Friday, August 8, 2008

Brett Favre...Not So Fast.

There’s only one downside to employing someone who is with you for so long, does their job so well, is liked and admired by so many and becomes the iconic face of your company…letting them go. Imagine the public relations nightmare that would create. Yet star employees eventually reach their golden years and wise companies anticipate this eventual void, all the while preparing and grooming a younger successor, as they should. And so, as the new protégé is trotted out to meet the paying customers, management usually begins to assuage the disharmony by sly, although not so subtle references to the retirement party. Your retirement party! There’s talk of parades, fireworks and A list guests coming in on private jets; even a golden bust molded in your honor. You want the keys to the city; you’ve got ‘em.

And so it went for a man for whom I have the ultimate respect and admiration. A gunslinger from Mississippi who dazzled us not only with his extraordinary athletic feats and his aw shucks personality, but with his unwavering determination to give his employer and his customers every ounce he had. Keep in mind this is a man who hasn’t missed a day of work in 17 years; and he hasn’t been sitting behind a desk. Through personal matters of death and cancer and rehab, he did what for so many of us is an all consuming chore; to get up, go to work and do your best; all day, every day. To say it was easy because he was paid handsomely and he was doing something he loved may be accurate but misses the point. He’s an ethical man, win or lose, rich or broke.

After all of the backslapping, praise singing and well wishing, it took Brett Favre about three weeks of sitting around Kiln last Spring to realize that come August he was going to miss going to work, seeing his colleagues and enjoying his customers, the fans. However, I believe this to be the time when it began to sink in that this party being planned up North in Green Bay, this was a funeral and ‘ol number 4 had helped pick out the clothes he’d be wearing. I can hear Ted Thompson now, “What do you think of this tie with that shirt?”

I’m glad to see that Brett Favre has rejected the plea bargain he once reluctantly took from Packer management and is again playing in the NFL. Every Sunday this season my grandchildren will see a man go to work and behave like a champion, win or lose. They’ll see a guy who doesn’t need the money work like he has no idea where his next meal is coming from. And they’ll see a guy who was being ushered out because of a “change in direction” and amidst a barrage of distorted public perception and sentiment, turn around and say “That’s fine. I’ll take my talents elsewhere.”! Good for you Mr. Favre! Way to stay in the pocket!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Bismarcks and Jelly Rolls

A light 30 minute rain with an occasional "boomer" tiptoed across our lake this morning, momentarily replacing a postcard perfect sunrise on this first day of August as our precious summer begins its gentle descent. And my what a summer it has been. Early morning swims, late evening card games, homemade popcorn, ice cream, flea markets, parades, go carts (yes, even at our age), friends, family, Bismarck's and Jelly Rolls! Hey wait. What about those long hikes into the woods? Or those early morning bicycle rides on the Boulder Junction trail? Nary a mention of a long paddle with Bruno and Gladys? Sorry Gladys, I'll change that...Nary a mention of a long paddle with Gladys and Bruno?

It's in this last third of summer, the same time every year when I wonder if my swimming trunks have really shrunk that much in just two months. I wonder when I get out of the shower and wrap myself in my towel, "what happened to the extra fabric that is surely not here today"? And when I'm driving the Subaru and gaze down at my midsection, I wonder if my shirt is that far away from my body or heaven forbid, yes, it's tight to my abdomen. But it is summer in the Northwoods and that of course means eating!

Some people say "Gosh, all we do is eat anymore". Or you may have heard, "Every time we're invited somewhere, there's enough food to feed an army". And I know what they mean, these people, these words. I do feel the same. I may be a bit heavy right now and should (tomorrow) start taking care of myself, but I feel blessed. Blessed that I participated in so much celebrating this summer; and that's what all this eating is for, right? Sure we enjoy the magnificence of a wonderful coconut cream pie, but we celebrate the people we're eating it with. Sure we all love a hot brat right off the grill, but we're in awe of the 100 year old white pines that we're standing under and the pristine lake that we're gazing at. What's important is that we so enjoy the people that are in this moment with us...right here and now. And I think that's the celebration. To enjoy our food, to share some laughs and to hear great stories reminds us all that we are still alive. We're vital. We are healthy and fit and participating in life. We are blessed! So here's what I plan on doing the rest of the summer. I'm going to show up at every barbecue we're invited to. I'm going to take everything that's passed my way. I'm going to save room for pie. And I'm going to give our hosts a big hug, smile and thanks when I leave. And when the January sun is just over the horizon and my 'ol wooden snowshoes are marching through the gloriously white fluff, I'm gonna think, "Holy Toledo, that was a great summer. Gladys and I are really blessed. And this...this isn't too bad either. C'mon Bruno".

