Posts Tagged: kristine jepsen

Read the Summer 2016 Inspired Magazine


Inspired Magazine Summer 2016!

Welcome to the 2016 ‘Summer’ issue of Inspire(d) Magazine! As always, the summer issue of Inspire(d) has a fun local food theme. This year we explored the Roots of Food – family recipes and the stories that go with them. Next, we take a leap back in time with 50 Years of Nordic Fest Fun (plus an infographic!), share our Bike Love and ride ideas, have a quick Q&A with musician Mason Jennings, an “organic” business conversation with Sno Pac Foods in Caledonia, and the community series takes us to Cresco, Iowa. Plus, of course, you’ll still find all our regular features like the monthly calendars (wow – it’s going to be a fun summer!), What We’re Loving, and a very, very special back page probituary with an extremely inspirational figure from Nordic Fest’s history – you’ll just have to read it to find out!

Click on over to read the whole Summer 2016 Inspire(d) online.

Also: This is our largest issue to date! We’re super excited to have increased to 84 pages for this summer, and our circulation has expanded too – 16,000 magazines will go out to the Driftless Area and beyond. Woot!

A million thanks to our talented contributors:
• Illustrations by the incredibly talented and wonderful Lauren Bonney.
• Writing Contributions from Sarah Friedl-Putnam, Kristine Jepsen, Jim McCaffrey, and Joyce Meyer.
• Photos for our community story on Cresco from Tanya Riehle of Blue House Studio and Jessica Rilling.

And a huge, massive, very grateful thanks to all of our advertisers. They are the reason we have been able to create 46 issues of Inspire(d) and continue this awesome “experiment in positive news.” Buy local! Please support the awesome local businesses of the Driftless Region. And when you visit our advertisers, let them know you saw them in Inspire(d)!

If you’d like to see where you can pick up a copy, please click over to this link. Magazines will be on stands in early June, but often go fast. If you’d like to see them somewhere in your neck of the woods, drop us a note! (benji @

Now get out there and enjoy the summer!

-Aryn, Benji, & Roxie

More Than a Hobby: Tim Blanski


Tim Blanski of Granary Woodshops, Spring Grove, Minnesota

Story and photos by Kristine Jepsen • Originally published in the Fall 2015 Inspire(d)

Historic dream home you’d finally saved up for? Check.

Corporate tech jobs and a community of friends provisioning a predictable retirement? Check.

Logical next-step: Give it all up for an acreage in the rural Driftless, funded by woodworking skills dated to junior high?

Wait. What?

TimBlanski“It’s true,” Tim Blanski of Granary Woodshops says. “We hadn’t been in our dream house in St. Paul nine months – a house we’d walked past for years and saved to buy – when an ad for this acreage caught my eye in the paper.” One tour of the 1880 brick farmhouse and outbuildings at 18666 County Road 4, north of Spring Grove, Minnesota, had both Tim and his wife, Lisa Catton, testing fate. “We got back in the car, and she asked, ‘Do we make an offer tonight, or tomorrow?’”

MoreThanHobbyLogoThe problem was, they’d have to make a different living to make the move. As a marketing executive with an eye for salable detail, Tim set up a woodworking shop in the acreage’s original granary and turned his attention to the growing trend of artisan crafts made from reclaimed antique wood. “At first I made just gift boxes, picture frames. I’m not God’s gift to woodworking – this was stuff straight out of your average school shop class,” he says with a laugh.

Lisa, who continued contract tech consulting part-time, pitched in with varnishing and managing the fledgling business’s public relations, and they peddled their first goods at craft shows across the Upper Midwest. Soon, Tim found his niche: a rare patience for not only salvaging historic barns and sheds but in working the wood just enough to let its story shine.


“All my wood is trouble,” he says, explaining that he’ll spend days matching up weather-worn grooves at the mitered corners of a box, or travel a state over to have a one-ton white oak burl sawn into slabs with the live edge (the outermost bark or surface) intact. “I’m giving people the story of this wood, its history,” he says, “and that means not shearing it down to its smooth heart. I leave the saw marks, the nicks and grooves mice have worn a passageway through.” He also believes in letting the material’s colors create their own mosaic. “I don’t paint or stain anything. I work with the texture of the wood’s original paint or patina.”

