The Tosa Turkeys

I took this photo a few days ago in my local grocery store’s parking lot, where three wild turkeys stood guard near the entrance.

For a couple years now, a flock of wild turkeys has been strutting around the city where I live. The “sewer socialists” who ran Milwaukee a century ago set up an amazing system of public parks, filling the entire urban area with pockets of green space and also providing corridors for wildlife along river parkways that are lined with green space and connect many of the separate parks to each other.

These green-to-green connections have led wild animals to some highly unlikely places. Decades ago there was a deer downtown on State Street (basically the area now known as the “Deer District” surrounding the Milwaukee Bucks’ Fiserv Forum, in fact), and around fifteen years ago there was a bear up a tree right next to the freeway around Burleigh in Wauwatosa. (Public service for non-natives: BUR-lye, rhymes with “sky,” and WAH-wuh-TOE-suh, “toe” like the ones on your foot 🙂 ) We regularly see deer along the parkway near us. We’ve had foxes and coyotes in our neighborhood, and we’ve occasionally spotted lone wild turkeys in parking lots on Mayfair Road that back up to some railroad tracks that cross paths with one of the parkways.

But only in the last few years has this flock of turkeys appeared to settle in and put down some roots. The number of birds at any given time varies from two to seven, depending I suppose on what attractions may have pulled members away temporarily. But they do seem to be a cohesive group that slowly works its way around different neighborhoods in the area. 

The turkeys roam through people’s yards and cross streets with impunity. A group of seven held up rush-hour traffic at a busy intersection about two months ago, taking their sweet time almost as though they knew (and were reveling in!) the mayhem they were causing. Everyone was incredibly patient, though. No horns honking or motorists trying to squeeze around somehow. Even people far down the hill, who probably had no idea what was going on to hold up traffic, refrained from angrily honking their horns. Then again, maybe they knew what was up because it wasn’t the first time they’ve been stopped by a turkey crossing on the drive home from work.

My daughter looked out our kitchen window one morning this spring to see a single turkey strolling through our side yard. We live in a hilly, terraced neighborhood, and our yard is fenced. As my daughter watched, the turkey tired of our yard and flew up and over our fence into our neighbor’s yard. So even though I have never seen these birds fly, they clearly can when they feel like it. I was grateful our dog wasn’t outside at the time. Turkeys have some wicked-looking claws, and although I hope this one would have chosen “flight” over “fight,” I guess you never know what a wild animal is going to do.

Yet as far as I know, the turkeys have managed to coexist peacefully with everyone else. No injuries or property damage that I’ve heard of. People in my neighborhood seem bemused by and even fond of the turkeys. If you do an internet search for “Tosa Turkeys” you’ll find plenty of social-media photos and even some official news articles and video coverage.

At first it was just so amazing to encounter wild turkeys where you didn’t expect something like that to be. And now the feeling seems to be amused acceptance of . . . and possibly even respect for . . . the way these critters have so matter-of-factly established themselves as residents.

Posted in Life, Milwaukee, Nature, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Why I love my Starbucks

Before the pandemic hit, I would walk to the Red Arrow Starbucks down the hill from my office at least once a day. I’ve only been there a handful of times since.

For a long time after my college moved all instruction into a virtual environment last March, I worked from home. This was hard, given that we had four adults (my husband, myself, and our two daughters) all trying to live and work out of a medium-sized bungalow.

So at some point in winter I began driving downtown several times a week, especially on long teaching days. But even though I was on campus again doing virtual classes out of my office, I rarely went to Starbucks. I just couldn’t spare the time. Dealing with all the apparatus of online learning management platforms is extremely time consuming. Maybe teaching completely asynchronously online wouldn’t be as much work on its own, but having to do everything associated with asynchronous instruction—putting all course materials into Canvas and Box (our learning management system  and online file repository) as well as MS Teams (similar to Zoom, but with file-sharing and storage capabilities)—but then also showing up and being “on” for real-time class meetings in Teams has been exhausting. I can’t be sure of how students are experiencing all this, but I think they are exhausted, too.

My university is supposed to be back to in-person instruction come fall, and I cannot wait. It will be wonderful to be in a room with students who are actual people, not just images on a screen. Plus, it will be such a relief to free up my teaching from the restrictions (and time sinks) of online platforms.

Which brings me in a roundabout way back to Starbucks. Yesterday afternoon I found myself in the interesting position of having 2½ hours of unscheduled time between an advising session and my 4:00 class.


Enough time for a coffee run 🙂 

I walked down the hill, and when I arrived at Starbucks, the first people I saw were Amy, the manager, and Alyssa, a barista who is usually there in the afternoons. I was so happy to see them, and they seemed happy to see me, too.