I gotta run. Thanks for stopping by today and bringing the pie. All my love to you and yours, Elmer

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Northwoodstock 2008

The 3rd annual installment of this popular music festival put on at the historic Bent’s Camp Lodge in Land ‘O Lakes is now in the history books and what a show to remember. Assembled three years ago by Dewey and Penny Bunnell of America and Paul and Lisa Stemen of Bent’s Camp, this year was absolutely the most attended if not talented group to assemble for a full summers day of music, food and obligatory hippie fashions.

The weekend started with a delightful invitation to join the Bunnell’s at their lake home for a pre festival BBQ on Friday evening. Unfortunately, Gladys had a commitment in the Cities’ and was unable to attend.The food was absolutely outstanding (thanks Penny) and the spirits lively. Many of the incoming musicians along with a select group of our areas musical talent were on hand to eat, drink and …be in tune. Shortly after the sun had set and the mosquitoes arrived, the guitars started coming out; and it never stopped. Eventually, in a dark and romantic corner of this warm rustic home, there was an intimate sing along featuring the founders of America (Dewey), Poco (Rusty Young) and Maplewood (Mark Razzo) along with Nada Surf stick man Ira Elliot. Add in another 6-7 gorgeous voices for harmonies and we were all treated to an impromptu 60 minute set that covered The Beatles, Neil Young, Chryssie Hynde, David Crosby, Bob Dylan and more. Wow. I still had a show to cover the next day. I should mention that my daily devotion on this day was to be aware of the blessings offered to each of us daily in a multitude of forms. Well, I tasted it in the food, heard it in the song and saw it on the smiles. Pure heaven!

Saturday I entered the festival promptly at 12:45 P.M. Now the show didn’t start until 2:00P.M., but I figured with my flowers watered and my garden weeded, I missed the first Woodstock, I don’t want to miss this one. What a picture perfect day for the crews and musicians to go through their final sound checks, harmonies and progressions. As the crowd began to filter in, the first band from OshKosh called the Crossbones ran through an inspired, yet at times out of tune 35 minute set of cover songs. This was a nice little outfit that added some familiar lyrics for the early attendees. As the crowd increased, so did the energy, delivering a newcomer to the area, Jo Jo and the Marsh, fronted by attractive and soulful Jo Jo Marsh with her talented husband Mark on the drum kit. With the crowd growing to capacity, local faves Brett and Friske took full advantage of the opportunity to show their chops as they lit off one tune after another like M-80’s at a 4th of July celebration. Ending a spectacular 45 minute set world renowned slide guitarist Rusty Young added to Brett and Friske’s talent and helped build Teach Your Children and Rose of Cimarron into masterpieces seldom heard anywhere, let alone Land O’ Lakes Wisconsin. Eventually, Brett and Friske gave way and provided gorgeous backup to America’s Bunnell and friends along with Poco’s Young who thrilled the now capacity crowd with sing alongs like Ventura Highway, Lonely People and Crazy Love. Here I was with Gladys joining me for this spectacular 40 minute pop set from two industry legends who seemed to be having as much fun as they did when they were selling out places like Chicago Stadium in the day. The crowd was a sing along testament to the lyrical good time vibe provided by these two in our little neck of the woods.

The loons are now singing and the coffee is freshly brewed as I watch Sundays sun rise over the Northwoods, knowing that a handful of select musicians from distant places are sleeping in log cabins by a lake at a place called Bent's Camp. Take it in, each one of you. This is the Northwoods and it is our parting gift to you. Today we are all happy, thankful and appreciative of the visit you’ve paid us. Please don’t be strangers and do accept our offer for a return engagement next summer. You gave us a thrill!

I gotta run. Thanks for stopping by today and bringing the pie. All my love to you and yours, Elmer.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Careful What Bricks You Lay

Early yesterday evening after supper, I was re spooling my Ambassodor with some mono filament in the garage when Gladys came running out looking particularly disturbed. Seems as though she had just gotten a call from our friend Ina who was despondent over an anonymous note she had received on the windshield of her car earlier that afternoon while in Minocqua. Now Ina and Ernie are two of the most stand up people you'd ever want to meet. They both give a tremendous amount of time and energy to this community. Ina is always helping out with the Lionesses, or the church or the library and Ernie is off doing his part as well, neither asking for any recognition.

Well, Ina tells Gladys that when she came out of the bank there was a note on her burgandy Crown Victoria that said "Good luck in bankruptcy! Maybe now would be a good time to stop gambling. " Signed, "The Breakfast Gals". Well this just about knocked poor Ina over. She actually lost her breath and had to go back into Northwoods Savings and Loan for some water. Ernie got a call from her and thought he'd have to drive over and pick her up she was so shaken up by these nasty and untrue allegations. What in the world? "We are not only going bankrupt but I have a gambling problem too? Who would come up with this sort of rubbish and spread such hurtful things about me and Ernie" she thought. And how could one ever squelch such salacious nonsense.

