Election Day Tradition In The Oven: Country Jam Cake

There is an Election Day tradition at our home, other than voting of course, and that is making Grandma’s Country Jam Cake.

Monday afternoon I proved my capabilities in the kitchen as I measured and mixed and upon noticing I had no buttermilk…..which is the only time I yelled “James”….OK, the second time as the first was not being able to locate measuring spoons. James wings cooking with no such devices, but I am old school.

He made buttermilk the way Grandma might have done had she needed some, too. Or she would have thoroughly read the recipe beforehand!! Details, details.

The cake started to be our traditional election dessert in 2004, and it has never failed to bring smiles, even if the returns are grim. Now the cake is in the oven and I can still hear Mom tell me to go outside and do my jumping around so the cake will not ‘fall’. Aw, yes, traditions never grow old.

Trans American Broadcasting Reunion On Madison Isthmus, 40 Years of Friendship

The annual Trans American weekend reunion was held on the Madison Isthmus. Granted, this is not the largest reunion in the state, but since we are not aware of any other broadcasting students from Wausau or former on-air talent connecting in this way we are proud to post some pics. Every third weekend in September our gathering coincides with a neighborhood festival and a small parade that passes in front of our home on Sunday. Saturday afternoon we gathered on the lawn overlooking Lake Monona, with dinner that followed. A 30-minute ‘in the studio’ podcast of our thoughts and recollections will be posted here in about a week. For now, Bruce Miller is in white, George Manesis is in black, and Gregory Humphrey is in yellow. What is most certain is that radio management changes and announcers come and go, but friendship remains. These guys have been a part of my life for 40 years. From vacations together, to weddings, to laughs, and at times tears we have been a part of each other’s lives. And it all started because we had an interest in radio.

Gregory Humphrey’s Second Book Moving Along To Completion

When people say off-the-cuff at a barbeque or dinner party, and usually after a couple of beverages, ‘I should write a book’ it sounds as if the experience will be effortless and just smooth sailing with smiles the whole way through from start to finish.  After completing my first book Walking Up The Ramp I am more than able to dispel any fanciful idea that the process is easy or not taxing on the stress level.  Meaningful, yes. Introspective, certainly. Time-consuming, absolutely. Enriching…well, check the many meanings of the word in a dictionary and one will actually fit!

As I am in the final stretch of my second book, knowing full well the lure of the summer sun and warm nights having too easily pulled me from my desk I can say the journey of writing and packaging this effort is well worth my investment of time and resolve.   But the self-imposed deadline for the publication to meet the change of seasons from summer to fall will not be met.  But I do see land ahead! Like any good journey on water, it all gets better when seagulls fly overhead, and I can say that is the case here.

As I ponder this project that started last November, I am reminded of a cartoon that sums up the book-writing experience for folks like me who do not have a New York agent.

Stay tuned for updates, the project will be worth the wait. 

22 Years Of Walking Our Shared Road

Gregory and James, 2000, first family Thanksgiving in the Hancock home

Today James and I celebrate 22 years of walking a shared road together.

We met at Borders Books (University Avenue) as I sat at a table with a newspaper, a book about Wyoming, and a mug of coffee. A guy came up and asked, “Anything happening in the news today?” I was having my first conversation with James.

We had nodded and smiled at each other over the weeks as I stopped at Borders where he worked after first coming to Madison following a teaching stint on the East Coast. But that day as he took a break, ate a cinnamon roll, and chatted with me something remarkable started.

That evening we had our first date which included dinner on State Street and some humorous conversation. I dropped James off at his apartment door with a kiss on the cheek. Corny perhaps, but true.

Two weeks after we met he attended six weeks of summer classes at Middlebury College in Vermont. Each evening we had long phone conversations where we really got to know each other. By the time he came back to Madison I knew he was the person I wanted to spend time with, and he wanted to call this city home.

Two years to the day after we met, we picked up the keys to our first apartment. I had never lived with anyone before and was pleased to know he had a touch of OCD, too. Over the years we moved into our Victorian home, did some traveling, and planted some gardens but every day there is one constant. That is laughter. It abounds here during the day and every night before we fall asleep it bounces off the walls as we just chat.

I really think there is one special person for everyone, and Lord knows I waited and wondered if I would ever find mine. James has been my best friend, partner, and soulmate all these years, and I love him very much.

Our shared road continues.

From Iwo Jima Memorial To Madison Isthmus

There were several very special things we brought back from our spring trip to Washington, D.C several years ago. One of them bloomed this morning.

At the Iwo Jima Memorial, two workers were taking apart a flower bed that had hundreds of tulip blooms just weeks before. The pile of bulbs was quite large and after we passed them I turned and went back with a question for one of the workers.

“What are you going to do with those bulbs?”

“Not really sure,” was his reply.

“Might I have one?” I inquired.

“Take as many as you want,” he added with a gesture of his hand over the pile in front of him.

My Midwestern sensibilities did not allow me to place handfuls into my shoulder bag as I had space–but I did take two and they are planted in a special place on our lawn.

The red one is growing slowly, but the yellow one is blooming brightly.

This is the place on our lawn where we give tribute to my dad, Royce, a WWII veteran.

And so it goes.

