Saturday, Jan. 21st, 2017

Chippewa Valley Writers Guild Launches New Season of Summer Retreats

A weekend writer’s retreat hosted by the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild at the Cirenaica lodge just outside of Fall Creek. Photo: Justin Patchin
A weekend writer’s retreat hosted by the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild at the Cirenaica lodge just outside of Fall Creek.

This month, the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild announced its second season of weekend retreats for writers looking to push their craft to the next level. Last year, these summer “residency” programs featured a fantastic lineup of writers in multiple genres – from fiction to poetry to memoir to radio – each leading their own 3-day weekend at the Cirenaica lodge, nestled within a patch of hilly woods amid the farm fields just outside of Fall Creek.

Each weekend included workshopping sessions, one-on-one time with the experts, craft discussions, and a special gathering/Saturday night reading where participants can show of their work. The price of admission also included a fantastic on-site chef and plenty of social opportunities with fellow writers. As a writer from last summer puts it, “I used to think writing was a solitary experience, but after the residency I realized the importance of community and the energy derived from a community of writers.”

Participants also had the option of paying a little more to stay overnight at the lodge.

The summer residencies for 2017 look to be equally engaging. You’ll find all of the features mentioned above with an all-new set of experts.

Acclaimed writer and professor Allyson Goldin Loomis will cover narrative non-fiction (June 8-11). Award-winning novelist Nickolas Butler will focus on the theory and practice of fiction (June 22-25). New York Times best-selling author June Melby will dig into memoirs (July 6-9). Former Wisconsin Poet Laureate Max Garland will discuss how poetry can locate and recreate ourselves in the world (July 13-16). And finally, veteran writing teacher Marsha Qualey will explore young adult fiction (July 21-24).

To get more details about the residencies, to apply for them, or to learn more about the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild and its many events, visit

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Friday, Jan. 20th, 2017

Shock to the System accepting help, resting, and slowing down are key to managing a chronic illness while raising kids

Over the past year, I’ve had some life lessons about health and parenting that have really shocked my system. In January, I began having some pretty abnormal issues. One day I couldn’t walk straight, my speech was slurred, and my handwriting went from “pretty decent” to “illegible.” I had no idea what was wrong and all of the doctors thought I had a stroke or a sudden onset of multiple sclerosis.

“One of my doctors said something that is a guiding force for my own wellness: ‘Be sure to give yourself grace. That is the key; be patient with yourself.’ ”

Not knowing what was really wrong with me was a challenge. In the beginning, I was convinced that I might just be crazy. My kids couldn’t understand what I was saying and I couldn’t make it up the stairs to put my oldest son to bed. Life was upside-down and no tests or bloodwork showed anything wrong. My doctors were stumped.

Finally, they found inflammation in my spinal fluid. Things continued to get worse, and I was shipped over to Rochester to figure out what was really going on. I spent six days in the hospital where they checked me for cancer, which I didn’t end up having. 

The final prognosis: autoimmune cerebellar ataxia, a rare disease with little historical evidence. The research out there is depressing. The only study I found on it showed that out of 120 people followed over the course of 20 years, 75 percent ended up permanently in a wheelchair or with a walking aid. Only four people, or three percent of the participants in the study, ever returned to a normal state. Autoimmune cerebellar ataxia is commonly called the “hopeless disease” because there is very little that improves the loss of coordination.

In the meantime, no one would guess my issues just from meeting me. However behind the scenes, I deal with sudden onset exhaustion, which is difficult to manage when raising two kids. The other thing I deal with is baseless anxiety. What is that? I consider the anxiety baseless because there isn’t a specific event that triggers it.  When my anxiety happens, I feel panicked and closed in. While I can recognize that it is happening, I can’t pull myself out of it and have to ride the wave until it subsides. 

When things started going wrong, my youngest son Reid was a little over 18 months old and my oldest son Easton was 4.5 years old. The difficulty of having kids while struggling to control an autoimmune reaction is that they don’t understand what is truly wrong with mommy. We had to boil down the specifics mentioned above to “Mommy’s sick.” When I returned home from Rochester, the fun really started. Life with little kids must go on, even when you aren’t feeling 100 percent.

At home, I wanted to push myself to be as helpful as possible. One day my husband called to say he would pick up the kids. I decided to help by having peanut butter sandwiches ready for the kids when they got home. It took me 20 minutes to complete the simple act of trying to spread peanut butter on bread.  However as frustrating as that was, I knew I had to keep pushing myself to do things that were hard.  I had to stay positive and productive.

