Thursday, December 31, 2009

Decade in Review/ 2008

This is the sixth of a series of posts titled "Decade in Review". Each post will be dedicated to one year or at most two, so no one will get bored reading the entire long document! This is a review on 2008. Thanks for reading!!
---------
- 2008 -
2008 was the year of the tornado. The first tornado outbreak of the year occurred on January 7th, spinning twisters recklessly across Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois. A few were even reported as far north as Kenosha and Walworth counties in Wisconsin. That was the first, but definitely not the last major tornado outbreak across the nation’s midsection during the late winter months. By far, the most widespread outbreak of twisters for the entire decade occurred on the day of the “Super Tuesday” election primaries, February 5th, across mainly Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee, leaving 59 dead, 31 in Tennessee alone.

Locally in February, the Heyde Center for the Arts booked a well known and internationally touring folk group. Known for their close harmonies and light rhythms, The Wailin' Jennys was to date one of the best shows I have ever worked on at the Heyde Center! That is one of the best parts of working there, being able to meet many diverse people, and discovering that no matter how big a “star” they may be, they are all still normal people. With that said, I technically should have no problem meeting anyone!

On a sad note for 2008, my grandpa who had been ill for only about 8 months passed away on the 12th of April, 4 days after his 82nd birthday. Quoting Alan Jackson, “old ones died, new were born”! Only 5 days after Grandpa's funeral, my brother and his wife had a new baby! Little Samuel was much less premature than his twin brothers had been, and was allowed to go home with his parents after about a week.

A quick note from the middle of June, 2008, which I deem decade-worthy, would be the unprecedentedly heavy rains that fell across most of the upper Midwest, particularly across Iowa, southern Minnesota, and southern Wisconsin. We will all remember Cedar Rapids, Iowa which was severely inundated by the Iowa River. Also, in the town of Lake Delton, Wisconsin, a dike washed out, causing Lake Delton to go dry and collapsed several lake-front homes nearby.

I am telling you, 2008 was the year of the tornado!! On the 20th of July, I managed to catch sight of a funnel cloud developing over the neighbor's house!! I quickly grabbed a camera to document its development, and although it did not touch down, it was still an impressive sight to see!

Once again, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels came to town for an airshow at the Eau Claire Regional Airport. My sister and I attempted to attend the event, which was occurring on the 13th of September. Unfortunately, the organizers of the airshow failed to take into account the rainy nature of Septembers in Wisconsin! NO airplanes got off the ground on the 13th of September as the low clouds and persistent rain continued to soak the expectant crowds! It is apparently the only time the airshow has ever been canceled due to rain. Luckily for some, the show was also scheduled to run the following day, but as we were going out of town, I peddled off our tickets to a friend who was glad to get them!! That day's show turned out to the best attended airshow EVER at Eau Claire! Over 60,000 people turned out, prompting the organizers to schedule a return for the airshow in 2010.

Throughout the summer of 2008, the national economy was slowly faltering, although most people did not feel it. The housing bubble which had developed due to loose credit policies under President Clinton, had burst a year or two earlier, and it was only a matter of time before foreclosures became commonplace. On the 18th of September, 2008, things rapidly went from bad to worse as banks began to fail and panic set in. Unfortunately, the government decided the way to save the economy was to bail it out, and proceeded to do just that, hoping to reinstate public confidence in an already crumbled economy. Over the next 2 months however things gradually stabilized, and attentions turned ever increasingly to the historic presidential elections at hand.

Running for the highest office of the land, were two teams of people, either of which would make history if elected. The Republicans had put forth a moderate as their candidate, caving to extremely low public opinion of conservative President Bush. Republican nominee John McCain made history by nominating as his running mate a relatively unknown conservative female governor from the most backwoods state in the union, Alaska. Sarah Palin proved to be an extremely polarizing figure, which I believe is the main reason John picked her. Despite initial incredulity, disbelief, and anger on the part of the Republican base at McCain's pick, Sarah Palin soon began to draw her own following of supporters and helped boost McCain's slumping poll numbers.

On the Democratic side of the coin, a very heated contest had been shaping up in the primaries from coast to coast between the former first lady, Sen. Hillary Clinton, and the fresh-faced vitality of the eloquent first-term senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. Obama promised “hope” and “change”, but did not elaborate on exactly what this “change” might entail. The crowds didn't care, and many predicted he would be another John F. Kennedy. Hillary Clinton conceded the primary victory to Barack Obama without a fight at the national convention in Denver in late summer. Obama, sensing his inexperience might hurt him in the election, chose veteran senator Joe Biden as his running mate. This choice was widely praised by many.

Election Day, November 4th, 2008.

Americans were generally dissatisfied with the recent conduct of the previous administration under President Bush. Bush had been making various hard-headedly dumb decisions over the past couple of years, and voters were looking for a change. Despite warnings about what Mr. Obama's “change” might entail, and facing overwhelming voter backlash against the unpopular Bush administration, the Republicans heavily lost the elections as predicted, in local, state, and national levels, and Senator Barack Obama made history as the first black president of the United States of America. I think Abraham Lincoln would have been proud, unless he would have known what sort of leader Mr. Obama would be. Nevertheless, the Democratic party had come to power, and Americans sat back and waited to see if they would keep their many promises.

"The sun sets on the United States of America"

Sunset, November 4th, 2008.

One last item of note for 2008, on November 5th, 2008, I joined the social networking site Facebook! At last, I could connect with friends faster than by standard email!

Stay tuned for the final post of the decade, 2009 on New Year's Day.

><<<>>>((<To Be Continued>))<<<>>><


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Decade in Review/ 2006 & 2007

This is the fifth of a series of posts titled "Decade in Review". Each post will be dedicated to one year or at most two, so no one will get bored reading the entire long document! This is a review on 2006 and 2007. Thanks for reading!!
- 2006 -
The first highlight for me in the year 2006 was the purchase of my first vehicle!!! I was looking for a good truck, preferably 4-wheel-drive, since I was tired of my dad's 2-wheel-drive trucks always getting stuck. I answered a private-party ad in the Tradin' Post classifieds, road tested the truck and decided to purchase it. It was a 1995 ¾-ton Dodge 4x4 with a number of dings, but no major damage. I got it for a steal at $4250, as list price was around $7000!

