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Holiday + Winter Inspire(d) – Read it Online Here!

Holiday + Winter Inspire(d)

The Holiday + Winter Inspire(d) is about Looking for the Bright Spots in every day – even through the darkest days of winter. Inside, you’ll find tons of inspiration to make the most of this time of year – and lives:

Focus on Mental Health • GrandPad • Make the Most of Winter • Pete Espinosa • Adrian Lipscombe • Cross Stitch Gnome Card • Q&A with Dr. Michael Osterholm • Ferndale Market • Moxi + Riedell Skates • End-of-Life Doula • Probit – Ruth Woldum • More!

Read the whole thing online here!

A note from Aryn:

You know those winter days when you head out for a walk and the sun is shining…and you tilt your face up to meet it and it feels like everything is going to be alright?

This is feeling we’d like to encourage you to find in your day-to-day lives – even when the sun isn’t shining (and everything doesn’t feel alright). We want you to Look for the Bright Spots everywhere.

2020 has been a year where we’ve had to frequently reinvent ourselves.

How we communicate: We found platforms like Zoom to stay social, something that is more important than ever, according to nationally renowned epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm. I got to chat on the phone with him for 15 minutes to talk COVID-19, Zoom, and how his path took him from Waukon, Iowa, to his current role at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. See the interview on page 29. For our relatives who have a little more trouble with tech, or needed a little more help on a regular basis, we turned to devices like GrandPad, based out of Wabasha, Minnesota. Decorah native Scott Lien and his son created a tablet purposefully sans complicated features – but with large, easy-to-use buttons and instant access to online help (pg 14).

How we think: We have had to dig deep to find positivity this year. And we’ll have to keep digging. Learn some strategies from regional mental health counselors like Olivia Lynn Schnur, who joins us as a new contributor this issue, plus tips on staying positive from yours truly, too. I’ve spent more than 13 years running Inspire(d), and it’s offered a great foundation for keeping on the sunny side of life. I’d love to help you do the same (pg 33).

How we find joy: Contributor Erin Dorbin found it in a pair of super colorful and totally awesome roller skates – Moxi’s Lollys. Then she discovered they were made right here in the Driftless Region at Riedell Skates Co. in Red Wing, Minnesota. It led her down a path of a pretty darn cool collaboration, and the story of how roller skating popularity has surged across the nation during this pandemic.

How we live: We carry on, Building Community, like Pete Espinosa and Adrian Lipscombe. And how we die: Kristine Jepsen takes on this important topic about choice and comfort, end-of-life doulas, and how we need to be having these conversations.

Through it all, we find the Bright Spots. Making the most out of winter and holidays, cozy reading, cross stitching, kits in the mail, cooking a big fancy meal just because, and small town charm.

Speaking of, every issue, we hope to get suggestions for probituaries. This issue, we got a few from a Decorah resident, and we reached out to one: Ruth Woldum. She agreed to be featured, and not long later, we got an email from her granddaughter…Britney Bakken! The same woman who interviewed her grandfather in the Summer/Fall issue! We had no idea that Ruth was her grandmother (on the other side of the family), and we all laughed at how perfectly “small town” this coincidence was!

Finding creative ways to overcome the challenges of the year has definitely highlighted bright spots for me. That said, I am looking forward to next year with…what else?…hope and optimism! As we come to a close with 2020 and take tentative steps into 2021, let’s keep looking for the Bright Spots.

Looking forward,

Aryn Henning Nichols

Pete Espinosa

By Sara Friedl-Putnam • Originally published in the Holiday + Winter 2020-21 Inspire(d)

Pete and Kari Espinosa (and dogs) / Photo courtesy Pete Espinosa

It’s 1964, and Pete Espinosa is five. He’s riding in the car, a little boy accompanying his mom and older brother Paul on the 80-mile drive from Mason City to Decorah, Iowa, to drop Paul off at Luther College. The trip, as Pete recalls, was bittersweet – as the trio hauled bins of possessions into Olson Hall, first there was laughter, and then there were tears.

“When you are five, nothing is more important to you than your mom, and I can remember my mom being so sad on the way home because Paul was her first child to leave for college,” he says. “That is impactful when you are that young.”

