Category Wisconsin

The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin

My hometown has one of the best Renaissance faires in the country, and I was so excited when Dee suggested going there for one of the days Dianne and I were going to be in town. YES. YES. It’s so great. I remembered it being really good but it had been fifteen years since my last visit and many of the details had faded, no doubt dulled in my mind and muddled by my feelings that nothing that great had ever come from my hometown*, myself included. I had even blogged about my 2004 visit but that post got ‘lost’ in a digital purge because pretty much nothing about how I portrayed myself from that era of my life was a good look for me or anyone around me. Regardless, the Bristol Renaissance Faire is not merely really good, it’s great.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After we parked in one of the fields that serves as their lot, I strapped on my (mandatory) jingly bellydancer’s coin sash to jangle my way around medieval-adjacent times. Not only does wearing one make me feel like I’m throwing a parade for my ass,  it also makes me a lot easier to find in a crowd, as without it I can just disappear, like any short person. It’s one of our powers. Stringing myself with noisy metallic coins that crashed about at the slightest movement was really the only responsible thing to do, so as to aid the people who didn’t know me well to be able to track me and simultaneously deny they know me if I start to sound too much like Santa Claus at a bell convention.

As the renaissance faire exists so that we might feast like kings, shop like lords, and befoul ourselves like…most everyone, we immediately set to feasting upon entry. Dianne and I got some some surprisingly good iced coffee (“surprisingly good”, my Seattle is showing) and Dee beelined directly to these amazing deep fried cheese fritters which she shared and I gladly partook. They were crispy, dark brown, stuffed with gooey monterey jack, and came with honey mustard and barbeque sauce for dipping on the side. You go to Wisconsin, you eat fried cheese. It’s what you do. Fried cheese is the Eiffel Tower of America’s Dairyland. 

There wasn’t any cheese eating on at least one of my previous Bristol faire visits with my family.  I was about twelve or thirteen, and my mom had us all on the cabbage soup diet.  If your family never participated in group disordered eating, the cabbage soup diet is basically a week of starving yourself with as much bland, horrible cabbage soup as you care to eat with extremely rigid rules about supplementary eating. Day two is the hardest day, when your food for the day is cabbage soup, raw or cooked vegetables, plain, with an emphasis on leafy greens, and, in the evening, one medium baked potato with a tablespoon of butter or oil. That sad potato was the high point of the day, the rest of it being spent alternatively peeing gallons from all of the extremely low calorie soup you’re eating, trying to generate enough saliva to swallow dry leafy greens, and wishing you could eat something that would actually stop the gnaw in your stomach so you could forget you were on a diet for even five minutes. And of course it’s all for nothing because you’re mostly just shifting water around and the weight you lost comes right back on when you start eating normally again.

This is the diet the whole family is in the trenches of in the middle of this renaissance faire. Everyone was hungry and crabby, and our misery was compounded by all of the awesome smells wafting on the wind, reminding us of all the things we couldn’t have. It was day four: banana day, the day that with your soup, you can eat unlimited bananas and drink unlimited skim milk, both of which were verboten every other day. That morning post-soup banana was almost heady, intoxicating, after days of it literally being forbidden fruit, but it couldn’t hold a candle to funnel cake. I don’t remember precisely how it went down, but I remember my younger brother and I inhaling funnel cake while my parents made disappointed noises about not finishing the things we start and willpower, like the cabbage soup diet was something we wanted to do instead of something in which we had no choice but to participate, like somehow any one of us was going to peel off enough weight over the course of this week to make a difference, to make this utter misery worthwhile, to ruin an otherwise grand day out. We went home shortly thereafter, missing the final joust that I’d very much wanted to see. My parents were too hungry to stay any longer.

Also absent from that trip with my parents was any activity that cost an additional fee above and beyond the cost of admission, because it was understood in my household that those things were for suckers and no self-respecting person would spend money on them. As a person who lacks self respect and understands that additional fees tend to be opportunities to try something novel, I jingled straight up to the first knife throwing booth I saw, even if it was luring me down the path of financial ruin, five dollars at a time. Those of us participating were given a basic rundown on how to fling a knife with deadly force and accuracy and then we were set loose. We didn’t get to choose our targets; mine was an innocent merperson. I fired a good seven warning shots and never delivered a killing blow but I did manage to stick a knife to the target which was significantly better than I did axe throwing at the 2018 Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire when I accidentally hurled an axe into a field.