2006 holds the prize locally for the warmest temperature of the decade, with a high of 102.7 degrees on the 31st of July. This time, at least no storms followed the heat wave!

I continued to grow older, and officially became an Uncle on the 16th of August, 2006, when twin nephews Joseph and Josiah were born to my brother and his wife. A full ten weeks premature, they weighed just over 3 pounds, and remained in isolation for several weeks in the Marshfield hospital. By fall, they were allowed to go home, and have done quite well despite early dire predictions!

On August 21st, 2006, the U.S. Hwy 53 Bypass opened, officially bypassing the congested city of Eau Claire and cutting commute times to the South side in half. As with the Hwy 29 project, I had been following this construction project closely via bicycle since 2001.

On October 1st, 2006, I set out on my bicycle to break my record set in 2005. I rode down the Chippewa River Trail, following the same route as the previous year, only this time I rode all the way to Durand. Unfortunately, my tire went flat as I rode into Durand, and I had to stop and replace the tube. I had been traveling about ½ hour ahead of schedule, so the repair delay put me on schedule. Thankfully, I had foreseen the possibility of such a problem, and had packed a tire repair kit!! I finally arrived back home a good hour after sundown, and totally worn out, but I did break my record!! My new record was 82.44 miles for the day. My goal was to someday break 100 in one day, but I decided that if I was to ever come near that, I would have to leave before 1 pm, because I found that the sun eventually always goes down whether we are ready for it or not!!!

On November 18th, 2006, my sister and I met an amazing Christian family bluegrass band at Barnabas Coffeehouse, the Ottersons. I am not sure why I decided to put them on here, but I guess they made a major impression on me. They are good friends of ours to this day.

December rolled around, and I figured that if I had a good strong truck, perhaps I should look into purchasing a snowplow to make short work of the snow removal process! On December 6th, I made the purchase of a used 8 foot Hiniker plow, and after that, my truck was ready for anything! The next summer I scraped the rust off of the plow and repainted it. I found that if I counterbalanced the 700 lb plow with about 1000 lbs of field rocks in the back of the truck, there wasn't much that could stop it! I even constructed a special slatted box to hold the 1000 lbs of rocks, so they wouldn't be rolling around!

- 2007 -

I had been exhibiting my photography recently in the Spring Art Show at the Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls, and since the exhibition fee was drastically lower if I was a paid member of the Heyde Center, my mom gifted me at Christmas, 2006 with a one-year membership to the Heyde Center. Of course, as a member, I received the Center's quarterly newsletter. In the first issue that I received, in March of 2007, there was an ad that read: “We are desperately in need of more volunteers......If you have had an interest in learning how to operate the lights and sound for events at the Heyde Center, please contact us... We will train you!” Well, I was a bit interested, but I wasn't sure. My mom however, told me that if it was something I was interested in, I should apply! I applied in early April. I turned out to be the only one who applied that stayed on! I got to help with my first show, the Big Top Chautauqua band, on April 20th, 2007. That was a blast and I stayed on! A few weeks later, still not knowing what I was doing, I ended up singlehandedly running sound and lights for an Eau Claire group, Quinn Elizabeth. That was the first show I did on my own, (although I did have a little help from a friend of theirs :) Thus began my crash course and interest in technical sound production!

July 15, 2007, at the fair I attended the concert of another nationally touring band, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. As well as watching the band, I kept an eye on the sound board operators, to get an idea how they managed to run the 54 channel sound console!

In early August of 2007, I took my newly learned sound knowledge and decided to revamp the sound system at Barnabas Christian Coffeehouse. The system was previously characterized by frequent howls of feedback and muffled sound. After my first attempts at reworking the system, things improved slightly. Over the next 2 years, I would frequently tweak the system, adding various components and upgrades to finally eliminate most of the major audio problems of the place.

Another major windstorm roared through western Wisconsin on the night of August 13th, 2007. While similar to the 2005 storm in intensity, it covered a far smaller area, generally affecting a swath through far Eastern Minnesota, and into Wisconsin from about Somerset and New Richmond to just east of Menominee. Menominee got hit the hardest, with significant wind damage.

Throughout the summer, I had been gearing up to take another extensive bike ride, this time again planning to ride down my usual route through Eau Claire, and then down the Chippewa River Trail to about the Pepin Co. line, where I planned to pick up the Red Cedar Trail and ride north, all the way to Menominee. From Menominee, I planned to follow the back roads home. I worked out the best route through town with my brother who lives in Menominee. On September 16th, 2007, I set out on the bike ride, and having learned from previous rides that it didn't work well to leave at 1 pm and still plan on getting home by dark, I left a little earlier. The ride went uneventfully according to plan, and I actually arrived back in my home neighborhood a good half hour before dark!! Well unfortunately, I hadn't broken my record yet, so I simply rode around the neighborhood until it got dark. My new record I set that day of 85.2 miles still stands, as I have since gotten too busy since then to try to break it!

The final major highlight of 2007 was the day that my family finally decided to get internet service. Our new internet service was hooked up on December 21, 2007. Needless to say, that was a BIG day!!! Finally, I had email!

As a matter of fact, I should probably go check it...