Now specializing in custom furniture, particularly farm tables and decorative side pieces, Tom will build four or more buildings into a single piece: walnut for the base, cherry for the upright table trestle, rare 1-inch-by-12-inch barn siding across the top, oak trim fumed to a deep mahogany color by the ammonia of its previous installation: a horse stall.

LiveEdgeWood BlanskiShop

He also aims to give his furniture a full life of its own, calling in the mechanical expertise of other craftsmen to make the leaves in his tables sturdy, for example. “This is mortise and tenon,” he says, pointing to tiny rectangles inset in a table’s edge, “and these hold a single oak bridge across the leaves when fully extended,” he says, jigging a discrete set of polymer tension knobs just out of sight. “Reclaimed, antique wood is some of the sturdiest, most valuable wood to grow on earth,” he says. “Its worth is not just in looking pretty. It’s in doing a job, part of daily life.”


As his finished pieces have expanded in size and notoriety – it’s been nearly 15 years since that first handmade gift box – Tim has pared back art show travel, preferring instead to host prospective customers at the farm, where they can walk with him through his neatly stacked trove of woods in his barn and express exactly what they envision for their table or chair or entryway mirror frame. He makes a steady stream of contacts through his website,, and on, where clients are looking for something a little extraordinary.

“I started out woodworking to make a living, almost a desperate living,” Tim says. “And instead I found a passion. Creativity came pouring out of me. I get up every day excited about what I get to make next.”

Learn more about Tim’s work at or by setting up a visit to The Granary Woodshops in rural Spring Grove, Minnesota.


Kristine Jepsen understands the compulsion to ‘make things,’ as evidenced by whole drawers in her home of light-gage wire, glitter, beads, fabric scraps, papers and, especially, writing instruments. She’s proud to call the Driftless home, where creatives are far from the exception.


Check out Tim’s work in Lanesboro!

Lanesboro Arts presents “Story Wood: Combining Nature & Rural History”, an exhibit of 3D woodwork by Tim Blanski. The exhibit opens with an artist reception on Saturday, April 16, 2016, from 6-8 p.m., and runs through June 12, 2016. The reception will include wine and hors d’oeuvres, as well as live music. Always free and open to the public, the Lanesboro Arts Gallery is open five days a week through May and six days a week through December. Inspire(d) is a proud sponsor of this exhibit! 🙂


Community Calling: Volunteer Firefighters

Volunteer Firefighters’ Service Roots Run Deep

By Kristine Jepsen 

Red. Siren. Fire.

It doesn’t take many descriptors to arrive at one image: Long, gleaming firetrucks braying through busy city streets, hustling toward an emergency.

Fire departments – and firefighting – have been community fixtures in our nation since the early 1600s. In 1736, Ben Franklin famously designated groups of Philadelphia residents to accompany the few fire engines in the city, ensuring some order would cut through the chaos of a crisis.

In present-day U.S., there are more than 30,000 fire departments, and they respond to more than 31 million calls annually, according to the National Fire Protection Association, the governing body for fire codes, standards, training, and education ( Winter is an especially crazy season for fire fighters. Half of all home heating fires occur in December, January, and February, and there are several holidays’ worth of cooking going on, which is the leading cause of home fires and related injury year-round. (story continues after photo and caption)


Above photo courtesy Ridgeway Fire Department. Volunteer firefighters in the region occasionally have controlled training exercises, such as this one, to help them get acclimated. This photo was taken in 1999 with the Ridgeway Fire Department. Bill Green – third from the right – is a 43-year veteran member of the Ossian Fire Department.
Photo at top of the page by Kristine Jepsen. Decorah Firefighter Eric Sovern works with fellow department members at a Wednesday training session. Adequate equipment and training combine to influence a community’s Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating, which approximates how well its fire service can manage fires within 4.5 miles of the station. This ration – on a scale of 1 (best) to 10 (no service) – is used by insurance companies to determine the area’s private fire insurance rates.


