Category Archives: Wisconsin

Oh, California

Casper is an Oregon boy and always felt a little superior to California in all its radical, liberal, hippie glory. And there is a sense that you could get lost there – forever – never getting out of your Cali bubble.

But, shit. I miss it. And Joni’s word’s just make it clearer: California might just win me over for good one day.

If you have followed this blog for more than a few months, you know how frequently our plans change. Mexico when Casper’s passport is ready, but until then? Oakland? Austin? Asheville? Seattle to get my wisdom tooth out? And even once we have the passport…Vancouver for Casper’s initiation? Manitoba to see his maternal extended family? And Jess is saying Mexico really is more dangerous than it used to be so maybe somewhere farther south?

It is sometimes hard on the heart to have plans this open. It can be embarrassing to say, yet again, “Oh, that old plan? We’ve moved on.” The plans we make give us direction, but the constantly changing part of them keeps us tuned into what our hearts want and where the universe is directing us.

It is hard to find structure for life when place is up in the air and each day is totally open. What would you do if you had the time and space? It’s a harder question to answer than you might think. And it brings you in touch – fast – with whether you have a deep, clear purpose/path.



I haven’t really written about Madison, I suppose. We were only there for a few days and it was pretty hectic emotionally, but I’ve been wanting to say a word about some of the folks we stayed with down there.

A week or so before we got to Madison, I looked up what Food Not Bombs action was happening in the area and got in touch with one of the folks who is starting it. Madison used to have a group, but it’s just being re-started now. It was so great to sit with a group of organizers! There was an agenda, checklists, people volunteering for different jobs… I miss that! I haven’t organized for years!

After the meeting, we all walked to a church that gave out free bread. Two of the organizers, Kristin and Jackie, offered to share their apartment with us for a night and we were quite gracious. One of our couch surfing hosts had flaked on us and we were not looking forward to more cold nights in the car.

Farm animals need love to!

Jackie, originally from Virginia, was living on Kristin’s couch and both work at the Heartland Farm Sanctuary. We never made it out to visit (Casper was busy puking the day we were supposed to go out there), but we wanted to tell people about it anyway.

Their mission is to “provide care for farm animals in need, nurture people through the human-animal bond, and foster respect and kindness toward animals and each other.” Pretty rad, right? They run a farm animal rescue, not just saving cats and dogs like a humane society, but horses, cows, sheep, goats and more! They also tame and find homes for feral cats, lead barn tours and educate folks about human treatment of animals.

Here’s the info Kristin sent me about it:

“We were founded in 2010 by Dana Barre when she came across this staggering fact: Wisconsin is home to more than 35 million farm animals, but does not have a single dedicated farm animal shelter. With nowhere for abused and unwanted farm animals to go, Dana was determined to create a safe haven that they could call their own. At the same time, Dana saw the possibilities for helping special needs and at-risk youth through contact with rescued farm animals, and teaching kids to treat all animals with compassion and respect.”

Check them out at and visit if you’re in the area!

We Love Libraries!

The Winona public library.

We do, we do! Unfortunately, we have spent so much time in so many as of late that I am having a hell of a time remembering each individual one. And I want to! So, hopefully, it’ll become a common subject of my photographs.

In Cincinnati, we mostly went to the Corryville library but would occasionally branch out (no pun intended!) to the Clifton and Main libraries. On our way to Chicago, we spent several hours at the Michigan City library. In Chicago, we somehow never made it to the main library, but visited at least two other locations. In Milwaukee, there were two we visited, depending on what neighborhood we were in, and in Madison just one – but we loved it dearly.

In the area I grew up in, we went to the Glenwood City library and the Boyceville library. I know the librarians at both branches and surprised them when I showed up out of the blue!

It’s not just wifi that attracts us, though that offering is essential to our travels. We have two laptops, but only one connects to the internet. While Casper is online, I have done everything from making stencils, sewing, reading, and painting in the car to reading magazines, books (sewing, palmistry, astrology, short stories, poetry, picture books, psychology/mental health, the DSM, travel guides to the Midwest) and newspapers. I’ve also worked on my journal quite a bit in libraries: gluing, taping, writing, sketching, etc.

Casper tends to find a comfy spot with a newspaper or the Atlantic and read, though he’s started also dozing off in these spots. (The similarities between him and my father continue to grow…) When I’m online, he also works on his tarot project, watches shows/videos on the other laptop, and finds books on symbols, esotericism, Golden Dawn tarot, etc.