>>><<<>To Be Continued<>>><<<

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Decade in Review/ 2005

This is the fourth of a series of posts titled "Decade in Review". Each post will be dedicated to one year or at most two, so no one will get bored reading the entire long document! This is a review on the very busy year 2005. Thanks for reading!!
- 2005 -

A major retail change was in store for the Chippewa Falls area in early 2005. The new Walmart that was being constructed near the intersections of the new highway bypasses in Lake Hallie, officially opened its doors to the public on January 26th of 2005. Some people love Walmart, and some hate it, but everyone agrees that when Walmart moves in, people's shopping habits change.
February 8th, 2005, was cold. Cold enough that most people wouldn't spend more time than necessary outdoors. My sister's dog however was outside, and seemed totally crazy about the blue spruce, so my sister had to go out to investigate. She found a little white creature perched angrily in the tree, just out of reach of the dog. It appeared to be a very tiny cat. Not about to be grabbed however, it leaped from the tree and took off with the dog in hot pursuit. Taking refuge behind some lattice, it hoped everyone would go away. After taking control of the dog however, my sister managed to capture the tiny but very fierce kitten who bit her coat and growled all the way back to the house. We suspect that his poor attitude stemmed from some previous abuse that was obvious upon close examination. After some cleanup, proper care, and vet treatment, he began to grow and has now become a large tomcat! (he's still fierce, although one of the biggest cowards we have!) We named him Percival, although his main nickname is Great White.

A highlight for my sister and I occurred on March 19, 2005, when we sang at an open mike night at Barnabas Christian Coffeehouse. As the “stars” of the evening, we were asked to definitely consider returning!! Never mind that it was our first time ever performing on stage or with microphones! We had put on concerts for Grandpa and Grandma a few times before however, so performing in front of people wasn't totally brand-new. After that, we tried to attend most of the open mikes that came along there over the next 2 years.

Oh one more thing, I officially graduated from high school in 2005!!

The summer of 2005 was hot, especially in July. There was one heat wave in excess of 100 degrees, with a maximum for the year of 102 degrees on July 16th, 2005. When it gets that hot, I guess you eventually pay for it, as we learned a few days later.
The morning dawned hot and sticky, on July 23rd, 2005. By 10 am, it was nearly 80 degrees and the wind was zero. It was not exactly cloudy, but it wasn't sunny either, just kind of a very thick haze that made the sky a washed out whitish gray. Things began to slowly darken throughout the late morning, and although I had not been listening to the weather reports, I grew suspicious. About 11:40 am, as I was getting even more suspicious of the weather, I heard a vehicle go by on the road, his windows down, and the radio on with the tell-tale beeeeep...beeeeep...beeeeep of a severe weather statement. On high alert now, I rushed around telling everyone that there was a major storm of some sort blowing in. I then ran back to the house to check it out. Deciding it was a waste of time to try to learn anything off the radio, I grabbed my camera and went to the window. As I scanned the sky down toward the horizon, the subtle grays that had been gradually darkening throughout the morning had suddenly darkened into a very dark line across the bottom of the entire western horizon. I stood transfixed, watching the sky, as the dark line raced across the sky toward me. As it drew near, I observed that behind the initial dark-hanging clouds, the sky was an eerie yellowish blue-green. As I didn't see any tornadoes, I continued to watch... as the tornado siren began to sound. By this time, everyone else was in the house (I think) and were attempting to coax me down the basement. I took one more picture just before the dark part of the line moved overhead, and it's pretty easy to imagine how it was, just by looking at the photos now! It was now noon, and from the basement, we watched as a terrific wind roared relentlessly for about 20 minutes, and the rain poured down in torrents. From there we couldn't immediately tell if the storm was any stronger than any of the other windy thunderstorms that had blown through here recently. After the storm had passed however, there was no doubt. A quick scan of the nursery turned up several large trees that had been toppled by the storm, and at our other piece of land up the road, our huge old black oak tree had been unceremoniously snapped off about 15 feet up, crashed down and had narrowly missed the building. Wind speed reports for the area were generally around 80 miles an hour, with 78 mph reported at the airport. Upon further investigation, I found that some areas had fared worse than we had. In Irvine Park, the entire upper park was closed off for some time due to fallen trees. It looked like a war zone, as about 35 percent of the trees were broken off or uprooted throughout a large section of the upper park, especially above Glen Loch. Also, down by Eau Claire, some trees were snapped off at the base; totally leveled, and others were uprooted. Some headlines compared the storm, although distantly, to the massive windstorm of July 15th, 1980, which roared through with sustained winds well in excess of 100 mph. This storm was not as widespread as 1980 however, only damaging a swath from about Houlton and Hudson, along Hwy 64 and 29 to about Stanley, WI. The 1980 storm damaged a couple hundred mile swath from Eastern MN across Western WI, all the way down to at least Steven's Point.

As you can see, locally, the July 23rd storm was definitely the highlight of the year, as well as being aptly titled the “windstorm of the decade”.

The new Hwy 29 that had been constructed past our place in 2002 was finally ready for public use. Crews had been working on various segments over the past couple of years, and finally the concrete contractors had finished the paving.
On August 15th, 2005, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Hwy 29 Chippewa River bridges. The next day, August 16, 2005, the first public traffic was police-escorted down the brand new corridor of Highway 29, completing the 4-lane link from I-94 to Green Bay, and erasing the legacy of the old 2-lane “bloody 29”. Tipped off by a police officer a few days earlier, I was waiting with my camera in hand to photograph the historic event.
Nationally, but particularly in New Orleans, the storm that put 2005 on the books was not the Wisconsin windstorm, but massive Hurricane Katrina that put much of the city of New Orleans under water. August 29th, 2005, was the day that Katrina struck, and despite dire forecasts, unfortunately no one was ready for it. Of course problems surfaced immediately, such as the lack of preventative maintenance on many key levees that were supposed to protect the city and abandoned hospitals. There are many other allegations surrounding the handling of the disaster by the government, and I am not qualified to comment on whether they are true or not. All I can say is that Hurricane Katrina was one of the most devastating natural disasters ever to strike our nation.

On October 2, 2005, I took the first of my record-setting bike rides. On this one, I rode down the Chippewa River Trail down through Eau Claire, and most of the way to Durand before taking a 2 mile shortcut up the Red Cedar trail toward Menominee. I had to turn around then, as it was getting late. My final mileage on that ride was 79.33 miles.