That visit would be the first of many. Pete returned to Decorah again and again through the years to visit Paul and then older sisters Pam and Ann at Luther. “Decorah was ingrained in me early,” he says with a smile. In 1977 it was Pete’s own turn to enroll at Luther, where he majored in speech communications and political science and, as a senior, met his future wife, Kari Tollefson, then a Luther freshman.

“When I graduated, I took a job with IBM in the Quad Cities, but came back to Decorah a lot over the next three years to visit Kari,” he says. “I spent a lot of time in Decorah for someone who did not live there.”

Pete steadily climbed through the ranks at IBM over the next 18 years, eventually serving as executive assistant to the company’s chairman and CEO. In 1999 he left IBM and went on to hold senior executive leadership positions at a handful of software companies before landing at Mortgage Cadence, where he currently serves as CEO.

As jobs took him literally all over the country – “I have lived in New York, Boston, Kansas City, the Quad Cities, Omaha, the Twin Cities,” he says – Decorah remained a constant, as he and Kari returned for Luther Homecoming and other events throughout the years even as they raised their three children, Josh, Justin, and Rachel. There was just something about this scenic small town.

In 2013, after spending a fun and memorable long weekend with Kari’s siblings and family in Decorah, the couple was inspired to put down roots in town, and join the community on a more tangible level. They bought a lot and built a house on Iowa Avenue. “We chose Decorah, and because of that we very much want Decorah to be successful,” says Pete. “We are not just rooting for it but want to do something positive.”

That has been their mantra time and again over the last six years. In 2014 the couple purchased and renovated Bottle Tree laundromat on College Drive, an investment that, while not necessarily very profitable, served the Decorah population in an important way. Then in 2015, Pete, teaming up with a few family members and friends, opened Pulpit Rock Brewing Company. The brewery was one of the reasons – Toppling Goliath Brewing Company being the other – that Decorah is on the map for craft-beer connoisseurs worldwide. “I am not even a beer drinker, and there was no financial plan that made any sense when we opened,” he says. “But we want to do good things for Decorah, and we thought this would be a good thing for Decorah.”

Pete and Kari at Pulpit Rock Brewing Co. in Decorah, Iowa / Photo courtesy Pete Espinosa

And it has been. As it turned out, says Pete, head brewers Bob Slack and Justin Teff, make great beer: “I was blown away. We started winning awards, and we were getting more and more requests to rent out our taproom, next door to the laundromat.” Those requests inspired another change. When he received an offer to buy the laundromat, he accepted it, contingent that the laundromat would stay on the West Side of Decorah to serve that population. The move left the former laundromat space available to remodel into an event venue, which has been popular from the start.

In 2019, the Espinosas created another anchor for the community. Pete and Kari had long had their eyes on 211 College Drive, a spacious (11,000 square feet) building next door to Pulpit Rock that housed a furniture business. When that business closed, Pete and Kari bought the building to, once again, do something good for Decorah. “We wanted to build an establishment unlike anything else in town,” says Pete, “It was important that we didn’t put anyone out of business.”

The Landing Market opened in July 2020. Modeled after the Lynhall in Minneapolis, it offers a range of food and drink options, from fresh-brewed coffee sourced from Impact (also in town) and other items from distinctive wines to grab-and go sandwiches (made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients) as well as what Pete calls “the best French toast around.”

French toast at Jusin’s at the Landing Market in Decorah / Photo by Sara Friedl-Putnam

The French toast is a featured menu item at Justin’s, an eatery in the Landing Market named after Pete’s son, who has cognitive disabilities. Providing meaningful work opportunities for adults engaged in the Spectrum Network (which serves adults with cognitive disabilities) has been an integral part of the mission of establishing the food hall. “There aren’t a lot of employment options for Spectrum clients in Decorah right now,” says Pete. “But here they can help make yummy, reasonably priced food in a cool setting. That is a home run.”

The Espinosas are also supporters of the arts. Pete and Kari purchased the former Wonder Bread store on Broadway Street in Decorah to ensure ArtHaus, a space for visual and performing arts, had a home in which to grow and thrive in the Decorah community.