We can be weird in libraries; they can’t kick us out and the employees don’t stare much even if we’re looking particularly disheveled. They usually have maps for the local area and event flyers. Plus, they have bathrooms. And we both have a long history of adoring, appreciating and attending libraries. As Thomas Jefferson said, we “cannot live without books.”

St. Paul/Minneapolis: Food at Andy’s

Until I met Casper, I had a hard time eating any food unless it was mostly sugar. Pretty much everything made me sick. It wasn’t just dairy, or gluten, or whatnot. It had no pattern. I have since realized that it was caused by my stomach being tense. My meds have helped that symptom of my anxiety, but Casper’s love of food and eagerness to feed me well has made me want to enjoy food.

With his help, I’ve tried cheeses, breads, meats, and more that I had never consciously eaten. I used to eat sandwiches by taking them apart, eating each ingredient by itself; all the flavors together were too much for me. Growing up, I was famous for eating plain pasta and plain rice (sometimes with a little salt, but no oil or cheese) and plain bagels. Now, we’ve learned that bland, processed carbs cause a serotonin boost and, therefore, many depressed people become attached to pastas, rice, etc just like me.

This is the only food related photo I could find... This is me eating a mango in Madison, pantsless.

Casper lets me eat how I want, but he encourages me to combine flavors. He suggests savory instead of sweet; seasoned instead of bland. Sometimes he makes fatal errors – the spices and oil he feels he must add to any pasta has several times made it inedible to me – but, mostly, he is revolutionizing my idea of food. I used to say that, if I could, I would give up eating all together and just take nutrients pills. Casper is making me love food.

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Milwaukee: Our Meal at St Ben’s

A pretty house in Jason's neighborhood.

After having our long talk and scanty breakfast, I can’t rightly remember what all we did. We were limited in terms of sightseeing since we were saving our gas. I’m pretty sure we drove to a new library and did our usual thing. We also left my phone charger there, which ended up having many repercussions since the library wasn’t open again until Monday.

That evening, we parked in Jason’s neighborhood and walked the several miles to a free community meal at a church called St Ben’s. Some parts of Milwaukee appear to be as run down and vacant as Cincinnati, though more industrial than slummy. I was worried about the walk (my usual lack of energy + a lack of food) but it turned out to be quite nice.

Lots of people were gathered outside the church doors as we made our way inside. We arrived near the end of the meal and the line was short. We were graciously served delicious meatloaf as well as milk, coffee, dessert, fruit and more. It was the first time in days that we’d had a complete meal, much less one at a table with clean silverware.

Receiving free food when you’re hungry is an incredibly humbling experience. I wanted to cry and then hug every one of the servers. So many people giving so much without asking any questions. I didn’t have to explain, defend or qualify myself.

I felt weird being white, young, from a middle class background, relatively educated. I was afraid someone would question us being there, question why we weren’t taking more advantage of our privilege, question why we were “choosing” to be low income. But no one did.

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Madison: Georgia’s

Saturday morning, Jason slept in so we didn’t have to leave too early. He had told us at the beginning of the stay that he had another surfer scheduled for Saturday afternoon so we’d need to leave before that. We packed up, cleaned up and drove off. Jason was still in bed looking sleepy and obviously enjoying his day in.

Again…not really sure what we did on this day. My daily diary just says, “Slept at Georgia’s.”

Georgia, our second Milwaukee Couch Surfing host, lived a few miles from Jason in a one bedroom apartment. She has a degree in packaging and has a job designing boxes, but she’s also a musician and an artist.

We arrived outside of Georgia’ apartment building around 6 or 7, but our phone was dead (and the charger was at a library that wouldn’t be open until Monday; it was Friday) so we had no way to let her know we’d arrived. We knew her apartment number, but the door to the building itself was locked. The buzzers didn’t work and no one seemed to be coming or going.

We tried to find wifi on her front step, but no luck so Casper walked to a nearby café to email her. He returned and, just then, a man came out of the building. We went in, knocked, met Georgia, settled in. Later that night, two of her friends came over to “base fade”, as Casper calls it, which apparently means drinking some before going out. I, to no one’s surprise, had not heard the term before.

One of the friends who came over was another Milwaukee couch surfing host who we had contacted us. All five of us hung out for a while, chatting, and then they went out to some clubs.

