Summertime In Wisconsin

Now that the weather has finally, mercifully warmed up, it’s time to take a look at some of the more fun summertime activities that one can take part in in this great state.

Depending on what sort of activity you’re looking to partake in, the state of Wisconsin offers a plethora of options, one of which I’m sure will be something you can enjoy. Seeing that it would be too large of an article to highlight every single activity you can enjoy while here, I’m going to highlight a few based on things I know I would like to do.

Let’s start with swimming. I’m certain I’m not alone in enjoying a nice swim on a hot summer day. Wisconsin has you covered here in spades, with a variety of places to swim throughout the state. The link above shows you plenty of legitimate swimming pools to go to, though I’m sure some of the more industrious people out there will want to just find their local pond or river and go for it there. To them I say, there are more than enough options to keep you swimming all summer long.

Wisconsin River. Courtesy of mchsi.com

Wisconsin River. Courtesy of mchsi.com

I understand that not all of you are going to want to spend your entire summer soaking in various bodies of water. Maybe you want to check out the lush forests and beautiful scenery that Wisconsin has to offer. Maybe you’re a hiker and want to know if there are any good trails out here. I’ve got you covered here, don’t worry. Depending on your experience level with hiking, and how far you actually feel like walking, there are more than enough trails of varying length and difficulty to keep you walking.

For the beginner or someone just looking for a brisk hike, the Loew Lake Trail is a 5 mile hike that is both family and dog friendly, so get your pooch some exercise while seeing scenic Wisconsin. This trail doesn’t have facilities or water along the way, so be sure to bring your own.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Scuppernong Trail is 5.5 miles that covers the Kettle-Moraine State Forest. It’s a more diverse terrain, so be prepared to do some hiking on this one; however, it does offer water and camping facilities, so you don’t have to tackle everything all at once. There’s no mention of whether the trail is pet friendly, so you may want to make sure it’s okay to bring your furry friends with you before you set out.

Scuppernong Trail Map. Courtesy of outdoordeparture.wordpress.com

Scuppernong Trail Map. Courtesy of outdoordeparture.wordpress.com

As for me? I’m planning on tackling the Pike Lake Trail, a 3.2 mile trail that goes right by the Pike Lake. It’s dog-friendly, so I’ll be bringing my Jack Russell/Rat Terrier mix along to get some swimming in. It offers a beach area for those that just want to relax and work on their tan. Maybe I’ll see you out there?

Pike Lake Trail sign, courtesy of everytrail.com

Pike Lake Trail sign, courtesy of everytrail.com

There are plenty of things to do in Wisconsin during the summer, many of which I couldn’t even begin to touch on here. I’m interested to hear, what are you folks planning to do this summer? Exploring the state, working, what will you do to make the most of this wonderful weather we’re finally getting?

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The Weirder Side of Wisconsin

After another blog post I recently wrote ended on a bit of a heavy note, I struggled to think of what to write on next. I wanted something that would make you folks laugh, and see the funnier side of this great state I’ve been happy to call home for almost two years, and I think I’ve found it. Let’s talk about the weirder side of Wisconsin.

Dumb Laws

Oh yes, Wisconsin has its share of dumb laws on the books. All enforceable, all legal; though I have no way of knowing how often they actually get enforced. Here are a couple of my favorites from the website DumbLaws.com:

  • “Margarine may not be substituted in restaurants unless it is requested by the customer.” That’s good I suppose. They can’t cheap out on you with the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” stuff.
  • “Whenever two trains meet at an intersection of said tracks, neither shall proceed until the other has.” It’s amazing anything gets accomplished via train around here.
  • “Livestock have the right of way on public roads.” This seems like a law that would be right at home in Texas, as well.
  • “It is illegal to wake a fireman when he is asleep.” I’m amazed any buildings are left standing around here.
  • “You cannot worry a squirrel.” I don’t… how would… what about… never mind.

If you thought those were interesting, check out the site I linked above, there are a ton more than I didn’t put here just because I didn’t have room. But don’t fear, laws aren’t the only weird things we’ve got around here, there are also some pretty strange tourist attractions as well.

Strange Attractions

Here are some of the stranger places you’ve got to make a stop at if you ever find yourself in the great state of Wisconsin:

  • Hayward, WI: Home of the World’s Largest Fiberglass Fish and National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame
    The World's Largest Fiberglass Fish. Courtesy of RoadsideAmerica.com

    The World’s Largest Fiberglass Fish. Courtesy of RoadsideAmerica.com

    The fish in question is a four story tall muskie that’s as long as a Boeing 757. In case you were wondering: yes, you can go inside the muskie. The Hall of Fame itself features over 3,000 entries in its world record book and over 5,000 fishing lures, 200 types of rods and reels, over 400 mounted fish and a separate area for their outboard motor collection. If you even remotely like fishing, or just want to see a big fiberglass fish, you have to stop here.