October 16, 2005, will always be remembered by the residents of Chippewa Falls. In the early morning hours, a motorcoach containing members of the Chippewa Falls High School Marching Band, including the band director, was traveling on I-94, returning from a marching band competition at UW Whitewater. Unbeknown to the driver of the bus, a semi trailer driven by the now infamous Michael Koslowski had just jackknifed across both west-bound lanes of the interstate. As the bus crested the hill, about 2 miles north of Osseo, the jackknifed rig was just out of the range of the bus headlights. By the time the bus driver saw the wreck, it was too late to stop. Saving the bus from rolling, he took the only other option available to him and hit the wreck squarely. That crash will haunt those who were on the bus and their friends for years. Along with the bus driver, those killed in the crash include the band director, his wife and granddaughter, and a student teacher. Thankfully, all the students survived, though a few with serious injuries.

Now you ask, “Did anything good happen in 2005??” Well, I'd have to say yes, though sometimes it might be hard to see! Take my brother's wedding for example; I think that might qualify! The wedding of my brother Timothy was set to occur in Ohio, where his girlfriend was from. Now Ohio was a long trip for us, but my uncle offered to do most of the driving, so we agreed to go. We secured some reliable help in taking care of our animals, and left in the early morning hours of November 17, 2005. Driving all day, trading off drivers along the way, and periodically stopping to eat, I-80, LaPorte Indiana
...we finally arrived at our destination in central Ohio about 9 pm EST on November 17. The trip was such a whirlwind that I don't remember much that really impressed me about Ohio, especially since most of the time I saw Ohio, it was dark! The wedding ceremony occurred on November 18th, with the reception dinner immediately following. Now my brother is Mennonite, and I guess I must say that I am glad I am NOT Mennonite, because I definitely don't intend to have a stilted and strange wedding such as his, but anyway, enough on that! We left soon after the reception, to drive as far as Cleveland Ohio, where my uncle had booked motel rooms. The next day, we took a side trip through Chicago, and stopped at the Lincoln Park Zoo near Lake Michigan. After taking a leisurely walk around there (I have to go back sometime; that was fun!) we left, and my uncle drove us through downtown Chicago. That was something to see! I had never been downtown in a huge city before, only through the outskirts, so that was an experience!! After Chicago, we headed home, completing the last leg of our whirlwind Ohio trip. Once home we collapsed and attempted to catch up on the sleep we had not gotten during the trip!

>>><<<>>To Be Continued<<>>><<<

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Decade in Review/ 2003 & 2004

This is the third of a series of posts titled "Decade in Review". Each post will be dedicated to one year or at most two, so no one will get bored reading the entire long document! This is a review on the years 2003 and 2004. Thanks for reading!!
- 2003 -

How rare is it that it gets warmer than 50 degrees in January? Well, a quick look at the record books informs me it has only happened a total of 9 times since the 1880's, one of which just happened to be on January 8th, 2003, with a high of 52 degrees! I even took a bike ride to celebrate!

Nationwide, the first big headline for the year came on the morning of February 1st, 2003, with the tragic words, “The Columbia is lost”. As we all remember, the space shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas upon reentry that morning, killing all on board.

Locally, a big event occurred on February 18th, 2003, when part of the town of Hallie in which we lived incorporated into the Village of Lake Hallie. While some did not like the change, most heralded it as a good thing, because it prevented the big cities of Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire from gradually annexing parts of Hallie until it was gone.

March 19, 2003, deserves a mention as the day that the U.S. officially invaded the Arab state of Iraq. Although the Iraq war was initially supported by Americans in general, as the war dragged on, it quickly became one of the most criticized aspects of the Bush Administration.

Personally, my big highlight for the year, came when it was announced that easy-listening Country star Don Williams was scheduled to perform at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair on July 9th. Despite a cold drizzly rain, with Don's sympathy, everyone loved “The Gentle Giant” in concert! Don Williams has since retired from touring, so as it turns out, it was my last chance to see him, so I'm doubly glad I took it!

Another major highlight of 2003, and a shocking headline to many, came when generational crossover and Country superstar Johnny Cash died on September 12th, 2003; he was 71. His untimely death came just 4 months after that of his wife June Carter.

- 2004 -

January 12, 2004 was a big day for me, as I started taking Driver's Ed!! Finally I got to sit behind the wheel of the car and drive!!

Another notable occurrence of that winter was the passing of my great grandma Rose on February 19th at the age of 96. I never knew her, due to the fact she had had a paralyzing stroke many years earlier.
The weather in 2004 was weird. One of the first evidences of that came on April 18th
. After a very hot day in the mid 80's, the wind picked up and dust began to roll. Rain and storms were predicted, but before any rain managed to fall, 50 mph winds whipped up huge dust clouds off the newly plowed farm fields and residential yards creating a dust bowl of sorts for about 6 hours. It was pretty impressive!

A few days later, on April 24th, 2004, I was driving with my dad in the Twin Cities to pick up our order of nursery plants. We had made a wrong turn, and were going down a residential 2-lane road; sort of a service road along a busy 6 lane highway. As we were going along, the engine just sputtered and died. No warning, just dead. Nothing we did would start it, and we ended up calling a tow truck. The road was quiet, which was nice, since it took 2 hours for the tow truck to get there!! This was also not a simple matter, as we had a full truck and trailer load of plants! We managed to find a repair shop that was able to order us a new fuel pump and install it the same day, while we sat in the waiting room!! That was an experience. I call it “the day the truck stalled in St. Paul.” We drove out of there about 4 pm.

In June, another death brought tears to the nation. Former President Ronald Reagan, conservative champion, and one of our strongest leaders to date passed away on June 7th, 2004. Ronald Reagan crossed party lines and brought the country together like never before, and the nation mourned his passing.

The 2004 presidential campaign was in full swing by August, and presidential hopeful John Kerry had visited a Bloomer area farm earlier in the summer. I caught wind that something else might be up in early August, when the radio station began hinting at a visit by a Republican official sometime soon. My grandpa who was a staunch Republican, received a call offering him tickets to see a “high ranking Republican official” who was coming to Chippewa Falls. He declined... and then regretted it when it was announced a few days later that President George W. Bush would be making a campaign stop right here in Chippewa Falls!!!!! I would have given anything to see him that day, at Kell Container Corp on August 18th, 2004, but no one else of my family was inclined, and we had to go to work (as I remember we were starting a pond that day). So, I resigned myself to photographing Air Force One as it flew overhead!! President Bush would make one more appearance in the Chippewa Valley in 2004, on October 20th. My grandpa tried to get into that one, but found it was invitation only. So, once again, I watched for Air Force One, and caught it both coming and leaving!