I slept on the couch; Casper on the floor. Just as Casper does better going without eating, he does better with inadequate sleep, too. Either one of those things and I’m a freakin’ mess. (That’s me justifying the couch vs. floor arrangement.)

Milwaukee: A Lack of Petrol

Salem exploring! He doesn't mind the harness at all, though he did escape it once. This was the first time we used it - on the lawn of a Milwaukee library.

The gas light turned on somewhere in Milwaukee. It was making Casper very nervous but I was less concerned. We slowly used up the last few dollars of cash we had, but it wasn’t much and the gas light – or, the nightmare it warned us of – became a regular topic of panic and discussion. We were soon down to 55 cents total. We had a day or two of waiting left before his tax refund transferred to my PayPal account.

I have never run out of gas before, but I’ve definitely jumped from dying cars on busy roads to push them out of the way of traffic before their momentum petered out. Plus, we had just watched a Seinfeld in which Kramer had exuberantly pushed a car past the gas light stage to see just how much gas was left.

By walking some and driving a whole hell of a lot less, we somehow managed to not run out of gas. We stayed within a few miles of Jason’s house for two or three days before the money finally came through on May 22, Casper’s birthday. We immediately drove to a gas station and gleefully filled up the tank of our car, our home, our trusty steed with the ill-begotten juices that make our current lifestyle possible.

Milwaukee: the First Morning

The only unfortunate thing about staying with Jason was that he left each morning around 7am and only had one key for his door that only locked from the outside. So, after our first night, we were up and out of the house by 7am. We packed ourselves back into the car, drove to a nearby park and sat feeling dazed and half asleep for a while.

We were both feeling grumpy but it was a sunny day so I convinced Casper to lay out our blanket, rest, talk and sort out the day.

Casper was feeling off and we had a good long talk about that. I think I cried pretty good at one point, but that’s kind of the usual regardless of whose emotional health we’re discussing. (And, after several years of being unable to cry when it had always been a saving grace in times of panic, it’s a blessing how freely I cry these days).

Casper nomming on saltine buffet night in Palatine, Illinois.

Eventually, we talked our way beyond the tenseness and stress and enjoyed our time in the sun. We headed down the trail that led from the park along a beautiful river. We cut down on a smaller path so we could be right on the riverbank and found a fire pit. Casper was just about to really engage in the wilderness when I brought up the unfortunate fact that I was weak with hunger and unable to paint due to panic.

This curtailed Casper’s plans and I felt guilty about that, but no one wants to see me when I get hungry. I get incredibly weak and fuzzy-brained and grumpy. It’s just a fact that we adapt to because there’s really no way around it. I am on two different psychiatric meds; the least we can do is make sure I am fed.

So we walked back up the trail to the car. We acquired some food, which if I remember correctly was along the lines of the saltine buffet we had our last night in Palatine. Because saltines are cheap and we were broke, we had tuna with saltines, beans with saltines, and a little bit of cheese with saltines. I’m really not sure exactly what we ate that morning in Milwaukee, but I’m guessing it was along those lines.

Wisconsin Memories: Jason’s

My daily diary and Fruity, Jason's adorable beagle.

That first day in Milwaukee, we woke up in the car and drove to a nearby library to get online. We confirmed a place to stay for that night and, I think, just spent most of the day there at the library.

I keep a daily diary to jot down the basics of where and how we are each day. I started it August 13, when I was living in my parents’ basement last year. Originally, it was to monitor my meds/moods and to help me live each day intentionally. On August 17, it says, “told Mamá about Ohio.” Six days after that, I was on the road to Cincinnati with Casper, and I kept up the daily entries until November 3, 2010.

I picked it up again May 1, 2011, the day we left Cincinnati. It’s just the basics: usually half of a half-sized page per day. And sometimes, as was the case for our first full day in Milwaukee, it says much, much less.

Jason was a dashing young man with a sweet dog, a messy apartment (he was moving at the time), a passion for bicycles and a job in advertising. As you can see, I’m not really sure what we did on Thursday the 19th of May, but I do know we spent the night on Jason’s futon.

The comfy futon was in what I presume was the living room. Jason had rad art on the walls and bikes in various states of completion throughout the apartment. It was a really cozy place to be and Fruity, the pup, was a beagle of epically sweet proportions. Jason had a cup in his bathroom that said “I LOVE BEAGLES”.

Wisconsin Memories: Hello Milwaukee!

Bundled up for the walk to our fort in Palatine, Illinois.

