Posts Tagged ‘wisconsin’


Ronnie Hess

Two people I know got attention for their writing this week.

Ronnie Hess, a friend from childhood summers on Fire island, won a 2015 Hal Prize from Write On, Door County, Wisconsin, for a story about Tina Hess, her mother. “Judge Michael Perry awarded the prize to ‘The Red Shoes,’ ” says the nonprofit’s website.

The mission of Write On, by the way, “is to facilitate and promote writing in Door County by nurturing the work of writers, supporting readers and audiences, and developing opportunities that encourage broad participation. …

“Write On received our nonprofit status in January, 2014. Since then, over 100 programs have been offered, reaching over 1,000 people in every portion of the county and beyond.” More here. And you can read Ronnie’s essay here, starting on p. 48.

In other news, poet Kate Colby, a friend of Suzanne and Erik, got a Publishers Weekly (PW) star for her latest collection, I Mean.

Says PW, “The book’s parts function in tandem as tools via which the author, in various degrees of obsession, contextualizes and re-contextualizes her life, her experiences, and her work: ‘I mean the walls/ are braced/ against themselves// I mean brace yourself// I mean to take the house down/ with its own components.’ ” More from Publishers Weekly.

Although I can’t use everything, I am interested in posting excerpts from your poems or your other writing. Feel free to send something small to suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com.

Kate Colby

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Suzanne’s Mom’s Blog has featured a number of stories about both homelessness and tiny houses, so I was intrigued when a high school friend linked to this story on Facebook. It’s about helping homeless people build their own tiny houses.

Jen Hayden wrote at Daily Kos, “Out of the Occupy Madison protests a cool idea was hatched: Building 98-square-foot homes for those without. The homes have a bed, kitchen, bathroom, storage and propane heat. Future residents take part in building the homes. [According to WMTV,]

The homes cost just $3,000 to construct, most of it funded by community donations. A revolving crew of volunteers provided the labor, including Betty Ybarra. Previously homeless, she now resides in the home she helped construct. “It’s exciting. I’ve never even owned my own house,” Ybarra told WMTV

“After getting shuffled around the city while they figured out the best place to build the village, they finally settled on a location and it officially opened this week. [Reports Jennifer Kliese at WKOW,]

‘Rather than taking people from the streets and putting them in a building, we thought we could work together to create our own structures,’ says Luca Clemente, with Occupy. ‘We don’t give houses to homeless people, we enable people to build their own houses to create their own futures.’When complete, there will be nine homes in the village made from reclaimed and recycled materials. Organizers hope to add a garden, tree orchard and chickens.”

More here.

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The Upper Midwest has some unusual races. One year in Minnesota, for example, my husband and I went to an outhouse race, and I wrote up the experience for an East Coast community paper.

Today I read in the NY Times about a Wisconsin race. Mitch Smith writes, “In Spain, they run bulls. In Kentucky, thoroughbreds. But here in America’s Dairyland, llamas are the four-legged athletes of choice.

“On Saturday afternoon, the llamas converged on this tiny town in the corn-covered hills of western Wisconsin, as they do each September. A llama named Lightning, a 14-year-old with swift feet and a bit of a temper, claimed the heaping basket of tomatoes and peppers that goes to the speediest camelid.

“To the roughly 1,900 residents of Hammond, the Running of the Llamas is something far more than an annual excuse to watch South American pack animals lope down Davis Street. In the 18 years since a local bar owner first let the llamas loose, the event has become a source of communal pride and identity in a state where it seems every dot on the map has its own quirky festival.

“ ‘It makes our town unique,’ said Ariel Backes, 16, the reigning Miss Hammond. ‘It just shows small towns are the best.’ …

“Some llamas were eager to race, sprinting swiftly behind the handler holding its reins. Others were compliant but unenthusiastic, making their way past the cheering fans, lined up four and five deep on some stretches of sidewalk, at more of a brisk walk than a run. And a few llamas were downright uninterested, forcing their handlers to practically drag them to the finish line.” More here.

Suzanne and Erik’s two-year-old fed a llama this summer. I can’t quite picture that llama wanting to do anything but eat.

Photo: Colin Archdeacon on Publish September 14, 2014.
This llama-racing event is in its 18th year in Hammond, Wisconsin.


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Photo: Julie Van Stappen, National Park Service
Apostle Islands sea caves

Winter seems to be hanging on, so it’s not too late to blog about the Apostle Islands and the sea caves in winter.

My husband and I visited the Apostle Islands 16 years ago, almost to the day. We stayed in a pleasant B&B that had a waitress who, my husband recalls, acted like one’s sojourn there “was the experience you had been waiting for your whole life.” We drove around and tried to keep warm. I’m looking at a pottery pitcher with an apple on it that we bought in a little shop.

At the New Yorker, Siobhan Bohnacker introduces a slide show on the sea caves, calling them “Cathedrals of Ice.”