While better wiring and building materials, as well as improvements in communication systems and firefighting equipment, make it far less likely that entire cities will be engulfed by one fire, modern firefighters still inherit the legacy of defending each citizen’s interests as one’s own – the very heart of community service – often in a Swiss-Army-knife kind of way.

“There’s something both profoundly humbling and noble about being among the folks who can help in someone’s darkest hour,” says Eric Sovern, a firefighter with the Decorah Fire Department. He moved with his family from Minneapolis – which has a professional fire department – and was surprised to learn that becoming a trained volunteer firefighter was as straightforward as filling out an application.

“I’m not going to lie – it is every kid’s dream to drive a firetruck,” he says with characteristic humor, “but seriously, this is community service that you can express an interest in – like applying for public office – and if you’re a good fit once you learn more about it, there you go. You’re in, ” he explains.

Beyond the parameters regarding age and fitness – in Decorah, members may serve up to age 56, and each is subject to an annual fitness test to ensure they can manage heavy equipment under duress – group compatibility is most important. New applicants attend department meetings and observe training drills, then meet with elected captains for an interview. If approved, the entire department – usually 25-30 members – votes on acceptance.

“It’s a sort of match-making,” Sovern explains, “and understandably so. Within a department, there has to be unanimous trust of one another to do often dangerous work, when you literally cannot see your gloved hand in front of your SCBA mask.” (Firefighters wear compressed air tanks and use a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus — like SCUBA divers – in low-oxygen fire scenarios.)

Above photo courtesy Decorah Fire Department

Once approved, ‘probationary’ members begin 40-80 hours of training to achieve their Firefighter I rating, the minimum level of competency mandated by most states and governed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Skills include knowledge of fire science – what fires need to survive and how they behave – practical skills like ladder-handling and SCBA efficiency, and an understanding of how the department maneuvers as a team in response to an emergency.

At the scene, the local fire department chief and assistant chiefs act as command central, deploying people and equipment. Depending on the fire’s location and complexity, they may call for mutual aid, i.e. the assistance of fire departments in neighboring towns.

“To me, that’s the essence of volunteer fire-fighting,” says Bill Green, a 43-year veteran member of the Ossian Fire Department. Green grew up in a fire station with his dad, washing truck tires as a kid. He has achieved the NFPA’s Firefighter II rating and has taught advanced skills to Northeast Iowa’s fire departments as an instructor through Iowa State University. “If you need more water, personnel, or specialized equipment – like a tube for extracting someone from a grain bin – you know you can count on your fellow departments to be there. No questions, no power struggles. You show up and trust you’re working together for that family or business.”

Ossian fire gear – photo by Kristine Jepsen

The timing of mutual aid is critical, Green explains. “Every minute it takes to knock down a fire feels like a lifetime to the firefighters inside, thumping their axes on the floor in front of them to make sure it’s sound. It is always best to get additional resources on the way right way, rather than waiting to see if they might be needed.”

It’s common for fire service people who have retired or “aged out” of active service to continue to respond to calls, even though they might not carry a department pager anymore. This passing of the torch inspires confidence in younger members, Green says. “Here in town we have some guys in their 70s who obviously aren’t on the front lines anymore, but when we’re laying out hose to go into a fire and look back and see one of them running the pumper [truck], we know that he knows his job and we can just do ours. He’s already got our secondary [water supply] set. He knows what we’re going to need. It’s a marriage of time and experience that you can’t learn in a book.”

That experience takes firefighters beyond fires as well. Departments now respond to increasing numbers of calls for medical help (two-thirds of the total annually). Specialized rescue may involve climbing up a tree or down a bluff or into water to handle emergency situations, or operating the Jaws of Life in auto accidents.

Above photos courtesy Decorah Fire Department

“Our goal is to have people trained in a variety of challenging situations so when the community turns to us, we are ready. Everyone pitches in where they feel most able,” says Decorah training officer Kurtis Johnson, who is Firefighter II-certified and regularly consults with professional departments to bring effective topics and strategies to departments in the Driftless Region.

The team also has to be equipped to handles calls involving hazardous materials such as anhydrous ammonia and chlorine as well as the lethal chemicals that turn up in methamphetamine labs.