I’ve spent more than a little time thinking about the three-legged roving crotch target in the middle, what it could represent, and ultimately decided that when rotated and viewed from another angle, it probably looked like this** (not NSFW but at first glance it could register as somewhat obscene, but what did you expect from a crotch monster?) keeping with the mostly water creature vibe they had going on.

Sassafras, one of many beverages I genuinely enjoy for about three sips.

This instrument is a hurdy gurdy and I want one.

We made sure to get decent seats for the joust, which made us a captive audience for a variety of vendors. The first was the flag seller, a foppish red leather crown on his head, his deeply low cut medieval toppe baring his chest, which also glistened red in the sun. He beseeched us for five dollars for a flag to support the knight of our section, Sir Maxmillian, by telling us that the funds raised would go toward the feed and care of the horses, and that after the show, Six Maxx would autograph them. And another five dollars I crept toward financial ruin.

After him came the meat wench, a box of three flavors of beef jerky strapped to her waist as she walked through the crowd bellowing “MEAT.” “MEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT.”

After her came the pretezel vendor, bearing a wooden pole, crossbraces strung with salted pretzels, and a satchel filled with individual portions of liquid cheese for dipping (Wisconsin), and after her, the flower crown vendor with a similar setup minus the cheese (I think), and in the distance “ᴹᴱᴱᴱᴱᴬᴬᵀ“.

The joust was full of pageantry and fanfare and feats of athleticism and at least two very cool people seated directly behind me who made certain to audibly mock me every single time I led our section in cheering for our knight. And the real kicker is, why am I the one who feels shame when I was contributing positively for the enjoyment of all, including the turd golems behind me and all those guys contributed to was my desire to turn clear and just skulk about for the rest of my days cosplaying as a ghost? But I’m the one that’s gonna go read a self help book about it while those walking chaw stains are just gonna continue to inflict themselves on people by existing. Regardless, our team’s knight won and I didn’t stop cheering him despite knowing I was going to get jeered and that seems like two kinds of victories.

After the joust, we did wait in line to meet Sir Maxmillian. I told him that I wanted to get into his line of work (true!) and about the horse I was potentially looking at to buy. (Dragon at the time.) He gave me a business card and told me to drop him a line, which I have yet to do but have a feeling I’ll get around to soon. The stick for the flag that he signed was too long to fit in my carry on, so I got to cheer him with my flag waving all through the airport.

Goddamn we looked sultry in this swamp. I’m not dripping buckets of sweat, MY SKIN IS DEWY.

 

On our way out, we stopped to see part of a fire-whip-cracking show that looked quite promising–there was actually a lot on their entertainment schedule that I didn’t get an opportunity to see. The only thing for it is to come back! And no one had better be on a diet. 

 

 

 

 

 

*And then I looked it up and it turns out all these very cool people came from my hometown, like Orson Welles, Mark Ruffalo, and both the inventors of the answering machine AND the QWERTY keyboard! And a whole bunch more but you could just look at the Wikipedia page yourself.

**You have no idea how much I regret attempting to draw in those insect mandibles. No idea.

Revisiting The House on the Rock

“Why? Why would you ever go back there? What’s wrong with you?!” Nicki was incredulous. “We ran out of there because we couldn’t take any more, and now you’re going back in?” It’s true. I was going back to House on the Rock, this time with Jason. I figured that if he could handle the House and all its contents without running away screaming that maybe, just maybe, he was ready to take my dainty hoof in marriage.