Pete, center, with some of his family outside Pulpit Rock Brewing / Photo courtesy Pete Espinosa

“My wife and I believe that the more people you can help in a community, the better everything else turns out. That is the essence of the laundromat, the brewery, the Landing Market, and ArtHaus,” says Pete. “And it all goes back to the fact that we chose to be here so we want to do what we can to make this a special, unique place.”

In 2016, Pete was honored with the Luther College Distinguished Service Award. And in 2017, he joined the Luther College Board of Regents. “I said, sign me up, when asked,” says Pete. “I felt like I could help.”

Delivering Pete’s Distinguished Service Award, Eric Runestad, then Luther vice president of finance, summed up his essence thusly: “Pete is the kind of person that makes you think ‘I could do more.’”

That he is.


Sara Friedl-Putnam has tried the French toast at Justin’s in the Landing Market and can attest to the fact that it is the most delicious French toast in town, if not the region. 

Riedell’s Got Moxi

Members of the Moxi Skate Team in Long Beach, California. Moxi’s Lolly skates and Jack boots are made in the Driftless at Riedell Skate Co. in Red Wing, Minnesota / Photo courtesy Moxi Skate Team

 

When roller skating pro Michelle Stielen founded Moxi Skates in Long Beach, California in 2008, she wanted to create a new style of roller skates – colorful, fun, and American-made, to boot. She looked to Riedell Skating Co. in Red Wing, Minnesota, to get it done. Ten years later, during a pandemic and a huge surge in skating popularity, doing so was another story.

By Erin Dorbin • Originally published in the Holiday + Winter 2020-21 Inspire(d) 

Finding joy through 2020 has been different for everyone. For some, it’s mastering the art of bread baking, or a phone call with a friend. For others – an increasing amount of others – it’s lacing up and rolling in a brand new pair of roller skates.

 “Everyone in a pair of skates, with a smile to start their day,” says Michelle Stielen. This was what she imagined in 2008 when she first founded Moxi, a lifestyle roller skating brand based in Long Beach, California…whose skates are made right here in the Driftless at Riedell Skate Co. in Red Wing, Minnesota.

Moxi’s effervescent, colorful designs stand out from the monochromatic skates of old, and in 2020, they have become one of the most desirable commodities on the market. Michelle says it’s been a transformational year for the company.

 During the nationwide stay-at-home orders in April 2020, social media worked its algorithmic magic to lure popular culture back into a pair of roller skates. The public was awestruck by the viral videos of fearless outdoor skaters in candy-colored gear effortlessly cruising city streets, or dropping in at the skate park to show off their acrobatic skills. While the rinks were closed, skaters of all abilities filmed videos at home and in the streets that inspired viewers to creatively make use of the everyday skate spaces we have: kitchens, garages, sidewalks, cul de sacs, living rooms, etc.

The Riedell-crafted Lolly skates (top photo) are “our bread and butter, our number-one seller,” says Michelle. They fit so well, she says it’s “as if our feet naturally sprouted wheels.” These retail for $350-$400. Can’t afford to invest in your skating future at that price point? Moxi can get you rolling from $99-150 with their imported vegan Beach Bunny, Panthers, Jungle, and new Rainbow Riders skates (pictured, bottom photo)  / Photos courtesy Moxi Skate Team

 The most popular of these videos and images were posted by the Moxi Skate Team. Their organizer, Michelle, is part gymnast and part stuntwoman on wheels. She even recently worked as a stunt double for Margot Robbie in the Hollywood blockbuster, Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey.

These skaters were inspiring even the most uncoordinated to lace up and get moving! That’s all, of course, if you could find an available pair of Moxi Skates. As of right now, Moxis are sold out from retailers across the nation.

 This is a big win for family-owned Riedell Skate Co. It’s also a big challenge during a pandemic.

It’s October 2020, National Roller Skating Month (dedicated in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan). At the Riedell headquarters, Bob is beaming. He wants to know who saw the piece on roller skating that morning on Good Morning America. By this point in the year, roller skating is everywhere, and the nationwide skate shortage is covered in Vogue, Vice, New York Times, Huffington Post, and more.

Michelle Stielen is part gymnast and part stuntwoman on wheels. / Photo courtesy Moxi Skate Team

Why the shortage?

