Winter Fun in Wisconsin

Cheese-300pxRecently, someone from the deep South asked me, “So what do y’all do in Wisconsin in the winter?” I was surprised. I thought everyone knew what a blast Wisconsin is in January! We have phenomenally fun activities going on all the time here.

First, there are Packer games. The colder it is, the better the turnout. Wisconsinites take great pride in knowing how to dress for these events. Those cheesehead thingies everybody wears? Lined with head-warming uranium-enriched chemicals, this traditional Wisconsin headgear is  made from a secret recipe inspired during somebody’s hours of boredom while freezing in a tree stand, waiting for the legendary thirty-point buck to appear. Basement Packer chapels and decorating our living rooms in gold and green also keep us pretty busy.

People “up nort'” enjoy raking four-foot piles of snow off the roofs of their trailer homes several times during the season. It is great exercise, and although not as exciting, is more fun than having the roof collapse into the living room.

For those who are more inclined to sedentary entertainment, a quiet afternoon spent fuzz-balling your red union suit is guaranteed to enhance your serenity.

You no doubt have heard whispers about the Polar Bear Club. On January 1st, members congregate on the shores of Lake Michigan (or other suitable ponds), strip down to their thermal underwear, and go for a swim. I must explain that these are not sane Wisconsinites. Too much fuzz-balling of the red union suits can push people beyond serenity into hallucinogenic euphoria. I might add that the multitudes of people who come just to spectate suffer some noggin problems as well.

Reading seed catalogs from cover to cover multiple times is also a favorite activity. At the end of winter, Burpee has a contest exclusively for Wisconsinites: whoever sends in the most thumb-worn catalog with their order of $100.00 or more gets a plaque with a big pumpkin superimposed over the state capitol, which reads, “Home-grown Wisconsinite and proud of it!” It may not ever warm up enough to get a harvest out of those seeds finally planted midsummer, but dreaming is almost as good as achieving, right?

The men all grow bushes on their faces. Outsiders think it is in admiration for those Duck Dynasty fellers. Nope. Purely a Wisconsin thing, contrived for survival. The Louisiana guys just stole it.

And we shiver. This is a health bonus. It tones the muscles. The more sleek you want to be, the more you turn down the thermostat. There are no gym fees, you don’t have to leave home, and the added bonus is a lower fuel bill. It’s a no-brainer.

“Remembrance Parties” are a big trend right now. The idea is to gather a few intimate friends, slurp some spicy-hot chili together (in hopes of generating authentic perspiration), and swap memories of the previous summer. “Joe, do you remember when we wore short-sleeve T-shirts last July for a couple of days? Refresh my memory. What did that feel like?”

Some of us find enjoyment in traveling from park to park to watch the bubblers freeze over (probably referred to as water fountains where you come from). It’s not quite as much fun as watching the Polar Bear Club carry on, but it works in a pinch, if you’re going stir-crazy inside.

Contrary to rumors, we do not enjoy lemming races. That is strictly an event in Upper Michigan, which Wisconsin is unfortunately adjoined to — but we can’t do much about them.

Now for a cultural exchange — What do all yous guys do in the winter?

I’m from Wisconsin, and I Oughtta Know

So, you’re visiting Wisconsin, and you don’t want to look like a tourist, eh?  Never fear.  We’ll help you out a little so that your stay in our wonderful state will be satisfying and you won’t act like a total doofus.

Now this is the easy part:  If you live in Chicago, and the only place you are going to try out is Door County, just be yourself and no one will care.  During the peak season in Door County, the ratio of Chicagoans to resident folks is about 20 to 1, so no one will mess with you.  Even if you say REALLY dumb Chicago-ish things, the natives will smile and pretend not to notice, because they want your money so badly.  They can’t go to Florida in the winter if you don’t buy all the Scandinavian sweaters and “I Love Door County” trinkets that they offer at five times the true market value.  They are counting on you to come to their lovely corner of the state and throw your money at them, so keep coming, and behave as un-Wisconsinish as you want to.

For the sake of safety, do yourself a favor and wear green and gold.  Green Bay Packer attire will make you look like a native, and even if people notice by your accent that you aren’t the real thing, they will love you for your loyalty to the home team.  Whatever you do, don’t wear anything that says “Dallas Cowboys,” “Chicago Bears,” or “Minnesota Vikings” on it.  You may get your facial features rearranged before you leave the state, if you do.  However, you will be safe and appreciated if you wear “Chicago Cubs” stuff.  A lot of Wisconsinites despaired over the Brewers ever winning anything years ago and became Cubs fans.  This may not be logical, since the Cubs’ record is usually on a par with the Brewers’, but it’s the way it is.

But for the true experience … you have to know what a bubbler is.  Do NOT ask anyone to direct you to the water fountain.  You will be given a blank stare, especially if you are in a grocery store.  Why would a grocery store have a water fountain?  After collecting her thoughts, the clerk will probably direct you to the city park, or maybe the local life insurance company.  Such places have water fountains, and you can even slip your shoes off and dip your toes in, if you like.  But grocery stores and other small businesses do not have them.  They have bubblers.  That’s what we call them — bubblers.  It makes sense, you know.  The water bubbles out of the little hole, and you drink it as it bubbles ….