The last day in Palatine, Illinois, when we were stressed and depressed about Casper’s wallet being lost, Casper’s tax refund came through. This is incredible for multiple reasons:

1. I did his taxes for him and it was my first time doing not-super-simple taxes. He worked in two states last year and we had to figure out the depreciation of his car. I was dreading the call/letter saying we were being audited.
2. It was a lot of money. Which was one of the reasons I thought we might get audited. But no! Instead, they just gave us the money!
3. This happened, of course, the day we were going to use the very last of our money to pay for gas to Milwaukee. We weren’t planning on eating for a while.

Such a blessing! I’m proud of my tax work. And Casper’s anxious depression since the loss of the wallet lifted as he realized that what we’ve been betting on this whole trip – that the world is good and will catch us when we fall – had actually come through. I keep that optimistic attitude much easier than he does; he has this pit of pessimism that calls to him daily, hourly. So seeing him escape out of that was relieving and exciting.

Of course, the money was deposited into Casper’s account, to which he had lost his ATM card in the wallet. So we transferred the money to my PayPal account – our main banking location. This meant a good three to four day wait for the money to come through. So even though we had very little gas and 55 cents, we ended up leaving Palatine/the Chicago area feeling like we’d been spared and blessed.

In Milwaukee, we were hoping to stay in this big house that hosted shows and whatnot. It sounded like the kind of place we want to end up more often – an unorganized community-type house where we can come and go as we please, set up a little home in a corner or empty room, and stay for a week without a big fuss.

Unfortunately, a combination of our phone being dead a lot and the dude in charge at the house not communicating frequently, we spent our first night in Milwaukee in the car, facing a park. (And, in fact, never actually made it to that rad house). It was one of our better car-sleeping experiences, but we were pretty excited to find a bed for the next night.

Downing: photo post!

Downing: Staying with Peggy

My valley!

Peggy was an incredible host. She works nights and spends her days catching up on sleep and packing up her house. I honestly did not see her sit down the whole time we were there, except for half an hour when we first arrived.

She’s a busy bee. She’s a traveling nurse – working everywhere from Boston to Sacramento for a few months at a time – and has decided to rent out her house while she’s gone. The renters move in July 1 and she has years and years of life to pack up. We helped her out some with weeding and moving a big pile of rotting wood.

Me and Casper adopted a midnight to 9 or 10am sleep schedule – particularly nice since we’d been on a stretch of four and five hour nights. Peggy made sure we knew we could eat any of her food, go through her humungous garage sale pile, and generally make ourselves at home. It’s been such a huge relief for us to be able to settle in for a good week. I even brought my suitcase inside! I’ve never done that! We never stayed with anyone long enough to make it worth it.

Casper doing his morning stretches in our room at Peggy's.

Notable moments from our stay here:

  • Seeing four deer play in Peggy’s front yard. They were chasing each other around and having a grand old time!
  • Salem appearing after hours of absence with spider webs in his whiskers, ear whiskers, and eyebrows. Peggy thanked him for helping her clean up.
  • Visiting the Mabel Tainter. It’s where I went to church (Unitarian Universalist) growing up. I used to take the small path through the woods between our house and Peggy’s every Sunday and go to church with her and her kids. It’s a historic building and they’ve renovated it in the past few years. Casper was awe-struck.
  • Chess. In Madison, we found a $7 chess board on Craigslist and we’ve played four or five games since then. Casper is better than me, but it’s never a slaughter and I’m getting better. Our games – played on couches, in the car, in parks or in cafés – last about 45 minutes. I’ve always enjoyed chess but never had the attention span to really focus. I do now, though, and am so grateful that I can spend an hour with my brain locked in on the little wooden pieces.
  • Playing guitar on Peggy’s porch. My free Nashville guitar is staying in better tune these days and my mom sent me my music book! So much guitar playing. My fingers are getting calloused and I love it. My voice is getting better, too.
  • Visiting neighbors I grew up with. Our last evening, we went walking at dusk, when it was no longer 99 degrees out, and stopped in at Vicky and Terry’s. Only Terry was home and she gave us popsicles and then joined us on our walk down to Stephanie and Carol’s. They had visitors over – Craig and Lucy, who were part of our community out here and whose farm we used to milk cows at – and we all sat in their front yard and chatted. Their 7 year old kept us entertained with impossible riddles.

Standing in the middle of the street outside the Boyceville library.

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Downing: Hometown

Standing beside my hometown's population sign.