Another notable occurrence in August of 2004, was the unprecedented cold temperatures!! In fact, there was significant frost on the ground on the morning of August 20th! After such a cold August, we were relieved by a warmer than usual September.

My driving test was scheduled for the 23rd of August 2004. I was understandably nervous, as I had been told that most people fail the first time. Well, I made some errors, but the examiner must have liked me, because I actually passed the exam! I think I was one point from failing, but anyway, the fact was that I passed! So, with my new drivers license I confidently went out and... well, we won't go into that. No, I didn't crash, but I could have, and I discovered I still had things to learn. Come to think of it, I've never gotten a ticket though!

Well, like usual, when I get fired up about something, I DO something about it! Sometimes I wait until the last minute to get fired up in the first place however! That was the case with the 2004 presidential election. Yeah, I was rooting for Bush all along, but with weak enthusiasm from the rest of my family, I didn't do too much... until the night of October 30th. That night, I got a big piece of cardboard and various markers and reflective things and built a large double-sided sign that stated “VOTE FOR GEORGE W. BUSH”. I completed the sign in the shed about 10 pm, and then went back into the house. I did not want to be seen putting up the sign. I told my sister and my mom, and word eventually leaked out to my dad too, who wasn't too happy, but whatever. As it was Daylight Savings time that night, my plan was to wait until late and then put up the sign. So, that was my 2004 election statement, printed on a large piece of cardboard and posted up along the road at 2 am! I retrieved the sign after election day, someone had smashed one of the legs off of it, but it was still in tolerable shape so I brought it home and photographed it!! Conservatives pulled out all stops, and turned out in record numbers to reelect George W. Bush to the obvious consternation of the outspoken liberal minority!

One final 2004 world event demands some space here. On December 26th, the day after Christmas, a massive tsunami crashed ashore in Indonesia, killing untold scores of people. Unfortunately, there was not a warning system in place, and most communities had no idea that anything like that was coming. Unfortunately, there still isn't a good warning system. Nations from around the world pitched in to help send food and medical supplies to the disaster zone, but for many the help arrived too late. Communities once again began the tedious process of rebuilding.

<<<>>><To be continued><<<>>>


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Decade in Review/ 2001 & 2002

This is the second of a series of posts titled "Decade in Review". Each post will be dedicated to one year or at most two, so no one will get bored reading the entire long document! This is a review on the years 2001 and 2002. Thanks for reading!!

    - 2001 -

The first highlight of 2001 was the inauguration of President George W. Bush on January 21st. Following 8 years of liberal rule, conservatives nationwide breathed a sigh of relief. Unfortunately Mr. Bush, unlike Reagan, proved in the long run to be a weak leader and a bit too worried about what the world thought of us.

In mid- July, I purchased my first camera, to photograph clouds. That was the start of my current photography hobby, and yes I have photographed many other things besides clouds!

Unfortunately, the next highlight of 2001 is also the infamous highlight of the decade and the largest mass murder event in the history of this nation. In the mid morning hours of September 11, 2001, Muslim extremists boarded and hijacked 4 passenger airliners. As the nation watched in horror, the first one crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in NYC. Fifteen minutes later, the second crashed decisively into the south tower. America will never forget the images of the two mortally wounded skyscrapers billowing smoke over lower Manhattan. Both collapsed within an hour or so. The third hijacked airliner which many suspect was heading for the White House, instead smashed into a wing of the Pentagon building, the headquarters for our national defense. The fourth airliner never reached a target, because some of the passengers who realized what was happening, attacked the hijackers. That one crashed into an open field in rural Pennsylvania. Within just a few hours, large numbers of people were their knees, entreating God to have mercy. Churches were filled to overflowing, and people lined up for blocks to give blood. When disaster strikes, it brings out the best in people. Unfortunately, America's new-found faith did not last.

9/11 should have been enough for one year, but I have one more highlight from 2001 on a little lighter note. December 5th, 2001, went down as the warmest December day in history! (locally) The high of 64 degrees was set about 11 am just before the cold front came through.

    - 2002 -

2002 was the year of the construction in the Chippewa Valley, at least for me! About 9 am on February 19th, 2002, I heard a suspiciously familiar beeping and rattling coming through the dense fog from the direction of the old model airplane flying field. Upon further investigation, I found that Hoffman Construction Co. had just dropped off 2 CAT D9L dozers!! I was elated, and began keeping careful records, waiting to hear about the project start dates. By the end of the day, they had also dropped off and lined up 6 CAT 631E seriesII scrapers!! I fully expected them to be planning a start date quite soon, but when the project supervisor talked to us the next day, he told us construction would not start before March 18th. That was the last I saw of Hoffman Construction for about 6 weeks, as winter set in again with fury.

Construction finally commenced on April 8, 2002, as the 2 land-clearing dozers the D6R and the D8N rattled into action cutting a swath through the Christmas tree farm, our old backyard, and the hardwood forest on the hill which had already been logged of any valuable trees (thankfully).

With the advent of Spring finally upon us after a late-staying winter, the work progressed rapidly, and things were ready for the closure of 50th Avenue on April 15, 2002. On that morning about 9 am, the one new scraper from the 6 that had been sitting idle, was dispatched to the end of the blacktop where they broke it in scraping up blacktop!!


I could bore you all with the construction details covering much of the summer, and most of it I would have to look up, as it isn't immediately on the top of my head, but that would all probably fill 15 pages or more, so I think it suffices to say that the road was finally opened, although it was still gravel, on August 28th, 2002, just in time for the schools to start.

On Labor Day, September 2, 2002, a fierce tornado rolled through downtown Ladysmith heavily damaging the town. I saw the storm in the north and by it's growth habits thought it looked severe, so I wasn't surprised by that news. Personally, I was glad it didn't roll through here, as I had more important things to think about on that day!!

