“It’s my old photography injury acting up”

As a writer for a small town newspaper, I don’t always have weekends to myself.

It isn’t uncommon to have virtually the whole weekend scheduled with interviews or photographs. On those weekends, I don’t always get my weekend chores done, but sometimes work and chores have a nice balance. Take this weekend for instance.
Saturday I got the rare blessing of being able to sleep in an hour or so. When I did wake up, I made a small breakfast and recharged for the morning. I had a lot of yard work.

I started by digging some very stubborn blackberry bushes. I bought two years ago, and planted them on the outskirts of my garden. To my frustration, they decided to slowly invade my asparagus patch. To halt the invasion, I was down on my belly, using my fingers to push through the dirt, following the delicate roots, knowing that if I broke the roots and didn’t manage to find all the pieces, they might grow stems and then my problem would continue. I did a fair job of uprooting the blackberries. After excavating the outer boarder of my garden to remove the roots, I relocated them to the border of my property in a nice line along the adjoining pasture. The hope is they will form a hedge to deter deer and other animals from coming into the yard, as well as to convince my dog going outside of the yard is too much trouble.

I then decided to double down. I had planted five blueberry plants on the complete opposite border of the garden, amidst rhubarb and strawberries, but I had been thinking of mulching them with pine needles. However, doing so might negatively impact their neighbors. Having moved the blackberries, I had some nice, soft soil for the blueberries, so I transplanted them into the former blackberry patch. I also moved two large carpets of thyme on either side, which I had once hoped to encourage to spread throughout the border, so as to form a barrier to the grasses that constantly try to spread into the garden. I had since changed my mind, so I relocated them into the inside of the garden, near the back wall of the house where I grow my other perennial herbs.

I planted eight new asparagus crowns, fertilized them and all the transplants from the day, and watered the whole bunch of them.

I then moved four piles of leaves. Two of which I used to mulch my row of 18 asparagus plants. They can be a pain to weed in the summer. The rest went in a pile where they can either decompose or be later harvested for other mulching.

A few chores later, and it was time to change for work. At 6 I went to the Pine River-Backus School for prom photos. I took over 150 photos. Due to poor lighting, I was constantly moving. I attempted to get photos of prom goers in two locations of the gym, so that if one photo didn’t turn out, the other would. That meant running to one place, kneeling, taking the photo. I would then run to the second spot, kneel and take another photo, and then wait for the next couple. You wouldn’t think this is that much of an activity, but kneeling seems to be something my body will never get used to.


Pine River Backus Prom Photo Gallery

I watered my straw bales when I got home, on the verge of being ready to plant, their interiors are pretty warm. I then did various other jobs around the house until bed.
Sunday I went to church, kneeling on legs that were already sore. After church I commenced with a little more yard work. I straightened out the legs on a metal windmill just added to the garden and pulled 4×4 posts out of the ground so the bluebird houses on them won’t be in the way of mowing. I’m not sure where they will go yet. I visited a friend, returned home, had dinner and just as I was thinking what other jobs I had to do, I got a call reminding me of a controlled burn for the fire department.
I helped pull hoses around the outside of an agricultural field for the first hour or more. Then I strapped a bladder with 60 pounds of water to my back and patrolled the border of the burn to put out any flames that tried to escape into the woods. Carrying the bladder wasn’t so bad, but putting it back on after refilling it two times was going to kill me. At one point we were heading off some flames, downwind of those flames in heavy heat and smoke so thick you couldn’t see the fire. I felt like I had just smoked a Camel’s factory by the time we were done.

Controlled burn video
I returned home, showered, and deposited my sweat soaked smoky clothes in the laundry room before becoming a couch potato for an our or so before bed.
I woke up this morning amazed. In spite of the yard work and the controlled burn and what-have-you, I’m not a bit sore…except for my legs. In spite of the fact that my job is not a strenuous one by any stretch of the imagination, my legs have been sore since Sunday morning all because of Prom.
I’ll never understand how that works. I can work myself into a sweat doing half a dozen different jobs including heavy lifting, but at the end of the day, kneeling for photographs is what really kills me. Who would have thought?

Remembering Sam Sater

By now, my April 23 column will have been published by the PineandLakes Echo Journal. I wanted to share it again, here, where I can also share photos. I hope nobody minds that I borrowed from their Facebook feeds, but I thought it might be fitting.

In addition, visit the following links to see some things from Sam’s perspective.




