Posts Tagged: Iowa

Serving in El Salvador

Maddie_GoFundMeThree Decorah residents have recently been serving on a week long Medical Mission trip in El Salvador. hp-blodgettDr. Pete Blodgett of West Side Dental in Decorah along with his wife Linda, as well as current UNI student Maddie Grimm all made the trek from NE Iowa. The Mission trip is a project of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and First Presbyterian Church in Newton, but focuses on bringing medical and dental services to needed areas of rural El Salvador.

Inspire(d) originally learned about the trip when Decorah native Maddie Grimm launched a GoFundMe crowd sourcing web page to raise funds in preparation for the travels. Studying at the University of Northern Iowa, Grimm says, “Since I am studying health promotion, specifically global health and health disparities, this type of experience is so critical to an actual understanding of health issues across developing countries.”

Inspire(d) has been keeping in touch with her this week when technology allows, and it sounds like the exhausting pace of patients being seen as well as less modern means of travel have been adventurous. The group’s work started earlier this week in the Canton (district) of Rio de Los Bueyes -Maddie gives us the picture;

Canton

“This is one of the poorest cantons we will go to while we are here. The first truck left at 5:30am this morning to bring the generator and start setting up. The rest of us left a little after 6am, riding in the bed of a truck on boards that rest on each side of the bed’s railings. It’s a rough, bumpy ride but your lower half gets numb after about 30 minutes, so the last hour and a half isn’t so bad, besides dodging branches.”

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“We saw nearly 150 people today. I worked registration with a woman who didn’t speak any English and she was not impressed with my Spanish to begin. We had a hard time communicating to start, and it didn’t help how overwhelming it was to have at least 70 patients at 8am trying to see a doctor. Over the next couple of hours, my Spanish started getting better, and she started to warm up to me and telling me who her kids were. Instead of being upset with my mistakes, she started laughing at them instead, which I considered improvement in our relationship. By the end of the day, she gave me a big hug. Most everyone saw the doctors for general conditions, getting iron pills, blood pressure pills, etc. The majority of patients who saw the dentist had teeth pulled. In glasses, they did what they could to find a prescription that fit.”

Donations

“At the end of the day, we presented some donations to the people who helped us organize in the canton. These were some of the teachers at the school where we set up and the “directivo” of the canton. We brought a suitcase full of school supplies, notebooks, crayons, pencils, and more, as well as one full of clothes, a soccer ball, a basketball, and some soccer shoes. Our group’s connection in El Salvador, Alvero, actually made me speak in Spanish for this presentation, thanking them for the opportunity and offering the donations from people back in Iowa. I made a few mistakes, and they laughed at me a bit, but understood what I meant. It was incredibly humbling.”

Dr. Blodgett - doing what he does best!

Dr. Blodgett – doing what he does best!

Grimm also sent us a brief note on Wednesday, “Quick update, we had 553 patients today in Talpetates. One of the most they’ve ever seen in one day.”

We – Inspire(d) – are looking forward to hearing more about the mission trip and travels in coming days and are deeply Inspire(d) by these local folks in action on a global level!

What We’re Loving: Driftless Winter 2015-16

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A little list of what we think is awesome in the Driftless Region right now…

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Hotel Winneshiek + Fun Events

Have we mentioned how lucky we feel to have the beautiful Hotel Winneshiek operating in our community? It is a seriously amazing anchor to Downtown Decorah – the renovation of the historical property in 2000 brought new life and new businesses to (the already pretty hopping) Water Street, and it’s not too shabby to look at, either.

In more recent years, the Hotel Winneshiek has also been a hub of fun activity. Their new motto is “The Welcome is Real” – they hope folks will think of the terrazzo-floored lobby as the community living room, and the Steyer Opera House as a place to dance and have fun. To drive this notion home, they’ve hosted some pretty cool events – ranging from their “Live in the Lobby” music series to the dead-of-the-winter Winneshiek Music Festival. This whole “why have it if you don’t use it” mentality is one we can get behind. Seriously – get that China out of the cupboard, people! And get those butts off the couch for some of these great events:

Winneshiek Wedding Market, January 24, 2016 – Three floors of wedding fun! We think the idea of strolling all around the Hotel, mimosa in-hand, as you plan your wedding sounds like a lot of fun. Details at hotelwinn.com.