Following the cool and unpredictable trend of the previous part of the year, October gifted the Chippewa Valley with a blanket of 5 inches of snow on the night of October 20-21. That was the first time that significant measurable snow had fallen within one week after my birthday. Wisconsinites were mortified.

~!<<<<>>>>><to be continued><<<<<>>>>!~


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Decade in Review/ 2000

This is the first of a series of posts titled "Decade in Review". Each post will be dedicated to one year, so no one will get bored reading the entire long document! The decade of course began with 2000, so here is my review on the year 2000. Thanks for reading!!

This is my review of the decade, as compiled through my own records; it is a mixture of personal, regional, and national events that affected me or the local populace. If an event is not on here, it either did not affect me, or I deemed it too minor to bother mentioning it here.

Y2K/ 2000

The turn of the year 2000 was very highly anticipated by the entire world. Doomsday predictions abounded. The biggest fear was that all the computers would crash and revert to 1900 at midnight, so there was a larger than usual bulk of the population who vowed to stay up to watch. I planned to, but accidentally slept through the big moment! Not that it really mattered that much, although I thought it did at the time. Apparently a few slot machines out on the East coast went down, but that was it. So, that was the end of the over-hyped “Y2K” scare!

In the early weeks of 2000, my dad sat us all down and basically said, “How would you all like to start a nursery plant business?” Of course we all were excited at the prospect, and gave a huge thumbs-up to the plan. That was the beginning of Robert Wiltrout Nursery, which has continued to this day.

Our cat population increased by one in February, 2000, with the acquisition of a small black female we named Cindy. Born in the shelter, she had spent several weeks up for adoption at the local vet clinic. However, because she was black, no one was interested in adopting her, and her rotation time was drawing to a close. We adopted her just before she would have been sent back to the shelter, bringing our resident cat population to six.

As we rolled into the first few days of March, 2000, the outdoor temperature soared, setting an unprecedented streak of records, holding above 70 degrees from the 5th through the 8th, with a maximum of 78 degrees on the 7th.

As April came around, the ongoing discussions at the Hallie town hall began to get especially heated. The Hallie town chairman and his cronies were beginning to act as dictators, telling the residents of the town that they had no say in whether the municipal water was extended to them or not, and assuring them that “we know better than you what you need”. This was, as most Hallie residents agreed, something worth fighting against. The group of citizens responsible for questioning this “communism” (as one person actually termed it) put forth 2 of their own men, and ran a 2 week write-in campaign to unseat the troublemakers in a recall election. The chairman sat smugly by during the election, making fun of the whole ordeal, and then got a rude surprise when the votes were counted! The two write in candidates won by a landslide, and the two worst board members including the chairman were out of a job!! (Needless to say, in the next general election, the remaining members who had been causing trouble were removed as well.) This was my first observation of 'government by the people' in action.

During the previous few years, the State had been negotiating to buy our land to build Hwy 29, and in the spring of 2000, the deal was finalized. We began construction of our new house in the adjacent subdivision in May with the purchase funds from the State.

The next event worthy of note here, occurred on the night of September 10-11, 2000. A very slow moving storm system rolled through the entire Chippewa Valley, dumping very heavy rain throughout the night. The storm warnings were endless, but didn't seem to be affecting us here, so we all retired for the night around midnight. In the morning, the sun was shining brightly with no sign of danger, so we sat down to breakfast. The news however was reporting some major flooding in a small portion of Eau Claire, where entire basements had been totaled with water and mud when several feet of water had crashed through the windows. We had apparently gotten 8 inches of rain! After breakfast we went out to the field where we had several dozen chickens in portable cages. That old field apparently was a low spot for hundred-year floods. The good thing is that chickens can swim amazingly well, and most of the cages were in only about 5-8 inches of water. The one cage that was in the deepest spot, unfortunately was a total loss. Mostly. There was one. She was the miracle, and after much resuscitation and warming with the hairdryer, she opened her eyes after about 2 hours. We named her “Miriam”.

October 1st, we moved out of our old house, though the new one wasn't ready yet. (the State ordered us out) We moved into our new house on the 15th of October, my 13th birthday!! Needless to say, that was a big day!!!

Of course the big headlining story for the year 2000, was the U.S. Presidential race between the Texas governor promising Conservative Reagan-style reform, and the hard-headed VP of the Clinton administration. Since my family was not decidedly political, I did not think too much about the race, but from listening to debates and interviews, and with a poor opinion of Gore already, Mr. Bush was my pick. That election was almost a continuation of the Hallie override spirit, as record numbers of determined voters cast their opinion at the ballot box. It unfortunately also turned into one of the biggest charades of the decade as voter fraud and broken voting machines dominated the headlines for the coming weeks. Even Fidel Castro got in on the act, reportedly appearing on television saying in so many words, “Oh you poor Americans! Tell you what, I'd be glad to come over and help oversee the elections to make sure there is no fraud!” Although many months later the Florida votes were finalized confirming the election, since the election had to be decided now, it was thrown to the Supreme Court who awarded it to George W. Bush. Al Gore threw a huge fit, and reportedly trashed the White House before leaving in January 2001. (shows you what he's made of!)

One cold November day, we noticed some cat tracks leading off into the woods. Later, a small gray cat was seen at the door, but he quickly disappeared when approached. My sister and I did a search, and located him hiding under a woodpile behind the shed. The entire room he had hollowed out down there smelled distinctly like catnip, and he was wild! Unfortunately for him, he had forgotten to construct a back door to his dwelling, and my sister was able to reach him whereupon he promptly bit her. The kicking biting gray monster was secured however, and we deposited him inside the shed to cool off. We estimated his age at about 6 months. That was Jasper, as we later named him, and he has become one of the nicest cats we have, although still mischievous!! For a short time we would have a total of 7 cats.