As I struggled with determining how to get through this part of my life, one of my doctors said something that is a guiding force for my own wellness: “Be sure to give yourself grace. That is the key; be patient with yourself.” Through this experience, my understanding of this concept is becoming clearer. When managing a chronic condition — or just parenting in general — it’s important to release the feelings of guilt associated with not accomplishing everything on the to-do list. Instead, focus on what was accomplished. We judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else, even when we’re sick.

Here are some important things to remember!

Take time to rest

The fatigue and exhaustion I still have today are often overwhelming. The most poignant moment I had happened in late March 2016. I told my oldest son that we’d go to the Children’s Museum. When Sunday came around, the exhaustion was too much to overcome and a trip to the museum wasn’t going to happen. We both sat on the floor and cried. One of the takeaways from dealing with a chronic illness is that I need to give myself time to rest. Despite what I may think, the kids will be fine if the schedule isn’t crammed full of events. Most children don’t care if you can take them places or do fun things. They just want to spend time with you. Simply spending time coloring with them or reading to them is just as special. When we go out and do something, I have to build in “recovery time.” Often on weekends, this means at least one afternoon is dedicated to a nap. I know if I don’t do that, I will crash at some point during the week. Taking a break isn’t selfish; it’s actually the opposite. To be a good mom and good person, I know I need those breaks to be my best.

Accept help

I had to learn this lesson early on. I take a lot of pride in doing things for myself and asking for help seemed weak. Over time, I realized accepting help was anything but weak. Help from others prevented my entire household from being utterly overtaken by laundry and mess. I learned that it’s OK to take help and be willing to ask for it when it is needed. 

Slow down

The phrase “I run like a herd of turtles through peanut butter” describes how I accomplish things from here on out. If you know me, you know that I do everything fast. I talk fast. I try to get things done quickly. Having this happen was a real eye-opener for me because I had to deliberately slow down when I was speaking to people. I had to significantly scale back on my busy schedule and try to cut down on the number of additional things I was doing for work. At the end of the day, I decided I needed to make sure I had some energy left to be able to do things with my kids. The guilt from this reality was difficult for me to deal with. I am used to being able to do everything no matter what. But now I realize that if I don’t slow down, I can’t take care of others.

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Tuesday, Jan. 17th, 2017

Big Bluegrass for Blue Ox 2017

Blue Ox 2015
Blue Ox 2015

The lineup for the third annual Blue Ox Music Festival was released this morning, and it definitely keeps up its trend of curating one of the finest roots and bluegrass festivals in the country amongst the pine trees of Paul Bunyan country at the Whispering Pines Campground in the outskirts of Eau Claire. 

Now in its third year the fledgling music fest is flying high with an absolutely stacked lineup of bluegrass greats like the Punch Brothers, Greensky Bluegrass, the Sam Bush Band (who’s played all three years of this thing), and Railroad Earth; alt-country staples like Son Volt and the Drive-By Truckers; and even some local flavor courtesy of the Chippewa Valley’s own Evergreen Grass Band, Them Coulee Boys, and LASKA. And of course, Blue Ox’s band behind the wheel Pert Near Sandstone – who have curated and hosted the fest since it’s conception – will play two nights of music.

Blue Ox 2016
Blue Ox 2016

More artists are expected to be announced in the coming months, but here’s the full lineup:

Pert Near Sandstone
Punch Brothers
Greensky Bluegrass
Drive-By Truckers
Railroad Earth
Sam Bush Band
The Infamous Stringdusters
Son Volt
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
Grateful Ball
Keller & The Keels
Jeff Austin Band
The Travelin’ McCourys
Dead Man Winter (feat. Dave Simonett of Trampled By Turtles)
The Steeldrivers
Split Lip Rayfield
Willie Watson
Henhouse Prowlers
Rumpke Mountain Boys
Billy Strings
Colter Wall
Trout Steak Revival
Dead Horses
White Iron Band
Them Coulee Boys*
Evergreen Grass Band*
Joseph Huber


Coming June 8–10, Tickets on Sale Now

Blue Ox, which kicks off its eclectic three-day party from June 8 to 10, despite this only being their third summer in existence, has quickly risen the ranks to become one of the coolest roots music festivals in America, and we can take it all in right here in the Chippewa Valley. 

“Between the lineup, improvements and additions to our festival venue, and the incredible fans we have, it is going to be a fantastic year,” says Jim Bischel, the executive director of Blue Ox as well as Country Jam. "We can’t wait until June.”

