Monthly Archives: June 2016

Take me out to a ball game

Summer sounds like baseball. The happy murmur of settling fans, the crack of the bat, the thunk of the ball in a thick leather mitt, the rhythmic clap of the universal cheers.

“Peanuts! Popcorn! Cotton Candy!”

We spent Monday night at the Timber Rattlers Stadium, along with our 94-year old friend Nai Chang and his young pal and neighbor, 84-year old Ralph Rohde.

Widowers both, the two gentlemen settled in with a cold beer in one hand, and a program in the other, chatting easily and enjoying the show.

They watched the baseball game too.

That’s the thing about minor league baseball. There’s honest drama on the field, 18 athletes fighting hard for a spot in the major leagues.

But, there’s plenty to see outside the diamond as well.

We saw the bat slip out of a players hand and fly dangerously into the stands. A young mother calmly reached up and caught the bat with her right hand, while shielding her small son with her left. For her efforts, she received a standing ovation from the stands and a commemorative bat from the Timber Rattlers stadium crew. It may have been the play of the evening.

With brat mobiles, human bowling balls, and plenty of wandering cartoon characters, Timber Rattler games have a little something for everyone.

Scoring it all is the cheerful pipe organ and familiar playlist.

“Sweet Caroline. Good time never seemed so good.”

Treat yourself to a summer ballgame, and maybe shut your phone off when you get there. Sit back, relax and let the sounds of summer take you back.

Nai and Ralph

Nai Chang is 94-years old and still plays golf twice a week. His young friend Ralph is only 84. They both enjoyed the evening at the ballpark. Baseball keeps you young.

Timber Rattler stadium

It was a touch chilly and overcast, but, still, a perfect evening for baseball.

National Anthem

Young players join the pros for the National Anthem.

5050 raffle

Where else but a baseball game do people walk around with wads of cash in their hands, offering you the chance to take home half of it?

Whiffer

Molly and I are not big fans of Whiffer. He seems a little oblivious, as this photo indicates. Turn around, big fella! Big play happening behind you! 

Fang and me

But you can’t go to a T-Rats game an not get your picture taken with Fang, am I right?

 

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Our “Mexit” Party

The Biskupic family “Mexit” celebration mirrored Molly’s entrance into this old world.

Both happened on a steamy summer day, both involved the sweet support of family and friends, and both concluded with Molly’s relieved parents high-fiving and saying, “Well, thank God that went well.”

As they have through every important stage of her life, Molly’s siblings rallied for her high school graduation party. Charlie flew in from New York and spent the morning of the party lugging corn on the cob, configuring makeshift air conditioning units, and setting up tables and chairs.

Katherine and Cousin Lizzy drove up from Chicago with homemade baked goods and impressive kale salad making chops.

Vinnie and his girlfriend Danni drove in from Minneapolis, ran errands and headed up the take down crew.

Our friend Keith spent the whole day with us, designing the grilled corn station and manning our shared La Caja China, a grill box that deserves its own post some day.

Unsolicited, our next-door neighbors brought over really comfortable tables and chairs.

From George Arthur, our 11-week old neighbor, to Nai Chang, our 94-year old friend who still plays golf twice a week, the party turned out to be a celebration of gratitude for all the cool people we’ve all been lucky enough to know.

There was beloved family, who set aside busy lives and drove north for the celebration.

And neighbors.

And the elegant Wilmots, who first met Molly when she was a pre-school tag-a-long to Franklin Grade School.

And our theatre parent friends, some of the best people we know.

And my college roommate and her family.

And Connie the Cookie Lady.

And our octogenarian, ballroom dancing friend Janet.

And my grade school friend Carol, who lives down the street.

And Molly’s friends.

And their parents.

If I had a vote, of course I’d have voted against a Mexit…and a Vexit…and a Kexit…and a Chexit.

But, life moves on and, when it does, aren’t we all thrilled to sit back on a summer afternoon and recognize the cool support our fleeing chicks draft behind as they take those first tender steps?

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Connie the Cookie Lady joined us.

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And our 11-week neighbor George Arthur.

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We celebrated Croatia’s independence and Molly’s independence with cookies.

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Molly made a sheet pie.

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Lizzy brought a delicious blackberry butter cake.

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Molly whipped up a giant batch of watermelon lemonade.

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La Caja China deserves its own post.

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Photo credit to Catherine McKenzie for this next series of us jumping off the porch…

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Vinnie got air…

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But it also took him a little longer to land.

