Posts Tagged: Inspired Media

A Rare Bird: Interview with Artist Pam Kester

By Becky Idstrom

Pam Kester’s art studio is full of material ripe for creating. In just 10 short minutes she has already listed at least 15 different types of semi-precious stones, pulling open drawers and lifting box lids as she speaks. There are the river stones, the glass beads, the copper metal plates, the soldering materials, the fossils, the pictures, the coins – all different shapes, sizes, and colors.

In the 14 years I have known Pam, the precision, attention to detail, and artistry that she brings to her work – from a birthday card to a two-day educational hawk festival for the Audubon Society – has impressed me. Her jewelry is no less impressive. She mixes her varied raw materials to design and create one-of-a-kind necklaces and earrings in a collection she’s dubbed Rare Bird Artful Adornments.

Rare Bird Artful Adornments – jewelry inspired by nature and the beauty of the human soul – was born only two years ago. When Pam felt the urge to work with her hands, to create something, she turned her attention to jewelry making – something she had experimented with since age 18. Her creative passion has grown one bead at a time.

Looking at the materials she has laid out before us, it’s hard to imagine where one would begin. “I just start with one bead,” she says, “and ask—how can I use this? I choose something I’m attracted to, like this stone that reminds me of the delicate pattern on a dragonfly’s wing. Then the necklace just starts to build itself.”

Experimentation is key with jewelry building. Pam likes to bring together raw materials like fossils or river stones and embellish them with something delicate. She uses jade, garnets, topaz, kyonite, lolite, jasper, pearls, fossils, and more. She knows her materials well and chooses them carefully from all over the world. No matter what she makes, Pam brings a level of art to it. But it’s jewelry-making that she finds the most satisfying.

“I don’t make anything that doesn’t feel right. It’s good to have an outlet for my perfectionism,” she laughs, “because it wasn’t happening with housework.”

Rare Bird jewelry is more than simple precision. I look at a piece with chunks of light and bright blue kyonite along the front, the clasp a part of the decoration on the side, and a silver chain around the back. It has an almost living quality. Some women have told Pam they feel empowered when they wear her jewelry, that the piece embodies something especially for them. “It’s wonderful to create a piece and then find the person who was meant to wear it,” she says.

“The beauty of nature has always inspired my creativity,” Pam writes on her website. Her strong connection to the natural world has further sharpened her artistic eye, reproducing in her jewelry things from the natural world, like the beautiful sculpted scales in a milkweed pod or the shape of a butterfly chrysalis.

“I love that there is debris in these stones,” she says, gazing into a box of round river stones. “I’m not concerned with the perfect stone but the overall feel and look of it.”

While Pam makes all types of necklaces, she has themes for two special kinds: Amulets and Portals. The Amulets are a single round stone set in a large clasp on a chain. They have been used across cultures for centuries, Pam says, and are designed to bring protection, strength, and good luck to those who wear them. The Portals are more whimsical pieces: tiny collages or vintage photographs framed in glass or metal. They may contain mini collections of treasures, natural elements, or words and sayings.

The jewelry also tells stories. Some beautiful frosty-looking light blue and white beads, broken roughly into small rectangular shapes, tell a tale of another country. “I bought these at a bead show in Milwaukee from a family from Afghanistan,” she says. The father explained how the pieces are fragments of vessels, such as olive jars, which were transported along the Silk Road. The fragments are surfacing now after the current bombings in Afghanistan and people are finding them and making them into beads. Buried for centuries, the ancient glass has been given a texture and patina by the weather. Pam loves the idea of making something beautiful out of something that comes from such tragedy. “There is such a feeling of antiquity in the beads,” she says. “And it meant so much to this man to tell me their story.”

In the two years since Rare Bird Artful Adornment’s start, Pam has exhibited in a variety of shows and her work has grown. She is excited to see where the future will take her.

“I feel so fortunate to be standing in a landscape of creative possibilities that stretches beyond the horizon,” she says.

More info at www.rarebirdjewelry.com.

Get in the Rink: Rollerderby!

Strap on your quads; We’re goin’ derby

By Aryn Henning Nichols . Photo by Studio J Photography

Photo by Studio J PhotographyBy day she’s the housewife. The attorney. The writer, the stylist, the chef. She moves with confidence, a fresh bruise merely a reminder of her latest battle, and like a rogue superhero, she can’t wait to pull on her fishnets and hot pants, slap on some red lipstick and get back in the rink to kick some derby ass. It’s just the way she rolls.

In a post-feminist era where romance is no longer a dirty word, but yes, the lady still just might want to mow the lawn, roller derby seems a natural fit. It rides a line between burlesque and brawn: the girls are sexy AND tough. They come together from all kinds of backgrounds and in all kinds of packages, united by their love of all things derby. Or they just like beating the crap out of each other while on old school quad skates. Either way, it’s not exactly your grandmother’s roller race.