 As the Moxi Skate Team was heating up social media with inspiring posts from Long Beach, manufacturing in Red Wing was brought to a sudden, toe-stop halt. Riedell was deemed “nonessential” manufacturing in Governor Walz’s executive shutdown order.

“We’ve been working really hard for the past 10 years to make roller skates the shoes of the future,” says Moxi Skate Team member and brand employee Marin Wendoll, a.k.a. “Legs.” “That’s why we were like, ‘Oh my gosh! Look at all of these orders! This is so exciting!’” But, the Riedell Shoe Factory would remain closed for a total of six weeks during the shutdown as the online orders simultaneously flooded into the company.

 “Who would have ever guessed COVID would have been an accelerant to outdoor roller skating?!” asks Riedell’s president and CEO, Bob Riegelman. “I certainly didn’t.”

 Bob wrote an impassioned, if not desperate, letter to the head of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to allow Riedell to resume manufacturing due to the tenfold surge in Moxi Skate orders. His local representative, Barb Haley, of District 21A, and state senator, Mike Goggin, invited Bob to testify during the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee hearing in late April 2020 to advocate for the reopening of manufacturing across the state before Governor Walz.

 Riedell had already been closed for four weeks at the time of the Senate hearing.

 “What’s disheartening for me,” Bob said in his statement, “is that we’ve been deemed nonessential, yet we service the fitness, health and wellness, and recreation market. More and more people, believe it or not, are buying roller skates. People are using them for transportation. And it’s becoming very, very, very difficult to continue [production]. We’re losing customers right and left.”

Riedell quickly developed a COVID plan, purchased PPE for staff, and by early May Minnesota’s governor determined they were able to resume production. Riedell’s 120 workers were back on the factory floor assembling and shipping Moxi Skates.

Moxi Skates – these are Riedell-made Lollys – come in a rainbow of colors / Photo courtesy Moxi Skates Team

Moxi & Riedell Partnership:

In 2020, Riedell Skates celebrated its 75th anniversary. Founded by Paul Riedell in 1945, today the four brothers – Scott, Dan, Paul, and Bob Riegelman – are the third generation devotedly leading the company as a team, producing the highest quality roller and ice skates in the nation.

“We’re pretty ordinary people and we’re pretty loyal,” says Bob. “Our grandparents started the business here, and one of our greatest assets is our employee base.”

Riedell entrance / Photo by Erin Dorbin

Impressively, the average length of service at Riedell is 28 years, and a number of its workers even celebrated their 44th year in 2020. (Happy 44th to Cindy, Barb, Roger, Brenda, and all!)

Roughly a decade ago, Riedell was looking for a roller skate sales representative on the West Coast. Michelle Stielen was one of the applicants for the job. “I’d never found somebody with so much passion for roller skating in my life,” recalls Bob. While she wasn’t hired for that position, they stayed in contact.

 Michelle branched out on her own to promote outdoor roller skating and open up her own skate shop in Venice, California. One day the shop’s regular UPS driver paid Michelle an extra special compliment that helped shape her brand. “You’ve got a lot of moxie!” he told her. The word “moxie” represents bravery, strength, and fortitude. These were the characteristics she believed define her roller skating brand. From that point forward, the shop and brand were known as Moxi (they dropped the “e” for the name).

 Known in the skate community as “Estro Jen” from her roller derby days, Michelle noticed an absence of colorful skates on the market. So, she decided to transform the market. Michelle reached back out to Riedell.

 “American-made is fascinating to me,” she says. “Almost 100 percent of U.S. shoes are made in another country. I found it incredible that there was one factory still around making footwear that glided on wheels. I really, really, really wanted to do whatever I could to work with them to create an American-made roller skate boot.”

 Moxi and Riedell partnered on a series of skates based on Michelle’s designs. Bob describes the Moxi skates as “more of a lifestyle skate” compared to the other ice and roller skate brands they manufacture. While it’s a little confusing to the consumer who’s behind which part of the process, he offers clarification: Riedell owns and produces the Moxi Skates. The larger Moxi brand, www.MoxiSkates.com website, and accessories are owned and managed by Michelle and her team in California – they can be thought of as the brand identity and retail business.