Sam 1






Remember to support your veterans

There have been some rough days in the past few years. I know that during the roughest of those, good memories have helped me. For some people, the memories aren’t so good, so this might not be an option.
I often think back when my family lived next to the Legion in Backus. Our house was nearly a recreation parlor, with friends coming and going constantly. Among them was Sam Sater, who lived within a short biking distance.
I didn’t always see eye to eye with Sam back then. He was very smart, I believe he was even skipped ahead in school, and he always seemed to have A’s, even when he spent most time slacking with us. That intelligence translated to quick witt, and I didn’t like even mild teasing. Even so, he was one of Brent’s best friends, so he was a regular presence at the house.
There were plenty of hours spent either in the driveway shooting hoops, in the basement playing video games or sitting at our chain link fence chatting with the neighbors. Sam was almost guaranteed to be there for most of them.
I remember that Sam was a very outgoing person. I remember once he did a free rap battle against someone in my grade, much to the entertainment of a large crowd of kids gathered in the gym where it took place. From a distance, it looked like a fight, but they threw nothing but words.
When we moved out of the house by the legion, Sam and Brent seemed even closer. Brent was Sam’s ride to school almost every day, and we were late almost every day because of it. We, of course, didn’t mind delaying the inevitable school days.
It was Sam that gave Brent his first flat tire in his Pontiac 6000. Sam didn’t have his license yet, but Brent let him drive down a dirt road out past Oshawa. He didn’t hear Brent warn him about a sharp curve in the road, so Sam took it going 30…and launched the car into a nicely plowed and planted field. They bounced off a huge rock and heard a loud hiss. They jumped out of the car, apparently expecting something catastrophic. They looked back and watched the car slump from the blown tire.
We were mischievous, and Sam was always there to make those times more fun. He was enthusiastic and funny. Though he occasionally got in trouble (what teenager doesn’t?) Sam had a true heart of gold.
After graduating, Sam said he would join the Army reserve. Even when a friend who joined with him got out, Sam stuck in the service. He always did what he said he would do, even when that meant going to the middle-east.
He deployed to active duty twice. I remember a story he told about going through some sort of security dressed in his full combat uniform. The security there had to wand him to check him for weapons he might be concealing. Sam said it was one of the stupidest things he had ever been through, because at the time he had a loaded M16 hanging over his shoulder, just like all the other soldiers going through the same check. The irony was not wasted on Sam.
Sam came back from the service slightly subdued. For the most part, he was still the funny, smart individual he always was, but over time, his service must have eaten at him. He, like many others, came back with post traumatic stress syndrome (another vet once pointed out there is nothing unnatural about reacting to the horrors of war in this way, so syndrome is more fitting than disorder). Within the last year, the affects of the syndrome were more evident in his Facebook posts. He still fought hard, but in a way, his memories were poisoned and likely not much use in his battle.
Sam’s younger sister, who he always cared so much for, announced over the weekend that Sam had died on April 17, a casualty of a war he fought so many years ago. There is some comfort knowing the battle is over for him and he can rest.
My opinion of him changed over time, and by the time he joined the military, I not only got along with Sam, I respected him immensely because not everyone can do what he did, and he was going risk so much.
I know today isn’t Veteran’s Day or any other holiday honoring our veterans, but I think of how often we feel thankful to anyone, soldiers especially, but we don’t put those thoughts into words, and we should. It almost certainly would not have cured him, but I’m sure it would not have hurt if more people (myself included) had told Sam how grateful they were, and offered him what little assistance they could have.
There are still plenty of veterans out there suffering, including from Pine River and the surrounding area. They could sure use some words of support.
On my behalf, I’d like to say thank you to our vets. I’ll be praying for all of them, but especially my friends who fought, Sam and his family.

A new venture from an old habit

While attending college at Bemidji State University, I adopted a sort of adage that I shared with other writers. I would say, “Always carry two books. One from which you read ideas, and one into which you write ideas.” Basically, I would carry a pocket size novel in one suit pocket, and a Moleskine journal in the other.

This practice fell by the wayside some time during my teaching experience in China. I don’t know why, but I simply stopped writing in my journal. It’s been more than two years now, and I have picked that journal back up, but not exclusively for journaling. I have had this sort of goal in mind for a couple years. Looking at the Farmer’s Almanac, I thought it might be interesting to have a personal almanac. Basically it would be a journal tracking the various things that contribute to success in activities like fishing, gardening, or hunting of various wild things. In a way, this would be a minor form of phenology.

There were a few things that I needed to be able to track to meet this goal.
1. Temperature
2. Barometric pressure
3. Humidity
4. Hours of daylight
5. precipitation

Of course, you could purchase a thermometer, a barometer, a humidity meter, and an individual monitor for each of these things, but they make affordable tools that accomplish most of these goals all at once. I ended up buying this one, but you should really choose one to your own needs.

Weather station.

This weather station tracks temp, pressure, and humidity. It also shows times for sunrise and set and has a frost warning (which is a bonus so I can cover my plants). It has other functions, including an alarm clock, but it is too shrill for me to use it. It does lack a tool for measuring inches of precipitation, but that is easy. I’ll just get a rain gauge.

Now, one might wonder why all of this would be useful. That’s easy

People have long been aware that barometric pressure impacts fishing success. In the same way, hours of sunlight determine proper planting times for some plants. Nighttime temperatures determine morel mushroom hunting success and maple sap harvest. If I track these pieces of data regularly, it could be possible that I could find other relationships in my successful harvest of other plants such as blueberries for instance. Finding these patterns is why I have started keeping a journal again.