Winneshiek Music Festival, January 29-31, 2016 – There’s a great line-up of local and regional favorites for this year’s fest! Check out the poster on page 18!

Live in the Lobby, Sundays and Tuesdays (schedule starts again in spring, with occasional pop-ups this winter) – Free music performances in the Hotel lobby! Check Hotel Winneshiek Facebook page for details.

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Grown-Up Coloring Books! Sonja Emily, Chuck U, etc.

OK, ok, ok… so you may have already caught the ‘rage’ of coloring books for grown-ups. It’s everywhere! What’s the big deal about coloring? Many psychologists are saying filling in those blank little spaces with color is the next best thing to meditation – that it’s a huge stress-reliever and a great way to relax the mind. It’s become so popular, in fact, that almost half of the best-selling books on Amazon (Dec 2015) are adult coloring books.

Lucky for us, some local and regional artists have jumped on board the coloring train. And we totally love that! Check out this issue’s “Paper Project” from Luther grad / Minneapolis artist Sonja Emily. She currently has coloring gift cards for sale at Milkhouse Candles and Gifts in Decorah, and is rumored to be stocking them up with some coloring books soon, too. We love her fun and whimsical work (you can get more details about Sonja on page 32). One of our other favorite Minneapolis artists, “Chuck U” has also turned several of his incredible – and often totally intricate – works into a totally entertaining coloring book, plus our local Dragonfly Books (you can read more about THEM on page 24) has a great variety of coloring books to choose from too! Hooray for creative outlets for, truly, anyone!

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Neste Valley Reserve / Dry Run Trail

Back in 2013, the Neste Family partnered with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the Winneshiek County Conservation board to start the process of converting their 170-acre heritage farm into a new park just outside of Decorah. The INHF was able to secure the property from the family and will transfer it to the Winneshiek County Conservation Board once fundraising on the million-dollar project has been completed. The property encompasses an impressive span of land including oak savannas, wetlands, and one mile of the Dry Run Creek, which will all be permanently protected as parkland. It’s the first new park established by WCC in 21 years! Exciting!

The property will also be the link that will allow an 8-mile Dry Run Trail to connect the Trout Run and Prairie Farmer Trails in Calmar via Highway 52. That would make over 43 miles of nonstop trail in Northeast Iowa! We love this vision, and want to encourage our readers to donate to the INHF in the name of this project – they still need $235,000 to make it happen! Getting this park in action would be an amazing gift to pass on to future generations (and a great way to start Living Generously). Find more information at inhf.org/neste-valley-recreation-area.cfm or by contacting Winneshiek County Conservation at www.winneshiekwild.com or 563-534-7145.

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Luren Singers / Dave Judisch to receive The Medal of St. Olav

DaveJudishWe love the Nordic roots that run so very deep in our little Northeast Iowa community, and it would be hard to embody the Decorah/Nordic connection more than the Luren Singing Society has for the past 148+ years. This group lives up to its motto “We Love to Sing” – in Norwegian, to boot. Although the Society has humble roots, as it prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2018, others are taking notice as well. Earlier this fall, the Norwegian Honorary Consul General notified long-time director Dr. David Judisch that he had been awarded The Medal of St. Olav by His Majesty King Harald V of Norway.

The medal is awarded to only a handful of honorees each year in recognition of “outstanding services rendered in connection with the spreading of information about Norway abroad and for strengthening the bonds between expatriate Norwegians and their home country.” It is an award of high-distinction given to non-Norwegian citizens. Judisch has directed the Luren singers for over 40 years, and has been in director-in-chief of the NSAA (Norwegian Singers Association of America) for over 30. During that time he has also helped lead seven tours of male choir singers to Norway to perform and travel. Judisch will be presented the award on February 4, 2016 at the Luther College Convocation in the CFL. Congrats to Dr. Judisch and the Luren Singing Society! For more information and performance schedules, visit: www.lurensingers.com

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Artist Feature: Sew Nuts! Knitting with Bev Bakkum

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Purl Up and Get Cozy with local knitting expert Bev Bakkum

Story & photos by Kristine Jepsen • Originally published in the Winter 2011-12 Inspire(d)

“SOS! SOS! I’ve dropped a stitch and I can’t move forward!”