Last Snowman, First Robin On Madison Isthmus

While out for a walk today I came across the perfect images of March.  The last snowman of the year—and looking its age—as it gazes out onto a frozen Lake Monona.  High in a tree that will cast a shadow in summer upon the space where a child made the snowman, a robin was perched with a welcome to spring. 

With the awful news from Eastern Europe, a thought came to mind as I took photos of the robin.  An aunt wrote this week a line that seems most appropriate at this time. “If we could be assured of everything as we are of the arrival of Spring what a wonderful world it would be.”

Waiting For Mr. DeMille On Madison Isthmus

James remarks I can not locate something on the top shelf in the refrigerator. But today, I looked out a window, across the street, down their drive, and up in a tree to see a hawk I just knew was waiting for his close-up with Mr. DeMille. So I grabbed the camera and rushed out the door. Mighty cold, though sunny, as I said “howdy” to our neighborhood friend.

Historic Madison Needs To Stay Historic! Do Not Weaken City Rules

I have at times mentioned on this blog how it feels to sit very late at night in the dark and look out a window on this plot of land once owned by James Doty. (We have his signature for the land in the abstract deed.) Hearing the creak of this old home during the frigid nights on the Madison isthmus my mind wanders to others who lived here, how a carriage might have sounded late in the dark returning home on rutted ice, or how often the coffin porch door was used. Or how often a body might have been presented to mourners in the very room where I look out from onto the street.

There is a vast array of history just within the line of sight from my windows. The home that once was a building where whatever you brewed could be bottled. The magnificent home of a Civil War veteran who treated his horse to the best of comforts after it helped save his life. Or the specially created bay window on a massive home that allowed for the woman sewing to see a clear sight of the unobstructed splendor of the statehouse.

I can look out upon a home that for a time was where Georgia O’Keeffe resided as a teenager. Just a couple blocks from our home is the place where the first cemetery in Madison resided which contained both Union and Confederate soldiers.   

And then of course there are the famed and priceless carriage steps, now curbside, to have made it easier to leave a carriage and not step into the once muddy street.

But some have other views about the treasures found in these types of neighborhoods or the essential need to not allow for wiggling with city rules that could risk the future of historic neighborhoods with short-sighted development.

There is no doubt–no matter where you look in our society–a zeal exists to replace yesterday with something ‘bigger and better’ today. While I understand the need for modern developments and adapting for the needs of our society it is essential that we not unwind a spool of thread that can not be spun back into place.

This brings me to the fight underway in Madison about two strongly competing notions about five historic sites in Madison. For the record, I do not reside in one of the areas now facing contentious rule-making within the city, but James and I do live in a historic district.

City officials and a preservationist group differ on proposed rules to protect five Madison historic districts when property owners want to make changes to buildings or developers propose new projects.

To change or demolish a building in a historic district, an owner must get approval from the city’s Landmarks Commission. But the city’s five historic districts — Mansion Hill, First Settlement, Third Lake Ridge, Marquette Bungalows and University Heights — were established at different times and each has widely different standards, some detailed and others vague.

The city’s Landmarks Ordinance Review Committee, created in 2013, is proposing to largely merge the standards with clearer, simpler rules for all five districts.

The committee ultimately decided the approach we took worked best for increasing process predictability for property owners, contractors, developers and the Landmarks Commission,” said committee chair Ald. Keith Furman, 19th District.

“Our approach provides consistency and, when appropriate, district-specific exceptions or differences are called out,” Furman said. “LORC (the Landmarks Ordinance Review Committee) and staff have generally believed that the benefits of unified standards and guidelines are substantial and there was still the ability to maintain the uniqueness of each local historic district.”

But the Madison Alliance for Historic Preservation contends it’s better to have core standards for all districts but keep district-specific rules where needed.

“One of the main objectives of this rewrite is to recognize that each of the districts is unique and therefore requires district-specific standards,” said local historian David Mollenhoff, chair of the Madison Alliance for Historic Preservation. “Unfortunately, LORC has embraced a one-size-fits-all concept that cannot provide sufficient or effective protection for Madison’s historic resources.”

Obviously, I agree with a stronger hand for the separate and distinct historic districts to have their own list of requirements and procedures as Madison grows. I also am a firm advocate for density and smart growth that reflects the needs of an ever-growing and dynamic urban environment. My support for the high-rises on East Washington is unabated.

But it is pure folly to weaken or in any way undermine the charm and continual presence of historic areas of our city. I have breathed this part of the city, where I now live, from the time I arrived in Madison in 1986. I then rented only five blocks away from the Victorian home where I now write.

So yes, I know this neighborhood very well, care for it deeply, and strongly advocate for its future. As I often say, it is a duty to help preserve these homes and advocate on their behalf so many others ‘James’ and Gregorys’ can live here for another hundred years.

One of the reasons that history is vital to know and preserve is that it allows for a collective memory from which to unite as citizens. There is no need for everyone to agree about the various interpretations of a home, spot of ground, or a celebrated moment but we all can agree that having those places or events in a visible form allows for history to then follow in stories and memories.

The fact that people have divergent perspectives about memories of historical people and places is the reason they need to be preserved. It is those places where we then can have larger dialogues about the memory that is created from walking through a home or gazing at a carriage step.

When rules are made so that historic neighborhoods can be easier playgrounds for developers it weakens our hand being held to the past. We can, and must have robust development to keep pace with the future needs of this city.

But we must do it in concert with the historic past.

And so it goes.