If I have years of journal entries that demonstrate what weather brings a healthy wild strawberry harvest, I could stop missing the delicious little treats using data from previous years.

With our sudden temperature change in the local area, I was able to predict a poor maple sap harvest far ahead of the WCCO news crew. I looked at the warm nighttime temperatures and said, “The night temperature is rising too fast. The sap isn’t going to flow very well.”

My next step is to find a decent soil thermometer. This site, http://www.hungry-for-hunting.com/morel-mushroom-hunting-tips.html , has some good information on nighttime and soil temperatures for planning morel hunting.

This is only the start! I have also started occasionally including my own personal weight, and may pick up an old habit of tracking my caloric intake and other health related data. All of that would then go into that journal.

Really, the possibilities for tracking this kind of information are endless. Maybe I will start sharing some of this information on my blog or on twitter. Let me know your thoughts.

Small town journalists are a part of the community (and a DIY sauerkraut video)

You may be aware that journalism is all about some degree of separation. This is what we call objectivity. We try to keep distanced from our subjects. In spite of this, we small town newspapers inevitably became part of the community alongside our readers.

I have always enjoyed talking courses in community education classes and attending special events. I sometimes do double duty at these, attending as an attendee, and as a reporter with camera. Sometimes I get lucky and get to be just an attendee.

I am a member of the Backus Fire Department, and I occasionally lead wild food classes during warmer months. I got to be even more a part of the scenery this past weekend, when I attended this year’s Back to Basics event.

Back to Basics is what I would consider a convention. It is held at my old high school and features a large quantity of expertise in one area, most of it dedicated to self reliance and some really cool life skills.

Last year was my first year. I enjoyed all the classes I attended, and I must admit I was tempted to attend presenter and vendor Abby Schramm’s homemade soap presentation all over again this year. What a blast it is to have a hands on experience like that!

This year, however, was different. I was actually a presenter at the event. I lead a class on the subject of wild teas. My students got to sample a large variety of teas I have harvested and processed. They also got to learn to identify some on their own, and went home with recipes for making and mixing teas. The whole thing was a blast.

Some may say that this makes me a biased reporter, considering I took photos and did an interview at this location. Maybe that’s true, but you must remember that this is not a story that bias actually factors into. This is event coverage. It is really more about showing what happened, without much additional commentary. I can manage being the reporter and attendee, so don’t worry about the accuracy of my story.

This year’s event had a lot of food. I am a food lover, so it was virtually made for me.

I attended two classes by the same presenter, who gave instructions on lacto-fermentation and sauerkraut fermentation. I attended a keynote speaker from Duluth Bar and Grill, who presented on his restaurant, which uses locally produced food. I also attended a very cool session by a local fishing guide on sustainable angling, which ended with fish tacos freshly fried. This year was a fantastic event, but don’t you worry. I thought this might be a wonderful time to introduce how-to videos to my blog.

Without further ado, I give you instructions on making your very own sauerkraut.

MNA, or: Don’t show me those dateline specials on hotels, you’re bringing me down man!

Thursday and Friday of last week, (Jan 28 and 29) newspaper employees from all over the state converged on the Minnesota Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest and Convention. I will take just a brief moment to brag about the awards we won, then we can talk about the important stuff. Yet again we won an award for Use of Photography as a Whole, though this year we won third place in our division.

Marcy is an important part of our layout process. Without her we’d probably put the wrong photos with the wrong stories!

Our News Editor Nancy Vogt won first place in the News Photo category for this fantastic photo.   Publisher Pete Mohs (Also MNA president this past year) got second place for this Sports Photo.

Since Pete couldn’t hand the award to himself, Nancy took it from him and then gave it back.

We (especially our very own Becca Clemens) were awarded third place in Best Use of Video for our news of the north coverage of 2014’s Ice fishing Extravaganza

Our News of the North Shout Out won first place in the Best Use of Social Media. We also won third place in General Reporting. This is in addition to a literal mound (seriously, we don’t have enough wall space so they are piled up somewhere) of awards in the Pine River Journal, Lake Country Echo, and now Pineandlakes Echo Journal newspapers. For a small town newspaper we do well. I love being a part of this award winning news team.

Now, on to the important part. I had the coolest hotel room on earth, mars, or the astral body formerly known as the planet Pluto. The bright side of working with a ton of women and few men is that when we go to conventions, I often end up in my own room. This year I had the added benefit of having a whole Sheraton to myself (the Doubletree should have added a third tree as it was booked after we booked two rooms for my female coworkers). First, let me state that after waking up too late for a proper shower, riding three hours to the convention center, and hanging out at the convention all day I felt like a foot by the time I was able to actually go to my hotel room. Hence, my first attraction was the shower.

