Windsurfing at Olbrich Beach, Madison, WI

I ventured out to my local beach, or should I say "break", on a relatively cold and windy day recently, only to be surprised to find a small cadre of windsurfers using the conditions Mother Nature provided to have one heck of an afternoon. It was too windy and cold for me to stay too long, but the windsurfers did comment that it was warmer in the water than out. Who knew this was happening right outside my door?

Tools of the trade:

From the looks of it, this must be an expensive hobby/sport.

And a couple videos of the folks in action:


Cafe Domestique, Madison, WI

It's nice to have local coffee purveyors and coffee shops in any town you live in. It's even nicer to have a comfortable, well-appointed, Intelligentsia-offering, cycling-themed local coffee shop. I finally got to visit one in the latter category last week, it's called Cafe Domestique.

For those not in the know, the French word "domestique" means "domestic" or "household". As another example, a "home computer", in French, is called a "ordinateur domestique".  In the cycling world this word is used to describe a rider who works hard everyday for their team leader, no matter the weather or terrain. They protect the chosen team leader in each race they ride, from wind, other riders, obstacles, etc. Perhaps, from the team leader's point of view, it means a person that they can always rely on, they find comfort in, and as someone who will take care of and protect you.

If that last embellishment of mine is true, it seems fitting that this cafe is in a quaint, quiet, family neighborhood, has a very cozy feel, and is easily accessible by bike. It feels like you belong when you walk in and the service and product meets those same values, imo. It's not at all a massive space, which helps it match the houses in the neighborhood, and feel very comfortable upon entry. That said, I'm not sure I'd bring a large group of people here, with a 4 chairs next to end tables (pic above) and 3, four-top tables, it only seats about 16 people. Despite that, I think this is perfect for this space and feel. I wouldn't change a thing.

(how many chainrings can you count?)

Since I was intending to sit for a spell and get some reading done, I went in headfirst and ordered an iced mocha (decaf, sorry) and picked out a nice raspberry muffin to go with it. Both were solid. Not only that, but Batch Bakehouse is a couple doors down, which is where I presume my muffin was born... and near the end of my visit, a woman came in from a local cupcake joint to drop-off fresh-baked cupcakes. The proprietor placed said 'cakes under the glass dish on the front counter right away. People helping people (eat cupcakes) - it's a beautiful thing.

The bicycle name is borne out in the space well, with cycling items, bikes, and books on display. They were showing the live stage of the Giro di Italia too "boot" (get it? Italy looks like a boot). Don't worry - sound was muted and great music was playing for the customers.

See that little doorway on the right - this store is connected to a small cargo bike shop, known simply as "The Cargo Bike Shop". They're not always open at the same times and have separate entrances, but still work together and even combine events. I'd overheard they do a monthly family ride and, if I heard correctly, music for kids in the cafe once a month. Word on the street is it fills up fast.

If any of this interests you, I'd encourage you to click their links...

I didn't even get to talk about Intelligentsia, another famous export from Chicago. Perhaps soon.


Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WI

Though I've lived across the street (and through a park) from this botanical garden for about 9 months, I'd still not gotten around to visiting. There were some close calls, but my presence was requested recently, so I had a great excuse to go. To boot, one of the people in our party had a annual pass, so we got to see the free outdoor areas and the pay-to-play indoor arboretum. Both do not disappoint... unless you find plants and some animals disappointing. I did not. I found it a great way to usher in spring, with summer hopefully not far behind.

The spaces often incorporate art installations, and even this early in the season is no different. This was out on their front lawn before you even get in...

After a pretty long, dreary winter, it's nice to see colors. Thanks, Olbrich.

Now on to some plants - even this early in the year, colors were the order of the day. It was very nice to wander through and see what you can find...


From inside the large arboretum (greenhouse)...

They also have some impressive structures and fountains on premise, which gave another nice dimension to the visit...

A Thai temple or shrine...

A turret? Nah, more like a lookout... accessible by wheelchair, stroller, or on foot (which is pretty cool, imo)...