Inducted in the 1930s by Chicago businessman Leo Seltzer, roller derby experienced a series of highs, lows, and evolutions over the decades until the 60s and 70s when the spectacle of it took precedent over the sport. Roller derby’s popularity fizzled out. Revival efforts didn’t take until 2001 when a group of Texas women pulled it out of its grave and gave it a whole new look.

The game goes like this: Two teams of five players are on the track, each with one jammer (she has a star on her helmet and is the one who scores) and four blockers (the blocker with a stripe on her helmet, the pivot, leads her blockers). For every opponent the jammer passes, her team scores a point. But short of throwing elbows or making human clotheslines, these girls are doing everything they can to keep the opposing jammer back and get their jammer through.

“One of the reasons roller derby is so popular is because of the explosive, fantastic combination of sport, entertainment, female aggression, and (dare I say it?) sex appeal,” says Decorah native Regan (Johnson) Jacobsen. “Let me be explicit – this is a real, full-contact sport.”

Jacobsen, aka Tammy Faye Undertakker or more often, TFU (a tribute to Ms. Tammy Faye Bakker, the late overly-made up televangelist), lives in Madison and has been skating with the Mad Rollin’ Dolls going on four years. For her, all it took was one bout. She wanted in.

“The second I walked in the door I was hooked. I just KNEW I had to do this,” she says. “I didn’t for a second consider the time, the money, the injuries, or the fact that the closest thing I ever played to a sport was marching band.”

The Mad Rollin’ Dolls (MRD), kicking off their sixth season the end of January 2010, were Midwestern pioneers of the sport alongside other leagues like the Minnesota Roller Girls (MNRG). Leagues like these frequently have thousands of people come to see them skate (at a recent MNRG bout, they had nearly 4,000 attendees!), but it definitely took a lot of work getting there. And as with most things, being a pioneer has its pros and cons.

Zara Danz, aka Candi Pain (“I picked my name because it seemed sweet and bad ass. The play on words thing is pretty big with derby names. Also I really like candy!”), has been with the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Roller Girls since day one. She says being one of the first Midwestern teams had some physical perks.

“I decided I wanted to be the one hitting the hardest, not the one getting knocked over. That motivated me,” Danz says. “I was lucky though, because at the point I started it was new to all of us. We were the first league to bring derby to Minnesota. Now when rookies start, they get pounded by seasoned vets.”

Jacobsen says MRD had to blaze a wide trail for leagues that would one day join the ranks.

“Madison didn’t have any blueprints, any mentors, or any limits. That’s been a challenge and also a great responsibility – to help the leagues that formed after us learn from our mistakes, improve on what we did right, and succeed where we have failed,” she says.

According to Jacobsen, everybody has a “fresh meat” story – “I was scared as hell when I started. The first time I went to a practice with ‘veteran’ skaters flying by me on the track on all sides, their wheels clacking up against my wheels… it was terrifying” – but teammates work hard to train new players.

“Derby is very ‘Three Musketeers’ in that regard,” Jacobsen explains. “Don’t get me wrong, we want everyone to improve so it’s more of a challenge to knock them down and more exciting to watch, but we want everyone to improve, regardless. It’s just not fun to knock down someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Ok, it is, but you don’t feel as accomplished.”

Closer to home, smaller cities like La Crosse are founding their own leagues. The La Crosse Skating Sirens, not even one year old yet, look to teams like MRD and MNRG for guidance and advice. Because starting a roller derby league isn’t easy: it’s a business. You need organization, recruits, money. Skating Sirens founder and president Melissa Larivee, aka Skin Kitty, is proud of how far they’ve come in just a few short months. They have great sponsors (“The people who back us, back us.”), skate all their home bouts at a great venue – the La Crosse Center – they have enough members for two teams on their league, and they’re improving on the track.

“We got our asses kicked at our first bout,” Larivee says. “But we’re getting better. We’re losing by less now.”

At the interview, Larivee’s left wrist is in a cast, and her nose is healing nicely after a dirty bout punch, she says.

“She’s our league clutz,” jokes Skating Sirens vice president Marghie Arttus, aka Hiss’n Kitten.

“No, I’m just aggressive,” Larivee retorts. The two agree they are complete opposites, but because of derby, they’re best friends.

“It’s all about the comraderie,” Larivee says. “We want women to have a place to go to be athletic and skate. Women can dominate this sport. It does take a certain kind of woman, you just don’t know who that is exactly. There isn’t a stereotype for it. You can have your basketball star and your Goth out there on the track together. But I think it’s popular because it’s all women – the guys are in the minority.”

So the fact that men’s leagues are starting to form across the nation naturally raises the derby dander a bit. Jacobsen explains.