That Showerhead is as wide as a volleyball.

And don’t get me started with the amenities.

Since when are those scrubbie things included?

I noticed the closet after my shower, and if I could have ordered a mountain of ice cream I might have recreated a scene from Home Alone II, but that would have been a bad idea.

“Keep the change you dirty animal!”

Of course they had a tv big enough for a flintstones drive in theater.

And a bed (probably deceptively) white enough to keep dateline investigative reporters away.

I guess this is just that much more incentive for us to keep winning awards. The good news is that I learned a thing or two at the convention, and I intend to be back again next year (though maybe we might be giving Dan a chance at his own hotel room, which he will deserve by that time, haha).

P.S. I forgot to add, there was a phone by the toilet! Who would ever use the two at the same time? Wait! Don’t answer that (the question or the phone, some experiences you should not share).

Don’t answer! It’s a trap! No, I said TRAP!

cabin fever symptoms

(Note: I haven’t written here in a while, so I thought I should write something, even if it is just a rant.)

I can’t tell you how often it is that when I can’t comfortably sit outside for long periods of time, I want to be outside the most.

Winter, if nothing else, is the time of year when I am most likely to make camp gear lists. (When I want things that I can’t necessarily afford, I make lists of things I can’t necessarily afford. It’s kind of not at all like having those things.) My camping gear lists inevitably include things that match at least one of a few criteria:
1. Military surplus. (My favorite is the canteen cup stove kit)
2. Ultralight things (titanium spork anyone?)
3. Things that have multiple uses. ( I hear this is junk, but I want one.)

Inevitably, I pounce (electronically) on anything that matches #3, especially if it matches #3 and one or both of the others. I usually stumble upon these items when they have either been discovered to be complete crap, or when they are still in development. Oh I wish I wish I were one of those bloggers who get sent expensive camping gear to try out in exchange for online reviews. Those companies would get very positive reviews simply because I am incredibly easy to please, haha.

Anyhow, lately I have been on a kick of checking out shelter related items. That is partially that until recently I had only a teeny tiny tent that doesn’t pack away all that compact. Naturally, I found the following two awesome concepts.

The JakPak was the first item I found. It seemed cool, though reviews online varied. At the same time I found a conceptual design for one called Vessel, which may appear even more promising. Note that the JakPak is now commercially available and I still want one, but can’t afford one. The question of whether the Vessel will ever be commercially available or not is more confusing now than it was in the past as far as I can tell. They have added other products, but apparently they are all conceptual. Admittedly, these shelters are not big either, but they aren’t nearly as bulky as the tiny tent I now own.

More recently I stumbled on alternatives to the Vessel and JakPak. Some alternatives, including this modified camo military poncho (ignore the goofy stuff at the bottom, haha) actually appear affordabe enough to start with. The traditional military pup tent from various global armed forces has also been sometimes used as a poncho in times of war, though it has many limitations. On the military front, however, what I really want is not a shelter (Okay, maybe just this one), but the incredibly well received Extreme Cold Weather four part sleep system used by US military. That, too, is expensive, though I think I need one for my backpack, and one for my emergency car kit.

I had never thought about the potential of multipurpose, compact camping gear for the homeless. Luckily, someone did. In Australia they have this great Backpack Bed which was designed for the homeless, but has seriously cool potential (and a high pricetag for casual users). This would also go great in my vehicle emergency kit. Better yet is the brilliant coat that turns into a sleeping bag! The site is currently only really organized to purchase these coats for those in need, but I guess it is getting interest from casual wearers that might boost it into commercial sales (which look like they would be affordable). Better yet, it employs those in need to make them! (This woman should join forces with the Backpack Bed folks to make a modular sleep system). That jacket should be in the trunks of every person living in the cold northern states.

Needless to say, much of this is just a case of wanting things that I don’t have and often can’t afford. On the other hand. When my vehicle decided to die on me this year, I was given the chance to purchase a new one for a nice price. In checking out the vehicle, I opened the back tailgate (since it has a tonneau cover) and discovered a tent inside. Upon closer inspection, the bag it was supposed to be in was corroded, with a bad zipper (I switched bags immediately). All the poles were present though. I put it up, cleaned it out, checked it for problems, and found that the only problem is a missing rainfly (which I can replace with a piece of tarp easily).

Now, I can’t say that owning a much larger tent will keep me from making camping gear lists during this long winter, but I can at least shrug and say “Meh, I have a good enough tent for now.” On the bright side, my tiny one-person tent now has a permanent home behind the seat of my truck, right alongside much of the other emergency gear.

It’s good to be spoiled. Now I just need to get out camping when everything warms up.

I thought it would never end!

I’ve had a lot of jobs with no such thing as paid time off or vacation. I can’t say I want to go back to those times.

That being said, last week I decided it was time to take a few more hours of my vacation time, so I took off on my birthday, Nov. 12 not to return until Monday the following week. I thought that vacation would never end!