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Croatia!

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Representatives of the Biskupic family!

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Connie the Cookie Lady exits into the sunset.

Baseball, Cracker Jacks and mom

Father’s Day in Hofa Park

An old Polish expression says, Nie chwal dnia przed zachodem slonca  (Don’t praise the day before sunset.)

We’re a pessimistic lot, we Poles.

But, we knew as soon as we set our chairs under a green and gold tent in Hofa Park, that Sunday would be sublime.

A fresh breeze rustled the tarp, the new dance floor smelled of sawdust, the polka band sounded like a party and the cool priest never broke a sweat (which is more than I can say for myself after a turn or two around the floor.)

The father among our little party, Vince, who’d been talking about the St. Stanislaus Parish Festival for months, had a great time.

He kicked up his heels with a polka band, wandered through rows and rows of vintage tractors, cheered on an old school baseball game, and enjoyed a giant piece of caramel apple pie.

We saw another father, the holy kind, preside over a Polka Mass, then offer a blessing to the farmers, then bless each tractor with a spray of holy water, then make his way to the dance floor to socialize with parishioners and guests, all while layered in robes and vestments.

“How do you stay cool under all of that?” someone asked Fr. Patrick Gawrylewski, OFM.

“I just don’t think about it,” he said.

In short, our second trip to the tiny but fascinating town of Hofa Park turned out to be just as enjoyable as our first. We can’t wait to go back.

Na zdrowie!

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I thought this little boy on the Massey-Harris tractor was adorable.

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Crop Adjustr

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Fueled by moonshine.

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I loved this vintage car and these two vintage friends.

Holy water

Father Patrick was everywhere. Here he is blessing each tractor with holy water.

pies

Oh man, the pies! My piece of strawberry pie filled my entire plate…and I ate every bite.

Tractor blessing

A farmer’s blessing.

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Lots of action on the dance floor.

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This little peanut tore up the dance floor. She paused a minute to chat with Father Patrick.

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They’re pretty serious about their polka.

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But they had a great time. What can I say? Vince loves to polka!

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The antique tractor parade.

Heart and soul in the City of Love

Warm soufflés and the fine art of French flirting

I picked up some excellent tips on cooking and the fine art of French flirting during our recent trip to Paris.

The tres beaux Chef Erich taught me the former; my own two daughters taught me the latter.

It happened like this:

Katherine, who can whip up a perfect triple chocolate marshmallow cookie faster than you can say “oui!” took one look at our handsome instructor and forgot how to crack an egg.

“Kat-reen,” Chef Eric said. “You must hit the egg firmly on the table.”

“Like this?” Katherine, who had been successfully cracking eggs since the Bush administration (the George H.W. Bush administration), giggled a little.

I rolled my eyes and turned to Molly, my partner in sarcasm.

But, she was otherwise engaged.

“I’m trying to think of a whisking pun right now,” said Louie, a tall, precocious California teen-ager.

“Well, I’ve been whisking you had one,” a laughing Molly responded.

Mon Dieu! We’d only been in Paris a few short hours and already I hardly recognized my own kin.

I busied myself taking pictures while the two girls, the sweet teen, a mother/daughter duo from Pittsburgh and a Parisian couple helped Chef Erich whip up a cheese soufflé, a très délicieuse vinaigrette salad, and, best of all, a chocolate soufflé.

“Kat-reen will you help me serve dessert?”

“I’d be delighted, Chef Erich.”

Good. Lord.

I did pick up a few excellent soufflé cooking tips I’m happy to share.

1) Steam makes soufflés rise and crust traps the steam. That’s why you may want to add a layer of grated cheese to the top.

2) To avoid lumps, start whisking in the center of your bowl and work your way out.

3) Butter the ramekin in the direction you want your soufflé to rise.

4) Determine your whisk size based on the amount of air you want to add to your dish. Big speed equals big bubbles. Small speed equals little bubbles.

We all had a great time, ate some delicious food and shared a few laughs. We highly recommend La Cuisine, a cooking school located right on the banks of the Seine in Paris. And tell Chef Erich Kat-reen sent you.

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We were very excited to take our Parisian cooking class.

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Early on, I determined my most important task would be to digitally record the occasion.

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Molly, Louie and Chef Erich school the class in the fine art of whisking.

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“Kat-reen” forgot how to crack an egg.