 Moxi Skates come in a variety of colors and styles that can be custom ordered with choices in colors of boot, wheels, linings, laces, frames, toe stops, and more. Those orders are then busily filled at Riedell. Staff have since committed to 62-hour workweeks in an attempt to catch up on the backlog of orders. The company hired 15 additional employees, and are still looking for more to get their eager customers rolling on their Moxi Skates.

 For years, the production timeline for a pair of Lolly skates or Jack boots (the two Moxi lines made in Red Wing) was 4-7 weeks. In October of 2019, they managed to get to a point where Riedell could produce and ship them in 5-7 days, and keep them in stock. They proudly maintained this speedy production schedule until the March 2020 COVID shutdown.

Each skate boot receives a quick blast of heat and pressure in the bottoming process to secure the soles. From there, the heel is added and the skate bottoms are given their final shape / Photo by Erin Dorbin

Renée individually cleans each skate boot with a fine-grit sandpaper before they’re sent to a final quality control station / Photo by Erin Dorbin

Arline sews the two halves of the skate uppers together in the fitting process / Photo by Erin Dorbin

 Soon, estimated delivery times were delayed for weeks and sometimes months. And a few months later, production times were completely out the window as the companies where Riedell source their raw materials were struggling to meet the increased demand, too. Those suppliers were operating at 50 percent or less capacity. “Everything was interrupted,” Vice President Scott Riegelman says.

 “We’d love to add a 2nd shift here,” Scott admits, “but it’s hard to find workers, locally. Unemployment is low in Red Wing.” The rate is currently around 5 percent. Pre-pandemic, it held at 3.1 percent, slightly below the 3.7 percent national average.

 At a loss for enough full-time workers, Riedell partnered with a high-end footwear production plant in Arkansas to produce roughly 50 percent of the open orders for the USA-made Moxi Skates.

 Neither Moxi nor Riedell had enough customer service staff to respond to thousands of customer inquiries, either. Harsh criticisms from increasingly frustrated customers began to flood social media.

 Suddenly, this small skate team and lifestyle brand was pushed to function as a much larger and experienced corporation, all within a few months’ time…during a pandemic. It was the double-edged sword of Moxi’s sudden rising success.

 “We were used to making 300 skates a week and now we’re trying to pump out 3,000 a week,” Legs says. “It’s wonderful that Moxi has grown, and roller skating in general, but at the same time it’s uncomfortable to grow so fast in such a short amount of time. You’re learning things really, really quickly.”

 Moxi went from a staff of four to a staff of 25, including a board of directors, a shipping department, customer service and social media teams, and a Chief Operating Officer. In 2020, they also opened up a warehouse in California to help with stocking and shipping.

“It all starts with the leather from an animal.” Ben inspects the leather ahead of the initial cutting process. Sixty pairs of Lolly skates can be made from 2 three-ply yards of material. 2 & 3: Moxi roller skates go through 85 stations before completion. / Photos by Erin Dorbin

4 & 5: A foot form called a “last” is used to mold and shape the uppers into skate boots. Tom, who has 41 years with Riedell, shows off a Lolly skate boot he’s just finished up in the lasting department. 6: Kate inspects each skate boot individually at her quality control station. Then, they’re placed with their accessories in the colorful retro-inspired Moxi Skates box / Photos by Erin Dorbin

Was it possible that Moxi’s vibrant lifestyle brand was made too desirable for the masses? It had become almost painful for some customers to be without their skate orders as they scrolled and scrolled images of smiling, spinning, jumping, and jamming Moxi Skate Team members during quarantine. Customers had had enough of social isolation and wanted in on the fun!

 “On social media, it looks like a big corporate brand. Moxi has great marketing because we’re actually living that skating lifestyle. It’s easy for us to do. People expected us to have everything in place as a large-scale business,” says Legs. “With COVID and the orders, we had to hire so many people so quickly, and train them all so quickly, which causes errors because you don’t have time to train people properly. You’re throwing new staff to the lions!” she jokes, but turns serious again. “We ARE improving and trying to make things better for the customers.”

At Riedell, Bob agrees. “We’re doing everything possible to take care of our customers,” he says. “Our customers have been very, very gracious.”