Part of the reason I took off last week was the intention that I had to go out and shoot some deer early in the morning one of those days. Last year, I took off the full week and I woke up early every morning to freeze my butt off in the cold. Let’s see how this year worked out.

Wednesday: I woke up at 5 a.m. to my alarm. The air in my room was slightly chilly. It’s my birthday! What am I doing up at 5 a.m.? So I shut off my alarm, rolled up to sleep in… and woke up at 7 a.m. out of habit.
I bummed around the house, watching shows on the DVR and cooking breakfast. I had a long list of things to accomplish, but I didn’t really put a real effort into even showering until after lunch. After that, I realized that there was a reason I had planned on hunting in the morning, rather than the afternoon. I had work at my second job at 6 p.m. Being realistic, I realized that I would likely accomplish a whole lot less on my birthday than I had intended. I jumped in my car, intent on getting my license renewed, and drove half way to Pine River before my car started blowing cold air and spraying green water all over the place. It turns out the $210 I just spent on a water pump didn’t fix whatever was wrong with my car after all. A sheriff pulled over and made sure my car wasn’t on fire. We chatted while I checked the coolant, which had boiled out of the reservoir. I limped back home and did nothing for the rest of the day save for online tutoring in the afternoon.

Thursday: I woke up at 5 a.m. to my alarm. Thought about driving to the woods in a borrowed vehicle with the possibility of putting a bloody deer in the back around noon. Cursed my car, turned off my alarm, and tried to sleep angry. Kind of slept until, again, feeling fully awake at 7 a.m.
Having exhausted all the new shows on the DVR, I watched reruns on tv, made breakfast, and walked Katie (my dog) outside a bit. Dug out a box of deer ribs someone donated to me (most people just throw the rib meat away due to the tallow and amount of work to process). I used a corded jig saw to cut the ribs short, cut them into serving sizes and packed them into a pressure cooker. Learned later that they were too tightly packed. Some of the tallow had remixed with the meat.
Separated the tallow for use as bird suet.
Fired up my uncle Dean’s smoker and loaded the ribs up for 1.5 hours smoke using alder, chokecherry, hazelnut, and poplar smoke at a low temp. Added a smoke condenser to the smokestack.
While waiting, got doused in coolant while replacing my thermostat again (just in case that helped). Called a couple shops and found out my head gasket might be blown.
Pulled the venison from the smoker, collected the fluid from my smoke condenser and went inside to package it all up. Success in the form of a few packets of venison ribs, two packets of smoked venison sandwich meat, three bricks of bird suet and a bottle of homemade liquid smoke boiled and filtered into a tabasco bottle.
Worked two hours at online tutoring, but not very well.

Friday: Woke up to go hunting with Dad, Uncle Paul, and some people that might be distantly related. Ate a dilly bar for breakfast. Froze my butt off in a livestock trailer listening to deer walk through a pine plantation across the road.
Met up with the rest of the hunting party again and tried doing a drive. Dad said, “Go to the edge of this slash and wait.” I followed his instructions until I got a phone call. “Where are you?” he asked. I realized that there was a second slash on the other side of a small forest, and I was supposed to drive the deer through that forest. My dad gives terrible instructions.
Dropped two hunters off at a stand, drove to the other side of a pond and tried driving deer around the pond. Dad said, “Keep the sun on your left shoulder.” Doing so would have meant walking straight back to the truck. Dad is really bad at giving directions. Walked directly toward sun, attempting to drive deer around the pond. Didn’t see anything. Had to climb over logs lying across the uphill logging road on the way back to the vehicle.
Had lunch of three fun size Snickers bars, actually, two and a half. Froze my butt off until leaving the woods at 5:15. Returned home in time to heat up leftovers and go to work. Watched Grimm on the DVR.

Saturday: Woke up at 5 a.m. Didn’t even act like I was going to get up, just turned off alarm and tried not to think about how expensive it was going to be to fix my car. Slept past 7, but was woke up by dog at 7:45.
Had a breakfast of junk food before jumping in my car and driving it to a shop in Hackensack to be tested for a blown gasket with my mother following behind. Only had to stop and let the car cool off once. Noticed the water in the reservoir was ice cold, but still boiling out. Thoroughly confused.
Helped set up the Backus American Legion for a benefit for a local firefighter out of work due to surgery. Visited adoptive grandmother, returned to legion to help serve food at the benefit. Had to choose between having gas money the next week or a meal at the benefit. Chose gas.
Returned home at 6 p.m. for online tutoring. Finished tutoring, returned to Legion to clean up.
Turned off deer hunting alarm before going to bed.

Sunday: Woke up for church. Returned home with no money to go anywhere. Laid around house all day doing nothing. Realized I accomplished virtually nothing I had intended to for the week. Worked two hours of online tutoring. Watched The Walking Dead. Went to bed.