One last highlight of 2000, came in early December, when our old house which had been purchased from the State by someone from Stanley, was moved. That was a major project, and I watched the entire process which took two weeks. Finally, on the morning of December 8th, 2000, with a temperature of 1 degree, I stood across the road as the huge house-moving tractor with its roaring Detroit engine slowly rumbled out onto the road. Taking up the entire roadway, and heralded by a police escort, the old 1929 house where I was born slowly rolled across the front yard, down the road, and out of sight... all the way to Stanley I'm told, although I haven't seen it since!

<<<>>>To be continued<<<>>>

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Elm cutting video

Here's a video I built of cutting down our prized elm tree this past Thursday. My plan was to videotape it, which I did, with a fairly cheap digital camera. That one was 17 minutes long with tinny audio, but I took it just in case this one didn't work out. (it's from a different angle though, so in some ways I like i...t better!) This particular one I built with pictures from my camera which I had set on continuous shoot mode on a tripod and assigned my sister to run it. I then set up my sound recorder to catch the audio. The tree was supposed to fall to the right, and despite 2 ropes, it fell where it wanted to instead- to the left and straight toward the camera!! It broke off the top of the neighboring tree which subsequently fell on my sound recorder! (nice crash!) One thing, it's not easy to tell a 50-some foot tree that weighs many tons what to do!!! So, it fell on the greenhouse which is amazingly mostly fine! 2 holes in the side plastic; that's pretty much it. Thanks for watching! ~JW
(Video didn't upload, so you can see it on youtube instead!!)
Click HERE

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Chippewa Falls HWY 124/ Bus. 29 Roundabout

I did a final photo shoot this past Sunday, November 1, of the new roundabout on the south side of Chippewa Falls, near Micon Cinemas. Since the project is now done, I could get in there without orange construction barrels obscuring my view. At least I thought it was done; today, there was a crew planting trees and... shrubs in the center of the roundabout! They also installed sprinkler heads in the whole thing. It's just Chippewa trying to outdo Eau Claire; if you haven't seen the huge new planters in the median strip on Hastings Way near Birch Street, you should check them out!

Full music credit goes to my friends the Ottersons!!

video


~<<<<=>>>>~

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Economic Repair Plan

Here is the plan to fix the current economic crisis, as drafted by me along with my sister. This is a plan which would actually work if people cooperated, but it may not be totally feasible in today's world. It is basically a pull-up-by-your-bootstraps plan, and eliminates or drastically reduces government intervention. The government would be gradually returned to what it was originally meant to be.

The government's proper roles, as set forth under the Constitution of the United States, include:

  1. Defending the homeland, including enforcement of sensible law and order among the citizens of the land. Securing our borders. Maintaining a peacetime multi-branch military.

  2. Controlling the framework of the transportation system, including maintenance of roads and highways. Government should be prohibited from meddling in interstate and intrastate commerce, private transportation corporations, auto manufacturers, etc.

  3. Overseeing the money supply, and regulating currency and its worth. Overseeing banking as relating to the distribution of currency.

  4. Negotiating international trade agreements in the best interests of the land. Government is permitted to set tariffs regulating international trade.

  5. Bringing to justice those who violate the laws of the land.

These points constitute the basic framework of working government. Obviously, this list is too simplistic in itself, and it needs some expansion and interpretation along the guidelines of the Constitution, in the best interests of the citizens of the land.

The Constitution also provides for legislation by elected representatives of the citizens of the land. However, legislative bills should not grant the government power to interfere with free-market trade. Some laws that have been adopted over the years need to be amended; and some of them actually need to be shredded. The ultimate decision rests on us, the citizens of this land. This paper is simply a suggestion on how to survive the coming economic crash. Yes, economic crash; I actually said that, and I believe it will occur soon, given the way things are currently heading. This is a long-range plan. No instant drastic fixes will work because no one would go along with them, and they would admittedly create chaos.

Now, on to the good stuff...

Today, we are once again facing an economic crisis, similar to the Great Depression. People are losing their jobs, and are facing foreclosures on their homes because they can't pay the taxes and loan payments on their property. The bank assumes the house/ land by foreclosure, and the people and their families in some cases end up being left homeless. This is not a good scene for any of the parties involved. First of all, in a poor economy, the bank is saddled with MANY such loans that have been foreclosed on; so many in fact, that they can't sell them at any price. Take for example Detroit, where large portions of neighborhoods are vacant and overgrown. The bank can't sell them, even at $500, and the bank now has to pay people to keep the places looking respectable. Some people have left in order to find work elsewhere, but there are those who are unable to find work, and it doesn't seem right that they should live on the streets, while the bank owns plenty of vacant houses! The solution for this problem is pretty simple, although it could create some other problems which I will address later.

My solution is to temporarily suspend property taxes on people who have lost their jobs but who wish to remain in their homes. Banks would be required to extend credit indefinitely on ESTABLISHED loans only, and would be prohibited during the crisis from extending any new loans. The bank would benefit from this, by not having to foreclose on the properties. The properties would be maintained as well as inhabited, and would thereby retain their value. The inhabitants would of course benefit by having a roof over their heads while trying to find work. It is possible under such a system that the banks could crash, however I think many would actually do better in the long run.

Suspending the property taxes on qualifying land would ultimately leave the community with less money to work with for public utilities, schools, police, road improvements, etc. However, in hard times, these things are not as important as food, shelter, and clothing. It is likely the town government would suffer and need to cut back. People should be prepared to defend themselves because the police force might need to be trimmed. I'll be frank here, the citizens would be responsible for their own well-being. The government is not responsible for their well-being, unless it is responsible for their bad state in the first place! In other words, if the government (or the bank) throws you out of your house/ off your land, then the government (or the bank) should be responsible for helping you. As we place the burden of personal well-being back on the individual, government intervention decreases.