Tickets are on sale from now until January 26 at a special introductory rate. General admission three-day tickets are $145, and children under 13 are free with a paid adult – and remember, unreserved tent camping and parking is included in the general admission pass. To learn more about the festival, tickets, and camping, head to

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Friday, Jan. 13th, 2017

Rock Fest Announces 2017 Lineup

Hot off one of their biggest and explosive years to date, Rock Fest is looking to capitalize on that success with a no-holds-barred lineup of rock majesty in 2017. Heading up the star-studded lineup is Slayer, Avenged Sevenfold, Rob Zombie, Korn, Megadeth, and the Insane Clown Posse. 

Fans should be excited to see Avenged Sevenfold on that list for the second time in three years and the return of Rob Zombie, who had to cut his headlining 2014 set way short because of vocal issues. It’s pretty cool to see Slayer on there too, who’ve won Grammys with their pioneering punk-thrash sounds and touring the nation, rocking every which way for over 30 years.

“We’re extremely excited to continue to be able to put on such a massive event for rock fans,” says Wade Asher, a promoter for Rock Fest. “This year’s bill features a great mix of current and past rock acts including some unique performances we’ve never had.”

And there's local bands!

You might see some familiar names on the list as well: Eau Claire hardcore band Stare Across are featured on the lineup as well as 7’s Catacomb, a supergroup of Chippewa Valley musicians from different cover bands that started rocking some original music this past year.

VIP Gold tickets are already sold out, but other tickets, campsites, and fan pit passes are on sale now at or via the Rock Fest corporate office at 1.800.326.FEST. All levels of VIP sections have sold out the last four years and are expected to do the same this year, so snap ‘em up quickly! 

There’s over 70 bands coming to this thing in Cadott in 2017 (see below) – from all kinds of genres like rock, metal, hardcore, classic rock, punk rock, thrash, doom, alternative rock, and more – and any true rock fan will be kicking themselves if they miss out. To check out the full lineup and order tickets now, head to

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Wednesday, Jan. 11th, 2017

Former Brewing Projekt Brewmaster Co-Launches Altoona Operation

Eric Rykal (left), who’s brewed beer for both Lucette Brewing Company and The Brewing Projekt, has teamed up with Mike Blodgett to launch Modicum Brewing in Altoona.
Eric Rykal (left), who’s brewed beer for both Lucette Brewing Company and The Brewing Projekt, has teamed up with Mike Blodgett to launch Modicum Brewing in Altoona.

Eric Rykal knows beer. Starting as a homebrewer long ago, he’s grown into a seasoned professional brewing master, crafting tons of imaginative beers and local favorites with both Lucette Brewing Company in Menomonie and The Brewing Projekt in Eau Claire over the past seven years or so.

Now, the same beer fanatics who’ve enjoyed Rykal’s creations can look forward to brews blending old and new from his new business venture: Modicum Brewing Company. Joining him and helping build the brewery from square one is his business partner, Mike Blodgett.

“There’s a lot of beers, beer styles, and traditions of brewing that aren’t being explored, and those are the ones that are most appealing to me.” – Eric Rykal, Modicum Brewing

Both men have a passion for beer; however, neither had anticipated becoming entrepreneurs. Blodgett has been a civil engineer with the state Department of Natural Resources for 30 years and has always liked the idea of owning his own business – and now the timing and inspiration has never been more perfect.

“Knowing Eric, this guy needs to brew beer,” says Blodgett, “and I’m in a position in my life where I’m getting ready to retire from my day job and would love to transition into something like this that makes people happy.”

As for Rykal, starting Modicum Brewing is about offering something both creative and different. After years of honing his technical skills and experimenting with recipe formulation, he’s ready to dive in and explore on his own.

“There are a lot of beers, beer styles, and traditions of brewing that aren’t being explored, and those are the ones that are most appealing to me,” he says. “A lot of the beers we’re going to start out with are New World takes on Old World styles.”

Together, Rykal and Blodgett bring the perfect combination of experience. Rykal intends to create great beers, and Blodgett has been diligently working to design a unique space to drink. The ideas behind both drink and space, however, are guided by the definition of Modicum found on the company’s web site: “a small quantity of a particular thing, especially something considered desirable or valuable.” It’s all about making a spectrum of special beers people love and less about high -scale distribution; their beer will only be available on-site.

“We’re not trying to rewrite the book,” says Rykal. “Just making small little tweaks that should all add up to a new experience.”