Monday: Woke up at 6:30. Got to the office early. Managed to get a lot done. Spoke to a city clerk who referred to vacations as a time to “Recharge”, explained my week to her and laughed. Couldn’t help but think, “I thought that vacation would never end.”

Is it strange that this is the first job I’ve ever had that offers vacation pay, but having time off last week was only slightly better than staying to work? I must be losing it.

Free fund raising idea, at no charge even!

So, one day however long ago I had two fund raising ideas.

Before you say anything, I am not random, and I will challenge anyone who says so to a spaghetti slurp off!

Anyhow. I came up with some fund raising ideas that I thought were kind of cool, and potentially thematic to the organizations that might use them.

First, my food shelf fund raiser. It was inspired by a mix of Iron Chef and an online cooking show that receives entirely too little attention called Stump the Chef.

Lakes Chef Battle for charity


Cost: $5 ticket, plus a food shelf donation. Can be anything you would reasonably donate to a food shelf, requesting variation. Food shelf

Event description:

Solo: One chef chooses three or more tickets from among the attendees. Those attendees bring their donation to the forefront. The chef must make a meal from those ingredients. The holders of the chosen tickets are judges. Special tickets should be available for purchase by those without a donated item, and free to those who come to the food shelf for assistance.

Battle: Same as solo, except two or more judges compete against one another.


Tickets: Color coded tickets are assigned to attendees according to their type of donation so the chef does not end up with three of the same item. The chef chooses one of each color for variety.

Color 1: Protein or centerpiece. This will be the main ingredient in the dish. It should not be a strange ingredient.

Color 2: Fruit or Vegetable (maybe starch).

Color 3: Wild card/curve ball. This color represents the most challenging or unique foods to incorporate into a recipe, like spam. These foods should not be too weird for donation to a food shelf.

Color 4: Possibly separate starch products into a fourth category.

Color 5: These tickets go to those who are not donating a food item.


Method: The chefs either bring or are provided with tools, utensils, herbs, spices and additional ingredients that could reasonably be found in a normal household. They use this to create a recipe, which is then shared with the chosen ticket holders to judge. The dish can be judged either the simple way, with a thumbs up/thumbs down, or within a 10 point scale. In a battle, judges will judge the chef that did not cook their donated food. Ties are broken by either a crowd vote, or a snack prepared either for the judges, or for all ticket holders, while supplies last (first come first served). All attendees choose their favorite from the snacks.


Proceeds: The donations not used in the challenge and the proceeds from ticket prices go toward a food shelf.



Battle of the shelves: One food shelf within a chosen geographic area is picked from a jar that includes other food shelves that have agreed to the challenge. That food shelf is able to choose a “champion” chef and then challenge another participating food shelf in battle. In a battle, the proceeds and donations could either all go to the food shelf with the winning champion, or the donations go to the loser, and the proceeds go to the winner (money goes further than donations).

Champions can be virtually anyone who agrees to the challenge. This can include successful cooks from area restaurants, volunteers with the shelf, or someone else who knows their way around a kitchen.


Time Limit: To guarantee that ticketholders do not lose interest, a time limit could be set for the event. 30 minutes to 1 hour should be reasonable.


Mini Kitchen: Chefs must prepare their foods using small kitchen appliances rather than typical ranges and stoves. Hot plate, microwave, convection ovens would be the main tools, though others would be accepted too. Because there is likely no place in the lakes area with room for a large audience and multiple regular sized cooking spaces, this might be useful for assembling a sort of modular kitchen within an auditorium or other open space.


Iron Chef: The entire structure could be changed. It currently is inspired by “Stump the Chef”, a cooking show found online. Instead, it could be modeled after “Iron Chef” found on Food Network.



  1. As mentioned above, it may be difficult to find a space with two full kitchens and seating for an audience. The Warehouse in Pine River has a suitable cooking space for one chef, and a small audience, but a larger audience would need more room.
  2. This event would almost certainly benefit from a time limit to keep people interested, but what time limit is too long?
Next is my idea for a library fundraiser. It would, of course, require a lot of leg work, but I think it would be very successful if someone put the time into it.

Autographed book auction


Funds are raised through a silent auction for autographed books. Proceeds would go to a book related group such as a library or school.


Singles: Books by relatively popular authors could be sold individually and expected to bring in a slightly higher price than less known authors.


Bundles: Books can be bundled according to author, subject, genre or various other categories. This would be a good way of auctioning off books by local or less known authors.



The best and most valuable/popular book in a bundle must be autographed, but the other books might not be.



  1. Collecting enough books to make this event profitable would take considerable time on behalf of multiple people.
  2. Books cost money, especially when autographed. This event would need to be almost exclusively done using donated autographed books. This might make it more difficult, though there would likely be plenty of authors willing to contribute.
  3. Autographs are often faked, there may be no way to guarantee the books at this auction were signed by the author as opposed to an author’s assistant. However, where there is a certificate of authenticity or some proof involved, that would be included in the auction and increase value of an item.
Now someone should get one of these running so I can attend and benefit without having to put the work into it.

everyone is an expert

I have been covering small government stories since I first started writing for a newspaper.

