Posts Tagged: Iowa

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.

Making Cents of Electric Vehicles in the Driftless!

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“Electricity is really just organized lightning…”  -George Carlin

Story and photos by Benji Nichols, except as noted

Imagine pulling out onto the street as your foot leans into the accelerator. You move forward – silently – off on a trip to work, school, errands, or across the region. Now imagine not using a drop of gasoline to do it. Too good to be true? It’s not!

Electric vehicles (EVs) are not a new concept, but technological evolution and incredibly efficient operating costs are making EVs more realistic than ever for many households. Here at Inspire(d) HQ, we’ve been enjoying the rewards of our own solar PV array for the past year, and we’re constantly engaged in what technologies are coming on line to help lessen our immediate impacts on fossil fuel use. Sure, there’s an immediate ‘feel-good’ effect, but increasingly the technology is actually making economic sense as well. Ride along as we cruise through our latest road-trip into electric vehicles.

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(Decorah resident George Hagen shows us the Nissan Leaf charging ports.)

Most EVs (only electric – not hybrid) have a rough average of 30 to 80 miles available without a charge, and Hybrid EVs that also operate on gas have ranges widely expanded  beyond that. According to recent US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration surveys, well over half of commutes and daily-use car trips in the US are under 30 miles roundtrip. Even with a sizable amount of commutes averaging 40 miles, there’s huge potential for EVs. Just think: All your quick trips can be done in a vehicle that requires no gasoline, and can charge anywhere a standard plugin is located – we think that idea is pretty cool!
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(Photo courtesy of Honda Motorwerks)

Many of our readers are familiar with Chris Schneider (aka The “Hybrid Guru”) of La Crosse’s Honda Motorwerks. Chris has been fueling the alternative vehicle movement in the Driftless Area for years and is an incredible source of information, and of course vehicles. A recent adventure included a trek across the state of Wisconsin to deliver a fully electric Nissan LEAF EV, which is quite an adventure considering that the LEAF has average range of about 80 miles. To top it off, the vehicle was being delivered to Milwaukee, so it was decided that a natural gas vehicle (NGV) would chase for the return trip – just to up the alternative fuel vehicle fun! With the range in mind, the trip required four stops for charging, three of which were about the standard amount of time for a coffee or lunch break. The trip was a grand success, and proved that EVs, although still having limited ranges, can make longer and longer trips as charging technology increases as well. Honda Motorwerks has been a regional and national leader in the use of alternative energy vehicles for years – and Chris is quick to point out that the Decorah area is full of early adopters. In fact, seven of the first 10 EVs that Motorwerks brought into the region years ago all went to the Decorah area. 

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(Electric Charging Station at HyVee, Iowa City – free for customers!)

Most of the major car manufacturers are now making, at the very least, a hybrid electric/gas vehicle – and many are making strict EVs like the Nissan LEAF or Ford Focus EV that run on electricity only and, as mentioned, can be charged on a standard household plug-in (usually taking a few hours to overnight to reach full capacity). But many vehicles are charged more rapidly by different “level” chargers, which are becoming more common across the country – even in places along Chris Schneider’s Wisconsin road trip like Middleton, Madison, and Waukesha. Level 3 charges can bring charging times down to under half an hour for many models.  Some commercial recharging locations require small fees for electricity (a couple dollars) while companies like Tesla are creating their own networks of charging stations that provide the power for free – as an incentive to buy their EVs.

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(Tesla Model ‘S’ on display on the Iowa City PedMall during EntreFest, May 2015)

There are a lot of pro and some con points that could be made when considering EVs – from range to environmental to battery technology, and of course, that a large part of the electricity supply still comes from fossil fuels. But we think there is a unique place in our society right now where electric vehicles can truly help “bridge” the road to energy independence. Here at Inspire(d) HQ, we installed a small solar system (eight panels – about 2kw) just about a year ago. We’ve seen a really nice decrease in our monthly electricity bills, but more importantly, it has also helped us to be even more aware of our electricity usage – and the really cool fact is that when we walk out to our garage and the sun is shining – we know we’re making electricity! It really is an amazing experience to know you’ve lessened your dependence on fossil fuels by any amount. As we think about how many miles we drive – and especially those local miles running kiddos around and doing errands, we can see where an electric vehicle could make a lot of economic sense.

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(George Hagen showing us the interior controls of the Nissan Leaf)

Decorah residents George and JoAnn Hagen agree. They have been big supporters of alternative vehicles for several years. George cites his background working as an engineer on conservation projects for Chevron in the late 1970s as sparking his personal interests. A 1980 Datsun was the first vehicle he owned that reached 40mpg, and that sparked a string of vehicles over the years that strived for economic impacts, including the Honda Insight – one of the first hybrid vehicles available in the US around 2000.

IMGP6837George still proudly garages their 2000 Honda Insight and is quick to point out that it was also one of the first four to make it to this part of the country via Honda Motorwerks in La Crosse. A Toyota Prius followed in 2005, and in October of 2014 the Hagens acquired their Nissan Leaf – the first 100% electric hybrid they’ve owned. Despite varying experiences on range of trip with the Leaf (both George and JoAnn comment that NE Iowa’s Hills take a toll on the EV’s range!) its clear that the vehicle is fun to drive and certainly does well on local trips, with plenty of power and take-off for around town as well as short highway trips. The Hagens also have a large Solar PV array on their garage and home, so again, the ability to produce one’s fuel for driving comes full circle with the Nissan Leaf.

IMGP6631Meanwhile in Decorah, more than a couple families have invested in the Chevy VOLT – a hybrid gas/electric vehicle that allows for a smaller electric-only range which is then assisted by a gas powered generating “engine” that enables further distance. Ben and Padrin Grimstad were kind of enough to give us a few minutes to check out their VOLT, which they – and their high-school aged daughter – enjoy driving. The electrical charging system allows for a nice around-town range, but isn’t necessary to use the vehicle, which still obtains excellent mileage without regular plug-in charging, as most hybrids do.
IMGP6638Ben says the car is fun to drive, with plenty of pick-up and acceleration, and fun on-board tools and design to let the driver see what is going on with the vehicle. As a local business owner, he also enjoyed being able to purchase the car from an in-town dealer, and that the family’s additional investments in solar power are paying off in multiple ways, like partially powering their VOLT.

Personally, one of my biggest surprises in researching EVs has been both the performance, and surprisingly good ride of these vehicles. They really do have a different ride and solid feel because of the additional weight of batteries and generally shorter wheel base. Combining their low-to-no-gas mileage ranges with the fact that many Driftless Region residents and businesses have installed solar arrays, EVs are becoming a more practical choice every day.

As more EVs hit the market, expect to see local businesses offering EV Charging stations and specific parking spots as well – we’ll be on the lookout to see who leads the way! We love the EV concept here at Inspire(d) HQ. Granted, like any vehicle, the investment is not small, but the benefits are certainly beginning to stack up. Who knows – we may be delivering magazines in a Solar powered EV soon! Vrrrrooom vrroooom!