At the halfway point, this summer is shaping up as quite an exceptional one. This past weekend was especially enjoyable since the focus was on our (third) annual Bastille Day party.
Thursday morning I had LINK (library automation consortium) meeting at the public library in Wisconsin Dells. At 12:30, I met JoAnna and the boys, plus Meaghan and Joey Erpenbach, 6-year-old son of Jon and Kathy, at a prearranged site, and we spent the afternoon at Noah’s Ark, a mammoth water park. (And I do mean huge!) I kept an eye on Eddie and Joey at one of the smaller wave pools and a kiddie play area, while JoAnna and the two older kids went on some of the water slides. The boys and I eventually explored other areas of the park. We took a leisurely ride on a large innertube, floating along a shallow, canal-like channel called “The Lazy River”. We waited less than a minute to get a tube. The lines for the slides that we saw during our walk were long. I think the boys would have become impatient waiting 15 minutes to do something. At 3:15, we regrouped with the other half or our party at the wave pool where we had started out. Everyone but Andy, that is. As four o’clock approached, Andy was still nowhere to be found. JoAnna and I started to worry that something might have happened to him. All of a sudden, I noticed the distinctive lime green of his swimming trunks and breathed a sigh of relief. As it turned out, he had been waiting for us by the concession stand, taking Mom’s instruction of “we’ll meet back here at 3:15” too literally. She didn’t mean at the exact point she was standing when she uttered these words, but that’ show Andy translated them.
I drove back to Middleton along, Eddie wanting to be in Joey’s company and Andy not wanting to split up with Meaghan, who was going to a Brewer game as soon as she got dropped off. Because of the delay in waiting for Andy’s appearance, JoAnna had to get home pronto. I wanted to stop and get something to eat, as I’d had only a grapefruit for breakfast, a small piece of coffee cake at my meeting, and no lunch, since the meeting ran longer than expected and I couldn’t join the other librarians for lunch. I was starving and felt a headache coming on, so I stopped at a McDonald’s and ordered a couple chicken fajitas (the only thing on the menu that I actually like) and a lemonade to go. I almost chugged the entire contents of the cup, so thirsty was I after spending 3 hours in a very warm sun. I could feel the heat rising off my shoulders and back as I drove along U.S. 12, skirting Baraboo and the Devil’s Lake region, taking the scenic, though shorter route instead of joining the speed demons on the Interstate. Once again I hadn’t used any sunblock. I accepted the full-ray treatment.
I expected to see a dark blue Buick in the driveway when I returned home. JoAnna’s folks and Albert and Cyndi were spending the weekend with us. We needed to be on the road at 6:00 to get to our evening engagement on time. “It’s unlike Larry and Alice to be late,” I thought. Then I realized the cause of their delay. Albert, the “Herman” of the Richard family. JoAnna, of course, expected all along that her family would be arriving at the last minute.
Our destination: American Players Theater, near Spring Green, Wisconsin, about a 45-minute drive from Middleton. APT is an outdoor amphitheater that specializes in Shakespeare and other classic plays. They produce five plays each season, with an overlapping schedule so that most of the plays are put on throughout the entire season, which this year runs from June 11 through October 4. APT has been in operation for 15 years and survived some financially and artistically shaky early years. Its operation is now on a solid foundation. I’m almost embarrassed to say that this was only my second trip there.
We arrived 45 minutes before showtime (7:30), which gave us time to enjoy a snack of bread, cheese, fruit, and wine that JoAnna had packed in a picnic basket. Dozens of picnic tables are found in clusters along the shaded, uphill pathway leading the parking lot to the theater. All of the tables seemed to be occupied b y the time we arrived. Fortunately, a group was packing up as we approach the table they had been using.
It was a beautiful evening to watch a play outdoors. The temperature was in the low 80s and a gentle breeze was blowing. Because of our delay in ordering tickets, we were in the last row of a section that provided pretty much of a straight-on view of the stage. The setting is intimate, so there are no bad seats. The theater itself accommodates 600-700 people, I would guess.
We saw “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde, a noted British author/playwright/poet and bon vivant. “Earnest” is considered to be his masterpiece. It was written in 1895 and wickedly skewers the British upper class. Two cases of mistaken identity give the play its momentum. More than 100 years later, the play is still very funny, even for someone who might know nothing about the British class system. The audience laughed uproariously at times, and the actors’ excellent sense of timing kept any of the lines from being drowned out. All of the actors are professionals, and the small cast (7) of “Earnest” was splendid, very much a crowd-pleasing ensemble.
Halfway through the first act, a full moon started to rise above the tree line a little bit to our right. It added an almost magical touch to the night.
We returned to a somewhat messy house. We’re not that happy with Ross, our current regular sitter for the boys. Ross is only three years older than Andy, and JoAnna and I agree that we need someone who can provide more discipline, especially as Andy becomes more intransigent about following orders from his parents. (I’m sure that sentence has a familiar ring!) Andy and Eddie almost see Ross as someone to pal around with. They were set to play baseball when we left the house. Nothing that the boys touched during the evening had been put away. The kitchen was in disarray. Jess, our previous regular sitter, had always been good about cleaning up after himself and the boys. (Although when we mentioned this to his parents Saturday night at our party, they half-kiddingly said, “Doesn’t sound like anyone we know!”) It wasn’t that we returned home to a disaster. JoAnna and I need to find a sitter with a better sense of responsibility. Of course, this fall we begin our experiment with Andy and Eddie staying home on their own when we go out. At least for short periods of time. Then we’ll learn how responsible (or irresponsible) Andy can be.
