Friday, Jan. 30th, 2015

The story of the Old Fashioned

Image: Luke Rosynek,
Image: Luke Rosynek,

Certain things in Wisconsin are just part of our DNA – fish frys, cheese, beer, beer cheese soup, freezers full of venison, and (of course) the ability to order and consume a decent “Old Fashioned” just about anywhere. But where can one find this noble cocktail's roots, and why is it such a Wisconsin staple, and why can’t the rest of the country seem to make a good one to save their lives? Over at the Midwestival blog, Rachel Fell dove into the history of the drink and uncovered some answers, telling a story filled with Wisconsin character. In most bars and super clubs, an Old Fashioned features whiskey, but here in Wisconsin we know it to contain brandy. This difference stems back to the tastes of German immigrants, who dominated early Wisconsin’s population and forever left their stamp on the state’s cuisine. The origin of the drink can be traced back to the Chicago World’s Fair (as can nearly every food or drink with a mysterious historical origin, it seems). Fell’s historical investigation into this artifact of Wisconsin lore is a colorful and enjoyable celebration of Wisconsin’s spirit.

See what I did there? Anyway, head over to to read The Wisconsin Old Fashioned: An Abridged History. Pretty pictures!

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Thursday, Jan. 29th, 2015

Local concert series turns to Kickstarter

Check this out – the great Music Over Menomin concert series is asking for your help. For those unfamiliar, Music Over Menomin is a summer musical event on the shores of Lake Monomin in Menomonie, showcasing local musical talent – for free. It’s been going strong for five years, but due to budget cuts the committee in charge of organizing the event has taken to Kickstarter. The event will happen regardless of the success of the campaign, but the fundraiser will allow them to add new and exciting programs to the series. The event was recently featured on the Kickstarter staff picks page, and the campaign’s page is very clear about what exactly the money they’re trying to raise will fund.

Head on over to their Kickstarter page to learn more and to support an awesome event featuring Chippewa Valley musicians.

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Wednesday, Jan. 28th, 2015

UPDATE: Walker’s budget will include $15M for Confluence

The Confluence Project: Gettin' there.
The Confluence Project: Gettin' there.

Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that the state budget he’ll unveil next week will include $15 million for a proposed performing arts center that would be part of the Confluence Project in downtown Eau Claire.

The pledge drew applause from a delegation of Eau Claire-area leaders who were visiting Madison to advocate for the region’s interests as part of the annual Chippewa Valley Rally. Backers had been seeking $25 million from the state for the project, but the $15 million commitment was nonetheless received positively in social media posts from supporters, including UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James C. Schmidt and the Community for the Confluence citizens group.

Walker said that $15 million in the budget would be pledged to match money raised locally for the project, making it essentially a “challenge grant,” he explained. “We think that’s a solid, fiscally sound way to do that going forward,” he added. “I think it’s just sound policy, but I also think it makes it easier to keep it in through the legislative process.”

The 2015-17 budget, which Walker will formally introduce Tuesday, must be passed by both houses of the state Legislature and signed by Walker by June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. Because legislative approval is required, the governor urged Confluence supporters to continue to make their case for the project to lawmakers. “It’s in (the budget), but make sure that you continue to lobby folks, because that doesn’t meant that just because I put it in next Tuesday that it will stay in forever,” he said.

According to a press release from Walker’s office, “Confluence Project fundraisers must raise their entire portion of the project cost before state money will be released.” Roughly enough to meet Walker’s $15 million threshold has already been committed locally: About $6 million (of a hoped-for $13 million) pledged from private donors, $5 million from the city of Eau Claire, and $3.5 million from Eau Claire County.

The Confluence Project includes plans for a $50 million performing arts center that would be shared by UW-Eau Claire and community groups as well as a roughly $25 million privately built commercial and residential structure next door. (The latter project is already underway on South Barstow Street.)

Walker had previously voice his support for the Confluence Project, as did the UW System Board of Regents last summer. In his announcement Wednesday, Walker said the $15 million would come from the state’s general fund – not the university or capital projects portions of the two-year state budget.


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Giant Ice Sculpture forms on Lake Superior

When you think of ice sculptures, you probably think of swans, angels or other ornate creations. On Lake Superior, Roger "Iceman" Hanson has been building a new kind of ice sculpture and it looks like he's growing his own glacier. The Minnesota-based software engineer has been building bigger and bigger sculptures every year since 2007, but this year he's working on a 70 foot by 50 foot creation that when finished will break the Guinness Book of World Record’s current record for largest freestanding ice sculpture. What makes Hanson unique in the world of ice-based art is that he's invented his own technology create his pieces. He built a high-tech weather station to monitor weather conditions in the area, a software program allowing him to control all of the equipment remotely, and a robot that operates a series of cables, spraying hoses and tracks. The robot is even capable of independent work. Part of why Hanson continues his fight with (and against) nature to finish his creation is to feed the bewilderment and awe of spectators who come to investigate the enormous ice formation.

Roger Hanson’s newest creation is open to the public. Learn more at his website.

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Tuesday, Jan. 27th, 2015

Wisconsin Hearts Snowmobiles

Brackett Bar's Snow Biz event from January 2013.
Brackett Bar's Snow Biz event from January 2013.

In Wisconsin there are nearly 19,000 miles of
dedicated snowmobile trails. That’s enough to stretch from Green Bay to Los Angeles and back
... twelve times over.

As a Wisconsinite, you should be familiar with snowmobile crossing signs dotting our state’s many fine highways. What you may not be as familiar with – I certainly wasn’t – is just how massively popular snowmobiling actually is here, and the special connection Wisconsin has with the activity. Over at Discover Wisconsin’s blog, Chad Diedrick has compiled a list of nine fascinating statistics about the sport and its presence in Wisconsin. For instance, in Wisconsin there are nearly 19,000 miles of dedicated snowmobile trails. That’s enough to stretch from Green Bay to Los Angeles and back twelve times over. Snowmobile clubs are the backbone of the hobby, and are solely responsible for its its existence by maintaining all of the state’s trails. The snowmobile (or the “motor toboggan” as it was originally dubbed and still should be) was invented in Wisconsin almost a century ago. So not only is snowmobiling a popular Sconnie activity, but it's proven itself a timeless one as well.

Check out more snowmobiling stats here.

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