Michelle's Musings

Fri
03
Jan
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New Year's

The holiday season has always been one of my favorite times of year for three reasons–generosity, happiness and revelry. What’s not to like about two months of eating, drinking, family, presents and kindness. It starts with a feast on Thanksgiving and culminates with a giant party to say goodbye to the old, and hello to the new. It is the season of beginnings and endings.

I remember the first time I begged to stay up until midnight to watch the ball drop. I was nine at the time and convinced my grandma to let me invite my two best friends, Dawn and Bertha to come and celebrate the new year. 

It is the first New Year’s Eve party I would throw. I made sure that we were stocked up on snacks–cheese and crackers, popcorn, chocolate chip cookies that I made earlier in the day, and of course a can of red Hi-C that I poured into a decanter to serve in some tiny wine glasses I had found at a garage sale with my Aunt Shirley. 

Thu
26
Dec
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Voter Suppression

Voter suppression can take on many forms.

Last week in a story about Max Prestigiacomo running for Madison City Council, voter suppression came up because of Wisconsin voter ID laws, which make it difficult for students to cast votes. That is because many students retain the ID or driver’s license in their hometown when they go to school out of state, and Wisconsin requires that you have a Wisconsin ID.

The district Max is running in is mostly students at UW-Madison. This has contributed to lower student voter turnout in the past. And one of the things that he said he would like to see is voting rights for anyone in the City of Madison over 18.

Just days after I wrote the story about Max, a judge in Port Washington also did his best to suppress voting. The circuit court judge, Paul Malloy ordered that more than 230,000 voters be removed from the state’s registered voter list, according a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Fri
13
Dec
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Wish Book

We would lie on the green, high-low, shag carpet and pore over the JC Penney Christmas Wish Book, my cousin, Angie, and I, not a care in the world, scheming what to ask for from Santa. I can still remember the prickly feel of the synthetic fibers on my elbows as we propped ourselves in front of the cozy, wood-burning stove. 

We had a system down, I, being older, came up with the plan to more efficiently express our need for items in the inch-and-a-half thick book. The smell of ink from its freshly printed pages emanating from the catalog. 

Thu
31
Oct
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Giant Pumpkins

Recently I watched a video of a man in Tennessee, who tried to bring home the honor or largest pumpkin in his state. At 910 pounds, the gargantuan squash fell short of the title, topping 1,700 lbs. 

But when life hands you giant pumpkins, there is but one thing to do–make a pumpkin boat. So that’s what he did, and the clip shows him paddling down a waterway, a hole carved in the top, like some kind of fantastical kayak. 

Giant pumpkin growing is an actual thing, and if you have never seen this spectacle, I suggest you put it on your bucket list. I first became aware of competitions for the largest pumpkin back in 2003 when I began working at a paper called the Anamosa Journal-Eureka.

The town held an event called Pumpkinfest and the Ryan Norlin Pumpkin Weigh-off. Ryan was a boy who raised giant pumpkins with his uncle. He was killed in a tragic boating accident, and his family and town members began the weigh-off to honor his memory. 

Sat
19
Oct
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Homelessness

I was very much looking forward to a long awaited trip to Memphis from with my longtime friend Wendy. She lives in New Orleans and we decided to meet in Memphis for a long weekend to see Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, who is on his farewell tour, aptly named “Roll Me Away.” 

I have been to Memphis several times, but it had been about 20 years since I had stayed downtown. Walking around downtown was a strange juxtaposition of desolation and gentrification. Main Street is a tourist hot spot with upscale restaurants and shops, and it goes right past Court Square, where many homeless people sleep at night. 

I have touched on homelessness in the past in this column, but what I have not revealed is the reason I am an advocate for helping the homeless (aside from just plain humanitarianism). I was once homeless and living in my car. 

Thu
10
Oct
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Palm Oil

I am a label reader. I cook mostly from scratch, but sometimes I want something prepackaged, particularly snack food. 

I started reading labels because I didn’t want preservatives, dyes and artificial flavors in my food. Then, I also wanted to avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and now, palm oil. 

The label reading began because I personally didn’t want to ingest processed and potentially harmful chemicals. The palm oil, however, is strictly about the environment and the destruction of habitat. Orangutans, which were declared the closest relative to humans about a decade ago, are the most hard hit by the harvest of palm oil. 

This is something that came to my attention a few years ago, and prompted me to stop buying most peanut butter, including those proclaiming to be “natural.” I also had to give up Girl Scout cookies much to my great dismay and sadness. No more Thin Mints for me. 

Thu
26
Sep
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Squelching Protest

Protest is part of our fiber, our existence, as Americans. Our country was literally founded on protest, specifically a monarchy that imposed high taxes, exported resources, and ruled from afar. 

The Minutemen were adamant about overthrowing the oppressive British government. Most of us are well versed in some version of revolutionary history, even if it is just Paul Revere riding through the streets announcing that the “the British are Coming!” We know that they were successful in their coup against the throne. 

When the forefathers set about drafting the Bill of Rights, the very first Amendment was concerned free speech, including the right to peaceful protest. It reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Sun
22
Sep
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Marijuana Reform

One thing I learned early on when coming to the Madison area is that there are a lot of pot smokers around here. I remember driving around last summer and smelling the sweet-scented smoke wafting from a window or yard every few blocks.

I also wrote a story early on at the Times-Tribuneabout medicinal and recreational bills introduced to the Wisconsin legislature last year. Most notably, I talked to Melissa Sergeant, who has introduced several bills with the intent of legalizing the widely used plant. It failed last year. Not one to give up, apparently, she introduced another recreational legalization bill in May of this year–the fourth she has presented.

The bill probably doesn’t have the legs to get off the ground as most Republican legislators have remained strictly opposed to the idea of full legalization, and only support heavily restricted medicinal use, also illegal in the state. 

Sat
14
Sep
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Suicide Prevention

I heard a staggering statistic on the radio the other day as I was stopped on the beltline, sipping my morning coffee: Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for people aged 10-34 in the United States, and second leading cause of death for people aged 10-34. You read that right, second leading cause of death for those 10-34.

Everyone in this country has been touched by suicide in some way. Depression can often lead to suicide and the stigma surrounding mental health care and wellness has played a part in people refusing help.

The first time I experienced a suicide by someone I knew was in high school. Shon, a guy who was a sophomore when I was a senior, killed himself after his parents, who were out of town, found out the police had been called because he was throwing a party. In his note he said he did not want to go back to military school, which he feared would happen when his strict parents returned. 

Fri
06
Sep
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Diana

I was 14 the summer Lady Diana Spencer married Charles Prince of Wales in 1981, only five years younger than Diana herself. I had friends with sisters her age.

I remember watching the seemingly fairy tale wedding, with young, innocent Diana emerging from a meticulous carriage, a fluff of ivory silk, pearls and sequins. To be cliché, she was glowing. I was not the only one watching that day, millions of people around the world watched as the heir to the British throne took his much younger bride.

Diana’s life was well documented by the media from dating Prince Charles, to the birth of her children, to her husband’s affair and Queen Elizabeth finally ordering them to divorce. Along the way Diana was many things to many people, a fashion icon, a doting mother, an international celebrity, and most importantly, a humanitarian. 

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