“Hey Miss Katie!” Amy greeted me, throwing her arms up like a referee signaling a touchdown. I felt like Norm in that old TV show “Cheers,” who each time he walked into the bar was welcomed by all the other patrons calling out “Norm!” 

While we all talked, I tried to think about how to order my coffee. What size do I usually get? What is it called? Oh, yeah: “venti.” I decided to splurge with a “misto,” aka the Starbucks version of café au lait, except I actually went with “breve,” meaning with steamed half and half instead of milk. Yes, very rich!

Amy took my order, slid my Starbucks card to process the payment, and the two of us continued talking. (The store was empty for the first part of my visit, although everyone behind the counter was busy filling mobile orders.) As Alyssa took up the little sticker from the order printout and pasted it onto my cup, she glanced over at Amy, saying with a laugh, “I see you got her whole name on there.” 

I assumed she meant “Katherine,” my full name, which is the one on my Starbucks card and the one that gets pasted onto my cup whenever I order at a Starbucks where they don’t know me. Usually my cups at the Red Arrow Starbucks don’t have labels. When I order coffee in the mornings, Christine just writes “Katie” on my cup by hand, possibly to bypass the many mobile orders that are coming through at the same time and printing up lots of labels. (Often she adds a heart, which makes me extra happy every time I take a sip 🙂 ) So yesterday I figured that because a label got printed this time, it had probably lifted my whole name when Amy scanned my card.

I forgot all about Alyssa’s remark after I got my coffee and walked back to my office. But later, while working on my computer to prep for my 4:00 film studies class, I happened to notice the label as I picked up my cup. And laughed!

My “whole” name

As the song at the beginning of the old “Cheers” TV show puts it:

Sometimes you wanna go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came . . .
You wanna go where people know
People are all the same
You wanna go where everybody knows your name

That’s something the pandemic has taken from us. And I, for one, want it back. 

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Green light, rainy morning

A nice, gentle spring rain was falling this morning as I waited for the light to change acros the street from my office. I loved the abstract image of the green light glowing through the circles of raindrops on one of my go-to “picture” puddles outside MSOE’s Campus Center.

I’ve gotten lots of great photos over the past several years in the reflections of these puddles at the junctures of uneven sidewalk slabs. It’ll be a sad day for me when the Department of Public Works decides to fix it all up with freshly poured cement!😂

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Writing Exercise – “Plain Talk”

It was my turn to select an exercise for writing group this week. Being incredibly busy at work and opting for shortcuts wherever legitimately possible, I turned to Ursula K. Le Guin’s wonderful Steering the Craft once again and found a nice short exercise. Too busy even to retype it, I simply took screenshots of pages 97 and 98 on my tablet and emailed those to my group. The basic gist of the exercise was to write a page or two of pure dialogue in a way that tells a story and presents two characters.

Write like a play, with A and B as the characters’ names. No stage directions. No description of the characters. Nothing but what A says and what B says.  Everything the reader knows about who they are, where they are, and what’s going on comes through what they say.

That’s basically it. Le Guin also offers some topic suggestions, as it’s kind of hard to create dialogue in a vacuum. Her suggestions didn’t really grab me, though (“put two people into some kind of crisis situation: the car just ran out of gas; the spaceship is about to crash; the doctor has just realized that the old man she’s treating for a heart attack is her father”), so I had a difficult time getting started.

What helped was thinking about the exercise as an improv assignment. Not that I actually know much about improv other than you’re supposed to say “yes” and build on whatever your co-performers say in order to create a sketch out of thin air. I started with a question: “What’s wrong?” And the rest kind of flowed from there. Although my dialogue exercise doesn’t develop enough to make a story or even wrap up with a clever punchline of sorts, I thought I’d share it anyway.

So first, my usual disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Blah, blah, etc.

And now, here is my exercise. It’s really LONG in terms of how much space it takes up running down the page, but individual “lines” are pretty brief.

“Plain Talk”

A:  What’s wrong?

B:  What makes you think anything’s wrong?

A:  You’re playing with your food.

B:  I always eat this way.

A:  No you don’t. Separating your peas from the potatoes? Tearing your bread into tiny pieces before you butter it?

B:  That’s good manners.

A:  The peas and potatoes?

B:  No, the bread. I read that once.

A:  Stop changing the subject. What’s wrong?

B:  I didn’t like what you said back there.

A:  Where?

B:  At the theater.

A:  What did I—? Oh, you mean about the coat?

B:  You know how I feel about that.

A:  I was joking!

B:  The bully’s defense.

A:  Oh, I see. This is my fault.

B:  If the shoe fits.

A:  Don’t lecture me, B.

B:  Don’t ask what’s wrong then.

A:  You always do this.

B:  So do you. We’ve had this conversation so many times that I can tell you exactly what you’re about to say next.

A:  I doubt it.