  • Wisconsin Dells, WI: Home of the Museum of Historic Torture Devices
    I'll stand, thanks. Courtesy of jurnii.com

    I’ll stand, thanks. Courtesy of jurnii.com

    This one isn’t quite as family friendly as the one above. Or maybe it is, who am I to say what families go for these days? Either way, there’s some interesting stuff to be seen here if you can get past the fact that devices of the sort you’ll see were actually used on people at some point in history. Want to see how rats were used to torture people? They’ve got that. Want to see a chair covered in spikes that unfortunate souls were strapped into? You’re covered here. Want to let your kids see what it’s like to sit in the fake electric chair that’s “safe for all ages?” Well, they’re your kids, but I’d advise against it.

  • Birnamwood, WI: Home of the World’s Largest Badger
    Just as advertised. From RoadSideAmerica.com

    Just as advertised. From RoadSideAmerica.com

    Once set atop a gas station in the area, then sold to the local Badger County Gift Store, what remains of the once 40 foot tall badger is planted in the ground with one paw coming out of the dirt, giving the impression that the badger itself has been buried up to the neck. Where did the rest of the body go, you may ask? I couldn’t honestly tell you, nor am I sure I’d want to know what someone would want with 30-odd feet of badger statue body. If you get the chance, though, take a detour. If nothing else it will make for a cool photo.

These are just a few of the weird things you’ll find in Wisconsin, and there are plenty more. I won’t spoil them all for you here, though, because then you wouldn’t have any surprises waiting for you once you get here.

Now I’d like to hear from you: What kind of dumb laws exist in your city/state? Anything that actually gets enforced? How about weird tourist attractions. Anything your area claims as a source of pride? Got the “World’s Largest ____” out there? Tell me about it!

Wisconsin On Tap

This blog came to life from a comment I received on a blog I posted about food in Wisconsin. The comment mentioned that I hadn’t said anything about Wisconsin’s strong beer culture, and I replied that I could easily write an entire blog post about just that topic. So, here we are, the beers of Wisconsin.

Chances are good if you’re a beer drinker, you’ve had a beer that was brewed here in Wisconsin. Miller Brewing Company, brewer of the ever-popular Miller Lite, is based in Milwaukee as is a local favorite that is starting to gain a wider audience outside the state, Leinenkugel.

The best beer you've never had, yet. Photo from beeradvocate.com

The best beer you’ve never had, yet. Photo from beeradvocate.com

Leinenkugel is popular for their seasonal beers such as Summer Shandy and Oktoberfest, which, when in season, can be found at many homes and pretty much any gathering in the state. A comparable sort of beer from Texas would be Shiner Bock, which is famous in its particular neck of the woods, but relatively unknown elsewhere. Imagine my surprise when I was able to find a six-pack of it at my local Festival Foods!

Another beer some of you younger folks may be more familiar with is Pabst Blue Ribbon, or PBR as it’s more commonly known in dive bars and backyard parties. This beer is a little different in that, while it was originally brewed in Milwaukee it is currently based of out Los Angeles. This may sour its reputation among Wisconsin loyalists, but to the college student on a budget it doesn’t matter where it comes from, the price is right.

Not to let all the big breweries have all the fun, Wisconsin is also rich in tradition when it comes to craft beers. There’s a group called the Wisconsin Brewers Guild whose mission is to bring Wisconsin craft beer brewing back to the point it was once at and promote craft brewing around the state. They regularly host events and their membership includes brewers from all over the state.

Now, to get a little serious on everyone for a second, not everything about the state’s love affair with beer is good. One of the first results I got when Googling “Wisconsin and” was “Wiconsin and drinking,” and while to many people it’s a funny stereotype, it rings painfully true throughout the state. One need only look at this recent article from JSOnline to see that Wisconsin’s love with drinking regularly costs them almost $7 billion, with taxpayers picking up the bill. The state is also 30% higher on average in terms of alcohol consumption than the rest of the country.

In an attempt to not end this post on a downer note, I’m going to say that while it’s okay to drink, be careful. Have a designated driver, know your limits, and don’t do anything stupid. There’s a great culture here of wonderful beers, so take your time and explore them slowly.