Finally, they have a great little kaleidoscope near the main entrance, you can see through two different views, and spin not only the viewer "eye", but also the live plants that both viewers are aimed at... it was a very cool display, with a small lone forming each time I went by...

I will definitely be back before another 9 months has passed.


Retail Therapy: Under Armour, Madison, WI

To keep a new string of posts going regarding US retail done well, I was pulled into the very local and new branch of the Under Armour brand (don't forget the "u" in the spelling of this US brand?). I tend to only visit their outlet mall offerings, which are pretty outlet mall-ish... but there was something about this crisp, clean, new and imposed facade smack dab in the middle of a relatively unimposing college town shopping area, known as State Street.

You should also probably know that Under Armour is the athletic sponsor of the University of Wisconsin (Madison), so it started to make sense as I walked in why this store as sprung up so quickly and right on the student avenue. Sorry, Adidas.

Let's start of with some team sprts stuff to get you pumped up!!! Go sports!

I love this kind of knowledge, so they had me from the jump.

PE = Player Edition. I don't know if these items are just for the athletes on the teams, but it looked cool to me. Do I need shin-high cleats for grocery shopping?

This is a two-story store, and the infrastructure alone was worth more than any place I've ever lived. Huge flat screen and lovely leather loungers to try shoes on... while you keep tabs on the game.

It was just crisp and clean with no caffeine. I liked it. I didn't buy anything and likely won't, but I'd go back just to see what else they're up to there.

They showcased their electronic offerings (connected scale, HR strap, watch, etc.), which I'm guessing do alright, but pale in comparison to Apple Watch's popularity/sales.

Finally, they kept tying it all back to the University and the surrounding area, which gave it a great personal, local feel without being too gushy. It was nice to see a global brand brought down to a local level. Well done, U.


Ice Cream in the Land of Dairy, Madison, WI

If you live in the US, Midwest, and especially Wisconsin, ice cream is pretty much king... and I'm not talking orangeberry or some such nonsense. I mean real, honest-to-goodness, full-fat ice creams, and in WI, custards too.

You can get your cream on in the grocery store...

Now, I didn't want a full half gallon of ice cream to tempt with with sweet not-nothings in my freezer each night, but the ice cream bait had been set that evening and I had to have some.

You can get your ice cream on at a corner shop too, open pretty late most night, with rotating flavors about every week...

The open double dish from the local "giant" Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Co. It's fantastic stuff, and I've not had a bad flavor or experience there yet. You may want to be prepared to wait in line if it's a busy summer night though. 

Here's the selection break-down for he above dessert...

And you may be asking yourself, "Self, What's the difference between an ice cream and a custard?" Click the hyperlink.


Retail Therapy: Amazon Books, Chicago, IL

I'm a big fan of a memorable retail experience. Do you remember what you felt and thought the first time you saw an Apple Store? What about that neighborhood co-op that always has new stuff to interest you?

It's also now clear, if you read books like The Revenge Of Analog, that people like buying things in stores. We do. We're irrational consumers and, as the name implies, we buy things we don't always know to be rational. Companies, brands, and the retail stores know this too. We may have 90 million homes in the US with an Amazon Prime account, but there's no denying that we like seeing something new, researching online, shopping in person, landing that new item, buying it, and bringing it home. 

Amazon even knows this, which is why they have started their own chain of Amazon Books stores. I was lucky enough to "bump" into one in Chicago and I simply had to go in. 

Surprise, surprise, it looks a lot like the book stores you remember, but with a twist or two. 

Two price levels and you can pay in a few ways...

They also have their electronic devices on offer too, which makes sense as they're e-readers and other home-based items.

 Maybe you need some headphones with your e-reader?

And then it's just really nicely sorted and displayed books/magazines... plus a kids' section too.

You remember magazines, right?

And to top it all off, they have a chain coffee shop (Stumptown) set-up in a nice little wing inside the store, to handle low blood sugar issues while you get your shopping on...

This store is in the Southport neighborhood in Chicago and fit in really well to this pretty high-end retail block (or two). They kept everything inside crisp and clean and it showed well to all the folks browsing that day.


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