B:  “Have you seen Aunt Edna yet?”

A:  Do you really think so little of me?

B:  But I was right, wasn’t I?

A:  I’m leaving.

B:  It always comes back to Aunt Edna. And this is how the conversation always ends, too. With you leaving. Like you’re the aggrieved party.

A:  And you’re so innocent? I saw you, don’t forget. I know what you are.

B:  No, you don’t. You don’t even know what you saw.

A:  You were in her room, wearing her clothes. Trying on her shoes. Dripping with pearls.

B:  Meaning . . . ?

A:  Did she know you were there?

B:  Of course not!

A:  Exactly.

B:  How could she know? She was in the hospital.

A:  The nuthouse.

B:  The sanitorium.

A:  Whatever. The point is, she didn’t know. You shouldn’t have been there.

B:  Neither should you. Which is what this really comes down to, isn’t it? I did nothing more than you were about to, except I got there first. Don’t act all high and mighty with me, sister. You had no reason to be upstairs.

A:  Well, it doesn’t matter now anyway.

B:  No, it doesn’t.

A:  She’s going to do what she wants.

B:  Yes, she is.

A:  I suppose we’ll have to accept it.

B:  Already have.

A:  You know, you can be an insufferable pain in the—

B:  Weren’t you leaving?

A:  Is that what you want?

B:  Actually, I wish you’d stay. Truly. Can’t we put all this behind us?

A:  “This”?

B:  The inheritance. The family drama. We always hated watching our parents and the relatives snipe at each other. Aren’t we better than that?

A:  I have no idea, honestly.

B:  It’s exhausting.

A:  Then why do you keep on with it?

B:  Why do you?

A:  I need the money. You don’t.

B:  Neither do you.

A:  That’s where you’re wrong. Frank’s business has been losing money for years.

B:  Really? You’d never know from the way he . . . never mind. I’m sorry to hear it.

A:  Well, don’t be. I’ve had time to reconcile myself. At least now you understand.

B:  I suppose. But A? I wouldn’t count on Aunt Edna’s money.

A:  Why? What do you know?

B:  Only that the sanitorium is expensive. And she seems over-fond of her attendants. Plus, I understand she had a meeting with her attorney last week.

A:  What?

B:  So I don’t think we should expect anything from her.

A:  Oh, my God.

B:  I’m so sorry.

A:  Now what am I supposed to do?

B:  We have to find a way to protect you.

A:  From bankruptcy? Frank says—

From Frank.

A:  I . . . beg your pardon?

B:  You heard me.

A:  How dare you.

B:  You have to get away from him. We both know the business isn’t his only problem. He’s not been good to you in other ways, either.

A:  Yes, he has. Stop looking at me like that. He has!

B:  Come on, A. Let’s have some truth between us at least.

A:  Look, I don’t want your pity. I don’t need it! And now I really am leaving. No, B, take your time. Finish your neatly arranged peas and potatoes. Enjoy those individually-buttered tatters of bread. I’ll take care of the bill on my way out.

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The White Sea, Parted

The view of our front walk this week.

Doesn’t that wall of snow look a bit like the wall of water left by the parting of the Red Sea in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 version of The Ten Commandments?

DeMille remade The Ten Commandments in 1956 with Charlton Heston as Moses, which is no doubt the version you’d recognize from its annual Easter broadcast. But the1923 version is the one in which DeMille ingeniously figured out how to make the Red Sea part by flooding a tank with water and Jello, and then reversing the film shot so that the watery gelatin appears to be parting and rising instead of flowing downward and together. The standing walls shown here were made of molded Jello with water trickling over the top and edges to add to the illusion of huge amounts of water being held back to allow the Israelites’ passage. 

Check out this video explaining the special effects associated with the Red Sea parting over the years.

By the way, the story of finding Cecil B. DeMille’s “Lost City” Egyptian set from the original 1923 film is really cool. Read about it here, or watch the excellent documentary. I was able to view the documentary film free on Amazon Prime a couple months ago. If it’s no longer available free, you can rent it for under $5.00.

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Paw prints etched in ice (and in my heart❤️)

I love the abstract images resulting from close-up views of this very mundane subject. A tribute to dogs everywhere who must brave the elements every day to take care of their canine business. With a special shout-out to Coco❤️

Original view of our back porch steps
Abstract 1
Abstract 2
Abstract 3
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February evening sunlight

This is what greeted me yesterday as I left my office in the Grohmann Museum at MSOE shortly before 5:00. The reflected streaks of orange sunlight across the pavement seemed very cheerful to me. And at this time of year, with snowstorm after snowstorm followed by bitterly cold air sweeping down from Canada, well, I think we need all the cheerful moments we can get❤️

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PSA – How to save your phone from a watery grave

This WIRED article (link HERE) makes clear that using a hairdryer and/or putting your phone in a bag of rice are not good ideas. Your best strategy (my take on the article):

  1. Turn your phone off ASAP to prevent short circuits.
  2. Wipe it dry with a paper towel (or whatever you have handy), trying to keep water from leaking inside.
  3. Put your phone into a sealed container (or zip-tight bag) filled with desiccant packets like the ones that come packed with shoes or vitamins for 24-48 hours. (That’s a long time!)