Modicum Brewing’s variety of beers will certainly cater to all palates, but Rykal says he’s interested in Old World brewing traditions. His new brews will be heavily influenced by Belgian brewing traditions and classic European flavors with subtle but impactful changes.

Rykal and Blodgett acquired a space at 3732 Spooner Ave. in Altoona, which makes Modicum Brewing that city’s much-deserved first brewery. The building has a varied history. Most recently, it was Word of Life Bible Church, but it also contains a bank vault from its more distant past as a credit union. With Blodgett’s expertise in civil engineering, you can anticipate a thoughtful and creative atmosphere. He expects to be able to seat around 75 people. In addition to the taproom, the space will include an event room for special occasions and large groups.

“We want to create a really nice experience for people of all walks of life to come in and have a craft beer,” says Blodgett.

Rykal described their plan for the space as “a coffee shop that serves beer instead of coffee.”

The steady growth of craft breweries is a cheerful addition few are complaining about, especially in the Chippewa Valley. They make great beer we can all rally behind. For the owners of Modicum Brewing, it’s about creating a world-class experience with a local focus to bring people together.

“I think it’s just the authenticity of the place. There’s a good chance the owner’s there or the guy that made the beer is there,” Rykal says. “It’s not coming from some nameless factory far away; it’s being made by these people right here. It’s less about the product itself and more about the experience while having the beer.”

Rykal and Blodgett are in the process of building Modicum Brewing from the ground up, and have anticipate a public opening in June this year.

To follow Modicum’s progress and read more about their beers, find them on Facebook page or head to

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Tuesday, Jan. 10th, 2017

LISTEN: New Music from J.E. Sunde

J.E. Sunde now feels adored.
J.E. Sunde now feels adored.

A new record is on the way from singer/songwriter J.E. Sunde called Now I Feel Adored, releasing on March 3. Iowa-based label Cartouche Records announced the forthcoming sophomore LP, a followup to his excellent 2014 album Shapes That Kiss The Lips Of God, on Tuesday.

Alongside Sunde, the new record features the core group of musicians that make up his touring trio – Andrew Thoreen (Har-Di-Har) and Shane Leonard (Kalispell, Field Report) – and a guest appearance by PHOX’s Monica Martin for a duet called “I Will Smile When I Think Of You.” The new album was primarily recorded at Honeytone Music, an independent recording space in an old Victorian house in Neenah, Wis.

“Fundamentally, I want to make incredible songs. And I think incredible songs – whether they have a symphony orchestra on them or it’s a cappella – work,” Sunde says at the beginning of a “making of” video for Now I Feel Adored. "I want to write music for lonely people ... I have this sense of putting words to that in a way that hopefully somebody will recognize themselves in these songs."

Watch the video, directed by Zach Johnston, below.

You can order different preorder packages for the new record – which include vinyl, CDs, lyric cards, photos, and even a handful of signed vinyl test pressings – at

JE Sunde, the making of "Now I Feel Adored"

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Library Hopes to Put Free Books on Eau Claire Buses

A new effort to put free books on Eau Claire Transit buses isn’t just a way to give riders something to do if the Wi-Fi goes out (although that’s not a bad idea, come to think of it). It’s also a serious effort to get more books into the hands of children and adults as they cruise around town on city buses.

As early as late spring, all 22 city buses could be outfitted with special racks filled with books that people can read on the ride or bring home if they want to – free of charge. Consider it a road-bound riff on the Little Free Library movement that began in Hudson a few years ago and spread throughout Wisconsin and the world, with literally thousands of book-filled boxes springing up at homes, businesses, and schools. In this case, the free books will be close at hand for people who rely on city buses for their transportation.

“The books will hopefully begin to flow through the buses like they do through the little libraries,” explains Bob Eierman, vice president of the Board of Trustees at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire. Eierman compared the Books on Buses effort to the Book Bike the library launched last year, although this project will be less expensive and complex than that pedal-powered mobile library. While items checked out from the Book Bike have to be returned to the library, books from the buses will be free to keep.

The suggestion for Books on Buses came from City Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle, who observed a similar program in 2013 while on vacation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Emmanuelle thought the program was novel (no pun intended), and filed the idea away for a few years. When Emmanuelle met the library’s new director, Pamela Westby, last year, Westby asked if she had suggestions for the library. Emmanuelle mentioned the Books on Buses concept, and the idea soon caught hold in Eau Claire.

Tom Wagener, Eau Claire Transit manager, said both bus drivers and Transit Commission members have been supportive of the idea. Wagener sees it as a way to help improve literacy among people who might be on the bus, whether they’re children or adults. In fact, a bus ride may provide the perfect impromptu opportunity for a parent and child to share a book.