The House on the Rock, as always, defies explanation. In my post about the last time I visited, I told you the story about how it became The House that Spite Built, but the new owners are refuting that popular legend, saying that not only do the timelines not match, but the person with whom the tale originated actually won the “World’s Champion Liar” title in 1976 (who knew that was a thing, and how do I qualify for this Olympic sport?), so the story was intended to turn Alex Jordan Jr. into another PT Barnum. I will admit it, I’m a sucker for a lurid story, especially one that paints a notable person as sort of a jerk, so I didn’t question the original story at all. Since I try not to pass along misinformation, let it henceforth be known that Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t lay an epic diss on Alex Jordan Jr., and that The House on the Rock was not The House that Spite Built, but instead was always intended to be a tourist destination. I’m not going to edit the original post because the legend has value of its own. house-on-the-rock-infinity-room

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My favorite collection in The House on the Rock is all of the medical memorabilia in The Streets of Yesterday; I love all of the artwork and outlandish claims on the tinctures and tonics–these days, you can’t just claim that an ointment takes care of felons and expect people to believe you, especially when you have to follow it up with the FDA mandated “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease” which means you’ll essentially be rubbing oil on your nipples for fun–not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. house-on-the-rock-streets-of-yesterday-hair-tonic

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Let’s be honest: I’m not exactly the most gifted of photographers, but even so, The House on the Rock is lighted in such a way as to resist being captured. When you’re inside, it feels like the House is actively fighting your desire to catalog its contents, and you’re forced to either use the flash and blow your subjects out and get bright glass reflections or to get underexposed, blurry photos that look like something the guys on Ghost Adventures would cry over. And sometimes, the rooms are so cavernous that neither option works–like The Heritage of the Sea room. You know, the one containing the world’s largest sea battle. Or the room with the world’s largest cannon. It’s so large, and there’s so much around it, with pathways winding up and down around the room that you never really get to see or appreciate its size, and you certainly can’t fit it in a photo–or even a series of photos.

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The carousel is a wonder, worth the price of admission on its own, and it makes sense that both tours 2 and 3 end there: what good is a marvel if people don’t see it? I took a video so you can get a sense of its size–it’s so large, it takes over a full minute for one rotation. My apologies for the sound quality, the sheer volume in that room (in all of the rooms, actually) overwhelmed my camera.

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Just like during my previous visit, at a certain point during tour 3, I began to get overwhelmed by the sheer masses of stuff in the House. Multiple doll carousels. An entire room full of dollhouses. Another room full of tiny circuses. Multiple rooms full of guns. Rooms of asian art. Rooms of replicas of the crown jewels of England. Rooms of musical instruments, rooms of cars, rooms of planes, rooms of mechanical doodads, rooms of lighters and Titanic memorabilia and ivory and furniture and over all of it, a cacophony of sound, blinking lights, and oppressive heat. It’s like you’re visiting the world’s largest garage sale in Hell. There’s someone out there who can handle the entire House on the Rock, inspect every last item, and not feel on the verge of a panic attack, but that person is not me.  This isn’t to say it’s bad: House on the Rock is one of the greatest roadside attractions, built on a lie, and filled with several lifetime’s worth of items. But maybe visiting once is enough.    

Dinosaur Discovery Museum in Kenosha, WI

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Will I ever get tired of visiting dinosaur museums? In a word: NO. The Dinosaur Discovery Museum in Kenosha, Wisconsin packs a lot of dinosaur into a relatively small space, eschewing individual platforms in favor of one large grouping. It’s the only museum in the United States designed specifically to show the evolutionary transition between dinosaurs and birds and it does so with the largest collection of theropod dinosaurs in the country; by containing them all on one platform, it’s easier to compare them to one another. Especially delightful are the motion sensors which trigger dinosaur noises and make you feel as though you’re being stalked around the room.

IMG_0409I thought it was a trick question with the answer being “this museum!”

IMG_0419Although it’s not a scientifically sound theory, based on similar facial expressions, I postulate that this dinosaur may in fact be Napodog’s ancestor as they both appear to be pleased as punch to be tracking mud around like it takes no work at all to clean the floors. NONE AT ALL. Happy-go-lucky jerks.

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IMG_0412This guy just needs a little nap, evolution is hard work!