The Festivals and Events of Oshkosh

I’ll be honest, when I first moved to Wisconsin I thought there would be nothing here, or at least nothing I was used to. Coming from Denton, TX, I was used to a bustling metropolitan center with a variety of things to do at any given time. I didn’t think I would find that here, but I was wrong. Not only does Wisconsin, and Oshkosh in particular, host a lot of events year-round, but they are some of the most fun things I’ve ever experienced.

Let’s start first with the one that’s the most unique: EAA Airventure. For those of you who don’t know EAA is the Experimental Aircraft Association, and Airventure is their yearly gathering. It brings an average of 500,000 people and 10,000 planes into Oshkosh from all over the world. The best comparison I can think of is the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally that occurs in South Dakota every year. In many ways it’s the same sort of thing. It’s considered a rite of passage to bring your plane into Oshkosh much the same as it is to bring your bike into Sturgis after days on the road. The event, while great, can be a nightmare for local retail workers, as I can attest. That’s a small price to pay, however, for the chance to see more airplanes in one day than I’ve seen in the rest of my life put together.

Onto the more traditional types of festivals, Oshkosh hosts two large concert series throughout the year: Rock USA and Country USA. Both of these are genre variations on the same basic premise: 3-4 day festivals featuring a variety of artists from that festivals genre of choice. Both events bring in over 150,000 people to the Oshkosh area, where they regularly camp out for the duration of the events. Again, these events put a strain on local retail workers but generally the events are fun all around, when it doesn’t rain.

Now, without being too biased, let me state that this last festival is easily my favorite of the events offered by Oshkosh: Irish Fest. An event put on yearly towards the end of May to celebrate Irish heritage and culture, Irish Fest is typically held over four days and features a variety of events, displays, and cultural highlights. It’s a great opportunity to grab a Guinness (be wary of long lines) and check out the offerings of the festival. This year, as in years past, Gaelic Storm will be the headliner for the Friday and Saturday portions of the event. I’ve attended Irish Fest the past two years, and trust me, you don’t want to miss Gaelic Storm’s show, even if you’ve never heard their music.

These are the big events that go on in Oshkosh every year, but I’m sure there a lot of little ones that I don’t even know about. Are their any festivals/events that happen in your area that people look forward to all year? What about events unique to your area, any of those?

A Little Taste of Wisconsin

The main reason people travel is to experience things they don’t get at home, be it the scenery, the wildlife, the weather or in most cases the food. Food is a universal necessity, and yet there is so much variety in the local diet that you can find a world of variety just by driving a couple states over. That’s what I experienced when I moved to Wisconsin from Texas.

Now to be fair, Texas isn’t exactly known as the land of dietary responsibility and great eating habits. I can’t count the number of times someone I was dining with sent a steak back at a restaurant complaining that it was too well done when they’d ordered it rare.

Courtesy of saawinternation.org

That’s more like it. (Image courtesy of saawinternation.org)

Of all the ways to eat in Texas, barbecue is the tops. Be it brisket, hot dogs, hamburgers, or some other meat I’m not sure I’d want to know about. If it’s edible, they’ll grill it. Not to say that grilling isn’t big in Wisconsin, because it absolutely is. People make it a point to grill on Packers game days, and pretty much any other occasion they can find. When they grill here, however, it’s the brat that reigns supreme.

All hail the king. (Photo courtesy of American Concession Supply)

All hail the king. (Photo courtesy of American Concession Supply)

Those delicious looking links of meat above are bratwurst. A German staple, bratwurst is typically found at every barbecue, cookout, picnic, and occasion when someone might eat outside in the state of Wisconsin. Granted, they aren’t exclusive to Wisconsin, but I’ve never seen them in such high concentrations as here. In the interest of being open with you, I should confess that they are delicious.

Now I know what most of you are thinking out there: “What about cheese?” Wisconsin is known as the dairy state for a good reason (sorry, California, but it’s really not even close), and it’s their cheese. Again ,I can hear you out there: “But they have cheese everywhere,” you’re telling me. While that is true, it is only when I moved here that I became acquainted with the cheese curd.

Cheese curds. Don't let the look fool you, they rock. (Courtesy of thenibble.com)

Cheese curds. Don’t let the look fool you, they rock. (Courtesy of thenibble.com)

Unless you live in an area with a cheese factory, chances are better than good you’ve never had the opportunity to sample these delicious little nuggets, as they’re ideally eaten within hours of being made. The freshest of these are known as “squeakers,” as the air trapped within them causes them to create a squeaky feeling against the teeth when bitten into. It’s not uncommon to see fresh curds in all your local grocery stores on days when cheese is generally made. The process for making them isn’t overly complicated, but the idea of consuming them as fresh as possible is what I would imagine keeps them from making it further out into the country.

