good, it was new, and I liked it.

Cooking at Home. Ok so we’ve eaten out quite a bit (definitely more than I eat out normally) but I’ve also cooked for my parents a handful of times too. (And here’s where all of my not eating out has come in handy: I’ve had lots of time to practice in the kitchen.)

Matched with a sauvignon blanc (that Dad and I had to quick grab from the convenience store upon the discovery that not a single bottle of white existed in the house), my pad thai was delicious. Recipe curtousy of iowasthinking.com.

We’ve also cooked out on the grill. We actually had porterhouse steaks, corn on the cob, grilled veggies, and cab, twice. Kudos to Dad, he cooked the steaks to medium-rare perfection.

Quality Time with the Relatives. A visit to Wisconsin wouldn’t be complete without a Schroeder family gathering. This time, the event was my cousin Colin’s high school graduation party. No matter the occasion, the same raucous behavior, witty wordplay and jesting lampoonery (is that a word? if not, it is now) is expected from my dad and his brothers and sisters. They’re like eight Abbott and Costellos all talking at once. And trying to get them to all cut it out (much less smile) for one picture? Ha. Good freakin’ luck.

Triplets-sitting. My mom has been babysitting for this trio (who belong to a family in our church) since they were born. If I happen to be home in Wisconsin when Mom has a date set to babysit, I tag along with her. This time, my mom, her friend Ann and I all went swimming with the girls.

Wisconsin State Fair. My fondness for the Wisconsin State Fair is right on par with Summerfest. As soon as I found out that the fair would coincide with my trip, I told my parents that we had to go. Believe it or not, the main reason I wanted to go wasn’t to drink beer, listen to music, or eat deep-fried food (although we did all of those things).

I was hell-bent on teaching my mom how to use her camera, and the midway at dusk is one of my favorite subjects. And, the blurring rides make the concept of shutter speed easier to understand.

Dinner & A Movie. Since Mom and I will be spending five days in Paris at the end of our trip to Germany (which we leave for in less than two weeks!), we had to see the movie Midnight in Paris. We had dinner beforehand at Roots, a farmer-chef owned restaurant. While we were eating the bartender came out to pluck some fresh mint growing next to our table to make mojitos.

The food was exactly the way I like it: small portions and absolutely freakin delicious.

Although, the onion rings weren’t so small…

The movie was playing at the beautiful Oriental Theater on the Eastside in Milwaukee.

And the verdict? Two thumbs up. Especially if you’ve read A Moveable Feast. The movie takes you back in time to meet Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the rest of the expat writers of the 1920’s.

I Stole the Rebel. It was time I tried out Mom’s SLR myself. I used her macro to get this Mexican Sunflower.

And this little guy. I’m a sucker for tiny toads. (Or is he a frog?)

Oh by the way, the baby birds grew up. (At least now they have feathers.) Mom got this shot.

Out on the Town. My Uncle Dave and Aunt Jayne trekked from Madison to spend a weekend with us. Saturday night we went downtown Milwaukee for drinks at the Ale House, a stroll on the Riverwalk, and dinner at Ryan Braun’s Graffito, a restaurant that does “scratch Italian cooking.”

Granted, I haven’t been writing every minute of every day. But, first of all, that’s impossible. And more importantly, it’s been wonderful to spend time with my family. ☼