“When I first heard about men’s derby leagues popping up, I was upset. I felt, “Can’t we just have one thing!?” because women have traditionally been so excluded from sports; and women’s sports and women athletes are not given the same clout or attention as men’s sports and male athletes. I was afraid men’s roller derby would surpass women’s derby in popularity and co-opt all the hard work derby leagues have done to popularize the sport and bring it into the mainstream.”

She continues, “But, then I saw men playing roller derby… let’s just say my fears were waylayed. It’s an entirely different animal than all-female derby. And also, derby is fun. I don’t want to discourage anyone from having fun, working out, and participating in a community. Seriously, though, have you ever seen a six-foot tall man with hairy legs in hot pants? Yikes.”

Beside men, the derby leagues all have their rivals. For Danz, it’s the Mad Rollin’ Dolls.

“As far as our Allstar traveling team, our biggest rivals would be Madison,” Danz says. “Madison has an amazing league! We have a fantastic fun-loving border battle with them.”

MNRG has four home teams that play each other, and Danz is the captain of the Dagger Dolls. “I think this year we’ll be the force to be reckoned with. We have some amazing rookies and killer vets!”

MRD has six teams in their league, and Jacobsen skates for the Unholy Rollers. She’s her own biggest rival (“I am constantly trying to improve my game”), followed by MRD’s Reservoir Dolls. (“There is no team I enjoy beating more than the Res Dolls.”)

The Skating Sirens are still figuring out their opponents. “We don’t have any real rivals yet,” Arttus says. “Although we’ve played some pretty dirty skaters, most everyone is having fun.”

Fun is the emphasis for skaters and attendees at derby bouts.

“Everyone goes to see derby,” Danz says. “There are bands, games, giveaways, food and delicious PBR! I think there is a serious cool and fun factor that nothing else out there has. I could go on and on. Roller derby fever is contagious!”

Perhaps it’s the short skirts and stockings. The racy names. Or the motley crew that is the roller derby norm. But it truly does seem to kick ass.

“Derby is like the Island of Misfit Toys for grown-ups,” Jacobsen says. “We’re all a little nutty, injured, socially inept, what have you, but we came together because no one else would accept us or no one else was doing what appealed to us. We accept each other for better or for worse, and together we make something phenomenal.”

Aryn Henning Nichols thinks it would be amazing to start a Decorah derby league. I mean, WTFDA rhymes with UFFDA…can you think of a better sign? Now…to find the time…

Interview with Winneshiek County Paramedics

By Mary Marx

Steve Vanden Brink

Staring out my window at leaves falling from a crab apple tree, Steve Vanden Brink replays a scene in his mind – I watch as he carefully weighs his willingness to share a story.

Steve is a paramedic specialist. He’s one of the few who respond when your car is wedged between two trees or when you’re helplessly lying on the bathroom floor. He gives life-saving breath and coaxes your heart to beat on its own. Steve brings calm to your chaos.

He apparently reaches some conclusion and our conversation resumes. “I see death and dying more than your average person. One day, three people died…traumatically… in 12 hours. They were young,” Steve says to the corner of my desk. “Every call affects each paramedic differently – over the past 20 years, there are always those calls that stand out.”

Steve studies the notes he prepared for this very interview. “It was maybe 15 years ago – I worked the night shift – and the ambulance was dispatched to a home birth. We delivered the baby; that’s not something we get to do very often. The crew brought both mother and baby to the hospital for care and then, about an hour later we were called to a house – to a family just like the one celebrating a new child – to try to revive an unresponsive infant. We gave that child all we had, our combined expertise, our equipment, everything, but the baby died.”

In this profession, nights like these are sad realities. But there is also life. There is beauty in the eyes of someone whose pain has subsided and joy in the monotonous tones of a heart once again beating on its own.

“I heard a call for first responders to the home of one of my friends,” says Steve. “He’d collapsed while getting ready for a night out – his wife found him. I got there first and did CPR until the ambulance arrived. The paramedics on duty shocked him with the defibrillator – and we waited for the beep to start, but nothing happened. And then, the lines on the screen began to move. Everything worked that night – it happened the way it should – and now I see him jogging through town, enjoying the life he almost lost.”

Dave Neinhaus

“You have to absorb the good moments,” says paramedic Dave Nienhaus. “You have to let those happy endings fill you up… and enjoy them.”

Dave’s first happy ending earned him the gratitude of the patient, and a canned ham.

“I was a first responder at the time – pretty green, I was out only two years. I heard the call and arrived on scene, shocked the patient and her heart began beating again. Not too long afterward, she stopped over to my house, gave me a hug and pressed a canned ham into my hands.  It was such a touching – and memorable – gift; I don’t think I will ever forget it.”

In Dave’s mind, paramedics are not in the business of “saving lives.”

“Whether or not someone lives, that is between the patient and God,” he says. “If they are to live, and I am part of that plan, I am happy to serve and will do so to the very best of my ability.”