My key takeaway? I need to start saving those random little desiccant packets now so we’ll have them on hand when a wet-phone emergency happens. And maybe carry a little zippered bag of them with me in case things go terribly wrong as I’m taking pictures on a rainy day or during a snowstorm.

David Carrington, CC BY-SA 2.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

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Writing Exercise – “Protest Night”

Here’s an exercise from late October or early November. I can’t remember which member of our writing group assigned this exercise, but it’s another taken from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story. 

Exercise 1 (Le Guin Chapter 2)

Paragraph of narrative with no punctuation (and no paragraphs or other breaking devices). Suggested subject: A group of people engaged in a hurried or hectic or confused activity, such as a revolution, or the scene of an accident, or the first few minutes of a one-day sale.

I decided to write about a protest march that gets out of hand. I found myself less interested in focusing on the details of a “hectic or confused activity” than I was in exploring how anger feels as it’s spiraling out of control. As it turned out, however, it was those specific “action” details that allowed me to experience anger as a physical sensation, so there you go.

Inspiration for the exercise—beyond, obviously, the numerous protests of 2020—came from some fleeting recollections of “anger” that sprang to mind from literature:

The opening line of Edgar Allen Poe’s chilling 1847 short story “The Cask of Amontillado”: The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. (This one goes beyond anger and is really more about coldblooded murder, but still, “the thousand injuries” and “when he ventured beyond insult” kept coming back to me.)

The ending of Athol Fugard’s 1982 play Master Harold . . . and the Boys, where neglected, abused teen Harold (“Hally”) lashes out at the only true father figure in his life and, unable to provoke a reaction and start the fight he apparently needs in order to vent his extreme anger/frustration, employs an unforgiveable insult and changes the relationship forever (although the play leaves hope that some level of reconciliation may be possible).

The last line of Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem,” which serves as the final potential answer to the question “What happens to a dream deferred?” after other possibilities are proffered and apparently rejected:Or does it explode?”

Given the violent events of this past week, it seems like maybe today is a good day to post this exercise. It was disturbing to write and therefore may also be disturbing to read, so I apologize if it is. Then again, you may think it’s garbage writing too weak to prompt any emotional response besides boredom, in which case I don’t apologize at all 🙂

So, first the usual disclaimer. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

And now my exercise. (By the way, I thought my title was all clever and literary, as “protest” could serve as either an adjective, describing the type of night, or as a verb, meaning to object to and rage against a metaphoric “night.” Sorry for the self-indulgent aside, but because I no longer teach literature classes, and MSOE’s Great Books has been shut down for months because of the pandemic, I never get to fool around with this kind of analysis anymore.)

“Protest Night”

We’ve been walking for hours and finally they start handing out broken cinderblocks through open car windows now that we’ve almost reached our destination punctuating rage at the police at the pandemic at life and at these smug suburban neighborhood storefronts the cool cement heavy in our hands but swung easily in graceful arcs crashing with musical laughter as splinters of glass fly and now the group is moving forward again through the relentless honking of our escorts and helicopters droning overhead shaking the glittered sidewalks behind us so I said that bitch better have my money when I get into work tomorrow I’m tired of this shit and take my brick up a green lawn to where a curtain flutters shut against me how dare you how dare you and the brick is flying before I know it and a voice cries out that’s somebody’s home and flashing strobes of red and blue light and the cops standing in a line with shields watching us advance and helicopters shaking the glittered bushes but no one inside responds so I pick up the pot of geraniums from their doorstep surprisingly heavy and it’s done now I’m committed and I hurl it against the door where it shatters into clay shards and dirt and scattered red petals and I hate everyone so much that I turn toward the police standing in their silent line craving the confrontation about to happen.

Appleswitch via Flickr Creative Commons



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The Key Book Publishing Paths: 2021–2022

Since 2013, I have been regularly updating this informational chart about the key book publishing paths. It is available as a PDF download—ideal for …

The Key Book Publishing Paths: 2021–2022

Jane Friedman writes, speaks, and teaches online courses about all aspects of writing and publishing. She has decades of experience and is the most straightforward, down to earth, friendly source of info out there on this topic. Because I’m teaching a “Writing for Digital Media” course in our UX program now, I’ve made a point of paying even more attention to what she has to say. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, she is someone to follow if you intend to publish your work.

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