When I was on the BSU “Northern Student” newspaper I covered the student council. When I was just an intern at the Pine River Journal I covered Jenkins City Council meetings. Now, I cover the Backus and Pine River city councils first hand, the Pine River-Backus School Board first hand and the Emily, East Gull Lake, and Jenkins councils through reports from the clerks and administrators.

I know first hand how much time it can take to attend regular council meetings, and even then I wonder why nobody ever attends these meetings unless they are there to complain.

The scene at these council meetings is pretty much the same every week. I sit amongst city employees waiting to give their reports. There’s often the maintenance person, the engineer, the fire chief and a smattering of others. Pine River always has the city attorney, Police Chief and sewer district representative. The PR-B school board always has the business manager, often the food service manager. I am the only person in that meeting that is not associated with the board/council with only a few exceptions. Somehow, this fact does not change even now that there are many contested positions up for election on these boards/councils. Do you see something wrong with that?

Let me assure you, I have nothing against the people running for these positions. I know almost all of them personally. One is on the fire department with me, I used to work for another, I have interviewed most of them for stories, I used to buy my car tabs from another, and so on so on so on. Most of them own businesses (and hence, taxes are the big motivator here).

I won’t lie, knowing them personally only makes me feel more disappointed in them especially since most of them are running because they are angry about the way the current board/council has run itself (has issued taxes) over the last term… but how do they know?

At the Pine River Council meetings the mayoral candidate (who isn’t on the council) attends meetings often enough to have an idea how things go. The Backus Council mayoral candidate (not the incumbent) has, until this month, attended every meeting I have ever been to. Only liver cancer stopped him. I commend these two. At the Pine River-Backus School Board, the only unaffiliated person aside from me who comes to the council meetings is one of the local pastors… and she isn’t on the ballot! (I also commend her.)

How can you look at your local governing officials and say “They are ruining our town” or “they are overtaxing us” or virtually any other complaint IF YOU DON’T ATTEND MEETINGS!? You are judging someone based on what basically amounts to rumor or at the very least second hand information. There are limited sources of information outside the meetings.

• You can sometimes listen to a recording. This is the best alternative, though it takes just as much time. Really, you might as well attend the meeting.

• You can read the minutes. These are good, but you cannot get an idea of the true extent to which the council discusses an issue. It is always paraphrased. You are missing so much information.

• You can read your local newspaper. This suffers from the same problem as the minutes, except that the paper is even more constrained for space. We try to give you the most important details, but you can rarely form a full, valid judgement from these alone. Please keep reading them anyhow!

• You can talk to your friends at the coffee shop. This, I suspect is the main source of information regarding local government. Ole’s cousin Bjorn told Lena this, therefore we need someone on the council who will work for us.

If you hope to run for election in your town, please take this advice to heart. YOU HAVE NO REASON NOT TO ATTEND COUNCIL/BOARD MEETINGS! If you don’t, you don’t really know if your ire towards a specific board/council member is warranted. Ever had someone talk about you behind your back even though they don’t know you? That’s now you! Furthermore, you have no idea what the job you are applying to entails. Running uninformed is irresponsible and not fair to the people who would vote for you.

They might not like the incumbents, but if you find yourself elected and realize everything you would do to fix your local government is illegal, what happens then? What happens when Ole’s cousin’s friend’s boss was wrong and it turns out the candidates you hated so much really didn’t do what you always blamed them for? You may have replaced someone with experience. At the very least, attending meetings gives you an upper leg against the incoming candidates who don’t attend the meetings. There really is no reason for a candidate not to attend.

I know what most people feel. “I work for a living. I can’t make it to a meeting every month.” Repeat that again and again and again until you realize that people on the council/board HAVE TO ATTEND A MONTHLY MEETING in addition to trainings, committee meetings, local events and all sorts of other obligations. If you don’t have time to attend meetings, you don’t have time to be a council/board member. If you have ever used this excuse, it is my honest opinion you should drop out of the race.

Even if you don’t plan on running, but you have complaints about how your local government is run, I have the same advice as above. Nobody ever attends council meetings unless they are upset about something. It is safe to assume, in these cases, they don’t even know what lead up to the action you don’t like. Do you think they are picking on your friend? Let me ask you a theoretical question.

You meet a friend one day and they are complaining about the police. You ask what happened, they say, “I got pulled over and ticketed and I wasn’t even doing anything!” Do you buy it or do you need more information? Is it possible they were speeding? That’s kind of what it is like to get angry at local government members if you don’t attend the meetings.