Training and experience play a significant role in a paramedic’s ability to help a patient, but “good equipment and new technology make it a whole lot easier.”

The Advanced Life Support monitors the Winneshiek Medical Center Foundation is raising funds for this year through Festival of Trees allow paramedics to attend multiple things at once. The monitors will hook up with the chest compression machine and deliver shocks as needed. The paramedics will be able to provide better care, and that means more happy endings.

“People expect us to come busting into their home, perform CPR and shocks and then whisk the patient back to the ER where they will make a full recovery – kind of like it happens on TV,” says Dave. “When this happens in the real world, it is a kind of euphoria – like you are experiencing the scene from somewhere on the ceiling. You watch hands placing the machine on someone’s bare skin, see their chest rise with returning breath – it is surreal. And then, you meet them walking to cardiac rehab two weeks later and you know you had a part in it.”

Occasionally the happy ending is more bittersweet.

“Sometimes, if we can bring someone back, it is just long enough to say goodbye to loved ones,” Dave says. “We don’t save them in a physical way, but it brings a sort of acceptance to the family. Like I said, I don’t save lives – I just help people.”

Dave Reutlinger

He’s been there. Dave Reutlinger has provided emergency care for people as long as I have been alive – 29 years – and I cannot even fathom the different experiences that have shaped him into who he is today.

Dave is nationally certified in … and a specialist in… and licensed in…, but amid all the accolades, I get the feeling that experience is his true teacher. Yet he is anything but boastful. As I attempt to understand the whys and hows that are his life’s work, Dave is reluctant to share too much. This man carries within him some the most personal experiences of many of us reading this very article– his stories are ours.

“When we are on our way to a call – maybe a car accident – we make our plan,” Dave says. He explains that everything makes a difference in what to expect: the voice inflection of the dispatcher (which could mean a serious call or an over-excited caller reporting the accident), the weather conditions, time of day, even the way the glass is broken or the vehicle is dented or the smell of the scene when they arrive.

I can imagine that his kind face and quiet way of speaking would bring calm to even the most frantic of patients. “If we can, we get in the car with the patient – talk to them while starting IVs or assessing their injuries,” says Dave. “We explain what the sounds mean – the snapping and banging of the metal roof being cut away, why the car is swaying, that we are doing everything we can for them.”

Dave stresses that they are not alone in their task.

“The entire emergency system is… interconnected, on the scene with first responders, law enforcement, the fire department,” he says. “And when we return to the emergency department –everyone has a hand in saving a life.”

Josh Moore

Time is constant. Seconds turn to minutes, minutes to hours. But it doesn’t always seem that way.

“Time had never moved so slowly,” recalls Josh Moore. “We were waiting for the defibrillator to give us direction after the shock. It only takes about 10 seconds to analyze, but when a teenager is lying at your side without a pulse, those 10 seconds…”

His eyes are bloodshot and he offers a weary smile – it is seven in the morning and time for him to go home. It was a quiet night in the emergency department, though that is something to never even suggest in the presence of the staff who work there. Josh willingly puts off a good night’s (day’s) sleep for 10 more minutes to share the memory of what he calls, “his first save.”

“I worked with my dad and a few other guys in a basic ambulance service. We got the call of a man down at the school, and following our protocol, ran lights and sirens to get there, though it was only a few blocks from our garage.”  Josh was the baby, the newbie, green. “When we rolled up to the school, it was my job to get the jump kit while the others went to the patient. We only knew someone was down in the gym; I assumed in my head they had hurt their ankle – something pretty minor.”

Josh focuses on a point somewhere above my head and continues, “He was only 19. It was a scrimmage game, something for fun. He fell past the three-point line, just short of the hawk emblem painted in the center of the floor, and his teammates could only stand over their friend – they knew his pulse was gone. I was the one who placed the defibrillator patches on his chest. I remember the lump in my throat as the machine said, ‘shock advised,’ and I pushed the button and watched his body jerk… and waited.”

After 10 painstaking seconds, the defibrillator advised the paramedics to begin chest compressions once more. “I started compressions,” says Josh, “and just willed his heart to begin beating. And then, against the heel of my hand, under his sternum, I felt pounding – I actually experienced his heart come back to life.”

He goes on. “We delivered the patient to the nearest emergency room and were heading back out to the garage when the doctor stopped us – he told us, ‘He’s in there talking to his family because of you guys. Congratulations,’ – and it was at that moment I committed to this path – one of day shifts and night shifts, adrenaline rushes and lulls. I want to make a difference in someone’s life.”

Mary Marx is a life-long Winneshiek County-ian, and is proud of her family and this year’s garden. Her favorite things include crushing hugs from her two sons, a good cosmopolitan and watching the sun set from her back porch with her husband, who also happens to be her best friend.