She did make it home, heading right for the sofa and grabbing the quilt off the back for some comfort. As soon as Ernie entered the room she began to weep. Have you ever seen a 70 year old woman weep. Ina felt so betrayed. This was her community and full of her friends...everyone; even if she hadn't met you. Everyone gets the benefit of the doubt from this wise elderly wife, mother and grandma.

The more she went through it in her head, the more puzzling it seemed. "What have I done or where have I been to give the impression to anyone that our lives, Ernie and mine, are not in order." Well she started to put 2 and 2 together. For the past six months Ina had been working on a program for Native American children. She was looking for used computers that could be distributed to the children on the reservation. The kids could use space at the casino (where their parents were working) for after school tutoring. Ina's contact at the bank was Vivian Gress in the delinquent credit department. Her son Matthew had graduated from Madison in the late seventies and had gone to Seattle to join some unknown company called Microsoft. He had abundant resources for Ina that his mom Vi would facilitate. Okay, now it's making sense...kind of. Ina spent hours in the glassed in office at the bank, clearly visible for the past several months. She also had been on the reservation alot, for meetings and such and had even gotten not one but two speeding tickets around the casino in the past six months. Unfortunately, both made it to the press. So now it was all making sense. Trouble was, it was the furthest thing from the truth. And as always is the case, the accused has no recourse and no means by which they can explain or clear their name..

I immediately decided after Gladys went back inside to finish her puzzle that I would comment on this topic. This rumour mill stuff is fodder for a few up here as it seems to be all over these days. We seem as a nation to have made gossip a sport of its own. This has given rise to publications like People, or Us Weekly or the legendary National Enquirer. I see'em at Olson's Superette. Fish wrap at best is what I say. It may seem benign on a national level but when it's in your small home town, think of the pain caused. Think of the anguish delivered on ones doorstep. Tony Soprano used to say "Forget about it". Sometimes that's easier said than done.

Ina's unfortunate lesson and the lesson for all of us is to be very careful of the "walls we build" around people. Every time we comment on a fellow neighbor we "lay a brick". There is a lot of labor behind our words and eventually, we will create a building in which we house those we talk about. My question to you build churches or prisons? Do your words imprison others or set them free. Choose your words carefully and refuse the offer from others to join them in rumors, gossip and innuendos. Build a church my friend.

I gotta run. Thanks for stopping by today and bringing the pie. All my love to you and

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hey Pal, Going My Way?

I know it sounds like a broken record, but these gas prices have got many of my friends up here more tangled up than a youngster with a new Zebco. The fact of the matter is that those of you on the porch and your other friends up here all realize the great distances we MUST travel to live here. There's a lot of truth in the old saying "everything is a half hour away". Now conversely, that's what offers us the peace and solitude we so enjoy. But by gollie it is just almost unaffordable to fill up anymore.

A few of us folks were talking the other day at the Boulder hardware store and briefly outlined a rather self sufficient means of implementing our own public transportation, which we all feel is needed now more than ever. First, let's all start by acknowledging that we need each others help. If Gladys is running down to Minocqua, there's no reason why she wouldn't contact the rest of the ladies down the road to see if they've got their list together ; one trip down 51 could help 4-5 families. And accordingly, when I've got to run down to see the good doc at the Marshfield Clinic, not a reason I can think of why I wouldn't look for a rider or pick someone up along the way...long as I had some idea of who they were. So in about 20 minutes and between numerous "hellos" and "goodbyes" this is what we came up with that could morph into the Northwoods "Fishin' For a Ride" Line.

First off, let's identify the communities that we would start with. (Now pardon me, but this is all on recollection and I've recycled a few bottles of "Cab" since we talked last Tuesday if you know what I mean?!) Okay, these communities would likely include Presque Isle, Winchester, Mercer, Manitowish Waters, Boulder Junction, Arbor Vitae, Woodruff and Minocqua. In each of these communities except Minocqua (explain later) we could identify one establishment/ business that would serve as a drop off/ pick up point. In inclement weather, perhaps these fine folks would allow riders to stay inside (bbrrrr....please?). This would also drive traffic (pardon the pun) to their establishments. Now if you needed a ride from say, Presque Isle to Minocqua, you could feasibly stand at the shelter in front of Headwaters Real Estate and place the wooden "Minocqua" sign on the front of the shelter and wait for your ride. Your first offer may be only as far as Boulder Junction or Manitowish Waters, but you have gotten further down the line and are increasing your chances of a ride to your destination considerably as traffic also increases the closer we get to Minocqua. Now you may be thinking, just who is going to get into a car with a stranger? Or, who in their right mind would pick up a complete stranger? Both obvious AND wonderful questions that require thoughtful answers.