Do you think your civic responsibility is limited to voting? Think again. Honestly, there should be so many people attending council/board meetings that they need to be held in an auditorium. That will never be the case, but at the very least the people who are running for office should be at the meetings. The people who have bad things to say about their local government should at least attend occasionally. Unless they do, they are unreliable sources about what is wrong with the current council. Where do they get their info?

Now, for an anecdote. My oldest brother recently decided that he might like to run for his local city council. I told him in earnest, “If you want a leg up on your opponents, attend the meetings.” Without fail, he responded, “I don’t have time for meetings! I’m a working man!”

…Of course he would say that.

When an old man dies…

There is this phrase out there that goes, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.

If you ever try to do my job for any length of time, you’ll find there are fewer words so true out there. Of course, I would replace “man” with simply “person”. Hey, I won’t even make this age exclusive. How many stories does even a small child have to tell? Lord knows they will try to tell you if you give them the chance.

I’m reminded of this adage by the past few weeks when I have been exposed to characters fit for so many novels. That’s just another fringe benefit of my position. Most people live lives where they meet people who come into their paths serendipitously. In my job, I direct my path toward these people. An average person may meet someone authentically interesting every now and again. I meet them constantly, and I actively peel back the layers of their years to uncover those things which sometimes even Hemingway and Twain would have been hard pressed to make up.

How many new people have you met this last year? How many of them did you find interesting? How many of them did you actively ask personal, sometimes painful questions? How often do you walk away feeling personally connected to them for having shared your conversation?

Newspaper writers are not supposed to get personal for the most part. It’s impossible to stay completely impersonal, but you would be surprised how difficult it is to even try. Can you really ask such deep questions one after another to a person without feeling some connection to them? I like to think empathy leads to better questions.

Last Memorial Day I ran into a friend while taking photos. She is always at the local memorial day with her mother and her grandfather, a World War II Veteran. She informed me then that her grandfather was turning 100 on Halloween of this year. I wrote it in my schedule and mostly forgot about it. Beginning this month (October) I found the note, and someone called us up to tell us about him all over again. Naturally, I scheduled an interview for our special section on senior living.

I met Ed one Friday afternoon in his assisted living building.

Ed was almost what you would expect from a 99 year and 11 month old man, except 100 year old people somehow are almost younger than their age. I’ve seen people in their 60’s and 70’s who act and look older than Ed.

Even so, Ed had a walker, one with hand breaks and a seat. He has just a little white hair left on top of his head, but most of it wraps around in a familiar pattern. He leans forward, as older folk tend to, and he smiles a smile you wouldn’t expect. Teenagers are 100 times more moody with less justification.

One of the attendants at the assisted living place helps Ed to sit down and we start talking.

This is not an easy interview.

Sometimes you speak to someone and you know exactly which direction to go with your questions. Sometimes it is more difficult. Ed’s claim to fame is his age. How many questions can you come up with for someone’s age?

I planned on feeling out the interview with standard questions on life accomplishments, proud times and awe inspiring moments, but Ed is not the type of person to let someone my age steer the conversation.

The conversation is honestly all over the place. We talk about his home town in Illinois, he jumps to the war, boy scouts, Civilian Conservation Corps, WWII, CCC, resort ownership and back to Illinois. Ed’s storytelling is admittedly erratic and unpredictable, but I don’t care.

He remembers dates more clearly than I ever have and he gets frustrated and blames his age when it takes him more than a few seconds to remember some obscure year 70+ years ago.

Ed occasionally garbles his speech, and when he does nothing he says is understandable. Leading up to those moments, however are newspaper gold.

He says some non politically correct things. That’s a little jarring, but who am I to change a 100 year old man.

He shares his nightmares with me, except they were real once, in some battlefield in Europe, or a strange corrupt street in Chicago. He tells me he has never had a boring day in his life and he’s prepared to prove it to me. I’m a believer at the end of the hour.

This old sage has lived a century. He has so much to complain about, but he barely does. Almost everything he had to tell me was said with the same tone as a brag or a witty joke. Exceptions, of course, being the passing of one of his children, and his wife.

We shy away from the painful facts. That’s another reason why this interview is not easy.

How do you talk to another person about their death, especially someone you only met an hour ago? Ed is counting down his days. You might never guess that he is 100, but then again you would never know by looking at him that many years of untreated acid reflux has given Ed esophageal cancer. He’s in stage 4. I can’t ask him about it. I have to stumble through those questions with his daughter on the phone later.

In Pine River, a smoldering fire is burning in a library named Ed, and there is nothing to be done about it. People talk about the Library at Alexandria, but in light of this, who cares. Real libraries are great, but this… is unexplainable.

I’ll be lucky if I have even a fraction of the stories Ed has at any point in my life. I consider myself a creative and maybe interesting person, but so many of the stories that will die with me will belong to people like Ed who I met through my job. I’m happy I can try to prolong them even for just a little bit.

It’s an incredible thing, to meet people like this. I have met so many of them. It’s humbling. I meet so many people with such incredible experiences. It could humble anybody.