I had to work on Friday as I had been invited to attend a business meeting of the WLA Foundation, the fundraising arm of the organization. That only took up an hour of my morning, but I returned to the library to cover for lunch breaks since we were a bit short-staffed that day. I didn’t get home until nearly 2:30 and found JoAnna, her mom, and Cyndi busy with food preparations for the party. I had a number of errands that took up most of the rest of the afternoon: pick up a tent we had rented (a 20’ x 20’ white-topped canopy), make a beer run and pick up the wine that JoAnna had special ordered, get jelly wicks for two chafing dishes, buy shrimp and spicy sausages for a couple dishes that JoAnna would be preparing later in the day. Andy had a baseball game at 6:00. JoAnna took time out from her work to accompany her dad and brother and me. Cyndi was taking a nap, after a hectic day at Wisconsin Dells, an outing she and Albert took with the boys, their second visit to the Dells in two days. They rode on one of the “ducks” and went to Robot World. Alice kept an eye on Eddie, who had his eyes glued to the TV.
Andy’s team had a 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the fifth, Andy having scored one of the runs. Their third pitcher of the game, though, had problems with control. He was letting go of the ball too soon most of the time, so his pitches were inside, sometimes on the back sides of the batters. He actually hit two batters. Toward the end of the inning he started to lose his composure, but the coach, who was umpiring at the time, gave him the necessary encouragement to stick it out. The team couldn’t rally in the top of the 6th and lost the game 5-2, only their second loss in 10 games so far this season. Later the coach told me that if he had realized Andy had some relatives in the stands, he would have let him pitch.
After the game, we returned to the house and ordered a couple pizzas for delivery. JoAnna resumed her cooking and baking. Cyndi made placards for the various dishes that were going to be served, so that our guests would know what they were sinking their teeth into. Al worked on the menu that I enclosed with this letter.
Sleeping arrangements for the long weekend were as follows: JoAnna and I gave up our room for Larry and Alice. Al and Cyndi slept on the futon in Andy’s room, and the boys slept together in Eddie’s bed, which is where Andy has been sleeping for most of the last couple weeks anyway. Eddie still doesn’t like being alone in his room at night. A couple weeks ago bought a Coleman air mattress (double size) and a battery-operated pump. When I tried to fill the mattress Thursday evening, I couldn’t get the pump to work, so JoAnna slept on the couch and used my sleeping bag and pad, which had been in storage for more than 12 years, and I slept on the floor. One of my errands Friday was to stop at K-Mart to exchange the pump. Fortunately, I had kept the sales receipt, although the clerk never asked to see it. I held it in my hand throughout the transaction, but I could have been holding my list of errands for all she seemed to care. Friday night we were able to try out the air mattress, which we found comfortable, certainly much better than the lump mattress folded away in the family room couch. The last time we sued it, I couldn’t sleep at all. That’s why we bought the air mattress.
Saturday morning and afternoon were devoted to party preparations. I mowed the front yard, even though I had just done so on Monday. The rain and humid weather we had through mid-week must have created greenhouse-like growing conditions. We set up the tent (the centerpiece of our back yard on Saturday as you can see from the pictures) and I did some last minute weeding along the south side of the house, along the path all our guests would take to get to the back yard. I also had another series of errands to run. Experiencing no complications or setbacks, we were ready to party in advance of 4:30.
Along with the pictures, I’ve enclosed a copy of the invitation we mailed out and the menu we had displayed on a signboard in the driveway. After having been driven indoors by thunderstorms the past two years, we were hoping for perfect conditions. And we were blessed. The sky remained cloudless all day. The temperature was right around 80 degrees. The humidity was low. A gentle breeze kept the air moving. We had fogged the yard a couple times during the early afternoon and lit citronella torches and candles about an hour before the party started. That effectively kept the bags away until dusk.
Our party has turned into quite a production. Extensive menu. Canopy seating and serving area. A separate bar table. People made frequent comments as to how much planning must have gone into the party. And indeed there was. Our expenses easily exceeded $500, but that was of no concern to us. This is our one big event of the year, and we’re not about to cut corners.
There were probably 50 to 60 people in our backyard during the height of the party. In fact, unlike the past two y ears, people didn’t must make an appearance. They enjoyed the setting and the food and the interesting mix of people – and didn’t want to leave, which was fine with us. We wanted people to have a memorable evening. One of the most commonly asked questions I heard was “How old is that maple tree?” People were impressed with its girth and span. I also heard many positive comments about the landscaping, a nice reward for the hundreds of hours that JoAnna and I have put into improving our yard.
It was a wonderful event. Everything proceed just as we hoped it would. Among the guests: Mim and Tom, Carolyn and Jim. I don’t know why it took us three years to invite them. We also invited some of our neighbors this year and some couples associated with the baseball and soccer teams.
Hope you enjoy the pictures and the other enclosed materials.
We send you our love and love forward to seeing you soon. Right now our estimated day of arrive is Monday, August 3. I’ll try to give you an estimated time of arrive in the next letter.