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.

 

Variations:

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.

 

Problems:

  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.

 

Variations:

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

 

Problems:

  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.

Small towns are boring, but nobody told that to all the people having fun

Nothing ever happens in a small town. Am I right?

Take Friday night for example. All I could do Friday night was sit around the house and belly ache about how busy I was at work!

It all started with Tuesday and the moving of the Bank in Jenkins.

Wednesday I had company at home so there was no time to belly ache about how nothing was happening around the area.

Thursday there was an anniversary celebration in Pine River for the local hardware store. Followed by a tour of the PRB school forest.

Who needs a tour guide when it’s so fun to get lost in a forest with trees like this!

Followed by more running around.

My Friday morning started with a trip to the Pine River-Backus High School for Homecoming. I knew some of the candidates, but not that many so I satisfied myself by watching the choreographed skit that the PR-B Homecoming and Snow Daze events are virtually famous for. They had some pretty funny moves.

It is hard to serenade someone when they throw their shoe at you.

After they finished with the crowning I had little time to waste. I got a photo of the whole Homecoming Court, checked my watch, and made tracks out of there after only about 100-150 photos.

Sit down! Shut up! I got places to be! Just kidding.

I arrived in Hackensack, roughly 20 miles away, in time to witness the Lumberjack show at their annual Chainsaw festival. As an added note, I got there in time to see a special show for PR-B students.

Do those teachers have experience throwing double headed axes? No? Good, it’s more interesting that way, let me get out front for a photo.

Watching the event was great, but time was a wasting. I took about 50-100 photos of the lumberjack show alone, but I still needed to snap a few of the carving competition. I hunted down an escort and shot another 100-200 photos.

I’ve done stories on this carver in our paper before. Of course, that was true of a few of the other artists as well.

I checked my clock and all that was left of me in hackensack was a cloud of smoke shaped like me. Back to PR-B twenty miles away I went to catch some students in the act of learning to swing dance.

Um, queen, your hand is in his eyeball.

I will be the first to admit that half the fun of taking photos of people learning to swing dance is taking photos of them screwing up.

Someone’s trapped. I’m not sure which one, but one of them is.

Unfortunately, between little mess ups, slow shutter speeds, flash interrupting the dancers, and any other number of things, photos of swing dancing are surprisingly difficult! To get the right photos took a while and my day was moving along.

Cue the obligatory dance scene between the king and queen.

There were other places I needed to be, so I didn’t stick around another hour to get the younger kids learning to swing dance. One of our other writers stuck around for the homecoming volleyball game, and yet another one attended that night’s football game. After only 200 photos I went back to town where absolutely nothing was happening except, you know a bunch of events, celebrations and what have you. How boring.

The next morning I was out and about yet again. This time I went to Crosslake Days in… you guessed it Crosslake. Though we were experiencing one of our last really really warm days, the air in town was saturated with a mist of Chili and people. On Every…

Jul Festival

Single…

Flea market

Corner…

Craft Fair

There were places to sell crafts and crap. Of course, since Crosslake is a lake town (sort of like Bemidji) the town is strung out along the shoreline, aka very long! The town is small according to occupants, but you still need a car to get places if you are trying to cover everything in a short period of time. As a result, my eye was always on the time because there was a chilli cook-off to look into.

Don’t you love the particulates on his tongue??

And a car show.

I am very fond of Mustangs.

And…And…And… other stuff. By the time I got done on Friday I went home and sat around doing nothing. I was so tired (presumably because I was so bored from there being nothing to do) that I just bummed around the house and waited for family to show up and hang out.

Sunday I went to church followed by harvesting potatoes left behind by the harvesters. How I managed to fit this in with all the other busy work is beyond me. What a boring place to live!

Once in a lifetime

There were many times during my time working at a restaurant, a truss company or various other places of employ where I missed the opportunity to see or do something that isn’t too common. That’s standard for a normal job, but not for mine.

Even in a city or town that is commonly considered boring (If you say your town is boring, you obviously don’t work for a newspaper), there are times where something is happening that is so rare, so interesting and so cool that everyone wants to see/do it. Now, if it happens that that “thing” in question happens between 9 and 5, most people are out of luck. One of the absolutely greatest parts of my job is that I am expected to go to these things.

Why? Well, that’s obvious. Everyone wants to see/do it, but everyone is working. It’s a vicious cycle, sort of. Not really vicious, especially not for me.

Get it? cat? Canary? You get it.

When everyone wants to go, but everyone is working it is my job as a news writer and photographer to roll up my sleeves, get dirty, and go so that when mom and pop sit down on a quiet thursday night to peruse the old newspaper, they can live through the content inside.

When there is a politician in town speaking to the local chamber of commerce, or school we are there.

Rick Nolan spoke to the Pequot Lakes school in my first year back to the paper.

When a huge building has been loaded onto a truck and is being moved 30 miles down the road, you bet we’re there.

The former Jenkins First National Bank of Walker building was wheeled down the road Sept. 23.

If someone in our town is teaching a really cool skill or craft that everyone wants to learn? Hey, I might even have special passes to that event.

Resilient Action Day in Pine River is just the most recent opportunity for me to learn some really cool stuff, and even to purchase a really cool cold frame like the one above.