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IMG_0432Downstairs, you can watch fossils being cleaned and prepared for research. You can also assemble a dinosaur puzzle and do some coloring; of course we elected to do all of these things, for science. IMG_0470 As you can see, Jason’s Eoraptor explores how one might camouflage itself in the 1980s, and mine is exploring hipster fashion. SCIENCE!

“I don’t care what you say, I can taste the newspaper.”

While in Wisconsin, Jason and I paid a visit to the Jelly Belly factory, which isn’t so much a factory (as nothing is made there) but a warehouse distribution center with a tour and tastings. As a person who enjoys both tours and tastings, I felt it was a worthwhile stop. Jason and I arrived just as a tour was starting, and so we rushed to the back to hop on the tiny train that drove us around the warehouse (already a thrilling adventure, to be certain). We were also handed ridiculous paper hats and told to wear them. The people in the car in front of us were too cool to do such a thing, and just before we were to drive off on the wee train, the conductor said that if they didn’t wear their hats, we couldn’t go anywhere. Given that all of the candy in this warehouse is already packaged AND hats like this are useless in terms of food safety, I can only assume that the train is fueled by public humiliation and reduced sex appeal. Can you ever truly desire someone again after seeing them wear a paper hat? Also, we were not allowed to take photographs on the tour itself, as photography apparently causes mini trains to burst into flames.

Pre-tour, no tiny trains were put at risk by the snapping of this photograph.

The tour consisted of riding in the train around the perimeter of the warehouse and watching three videos about Jelly Belly brand beans: their rise to popularity (beloved of Ronald Reagan! First jellybean in space!), the production process (which is astoundingly long for something you can eat in a second, 7-21 days!), and other products made by the parent company (candy corn! taffy!). After the tour, we were given a bag of complimentary beans, a poster, and sent out into the place where I’m a Viking: the gift shop and tasting bar. We visited in the middle of the day on a weekday, so aside from the other family on the train, there was no one else there, we were the only people at the tasting bar, and the employee there was eager to give us whatever we wanted. After trying their new candy corn bean, I was on the lookout for other flavors I hadn’t tried, and I spied with my little eye a sausage flavor bean. “Sausage? It doesn’t really taste like sausage, does it?” Lickety-split, the employee handed over a bean, which I dutifully popped in my mouth. “Oh my god, it does taste like sausage! I assumed they’d just called it sausage to make it fit in with the Bertie Botts’ Every Flavor Bean theme but that it would actually taste like a more normal bean flavor.” Rambling on, I made a terrible error: “Well, if the sausage tastes like sausage…what does the centipede flavor taste like?” Quick as a flash, a centipede flavor bean was in my hand before I could protest. And once it was cradled in my palm, it was like a bean-based gauntlet had been thrown. I couldn’t throw it away: that would be wasteful. No. The bean bar woman had dared me and thus I must put it in my mouth. As I chewed, Jason asked “So how does one decide what a centipede tastes like, anyway?” “Our chemists start with the smell and work backward.” I can believe they started with a smell…the smell of Hell. When I say to you that this was the most foul thing I’ve ever had in my mouth, I would hate for you to think I was exaggerating. My dog has emitted farts so pungent that I could actually taste the air and this was worse. Much worse. If pressed to describe the flavor, the best description I can conceive is “dirty curdled blood”–it was an strong earthy base with a sharp metallic tang and an awful creamy something tying it all together. The only way they could have made it worse is if there was a thick liquid core and it popped like a zit in your mouth…and that would only be barely worse. Still, I tried to swallow. I chewed and chewed and chewed, but my pharynx said “NO, MA’AM”. That wretched bean lady smiled and offered me a napkin in which to spit the horrid thing out. What did she give me as a chaser? A mouthwash flavor jelly bean. Oh HA HA, bean lady. After the bean incident, we walked out onto the front lawn to take Jason’s picture in front of the Jelly Belly sign, but all the while, I thought of the flavor of centipede. Even through the mouthwash, I could still taste it, crawling over my tastebuds with its awful rancid legs. My stomach roiled, and I thrust my camera and bag at Jason while desperately trying to will myself to remain calm. Calm isn’t my thing, and this is the story of how I ended up vomiting in front of the Jelly Belly warehouse in plain sight of a highway. Even though he had my camera, Jason didn’t document me chundering into a bush because he doesn’t understand anything about posterity. He is, however, a man who has seen me in a paper hat AND throwing up a mixture of jellybeans and chinese food in the same day and somehow still wants to marry me, so I’ll cut him some slack. I probably wouldn’t have posted a picture of me vomiting online, anyway: it probably wouldn’t have been a very flattering shot of my butt.