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Fortunately, Chef Erich was there to guide her.

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Like this? she asked, having cracked a thousand eggs in her lifetime. Mon Dieu!

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Awwww. Look how they worked together!

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Our new friend from Pittsburgh has no idea what’s going on here between Chef Erich and Kat-reen and neither do I but this picture cracks me up.

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You can write your own caption to this picture. I’m very busy laughing.

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Voila!

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Not bad, am I right?

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The Souffle sisters.

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She scored the biggest chocolate souffle.

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I’m just sayin’ I had no trouble cracking, separating and whisking that egg. I may have to work on my flirting game though.

 

Less hate. More Monet.

I had no idea, as we wandered through Giverny and Claude Monet’s famous gardens last week, how apropos my favorite Monet quote would become.

“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love,” he said.

With their gorgeous riot of color maintained for more than 225 years, both the flower and the water gardens stand as universal symbols of empathy and joy. Monet, who painted his famous water lilies series as “a monument to peace”, was right.

It is not necessary to understand a devout woman’s desire to cover up, or a conservative parent’s honest fears, or a young man’s same sex attraction, or a transgender person’s surgical choices. It is simply necessary to love.

In their drive to celebrate the extraordinary beauty in ordinary life, Monet and his fellow Impressionists spawned a whole movement. But you don’t have to be a painter or even an art aficionado to belong to their club.

You can see the kind of beauty they championed every day in the immigrant’s bright, flowered dress, the graduate’s happy gold tassel, the infant’s sleepy smile, the couple’s sweet hand clasp.

You only have to look.

Our time in this big, beautiful world is finite. We all only have the few precious days we get to spend here, and the legacy we leave behind.

I choose to spend my days seeking color, light and love. I choose Monet.

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Here’s the path to the Monet’s home where he live with his second wife, two sons and six step children. A visionary, he designed the gardens and then spent the rest of his life working to share their beauty and message of peace and love on canvas.

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He tried to cultivate peace and planted seeds of hope. (Photo cred. Molly)

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Monet’s studio is full of his work. He painted his way out of bouts of depression. A perfectionist, he often painted the same scene over and over leading to an archive of work that takes your breath away. Even his practice canvases celebrate unbridled life and light. (Photo cred. Molly)

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There it is! There’s the door to the garden! She found it! But, where’s the key? (I had a Secret Garden flashback and Katherine indulged me).

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Photo cred: Katherine

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The water lilies were a little water logged from recent flooding but still so beautiful.

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The Japanese bridge.

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225 years later, it still looks like a Monet canvas.

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Molly wore her Monet dress to Giverny.

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Monet’s gardens have been preserved all these years by sunshine and hard work. This is one of several gardeners we saw.

Giverny Thank You

Tu es beau, Paris

Most days, Paris really does smell like a warm croissant — buttery, flaky, rich — and we enjoyed every delicious bite.

In our short time there, we found our way to 22 spots bookmarked by our most Excel-lent guide, Katherine.

Her glorious spreadsheet brought us to nearly every arrondissement in Paris — a slam poetry reading, a gypsy jazz concert, a cooking class, a très chic clothing store, a crepes restaurant, a falafel house

We walked 19 miles our first full day, drank tea on the Champs Elysees, lit a candle in Notre Dame, posed with tourists on the grounds of the Louvre, shared charcuterie and a bottle of wine.

Over and over we crossed the beautiful, swollen Seine River. We took a day trip to Giverny and Versailles, and then spent four hours seeing all that beauty captured on canvas at Le Musee d’Orsay. We toured Victor Hugo’s house, then traced his walking path through Luxembourg Gardens.

We ate a croissant every morning (pistachio was my favorite), and sipped a little wine every evening, tasted escargot, coq a vin and two different kinds of soufflé, and hilariously chatted as well as we could.

“What are you doing here?” asked the timid Norbert, who’d been forced to keep our company when the bar owner barked this at him: Are you afraid of American women? No? Then move over and let these ladies sit with you!

“We’re tourists,” Katherine replied.

“No,” Norbert said. “What are you doing here. There’s an English speaking place right up the road.”

Eventually, poor Norbert warmed up to us.

Our cooking class with the très beaux Chef Eric taught us the fine art of French flirting and how to crack an egg, but that’s a post for another day. I became obsessed with Claude Monet and that’s a post for another day. And, thanks to Katherine’s research, we discovered a young French jazz singer who blew us away and that’s a post for another day.