Shelly Collins-Fuerbringer, youth services manager at the library, says the library is pursuing a small grant to pay for book racks. Other than that, the program should have minimal startup costs, in part because she expects books to come from donations or from volumes discarded from the library’s collection. While the project is still in the planning stages, it’s already received support from the necessary parts of city government.

“I’m really excited about it,” Collins-Fuerbringer says. “I think it’s going to be a great program. With the Book Bike, I think our goal was to surprise people, and I think this will surprise people.”

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Thursday, Jan. 5th, 2017

Eau Claire Stone Company Gets Big Break on Tiny House TV Show

Stonework is by Silvermine Stone Co.
Stonework is by Silvermine Stone Co.

The tiny house trend is coming to a tiny Chippewa Valley community, and a local business is part of it. An episode of Lifetime’s reality TV series Tiny House Nation: Family Edition shot in Fairchild, southeast of Eau Claire, will be broadcast on the cable network at 9pm Thursday, Jan. 5. The episode, titled “Tiny Family Obstacle,” features a couple seeking to build a smaller house to help bring them closer together with their adolescent offspring before the kids fly the coop.

In addition to the local setting, the episode features a product made by a local company: Silvermine Stone Co. of Eau Claire. Stack-N-Tack is stone veneer siding that can be installed without mortar. (In other words, you don’t have to be a stonemason to build attractive pillars, sills, or hearths.)

Tiny House Nation: Family Edition is an offshoot of Tiny House Nation, which airs on FYI, one of Lifetime’s sister networks. According to a press release, “The series follows host John Weisbarth and renovation expert Zack Giffin as they travel across America showing off ingenious small spaces and the inventive people who live in them. Along the way, they help families design and construct their own mini dream homes, each no larger than 500 square feet.”

The description for the local episode says the home in question is 750 square feet, which in tiny home terms must make it a mansion. Learn more about the show.

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Wednesday, Jan. 4th, 2017

Bon Iver Cancels European Tour, Prairie Home Companion Appearance

Early Wednesday morning, Bon Iver announced the cancellation of their month-long European tour, which would’ve launched on Jan. 22 in Paris. In addition, the band has also cancelled Justin Vernon’s upcoming appearance on A Prairie Home Companion (Jan. 14). According to a note published to Bon Iver’s social media accounts (see below), the cancellations are due to “personal reasons.” All the tickets will be refunded.

The Eau Claire band’s next performance is slated for April at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Los Angeles.


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Thursday, Dec. 29th, 2016

5 Local 100-Year Anniversaries Coming in 2017

Eau Claire’s City Hall also opened a century ago, in 1917
Eau Claire’s City Hall also opened a century ago, in 1917


Despite what you might recall from the movie Titanic, Chippewa County’s Lake Wissota wasn’t around for Leonardo DiCaprio to fall into in the early 1900s. The lake wasn’t created until 1917 when a hydroelectric dam was completed on the Chippewa River, flooding 6,000 acres of forest, swamp, and farmland. Celebrate the centennial by going fishing – on the ice or otherwise!


Eau Claire’s City Hall also opened a century ago, in 1917. Built for $72,000, the two-story building was meant to complement the Carnegie Library next door (which, incidentally, is now part of City Hall). It was built to resemble the Petit Trianon, Marie Antionette’s chateau on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, in France, so to celebrate, “Let them eat cake!”


Ray Gillette began to manufacture tires in Eau Claire 1917. The company he founded became the U.S. Rubber Co. in 1940, Uniroyal in 1967, and finally Uniroyal-Goodrich before closing for good in 1992. Now the nearly 2 million-square-foot facility is a multiuse complex that’s home to dozens of businesses, offices, and artisans. Celebrate by attending the Banbury Art Crawl on Feb. 10-11 – and by checking your tire pressure.


In the early 1900s, traveling cross-country by car was challenging. Roads were primitive and poorly marked, and designated “trails” might not be the most efficient way from Point A to Point B. That began to change in 1917, when Wisconsin became the first state to replace trail signs with numbered highway signs. Celebrate by ditching your GPS for an old fashioned road map.


Wisconsin’s state Capitol building in Madison also turns 100 this year. The present building is actually the fourth Capitol in state history and the third building on the current site. It was built between 1906 and 1917 and remains an iconic part of the Madison skyline (by state law, no building within a mile can be taller than the base of the columns around the dome). Celebrate by taking a tour – the Capitol is classical gem.

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