Wisconsin Day Three: Tomfoolery and Boozehardiness

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After House on the Rock, Nicki and I went to New Glarus, tiny Wisconsin Swiss town, home of the Glarner Stube and a supposedly awesome brewery that was closed by the time we got there, in line with my family’s tradition of being a day late and a dollar short for everything, particularly themed towns. I’d originally intended on visiting Dr. Evermore’s Forevertron on the same day as The House on the Rock, but Roadside America lied to me when it indicated that Baraboo was anywhere near Spring Green, which I should’ve cottoned onto when they said that after visiting the Forevertron, it was only a short jaunt to Wisconsin Dells for their torture exhibit. Wisconsin Dells!? That’s FAR away from Spring Green! However, Nicki told me there was something I needed to see in New Glarus, and that I would be suitably impressed.

After some delicious Swiss cheese fondue with wine, garlic, and kirsch, I decided that I should probably order the Schublig, which was billed as a mild spiced beef sausage made by Ruef’s Meat Market, and sure to please a true sausage lover. Who could possibly love sausage in their face hole more than me? I was NOT prepared for the scale of the Glarner Stube’s sausage, however. Laid out onto a plate and brought into the light, it looked almost obscene. The green beans seem like almost an afterthought compared to the sheer amount of sausage majesty* set in front of me. 2980926017_30ab9617e0

I couldn’t even make a sizeable dent in the sausage–it was no meal, it was a task! A challenge! A trial! The waitress seemed appalled that I asked for a box after about two bites, but I wasn’t there to impress her, I was there for something else. Are you ready to find out what that something else was? That something else happened to be none other than the midwest’s largest urinal. 344_33501128939_340_n I was a little disappointed that the Glarner Stube doesn’t really promote that they have the midwest’s largest urinal, nor is it in a sizeable room with tasteful lighting. Rather, it’s crammed into a one-man bathroom, where you can hardly appreciate its massive scale. That still didn’t stop me from opening the men’s room door to snap a photo, giggling so hard at the absurdity that I could hardly hold the camera up, whilst the people at the bar had a good laugh at the girl busting up while taking a picture of a urinal with no fewer than four pink cakes inside. …I suppose when you’ve got a big sausage, you need a big urinal. Yes/no? *’Sausage Majesty’ would be an awesome band name.

Wisconsin: Gastronomic Journey Day

On Thursday, I didn’t go to House on the Rock and the Forevertron, because Nicki had decided to accompany me to the House that Spite Built on Friday instead. She left me her car to tool around, and I decided to drive down to Kenosha and drop in on my grandparents. My first stop was the legendary MARS CHEESE CASTLE.

Although the castle is somewhat lacking in battlements and, in fact, is neither made of cheese nor is on the planet mars, it contains many meaty, cheesy delights inside, along with a bunch of ridiculous tourist crap, like Brett Favre action figures. In this House o’ Cheese near Bong Recreation Area (hee hee!), I purchased some chudge (a questionable portmanteau of “chocolate cheese fudge”, creamy and delicious), a piece of cheddar shaped like Wisconsin, a cheese kringle for breakfasting, and some butterscotch root beer. During this time, I was hit on by a skeezy man with about three teeth who looked me up and down and said that everything in the store looked ‘deee-licious’. You can’t see it, but I’m shuddering.