Another part of the problem we are facing is the loss of jobs nationwide. The “stimulus” package that was passed earlier this year by our Congress, was supposed to create large numbers of jobs. The last confirmed figure I saw stated that around a hundred thousand jobs, mostly in education, had been created or saved nationwide. Furthermore, in spite of the stimulus, the unemployment rate has risen to over 9%. Impressive, considering that 787 BILLION dollars was supposedly pumped into the economy. This is LUDICROUS. If the government would stop interfering in economic basics, unemployment would not be a problem and there would be plenty of jobs to go around. The Department of Labor holds the key to fixing this problem. Before we totally eliminate the Department of Labor, let's look at what actually needs to change. Setting the minimum wage artificially high in poor economic times causes fewer people to hire because they can't afford to. The solution for this is to lower or eliminate the minimum wage. This could cause a yell, but whatever happened to job applicants being told the rate is, say 4.50/hr, and saying, “No, I won't work for less than 5.50.” This is a problem that again, the citizens need to take upon themselves. The government's job does not include meddling in economics to artificially create the appearance of a good economy, when in reality the economy is not good. Without government intervention, when the economy is good, wages will go up; when it is poor, the wages will go down.

Another way the government interferes with wages is by imposing employee taxes such as workman's compensation. The cost on an employer for hiring one employee for ONE DAY is something like in excess of $500 depending on what he is doing (it's $900 for landscaping). This is ridiculous. If an employer is hiring an employee for ANY period of time, the government's cut should be ZERO. This is a free market economy, and the government is not responsible for making it go 'round, remember?? This ridiculous amount makes companies, especially small businesses, UNABLE to hire short term help. The simple solution for this is to eliminate Workman's Comp Tax and other government-required “employee” taxes. Period.

Okay, now I understand that workman's comp may seem to be a good idea because it pays you if you get hurt on the job. However, that isn't supposed to be the government's job. It's the employer's job to keep his workers safe and compensate them if they get injured. It may be argued that it would be easier on the employer to pay the $500 to the government than for him to cover anything that might happen. True enough, but the government's job doesn't include fixing your problems for you. If natural economics is left to itself, it eliminates bad businesses. Again, let's face reality instead of trying to create an artificial economy. Eliminating workman's compensation insurance and eliminating or drastically reducing the minimum wage requirements would create jobs. INSTANTLY!

One more problem is present on the job issue: Labor Unions. The original idea behind labor unions is good, namely that workers band together to secure the best wage rates and benefits in exchange for the best work, employers, and workplaces. This is a good idea.... until the union gets too powerful. When labor unions become so powerful that they strip the workers of their rights, and basically control both the workers and the employers, something is wrong. The labor unions are now meddling in free market economics and even collaborating with the government on just how to control the rest of the economy. So, now I am going to make a very profound statement: We need to decentralize the Labor Unions in this country in order to solve the rest of the labor problem. We need to peacefully disband the control centers of the labor unions nationwide. The big union bosses need to get a different job. Why are the big unions so much of a problem? Because they artificially set prices and wages, control the workers and the employers, and make it impossible for anyone to be hired who isn't part of the union. I do not advocate outlawing small company-wide unions, because I believe they do make the companies better and the workers happier.

Another economic issue we need to address is Social Security reform. Why did the government get into the business of taking care of old people?? This is not part of the prescribed duties of the government. Today, the Social Security program is essentially bankrupt, and due to the baby boomers now moving into retirement age, the system will soon finish crumbling. The working-age people today are not paying for their own retirement, they are paying for the retirement of the elderly currently receiving benefits. Most of the working people of today will never see a cent of the 15% of their income that is taken for Social Security.

Before the days of Social Security, children took care of their aging parents and relatives themselves. Government run nursing homes did not exist, although a few privately supported ones did, I believe. Unfortunately, with so many people now dependent on Social Security, it is hard to terminate it. Although we need to eliminate Social Security, we need to do it as a slow steady withdrawal. I would propose a plan where Social Security benefits would be cut over 15 years, at the rate of 6.67% per year, and the Social Security tax rate which is currently at 15.3% would be cut by one percentage point each year. At the end of 15 years, Social Security would have evaporated, and we would be left with a 15% tax cut! With a 15% tax savings, people would have some extra money to spend on caring for their aging relatives, whether directly themselves, or through private caretakers.

In addition to cutting Social Security, if the government would cut back on other socialistic programs, general income taxes could be reduced as well. When we have whittled Government back down to the basics, we can start chipping at the national debt, and our budget would actually be balanced! I am not in favor of totally eliminating the income tax, because the government needs to get operating money from somewhere.

A final problem we may face with a poor economy is a food shortage. This problem could be combatted somewhat if everyone who has some land would grow a garden. This would cause a small-scale surplus of food at the grocery store, causing prices to drop. This would help make food more affordable for the inner city folks who don't have land to grow a garden. During the Second World War, Americans were encouraged to grow “victory gardens” to stretch the food supply; this is the same idea. Also, people with excess produce could share it with the community.

I am not condoning COMMUNISM here. Communism is different; under communism, you would grow a garden and ship all the produce to a common storehouse. Then, the contents of the communal storehouse would be distributed equally to everyone. This is a very bad idea, as evidenced by what happened at the Jamestown colony in 1607. Until Captain John Smith laid down the law, “He who does not work, shall not eat,” the colony was starving to death under the “communal” system.

I am talking about neighborliness here. If your neighbor is starving, it is your moral obligation to share with him if you have been blessed by plenty.

As a final note, it is not the Government's place to be a humanitarian aid to the nations of the world. However, if an charitable organization or individual feels that he should send aid to a needy group or nation outside of the country, he is more than welcome to do so.

In conclusion, let's rebuild America, and overhaul the government. The government needs to be whittled down to size. It needs to get its fingers out of economic meddling and costly socialistic programs. The citizens of the United States of America need to learn what it means to be self-sufficient; unfortunately I think most of us have forgotten that over the last 100 years. Even the hotly disputed issue of healthcare could be solved if the government would get its fingers out of the issue. Why can't the citizens themselves stand up to the healthcare industry and say, “We are not paying your exorbitant prices anymore”? I sincerely believe that even in healthcare, the basic economic principles would prevail, lowering the costs and ultimately improving service. We need an informed nation of citizens who are able to govern their own lives. Then and only then, will Free Enterprise in America be able to hold up its head unhindered and unashamed, proudly displaying the coveted American Dream!

~JW