We arrived at Peggy’s on the 31st of May. A month on the road and we’ve made it home! Well, my home at least.

My family moved from Washington to Wisconsin in the early 90s, when I was a toddler. We moved out here with Peggy and her family. Her two kids are about the same age as my sister and I. We bought 80 acres of land from Jody and Kurt. They and their two sons became a huge part of our life. We lived several places for a few months at a time before we moved on to our land.

By that time, Peggy had gotten divorced and she and her ex each took ten acres of the land. My family took the 20 acres in between. Peggy lived in Boyceville, a nearby town of about 1000 people, before building a lovely house on her land and moving back to the country. Her kids were homeschooled at first but later went to Boyceville.

The view from Peggy's front porch, south towards the land I grew up on.

My family built our splendid home over many years, moving back to Washington in 2003 when the Lyme disease and winters got too bad. The house we built was far from normal; running on solar powered and having the fridge in the mudroom were the least of its unique features. We had a latrine; no hot water at the sink; a wood stove; unpainted walls; a claw foot bathtub; and electrical wiring on the outside of all the walls. It was home; it was a beautiful, glorious house.

And still is, actually. My family built that house by hand. It was the only house my parents’ have ever built and it is clear they learned construction as they went along. Since we left in 2003 – a traumatic move for all of us – we have all been back a few times, but no one has gone to see the house. A lady named Terra bought it and though we knew she was planning on farming and keeping the place strange and beautiful, none of us wanted to see our house changed.

But I did, this time around. Terra was gracious enough to let us wander her land as well as tour her house. It’s different now; very different. But I like it. It’s like I had to give up something very precious to me and give it to someone I didn’t know anything about; I didn’t even know her name back then. And now, eight years later, I discover that she has not only kept the heart and soul of the place alive, but that it is still just as unique, cozy and grand as when I left it.

It’s not my home now; not my house. But I’m not sad about that anymore.

Madison Memories: Mustard, Nudity, Etc

Monday morning, we left Jolien’s (a couch surfing host) with our sites on Middleton, less than an hour outside of Madison and home to the Mustard Museum. We stopped in there after repacking/organizing the car in Madison.

I have never seen so much mustard. Seriously. There was herb mustard and horse radish mustard and mustard with whole mustard seeds packed to the brim. They had antique mustard pots from the early 1900s and from around the world. They had vintage (extremely sexist) mustard ads. Apparently, in the 30s and 40s mustard was a pretty new thing; the ads were all about how to use mustard correctly. And how they would make your man strong and happy when at work. They also had a quiz thingie which grabbed the attention of us trivia geeks. Do you know which country exports the most mustard?

From Middleton, we headed to where we had heard a nude beach was. We had to ask directions at a liquor store and then from a canoe rental place but finally found it. There were tons of cars and dozens of bikes parked around the entrance. We joined them and walked a good quarter mile down to the water. It was hot. Casper was still feeling weak from a few days of sickness, but we made it.

So many naked people! Playing volleyball, sunning themselves, wading in the wide, sandy river, boating. I loved it! We took our clothes off pretty quick so we could get sun screen on. A guy named Michael came up and talked to us about the beach. He said, “It looks like this is your first time in the sun this season” and we both laughed. Casper is a ghost (thus the name) and we’re both suspicious of the sun. He burns hard but I just freckle. Either way, we both were kinda glowing from being so untan.

Michael told us that he’s been going to this beach – Mazo Beach, between Sauk City and Mazomanie – for 20 years and is involved in the group that is defending the beach against local religious groups who are trying to shut it down. We’d read about this conflict online, too. He told us that certain parts of our bodies we should apply sunscreen on ourselves instead of letting the other do it and that if we were going to walk anywhere off the beach we should put a towel on.

He said they’d just cut down all the brush around the beach to cut down on the “riff raff”. Since Casper and I were sort of looking for a more private place, we later came up with the stencil idea “we are the riff raff” and are quite proud of it.

We waded and swam. Casper takes a lot longer to get into water than me; I claim it is because I have so much blubber to keep me warm and he is just skin and bones. There was a sandbar half way out into the river that we waded to. The whole river bank and bottom were *so* sandy. Casper found a fist-sized rock with his feet and that was the only rock we ever really detected. The beach was sandy, hot and surrounded on three sides with dense forest. So beautiful!

We spent three hours there and we hadn’t brought books, cards, chess or anything. We just spent three hours – that felt like one – basking, wading, etc.

Heaven. Seriously.

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