If you are from the South and are visiting in the winter, do not go to a clothing store and ask for a toboggan.  They will wonder what is wrong with you, and direct you to a sporting goods store.  You will do all right at Wal-Mart.  If you ask in the clothing department there, they will merely think you are lost and will point you to the sporting goods department.  In Wisconsin, a toboggan is not a ski cap.  It is an eight-foot long sled.  You park it at the top of a hill when there is snow on the ground (doesn’t work too well without the snow), pile a bunch of bodies on top, push off, and careen madly down the slope until you either hit a tree or make it to the bottom.  Sometimes the sled makes it to the bottom but the bodies don’t.  Everybody thinks this is fun, and laughs heartily, whether they manage to stay on the toboggan or fall off along the way.  We know how to enjoy life here, let me tell you!  So remember — ask for a ski cap, not a toboggan, unless you are going sledding.  Better yet, visit Wisconsin in the summer.

If you are from the South, do not ask for a Coke if you want a 7-Up, and then expect the waitress to ask what kind of Coke you want.  Coke means Coke here, not soda.  If you want a soda, ask for one.  It’s not all that hard!

Awhile back, I told everyone that the new state motto is Eat cheese or die!  Be polite, and just eat it, if it is put in front of you.  There’s nothing wrong with it, it is processed in sterile conditions, and it will not hurt you.  Honest.  If you are trying to fool everyone into thinking you are a native Wisconsinite, eat lots of it — with a smile.

But, for those of you foreigners who really like cheese, do not carry on about it day and night, either.  You need to understand that those of us who live here do not consciously think about cheese every minute of our lives.  We do not serve cheese curds at every meal.  If you have to have cheese curds, make a little stop at a local cheese factory on your way out of state, buy yourself twenty pounds or so, and enjoy the squeaks they make all the way home.  We’re tired of hearing about the cheese curds.

Now this is the biggie: You have to know how to pronounce “brat.”  We all know that once you’ve had one, you’ve got to have more.  They’re like potato chips — “No one can eat just one.”  But you have to know how to pronounce them when you order, if you don’t want to sound like a total idiot.  Brat rhymes with “hot,” not  “cat.”  If you ask for a brat, and you make it rhyme with cat, the brat stand owner may hand you one of his children.  Brat is short for bratwurst, by the way.  But people will look at you funny if you ask for a bratwurst, too.  Just learn to say the abbreviated form properly.  For the full Wisconsin experience, eat it with sauerkraut slathered all over it.  (Sauerkraut — shredded cabbage pressed down in a wooden barrel between layers of salt and left to decompose to a state of perfection over several months’ time.)

Are you ready to visit?  It’s worth the trip!

I’m from Wisconsin! (Part 1)

I’ve lived in Wisconsin most of my life.  I guess that would make me an expert on the culture.  If you don’t know anything about Wisconsin, this is your chance.  If you are a home school mom, you may even want to use this blog as part of your unit study on our wonderful state.

First, the important government stuff –

Our state motto:  Eat cheese or die!
The state dance:  Yes!  It IS the polka!
The state song:  In Heaven, There is No Beer
State colors: 
Green and gold (for the Packers)
State muffin: Cranberry muffin
State domestic animal:  Of course it’s a Holstein!  You were expecting thoroughbred horses?
State wild animal: We have two — the Packer fan and the “up nort” deer hunter
State fish: Muskie
State flower: Poison ivy
State sport: Again, we have two — cribbage and sheepshead
State hobby: Rummage sales

We used to have a different state motto — Forward!  And the state song used to be On Wisconsin!  But we had to change those.  You see, we don’t do much going “on” or “forward” here.  And there was a lot of pressure from a couple of the industries.  The dairy farmers needed to boost business, so they wanted something about cheese in the motto.  And the Tavern League — well!  Let’s just say this lobby group rules the legislature, and if we hadn’t a’ changed the state song to In Heaven There Is no Beer there might have been some problems getting reelected for some of those senators and assemblymen.

The state flag is blue with a gold fringe, but you can bet it comes up each year in the legislature that we should change it to green and gold with a great big “G” smack dab in the middle of it.  We staved this move off for a few years when the powers that be pulled a deal to get the taxpayers to pay for the Green Bay Packer stadium construction.  We’re hoping the legislature’s euphoria over that astute move will keep them content for a few years, and they’ll leave their fingers off the flag.

I know you are wondering why we have a state muffin.  Nobody else has a state muffin.  (Nobody else has some of the other cool things we have, either.)   When  the legislature got bored a few years ago, and decided, for lack of anything better to do, that we needed a state muffin, one of the assemblymen waxed sarcastic.  He suggested that if we needed a state muffin, a cow pie might be appropriate.  Most of us were just happy that they were focusing on muffins instead of raising the taxes again.

Hot bulletin with a slight correction: My daughter just informed me that other states DO have a state muffin.  Apparently, their legislatures have nothing else to do, either.

Tomorrow we will continue this informative dissertation.  All you home schoolers stay tuned!

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