 Handcrafting even one pair of Moxi Skates at the Riedell factory is no easy feat, though. From start to finish, it requires processes at 85 individual stations. Raw material is first cut from high-quality leather and sent to fitting where the upper is sewn and begins to take shape. “This is where we put the soul in!” veteran employee Barb Peterson – one of the workers who celebrated 44 years with the company– jokes as she moves swiftly and gracefully through boot sole production.

 The next stop is Riedell’s proprietary lasting process that gives the boot its proper, consistent width, size, and shape – this takes an entire day. Then, the boot is sent to bottoming where the sole and skate bottoms are nailed and cemented. From there, it’s off to finishing, where the boots are polished, cleaned, and thoroughly inspected. Next, is attaching the plates and wheels, before packaging. Finally, they are off to shipping.

 Everyone – from staff in shipping with three years’ service to supervisors in their 44th year – confirms they’ve “never seen anything like this” level of interest in their products.

Photo courtesy Moxi Skate Team

Physical movement as social movement

 Moxi, as a lifestyle brand, is also trying to successfully navigate the social and political climate of 2020, with the goal of promoting roller skating as a truly inclusive activity.

 For three centuries, roller skating’s popularity has ebbed and flowed, punctuated by various “craze” periods throughout its history. The pastime originated in London in 1735 and in the late 19th century, the first public rink opened in the city. At the same time, roller skating in the U.S. picked up speed, and in 1866, the first public roller rink opened inside the elegant Atlantic House hotel in Newport, Rhode Island.

 Americans tend to collectively remember the height of roller skating being between the 1930s and early 1960s, and throughout the roller disco era of the 1970s.

Less frequently recalled is that roller skating was an important part of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Roller skating (as most social and public activities) was racialized and American rinks were strictly segregated. Black skaters were only allowed access to the rinks on specific nights, if at all. Outside the rinks, they experienced intimidating and violent policing. Black skaters started organizing for equal access to the roller rinks, hosting large protests and sit-ins.

Roller rink skating was a way for Black Americans to lose themselves in the joy of skating. They expressed their creativity through the wheels on their feet, developing fluid dance-skating styles like the jam skating that is currently trending.

 Roller skating has been a tool of social action in 2020 as well. Black skaters took to the streets on their skates as participants in the Black Lives Matter movement, and we started seeing the message “Black Skaters Matter,” too. The statement is a reminder to the public about the influential black skaters that were initially overlooked when white skaters began heavily trending on social media.

 As part of Moxi’s commitment to inclusivity, they’ve hosted virtual forums on diversity – or lack thereof – in representations of roller skating in popular culture. They hope they can connect with Black, Indigenous, and Skaters of Color in the skate community, and promote and advocate for body positivity as well. Their social media platform is for skaters of all types and sizes, as a place to both improve and show off skating skills. “We are tall, short, thick, and skinny,” says Michelle. “But most important of all, we’re strong”


Erin is a former rink rat who never missed a Friday night skate. She learned how to backwards skate and couples skate (!) at the Long Lake Roller Rink in Vicksburg, MI. (RIP “The Rink” 1952-2018) Erin bought her first pair of Moxis in March 2020 and turned her garage into her own private roller rink. Here, and on her motorcycle, she found joy. Erin also coordinates the Crystal Creek Citizen-Artist Residency in Houston, Minnesota:
www.CrystalCreekCitizenArtist.com


HAVE YOU CAUGHT THE SKATING BUG, BUT IT’S WINTER IN THE DRIFTLESS?

Don’t worry. The Moxi Skate Team reminds us, “Skating’s not a season, it’s a lifestyle.” Hit Moxi’s youtube channel (youtube.com/moxiskates) for beginner to advanced lessons from a diverse group of instructors. You’ll become inspired to transform any open floor space in your home into your own personal roller rink. (Kids, make sure to ask your parents first!)

 As for warmer months in the Driftless, if you can’t find an open rink in your neighborhood, make sure you have some outdoor wheels and try parking lots, your driveway, skate parks, basketball courts, and our scenic Driftless trail systems.

“On skates you see things in your city you’ve never seen before.” Michelle Stielen