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Cottages and iPhones shouldn't mix, but mine did.
Cottages and iPhones shouldn't mix, but mine did.

Attempting to unplug Up North

Last week, my family and I spent a few days in a cottage about 15 miles from Rhinelander. It was my first "Up North" vacation which was long overdue considering I lived in this state my entire life and heard dozens, maybe even hundreds, of people mention their plans to trek to those parts. Apparently, going Up North is one of the activities we Wisconsinites do best, after playing Sheepshead and par-boiling brats.

Anyway, in honor of this rural pilgrimage and because I had not left the grind of my daily life in a couple of years, I decided to try to totally disconnect from the rest of the world by leaving my laptop at home. Plus, I actually thought that being deep in the North Woods would compromise my iPhone service and untangle me from its trappings.

Silly me.

Turns out, even though the unincorporated town sported more loons than human beings, my iPhone remained four-bars strong. Determined to unplug, I turned it off for the first day, and although I had fun munching meat sticks and letting minnows nibble on my ankles, I occasionally craved cyber communication. However, I held strong and flew through a tweet-free day.

The next afternoon, however, I uploaded a photo or three to Facebook and then, while sitting around a fire during the early evening, I simultaneously roasted a pink marshmallow while reading my work e-mail.

"I’m throwing that thing in the lake," my husband said.

The sheer thought of my shiny black lifeline plummeting to the bottom of the deep, dark lake was almost more than I could imagine. In my mind, I saw myself diving in after it, as if it were a diamond broach or a newborn mewing kitten.

I don’t know what has happened to me or when I became such a techie. In college, I stubbornly banged away on old Underwood typewriters instead of word processors, and just this winter I claimed I didn’t want an iPhone.

Finally, I turned it off until the drive home -- but by "drive home" I mean I updated my status…

The Zippo application is free. Which is a good thing, because who would actually pay for a cyber lighter?
The Zippo application is free. Which is a good thing, because who would actually pay for a cyber lighter?

Stupid iPhone tricks

I’ve had my iPhone for a few weeks now, but only within the last few days did I start to download a few silly applications like the Zippo lighter (looking forward to the next time someone asks me for a light) and the light saber (Nobody tell my sons about this.) I also downloaded Google Earth.

Now, I’m curious about other -- preferably free -- iPhone applications. There are so many that I find it a bit overwhelming, and I don’t really have the the time to peruse ‘em all. So, you got any suggestions for awesome, time-sucking iPhone apps?

The glass observation boxes are located on the top floor of the Sears Tower. They opened to the public less than a week ago.
The glass observation boxes are located on the top floor of the Sears Tower. They opened to the public less than a week ago.
My son's reaction to being "suspended" in the sky.
My son's reaction to being "suspended" in the sky.

On the ledge of the Sears Tower

CHICAGO -- Yesterday, while on a day trip in Chicago, my family and I squeezed into a packed elevator and rode 103 floors -- that’s 1,353 feet -- to the top of the Sears Tower, 233 S. Wacker Dr.

I didn’t feel a single flutter of anxiety until I saw the new glass boxes that hang from the tower’s facade and allow visitors to "step off the ledge." The glass boxes -- which opened to the public on Thursday, July 2 -- jut out 4 1/2 feet from the tower and are completely transparent, supported by steel beams.

It’s an extremely freaky feeling to step into one of the boxes and see exactly what it looks like to free fall from a quarter-mile in the sky. The panoramic view is both terrifying and breathtaking, and I’m not even afraid of heights.

I did not see a single sign stating a weight limit -- or person limit -- for the boxes, and I found it slightly unnerving that visitors were piling into them like they did the elevator. (Later, I learned that each box can hold at least five tons.)

My kids were super eager to test them out, and I admit I may have directed them towards a box that appeared to have lighter people on board. I know this makes little sense considering that each box could hold an elephant, but the high altitude might have enhanced my irrational mom fears.

One woman stepped into a box and stepped right back out. "I can’t do it," she said to me with wild, wide eyes. My sons, however, jumped up and down (!) from inside the box and yelled out, "Whoa! This is cool!"

I stood in one of the glass spaces for about a minute. I felt like Wile E. Coyote from the old Road Runner cartoons when he ran off the edge of a cliff and always froze in mid-air for a second or two, sometimes just to open an umbrella, before plunging to the ground.

Then I thought, "I think I see my dad," which is what Cameron said in the 1986 comedy "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off" when he looked down from the top floor of the Sears Tower.

Finally, I th…

Everyone's a star at a Chickadee's show.
Everyone's a star at a Chickadee's show.

The Chickadees tweet for Summerfest tots

Milwaukee, unfortunately, doesn’t have a huge children’s music scene, so I make a point to check out the few local, kiddo bands that pop up, including Fox & Branch, The Figureheads and The Chickadees.

I wrote an article about The Chickadees a few months ago, and at that time, lead singer Mary Karlzen sent me their CD, "Songs From The Great Outdoors." It quickly fell into regular rotation in the car CD player, so when I saw that The Chicakdees were playing again this year at Summerfest, my family and I -- which includes my 6-year-old sons -- decided to make a pilgrimage to check out the band live.

Weather conditions were near perfect on the Big Gig's grounds, with sunshine, temperatures in the 70s and a perfect lake breeze.  

The Chickadees performed at 2:15 p.m at Summerfest's Children's Theater & Playzone, and there was a decent turnout in for the show, including senior editor Drew Olson who was with his wife and daughter. Most of the audience members, of course, were under 10.

Karlzen -- who uses the stage name "Mare Mare" -- appeared with co-Chickadees Anjl Rodee and Carmen Nickerson wearing brightly colored Chickadees T-shirts, jeans or pants and matching pink sneakers. I instantly appreciated that they were animated and smiley, but not fake.

"It's great that the kids have fun, but as a parent it's sometimes hard to sit through a kids' show, so we try to make it entertaining for the parents, too," says Karlzen.

The band's debut album, "Songs from the Great Outdoors," won a Parents’ Choice award, and the group plans to release a second CD by the end of the year.

At the concert, most of the material was drawn from "Songs from the Great Outdoors," including "An Owl In the Tree," "5 Shiny Apples" and "Chickadees Song." The majority of the band’s songs are about nature, seasons and animals.

The trio has an engaging stage presence with catchy lyrics and nice harmonies, although it was difficult to hear Rodee …