This is only a small sample of the food offerings that Wisconsin holds for those who visit. I could really go on for quite a while about this as I’ve had plenty of time to sample the goods, but that would leave me less time to eat. So, in parting, I’d like to ask you about your favorite foods, or something native to where you come from that you haven’t found here, or people didn’t know about? What’s your favorite food?

Sports, or “What I Know About The Packers.”

Wisconsin is like many places in this country in that they have sports teams to call their own. There’s baseball, basketball, football, you name it. However, it’s the level to which Wisconsinites take their love of sports that truly makes them a unique place in the world.

Depending on who you ask, you’re likely to hear that Wisconsin sports begin and end with the Green Bay Packers, the state’s NFL team. People in Wisconsin live and die by this team, and if you’re not into watching the games it’s not too hard to tell if they won or lost on Sunday by the demeanor of the people you’ll encounter on Monday. These fans, affectionately called “Cheeseheads,” make it a point to attend every home game at the team’s Lambeau Field, which has sold out every home game since 1960 and whose waiting list for season tickets is estimated to be 30-years long.

Raji-Cheesehead

The Cheesehead hat, worn by fans and, yes, players alike. Photo courtesy of Getty Images and The Huffington Post

While the Packers are easily the most followed team in the state, the University of Wisconsin Badgers also enjoy a wide following. Their mascot, Bucky The Badger, can be seen on a variety of clothing and the team’s televised games attract healthy viewing numbers.

Bucky The Badger, mascot of the University of Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of FanPop.com

Bucky The Badger, mascot of the University of Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of FanPop.com

Less discussed, but even more important to some people, are the Milwaukee Brewers, the state’s MLB team. Led by the 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun, the team went to the   National League Championship Game, but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, who went on to win the World Series that year. More locally to the Fox Valley area where I currently reside, the        Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who are actually the Brewers’ farm team, offer good baseball at great prices. Traditionally tickets have been in the $10-$20 range for a game, with offers and promotions bringing that price down even more. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

This is just a brief overview of the plethora of options available in Wisconsin when it comes to sports. Whatever your preferences, you’re sure to find something to enjoy, and maybe even a new team to root for. Personally, I know coming from Texas there was always a joke about how badly the Cowboys would lose on any given Sunday, so it’s nice to be in a place where the sports teams are a source of pride. Where do you hail from, or what teams do you root for if your team isn’t worth getting upset over?

I leave you with this fan-made tribute song to the Packers, Lambeau, and all things Cheesehead. Enjoy.

Welcome!

Welcome to The World Around Us, a blog that hopes to explore the world, one place at a time. For the time being that place will be the state of Wisconsin. You can find out a little about me over at the About Page, but for those of you who don’t feel like doing the extra clicking, I’ll give you the rundown here.

My name is Jason, and I am not from around here. I was born in Sturgis, South Dakota, which some of you might recognize as the site of the world famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The event sees several hundred thousand people flock to this normally quiet town once a year from all parts of the world. It’s kind of a big deal, is what I’m getting at.

Photo Courtesy of Thunderpress.net

Photo Courtesy of Thunderpress.net

I was a resident of South Dakota until I was 10 years old, at which point my parents packed us up and moved us to the small town of Trinity, Texas; population 2,721 as of the 2000 Census. I spent the better part of my young life in Texas, until I moved to Oshkosh, Wisconsin in May 2011. All of this is a roundabout way of saying I’ve been around and seen some things, and I can honestly say Wisconsin is an entirely new experience for me.

Location of Trinity, Texas. Photo comes from Trinity's Wikipedia Entry

Location of Trinity, Texas. Photo comes from Trinity’s Wikipedia Entry

I’ve been in Wisconsin now for almost 2 years, and I’ve had a lot of my friends back home ask me questions about the new place I live in. Things like “Do they really eat only cheese?,” “I hear they drink a lot, that true?,” and my favorite, “Does it really snow that much up there?” I’ve heard plenty more questions, though, and that’s what inspired me to start this blog. I realized that there are a lot of people who haven’t been to some of the places I’ve had the privilege to go to. I’m sure they have questions, and I hope to provide some answers.

To do that I plan on highlighting some of the more interesting things I’ve learned about Wisconsin since my arrival here, and sharing them with you in a variety of ways, with photos, news articles, and links to things that may enhance things I say.

So, I’ve done enough talking about myself for now, and I’d like to hear about some of my readers. What are some interesting places you’ve lived in? Do they have any odd claims to fame, or things that might make someone turn off the interstate to check them out? I’d love to hear about it!