I snapped a few (hundred) photos. At the risk of making you feel like you’re trapped at a dinner party viewing our vacation slides, I’m sharing a few…

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This is the first picture I took in Paris and it marks the first of at least 100 times we walked across the Seine.

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I like this view of the Seine through a wheel of love locks.

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The Eiffel Tower and a moored river boat.

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The six continents outside Musee d’Orsay.

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Where all the famous writers used to gather…and some still do.

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My girls.

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I didn’t leave a lock, but I did leave a little something on the Locks of Love bridge over the Seine. You are beautiful, Paris.

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Katherine eating an eclair at Versailles.

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Versailles.

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Check out the guys trimming the hedges in the gardens at Versailles. Quite a job, no? There are thousands of those hedges.

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You could wander these gardens for days.

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Luxembourg Gardens

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A bridge over the Seine, the 67th time we crossed it.

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The boats remained moored the whole week due to historically high water levels on the Seine.

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The 100th time we crossed the Seine, we saw this gentleman playing the piano in the middle of the bridge.

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Brings the term street musician to a whole new level.

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Tres Magnifique!

 

 

 

My sister’s brain

I told my sister Kathy her brain should have its own Instagram account. It’s been photographed more often than the Kardashians, and it’s far more interesting.

Six times, Kathy has had surgery on it, and six times that beautiful, complicated, challenging organ has survived.

If you look inside my sister’s brain, you’ll see a working shunt system on one side, and a broken catheter stuck in the middle. You’ll see a ventriculostomy, which allows fluid to move from one ventricle to the next. You’ll see a resection scar from a recent tumor removal.

And here’s what else you’ll see:

You’ll see fierce love for friends and family, especially her stepson, the charismatic Traveain. Woe to any facility ill-equipped to handle Traveain’s electric wheel chair. Kathy has fired off many a stern letter, including one to her alma mater, to rectify that situation ASAP.

You’ll see devotion to her students (which nearly gave us all a heart attack).  As promised, Kathy texted us updates when she and her husband Keith made their way to Mayo Clinic for a critical consultation following her most recent brain surgery. “Disaster!” she wrote and we all clutched our phones. “The pizza delivery guy arrived right when the high school was having a fire drill.” The message left us all understandably confused. “I ordered pizza for my Geek Squad students and that delivery guy better find them. His tip depends on it.” I mean, really, who orders pizza for their students while enroute to Mayo Clinic with 34 staples in her head? As I may have mentioned, in 2007 Kathy was named Wisconsin’s Teacher of the Year, not only for her tech program but also for her mentoring of at risk students.

You’ll see peace from a daughter and a sister who has been since birth the family touchstone. She calls herself Switzerland (one of the few countries she and my mother have not been to among their many global travels) because she rarely takes sides in family squabbles. She is the mellowest among us, quick to remember birthdays and anniversaries and faithful in her attendance at important family functions. She has seen every play her goddaughter Katherine has ever been in, and that’s saying something.

You’ll see a little disdain for undereducated Packer fans. I’ve gone to games with Kathy for more than three decades. She knows her stuff. One game, we sat next to a local celebrity who prattled on to his companions. He was loud and he was wrong. Eventually, a squirming Kathy couldn’t take it anymore. She looked at me and said, “Good God,” then leaned across and spoke directly to the gentleman. “That’s not Dorsey Levens. He hasn’t even been on the team since 2001,” she said. Though momentarily stunned, the gentleman recovered admirably and he and Kathy chatted easily for the remainder of the game.

You’ll see strength. You’ll see it oozing from every pore. I was with Kathy in her hospital room not long after she’d learned the tumor they’d just removed was malignant, metastasized breast cancer. We were alone for a little while and I, channeling all of the medical knowledge I’d acquired through years of faithful George Clooney watching, ran her through some tests. “Ok, squeeze my hand.”  She did. “Follow my finger.” Her eyes followed my hand. “Lift your right leg. Good. Good. Now your left.” I was just goofing around a little and testing whether her little sister obedience was still intact (it was). I also had a serious question. “What are you thinking about your diagnosis?” I asked. “It is what it is,” Kathy said, and paused a minute. “And we’re going to fight the hell out of it.”

Of course, we’re grossly offended that any cancer cells at all would have the nerve to invade that beautiful brain, but we also know Kathy and our money’s on her.