Sometimes I have to clock out so I’m not enjoying myself on company time (only a little serious) but that’s a small price to pay to be able to constantly do awesome stuff.

When it comes down to it, all this awesome stuff isn’t for me. It’s for the readers. Without the paper, how would people experience the things they have no time for? It’s all to help the readers to live vicariously through us, because if we had jobs like everyone else, you’d just have to wonder what it looks like to haul a bank building down the road, hey, you might never even be aware it happened.

In the case of the First National Bank building, how often do you get to see something like that? In our neighborhood, not often. It’s one thing to see a big truck rolling down the road with a mobile home, something else entirely to see a commercial building with multiple floors that takes up the entire road WHEN ALREADY CUT IN HALF!

I’ve said before that I’m blessed with the job I have. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to forget that fact. There are constant reminders. So, when your job gets dull and you need to unwind. Feel free to check out your next issue of the PineandLakes Echo Journal. Live vicariously through us. Go ahead. We won’t mind.

Oh, and I almost forgot, when there’s an award ceremony dinner… We’ll probably be there.

You say we need to cover an award dinner and they’re serving prime rib? Twist my arm why don’t you?

 

Must learn talk better

I watched through my lens as an airplane appeared to be flying directly at me, and I realized, the pilot had misunderstood my request.

I would share the actual photos, but the article hasn’t run to print yet.

True, it was only an RC plane made of a plastic shell stretched on a balsa wood frame. The pilot was on the other side of the runway operating it from a little radio box, but I suspect it would still hurt to get hit. Luckily, it only looked as close as it did because of my telephoto lens.

It looks like it’s right in front of me!

“Sorry, I think I misspoke,” I told the pilot. “I was actually saying it would be cool to get a photo of the plane flying low between us so I could get a shot of the plane as it passes you.”

“Oh,” he laughed. “That makes a lot more sense.”

He made a few passes like that and I got a few shots that were pretty much exactly as I had imagined them. In spite of a brief hiccup, this was an almost ideal photo opportunity.

As I have said. Photography isn’t always so easy. Communication almost always makes things easier, but sometimes nobody can do anything to make the job easier on you. When you can make requests to an event organizer about layout, that is the most ideal opportunity to get things right. You might not know what “right” is until you’ve had a chance to shoot “wrong”.

A good example was last year. I took a photo of our local school’s full army of employees. All of them standing, lined up in a few rows in a cafeteria crowded with tables and chairs. Nobody had asked me ahead of time, but that’s okay.

To get the shot I had to stand on a table far enough away to fit most people in the frame, but not far enough that I would get the tables and chairs in the shot. I also had to borrow a tripod from the school tech guys. Using the tripod I was able to get a few photos and splice them into a panorama, but there were a few people standing in the margins who were visually maimed.

Because the photo was printed so small, nobody noticed this cyclops created by merging photos into a panorama. In the Harry Potter world I believe this is called splinching.

When the superintendent spoke to me about this year’s photo, I made a suggestion that the staff should sit in the gymnasium bleachers where I could back up to get the photo. They even supplied me a ladder since this year’s photo was more square than horizontally rectangular. I still had to shoot over a volleyball net, but the photo turned out, and nobody got splinched.

This year’s photo did have its draw backs, however. The Panorama had the advantage of being three large file size photos spliced together. These photos collectively are better quality than the one photo I took this year, however, you always run the risk of splinching someone when you do a panorama with people in it.

It’s always about communication, and if the communication is poor, or the photo subject is uncooperative, it can make an ideal photo nearly impossible. This miscommunication can also be a little embarrassing. Our annual sport photos are often an opportunity for me to feel embarrassed.

As a man my age I have to annually figure out ways to delicately tell girls from a high school volleyball team(traditionally in very short shorts) why the front row cannot sit with their legs crossed in your school’s athletic photo. There’s also a common group photo position where there are three or more rows. The first row is sitting or kneeling, the second row is leaning forward with hands just above knees, and the back row is standing straight. In the case of groups of girls in shirts that are somewhat baggy on top, this pose is also a problem (trust me, there were many senior class photos in my yearbooks with this pose). If you are lucky, you recognize these positions before you snap the picture and the teams disburse. You don’t have to call up the coach and explain why the previous photos were inappropriate.

There are also times when communication in itself can be inappropriate.  Take for example award ceremonies. There is an obligatory photo whenever someone is receiving an award plaque. Basically, just snap a shot of the hand shake or hand off of the plaque. Easy, right? Not always. It’s all about layout. If, for example, the plaque and handshake happen behind a table of honored guests, things can get difficult.

what a terrible photo of two clapping people, right? That’s because they stood up just as I was snapping a shot of the award presentation behind them.

Now, there were four plaques given to this same gentleman that night, and the same thing happened with every single plaque. I could have told these two to please not stand up into the photo frame, but that would entail yelling over the sound of a clapping crowd, or telling them in the front of the room during the speeches between presentations. I am rude for the sake of photos more often than I like to admit, but that would have been a little far.

What’s the solution? Well, that’s easy. A posed presentation shot after the speeches are all done. You just have to approach the parties involved and ask them to pose for a photo. This is basically foolproof…

Don’t hijack my photo please.

Or so you would think.