It’s a typical distress call, and Bev Bakkum is on it. She arranges the specimen gently under her scope, adjusts her 2.0 reading glasses, and peers at the problem, her eyes searching its tissuey edges.

“Ah, ha!” she says, laughing, both hands already at work, fingers delicately separating strands. Within another minute, she pulls the partially knitted sweater, made of a luxurious black wool yarn, from her examining table and pats it triumphantly. “You dropped a stitch when you started from the wrong side, but I found it,” she tells her friend and sometime student Bonnie, who is making the sweater as a gift for her husband. “You’re good to go again.”

Bev_AdjustedBakkum is an “incurable” knitter herself (as in, knits with her first cup of coffee, on her lunch break, in the evenings while watching TV, maybe even in her sleep) and teaches a host of classes at Decorah’s Blue Heron Knittery.

The teaching part weaves easily in and out of her work on her own projects, which usually (and concurrently) include at least one sweater, a throw or blanket, and several smaller whimsies like a Christmas stocking fringed in a pink “frou frou” yarn – mostly gifts for others. Several of her finished items go on display at Blue Heron, either on mannequins or in the windows – until the appointed recipient’s birthday or anniversary rolls around, and the gift is given. Several have taken top prize at county fairs.

“I grew up where children were seen, not heard; so to keep me occupied when I was little and noisy, my Grandma Geraldine would hand me two needles with eight stitches on them and I would spend all afternoon in the window seat just sliding those stitches from one needle to the other. I never knitted anything, of course, but each time I came back, there’d be a couple more rows on the needle. Of course, she was doing it, but she’d congratulate me and pat me on the back, and it kept me fired up to keep going.”

froufrouyarnThese days, Bakkum tries some of the most complicated patterns she can find, most recently including a square in the Great American Aran Afghan pattern that had 64 threads (or start/stop points) within just one of the 4-inch-by-4-inch cable-knit sections. “The fun part is all the skills and techniques,” she says. “You either knit [v-shaped stitches] or you purl [bead-like stitches], but there are hundreds of variations to learn, and you’re never so advanced that there’s nothing left to learn.”

Another of Bakkum’s major talents is tailoring. In fact, she ran her own business, Sew Nuts, out of her rural Waukon home while raising her nine children, alternating cutting and fitting with cooking and bathtime and bedtime book reading.

“The sewing started when I was 10,” she says, “and my mother gave me a sewing machine and a stack of fabric and told me ‘I’m not buying any more clothes, you’re going to make your own.’ Well, let me tell you, I wore a lot of ugly clothes, and the sheer embarrassment of it all encouraged me to get better. Quick. Also, my mother was a perfectionist, and I can’t tell you how many seams I had to take out to get them just right. I guess that’s where I got a lot of my sense of what’s ‘good enough’ to call finished.”

basketyarnAt Blue Heron, owned and managed by returned Decorah-ian Sarah Iversen, Bakkum indulges her multi-tasking by assisting others who are working at different rates on various sweaters, afghans, or other patterns. “Regulars” of Blue Heron’s drop-in knitting sessions groan and roll their eyes when Bakkum’s tailoring experience comes up.

“Beware: she’ll make you do a swatch,” Shelly says. “And if it doesn’t come out right, she’ll make you do it again ­­– with littler needles.”

“Or larger needles,” Bakkum interjects. “A swatch is a small sample of a garment pattern that allows you to test the weight of your yarn and size of your stitches. Then you can mathematically recalibrate the pattern to your target size for the finished sweater. If you’re going to spend 300 to 500 hours and buy maybe 900 to 1600 yards of yarn for a project, you darn well want it to fit!”