After my cheese purchase, I saw a sign indicating that the Jelly Belly factory in Pleasant Prairie gives tours, and I was all over that like a fat kid on a…jelly belly. Things I learned:

  • Jelly Belly’s national prominence is due to Ronald Reagan, who was quite a fan of the beans while legislating.
  • The blueberry bean was invented for Reagan’s presidential inauguration, so that the company could give out red, white, and blue packs.
  • Reagan’s favorite flavor was licorice. *liquid jelly bean mixture is called ‘slurry’, made from 100% recycled animals.
  • The jelly-bean making process takes a couple of weeks and a hell of a lot of equipment.
  • The location I was in stores 2.5 billion jelly beans, and they ship out over a million jelly beans a day.
  • They take suggestions for flavors, and even as much as I like pickles, I am a little appalled that someone suggested pickle-flavored jelly beans. WHYYYY?
  • The company makes other candies, like taffy–you know taffy that comes with tiny pictures inside? That started as a 100 pound roll of taffy and they make something like 10,000 pieces from that one roll.

After I left Jelly Belly, I swung by China House in Pershing Plaza, where I used to have lunch once a week when I worked at Music Center on Green Bay Road–so many of us were regulars there that we could call in an order and they’d deliver to us, even though they don’t DO delivery. 10 years later and I recognized most of the people working there, which blows my mind a little because I’m such a job-hopper.

See my vest! See my vest! Made from real Gorilla chest!

On the morning of the fourth, Lesley and I decided that the best way to celebrate our freedom whilst the sun was shining would be to poke fun at the captivity of others. Thus, our course was determined, and we made our way to the Racine Zoo. The last time we were there, we were attacked by a tiger, and I was molested by a camel. If this experience was to live up to its predecessor, the animals had their work cut out for them. Luckily, they all had can-do attitudes. The Racine Zoo is no longer free, but a big flashing smile at the entry gate and a suggestion made that perhaps I could appear to be under the age of 15 was enough to get me in for half price, saving myself a grand total of two dollars. Go ahead and mock me. It’s ok. The two dollars isn’t the point. The point is that I can bend retail workers to do my bidding. THAT is true power. First stop was the Castle of Monkeys. Since today is Monkey Tuesday, it feels right and natural to talk about monkey antics today.

At night it turns into the Damn Spooky Castle of Monkeys, and I hear Skeletor takes up residence there.

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I’m fairly certain that this is the same monkey that looked so concerned a few years ago after Lesley made a face at him. This time, he kept waggling his eyebrows suggestively at her and clutching at the cage in a “Hello? Let me out, baby! I love you! Don’t you love me?” sort of way, and she kept waggling hers at him. While they were waging eyebrow wars, I wandered over and took pictures of the other monkey, who alternated munching on lettuce and sticking out his tongue at me. Lesley snapped me out of my fascination by indignantly shouting “THAT GODDAMN MONKEY IS FLIPPING ME OFF. That nonchalant bastard!” flip

Sure enough, the monkey had enough of Eyebrow Wars and was now very calmly sitting on a rock, flipping Lesley the bird. Realistically, she had no choice but to retaliate. flip2

It was a hot enough day outside that many of the animals were hiding out in whatever shade they could find. We only got a glimpse of the lions, the tigers, and the andean bears, but the alligators  were out in full force.

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And when I say alligators,  I mean a shit-ton of tiny alligators. It’s as if they captured half of the hatchlings in the New York City sewer system and used them to populate this tiny pool, forgetting that these cute, foot long handbags will eventually grow into surly, 21-foot long cowboy boots. After taking a picture of the peahen below, she hopped out of her enclosure and followed us around the park like a Peahen Lindsay Lohan, begging us to take more pictures, drinking everything in sight, and making pathetic noises when we stopped paying attention to her.

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WOODEN UMBRELLA HAS A FLAVOR. NOM NOM NOM! giraffe2

The giraffe then tried to intimidate me into not publishing the photograph of his secret rendezvous with with the umbrella, but ever since I discovered that being short places you at exactly the right height for a shockingly perfect nutkick, height no longer intimidates me.

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The fuzzy and cute, however, makes me powerless. giraffe4

Lesley desperately wanted to feed the giraffe some grass, and the giraffe desperately wanted to let her. How could the zoo stop a love this pure? We paid our two dollars! Can’t we feed a hungry animal? The rest of the adventures of the 4th to be continued…