I have always liked keeping journals of my vacations, even day trips. And it seems that is the way it was meant to be. Once on a weekend geo-caching journey with my husband, I forgot my notebook. But guess what was in the first cache we found—a sweet little notebook with hearts and roses on the cover. Perfect for a young girl’s secrets or a mature woman’s meanderings: “Garrison, MN, has a giant fish guarding 200-square-mile Mille Lac. I like giant animals. May have seen first gopher, regular size.” or “Willow River State Park, Hudson, WI: Grateful Dead quote in cache: ‘Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.'”

When I started taking mini-vacations with my daughters, I converted my travelogues into lists. The key to travel lists is to pick a word and let the memories flow. Here is the journal list from our trek to Madison, Wisconsin (June 27-28, 2009).

  1. Bee balm: In late June, I-90 and I-94 from the Twin Cities to Madison are bursting with wildflowers— daisies, day lilies, bird’s foot trefoil, chicory. But the flower of the trip is bee balm at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison.
  2. Baraboo Chocolate Store: pose for a picture in the lap of a cow (a low-cow seat) then head inside for some definitely not lo-cal chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. We see sweets we haven’t seen in years like Pop Rocks, old favorites like Cow Tales, irresistible meltaways of every flavor, and the ridiculously sublime Udderfingers and Moo Chews. But Baraboo’s signature item is the Cow Pie, of course. No throwing, please.
  3. Chazen Museum of Art in Madison: renaming the artwork or, in the case of untitled works, christening them. What do you think this is?
  4. Rain and snow: At the Chazen, we saw an exhibit of Kawase Hasui color woodcuts. Amazing lone Japanese figures struggling against the elements in snow laden or soggy scenes. Powerful landscapes delicately rendered.
  5. Thai Garden at the Olbrich: red is for compassion, green is for healing, gold is for mindfulness, water jars for hospitality. Sala is a shelter from the rain or heat in Thailand. The pavilion is only one of four located outside of Thailand. The others are in Germany, Norway, and Hawaii. It was built in Thailand, disassembled, and packed in shipping crates. Seven weeks by sea, then rail, then truck to cold Wisconsin where it was reconstructed in three weeks and survives thanks to plantation-grown teak and weather-resistant ceramic roof tiles.
  6. Pasqual’s: best margaritas ever. They come from a tap in the wall, mixed (according to my imagination) in huge hidden tanks by margarita experts. So strong that by the end of the night I was simply calling them “tequilas.”
  7. Michael’s Frozen Custard: named “Best in Madison” 18 years in a row. No argument here. Delicious frozen custard, cookie dough, and fudge in a cup. What is not to like?
  8. Detours: Ah, summer in Wisconsin and Minnesota. We have winter and detour season. Does anyone like these? We got lost only once on the two-lane backcountry detour from Madison to Spring Green, Wisconsin, but it had the potential to ruin our timetable.
  9. Cat spirit: Unfortunately, a black cat crossed our path on the detour. He was either too fast or not fast enough, just trying to get from one hunting ground to another. We swerved, honked, cried but alas the black cat was bound for a better world. Namaste.
  10. Taliesin: A visit to the former home of Frank Lloyd Wright was the highlight of our trip. We toured the house and school, saw the Romeo and Juliet windmill, met Sherpa the lucky cat that gets to climb all over all those wonderful horizontal Wright lines instead of dueling with traffic on county roads. (Photo of Taliesin garden.)
  11. Tension/release: The compression of the low ceilings and narrow hallways opening into high-ceilinged, window-wrapped expanses in Taliesin always makes me feel as if the house is breathing.
  12. Nada on the bathrooms and closets: Apparently, these bored Frank. He thought no one needed to collect that much stuff anyway (thus the few and small closets) and one should do one’s business (thus the utilitarian bathrooms) and get out into the rest of the house, which is breathing and waiting for you to get on with living.
  13. Circumspect guide: The guide kept to the dates and the architecture and downplayed the personal aspects of the controversial Wright—not much on Mamah the mistress, murder, and mayhem.
  14. Rock everywhere: Wright wanted to bring the local materials inside using limestone and rock on the exterior as well as many interior walls and floors. Not a barefoot-friendly place. Hard and impossible to heat. For a man so intent on creating spaces to live in naturally, Taliesin is incredibly unlivable.
  15. Aliens and top secrets: On the way home to the Twin Cities, we swung through the Wisconsin Dells to find a restaurant named Moose Jaws. The Dells now resembles Myrtle Beach or Cancun or Vegas with big theme parks, water slides, and resorts elbow to elbow. The one that had us pulling over and gawking was Top Secret, a fun house in a structure that is the exact replica of the White House if it had been abducted by aliens and tossed into the Dells upside down. I asked what the tour was like but was only told, “It’s a fun house; we can’t tell you anything else.” Not usually one to avoid poking the government in the eye when it needs it, I found this image oddly disturbing. Almost a desecration. I prefer my crass entertainment in the form of the Trojan Horse or the Roman Coliseum. Maybe I’ll just stick with Ripley’s Believe or Not.
  16. Finally, family: What a wonderful invention, telling secrets over dinner, singing in the car, hugging at every rest stop, wondering when we can do this again.