Next week, she’ll be back at Mayo for Gamma Knife Radiation after which, she and her husband Keith are looking forward to resuming their regular summer activities. She and my mom plan a July trip to Cuba.

Today, we’re walking with Kathy and her team, Holy Walkamoley, in the Menomonee Falls Relay for Life. She’ll take that remarkable brain of hers around that survivor lap and, once again, we’ll all stand and applaud.

Kathy and I at Dave Robinson

Kathy and I have been loyal Packer fans through all kinds of weather. She’s pretty good natured, until you start talking smack about her Packers, especially if you don’t have your facts straight.

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Here is Kathy on her wedding day in 2012, six months before her breast cancer diagnosis.

Kathy and Molly at Molly's orchestra concert

A very loyal aunt, Kathy goes to great lengths to come to just about everything. Here she is at Molly’s most recent orchestra concert.

twinsies

My mom and Kathy went to Door County last week and twinsied themselves. 

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Kathy, Molly and my mom at the Appleton North graduation last night.

Kathy post-op

Would you be smiling just after brain surgery? Kathy did. She winked a little too.

Kathy the survivor

These are some members of Team Kathy at her first Relay for Life two years ago. We’ll all be there tonight too, cheering her on as she takes her survivor lap.

 

 

 

 

 

An open thank you note to the AASD

We wrote a little thank you note to our school district today.

Then we hung it from our balcony.

If it seems extreme to hang an eight-foot sign from the front of your house on your last child’s last day of school, know this: We are that grateful.

We loved the field trips to bat caves and planetariums; the sock hops and snowshoes, back packs and book reports, Odyssey of the Mind and jump rope for heart, Franklin Fun runners and school crossing guards; science fairs and pioneer days; Donuts with Dad and Muffins with Mom, Days of Silence and Show and Tells; Orientations and Farewells.

We admired the educators — the football coaches who taught our sons to play so hard their muddy jerseys hung limp and rank, and their cleats dragged turf across the parking lot; the teachers who made a lifetime impact on our children by their patience, passion and proficiency; the directors who coaxed talent from our offspring we never knew they had, and the others who recognized and showcased gifts we suspected but hardly dared to see.

We saw you there in the classroom having lunch once a week with our daughter and her friends, when they weren’t even your own students; and you, teaching empathy along with academics in your fourth grade classroom; and you, leaving the heavy weight of enormous grief on the outside of your classroom and thereby teaching so much more than  Calculus (though you taught that remarkably well) to the students seated there; and you scaring, inspiring and teaching all four of our high school students that history lives and its participants have an obligation to think, read, and debate.

To the sweet grade school music teacher whose concerts felt like holidays and the art teacher who worked with her to inspire the kind of cross-genre collaboration that makes the world a more beautiful and interesting place, a million thanks.

Thank you for the books you assigned and we all enjoyed — The Bridge to Terabithia, To Kill a Mockingbird, Tales of Despereaux, The Little Prince, The Fountainhead, Maniac McGee, Animal Farm, Captain Underpants.

Man, how we loved the Wax Museums, Multi-Cultural Nights, Talent Shows, and Track and Field Days; the Homecomings, Proms and Eighth Grade Farewells.

Thank you to the principals with your open doors and even more open hearts.

Thank you, Merci Beaucoup, and Muchas Gracias to the language teachers and the great big beautiful world they showcased.

Thank you to the volunteers — you’re just amazing and we’re thrilled to call so many of you friends.

Thank you, Appleton Area School District, from the feathered depths of our almost empty nests.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank You.

We’ve been just thrilled to know you.

Vinnie's first day of school

Vinnie is trying to smile here on his very first day of school, but he’s actually quite miffed. The name tag on his desk reads Vincent. He straightened that out toot sweet and enjoyed a happy, happy 12 years. Thank you to all of Vinnie’s teachers for not calling him Vincent and for helping him soar.

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I can’t begin to describe the impact Coach Engen had on our son Charlie, who was thrilled to reconnect at a football game a few years ago. Thank you Coach Engen for encouraging Charlie to leave it all on the field.

Katherine and Parker

Thank you to Mr. Parker for being a talent whisperer, for putting in longer hours than anyone, and showing all of our kids how gratifying it is to work incredibly hard to achieve a dream.

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Thank you to your charter schools, and team projects, and science fairs, and super cute third graders, Appleton. 

Thank you AASD for 24 years

Thank you AASD for 24 years.