“The trouble is, she’ll make you do a swatch every time you start a project, even if you just finished one like it!” another member, Theresa, says.

“And that’s because as you get better at knitting, the tension of your stitches changes,” Bakkum soothes. “You won’t even notice the improvement until you’re another several hours in. I’m telling you, the swatch is absolutely necessary.”

NorwegianSweaterIn addition to her natural proclivity to task-mastering, Bakkum helps other members unravel small mistakes and interpret cryptic pattern instructions. “There’s no standard for knitting as there is for lace crochet, for example,” Bakkum says. “I can pick up a book in Korean or German and accomplish that lace just by reading the charts, but with knitting, there’s no established instruction. And some writers are better teachers than others.”

When she gets fed up with a pattern’s gibberish ­– or sees ways to improve the design – Bakkum simply writes her own and prints copies for class members. That’s where this year’s Christmas stocking pattern came from. “It’s a big stocking – eight inches across at the top,” she says, laughing, “because we want it to actually hold those stuffers, not just look pretty on the mantel.”
The pattern is simple and encourages flourishes of frilly yarns, trinkets stitched onto the Christmas tree design, and bold contrast of color on the heel and toe. Throughout each class, Bakkum offers tidbits from her own leftover yarn bag and reminds the others to just have fun with the project.

“Yeah, don’t let her fool you,” Shelly mutters with a smirk, ribbing Bakkum without looking up from her stocking. “The reason she’s got so many great remnants in her leftover bag is that she always buys up the coolest new yarns.”

“That’s true,” says another member, Kris, whom the others say can’t turn down anything sparkly or fluorescent. “You don’t want Bev here the day they open a new shipment of yarn.”

“I can’t help it!” Bakkum retorts. “When I was kid, my only choice was Red Heart acrylic. Now, anything you can imagine, there’s a beautiful yarn made from it – soy, bamboo, corn silk, angora, cashmere, alpaca, hand-dyed wools, etc… There are so many gorgeous yarns to choose from.”

Blue Heron’s core group of 10 or so knitters gathers each Monday night (a time designated for drop-ins) and/or Wednesday night (social knitting time) and Saturdays sometimes, too, depending on class scheduling. The group united a year ago when they all tackled a pattern now referred to as the “Lucy Shawl.” At the time, the group included a Monona, Iowa, resident of Cuban descent named Lucy, who would drop in after her work as a translator at Decorah’s hospital.

LucyShawlIt quickly became Lucy’s joke to complain about counting the pattern’s 1095 starting stitches in English. “She’d say, ‘Can’t I just stop at 1,000? What do I need those others for?’” Bakkum recounts with a chuckle. Eventually, though, Lucy mastered the shawl and went on to make nine others from memory.

When Lucy was killed in a car accident in March 2011, the other members of Blue Heron’s knitting classes made variations on the shawl in her memory. They are displayed on Blue Heron’s west wall, an undulating tribute to creativity, knitting as meditation, and, of course, the unapologetic honesty and humor in their camaraderie. To illustrate for others why they spend their odd hours together, members are considering custom printing t-shirts that feature short-hand familiar to knitters:
(across the front)
“K2tog
Do you know the code?”
and
(across the back)
“Knit 2 together”

“We talk about all kinds of things,” Theresa says. “World politics, husbands [or wives], yoga stretches that are good during our breaks, YouTube videos we found to explain some stitch we didn’t understand, whatever is irking us that day…you know, the usual. This place is like a general store with an old-fashioned pot-bellied stove. You just want to be near the warmth of it.”

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Kristine_Spring14When she was little, Kristine Kopperud Jepsen made lots and lots of hideous clothes from old curtains. She has since sworn off polyester and prefers to buy more naturally occurring couture from talents like Bev Bakkum.

Blue Heron Knittery, 300 West Water Street, Decorah
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Knitters of all levels of experience are welcome to drop in for company or assistance anytime the store is open, with scheduled gatherings weekly. The store offers two areas for work and conversation: one with tables and one arranged like a living room. “And there are comfortable chairs for spouses who must wait for their shopper,” Bakkum adds.