“This past February, thanks to an unusually cold winter, the sea caves along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, in northern Wisconsin, were accessible by foot for the first time in five years. Visitors were able to walk two miles over the thick ice of Lake Superior to see the ice formations that run up the coastline. Erin Brethauer, a photographer living in North Carolina, visited …

“Describing the trek to the caves, Brethauer told me, ‘A steady stream of people cut a colorful line on the horizon. More than a hundred and thirty-eight thousand people visited the ice caves this winter, up from twelve thousand seven hundred in 2009.’ …

“The shorelines along the Apostle Islands have been slowly shaped by the movement of the water of Lake Superior, and by its annual freezing and thawing. Sea caves, which resemble honeycombs, are sculpted in the course of centuries by waves breaking onto cliffs. This impact creates what are called reëntrants, or angular cavities that tunnel into cliffs. When reëntrants join behind the cliff face, sea caves result. When water is trapped in the caves and cavities, and freezes, dramatic ice formations occur.

“Brethauer said, ‘We were struck by the size and coloring of the ice along the coastline. Some ice was a pale blue, while other formations were yellow or reddish, depending on the sediment the water collected when it was freezing. … I loved watching how people interacted with the caves and ice, climbing or taking pictures. They provided such scale and added to your feeling of wonder. And then, stepping inside one of the caves, looking up, and listening to the silence or the ricochet of sound, it felt like being in a cathedral.’ ”

Check out the slide show at the New Yorker, here.

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Recently, documentary filmmaker and journalist Erin Kron collaborated with designer-printmaker-photographer Nathan Biehl on a Narratively feature about a very unusual house in rural Spring Green, Wisconsin.

The eccentric house is “the brainchild of self-trained architect Alex Jordan, who purchased land on the Deer Shelter Rock formation in 1956,” writes Kron.

“Jordan incorporated the rock’s contour into the base of the large house he constructed near the edge of the cliff, adding asymmetrical rows of canted windows looking out over the valley. He proceeded to fill the place with his extensive collections of kitsch  …

“He took a ‘more is more’ approach, tallying up tarnished collectible penny banks, reproductions of gothic and samurai armor, stained glass salvaged from churches, ornate replicas of the crown jewels, while slowly adding on wings to the building so he could pack it all in. …

“The Organ Room is perhaps the strangest of all. In it seems to be just a gigantic pile of metal machinery. It includes, as its name suggests, a few organs (and a lot of organ pipes). But mostly, it contains a nightmare-like assortment of large wagon wheels, stage coaches, church bells, typewriters, copper kettle drums stacked up to the ceiling, and a giant engine with a huge propeller.”

Matt Schneider, the House on the Rock’s marketing manager, admits that he doesn’t understand the Organ Room. “He’s quick to add: ‘I mean, it’s a really, really neat… I like the room! It’s not that I don’t—it’s just that I understand it the least.’ ” More here.

I wonder. Maybe, like the so-called Music Room in my house, it started life as a room with an organ, and they just kept calling it that after its function changed.

Photo: Nathan Biehl
House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

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We went to Honk! in Somerville today. A few uncomfortable-looking masons and many counterculture bands marched to Harvard Square. It was a hoot. So nice to see these offbeat ’60s types are still springing up. All is not lost! The name of one band may give you a sense of where they are coming from: The Extraordinary Rendition Band. The Institute for Infinitely Small Things joined forces with the Occupy Boston contingent.

Represented below are Nomad Rights (a Tibetan group), unions (including the Postal Service), Darfur activists, and the Puppeteers Co-operative.


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Philip Levine, 83, is a poet laureate for our times. He expresses, as the NY Times puts it, the “gritty voice of the workingman.”

“Half an hour to dress, wide rubber hip boots,
gauntlets to the elbow, a plastic helmet
like a knight’s but with a little glass window
that kept steaming over, and a respirator
to save my smoke-stained lungs. I would descend
step by slow step into the dim world
of the pickling tank and there prepare
the new solutions from the great carboys
of acids lowered to me on ropes — all from a recipe
I shared with nobody and learned from Frank O’Mera
before he went off to the bars on Vernor Highway
to drink himself to death. A gallon of hydrochloric …”

Read the Times article.

Levine’s appointment as poet laureate feels timely to me for several reasons.

While income inequality in the country has become increasingly pronounced over the last few decades, public attitudes toward the labor unions that worked to level the playing field have become markedly negative. Are unions really no longer needed? Certainly, there have been abuses of their power: for example, the way some teachers unions have protected bad teachers. And weak government officials in Central Falls (RI), having routinely succumbed to the demands of public safety workers, now find there is no money to pay the promised benefits. This summer Central Falls filed for bankruptcy.

But intensely hostile antilabor actions in Wisconsin, Ohio, and even Maine are like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

A balance between workers and other stakeholders seems to make more sense. Workers are still sometimes abused, after all. That’s why I was happy to see unions helping out foreign “cultural exchange” students to protest conditions at a Hersey’s plant in Pennsylvania last week. (I blogged about that here.)

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