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

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Full Moon Swim

A Full Moon Swim

I left the porch, the newly hatched robins and my pristine lake behind and took the Subaru to Minneapolis, or the “Minneapple” as some locals affectionately refer to it. Stopped in to see some old friends who design really neat homes, cabins and cottages. Although it"s a large metropolis, Minneapolis is the City of Lakes in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, so Jeff , Mike, Doug and all the other people at SDC have a strong context from which to design these lakeshore dwellings.

Leaving the “Cities” this afternoon it was still about 85 degrees until I stopped in Spooner for a Dove bar. (I would have preferred a Snickers Blizzard-hold the chocolate syrup-but the lines get so long on a sticky humid summers eve.) As I continued east, the temps continued to fall as the full moon peaked and poked behind and out from the remaining scattered clouds, lighting them up like a carnivals midway. Soon, as the dew point and temps both met at about 68, the most beautiful layer of fog seemed to be gently poured over the pines and bogs and winding road in the most haphazard yet beautiful way. As soon as I had a signal, I telephoned my granddaughter who is staying with us, describing this magic and urging her to accept my offer of a full moon swim.

We’ve just returned from the dock , I’ve toweled off and slipped into my flannel PJ’s. That was an amazing swim, the entire lake lit up by the full moon on a crystal clear night that had shed the tears of the days earlier storms. A full speed run (okay, half speed) off the end of a wooden dock into the black abyss. We splashed around like a couple of muskrats in love knowing that this moment was ours forever…just the two of us under the stars with the sweet smell of pine in the air enjoying a full moon swim. Thank you my dear. Goodnight and sleep tight!

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

Monday, July 14, 2008

Best Breakfast Up North

Look, you're Up North and it's time to let someone else cook breakfast for you. Perkins? Forget it. Who needs more franchises...that's why you left where you were. I'm sending you to one of my favorite all time breakfast joints called The Lake Placid Inn.

Here is one of those "hidden treasures" off the beaten path that is as quirky as it is delicious. This is a place that hasn't been ruined by remodeling. Trust me, it's very clean, it's just still a blast from the past and that's part of it's charm. Wind your way slowly along the pine studded path of Hwy F on the reservation and look closely or you'll miss it. Your mouth will start watering before you get inside. And once inside, you better obey yourselves! Rule #1, sign in on the chalkboard if you want a table...even if the place is empty. (A name and number in party will do fine.) Don't hassle the help if you have to wait; they see you and know you're hungry. They also know you don't eat like this at home. (Sit at the bar and have a "shorty" if you have won't be alone) When your table is ready you'll enter into the pleasure zone. All of these people in this small, quaint room have one thing in common...they're all happy! This is for families with 3 generations at one table eating pancakes, laughing, sharing stories and creating memories. You may also find the CEO of a large Chicago company in shorts and sandals with pure Wisconsin maple syrup running down his chin and chatting up the locals. The point is, it's all family here. Everyone is welcomed.

Orders are taken efficiently and prepared just as quickly. Don't dilly dally...know what you want. In less than 10 minutes you're food is on the way out with Denise's pronouncement " Don't touch the plates, they're hot". That's right, one of the few places that figured out hot eggs on cold plates don't mix. Now sitting right in front of you on the classic plastic tablecloth is the best beakfast this area has to offer. Just how thick is that french toast? Psssst....the bread is baked fresh on the premises and cut just before your order was prepared. Is this heaven or what? Here's the deal; the food is great, the people are salt of the earth and the portions /prices/ quality can't be beat with a cane pole.

After you've eaten, sip your coffee for a bit while Uncle Roger clears the plates. You, my friend are lucky. It's 10:30am, you've just finished breakfast and you have the rest of a stunningly beautiful day to enjoy yourselves in our playground called "The Northwoods". Now quit yacking, pay your bill, leave a nice tip and let someone else in on the secret.

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

Jumping Off

Hello everyone and welcome to my...I guess they call it a "blog" , whatever that means. I"m so glad, thankful and appreciative that you stopped by today. Pull up a chair while I throw a few more logs on the fire. Help yourself to any of the teas. I also brewed some thick java that is piping hot. Are these your friends out here? Bring 'em in; I've got all kinds of room; we'll just move this stuff out of the way. There's a stack of Hudson Bay blankets inside that you can bring out onto the porch if you get cool. It's a little damp today.

If you haven't stopped by before, we usually get together a few times a week, sometimes more often when more friends are up. It's all casual here. Bring your own cup if you want and I'll keep it here on the rack. You're welcome to discuss anything you wish; we certainly have covered most topics over the years. However we mostly talk about life in the Northwoods of Wisconsin; specifically the Minocqua or lakeland area and the north lakeland area including Boulder Junction, Presque Isle, Manitowish Waters, Winchester etc. These are my favorites and where I've spent most of my time.

We all seem to enjoy just being in the woods and water so real estate comes up often; the best lakes for fishing, property values, old homesteads etc. When we're not busy (which is most of the time) we eat, so food is always "on the menu". As you can tell when you walked in here, I have collected some nice art pieces over the years from local cratsmen (paintings, furniture, rugs, quilts etc.) that are all within an hours drive from here. We'll kick their names around a bit and see if we can't turn you onto their studios. Actually, they usually have a shed out back. A studio sounds kind of funny.

But, as I mentioned before, we usually just sit back, sip some coffee, listen to the fire snap, crackle and pop and talk about life up here; our lives in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and just how blessed we are to be in this area that is overflowing with natural splendor. It's a good life for sure and I'm glad you're here!

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