One of the benefits of a small community is that you know almost everyone. And the people you don't know, they're probably pretty nice too. Now in order to qualify as a potential "driver", you must have a bright sticker visible to all on your front windshield. In order to obtain this sticker, you must meet the age and driving requirements of the program. These requirements would most likely include NO DUI arrests, NO license revocation, NO felony charges etc. And let's say at some time you wanted to be a "rider". You too would be required to have a "pass" that identifies you. This part we're still refining, however it also should be a very thorough screening . Perhaps a rider would write into a log the date/ time/ location and drivers license number before accepting a ride that would be left at a "kiosk" or with the "host" at a particular site. Understanding that Minocqua is the main hub of the area, it would have a disproportionate number of drop off- pick up points, possibly as many as 10. These would include downtown, WalMart, Trigs, Lakeland High, Marshfield Clinic, movie theatre etc. Still, remember that most of us have cell phones and most of us know each other. The wait times would be expectantly slow during implementation of this program but hopefully would increase to a point of success after residents know and understand the purpose and benefits and any fears are addressed.

So that's basically it in a nutshell; a small town grass roots "ride share" program.No doubt about it, lots of unanswered questions, but the premise is pretty clear and there seems to be support for what amounts to helping each other out and in the process, strengthening the ties of a small community. I believe this could be done so efficiently and swiftly and also serve as a reminder to everyone that most of the solutions to our challenges are right under our noses. So, I urge you to momentarily forget the politicians, and along with me, Gus, Harold, Ernie and our Northwoods friends, find that activism in yourself, roll up your sleeves and let's all "Git R Done". Heck, for a bunch of old "ripe" folks we're starting to sound pretty "green"!

I've gotta run. Thanks for stopping by today and bringing the pie. All my love to you and yours, Elmer

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Super WalMart Opens

Finally, after many years of discussion, opining and hand wringing, the Minocqua Super WalMart opened on Wednesday. Prior to the opening and during the buildout phase, I had the chance to take a look-see. Not Bad! The exterior aesthetics are pleasing to the eye complete with some stone/ timbers/ dormers etc. And even WalMart has gone "green". When there is enough ambient light coming through the many skypanels, off go the lights. And when no one has strolled past the freezer cases in 45 seconds, off go the lights. They really are making great strides in the energy saving direction. And since Wednesday, my wife actually had a chance to shop it. (Sounds like someone who "fished" the lake or "ran" the rapids)

Here's the take on WalMart from the porch...for better or worse, they are now a neighbor 45 minutes to the south. We've given them so much air time out here Bruno leaves when he heres their name. Let's forget for a moment all of the hyperbole that is obvious and certainly not original. WalMart is here for one reason and that is that our greater area wanted them. We have said it through our pocketbooks, through our focus groups and through our shopping patterns. So here it is and it's (gulp) not bad.

We live in an area that is economically challenged. There are a few good jobs, but most of the work is minimum wage stuff in the service our retail sector. We are a resort area with a 4 month window of economic opportunity. Not only can't we afford gas at $4.25 per gallon, most of us can't afford cereal for our kids at $5 a box. Who can pay $3 for a loaf of bread? Don't forget kids who need dental care, eyeglasses and essential doctor visits. How can a family of four do that on $40,000 to $50,000 per year. You do it by watching your pennies! You're fishing when they're biting or getting your bird and deer limits when in season. Forget "the sport of it", that's for the freezer! And I think you survive with a lot of help from WalMart. They add great value to many lives up here from groceries, to clothing choices to many other home essentials. Yes, the landscape is forever changed and surely more big box retailers (The Home Depot/ Menards) will visit the doorstep of Minocqua. But we're all very patient when we say "That's okay". You can't turn back the clock.

When I was a young five year old boy from Chicago it would take us 14 hours to get up here. Within the next 5 years we will have four lanes of concrete bringing visitors to their "getaway"in a third that time. Think about the irony in that?. And still, that's okay too. Maybe it's just as simple as folks not wanting to getaway as much as they just want a change of scenery...but still with lifes essentials at a good price. My wife shopped WalMart and brought back some treats for our neighbors Toots and Al, Ina and Ernie and the Gustafsons. Now it's time for me to go down to the kitchen, toast up some delicious $1.79 a loaf bread and listen to the loons. And, as we say up here, WalMart...that's a "keeper"!

I’ve gotta run. Thanks for stopping by today and bringing the pie. All my love to you and yours, Elmer

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bruno our Dog

This is a picture of Bruno our little golden. He is usually on the porch with us waiting for a handout like he's hailing a Manhattan cab. There are only two things Bruno can't tolerate...water and the sound of a shotgun?! Nice retriever Bruno, you little homebody.

I’ve gotta run. Thanks for stopping by today and bringing the pie. All my love to you and yours, Elmer