“These are HAZMAT-suit kinds of situations, and they turn up more often than you might think,” says Bruce Goetsch, Winneshiek County’s emergency management officer. While he and his wife are currently reserve members of the Frankville department, which serves their rural home, Goetsch previously served on a departments in Illinois for 33 years, 12 of them as chief. The Local Emergency Planning Committee, based in Goetsch’s office, keeps record of known quantities of hazardous materials in Winneshiek County. The fire department is mandated to manage them in the event of accidents or exposure.

The funding for all of this important work comes primarily through local property taxes, but the volunteer fire department’s line in a town’s budget tends to be minimal, says Spring Grove, Minnesota, fire chief Shaun Hansen. “Our department of 28 firefighters operates on a budget of $70,000, and that’s the meat and potatoes to keep the lights on and doors open — and pay our liability insurance,” he says. “We’ve been trying for years to upgrade our SCBA tanks from the bare minimum, heavy steel tanks to more modern, fully compliant units, for example. But one unit alone might run more than $7,000.” Spring Grove also pays its firefighters an hourly wage for their time spent in training, meetings and on calls, which often take them over the state border into Winneshiek County on mutual aid.

Decorah fire trucks – photo by Kristine Jepsen

Decorah’s budget, by contrast, compensates volunteer fire staff for their time on calls only (issued in a lump sum, in November) and pays three skilled personnel who rotate in shifts so the fire station is manned 24 hours a day. They respond quickly to low-impact calls – as when a home carbon monoxide detector goes off (often needing new batteries) – and monitor communications about more complex calls as firefighters are being paged. On calls, they are designated drivers and water pump operators.

Public funding will often not cover large purchases, though, such as fire trucks and other large equipment. Municipal departments that serve rural areas – such as Winneshiek County – may then receive funding from adjoining groups like the Decorah Rural Fire Protection Association. In the Decorah firehouse, for example, some trucks are owned by the city proper, while others are owned and maintained by the rural association. In 2014, the two entities co-purchased a new truck to replace two outdated trucks.

The firefighters themselves also staff a fund-raising organization – the Decorah Firefighters Association – to pay for additional tools and infrastructure that make service easier or safer. Decorah’s association purchased thermal imaging cameras to better gauge the intensity of fires at a distance, or to find missing persons in the dark. Firefighters also funded and chipped in labor to build an auxiliary garage behind the station so often-accessed equipment could be easily reached.

In Ossian, several community advocates recently succeeded in a 20-year effort to fund and build a multi-door fire station, upgrading from a narrow downtown garage fronting a busy street. “Our trucks were parked in there, nose to tail, so tight we could get only one door open and had to crawl across the seats,” Green says as he strolls the length of Ossian’s new fully equipped station, opening the garage doors so that all six trucks bask in sunlight. “We’d back everything into the street to get assembled to answer a call. It was nuts. Here, we can breathe a little.”

Above photo courtesy Decorah Fire Department

Regulations and ratings and funding aside, much of a fire department’s effectiveness comes only with years of combined experience, firefighters say. “No two calls are alike,” Sovern says, explaining that his six current years of service have allowed him only glimpses of the long commitment of others before him. Shaun Hansen, in his 30s and with eight years of service on the department, says he still marvels at how the deep-rooted sense of community helps his department provide meaningful aid.

“The best thing is that when you’re out on a call, it’s for and among friends and family. You’re not doing a job; you’re doing your best to save someone you care about from losing something, possibly their life. It’s nice to be there – really there – trained to offer help.”


Kristine Jepsen would like to thank firefighters and civil volunteers one and all for their service, often while the community is fast asleep upon a winter’s night. When not capturing stories for Inspire(d) and writing for fun, she runs a grass-fed beef company, Grass Run Farms, with her husband. 

How to Support Your Local Fire Department

Donate to your area department fund-raisers: pancake feeds, firemen’s dances, fun runs and online crowdsourcing. These are also great opportunities to meet your local fire service volunteers, out of uniform.

Donate skills and services: Ask at your local fire station if you can help with upcoming projects or maintenance.

Join the fire service: Check into becoming a firefighter or support staff member in your local department.